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Talking Location With author J E d’Este Clark – Athens

25th November 2017

#TalkingLocationWith… author J E d’Este Clark who has set her novel “Plunder with Intent” in Athens

Like my hero, Maximilian Henry Percival, from Plunder with Intent, I dream of returning once again to Athens, the eternal city. I first visited in 2013, after five years of hard slog to complete the tenth draft of my book (I still had five more drafts to go!). Until that time I had written about Athens without seeing it. I had relied totally on my research material and my imagination. I really had no idea what to expect, as the city, like the country was suffering from an Existential crisis, democracy was on the edge of collapse, austerity was strangling the country and I had imagined, the very heart and soul of the Athenian people. When I arrived I realised this wasn’t the case.

J E d'Este Clark

I went to Athens in May 2013, as the taxi rolled out of the airport I kept asking the driver “why can’t I see the Parthenon?” as I craned my neck out the window. When, eventually my beloved Parthenon finally came into view, reigning over the city,  a mighty fortress, my anglo-greque heart leapt for joy!  Tears were streaming down my face.  A lifetime of longing had finally materialised, my dream had come true. I had arrived in the land of the great men of Antiquity. The Hellenic people of old. The land of myths and legends; Homer, Socrates, Plato and Phidias. For me, it represented the very heart and soul of the classical world!

Those 5th Century stone-carvers I had brought to life sprung to mind as I glimpsed the colossal structure, my Parthenon, or more accurately, what is left of it. I felt as though I had come home as the taxi pulled up to the hotel, the Royal Olympic, next to the ancient ruin of Apollo.

J E d'Este Clark

Photo: RoyalOlympic.com

How is it possible to feel like this, I thought, I am an Anglo-Canadian for heaven sake! I’m from the other side of the world!

This was the beginning of a week like no other.  The city may be in ruins, the country, a political mess, however, the dichotomies, endless that they were ceased to plague me, as I roamed the acropolis, for the very first time.

Every morning, at daybreak, I set off, hiking the ancient paths, as my character Max does, upon his first visit in the early 19th Century, only, Mopus, Max’s beloved donkey wasn’t with me. I wanted to be alone with the Parthenon and I made sure that I was.  Anyone that I happened upon, I ignored. The climb up to the Parthenon is a long one, however, my heart raced as I came within view of the entrance, the propylaea, and I couldn’t help reaching out and touching the stone, the Pentalic marble, what remained of twenty-two thousand tons of stone used to build the might fortress, Athena Parthenos’ sacred temple.

This was the beginning of a week of discovery, a life-long pilgrimage. I wandered the streets of Athens, grinning to myself, looking a fool I’m sure to passing tourists. The Plaka, that wonderful cornucopia of ancient artefacts and modern hubris all crammed together in an array of chaos and order, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of all things was to become an open air concert for me. I fell in love!  Madly! Deeply!

The country may have been and still is in ruins however, the political chaos faded from my mind as the hospitality of the Greek people surfaced big time!  Every lunch, every dinner, every glass of wine at a venue in the plaka became an event. The waiters treated me like royalty.  The wine flowed!  The conversations were a heady mix of modern day Greece tinged with the philosophy of the ancients, that which underpins the Greek people, very essence of what it means to be Greek.  I loved it!  I love the way the people philosophise about life, about love; know thyself, cease life, democracy is right, what’s really important in life, and, apparently above all, to enjoy life, no matter what the hell happens to you, or the world around you, because life is capricious, the fates have control.

My hotel, the Royal Olympic, had a fabulous roof terrace, and, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place for a late super every night.  The terrace, was pure theatre, as I sat at my table, enjoying Greek salad and moussaka within view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, in all its splendour, glowing in the warmth of the golden sunlight. The crumbling cityscape faded as I chatted with the waiters.  Asking what they thought about the terrible tragedy that had befallen their marbles.

As news got out, that one of the hotel guests was – shall I say – attempting to finish her novel about the plunder of the Parthenon, other hotel guests gathered round my table and the rhetoric began. The consensus was, the truth needed to be told, taken to the world, yes, perhaps a modicum of resignation had set in, no wonder after two hundred years of debate, that freeing the imprisoned marbles from the British Museum in London seemed nigh impossible, but, just perhaps, the end was in sight.  After all, Athena Parthenos was a warrior goddess and goddesses never lose in their battles.

By the end of my stay at the hotel the entire staff came to say good bye, hugging me, shaking my hand, tears were whisked away, once again the people of Athens had hope. The terrible wrong that had befallen them two hundred years ago was about to be righted.

J E d'Este Clark

Erechtheion courtesy www.ancient.eu

On the second last day of my visit to Athens something quite unexpectedly happened which had a tremendous impact on my novel. I was invited to meet the school children who attended the local school, situated at the foot of the Acropolis, next to the Acropolis Museum.  I had no idea what to expect and I needed to have a translator with me.  One of the teachers interpreted on my behalf, as I told my story, how I was writing a novel that would provoke the return of the marbles to Greece.  On the walls of the classroom were drawings of the caryatid, the children called “kore”, who had been deliberately and premeditatedly hacked out of the temple of the Erechtheion by Lord Elgin in the 19th Century. The children believed their kore was real, even though she was made of stone.  Kore had become enchanted, she was an integral part of their life, their belief in what it means to be Greek.  She was a favourite.  The horse’s head was another, that which is on display in the British museum. As I took my leave the children gathered round, all wanting me to write my name on a page of their scribblers, wanting to know when the book was coming out and could I please hurry up! Because kore wants to come home.

Horse’s Head via Pinterest.com

Needless to say, my visit to the school changed everything I understood about stone statues. What is real and what is not merged and the marbles came to life for me, as never before. We are all part of the universe.  Ask a physicist! Therefore, stone is no longer, a chunk of cold heartless rock, it has a life force all of it’s own.  We are, therefore, all connected.  We are all Greek, we need to understand the suffering of the people of Greece and give them back, that which rightly belongs to them, as we would want something that we have lost to be returned to us!

I urge anyone to go to Athens, get in touch with your soul and drink retsina in the plaka!

Thank you for such an interesting look at Athens. The author is not currently on Social Media.

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  1. User: Daphne1

    Posted on: 28/01/2022 at 1:53 pm

    I once had a very quick overnight trip to Athens on a long bus trip from one of the Islands, but it was an amazing memory of a visit to the Acropolis, to walk in such an ancient place, brings a smile to my face, just to think of it


  2. User: Marie-louise Mills

    Posted on: 11/08/2020 at 8:38 am

    I am looking for my old friend, Joanna D’Este Clark, how can I locate her I am in Edinburgh
    Marie-Louise mills


  3. User: Judith Works

    Posted on: 25/11/2017 at 4:48 pm

    I too was recently in Athens at a hotel with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the Parthenon. An unforgettable experience.