List #163: My Love Affair with the Olympics, Part 2

Flash forward a few years from the Atlanta Summer Games to the Athens Summer Games. Bypass the rest of high school and all of college. And you'll find me living with two midwestern girls and two friends from college. I slept in a bed right next to the living room balcony, in a flat that overlooked Agrocorinth, in the tiny beach town of Vrahati, Greece.

I was broke. I was unemployed. I was homesick. And I questioned every decision that led me to that tiny beach town at least once a day.

But it was impossible not to fall in love with Greece that summer. Greece had won the Euro Cup just before I arrived. The Olympic Flame was running its way through every minor city making its way to the capital. Greek flags hung in banners around every light post. Every cafe, every corner shop, even every fast food restaurant had a flat screen television. You could not escape the Olympics. They were coming back to their homeland and I was going to be a part of it.
Waiting for the Torch. Corinth, Greece.

When Greece unveiled the opening ceremonies for a world that questioned their ability to get it all finished, I was watching from a Greek Taverna. The whole entire country was given the day off in national homecoming celebration. And when the stage was set, my friends and I sat at large table on a patio that overlooked the Corinthean Bay drinking Mythos and Heineken until our heads lightened. We ate plates of saganaki and tzattziki and tiny fish with heads till on them as countries paraded out into the stadium.

And when I ventured into Athens a few days later, to watch Track & Field, I wore an American Flag tattoo on my arm. I was eager to hear our national anthem and I was eager to eat McDonald's french fries.

I don't remember anything about the athletes and the competitions that year. I remember the fireworks blasting atop buildings on the night the torch ran through my city. I remember arriving at the Olympic Park and watching the nice American man we'd been chatting with on the subway disappear in the crowd as undercover security. I remember standing underneath an Olympic Torch that stretched far into the white sky but looked like an extraordinary joint. I remember the little American flag that my travel companions purchased being one of the only American flags waving in stadium. I remember buying volleyball tickets from peace corps volunteers, one slung over crutches with an unidentified infection on his leg, on the subway. I remember the pride of every Greek I met that the games their ancestors invented were back home.
The Freedom Doobie. 
(not it's actual name. just a name we gave it)

I don't need to remind anyone that Greece got a lot of flack for their poor planning of the Games. We all know the story. We all see the rickety steps Greece is standing on top of now.

But what I do need to tell you is that none of that mattered. Greece is a hard-working country. They take pride in their history and their reputation. The Greek people want you to feel at home in their country, and as a young woman who was starting to make her home there just as trouble was starting to brew, I can assure you that is a very special home indeed.

By the time the Athens Olympics wrapped up I was still broke, but living in a new city now four hours from Athens, just days away from starting my new job. I spent those afternoons trying to cheaply stay away from the sun, by watching the Olympics from my bed. There was no network dominance; every channel in Greece working together to make sure that every Greek event (and they had at least one person participating in every event) was broadcasted. I didn't have to worry about poor commentary because I didn't understand the language. And I didn't have to worry about spoilers because I had no Internet and everything was broadcasted live.

Track & Field. Athens. 2004

I cried when I watched the closing ceremonies in my new apartment alone. I had no idea just how banner of a year 2004 would be for both Greece and myself. And though the Athens Olympics weren't the reason why I moved to such a poor European country, they were certainly the reason I knew it was all going to be okay.

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