“All the world is a stage.
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,…”
”—Shakespeare, As You Like It Act 2, Scene 7, 139-143.
Never have I noticed this more than in Olympia, Greece where I became privy to an impromptu scene on tour. Our tour guide, a tough lean woman in her late fifties, briskly stepped off our bus to purchase for the coliseum, our third and last stop of the day.
As she did this, I wandered off to photograph some olive trees. We waited for such a long time; the group got restless. Our guide finally returned, but quite peeved. Her skin seemed to stretch even more tightly over her face as she took a quick puff of a cigarette before starting our tour. Her voice rasped from overuse and inhaling smoke for too many years.
I caught mere bits and pieces of what she said to other members of our group. “I told him that my group paid a lot of money and…” Did someone cut in line? Was that why we had such a long wait?
Suddenly, a big burly man came over, exchanged words with the tour guide and pushed her! His colleague tried to separate them and hold him back but to no avail. Both the man and my tour guide shouted at each other furiously.
“There’s no cause for that kind of language!” she screamed at the hothead before stalking off. With feathers definitely ruffled, she fluffed herself out and lit up another cigarette as she gestured and sputtered to herself in Greek.
She muttered to herself all the way up the hill while we followed behind her like scared little duckies all in a line. “It’s people like that who make my job obsolete,” the woman complained. “Just what right does he have to talk to them about this place?” She crossed her arms and huffed. “Just who will protect the small tour guide like me?” From this I deduced that the “opponent” must have been giving a tour without having a license.
I don’t know how many steps we climbed before we made it to the round theater or coliseum. Somewhere between eight and nine hundred, I think! We were soon to witness the grandeur of the amphitheatre. I am all for grandeur but thank God I had my bottled water with me!
We plopped ourselves down, scattering about the coliseum at different levels. We waited for our guide to demonstrate that we could hear without the benefit of a microphone or any amplification. The Greeks, so knowledgeable about acoustics, knew how to accomplish this through their clever building. Our guide, standing in the center of all of us, began to turn in circles so that we could all see her. Without further ado, she dropped a coin. Amazingly, we heard the coin reverberate in the stillness all around us!
Just then, a handsome, bearded Greek walked up to her and clapped slowly and theatrically. “Listen to the ‘Mother of Greece,’” he shouted to us all, relishing his audience. “She knows it alllll!” His voice echoed with the final word. Our tour guide turned away, as if too shocked and angry to respond, just as characters do in plays.
I watched, fascinated, as the impromptu performance unfolded before me. The man beamed at the audience and shouted another sarcastic insult in a very grand manner. As soon as he finished, our tour guide got right in his face and slapped him! You could hear that from where each of us sat. Another man came down onto the stage. We recognized him as the big, burly man who had pushed our tour guide earlier. This was no performance. This was an actual fight!
I leaned forward, as I am sure everyone in the group did, waiting anxiously for some cue of what to do. Individuals rose to the defense of our beleaguered guide. “Leave her alone! Let her do her job! Get off the stage!”
The two Greek interlopers ignored the shouts of those in our group. They played it out to the last hand until our tearful guide stalked off the stage, grabbed her purse and tersely told us to meet her in a half an hour at the bus. She went off to smoke her woes away.
Both men clapped for her final exit, and roared with laughter. They, themselves, failed to take advantage of our attention to explain the circumstances around the verbal and physical altercations we observed. “Well, you gotta hand it to them. That really showed the power of the acoustics,” declared one of the members of my tour group. Nervous laughter ensued.
My companion looked at me. “She’s got a hothead!” then paused. “But so do they” His shook his head back and forth as if to say, “That pretty much sums up the whole of Greece!” Whatever the case, but especially since our Greek friend did have a leaky emotional valve today, it certainly seemed as if our time in the coliseum was fated to witness the presentation of the three key players on the stage.
I love a fine performance! What better place to see it than at the Greek coliseum in Olympia. History just came alive for me today.