There was a link doing the rounds a few weeks ago with the headline: Scientists Link Selfies to Narcissism, Addiction, and Mental Illness. The article claimed that the growing trend of taking smartphone selfies is linked to mental health conditions that focus on a person’s obsession with looks.

Around the same time, another message went viral. This one claiming that the American Psychiatric Association had officially (yes, officially) classed the taking of selfies as a disorder it was calling ‘selfitis’. This, too, was a hoax.

IMG_4216 (800x600)I have no problem with selfies – I’ve been known to waste more than a few minutes in the privacy of my kitchen trying in vain to capture the beauty within on my smartphone. I’ve even set my camera on a timer in an attempt to rid my selfies of the tell-tale outstretched arm. And while I have had some luck, IMG_4202 (800x600) (800x600)it’s not the sort of luck I’d like to take to the racetrack. One winning photo for every 55 or so taken isn’t exactly great odds. With each dud photo I get, I find something to be critical of. It’s certainly not healthy or good for me but that doesn’t stop me IMG_4208 (800x600)indulging every six months or so when I need a new profile picture for something or other. That’s me; others with a better developed self-image don’t seem to be exposed at all.

What bothers me about selfies though, is that taking them when you’re out and about in public robs you of the moment. Instead of enjoying what you’re doing, where you are, who you’re with, you’re posing – focusing on yourself.

IMG_3853 (600x800)I was in Greece earlier this month and saw those new-fangled rod cameras for the first time. You know them? Tiny digital cameras on the end of a collapsible rod that you stretch out in front of you to take a selfie? Now, it’s hard to imagine anything competing with the Parthenon for attention, but the day I was there it had serious competition. I was standing in front of this fantastic testimony to man’s creativity and architectural genius, and instead of soaking it all in, I was distracted by seven different people posing for selfies in my immediate vicinity. They were so busy taking photos of themselves that I doubt very much if they saw anything of what was around them.

IMG_3917 (800x600)Over lunch later, I was highly amused by the antics of a couple sitting at the table below us. Both sat down and immediately she took out her phone and proceeded to take selfies (a chronic waste of a boyfriend/husband methinks). On the ferry to Aegina, I watched a dad take charge of the two kids while mum spent a good twenty minutes trying to get just the right selfie. I kid you not.

I had thought that this might have been a Greek thing, something that happens when you overdose on souvlaki and ouzo, but I was wrong. The rods have arrived in Budapest, too. Just last week, while out and about admiring the city in all its splendour (I might have my quibbles with the government, but hat’s off to Orban et al. for the facelift Budapest has received – she’s looking amazing) I saw many people so busy taking selfies that they didn’t seem to notice the glorious rebirth of the Castle Bazaar. The gleaming walls of Parlament were lost on them. And as for the night views across the Danube… wasted.

Selfies have their moments, true. But at what cost? Selfitis might not yet be a disorder, but is it already in the frame?

First published in the Budapest Times 29 August 2014

2014 Grateful 19

‘We learn something new every day, and lots of times it’s that what we learned yesterday was wrong’ – I’m with you there, Bill Vaughan. But there’s some stuff I have learned and there’s other stuff I just know. And I often I don’t know which is which. But when I find out that the stuff I just know is wrong, that tilts my world a little for a nanosecond or three.

IMG_3851 (800x600)The Acropolis is not a building – ruined or otherwise – it’s a hill. I never knew that. And on this hill sits the Parthenon, a temple completed in 438 BC, which has variously served  as  a temple, a church, and a mosque, even a munitions depot during the Turkish Occupation of Greece. An explosion in 1687, in a fight with the Venetians, pretty much ruined it, yet in its way, it’s still rather magnificent.

IMG_3876 (800x600)Another lesser known temple, the Erechteion, with its famous Porch of the Caryatids, is even more interesting. I thought I was looking at the real thing in these six maidens, but they’re replicas. Apparently, back in 1801, a certain Lord Elgin took one home to his mansion in Scotland. It was later sold to the British Museum. Legend has it that at night, the other five could be heard crying for their lost sister. The same Lord Elgin then tried to remove a second one – but ended up smashing it (it was later reconstructed). In the mid-1970s, the temple was somewhat restored and in 1979 the five ladies were moved to the Acropolis Museum, where they’re currently undergoing major cleaning. They were replaced by replicas (and very good ones at that… I wonder how many people notice that they’re not the real thing). While at the museum, one of them – a footless lady – was matched with a sandalled foot found in the rubble – reunited and in one piece again.

IMG_3836 (800x600)IMG_3839 (800x600)The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, a renovated amphitheatre, is very impressive. The juxtaposing of old and new creates a magic that is mesmerising.  Home to the Athens Festival each year, world greats such as Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Plácido Domingo, the Bolshoi Ballet, Diana Ross, Liza Minelli… have performed on its stage. I’ve added yet another item to my bucket list and am debating about whom I’d like to see at the Odeon. Imelda May – definitely Imelda May.

IMG_3893 (800x600)The Temple of Athena Nike is another one with a story behind it. The first of the temples on the Acropolis, it was completely dismantled in the seventeenth century when its stone was used to build a Turkish wall around the hill.  In or about 1836, an anastylosis (my word for the day – an archaeological term for a reconstruction technique whereby a ruined building or monument is restored using the original architectural elements to the greatest degree possible) helped rebuild the temple from the parts remaining.

IMG_3858 (800x600)Many years ago, when I was visiting the Colosseum in Rome, I was with an architect friend who patiently explained the various pillars and columns to me. Needless to say, with the limited amount of space in my brain, that information has long since been replaced by something far more important, like the price of first class postage in South Africa. But I didn’t need to know what I was looking at to appreciate the majesty of it all. The detail, the hidden men (can you see the chap reclining underneath the roof?), the artistry – and with the tools available back then? It’s almost impossible to comprehend.

IMG_3863 (800x600)IMG_3846 (800x600)The views from the Acropolis are magnificent. To see the entire city of Athens laid out before you is quite impressive. Mind you, it was difficult to find any comfort in it, as thousands of people jostled for a vantage point. The place was teeming. More than 10 000 visit each day, apparently, making for a less than comfortable experience. Although I was one of those tourists, I couldn’t help but wish everyone else had stayed at home. One long moving line passed in through the pillars and another passed out, reminiscent of a human conveyor belt, with staff on site urging everyone to keep moving and not to stop.

IMG_3841 (800x600)Was it worth it? Definitely. Despite the heat, the crowds, and my lack of interest in old temples generally, it was impressive. Very impressive. I’m grateful that someone, somewhere along the way, didn’t decide to bulldoze it to make way for high-priced condominiums or luxury villas. I’ve often wondered what makes people revere some ruins and erase others. To conservationists and the preservationists everywhere, a massive thank you for doing your bit to keep the past intact.

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