February in Athens is the turning season— wet-cement-gray winter is cleared by a clean black-and-white clatter of magpies; the blackbird atop the lemon tree colors the wind. Abandoned lots serve as makeshift parks, as the daedal earth throws up yellow-flowered sour grass and giant nettles and dandelions and daisies—once sacred to Zeus—and the scrollwork of acanthus. (Island children have taught my daughter to chew the lemony-sour stems of sour grass as a thirst quencher.) In the actual parks, little islands of green surrounded by the paved-over rivers of Athens, forsythia sparks, tortoises stir, and the odd almond tree asterisks the sky. On March 1, Greeks (and parents in other Balkan countries) fasten a bracelet of red and white string to the wrists of children to protect them from the rays of the sun. Come April, they will set the threads on tree branches to be taken by the birds for their nests....

 

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