Divine intervention does not always come in packages from BALCO.
Jennie Finch and the U.S. softball squad are the real Dream Team of this Olympics.
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At St. Paul's Anglican/Episcopal Church on Filellinon Street, just across from the National Gardens in the center of Athens, God is the performance-enhancing substance of choice. The church was consecrated on Palm Sunday in 1843, back when the U.S. used to dominate in hoops, and an announcement in the Athens Daily offered its services as a host church to athletes and visitors during the Olympic and the Paralympic Games.
That made me curious. Had any athletes visited the church looking for a little help from a higher power than the IOC? And what could Olympic athletes expect if they decided to pay a visit?
So I made the trek, which luckily was only five minutes from my hotel.
"We offer spiritual comfort, a friendly welcome and a home away from home," said Margherita Bottaro, a member of the church's sacraments guild who goes by Rita.
So far, no athletes had signed the guest book as of Day Three, but the Olympic Village also offers religious services, including separate rooms for Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Judaiac faiths. There are also rooms at the Village for formal ceremonies, as well as individual meditation. I called a number at the Village twice, as well as a USOC person to get additional information, and I'm still waiting for a call back. Well, if Job can wait, so can I.
Educating Rita (my nickname for her) was a real hoot. She's a silver-haired Englishwoman who has lived in Athens since the 1960s (she married a Greek guy named Joseph) and gave walking tours of the city for more than three decades. She speaks Greek, Italian, French and English fluently, and when I visited her yesterday she was teaching a teenager French.
She said the congregation includes Sri Lankans, South Africans, and English and a parade of other nationalities. "Greeks are the most kind and friendly people imaginable," she explained, saying that one of her favorites words -- "philoxena" -- means "friendly to foreigners."
She asked if I had visited Filopappos Hill or any of the temples of the Acropolis and when I said no, she gave me a stern look. I expected a paddle to follow but instead came advice, doled out with a ridiculously good cup of Greek coffee.
Thanks to Rita and her pals, I also learned a wonderful expression ("It's as different as cheese and chalk"), which I was later told by an oh-so-smart S.L. Price that I probably should have known already. Whatever, brainiac.
I for one I'm glad I came to Athens to discover an English expression (believed to refer to cheese and cattle lands divided in Wiltshire, England) from the coolest church lady in town.