Friday, December 14, 2012

Καλά Χριστούγεννα και Καλή Χρόνια !

The holiday season in Greece has been especially strange for me.  Not only is it not freezing cold and snowy and things like pumpkins and cranberries are not to be found, but Christmas is rather unapologetic here.  No politically-correct "Happy Holidays" well wishes or generic "winter parties" - the Greeks have no problem belting out Καλά Χριστούγεννα to one and all.

On Monday we had a Trim the Tree party, complete with American Christmas carols, mulled wine, and an overabundance of fried food, from spring rolls to onion rings (is this what they think we eat all the time?!?).  There have been several Christmas bazaars and street fairs all over town.  It's fun... but not the same as home.

Fortunately, I get to have Christmas at home in the States this year, thanks to my wonderful mother and father and well-timed birthday that allows crossover Birthday/Christmas presents!  

My birthday in Greece, by the way, was fantastic and quite memorable.  We began the day on the Acropolis, where we got to go inside the Parthenon, then I was introduced to Paul, a French patisserie in Athens which will make the next several months oh-so-much better.
Glorious, sunny December day.  Possibly the warmest my birthday has ever been.
Espresso and mini pain-au-chocolat!  For less than two euros!  This is dangerous to know.
The afternoon was relaxed and full of lovely emails from friends and family, and the day ended with drinks and good company on top of Lykavittos Hill, offering fantastic views of Athens and the Acropolis all lit up at night. 

If this is 30, it sure ain't bad.
My bag is packed with books, wine, Christmas presents, and dirty laundry - must be time to go home. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The little things amongst the large

I might be a little obsessed with the current rotating exhibit at the National Archaeological Museum.  I've gone twice in the last week.  I may well stop by again on Friday.  (In fairness, we've been in the museum for other things; it's just nice to stop in for a visit!)  The exhibit is about the Antikythera Shipwreck, which crashed off the shores of Greece around 60 BCE, probably on its way to Italy.  I love this exhibit because of a) the cool technology and modern exhibition strategies used in the show,
This is just a video, but there are holograms used to recreate the functionality of the Antikythera Mechanism!
 b) awesome late Hellenistic pottery and miscellaneous objects from daily life aboard the ship,
So many lagynoi! Aren't they great!?!
and c) pretty, pretty glass vessels!

But, my very favorite object in the entire exhibit is this little guy, who can't be more than a centimeter and a half tall, and most people probably never notice:

If you'll allow me to geek out for a few minutes:  he's a glass pendent of a type found all over the eastern Mediterranean in the second and first centuries BCE, including Cyprus, Egypt, Delos, Dura-Europas (Syria), southern Russia and...Tel Anafa!  See, there's one like him in the collection of glass beads and pendents which I studied way back in my Masters' degree days (one day, that publication will come out ::knocks on so much wood::).  This one was previously unpublished, but it fits beautifully into the series of known objects - of which there are a ton.  But why he's exciting is because, just like all the others, he is a unique snowflake.  Lots of people have suggested that pendants like this were made at one central workshop and then distributed through trade.  But I have a theory, based largely on the variation in the way they're made, that they are actually made all over the place, in small workshops catering to local consumers.  It's also interesting to think that this piece was almost certainly being worn when the ship crashed - by a sailor, by a passenger... who knows?  I need to look into this a bit, but I think that statistically, therefore, it is much more likely that a man was the wearer than a woman; considering this has been often considered a apotropaic/fertility symbol, and that jewelry and pendents are almost universally - and completely erroneously - associated with females in the archaeological record, the presence of this little guy on a ship, as opposed to a settlement or domestic context, might have some strong implications. 

On my second visit, I caved and bought the 46 euro exhibition catalog.  It has already given me immense joy, paging through the beautifully illustrated assemblage of objects narrowly dated to exactly the period in which I'm most interested.  I have a feeling this is a book to which I will return again and again.  Nothing makes academics happier than buying books, and I am a happy, happy academic right now.
Here he is!

Monday, November 19, 2012

An attempt at summarizing the last 6 weeks of my life

So much for one post a week.  In fairness, we've been on the road a lot and the hotel internet situation throughout Greece is a bit spotty at best.  But the good news for you, fair readers, is that I'm in Athens now for the next several months (except when I'm Home for the Holidays) with a bit more down time, so I'm hoping to be able to post more regularly.

We're done with the Fall term now, which consists of four trips to various regions throughout Greece.  I told you a bit about Trip 1 already; the three following trips were no less full of adventure, non-stop sight (site?) seeing, and delicious regional cuisine.  It's hard to know where to start, but here are some highlights:

We went to a series of amazing museums operated by the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation, all of which promote traditional production methods and early industry through objects, dioramas, working models, videos, and - most awesomely - a sense of place.  The first was the Dimitsana Water Museum, which demonstrated the use of water in mills, tanning, and gunpowder production.
We also went to the Museum of Tileworks in Volo, which wasn't quite as cool because it was early industry and therefore not ancient, but the very best museum was the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta (SPARTAAAA!).  They had life-sized models of various olive pressing methods over time, and it was a great demonstration of the fact that technology is constantly evolving, and the Industrial Revolution is not the paradigmatic single turning point in technology that we often think of it as.

I added significantly to my list of World Heritage sites visited: Olympia, Bassae, Mystra, Delphi, Hosios Loukos, Meteora, Mycenae and Tiryns, and Epidauros.  I've been conducting an informal photographic study of where and how the inscription of a site is located and presented.
Small, beat up, generic World Heritage sign at Bassae.
This is the standard World Heritage label, with the information on why and how the site was inscribed on the list in both Greek and English.
Delphi had tons of World Heritage signs of various stripes, including this one.
And also this, which both cracks me up and makes me a little sad.  "The Birthplace of World Cultural Heritage"???  Indeed.

 Many self photos were taken.

Sunset over the mountains near Delphi and the Corinthian Gulf, on a magical three hour hike from the Cave of the Nymphs to Delphi town.  We barely made it down before dark, but it was gorgeous. I'll remember this for a long time.

Acropolis of Orchomenos.  These stairs were crazy steep, and probably cut into the bedrock during the 4th century BCE.
Mean old fence preventing us from accessing Kenchreai, where I worked in 2005.

As were many landscape shots, courtesy of the landscape feature on my new camera.
Methoni fortress.  It was like walking through Game of Thrones.  We were all a bit hungover that morning, and walking around an abandoned fortress for two hours in the Greek sunshine with the sound of the sea was perfect.
Pavlopetri.  You can't tell it, but there's a site here!  (And an awesome video about it here.)  Swimming + site exploration = Happy Kate.
View of the gulf and isthmus of Corinth from Akrocorinth.  Standing here, you realize just how tenuously the Peloponnese is connected to mainland Greece (and, actually, since the completion of the Corinth Canal, it isn't).

And finally, the food.  I was going to do an entire separate post titled "The Meat I Eat."  I don't think I've ever eaten so much meat, and especially pork, lamb, and fish, in a two month span.  Greece is the country for carnivores.
Pork sold by the kilo during what was - as best we could figure - a giant festival of meat consumption in the town of Chora, near Pylos.
Souvlaki, served with fries and white bread, also known as the three Greek food groups.  The places that make the best souvlaki dip the grilled meat into some sort of magical sauce with salt and pepper which may well be the marinade.  The risk of food poisoning only increases the tastiness!

Mr. Donut in Sparta.  Open 24 hours.  If only there was an Athens branch.  Or a Minneapolis or Ann Arbor one, for that matter.  I remember a certain someone's Grail-like quest to procure donuts in St Paul one Bungalow morning...

This octopus was ungodly delicious and tender.  I didn't see it, but reportedly the restaurant had an old clothes dryer in the back that they used to tenderize the octopus.

Little fried fish called gavros, which you eat whole.  I was skeptical at first, but I'm a convert.  They go great with a cold beer and lots of lemon juice.  And, they're cheap.  Peasant food, ftw.

Suckling pig on the spit, from a big group dinner we had in Levhadia.  The meat was way too rich for me - the darkest dark meat, with a velvety texture and intense meaty, umami-type quality.

Winter term will consist of a seminar course and numerous day trips to sites and museums in and around Athens.  It will be really nice to sleep in the same bed every night and have a bit more time to myself, although I've been repeatedly warned that the winter is no less busy than fall.  I also resolve to become more adventurous on my own, exploring daily life in Athens through its markets, neighborhoods, and events. 

Most importantly, I'm still not tired of gyros. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Best of western and northern Greece

Tomorrow we leave for Trip 2 to the southern and western Peloponnese, including places like Sparta, Pylos, and Olympia, so I figured I had better do a summary and overview of Trip 1 before the whole cycle starts anew.

Trip 1 was amazing. There. 

Oh, more details?  Well, in 12 days, I stayed in 9 hotels, swam in the ocean 3 times, visited 34 sites and 12 museums, heard 43 site reports and talks and gave 1 of my own, spent who-knows-how-many hours on a tour bus, ate 6 gyros, rode 2 ferries, and enjoyed the company of 21 new friends.  These are some highlights of the 1600+ photos I took (and others took on my behalf during Camera Crisis 2012).

Swimming in the sunset on the first night at Naupactos.  We realized later that the Greeks view it an unacceptable place to swim, but never quite figured out why.  None of us got any strange afflictions, though.

Fresh fish dinner at Preveza.  (Not as good as the Boundary Waters fish, though.)

Inside the cistern at the "Necromantyon."  The guy who excavated here based his entire interpretation of the site on literary sources which discuss an oracle of the dead, including hallucinogenic raw beans, swinging puppet corpses from metal rings, and a labyrinth.  Others identify the site as a Hellenistic tower, with stores of crops, catapults, and off-axis entrances for defensibility.

Hellenistic house, preserved to the second level, at Horraon.  Simply amazing.  The openings you see on the back wall would have been for wooden roof/floor beams dividing the first and second stories.
We do pushups on the reconstructed Great Tumulus at Vergina (the site of Macedonian royal burials, and a World Heritage site).  The museum itself is built over the subterranean burial chambers, showing the finds from the burials alongside the architecture and site of the burial itself.  Fantastic museum idea and execution; alas, no pictures allowed inside, and the gift shop was closed, so no book-buying. 
The first of two amazing meals (and we ate several quite good ones), at the Hesperides Spa hotel near Vergina.  The man who runs the hotel serves a gorgeous buffet dinner and breakfast, and offers cooking lessons.  We'd been eating grilled fish and Greek salad for days, and the roasted meats, stewed bean dishes, and fresh seasonal green salads, with a hint of chill in the air, hit the spot.  And a glass of wine cost 1 euro.  I want to go back!

One of many glass bowls, resembling later cast glass bowls from Israel and the east, found in tombs and displayed in museums all over Macedonia.  Enough to make me realize I really need to learn more about Macedonian glass...
The ferry docks at the island of Thasos.  I could have ridden the ferry back and forth for hours.

Marble quarries at Aliki, the south end of Thasos.  Everywhere you see rocks projecting up out of the water is where the island was literally quarried away, likely by the Romans.  Human transformation of the natural landscape is hardly modern.

Not untrue, at least for the men who spend their mornings and afternoons at the cafes while the women are working.

I give my site talk at Olynthus, a 5th and 4th century BCE town which was destroyed by Philip II of Macedon (Alexander the Great's dad) in 348 BCE.  Archaeologically, it's known for the 100+ houses excavated here back in the 1930s, and many of the finds were saved, allowing for later archaeologists to learn about the uses of various rooms and study sets of objects in context.  One of the first books I encountered when I started grad school at Minnesota was a modern study of the household goods at Olynthus, and it was exceptionally exciting to visit the site five years later.
Excellent meal #2, at Litochoro on the slopes of Mount Olympus.  In the foreground is the "clay pot dish", and it was easily one of the top 5 best things I've ever eaten: chicken and pork stewed in tomato sauce with feta on top, but the seasonings and textures were incredible.  This dish is a specialty of this particular restaurant, "just like mom makes," and we never figured out the actual name of it, but abundant cookbook and internet searching for comparable recipes is in order.  Behind it is one of several meat platters, full of pork and veal.  I and the two gentlemen across from me consumed all our food and the leftovers of all the other tables - at the end we had five empty clay pots and five mostly empty meat platters, the remains of which were lunch the next day with some fresh bread.
Mount Olympus in the morning.  No more gods up there; they've moved to the Empire State Building (per Percy Jackson).

At Dion, the best archaeological reconstruction drawing EVER!  (Sorry about the glare.)  At the site was a great altar to Zeus and a series of 30-some blocks with iron rings, thought to have held the bulls for sacrifice.  Isn't the gore in this drawing hysterical?  Almost as funny as the idea that you could kill a 600+ pound bull and drag it tens of meters up the steps of an altar, and the other bulls would be cool with it.

While I was most excited for sites which I'd heard a lot about or studied somewhat extensively in the past (like Olynthos and Vergina), the places which really blew me away were those which I'd never heard of before.  It really drives home why I'm here - to learn about new things, get beyond the standard textbook understanding of the Greek landscape and Greek archaeology, experience the landscape, etc.  Places like the Macedonian tombs at Mieza, the Hellenistic towns of Kassope and Horraon, and the Aliki quarries on Thasos totally blew me away.

If I have time today, I'll try to make a Google Earth map of all the places we went, and post it here as a jpg.  (I say that to incite myself to do it.)

Monday, September 24, 2012

There has to be something like this in Athens too, right?

I took 171 photos today within a 7 hour time span (I was really excited, ok?) with my new camera, but the best were really from an awesome ethnic/imported foods grocery store a couple of us found by chance a mere block from our Thessaloniki hotel when we were looking for a bottle of wine to drink in said hotel room.  (Not pictured: the lower level with astounding amounts of Asian ingredients and a small section devoted to Old El Paso-style tacos which constituted the Mexican foods.)

Upper floor of my new favorite store in Greece.

Observe the expensive dried mushrooms sold by the pound, over the exotic and gourmet Betty Crocker frosting.

Have you ever seen strawberry marshmellow fluff???  Me neither!

Camera lost and not found

My trusty Canon Digital Elph and I parted ways a few nights ago, somewhere in a hotel room in Ioannina.  It was not a voluntary parting on my behalf, but I trust it has found a good home, whereever it is, after taking thousands of photos for me in at least six - no, seven - countries since 2005.  We had a good run.

[By way of decoding - Saturday morning we were heading off to our first site of the day, the museum in Ioannina, and I realized my camera wasn't in my little day bag.  I ran back to the bus early to check if it was in any of my other bags, didn't find it, ran back to the hotel where I did a frantic 3 minute search to assure myself it wasn't there either, boarded the bus feeling confident it would still turn up among my things or those of my roommate.... suffered a day of site and museum visits - including Vergina (a World Heritage site and probable tomb of Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, not to mention place I've always wanted to visit) - sans camera... only to have it be nowhere to be found eleven hours and a mountain range later.]

Because the next day was Sunday, when no retail stores are open in Greece, and with our packed schedule, it wasn't possible to get a replacement until lunchtime today, and even that was pretty miraculous because we happened to be in the large city of Thessolonike and had an afternoon to do with as we wished.  But after an adventure at the local Public (Greek Best Buy), in which I and my erstwhile shopping companion set off the alarms on the display cameras at least 4 times, I am the somewhat reluctant but nevertheless relieved owner of a new, blue Sony Cybershot.
It takes panorama photos!  With a little practice, it should, anyway.

Losing my old camera wasn’t nearly as traumatic as not having a camera in all the places we went in a 48 hour period.  We move fast and see a lot, and to not be able to document and record those moments was really distressing.  Everyone else was really great, and really sympathetic about offering me the photos they were taking or their services as a camera b*tch, but it’s just not the same – I realized how much I construct experiences through the lens of my camera, and how much the photos I’m inclined to take – versus those someone else would – are suggestive of the things I’m interested and fundamentally of the way I view the world.  No one else’s pictures will quite do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Trip I, Day 1

Things I saw today (ok, technically yesterday, but it's still yesterday in EST) include:

  • The world's longest suspension bridge (the Rio-Andirio), footed on gravel because the Gulf of Corinth is separating at 30 mm/year

  • The possible burial location of Lord Byron's heart (at Messolonghi).
  • A man stop traffic to buy two kilos of grapes from the back of a truck.  The grape seller then returned to his lunch and beer at the nearby taverna.
  • Macedonian tomb architecture, hundreds of kilometers from Macedon.
  • Shipsheds!!!!  (Like drydock for ancient ships.)

  • A beautiful pink sunset while swimming in the Gulf of Cornith at Naufpaktos.