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. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rainy day in Athens

The initial glow of Athens and the School has worn off a bit, as we all are settling in to our new lives and routines here.  Once we had our exciting orientations (e.g. Greek temple architecture at the Hephaistion), we had several more that were not quite so exciting and involved a lot less walking around barriers in ancient architecture and more sitting in the library/seminar room at the school.

Standing inside the Hephaistion, which sits on a small hill overlooking the Ancient Agora.  The rounded roof is probably Medieval, from when the temple was used as a church (and helps account for the excellent preservation).
We leave for our first trip on Tuesday morning.  The fall semester of the program involves four trips (about 10-12 days each) around various regions of mainland Greece, with a 5 or 6 day break between each.  These trips, as we've learned, are the heart of the program, and members have been going on them since the beginnings of the School in the late 19th century, when they would travel by horse and by train.  Each of us going is responsible for a 20 minute presentation and handout with bibliography at one of the sites we will visit, with the result that I've spent more time in the library and less time saying "wow, I'm in Greece!" in the last few days.  Bummer, man.

It hasn't quite all been work, though.  Last night, several of us went out to a nice restaurant in the neighborhood of Exarcheia, known as the place where all the students and protesters live.  I'll do a post on the neighborhoods of Athens one of these days (once I know more about them), and I forgot to take my camera, but one of my dinner companions quite aptly described walking through Exarcheia as entering "anarchist's wonderland."  Much of the architecture is quite old and stately, almost Victorian seeming, but it's covered in spectacularly colored graffiti.

My room, now suitably arranged
Around the school, the excitement has included rearranging my room so my feet don't point out the door when I sleep (bad feng shui), doing an Insanity (high interval training) workout on the School's tennis courts, and celebrating Rosh Hashanah.

Rosh Hashanah meal consisting of various round and seedy foods (apples with honey, fake challah, cookies from the bakery down the road, and green beans), prepared by two other members.  Funny that I've never celebrated this high Jewish holiday before.

I may not quite be able to keep up the once-a-week posts while on trips, as the internet situation is a little fuzzy, but I will do my best, because this is where the magic happens.  I'm so excited to eat at little tavernas in teeny towns in the middle of nowhere Greece, to have a beer overlooking the Aegean from Thasos, to see Mount Olympus.  And, um, to go to the ancient sites, of course.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The first few days in Athens

Arrived in Greece on Friday morning after a disappointing flight on Air Canada (what kind of trans-Atlantic flight doesn't have personal entertainment systems these days?), and promptly met another incoming member at baggage claim.  I'm surprised, generally, at how good it feels to be out of Ann Arbor.  After taking the rest of Friday to get unpacked and settled in, I spent the weekend wandering the streets and markets, consumed my first official glasses of frappe, retsina, and Mythos at outdoor cafes, glimpsed the Acropolis, Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hephaistion, Arch of Hadrian, and more, and saw the parade of the evzones guard in front of Parliament, and met more people in the field of Classics than I have in the previous three years combined.

Large parade of guardsmen (with the pompom shoes!) and a military band which we happened to catch on our way to the Acropolis Museum, but only because we got a slow start to the morning and were running half an hour late.

The biggest event, however, was probably our visit to the Acropolis Museum.  I wanted to do something touristy on Sunday to really feel like I was in Athens, and I've wanted to go to the new museum since it opened in 2009.  Having just been to the British Museum in March, where the majority of sculpture from the Parthenon has been since the early 19th century, I was eager to compare the two display types.  (For those unfamiliar with the whole Elgin Marbles controversy... it's a big thing.)  I had heard that the new museum presented a compelling case that the sculptures should be repatriated to Greece, where they could be displayed in sight of the original building.  Being rather of two minds about the ethics on both sides, I was ready to be convinced.
Yet, I found myself... unconvinced, still.  Certainly, in this wonderful new museum with all sorts of marvelous ancient carved stone, the top floor of the building with its white cast impressions of extraordinary sculptural achievement is sadly anticlimactic.  But, I just didn't find the proposed alternative display in Athens to be any better or worse than the way the sculptures are in London.  The Greeks had a chance to really show the argument for context - that the sculpture can only be understood and appreciated in the place it was meant to be, in relation to the building, it had original meaning beyond a work of art, etc - but instead the display is rather similar to the Brits, much more "art historical" (i.e. aesthetic for sake of aesthetics) than "archaeological" (i.e. contextual).
Sculpture from the Parthenon at the new Acropolis Museum in Athens (top, obviously) and the British Museum in London (bottom, somewhat less obviously).

We'll be back to the Acropolis and its museum several more times in the months ahead, and I'm going to continue to evolve in my impressions of the objects and their museum display settings.  But tomorrow, we get to go inside the Hephaistion overlooking the ancient Agora, and that is pretty cool indeed. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

On leaving

Well, hello there, blog!  It's been awhile.  I've decided to attempt to start this thing up again since I'm about to set off for a year in Greece at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens.  I'll be living in a dorm-type environment, and our group of 13 Regular Members will take trips to explore Greek sites, research and make reports, take seminar classes and Modern Greek lessons, and participate in excavations at the site of Corinth.  The American School is a longstanding tradition among Classicists and archaeologists who work in the Greek world, and I have been told by many prior members that it is one of the best years of their lives.

All that isn't to make it easier to leave, though.  In the last week I've moved out of my home of three years - longer than I've lived anywhere since high school - and packed up all my possessions (except the furniture which my subletter is using) and put them in either a storage unit or the trunk of my car.  (Shout out to my champion moving team of Michael, Ryan, and Justin - you guys were rock stars, and I was in too much of a daze to thank you properly.)  I've been anxious about moving out and becoming a vagrant ex-pat for several months now, and the process of putting everything into boxes made it all extremely real.  On one hand, I felt bad about being so attached to things; but on the other hand, as a student of material culture, I of all people understand that things aren't just meaningless objects, but rather markers of identity, lifestyle, personal choices, memories... they have important, real, immediate significance.

The kitchen of my apartment.  These things were the hardest to pack up, because the ability to cook for myself and my friends represents autonomy, recreation and relaxation, taking care of people (and myself), and most of all, delicious things to eat and enjoy.  Oh, and relinquishing my collection of spices!  Penzey's, I'm coming for you when I return. 

Putting all my things into boxes to go into storage for a year felt like putting myself into storage for a year.  The Kate who will come back from Athens will be a different one than the Kate who packed up those boxes last week - she'll have seen and done new things, made tons of new friends, become more itinerant, and have gone to Delphi and Knossos and Vergina.  And she'll be 30.

I intend to blog this process both as a document of my own journey, and as a way to passively stay in touch with family and friends without obnoxiously flooding their inboxes with bcc mass emails.  And all you out there - don't be a stranger.  Find me on skype, or send me emails of your own adventures, big and small.  One of my greatest concerns is losing friendships and connections to people in the States while I'm on another continent.  Only you can allay this fear!