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  This one was previously unpublished, but it fits beautifully into the series of known objects - of which there are a ton.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.