14 August 2009

Leavin on a jet plane

Cavafy says, make your journey to Ithaka a long one. So I will- I'm saving Ithaki for another time, and going home. I accomplished and learned so much more than I expected already. My thesis topic was so broad when I got to Greece, and like I hoped, it has been narrowed down. And the part that was narrowed was Ithaka. I feel ready to get back to the states and back to school; I can't imagine setting out on another adventure. I made some great contacts here, so my in-Greece research will, in a sense, continue as I start to actually write my thesis this year.

Thanks for helping me get here, thanks for the support, and thanks for reading.

Silver lining

But I have to say, the niceness of the Greeks always warms the cockles of my heart. Yesterday I experienced this 3 notable times. In the morning, a man left his business to point me towards my hotel. Later, wandering in the port and trying to figure out the best way to get to Patra, and thus to Ithaki, a cafeteria owner explained the easiest way (metro, then bus, then finally ferry) and drew me a map! As I left he shouted after me, "And give my Ithaka a kiss for me!" People really love that goat-strewn rock. (I do too.) And then later at a nearby Arabian mini-mart, getting some provisions, I had a conversation with a guy who worked for Exxon in Corpus Christi for 2 years, and has seen a couple other parts of the country (I think some islands in Washington State, and maybe New York), probably eager to use a little English again. And then the owner of the mini mart gave me a package of dates, "a gift from the shop!" They're from Tunisia and they are delish.

In limbo in Piraeus

This town is NOISY. Add to the normal street sounds the belching of ferries in the harbor, and the very diligent chaps at St. Nicholas - a church next door with bells that started this morning at 7 and continued every 15 minutes until 8. Thanks for the wake-up call, guys.

Oh AND, even though there is a THREE STORY poster on a nearby building advertising Harry Potter (Xapi), no one seems to know where the movie theatre is.

12 August 2009

12 August

Last night I went for an evening pre-dinner walk (does anyone remember the name for that? Is it vesti or something? LB?) in the vague direction of the old Jewish Quarter.
I avoid the main arteries and so it becomes soothingly quiet. The babble of crowds is replaced by the voices of children echoing off the stone, and their mothers shouting after them - "Ella, ella! Pou ine?" An extra sense, a sort of tug on the collarbones, leads me down a sun dappled, cobblestoned alley, and I emerge into a noisy square. Have I somehow left the walls? But no, this is just a new corner I have yet to explore, and in the center of the whirlpool of milling tourists and taverna owners that solicit them, sits the obsidian memorial to the Holocaust victims of Rhodes and Kos, keeping a mute and solemn vigil. I push past offers of dinner and turn right up a side street from whence come more purposeful looking families. Locating the Synagogue, and confident I can re-find it the next day, I amble back to Romios Taverna, already busy at dusk. I explain to the now-familiar waitstaff that Amy has gone home (Where is your friend? Are you alone? Why?). I don't mind. I eat (stuffed grape leaves this time) and write and look - it is anthropological participant-observation in action. A cat stakes out my table and hovers, hopeful.


A word about the Apollo Guesthouse. My hosts are the wonderful Maggie and Ikuo. They moved to Rhodes and bought the property only 3 years ago. It is whitewashed and beautiful, with a large patio roofed by an arbor from which grapes hang in hellenistic bunches. Every morning they serve a breakfast of coffee, orange juice, yoghurt with honey and fruit, bread with jam, and sometimes watermelon (karpoozi). I'm not always a breakfast eater, but when it involves coffee and greek yoghurt and is in a picturesque setting, I enjoy it with relish. (This includes your kitchen, GPP and J...yum!)

After breakfast I explored the general Juderia area and wandered into a few churches - small, dimly lit and decorated with frescoes or mosaics - I never tire of them. I also went into the wonderfully restored Hospice of St Catherine - where guests of the higher-up Knights would stay when they visited Rhodes. I saw some Hellenistic and Byzantine parts of the fortification walls, and then made my way back to Kahal Shalom and its museum. I had a wonderful talk with Markos, an Athenian taking care of the place for the summer. There is a great exhibit about the history of the Rhodesian Jewish community, much of which has been donated by descendants of Holocaust survivors from Rhodes. There are ritual objects, clothes, passports, and many photos , mostly from 1900-1945. The story of the community, and the beautiful synagogue, made for a fulfilling morning.

Now its time to pack and do some last-day swimming or exploring!

11 August 2009

11 August

This morning, walking down the Street of the Knights, we had the occasion to go into a few of the buildings which used to be the HQ's of the various "tongues" or nationalities by which the Knights Hospitallers (alt. Knights of St. John) arranged themselves. In the Spanish and French Inns were art exhibits from modern painters, both surprisingly fresh and intriguing. I managed to finagle a poster from one of the shows.

The Byzantine Museum is sadly closed for renovation, but we walked through the Archaeological Museum and its satellite galleries, Prehistoric and Epigraphic. I recalled an idea I had seized upon a few days ago in the Fira Prehistoric Museum: I realized that most of my fascination lies not in the objects themselves, but in their discovery, their reconstruction. My infatuation is perhaps then not with ancient man, but with the archaeologist. My time-traveling daydreams consist not of chitons and ritual, but of working with Sylvia Benson or Marinatos.

However, I do not mean to sell the artifacts short. There is an amazing exhibit here of unpublished finds from, if I remember the wall text correctly, a sanctuary at Lindos. It highlights both exceptional craftmanship and artistry and also the importance of the Rhodes as an international port. This exhibit includes tiny scarabs (quartz, bone, glass, faience), tiny votive animals and ships, blue blown glass bottles, gold leafed potsherds, glass beads AND magnifying glasses - about 3/4in thick but most no bigger in diameter than a nickel or quarter - for doing detail work!

The Prehistoric collection was also well dones, with some fabulous rhytons and even skeletons. I think most of the pottery was Mycenaean, from Ialysos. I learned a new word: nekrodeipna: meals for the dead.

The Epigraphical was also exciting with a few bilingual grave slabs, one with Phoenician and Greek, and one with Latin and Greek.

10 August 2009


Our last evening in Santorini (after a hilarious and thoroughly necessary donkey expedition down to the old port in Fira that afternoon) was spent in Oia (pronounced ee-uh). Somehow this hillside town on the northern tip of the island has successfully balanced the busloads of tourists with its normal life, unlike the capital, which seems to be made up completely of visitors. All in all, it is charming in the extreme. Our first visit was to Atlantis Books, recommended by a friend of Amy's as it was founded by Tufts alumnae. As you descend a short staircase into the whitewashed shop, the things you pass are an indicator of what is to come; a suitcase of books, and a birdcage home to not a bird, but a pipe. Once inside, our glee (bibliophiles that we are) was audible. The best way to describe it, which Amy and I both immediately seized upon, is a shipwrecked treehouse. Books cover every wall, fill every curved niche, lay on every small table. There is a cat named Max who favors the Recommended section. Atlantis is even home to its own Lost Boys - bookshelves swing open to reveal hidden lofts where the crew of kids who run the shop in the summer sleep at night. We made quick friends of the current employee, J, who happens to know someone I know from Colorado. Smallish world indeed. He landed in Oia after college and Teach for America with an offer to work in the shop. I told him I have an eye on his job.

He sent us next to the shop Maria Baba Vida, "where locals shop," full of beautiful and strikingly original jewelry. She uses everything from precious metals to the local volcanic rock. After a solid amount of time chatting with the girl who ran the place, and settling on a few gifts for friends and family, she shooed us off to watch the famous Oia sunset. It did not disappoint, although it was quite misty out on the horizon, but the most impressive thing was how many people showed up to watch! Shutters were clicked, breaths were held, and as soon as the final sliver dipped out of site, the crowd broke into applause, and then we all strode away laughing, in search of dinner. How will future archaeologists know about the intensity of our pilgrimage and obsession with the setting sun? We left no trace.

We very luckily got a table at a beautiful restaurant that had caught Amy's eye. It is called Nectar and Ambrosia. Very fitting - the food (and the view) was fantastic. I had a couscous salad, with tomato and lemon and fennel and wedges of grilled pita, and Amy had pumpkin ravioli that was not sweet (as is often, sadly, the case with squash rav) in a light sauce. Yum!

As if our evening could get any better, there arrived at our restaurant (of all possible places, our restaurant!) the party of... a wedding. The bride arrived via donkey (of course), beautiful in white and delicate long veil, surrounded by her new husband, the small wedding party, and two Greek violinists, who played until all were seated. It was beautiful.

The next day, after a bus ride and a flight on a teenytiny plane, we arrived on Rhodes.


Stepping off the airplane, I felt like I had entered a new county. It felt much more tropical in climate (palm trees!) and vaguely Middle Eastern in atmosphere. I had the strangest feeling of being almost unsure if Greek was the appropriate language. This confusion is understandable in the context of the island's history - changing hands among countries, once overseen by multilingual knights, always Greek as much as anything but with influences ranging from Venice to Rome to Egypt to Turkey. This feeling lingered through the endless, crowded bus ride and walk into the walled medieval city, and has only been tempered (but not completely absolved) by successful Greek conversations, and yet another inquiry demanding (Am I sure my parents are not...? My face looks very....?) if I am Greek. Whether these complimentary accusations would occur so frequently if I did not speak a smattering of the language in greeting, I shall remain forever unawares, although to be honest it has happened even when I remain mute.

Last night we had a small but satisfying meal at a nearby taverna, situated under a huge spreading tree. (Eucalyptus? Plane? I will ask tonight.) There are cats everywhere, mostly a little strange in the eyes and skinny in the ribs - generally feral.

Today, since as a Monday museums are closed, we went to Eli beach, just around the corner and with a 20ft high diving platform. We plan to return to "our" restuarant tonight...a plan cemented when we saw, passing it today, a cat asleep in the net under the tree.

08 August 2009

Day ?

I'm currently in Thira at a tiny internet cafe - not easy to find on this island, hence the m.i.a.-ness. I realize my goal of a daily update is impossible, so I will just post when I can...oh and there is no port in this computer for my card reader, so no photos today.

Athens ended up being incredibly productive. I met with Eleni Konstantinidi, who is in charge of the prehistoric collection at the National Archaeological Museum (EAM). She was great, and let me use their little (but impressive) library. I spent an hour or so strolling through the EAM, going in every room, not just the big exhibits, and this time I found that I found more wonder in the small things. The gold leaf as thin as paper, the miniature votive animals, the earrings - these were what impressed me this go around. Then I did some research in the library, and Eleni very generously gave me visitor statistics, past educational materials, and a book!

Our last day in the city I went to the American School of Classical Studies to meet Margaret Miles, a friend from grad school of my high school Latin teacher. I could immediately tell why they were friends - they both share immense knowledge and infectious enthusiasm about the classics.

SO, now we're on Santorini - our last full day, in fact. Yesterday was unbelievable. Amy and I rented an ATV in the morning from our new friend Vassilli, and we must have seen 90% of the island by nightfall. We nicknamed our orange vehicle "Argo," both as our adventurous vessel and as a pun on the greek "arga," meaning "slow"...apparently the orange ATV's are the ones they give to amateurs. I think our top speed was 50 km/h, and that was going downhill. Uphill was about 19 km/h. We set off first for Akrotiri. I knew the site was closed, since a roof fell in years ago, but I wanted to see what could be seen nonetheless.
After a trek to the southern point of the island, with a few stops to wade in the Aegean, admire views of the caldera, etc, we headed north and then east, to Kamari beach. We spent a few lovely hours swimming (and floating - because of the high salt content, floating is effortless) and sunning on the black sand (read: unbearably hot on the feet) beach, we climbed back on Argo and started up the mountain to Ancient Thira. Amy counted +20 switchbacks on the road to the site. I was concentrating on driving! The site had closed at 2:30, but we could read about it, and the views were worth the climb. There is no way to express in words or pictures how high up we were. We could see water on both sides, the wind was roaring, and the beach umbrellas we had just been under looked like pinpricks of light on the dark beach.

After the exciting/challenging drive down, we took the eastern coastal road north to Oia, because, why not - we had the atv all day! Not much of Oia visible from the road (its mostly on the side of the hill), but the roads there and back to Fira were stunning. We got to see much of the island, and could always see the water in at least one direction.

When we felt we had gotten our 25 euros worth of Argo, we sadly turned him back in, and retreated back to Villa Odyssey to shower off the salt and road dust, and get ready for dinner.

We decided to forgo our usual cheap eats and dine at the Sphynx, a nice restaurant in Fira looking over the caldera. We arrived at sunset and had an amazing meal. We then wandered through the busy, tourist-laden alleys of town and had some desert, and THEN were almost run over by a caravan of donkeys. It was magical.

Well, after a morning of the Prehistoric Museum, I'm off to find said donkeys, and then maybe some lunch and/or gelato. Till next time...and next computer.

05 August 2009

Day 2 - 3/8/09

Our first whole day in Athens, we decided to make our "tourist" day. Woke up and took the metro to Monastiraki. Marveled (still do) at how the metro is the cleanest part of Athens - immaculate, really. We wandered through the labyrinth of kitschy shops in the flea market, through the Plaka and past the Roman Agora, always with our final destination visible above the rooftops.

Closer to the top, we climbed Areopagus Hill. This craggy rock used to be an important meeting place - the judiciary of Athens and later, St. Paul. We took the original stairs up - which are now a small struggle as the marble steps have grown fairly smooth - and the modern metal stairs on the way down. Had great views of the city, and talked cameras with a Brit.

Then we were there: The Acropolis.

At the ticket booth I realized I completely forgot to bring my student idea. The result was, I had to pay 12 euro to get in, and to add insult to injury, Amy got in FREE because her ID says Arts & Sciences somewhere on it, and art students get in free. Did I mention she is an ENGLISH major?

Along with hundreds of other modern pilgrims we ooo-ed and ahh-ed and took endless pictures, and I tried to dredge up from my brain some architecture or history that I could share with Amy, as her default tour guide.

Amy started a "sleepy dogs" series. It has the makings of a future calendar.

After seeing what could be seen, we ambled down the other side, past the Odeon of Herodes Atticus and then around the hill and back through the Plaka. We bought some huge grapes from a cart in Monastiraki, headed home and took a nap.
We had dinner at a great crepe shop near our hotel and then trekked over to where the funicular cable car goes up to the top of Mount Lycavittos.

From this little mountain, in legend a rock that Athena dropped on the way to the Acropolis to make her temple, you can see the entire city of Athens, and the sea. The city is huge, spreading to the hills that ring it on 3 sides like a horseshoe, which opens into the sea at Piraeus. Lycavittus houses a chapel of St.George, an ampitheatre, and a restaurant.

Hazy from the heat or the smog, the city spread out below us, beautiful from this height. We had a drink in the cafe to admire the view as long as possible, then came back to Exarchion and fell into bed.

(N.B.: more pictures will be added to this post when I find a computer that can handle rotating a photo)

02 August 2009

Day 1 - 2/8/09

Imagine the daylight slowly fading, like dye spreading from a garment into the washwater. There are the sounds - of the radio of a passing car, honks of a moped, quick conversation from the square, yelled conversation down an alley - so constant you know you are in a city even with your eyes closed. And through it all the slightest breeze when you least expect it, cooling you when you had almost called it too hot, too humid, and taken yet another cold shower in the 4x4 bathroom. This is Athens as we wait, confused and tired by too much plane travel, for it to get late enough for us to eat. We'll wait till it is truly dusk, walk through the square full of tables under the trees, down a side street to a familiar taverna, where our first Greek meal awaits us.