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Grounded?

“Home is where the heart is”, many say. Well, what does that mean? “Home” is where you’re happy? “Home” is where you have people you love and love you? “Home” is a place you love? What is “home”?

In my mere 27 years, I have a few places I’ve been lucky enough to call home: Tucson, AZ;  Claremont, CA (Scripps College); Charlottesville, VA (UVA), Rome, Italy (I think I’ve spent enough time there to call it a sort of home… I certainly feel at home when I’m there); and currently: Athens, Greece.

I’ve traveled many places and made footprints in many roads and hopefully made as much of an impression on people and places as they have on me. I’ve felt comfortable in all of them, but here’s the funny thing… whenever I’m in one place, I find that I am longing for another. There’s always the desire to travel, either to familiar sights and people or to explore new places altogether.

Is it natural for us to be grounded to one spot for life? Or is it more natural to travel from place to place, to see things and explore and learn and expand our life experiences?

When people ask me “where would you like to get a job eventually and settle down?” I honestly reply “wherever they hire me” (well, it’s a pretty honest answer). ….and hopefully a place which allows me to travel often.

I’m currently in Athens, Greece, and I’ll be here until December. It’s definitely a city with a city feel, and I could see myself living here. The city center is great for pedestrians, and the metro and bus system makes public transport very easy (when they’re not on strike, that is, as they are now). Being in Europe, other European cities are pretty easy to get to, and so are the Cycladic Islands (and Crete!). The language is different, yes, but language barriers are only as challenging as you make them. I plan to return to the States in December — but there is always the option to remain in Athens. Should I remain? Sure, why not. Should I return to Charlottesville, the place I’ve called home the past 3 years? That is easily done. Should I stay in Tucson for a few months while I write my dissertation? Also a lovely option. I’d be happy in each place. I’d also be happy continuing travels around Europe (anyone want to give me a huge loan so I could do that?).

When I’m on the East Coast I miss the desert, when I’m in Europe I miss the comforts of the States, when I’m in the States I miss the wonders of Europe (among other fabulous places)… it may seem like I’m just a complainer and never satisfied, I realize, but that’s not true. I’m very easily pleased. Maybe too easily pleased. I just don’t know if I’ll ever really feel “grounded” to a spot, to one place to always call “home” forever. But then… should I?

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Modern Athens is not Ancient Athens

Ancient Athenian site of worship:

Hephaisteion (5th century BC)

Modern Athenian site of worship:

Greek Orthodox church in Moschato, Athens

Last leg of my European adventure: Athens, Greece. My home for the next few months.A city full of ancient, Byzantine, and modern history, full of smoking Greek-speaking spanakopita-eating ouzo-drinking people. The city is an aesthetic slap in the face of culture shock galore. It’s my third time visiting (once briefly in 2002, then with the 6-week ASCSA Summer Session in 2009, and now for 3 months). The monuments are lovely, the graffiti aplenty, the museums brimming, the food overflowing … but it’s feeling like home. Because I’ve made it my home, at least until December.

I have a lovely apartment in the very residential neighborhood of Pagrati, just a couple blocks away from the Panathenaic Stadium. The Agora, AKropolis, Plaka, and American School of Classical Studies are all within walking distance. And walk I have done. I also have ridden the wonderful and extensive metro system here (some of the metro stations are like private museums where they display finds from the the metro excavations), the bus, and even dared to ride on the back of a speeding motorcycle (actually I’ve done this more than once and dare I say I’m getting used to it?).

Like every good European city, farmer’s markets are aplenty. Ripe seasonal fruit, freshly caught fish, recently killed meat, and delicious cheeses are all just at your fingertips. You only have to dare to venture to try a little Greek. Athens’ mongers are a bit more aggressive than I’m used to, however. They were literally throwing plastic bags at me so I could fill them with their produce!

Friday morning market in the Pagrati neighborhood of Athens

Anyway, I have a fridge full of fresh goodies and have renewed my love of παστέλι, the sesame-honey sticks that I normally only eat on Passover. I make χωριάτικη (Greek salad) pretty much every day, and I often pair salmon with τζατζίκι (I’m calling it my Greek tartar sauce — but it’s way better than tartar sauce). Figs are still in season, so I get to nibble on those every day and it’s absolute heaven. And don’t even get me started on the wonderfulness that is Greek yogurt from a clay jar or fresh feta!!!

But I said I’m living here. This isn’t just vacation. This is 3 months full of serious study and research for my dissertation. Annnnd CrossFit (duh).

My days look a little something like this…

Every morning I eat breakfast, pack a lunch, and then walk from my apartment up the hill to the ASCSA. I get a nice view of the Lykabettos Hill on the way.

Lykabettos Hill as seen from Rizari St.

Then I greet the guard at the ASCSA library, get my laptop out of my locker, put my bag in the locker, remember to bring my pen, water bottle, USB flash-drives and any notes upstairs with me to my book-filled carrel. Most of my day has the following view:

Blegen Library new wing

Eventually I go outside to take my lunch break, then come back in to pursue more work. Not EVERY day is spent indoors, since some of my research requires going to museums and their storerooms (Agora storeroom is on Thursday! I believe I’ll spend all day there.. and then return again to spend another day. May have to return yet again). National Archaeology Museum of Athens and the Kerameikos Museum are also on my “to-do” list for research. And let’s not forget about my main playground, the Athenian Agora, which was full of shrines and altars and monuments dedicated to many various heroes!

view of Athenian Agora and part of the Akropolis from the Hephaisteion

Late in the afternoon I pack up all my things, switch out my laptop for my bag in my locker and head to Evangelismos Metro stop to begin my journey to Moschato where Primal CrossFit Athens is located! Depending on connection time, it’s only about a 20-25 minute journey, but can sometimes get pretty crowded. Then my nights are spent with some fabulous people in a very large room full of pull-up bars, rings, barbells, bumper plates, kettlebells, and, of course, Greeks.

Primal CrossFit Athens

In fact, this is where I have the best chance of learning modern Greek. Knowing Ancient Greek gives me a head start on the alphabet and many of the words, and a few months of private tutoring that I had last semester helped significantly with my modern pronunciation of said words. But I find Greek very difficult to hear and whenever I want to say anything my first instinct is to speak in Italian. Well that won’t get me far, now will it? No. It won’t. So I’ve made many friends at this box already, and they’ve all agreed to help me with my Greek (and in return I’ll help some of them with their English, others with their Olympic lifts). This is quite necessary, because in less than a week’s time I’ve already been approached often by Greek strangers on the street or in the subway or in the grocery store asking me questions like I should 1) know the answer and 2) know what they’re saying and be able to respond. Needless to say, I’ve become very proficient at saying  “Δεν καταλαβαίνω” (“I don’t understand”) and “δεν μιλω ελληνικα” (“I don’t speak Greek”).

Hopefully those phrases will be spoken less often by me in the near future.

Meanwhile, I’ll be putting on sunscreen and admiring the north side of the Akropolis.

North slope of the Athenian Akropolis


Home Again in Italy

It’s amazing how visiting old haunts can be incredibly calming yet invigorating and all at the same time eye opening. Since I have been to Italy more times than I can count with one hand (for academic trips, archaeological excavations, and travel with the family), I am taking it easy with my camera and instead just enjoying the moments spent back in Florence, Umbria, and Rome with my lovely parents. But that doesn’t mean I’m just sitting around all day doing nothing! My feet have tread upon familiar streets and even dared to travel down unfamiliar alleys. My tongue has tasted familiar flavors (bistecca alla Fiorentina, insalata caprese, gelato gelato gelato gelato, prosecco) and daring flavors (vitello tonnato — interestingly delicious). Though in other countries I was amused by British lingo, faked my French, and stumbled my way through attempts to comprehend German, my knowledge of Italian has flowed back into my brain and onto my tongue like the embrace of an old friend.

It turns out that one of my favorite foodie blogs recently posted an “Ode to Italy” which nicely sums up my feelings exactly along with gorgeous photos. And just because I see no reason not to add to my already giant collection of Italian photos, I’ve added a slideshow of my own. Enjoy, my lovelies.

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And yes, I even managed to get dissertation work accomplished, thanks to the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, the Villa Giulia in Rome and the Museo Vaticano. And my old but still functioning laptop. And for some reason neither Florence nor Rome has a CrossFit gym, but I make do with what I have, so between the push-ups, handstands, sit-ups, walking lunges, and laps swum, I also back-squatted my mother.