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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora…

“Ag-o-ra” [ag-er-uh]: (ancient Greece) the chief marketplace of Ancient Athens, center of the city’s civic life.

Today it is the center of a smattering of ruins, some with labels, best toured with a knowledgeable guide in tow to explain it all to you. John Camp, the director of the ongoing excavations at the Agora, would be the best guide to have, and I had the pleasure of this experience two years ago when I was here as a student in the Summer Session at the ASCSA. However, he is not available all the time. In the meantime, read a guidebook, hire somewhere, or explore on your own and just… guess. Ahhh guessing. Guessing is fun, isn’t it? Guessing takes up a lot of my time here in Athens when I explore the city. See, I’m in search for hero shrines. Often I have archaeological records that document the locations of shrines, and I find these extremely helpful. However, other times the only record is from Pausanias, an ancient travel writer of sorts, who might say things such as “there were a few altars dedicated to heroes in Phaleron, near the bay” or “so-and-so had a shrine south of the Olympeion by the Kalliroe Spring”. So specific, right?

Hero shrines are finicky in and of themselves. They come in many shapes and sizes, and we, modern scholars, have no clue as to the “why”. We just hope they come with an inscription that identifies the structure and, if we are truly lucky, the recipient of the offerings. Sometimes hero shrines share a structure with a god, sometimes they are worshiped in an open area with no physical structure other than an abnormal rock formation. Some were worshiped in houses, some were given dedications, some were worshiped at tombs, some were worshiped at the sea. … and so on.

Heroes were worshiped in caves

Heroes were worshiped just NE of the Areopagos

Near the Kalliroe Spring, south of the Olympeion

Base for "Eponymous Heroes" statues in the Agora

possibly the Strategeion (near a Geometric gravesite) in the Agora

Triangular hero shrine in the Agora (also in in Eretria, and 2 in Delos)!

graced with an inscription: "O HIERO"

possibly the temenos of the daughters of Leos

So, my “operation hero-shrine scavenger hunt” has been fun! Lots of “this looks like it could have been important!”. I’ve certainly seen a lot of ancient Athens hidden among the modern buildings. Which brings me to another point — modern Athens has been built up over the majority of the evidence. This makes things… more difficult. A challenge to really exercise my imagination.

Karaiskaki Stadium in Faliro, near the area where hero shrines were (according to Pausanias)

Luckily, I have quite the vivid imagination! And archaeological excavation records. And museums with many, many, many late Archaic Athenian vases for me to study. 😀


Be Free, Flow With

Thick and thin, that’s Greece right now. Thick: protests, rallies, list of strikes, debt, amount of honey in pastries, yogurt, accents, traffic, coffee. Thin: women, red wine, linen, the border of Athens (seriously where does the Municipality of Athens end and the Suburbs begin?), rules, and sometimes patience.

Organized, that’s me. I am a planner. I like to plan way in advance and know what I’m doing, where I’m going, how it’s going to happen. Luckily, I am also an extreme optimist and have a ready “it will all work out” attitude for most situations. That latter trait has certainly come in handy in Greece, the land of ever-changing everything (usually last-minute). One of my new CrossFit friends from Vienna asked me what my plan was after I got my doctorate. Basically, I answered that “I have a Plan A, and if that doesn’t work out then I have a Plan B, and if that doesn’t happen then I’ll just see what life gives me and go with that.” He called it a “Taoist/Zen” philosophy. I call it “being realistic”.

The recent economy in Greece has led to more strikes, rallies, and protests than usual, the goal of which are to cause the most amount of upset and inconvenience in order to pressure the government to make changes. This usually affects the majority of Athenians and tourists more than anything. Most strikes are not announced until the day before, but luckily I can find a list of everything at this great blog. Or I read  http://www.ekathimerini.com/, which gives me all the latest local news (and weather, which is finally teasing us with some cooler temperatures at night).

What was it Blanche DuBois said… ah yes: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” This is amazing advice. As my friend Jon Forney stated from his own experience: Never Decline an Invitation! Words of wisdom, those. I can’t count the times that has held true for myself. Greece has been no exception.

How do I deal with the transport strikes when I need to travel 8km south of Athens to get to the gym? Why, I call for a ride from my buddy George, of course! Sure it means riding on the back of a motorcycle, which I had never done before September, but dare I say I’m (gasp) learning to enjoy it?

How do I handle returning to my apartment to find the electricity cut because my landlord paid the bill a little late? Well, I actually was just going to sleep on it and hope my food didn’t spoil and that it would all get resolved the next day after calling my landlord. Instead, my buddy George (same guy) MacGyvered me some electricity until the company came to reconnect it. (Lesson: pick friends who are crafty and have a vehicle?)

How do I make noodle-free (zucchini works wonders) lasagna when ricotta is nowhere to be found? I go without! Extra mozzarella melts pretty well, you know!

How do I cope with returning to my apartment mid-afternoon with bags full of groceries to find my key to the building does not work, and there’s a sign in Greek posted which says (from what I can understand) that the lock has been changed and the business office has our new keys. I don’t know where this ‘business office’ is. I call my landlord… news to him, and he’s at work (30 minutes away) but will rush to my aid if need be. Fate smiled upon me just then, because one of my neighbors just happened to come home at that moment, he just happened to have made a copy of the new key, and just happened to lend it to me, a complete stranger, until I get my new one.

What do I do when my plans to go to sites and museums are ruined by the archaeological parks and museums going on strike (say what?!?!)? I head to the library and get more work done there, naturally.

Meanwhile the price of a frappe at my normal frappe place has increased 65 cents. I suppose I’ll have to cut back from 2 a week to just one a week. Oh noes!

I am slowly becoming one with the fine art of “going with the flow”, I just think of it as a dance with the uncertain present. Living in the moment as best I can.

If all else fails, just have some more baklava, right?

Baklava dripping with honey yummmmm

Can you get a Fulbright for CrossFit?

If I were a smart (Paleo) cookie, I would have connived a clever application for the Fulbright committee to read that involved me traveling around Europe in order to study the cross-cultural effects of CrossFit. I think maybe they would have gone for that. And then, on the side, I would have used the stipend to fund my dissertation research.

Or I could have spun the “hero” theme — doing “hero” WODs while studying ancient heroes, all the while being inspired by real life ‘heroes’ such as Kyle Maynard.

So it’s no secret that I am not shy, that I love meeting new people, and that I love picking up heavy weights and forging new bonds of friendship over the shared agony that comes with intense exercise (a la CrossFit). Starting in July I began a 5 month adventure in Europe in order to conduct research on my dissertation, but on the side I sought out the local CrossFit boxes or weighlifting gyms. In Oxford I found OXP, a place for Strongmen, Powerlifters, rugby players, and Olympic weightlifters to train… and me. In London I revisited Crossfit Central London for an Oly session. In Paris I ran around the streets, did pull-ups on some random scaffolding, and created daily WODs to complete in my studio apartment. .I got to CrossFit in other languages, starting with German. In Berlin I visited Crossfit Werk a few times, and even got to eat dinner with the crew at a Paleo restaurant. My long weekend in Vienna included two grueling sessions at Crossfit Vienna. Two weeks in Italy with my parents and no Crossfit gym provided opportunity for more creativity: I used my mother as a barbellfor back squats, and a staircase as a pull-up bar. My father joined me in a WOD.

my dad doing some perfect push-ups at the end of a wod in our Rome apartment

I coached my parents through some tabata squats and plank holds. I completed my first swimming WODs.

Post-swim WOD handstand






Now I’m in Athens and have settled in with the Primal Crossfit Athens  group. I am here for 3 months, so I am very glad I enjoy it. I don’t speak Greek (except a few words here and there… mathainw! (“I’m learning!”), but many of them speak English, and where the language barrier is tall we find a way to hurdle over it. After all, encouragement in any language is always appreciated, and the post-WOD feeling of “I’m so happy that’s over with” while you lie on the floor catching your breath is pretty similar for athletes everywhere.

The gym here has been, as ever, very welcoming and full of fun people learning new skills each day and making strength gains, amazing themselves every day at what their bodies are capable of. I am included in this, as well. Though I have still not yet managed to join the muscle-up club, I have finally mastered the art of the one-handed handstand!

Love being upside-down!

And competitions are not absent from my agenda even though I’m in another country! To be fair, each WOD is a competition against yourself and your fellow gym members, but there are other opportunities here, as well. Every Saturday at our gym we hold a \”Primal Tournament\”  competition, and in a couple weeks I’ll be venturing to Volos, Greece, to be the only American competitor in the Argo Games. I don’t know much about what to expect, but I fear a mountainous 5k run for the first wod… If anything I know it will be fun! And I will want ice cream when it’s over 😀


Needless to say, it’s been quite an experience seeing the different ways each Crossfit box functions. That isn’t to say all American boxes are the same — because they are not. But there are further differences once you cross the pond: European boxes are predominantly male whereas in the States they are usually at least 50% female; they work with kilos instead of pounds; the pull-up bars I’ve come across here are thicker than in the States (which makes using them more difficult); they are harder to find, in general!!! CF is growing in popularity, but unlike in the States, where Tucson, AZ alone has about 8 different places you can go to Crossfit, Europe has maybe one-three gyms per COUNTRY (Paris, Rome, Florence…. none of the cities have CrossFit).

There are other gyms to visit, of course, including ones that specialize in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, and since CrossFit is like a gateway drug to those other disciplines, you can still get in a good lifting session. And I can’t imagine a place where you can’t at least go for a run, or do push-ups in your bedroom. But as anyone who attends a CrossFit gym will know, it’s the community aspect of it all that keeps us coming back (that and the adrenaline/endorphine rush that comes with each workout). And I have to say, not a one has let me down. The Greek guys even invite me, the American, out with them at night.

I will dance party in every CrossFit gym around the world, if I can! (Fulbright or no Fulbright.)