Countdown: T minus 8 days. God created the world in 7, so I think I have plenty of time to get things done.
On July 10 I left the US of A on a plane headed across the great pond towards Europe. I arrived July 11 in London, England and took a bus to Oxford. I spent 3 weeks there living at Brasenose, researching in the Ashmolean and Beazley Archive and lifting with the boys at Oxford Powersports. Then I spent 2 weeks in Paris, France. 1 week in Berlin, Germany. A long weekend in Vienna, Austria. 1 week in Florence and another week in Rome, Italy. September 11 I arrived in Athens, Greece, and I’ve been calling this city “home” for almost 3 months now.
I have exactly one week left before I leave again, this time headed back to the US of A, back to Arizona, back to the home I grew up in (and the remodeled backyard).
In one week I will be…
…leaving BEHIND: fresh daily local markets; incredible museums; the metric system and kilograms; ancient ruins everywhere; the great resources and people at the ASCSA; my books in my carrel at the Blegen library; 1 pair of now over-sized jeans (with ratty hems); 1 pair of worn-out running shoes; a love of “espresso freddo schedo to-go”; an incredible assortment of new (hopefully lifelong) friends; my new family at Primal CF Athens; cigarette smoke everywhere; motorcycles/scooters everywhere; fresh feta; streets filled with cats.
…leaving WITH: renewed sense of self; memories galore; refreshed comfort in independence; longer hair; a love of walking; one dead laptop; myself, intact (not the case when I left Greece in 2009); no tattoos; amazing memories; the ability to make Greek coffee in a briki; new vocabulary of foreign words (especially Greek); Athenian leather sandals; pages and pages of notes on the Greek vases I came to Europe to see; a restructured (tighter and more organized) outline of my dissertation.
…heading TOWARDS: family; old friends; my extensive collection of “Xena” DVDs; measuring weight in pounds and height in inches; Cactus, Citrus, Cotton, Copper, and Climate (a.k.a. Arizona); my tango and salsa shoes; home of the rodeo; Mexican food; American coffee shops (which double as a work space); an upcoming roadtrip West across the US from Charlottesville, VA towards Tucson, AZ; a new gym with new lifting partners; familiar mountains to hike; my baby grand Steinway; my car, Paolo; GIANT grocery stores!; juicy grilled steak; months of paper writing and productivity … on a new laptop…
What have I learned? Besides bad words in foreign languages? Well, …that meeting new people is always a wonderful thing; give everyone a chance. Always trust your instincts. I still appear Spanish to the majority of Europeans. The Blegen Library is a wonderful environment for productivity. It is possible to live for 5 months out of one suitcase. The internet really IS magical. Fashion is as fashion does. Being an optimist really does pay off. Being super-organized pays off more.
I finished what I set out to do — my check list of museums and sites to visit is complete. I managed to include my love of fitness by visiting local gyms and making fast friends with the proprietors and athletes at them all — Oxford, London, Berlin, Vienna, and, of course, my quarter-year installment in Athens (all of which I’ve previously discussed in this blog).
I’m a motley of emotions right now: super excited to soon be back in the Old Pueblo, incredibly sad to leave my friends in Athens (these Greeks truly are too sweet, so very generous and funny and open — for a while I seriously contemplated staying in Athens until summer just to be with them that much longer); a litter bittersweet to be so far away from Europe, where it seems your next adventure is just a short plane (or train!) ride away; and at the same time nostalgic for Italy and the Irish countryside and the beaches and rainforests of Central America…. Wandering soul’s gotta wander… My iPod has been shuffling between the “Chieftains” and mariachi music and country music … and in the mornings I sing along to the Greek pop top 40 coming out of the boob tube.
So. One more week to endure the lingering lure of home.
One week left in Athens.
One week to gather any last-minute notes from the books here (or for scanning). One week left to laugh and dance and joke with my Greek friends (in and out of the gym). One week left to wander the streets of Plaka (never gets old). One week left to ride the Metro. One week left to gaze at the Akropolis all lit up at night (also never gets old). One week left to stop moping and live it up!
Graffiti is commonly considered an illegal act of vandalism against public or private property. Another way to think of graffiti is an art form. There are real masters of spray cans decorating the sides of buildings with elaborate murals worthy of display in any gallery. Graffiti is a form of expression favored by the youth of the world. Weapon of choice? Spray can. Some of the most thought-provoking graffiti has been produced by those who wish to passively express their opinions — against war, against their government, or oppression, or an economic recession.
Graffiti as political commentary.
If you raise a wall, it becomes a canvas for one with imagination… or simply something to say but nowhere (safe) to say it. If you raise a wall meant to separate people, then that wall becomes a barrier, or a symbol of oppression.
One of the most famous of these walls is the Berlin Wall, which separated East and West Berlin for 28 years and acted as a barrier to freedom. Immediately after it’s erection, the West side saw its first signs of graffiti. The East side, in start contrast, remained covered in bare white-wash. Eventually every inch of the West wall was covered with colorful commentary, whether in pictures or words, reflecting the hope and optimism of the West itself.
After the Wall was taken down in 1989, fragments remained and were preserved as a testament to the past. The art — it IS art — on its sides preserved. See a slide show of the wall, 20 years after its destruction. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/berlinwall/photos/photos-graffiti.html
There is another Wall in the world today. The apartheid wall in Palestine a.k.a. “Israeli Separation Wall” separates Ramallah from East Jerusalem. More words than images decorate this wall. They are often messages to Palestinians themselves, or to those invading forces. Most simply protest occupation; some scream of hope for the future. Some of the phrases sprayed on the wall are as simple as “we need bridges not walls” or “no more walls, nor more war”. Some are more humorous, such as “CTRL + ALT + DELETE”, as if one could simply erase the wall with a quick command.
Some is more hopeful, such as a silhouette image of a girl being lifted by balloons… as if she could just float over the wall peacefully. Perhaps she has family on the other side.
Some is just blunt — either angry blunt with “F*** Israel” or peaceful blunt with “Make Love not War”.
Quit the violence and care instead about human lives seems to be the main message of choice. Not just in the Middle East, but also in a place as close to home (for me) as Athens. Athens may have no physical walls of separation, but it does have a major recession thanks to the economic crisis and political instability, and from these have sprouted strikes and rallies and (sometimes violent) protests. The people are hurting in their pockets and their bellies, and their government hasn’t seemed to help for over 2 years now. And while some of them throw fire or cement or Molotov cocktails… others throw words and images and symbols onto walls throughout the city. They get their message across… peacefully.
“Time” magazine has a great photo essay on the graffiti throughout Athens, which is predominantly political commentary against the economic recession and violent protests. http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2099542_2322652,00.html
People are angry and have opinions, but instead of active aggression many choose to passively speak their mind on the walls of [or around… or through] their city.
So maybe it’s time you open your eyes and listen.
Recently I enjoyed a cinematic experience. The title of the movie was “Immortals”, and it was made by the same people who did “300”.
Aesthetically, it was quite pretty. Very enjoyable for the sake of entertainment. It has absolutely NOTHING to do with the mythical Greek hero Theseus, however, even though that is the name of the protagonist of this CG-enhanced adventure. (Although there was an allusion to a fight with a minotaur and the inclusion of a bull… and even I didn’t actually get the reference until the very end. Then I laughed.) For anyone who cares about historical accuracy (or accuracy of any sort), this movie will be very frustrating: the art and architecture is all over the chronological map and the outfits are fantastical; but the flick has its pros, as well: Ancient Greek is spoken by 4 of the characters, which is pretty cool; there are pretty bodies throughout (at one point a very nude very pretty body); colorful costumes and shiny gods permeate the screen; and let’s never forget the many fun action scenes. ANNNND Mickey Rourke plays the bad guy, so it must be legit.
One thing they did get very right: Theseus was young, he wore a short tunic, and he was beardless. At least, that’s how he is typically portrayed on Athenian vase-painting (where is weapon of choice is a sword, though, not this mythical “bow of Hyperion”).
Who was the Greek Theseus, the man I study? He was the Athenian hero par excellence. He begins his story by venturing to Crete to slay the minotaur and in doing so save his city from having to send any more girls and boys as tribute (er, food). Plutarch gathered all of his stories and with them narrated a biography of Theseus, and in doing so made him appear a real historical figure. He was a king of Athens, he had connections to the Trojan War, he was associated with Poseidon (and Athena), and he completed ‘deeds’ similar to those of Herakles.
Around 500BC, Theseus sees a surge in iconographic popularity. Herakles used to be the popular hero in Athens, but it seems that Theseus for a brief moment almost replaces him, and he is imagined as the ideal Athenian citizen, what every young man should aspire to be. His mythology comes with a set of deeds similar to Herakles’ labors, and around this time period large red-figure Athenian plates are produced which portray these deeds in sequence. He battles evil men (such as Sinis and Prokrustes) and beasts (the minotaur, of course, and also animals such as a sow and a bull).
Theseus does not really have set attributes the way most deities and some other heroes do; for example: Zeus has a thunderbolt, Poseidon a trident, Herakles his club… Theseus normally is depicted as a beardless youth, often (partially) nude and wielding a sword (or an axe for Prokrustes), but really he is better identified in context. It seems as if the Athenians themselves are still unsure how to best portray their new main hero. They’re still playing around with whether he has brown or blonde hair, whether he should wear clothes or be athletically/heroically nude, or whether he should fight with a sword or assimilate him to that other awesome hero, Herakles, by giving him a club to hold… and a bull to fight.
This leads to what I like to call “conscious ambiguity”. Herakles’s seventh labor was to capture (not kill!) the Cretan bull and take it with him back to Athens. The bull was released from there and wandered to Marathon (nearby) and Theseus captured the “Marathonian bull” (the very same one) for sacrifice. Herakles is often depicted bearded and nude but for his lionskin helmet and cape while subduing the bull. Theseus is also shown (partially) nude while subduing the bull, sometimes tying its legs together. Sometimes the hero wields a club. In such cases, the identity of the hero capturing the bull is a tad uncertain.
Herakles or Theseus? Your choice! (<– that may have been just the point, indeed.)
(This is not a grim post — at least, that is not my intent. .My intent is, as ever, to encourage everyone to find reasons for joy and laughter each and every day.)
“The idea is to die young as late as possible.” –Ashley Montagu
Who wants to live forever? How depressing would that be? All your friends, family, and lovers will die around you, the world will keep spinning and changing and there you will be, stale, and alone, a remnant of the past. Death, now, death is certain. The ONLY certainty in this adventure we call life. I’m not a pessimist, really I’m not, I’m just way too practical. I can predict your future: I predict that one day you will die. Eventually, our days come to an end.
Death is constant. Death is solid. Death is inescapable. It brings cause for others to come together to celebrate a life and to mourn a loss. Too bad we can’t stick around after our own deaths, because sometimes that is when you’re truly recognized — Van Gogh’s paintings finally sold, U.S. Presidents’ faces can decorate U.S. currency, you may become hailed as divine (Jesus, Herakles, Roman Emperors…). Even CrossFit (yeahhh I went there) names their “hero” workouts after soldiers who died in battle. Key word: “died.” In ancient Greece, one could not be revered as a hero until after his death, and cult rites typically took place at his tomb (there was also ancestor worship, but that is slightly different, though it also took place at the grave site). W. H. Auden said “No hero is immortal ’til he dies,” and the poet was not wrong.
Tombs, gravestones, mausoleums, burial mounds… reverence for the dead has been around maybe since time immortal. Okay, *slight* exaggeration, but think about the oldest type of grave marker you know. What comes to mind first? Pyramids of Egypt? Bronze Age beehive tombs from Mycenae? Rock-cut tombs from Lycia (Turkey)? Your great-great-grandmother’s gravestone in Maine that you visited when your were 5? Why do we take such care of our dead? They’re not around to see whether or not we remember them or pay or respects (or maybe they are, actually… an afterlife is definitely one of those things that falls into the “uncertain” category). And yet, for thousands of years humans of all cultures have paid homage to their dead. Why?
Last week I visited the First Cemetery of Athens. It takes up a vast portion of land and is filled with grave markers ranging from an elaborate temple-like structure (Schliemann’s tomb, for example) to a simple marble cross (mostly in the Protestant section).
Some markers are incredibly ornate, some more distinct and modern, and many are influenced by the markers from the much older neighboring cemeter in the Kerameikos neighborhood: the cemetery of Archaic and Classical Athens. This week I visited that great site, which is typically devoid of tourists any time of the year. However, it does not lack for turtles. Nor does it lack for a sense of awe and reverence. For example, the “Street of the Tombs” outside the city walls of ancient Athens — only a small section is preserved, and adorning the top of the walls only a couple tomb-markers are displayed.
But you have to imagine… the Sacred Way, another street that runs from the city walls of Athens 20km to Eleusis, it was once framed by those elaborate tombstones, either of the grand Archaic type or the more simple stele from the Classical period.
One making that 20km trek from Athens to Eleusis would be surrounded by constant reminders of their own mortality. Just imagine it.
That’s right. We. Are. Mortal. Death comes for us all, we just don’t know when. I’ve known men to die in their young 20s and others who lived past 100. Neither had any way of knowing that would happen. We have no say in that, we DO have control over our waking lives. I, for one, choose to live it trying to laugh every day. “The idea is to live young as late as possible”, right? This doesn’t mean “die young”, no, it means, live well. Live like a kid. Kids are awesome. Kids know how to have fun. Next time you walk by a playground, I challenge you to stop and take a look at those young faces. Some will be full of tears from a fall off the monkey bars. Some will be filled with big eyes wide with fear trying to find the courage to go down the highest slide. Most, though, will be filled with smiles and accompanied by giddy laughter and carefree bliss. No matter their economic or family background, children can lose themselves in the wonderful world of the playground. The jungle gym. The big sand pit filled with amazing structures. Games. Friends. New experiences. Fun. It means an opportunity to try something daring, like jumping off the swings when they’re at the highest point. That kid may break her wrist doing so, but hey… wrists heal, whereas moments are fleeting and opportunities often only come once. Take advantage — you only regret what you did NOT do. Ah, the wisdom/brilliance of the innocent youth. Running, skipping, giggling, crying, sniffling, screaming, playing, totally without worry.
Why should that end on a playground of our youth? It doesn’t have to.
I’m not saying go out to an actual playground and pretend you’re 7 years old again (though some friends and I did just that on a nice Spring day and it was a super good time, hence the human pyramid of accomplishment above. We weren’t the only ones mingling with the kids! See Grandma Rad above swinging herself round and round on the jungle gym.) Go out there, try something new, be active, make new friends, be bold, take a chance, and above all else: laugh. Find whatever it is that makes you smile inside-out, whether that’s cooking, dancing, writing, riding a motorcycle, or just sitting around a table with your nearest and dearest. It’s never too late to discover new joys in life.
Example: my grandmother is a mere nonagenarian. She has bad arthritis in her knees and often walks with a cane. She’s stopped driving (sold her car, even!) and gave up eating meat (except fish). Recently, she tried out this athletic program at her local JCC called “Silver Sneakers” (this is a woman who was never very “athletic”, though back in the day she was a trophy-winning bowler…). She’s one of the oldest in her class, and, it turns out, one of the best. She absolutely loves it and goes three times a week. This is a woman who sometimes couldn’t complete her daily mile-long walk because of pain or nausea. Now she’s found her new playground with kids her own age. She’s making friends, getting active, getting stronger, and feeling younger for it. I say: “You go, girl.” That woman just may actually live forever…
Those were the words spoken to me last night as I turned the corner towards the Evangelismos Metro stop only to find it was unexpectedly closed. I was not the only one surprised by this discovery. As I pulled out my phone to call a friend for a ride to the gym, a man next to me uttered those words (he, too, was on his phone calling for a ride). Well, he’s not wrong. Yes, “This is Greece”, after all. Expect the unexpected.
I happen to be in Greece during the dawn of much change, I think. The strikes and rallies are pretty routine by now, and they are typically scheduled in advance, but much is going on beyond that. The euro crisis, the bailout, the referendum votes, the possibility of a new PM soon, Greece maybe not being a Schengen State (I wonder how that will affect my Visa…). This is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a volatile situation, and I’m curious to see how it will play out.
Now, I say “curious”. If I were Greek, I’m sure I’d be using a different word, perhaps “anxious” or “desperate.” But, then again, the Greeks have a certain love for life and a way of being familiar with change and working with it instead of seeing it as a setback. However, this current kind of change is a huge obstacle, and it’s already affected too many. I’m in an unusual position here as a foreigner in a Athens with Greek friends who spends much of her time in the richer parts of Athens. I get to view this whole fiasco from many different perspectives, and they certainly clash.
Some of my Greek friends just don’t talk about it. Whether because they actively want to ignore it out of fear or for other reasons, I’m not sure. Others do talk about it, and no one is happy. Others seem to view Athens as full of the “haves” and “have-nots” and all financial issues right now are poorly affecting the latter group. The former group, however, is worried for their safety, as well they should be. Those desperate for money often turn to desperate measures, and the crime rate is increasing. Watching the riots in Syntagma you’d think Greece really is on fire, but walking around the streets of Kolonaki you’d think Athens is a prospering city going about business as usual (especially in the afternoon when many are sitting at corner cafes sipping casually on espresso freddos, smoking their hand-rolled cigarettes, watching the day pass, without a care in the world). And as an American who spends most of her time in the library I still feel pretty removed from it all, just watching it all unravel — or explode, as the case may be.
So there’s a vote of confidence today in Parliament. Will Papandreou still be the PM next week? Will the ‘haircut’ work? Will more austerity votes take place? Will Greece be a part of the Schengen states? What will happen to the euro? What about the US stock market? How many more people in Greece will become unemployed? How many more strikes and rallies will take place? The questions of political and economic uncertainty are too numerous to list. Greece is walking a razor-thin line here between chaos and, well, I’m not sure what’s on the other side but I’m not sure it’s ‘stability’.
Whatever happens today, and tomorrow, and in the next week and month, I hope it’s for the better and that Greece finds a way to haul itself out of this economic hole.
“Every time I see Greece I just want to give them a big ol’ hug.” Awww it’s true, though.
It’s true. My family is quite aesthetically pleasing in every way. Easy on the eyes, clean bodies, athletic dispositions, pleasing voices, and our names are even delicious: my last name is a pear (Bartlett), my cousin’s name is a cheese (Brie), and my grandmother’s name is Olive. I mean, come now, you have to like that. Add a little crisp white wine and you have yourself a fantastic sunset siesta on the back patio.
AND we can all cook. Thankfully I picked up the love for cooking well (and eating well), as did my cousin Brie, who just spent a couple months traveling around Greece working on WWOOF farms (read all about her travels!) and happily — for me, at least — spent her last week in Greece with me in Athens. Oh the fun we had! She taught me some breakdancing skills, and I brought her to Crossfit. She and I braved the Greek butcher to buy freshly ground veal and she made me meatballs! I roasted her some chicken legs. We made Greek salad and other goodies. We bought delicious baklava and kantaifi from the nearby pastry shop. We sat at fancy coffee shops in Kolonaki for over an hour to enjoy our iced beverages and people watch. We giggled. We talked. We hugged. We danced. We walked random streets of Athens. We explored the First Cemetery. We hiked up the Acropolis. I attempted to be an engaging tour guide about all things ancient. We got called “goddesses”. We ate a hearty delicious (and inexpensive) meal at Scholarhio estiatorio (a restaurant) in Plaka (my first moussaka since I’ve been in Athens, and boy was it good!). We cooked some more (a casserole, some Greek coffee, roasted veggies…). I took lots of photos, too.
Annnnd now she’s back in the big ol’ US of A and I have one month left in this crazy city. I’m sad she’s gone, but happy she was here. It was a yummy time!