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Athens

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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).

Parents' new backyard (minus the pool and grill)!

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 —    OxfordLondonBerlinVienna, 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.

Christmas Day 2010 in Sabino Canyon, my Daddy and me

One week left in Athens.

view of Athens from the Hill of the Nymphs

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!

OPA!!!

Protest Art

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.

a message from the West

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.

erase the apartheid wall

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.

floating to freedom

Some is just blunt — either angry blunt with “F*** Israel” or peaceful blunt with “Make Love not War”.

an oldie but a goodie

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.

You're all Wrong, Just Care

Flowers for bugs, colors and love

Anarchist symbols throughout the city

“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.

Only Death is Certain

(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).

First Cemetery of Athens: Schleimann's tomb on the left

First Cemetery of Athens: Protestant crosses

First Cemetery of Athens: modern elaborate tombs

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.

Kerameikos: Street of Tombs

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.

Kerameikos: Archaic tomb

One making that 20km trek from Athens to Eleusis would be surrounded by constant reminders of their own mortality. Just imagine it.

Mortality.

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.

She's as young as her grand-daughter right here

Be daring!

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…

“ELA! Welcome to Greece!”

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.

My Family is Delicious

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!

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.)

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?

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