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!
I am all packed up, the apartment is cleaned, and my night train for Berlin doesn’t leave for another 4 hours yet still I keep checking my watching wondering when I should head over to Gare de l’Est.
I believe my time in Paris has been spent well. Too well. My feet have walked for miles, my eyes have drunk in the scenes of the Seine, the churches, Versailles, the Left Bank, the Right Bank, the fromageries, the boulangeries, the fantastic open-air markets, the art of the museums… I have checked everything off my list and more. I ate well. I drank well. I spoke in French, I tried to understand French. I was mistaken for a Parisienne.
I met with curators of Greek art at the Louvre and the Cabinet des Medailles. I had the Louvre to myself my first Tuesday here. I was invited to spend as much time as I liked in the Salle de Luynes.. I looked, I drew, I took notes, I went home and worked and worked and worked some more. I went out and walked.
My last full day in Paris I woke up to a rainstorm that slowly calmed as I sat in my apartment in the 3rd eating a breakfast of fried eggs, smoked lox, fresh arugula and soft cow’s cheese. By noon the sun was fighting a winning battle against the clouds and I stepped out in my Parisian uniform of black Chuck Taylors, skinny jeans, a solid tank and a black jacket (which was not necessary within the hour). I walked down Rue Turbigo through some hidden passages with unique shops, then down Rue Montorgueil where I purchased my last pastry in France, then along the Seine towards the Petit Palais (a free and lovely museum with an incredible collection of French painting, 20th century photographs, and also Greek rhyta, among many other things). Then I crossed the Seine to have a late picnic in the shade of the Tour Eiffel. After people watching and sun bathing I began my trek back to my area of Paris, but I took the long way through the Left Bank, down Rue Grenelle then hitting up with St. Germain des Pres and finally crossing over Pont Neuf, up towards the Pompidou and finally my tired but happy legs walked up the steps to my apartment where I poured a glass of vin rouge and prepped the ingredients for one last dinner of steak-frites. Fresh figs from the market on Rue Cler for dessert.
Yes, I would say I had a grand ol’ time in pretty Paris.
Next leg: BERLIN.
Let’s talk about heroes.
…Dead ones (long dead).
…Mythological ones (Herakles and Theseus!).
…Heroes with cult in Athens (sorry, Achilles, but helllllo Ajax).
….Heroes you’ve probably never heard of (Eumolpos, Triptolemos, Erichthonios, Akamas, Demophon…).
Heroes and their cult are the main ingredient of my dissertation, and their representations on late Archaic Athenian vase-painting are the reasons I’m traveling from city to city in Europe spending hours with vases in museums (lovely lovely hours).
Sometimes I get so wrapped up with organizing my notes from a recent museum visit, or noting connections between this vase and that, or marking when an unusual subject is portrayed, that I forget I am in Europe, in some wonderful city waiting to be explored, and instead I just sit with my notes and my images and work.
This is not a bad thing, really, considering that I *should* be devoting the majority of my time to my dissertation! I want this Ph.D., after all.
So, since heroes are so much on my mind, some of my future posts will be devoted to heroes relevant to my work. This way, in future contexts when I blather on excitedly about so-and-so you can be a little more informed about who so-and-so is! The first ones will cover some of the more familiar heroes, such as Herakles (NOT Hercules, this is Greek vase-painting!), Theseus, and the ever solemn Ajax. I may just start with that last guy, since he’s quickly forming a large soft spot in my heart with his name written all over it. Aww Ajax, the guy just doesn’t get enough credit.
I may also include tidbits on how these ancient heroes of old still play a role in our own pop culture (I like that sort of thing…. cue “Xena” …). To kick things off, here’s the trailer for a new movie coming out based (very loosely) on Theseus. Now that that’s done, I refuse to discuss this trailer any further.
My last dinner in Oxford consisted of a pint of Guinness. My lunch today was a beef and stilton pie. I think I’ve grown much too accustomed to British life. Luckily (and sadly, in a way), tomorrow I make my way to Paris for Part 2 of my Travels around Europe(an Museums).
In the meantime, I’ve been quite busy and all over the place.
I realized there are other museums to see in Oxford besides the Ashmolean, and they’re free, too! The Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum are connected by a building and are FULL of wonderful things to see and even touch. The Natural History Museum is home to many a skeleton of animal and dinosaur, stuffed animals for the touching (I got to pet a cheetah), exhibits of biodiversity and gems and minerals, and even home to the Oxford Dodo.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is almost like a house museum of a very organized hoarder, in that it is just brimming with this and that object, though thankfully each case is grouped thematically. Even the floors are (sort of). The 3rd floor is weapons and armor — they have some ‘war quoits’ which are basically circular blades which REALLLLY is another name for Xena’s chakram. 😀 The 2nd floor is all sorts of games. And the 1st floor, the bottom floor you see here, is full of EVERYTHING ELSE: boat models, instruments, a totem pole, shrunken heads… you name it, I bet they have it.
Did you know that Oxford is also very centrally located to many interesting cities, sites, and even castles? I did. Many of the students here went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Blenheim Palace, Nottingham, London, Salisbury, Stonehenge… I went to Broughton Castle. I took the train to Banbury, which is best known for the nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross”, and from there walked west and just south for about 3.5 miles to Broughton Village. Turn right at the “Saye and Sele Arms” pub and soon you will come upon Broughton Castle, home to Lord Sele and Lady Saye (the Fiennes family, yes of Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes). The castle, church, and grounds date back to the 13th century, and have since been improved and updated and added on to. It is encased by a moat, has a charming little garden, the stables are now a tea room, and the grounds beyond the moat are free for public use. The castle is full of portraits and period rooms and it is well preserved, and the docents are full of knowledge. It also comes with a very friendly current Lord Sele and Lady Saye, the latter of whom striked up conversation with me on the staircase. If you can get there, I recommend you go.
Now it’s not all fun and games here in Europe, you know!
I’ve been occupying my academic time slots in the Brasenose Library, for one, which has a pretty good selection of scholarship on Classical literature and such. Not to mention it’s got a good interior view!
I also got to spend my time among the books and photos and drawings at the Beazley Archive! Yes, there is the entire database online for worldwide accessibility, but being able to physically spend time with the photographs and notes, and being able to spread multiple images across a very long table, really puts a new perspective on visual comparisons. Plus I got to meet Sir John Boardman, Donna Kurtz, and Thomas Mannack! And of course I’ve been spending much time still at the Ashmolean with the lovely Archaeology class. Awww aren’t we just a good little group! We also managed to take a field trip to the British Museum and that was lovely (naturally).
Afterward the BM, I took advantage of being in London and went to the Tate Modern, but after one floor I’d had enough of Modern Art. I also stopped by CrossFit Central London, where I’d visited when I was last in London over Thanksgiving break, and saw Brian, the owner, and did some clean and jerks under the careful eye of Sauro. He was an enabler and had me attempt a max effort clean and jerk at 75kg (165#) — which I just kept failing (barely). Sadly. The clean was not happening. Needless to say, yesterday at Oxford Powersports I tried it again and got it nice and easy on the 3rd attempt. Speaking of Oxford Powersports, and this being the end of my trip, I made them all take a farewell group photo with me on my last day! Because every girl loves to be surrounded by men with muscles, right? Right!
I’m going to miss all these people, including all the other Oklahoma University Honors Program kids who were staying at Brasenose. I like to say I left knowing all of their names, and I assure you that our ‘funny farewell photo’ should more aptly be named a ‘personality photo’: Good bye, Oxford! I’ll think of you fondly during my onward travels!
Next stop: PARIS.
Oxford is always full of tourists, but on the weekends the town really comes to life — especially on the pedestrian shopping streets. Whilst wandering (slowly) among crowds of people speaking a motley of languages, I came across these buskers: The Two Busketeers
They were a great encounter, and a warm welcome since the first hours of my Saturday were dominated by a dreary rainfall (first rain since I arrived on Monday).
The streets around the colleges were strewn with gowned persons holding caps in hands and wearing large (and relieved?) smiles — students who just matriculated. It really is quite a sight, and regretfully I did not capture a photo. Never fear! I am sure there will be many more opportunities.
The first week at Oxford has been good — although I am often reminding myself (or being reminded) that even though I am in another country this is most certainly not a vacation. I am here to study, to work, to be productive, and all of those things I like to think I have accomplished thus far. In one week’s time I have only been out at night once — some of the OU Honours kids and I went to a pub (we tried The Turf but it was much too crowded for our group, so we ended up at The Chequers) then on to The Purple Turtle night club for a dancing. Also when not working, I’ve been occupying my muscles at either the Iffley Sports Centre’s Powerlifting Gym, which is predominantly college boys doing squats and deadlifts, or Oxford Powersports Olympic Lifting Gym, which greeted me with this sign:
I guess they had a bad CF seed visit them once. HOWEVER, besides the welcome sign they are a great group of very strong men (and a couple ladies) who are extremely encouraging and funny and have some great advice for my technique issues. One of them was just named “Britain’s Strongest Man.” Another just placed 4th in a British Oly Meet. Another guy dead-lifted 300kg x2 right in front of my eyes. A couple of them also train with me at Iffley. I’m meeting locals! Yay!
I did NOT see the last installment of the Harry Potter series, yet (to be remedied soon, Loves, soon). Some of the students here did, and one of them even dressed up like Harry. He was quite convincing. Before they went to the show they paid the admission fee to Christ Church college, where much of the first 2 movies was filmed (dining hall, great staircase…).
But really I’ve been spending my days at the recently renovated Ashmolean Museum! They’ve re-thought the way a museum should be organized and the way objects should be displayed. More of a cross-cultural interactive learning experience than a display of really old objects. Read about it! http://www.ashmolean.org/transforming/
Before I even stepped foot inside a single exhibit room, I first entered through the “Study” entrance. I was led up quite a few flights of stairs to the study room in which 5 vases and 1 sherd awaited my attention! The staff apologized for not being able to have prepared a few of the items I requested to view since 2 were off-site, 1 was not in an easy location to remove from display (the giant lekythoi display case), 1 was hiding somewhere in display (same location), and the others were prominently on display (I had assured them they need not remove anything for my personal study which was already on display).
Needless to say, I was allowed as much time as I wanted with those objects, and they were a glorious few hours! When I was done, I still had a little time left before lunch at Brasenose College, so I took advantage of the wonderful location of the study room exit (inside the Special Exhibition) to peruse the objects in the “From Heracles to Alexander” exhibit. The Lady of Aegae really is something!
The Ashmolean occupied much of my week and weekend, as I went back a few times to see all I could see. They have Titians, a Tintoretto, a drawing of Michelangelo’s, wonderful Buddhas from India, a Samurai’s armor from Japan, an incredible collection of porcelain, the “Messiah” (finest Stradivarius there is) among other incredible musical instruments, an amazing collection of Greek vases, Sir Arthur Evans’ Minoan finds, Chinese calligraphy, Byzantine jewelry, the smallest portable Qu’ran I ever did see, and many many more highlights that I just can’t mention here otherwise this post will never ever end!
I still haven’t been to the Natural History Museum to see the remains of a Dodo bird! This is on my list!