Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Monastic Weekend

I said goodbye to Athens this past Friday and set out with a group of CYA students and professors to spend the weekend in two other fantastic Greek towns: Meteora and Metsovo. Located about six hours north of Athens, Meteora and Metsovo rank as two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Both towns have spectacular local landscapes and a lot of traditional Greek charm. Since we were quite a bit north of Athens, I even got a taste of the fall weather and foliage that I’ve been missing here in the southern Mediterranean.
I’m not sure it is even possible to describe the magnificence of Meteora, but I’ll try to put it into words. This small area of Greece is known best for its towering rock formations. And as if that doesn’t sound amazing enough, those towering cliffs are the foundations of monasteries that date back to the Byzantine period! Of the twenty-four orignal monasteries that were built in this area, only six survive today.  Over the course of the two days we were in Meteora, our group visited four out of these six working monasteries. Since they are located on top of island rock formations, getting to these buildings is no easy feat. Roads can only get so close to the cliffs, so bridges and many many steps are used to reach the top of the rocks. I was exhausted after just a day and a half of walking to these monasteries, so I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to construct and access these places hundreds of years ago! However, the stairs are well worth the effort.  Once I reached the top of the first monastery, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains and cliffs. The view is so beautiful that it almost doesn’t seem real. In addition to the amazing scenery, the monasteries provide great examples of Byzantine iconography and manuscripts. Our group was lucky to have three great professors with us who gave us so much information on the modern Orthodox Greek Church as well as Byzantine architecture.

After spending most of Friday and Saturday in Meteora, our group packed up and headed to our next destination: Metsovo. This small mountain town was the perfect place to spend a fall weekend. I was so happy to kick my feet through the fallen leaves and sit down to a warm meal on a cold night.  In addition to spending time looking at the wood-working and cheese shops (Metsovo is known for these two products), we also visited a local folklore museum where we got a taste of life in Greece during the 19th century. Before heading back to Athens on Sunday, our group had the privilege of attending a Greek Orthodox church service and sitting down for coffee with the local priest. His congregation was very inviting and he openly answered our questions about his church and his religion. My weekend in Meteora and Metsovo was definitley one of my favorites so far in Greece and I can’t wait to go back some day!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Freaks and Greeks, Pt. 6 "(Un)Civil Disobedience"

So, let's deal with the elephant in the room. Greece is going through a widely publicized economic crisis at the root of a much deeper issue plaguing all of the Eurozone. As it stands, around 25% of the population is unemployed. For the Greek youth, that number basically doubles, if I'm not mistaken. And there's nothing more unstable than an unemployed, disgruntled, and unmarried young male. Throw all of these in the mix with the pervasive culture of demonstration and protest in Greece, and you've got a recipe for what the media would call anarchy. Demonstrations occur on a weekly (if not daily) basis in Syntagma Square outside of the Greek Parliament. These demonstrations are normally very peaceful, if not a little chaotic. However, it's become pretty standard for these protests to be infiltrated by anarchists or (more often than not) young men that are bored and restless, looking for trouble. Their frequent skirmishes with the Greek police are typically mild, but the standard response for riot control is tear gas. As a result, the international media has a somewhat skewed perception that Athens is burning, a real life Armageddon.

Having attended several of these demonstrations, I'm starting to get the sense that all of the focus on the protests and their violent turns have shifted attention away from their purpose, both in and outside of Greece. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, visited Athens last week in a show of support for the German-backed austerity measures that are meant to reign in the astronomical debt here in Greece. It was her first visit since 2007, and I'm frankly not surprised - thousands of demonstrators gathered outside of Parliament dressed up in Nazi uniforms, bearing signs condemning the German "fascism", or protesting European interference in Greek politics and economics. But what struck me most about the demonstration was the diversity of attendants. I talked to several different people about their thoughts on the situation, and there was no one general consensus. Everyone there was protesting something different. I talked to a university student that was protesting the austerity measures, but thought that nothing would come of the protests, because she "had been going to them since she was 16 and nothing has happened." Another woman represented the Immigrant Workers Union and was protesting the radical Golden Dawn political party in Greece. A third was there just to attend, and said they didn't have any problem with Merkel at all. And the so-called anarchists, the ones that instigated the eventual violence and police response? They're easily identifiable by their motorcycle helmets, gas masks, or scarcely concealed clubs. The ones that I saw before leaving the demonstration couldn't have been much older than teenagers. I got the feeling that they weren't there to protest the economic situation, but rather to stir up trouble.

I've been fascinated by the economic situation here - it's a large part of why I chose to study in Greece. Rather than focus on the protests, I've been more interested in talking to people about their opinions on the austerity measures and the entire crisis. All of the responses are mixed and there isn't any consensus besides the opinion that austerity is more hurtful than helpful. My marble carving instructor claims that Greece is embroiled in the "Third World War" of economics with Germany. A taxi driver blamed the Greek troubles on the growing immigrant population (one of the main arguments of the far-right Golden Dawn party). No one has any idea how things will pan out - if Greece will stick to the Euro or go to back to the Drachma, if the EU will remain intact. Needless to say, it's an incredibly interesting time to be in Greece. There are protests for sure, some of them violent, but not nearly on the level the international media makes it out to be - I only heard about a protest turning violent several weeks ago because I read about it later in the New York Times. I worry more that everyone will lose sight of why these protests are occurring in the first place.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Academic Adventures

It’s been a little while since I last posted an entry, but I’ve been busy keeping up with my schedule of classes and homework. In addition to my four graded courses, I am also participating in a three week conservation workshop. Over the course of the three, two hour sessions, our class will learn how to piece together and reconstruct a broken ceramic jar. Each student was asked to bring a ceramic vase or pot and a bag of rice to the first session. Since I really liked the jar I brought, it was slightly painful to watch the instructor place it in a bag and smash it on the ground! During the first session, our instructor taught us how to slowly determine which pieces of our pots belong where and how to move in a clock-wise rotation when gluing them back together.  While wating for certain parts to dry, we stabilized our jars by placing them in a small basin of rice. I am proud to say that I did a decent job piecing together my jar and I am now looking forward to phase two of the reconstruction process: applying plaster. In order to simulate a real archaeological find, our instructor told us to leave out a piece of our jar (as if it couldn’t be found). During our next session, we will apply plaster to this void and later paint it as if we were preparing a museum quality object for display. I forgot to take a "before" picture but I will definitely upload a shot of the finished project!
In addition to my conservation class, another cool academic experience from this past week was a second trip to the National Archaeological Museum. In my Aegean Prehistory class, we are currently studying bronze age Minoan and Cycladic cultures. Therefore, we took a trip to the museum to see in person the cycladic figurines and pottery we’ve been studying in class. Below are a few pictures of some objects our professor talked about during our visit. I feel so lucky to be able to see in person the artefacts I am learning and reading so much about!

Since I feel like my time here is flying by, I thought I’d end with a poignant quote from Seneca’s Troades (the play I am reading in my Latin class):

Quidquid sol oriens, quidquid et occidens
novit, caeruleis Oceanus fretis
quidquid bis veniens et fugiens lavat,
aetas Pegaseo corripiet gradu. (382-385)

("Whatever the rising sun,
whatever the setting sun discerns,
whatever the Ocean washes
coming and going twice with its
blue gulfs, time will snatch up with Pegasean pace.")


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Freaks and Geeks, Pt. 5, "Come Sail Away"

If you and six of your friends were given the opportunity to spend the weekend sailing the Mediterranean from one beautiful Greek island to the next, you'd take it, right? Good. That's what I did too. Nadia, our amazing program director at CYA, gave us all of the information and put everything in motion to create the best weekend I've had in Greece so far. I'll try and keep it brief in the writing section so I can just bombard the page with pictures.

We woke up before the sun on Friday morning and took the metro (did I mention there are archaeological sites in every metro station? That's pretty cool) down to Piraeus, the busiest port in all of the Mediterranean. From there, we took a hydrofoil (a high speed, aka terrifying, ferry) down to the island of Poros, where we would meet our Captain, Nikos. Poros was a beautiful island with churches and houses clinging to the hillsides, its narrow cobbled streets winding between buildings, up and out of sight. My sister would say it was something out of Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, but I wouldn't know anything about that, right?

We set sail on our boat (I'm terrible at guessing the dimensions, but it was about 48 feet or something like that) for the Peloponnese, stopping at the island of Dhokos along the way to swim in a sheltered bay. We tended to do that a lot. This was also the first time I've seen dolphins in the wild - they loved to swim alongside the boat because of its wake and do tricks with the waves. I knew this would be an unforgettable experience, but COME ON.

After docking at a small village on the shores of the Peloponnese, we got on land at last to restock our supplies. I think the biggest lesson I took from this trip would be "you can never have enough water." Learned that the hard way. for three days in a row. Sometimes I'm a slow learning. Anyway, after we had dinner in the village we set sail again to reach the island of Hydra overnight - needless to say, I slept under the stars and the Mediterranean sky. We don't get to see that many stars in Sommerville, at least in comparison to here.

We spent the day on Hydra, walking around the old marina and running errands for our captain. It was a really beautiful island and I wish we could have spent more time there. After that and a stop on the nearby island of Aegina, we had to make our way back to Athens. I'll just let the pictures do the talking.