Thursday, February 23, 2017

Crash Course to Athens

As of today I have been in Athens for a month, and I have enjoyed every minute of it! Athens has provided me with a safe home in which I can grow as a person. Athens, and much of Greece, is a bastion of Western culture, yet many aspects of everyday Athenian life are unique.  Looking back on my first month in Athens I have compiled a list of cultural quirks and tips for navigating this timeless city.


Strolling down the streets of Athens, one cannot help noticing the mulberry and orange trees. On a warm Athenian day (which is most days) one might get the urge to quench their thirst with one of these accessible oranges. Don't. This masquerading oranges are actually vεραντζάκι, a bitter-cousin of the orange we all know and love. These trees aren't without purpose though, they are hardy trees that can survive the "cold" Athenian winters, and they serve as a natural way to perfume the city, especially when the summer heat begins to creep in. The Athenian people don't let the bitter fruit go to waste. Instead the fruit is harvested and uses to create sweets and to flavor alcohol. So please don't eat from these trees, instead stop in the local bakery and pick up some of the candy made from the vεραντζάκι, it is much more pleasing to the palette. 


Due to the fact that America is a relatively newly developed country, most of the plumbing and sewers are able to accommodate larger volumes of waste. Athenian plumbing, however, is hundreds of years old and because many Athenian buildings are made out of concrete, as a method of fire prevention, many pipes cannot handle large volumes of waste. As a result, Athenians do not flush toilet paper down the toilet. This was one of the most difficult aspects of Greek culture to become accustomed to and most other members of my study abroad program agree. Athenians, and most Greeks, dispose of their used toilet paper in the bathroom (which is apparently called a water closet) garbage can. This also means that you have to take out the garbage often. The first couple of weeks in Greece I would accidentally forget to throw the toilet paper out and flush instead (and occasionally at three in the morning, when I am half asleep, this still happens), one time isn't going to break the plumbing, but unless you want to cause a plumbing backup through the entire building, it is best to abide by this practice.  


Coming from a state in which pedestrians always have the right-of-way, not even Boston traffic could prepare me for the danger that is Athenian traffic. First, I have yet to see a speed limit sign off of the highway. Second, Athenian drivers do not stop for pedestrians. On most roads where there is a designated pedestrian crossing, the oncoming traffic is given a yellow yield light during the duration of the green walk signal. In America this would signal to drivers that they could proceed as long as there are no pedestrians present, this however is not the case in Athens. While crossing during a green walk signal, I have been honked at, swerved around, and almost run over multiple times. The most baffling sight for me was traffic coming to a complete standstill, during a green light, for a stray dog to cross the street not minutes after I had been honked at for crossing the street during the allotted time. I think that tells you something about the Athenians. Crossing the street in Athens means taking your life into your own hands, but there is so much to see in this remarkable city, so just make sure you look both ways... and walk quickly.


Athenians love their animals. Athens is abound with stray animal - primarily dogs and cats. In fact, it is almost impossible to walk more than a block without seeing a cat walking around or a dog laying in the sun. These strays are friendly, especially if you have food, and are more than willingly to be the recipient of your affection. Though they are approachable, please respect the animals. If you do want to say "hi" make sure you approach slowly with your hand outstretched for them to smell before you attempt to pet them. Some of the animals are skittish and if the animal retreats or growls, leave them be. My favorite stray animals are the ones who live in the ancient sanctuaries and monuments, as if they are serving as the sanctuary's guard, perhaps even as a reincarnation of a soul who visited the sight two thousand years prior. The Athenians also have a wonderful custom of bringing their pets to work. Don't be surprised if you walk past a shop and a small dog or cat is sitting in the doorway, or if their are dogs laying beside their owners at sanctuary entrances. There is no need to be alarmed, Athenian pets are extremely well behaved and are often walked without leashes (think about how well behaved they need to be with how dangerous traffic is). 


Quoting one of my professors, "the only thing Greeks love more than backgammon and cigarettes are their coffee." One of the few industries that has thrived since the financial crisis is the cafe, and most streets have at least three cafes available for you to choose from. If you come to Athens, or anywhere in Greece, one of the first things you should do is learn your coffee order in Greek. Greek coffee shops are a center of Greek culture and one of the better places to meet the local people. Don't worry about perfect pronunciation, the Greeks understand that their language is difficult, especially for Romance/Germanic language-speaking people, and even attempting a few words will thrill them. Learn how to say hello, please, thank you, and sorry. The quickest way to a Greek's heart is through their language or their coffee. So when you stop and visit the cafe, order in Greek and don't forget to order a τυρóπιτα


The Athenian metro/bus/tram system runs on the integrity of the passengers. Tickets can be purchased in the metro stations or at kiosks  and once validated are good for ninety minutes. Due to the fact that metros stations do not have turnstiles or automatic barriers it would not be difficult to board the metro without validating (or buying) a ticket. Do not do this. Often their will be metro authorities who will check ticket validity (especially on the weekends) at the exits of the metro. The penalty for not validating your ticket - you have to pay 60x the original price of the ticket in fines. A generic metro/bus/tram ticket is 1.40 euros and a ticket to the airport is 10 euros. Those are significant fees for not validating your ticket. Thankfully, the Athenian public transportation system is getting a makeover in 2017 by converting to plastic cards (think Boston's Charliecard or the London metro card) as well as automated gates.


It may be shocking for Americans to see the large amounts of graffiti that covers the surfaces of Athenian buildings - from apartment buildings to shop fronts. Most Athenian's however are not offended by the presence of graffiti, and instead see it as a productive means for dissatisfied citizens to express their opinions. Graffiti is often used by young people to express their dissatisfaction with the government or certain policies and to express their opinions on world events. Yes, some graffiti marks "gang" territory and others are works of art, but most are insightful and cultured discussions of current events. Once you learn some Greek you will see comments on the refugee crisis, the rise of the neo-Nazi party in Europe, and the economic crisis. The anarchist party in Athens is particularly prolific in their use of graffiti and their work will often be tagged by the anarchist "A." Visitors to Athens may even be surprised to the large number of graffiti that is written in English, which might be used by younger people to establish credibility and mark worldliness through their knowledge of a foreign language. There is a hard limit to the graffiti however. Greeks are adamantly against defacing ancient monuments, temples, and sanctuaries, and even older sections of Athens, such as Plaka, have significantly less graffiti present than more modern neighborhoods. When you are walking around Athens take a moment to stop and look at the graffiti. If you don't know what it says, feel free to take a picture and ask the barista at your cafe to help you with the translation, they will be excited that you are taking an interest in the social and political climate of Greece.

8. Σιγά, Σιγά

Americans walk fast. In fact, one of the biggest tells that you are a foreigner is how fast you walk. The unofficial Greek motto is Σιγά, Σιγά - slowly, slowly - which is often difficult for a foreigner to get used to. Athenians will stroll from place to place, picking up a coffee along the way, stopping and talking to friends, and enjoying the Athenian sun. If you are in Athens, put aside your desire to rush from place to place, and do as the Athenians do. Take the time to enjoy your surroundings, look up and look down. Athens has so much for you to see that you will inevitably miss if you are rushing back and forth. The Greek motto is extended to their afternoon siestas, which become a necessity during the hot summer months. In Greece, siesta is law, and you will find that many business will shut down from two to five in order to observe this. Take this time to enjoy this Greek tradition and head back to your room for a quick power nap, but remember to be quiet in apartments and hotels as not to disturb others who may be resting. Due to siesta, many business hours will not be familiar to Americans, many small, independent stores and pharmacies follow schedules similar to the one posted above. On Mondays and Wednesdays they will close for the day at two in the afternoon and on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, they will reopen following siesta. This resting period also means that dinner is often observed later in the evening, so do not be surprised to see Greeks enjoying dinner around 10 p.m. and visiting bars beginning at 1 a.m.. Greeks may proceed slowly through their day, but they still get everything done.


In America, when crossing the road, I will often times raise my hand in order to thank the driver for letting me pass. This is an insult in Greece, and may get you run over (this might be an exaggeration, I have yet to find out). To the Greeks, an open hand with the palms facing out, is the sign of the "evil eye" (think Italy) and is seen as a curse (think middle finger). Show your respect to Greek culture by not directing your open palm at someone, especially a stranger. If you want to say "hi" to a Greek, you may use an open palm, but make sure you wave it side to side. In order to get someones attention, or answer a question in class, signal with only your pointer finger raised. Trying to signify the number five? Turn your open palm towards yourself. Dismay or excitement is express through rotating your hand near your temple (again, your palm faces towards you), the speed of the rotation signals the emotion - fast for excitement, slow for dismay. Don't want to accidentally be cursed? Pick up a little blue-eye glass charm in Plaka to ward off any potential evil.


The Greeks are very honest, open, and curious people. As a result you may find a stranger coming up to you and asking you where you are from and why you are in Greece. Trying not to feel uncomfortable, they are simply curious and want to share their culture with you. Many taboo questions in the United States are acceptable in Greece, including asking your age, your salary, your relationship status, and who you voted for in the last election. These questions are innocuous in Greece and often result from the desire to get to know you better as a person. Greek people are also known to stare, this isn't aggressive, again, it is just a manifestation of their curiosity, especially if you are speaking English! Also if you are trying to show off your Greek language skills, don't be surprised if Athenians begin to speak in English with you after your first attempt. Most are really excited that you attempted to speak their language and now want to practice (and show off) their English with you! As a student of ancient Greek culture, the history of Athens is definitely a draw, but to be honest, you should really come to Greece to meet the people. I have never met a more caring and welcoming people in my life. I have had a stranger who helped me through the Greek Post Office system give me his name and number in case I ever had an emergency and needed help while in Athens. I have also had a vendor at the local farmer's market give to me two lemons without having me pay because I attempted to ask for them in Greek. Despite the economic struggles that the Athenians face, they will always take the time to share their city and their culture with you.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The City of Mosaics

The second part of our weekend trip was in Ravenna, Italy. On Saturday, after our time in Venice, we took a bus from Mestre to Ravenna, driving along the Adriatic Sea and through traditional Italian villages. After we arrived in Ravenna, my roommates and I walked into the center square of the town in order to find somewhere to eat dinner. During dinner, we belatedly celebrated my roommate's birthday with traditonal Ravenna cappelletti and  Ravenna custard for dessert.

The Streets of Ravenna

                                                                                                                                                                              After breakfast at the hotel on Sunday morning, we traveled to Classe, where the Basilica of San Apolinaris is located. Not only were we able to see the famous mosaics of this sixth century church, we also had the amazing opportunity to sit for part of the 10:30am Sunday Mass. I am  Catholic, so it was a very humbling experience to be sitting in a sixth century Basilica surrounded by the mosaics of all the previous Bishops of Ravenna, while the Mass was performed. The mass was in Italian, which made it harder to follow, but I knew the structure of a Catholic Mass enough to be able to follow along and recite in English. For me, part of the beauty of attending this Mass was the lack of barriers during the service. The language did not serve as a barrier, as faith served as a common bond and the sanctity of the space was present even to those who weren't practicing Catholics. We had to leave during the homily, in which the priest was interacting with his Parrish (which I have never seen before), and it was weird leaving the church in the middle of the Mass. I have never left during the middle of a service before and I would have enjoyed receiving communion in the sixth century Basilica of San Apolinaris as thousands have done over the centuries.

Christ and His Flock at the Basilica of San Apolinaris in Classe

After leaving the Basilica we returned to Ravenna, where we toured both the Mausoleum of Gala Placidia and the Basilica of San Vitale. I have studied Gala Placidia in passing during courses on Byzantine history, but because her influence extended over the Western portion of the empire, not much time was spent on her life. Let me tell you, she was awesome. Not only did she politically maneuver her second husband onto the throne of the Western part of the Empire and serve as regent for her son upon the death of her husband, she also maintained the Western part of the empire, strengthening its economic and political structures. She was so influential in fact, that within her mausoleum (which is shaped like a cross) her tomb is in the position of central importance and she is flanked by two emperors. The mosaics of the Mausoleum are absolutely incredible and definitely denote her power within Byzantine society. The gold tesserae used in the mosaics for the mausoleum are made with up to sixteen layers of gold foil, whereas the tesserae used in the Basilica of San Marco only have two layers. My professor, who guided the tour, spoke a lot about the process being undertaken by the students at the University of Bologna at Ravenna to refurbish and preserve the mosaics in their original form. This process of reconstructive archeology again peaked my interest. I never really considered graduate school after my bachelors degree, but after seeing the work in Epidauros and Ravenna, I have starting researching reconstructive archeology programs. 

Entrance Vault to the Mausoleum of Gala Placidia

Central Dome and surrounding Apse of the Mausoleum of Gala Placidia

From the Mausoleum of Gala Placidia, we proceeded to the Basilica of San Vitale. Though it is called a basilica, it is not actually a basilica, instead, San Vitale is octagonal in shape with one central dome. The central dome and the upper levels are decorated with sixteenth century frescoes, but the mosaics applied to the main apse are originals from the sixth century. Mosaics served as literacy for the illiterate, who could "read" the narratives portrayed in the mosaics.

Outside view of the "Basilica" of San Vitale

Sixteenth Century Dome Decorations

Due to the fact that I had previously been to Venice, the reason I went on this trip was to see the mosaics of the Imperial Couple, Justinian I and Theodora. Theodora is my favorite Byzantine Empress (which might be cliche because she is the most famous Byzantine Empress) and when asked my senior year of high school who I would wish to have dinner with from history, my answer was Theodora. For me, Theodora embodies the essence of Byzantine society. She has a rags to riches story in which she begins life as a prostitute and is buried in purple and gold. She was ambitious and beautiful, but most of all she was smart. Within Byzantine society there were windows of opportunity for social elevation - a prostitute could become an empress and a stable boy could found a dynasty - if one seized the opportunities presented to them. That is exactly what Theodora did. She found a love match in her marriage to Justinian I, which brought her into the imperial court, she also maintained property in her own name, and she used her political acumen to defend her place on the throne, preserving her husband's reign. I was so excited to see the mosaic of Theodora in all of its magnificence, and I was not let down. Justinian's mosaic is technically impressive, but Theodora exudes power. Theodora's presence commands the room as if her spirit lives on in this icon. It is even rumored that the halo surrounding Theodora is larger than that of Justinian. 

Justinian I and Retinue

Theodora and Retinue
Even without the portraits of Justinian I and Theodora, the mosaics of San Vitale are impressive. The colors are so vibrant and lifelike, telling the story of the Old Testament and the history of the Christian religion. The gold is stunning and the people depicted remain immortal through these tiny pieces of stone that together form masterpieces.

Mosaics of Abraham and the Twelve Apostles

After San Vitale, we were given two hours to explore Ravenna, which proceeded to revolve around food. After lunch at a hot sandwich restaurant where the employees were so excited to practice their English, we sought out a gelato shop, so that we could eat gelato in Italy. My roommate Amy also wanted to get some fresh, homemade, Italian pasta to bring home to Greece. The pasta shop was run by a women who spoke no English and we spoke no Italian. By using a mixture of Spanish (Amy) and Latin (me) we were able to communicate with the woman and buy a half-kilo of cappelletti! Whoever said Latin is a dead language is wrong...its immortal.
Caramel and Cinnamon Gelato

Not only were the mosaics of Ravenna incredible but so was the street art. One street had a series of famous historical figures associated with Ravenna depicted riding bikes, which provided a quirky timeline of the history of Ravenna.

Gala Placidia

Saint Vitale and Oscar Wilde

The mosaics of Ravenna were everything I had imagined them to be and more. I am so glad I was able to see these mosaics, especially because I will be studying a lot of them in my Byzantine Art and Architecture class this semester. I have to admit, after three days of Italian, it was really nice and comforting to see the Greek alphabet again in the Athens airport upon arrival.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The City of Masks

Every semester, CYA/DIKEMES offers its students three optional trips that are planned by the university and are guided by the faculty. Part of my travel stipend from the George A. David scholarship went to participating in two of these trips. The first, a three day trip to Venice and Ravenna took place this past weekend.

The trip began with a 5:45am meeting time in front of the Kallimarmaro Stadium from which we boarded a bus to the airport of Athens. I am always surprised by the different security measures upheld by different countries. For my flight to Italy I did not have to remove my shoes for scanning or show my passport prior to the departure gate. Greece also has a policy with the Schengen coutnries which allows travelers to travel between these countries without custom declarations. 

When we landed in Milan it was snowing! Athenian winters are really mild and it was really nice to see the snow, as if  a small piece of home joined me on my trip to Italy. From Milan we took a three and a half hour bus ride to Tronchetto, a port of Venice, where we boarded a vaporetto (ferry) which took us to the main island of Venice. We spent the night taking a guided walking tour of Venice, from San Marco to the Rialto Bridge and back. I was really exciting, and more than a little proud, that I was able to recognize streets and landmarks from my previous trip to Venice, as I take great pride in my navigation abilities. After the guided tour, we were given time to walk around the Piazza of San Marco, where we were able to see the carnival floats being constructed.

Piazza San Marco  and Carnival Floats

After the walking tour, we traveled to Mestre, the center of mainland Venice, where our hotel was located. For dinner my roommates and I went to a local dinner where I got an Italian gyro... the Greeks definitely do it better. 

On Saturday, we had breakfast at the hotel before traveling back to Venice for the day. We started our morning at the Basilica of San Marco. We were able to see the evolution of the city of Venice, from its beginnings to its rise as a commercial power, to its Byzantine, Ottoman, and eventually Italian influences, through the different art adorning the church. We saw the external and internal narrative mosaics, as well as the alleged body of Saint Mark. While we were in the Basilica, a morning mass was being performed, and although the mass was being held in one of the peripheral sections of the church, I am glad that we got to see the Saint Mark used for its primary function, as it was a reminder that the church, despite its art, also serves as a holy place of worship, putting the art and architecture in context. While I had seen the Basilica during my previous trip to Venice, I was able to see the Pala d'Oro and the Treasury for the first time.  

Pala d'Oro (from google images) - This does not even do it justice.

The Pala d'Oro is a giant icon (3 meters x 2 meters) that is located behind the main altar and the tomb of Saint Mark. Not only is this piece breathtaking it is also overwhelming to see in all of its splendor. The Pala d'Oro is made of gold, enamel, and over 3,000 gems and precious stones.  The piece contains depictions of the Life of Christ, the Life of Saint Mark, the four Evangelists, the apostles, prophets, and the Virgin Mary. This icon is an extraordinary example of Byzantine craftsmanship as well as the tremendous wealth of the Venetians in the middle of the fourteenth century. My favorite part was the icon of the Byzantine Empress Irene, who is depicted in the center of the bottom row, to the right of the Virgin. Though Irene was an empress during the late eighth century, she takes the position of importance to the right of the Virgin, while the reigning Doge is placed on the left. This placement emphasizes the role of women within the Byzantine sphere of influence, as both are placed in positions of importance, recognizing their individual roles in Christianity - the Virgin through her birth of Christ and Irene, who fought against iconoclasm during her time as the sole ruler of Byzantium. In fact, it could be interpreted that the artist considered Irene one of the "patrons" of this icon set due to her dedication to upholding icons. 

Empress Irene (also from google images as we weren't allowed to take pictures)

After the Pala d'Oro we were able to see the Treasury of the Basilica, which serves as a museum for some mosaics, column capitals, and statues. My favorite part of the treasury was seeing the Prophyry Tetrarch statues, that depicts the four tetrarchs embracing. This statue was looted from Constantinople in 1204 and brought back to Venice. The tetrarchs were the precursors to the Byzantine Empire, and therefore hold a special place in my heart. We also got to see the Four Horses of Lysippos. While these bronze horses have been inaccurately attributed to the Greek sculpture Lysippos, the craftsmanship needed to express the bulging veins of exertion and the mouths bleeding from the bridles is impressive. I did not know that the horses and tetrarchs of display in San Marco were replicas until I saw the originals in the Treasury, so I really enjoyed seeing the originals - which are of much better quality once a comparison can be made.
Tetrarchs and the Horses of Lysippos

After finishing our tour of the Basilica, we toured the Doge's Palace, which contained the residential suites of the Doge's, the legislative and judicial  center of Venice, as well as the attached prison. We got to walk up the golden staircase, through the armory and then across the Bridge of Sighs (named so due to the fact that it was a prisoner's last look at the sun) into the actual prison.

Bridge of Sighs

We were then given two hours of free time in which we could eat lunch and explore some of Venice on our own. My roommates and I joined a few other CYA students and went to the Correr Museum, where we saw Venetian artifacts, including maps, globes, coins, statues, and even the ball room of Napoleon and the residences of Empress Sisi of Austria. After a quick lunch, we sought out one of the top ten bookstores in the world - Libreria Acqua Alta. Here, they keep books in bathtubs and gondolas in order to prevent water damage as a result of frequent flooding and have a stairs of books overlooking the canal. This was my second time at the bookstore and it was exciting to go again, as if  establishing a Venetian tradition of visiting this bookstore.

Acqua Alta

Acqua Alta

We were in Venice for the opening weekend of Carnival. The streets of Venice came alive with decorations, while locals and tourists alike donned masks and costumes to celebrate the beginning of the Carnival season. Venice has always held a sort of magic for me. When walking in Venice, it feels as if the streets and bridges come alive, as if one never quite knows where they are or where they are going. Seeing Venice during Carnival was one of the items on my bucket list, and I am so blessed that I had the opportunity to not only return to Venice, but also see the islands transform with the magic of Carnival. It is not hard to picture the grand parties, dancing, and revelry of times past when the masks fill the city.

My roommate Amy (right) and me (left) in our carnival masks.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

No Nations, No Borders

To America, the refugee crisis is a far off “threat.” To Greece, the refugee crisis is currently shaping the foundation of Greek urbanism and culture. Greek shores are populated with refugee camps that provide poor shelter for homeless migrants. And while Greece is straining under the stress of their own economic issues, as the rest of the Western world closes their borders, the Greek people are welcoming all of these people – from Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Eritrea – as best as they can.

Since arriving in Greece I have had the honor of volunteering with City Plaza, a converted hotel that had been abandoned during the worst of the economic crisis. City Plaza is a refugee accommodation center that relies on volunteers to run and is organized without any social hierarchy. Here refugee families have shelter, privacy, and food, while also participating in community events, Greek and English language classes, and skill development classes. Children receive mathematics and language tutoring as well as a safe place to play and grow.

Last Sunday, the Acropolis had free admission for the day, and City Plaza had organized an excursion for the residents to visit the Acropolis. Tenzin, my roommate Amy, and I joined the City Plaza volunteers to help watch the children attending the trip. Many of these children know Arabic, Farsi, Greek, and English, but I was nervous about keeping the children safe with such a language barrier. After dividing into groups (which promptly disintegrated as the children moved around) we took the metro from Victoria Station to Thissio on the greenline in order to get within walking distance to the Acropolis. We then proceeded to walk as a group through the street markets of Plaka to the Acropolis.

It was during this journey that I was able to meet with the children for the first time. Three little girls with impeccable English, asked me for my name, and proceeded to laugh at how American I look with my “white, white” skin and blonde hair. When I told them that they also looked American they told me that they were not white. The innocent observations of these children were gut wrenching. I have always been proud of the diversity in America, yet due to the political climate and the media’s portrayal of the United States, these refugee children do not even believe that they could have a place in the U.S. On the walk up to the Acropolis, I was adopted by a family from Afghanistan. I held hands with the youngest daughter, dressed head to toe in red, as we walked up the hill, while the mother and I spoke in bits of English and Greek, and a lot of hand gestures. Language often is seen as a divider, yet despite the fact that we didn’t share a common language, we were able to learn about each other and appreciate the others company. Humanity is the common language. When the little girl saw a cat and a dog, they taught me the words in Farsi, “pishi” for cat and “sag” for dog.

Once we had entered the Acropolis, Sova, a six year old girl, climbed on top of my back and I carried her up the side of the embankment to the top of the Acropolis. We established a marching beat “ένα… δύο … ένα… δύο…” Eventually I began to count pass δύο in order to practice our knowledge of the Greek cardinal numbers. I only knew up to έξι – six and couldn't remember seven, and so I was going to start back over from the beginning, but Sova continued with the Greek numbers counting all the way up to 50! She proceeded to teach me the numbers until I could say our marching beat by myself. Days later when my Modern Greek class was learning the numbers, I was able to say them, courtesy of Sova.

For so many of the residents of City Plaza, this was their first time to the Acropolis and it was really amazing to see it through their eyes. It provided me the opportunity to be taught Greek by six to twelve year olds, and to watch children who have been through so much enjoy themselves. It also provided us with the opportunity to come together despite different languages, religions, and countries of origin. I was to talk to and hug a former Afghani soldier who saw firsthand the civilian deaths caused by the American military involvement in Afghanistan. I had apologized to him for the current administration’s policies and for the pain, ostracism, and racism that he and his family have to face due to the propaganda of America, Hollywood and the Media, and the Western world. I am so blessed that I was able to meet him and hear about his struggles and losses and know that it is kindness and love that brought us together.

The refugee crisis in Greece is not ideal. The Greek government and people do not have the resources to aid all of these people fleeing horrors, and as a result many refugees are forgotten. Their futures are taken away from them, and their pasts are erased. In an era of globalization, it is our duty as a citizen of this world to join together to aid our fellow humans however we can. Donating, volunteering, advocating all help to raise awareness and build bridges among neighbors. Greece has an advantage in aiding refugees, the Greek people acknowledge that a lot of their culture originates from the contact with the East – currency and an alphabet from modern day Syria and Lebanon, music from Turkey, agricultural techniques from Iraq and Iran, religion and myths from Turkey to Afghanistan. The Greek people are a direct product of these refugees’ culture, and as a result, so is much of the West. City Plaza is truly a place of no nations and no border and I am looking forward to learning all that I can from the residents.

No Nations, No Borders

Monday, February 6, 2017

Getting Lost... Getting Found

Getting Lost... Getting Found

This past week was the first week of classes, and also the first week of my study abroad experience for me to explore on my own, without the aid of the CYA/DIKEMES administration. Last Sunday, I was walking through Plaka and stumbled my way into the Athenian Flee Market in Monastriaki. Totally by accident, I found myself in a true gem of Athens. Everywhere people were selling everything from old keys and books, to chairs, rugs, and icons. The flee markets stretched through streets, alleys, and squares. I spent the entire market walking from one stall to another trying to understand some of the Greek, watching the Athenian people haggle with prices, and seeing the ancient streets of Athens come alive with their makeshift agora.  While walking through the flee market, I proceeded to get lost among the twisting streets of Monastiraki. Instead of attempting to retrace my steps, I comforted myself with the theory that you do not truly know a city until you get lost and then find yourself again. I continued to wander the streets and the flee market until I came out in Syntagma Square, the Parliament building standing as the backdrop. I had missed the Sunday morning changing of the guards, so that was placed on the list for another Athenian Sunday. 

This week was also the first week of classes, allowing me to begin studying the subjects that I love in a setting that encourages the interaction with the physical evidence of my studies. I am taking four classes this semester. Two classes on Monday/Wednesday - Modern Greek and History of Ancient Macedonia - as well as two classes on Tuesday/Thursday - Sports, Games, and Spectacles in the Ancient World and Byzantine Art and Architecture. I am so excited for all of my classes, some of them - like Modern Greek - I would never have been able to take at Tufts University, and some of them - such as Sports, Games, and Spectacles - are offered at Tufts, but with CYA, we are not only being taught by professors at the top of their respective fields, but also get to go on field trips that enhance the class - Olympia, Pella, Thessaloniki, and Ravenna!

On Wednesday after my classes for the day were finished, I went to the Post Office in Syntagma, in order to buy international stamps to send a postcard. I wasn't sure how Greek post offices work, especially at a larger branch, so I approached a man waiting and asked him how to go about getting a letter sent. After helping me get a number, we proceeded to have a multilingual conversation, with Nikos asking me questions in English, and me answering in (botched) Greek. We had just practiced this type of conversation about where we were from and where/what we were studying in Greek class that day. It was so rewarding to be able to practice my Greek and converse with Nikos in his own language without too much of a language barrier. Nikos even gave me his telephone number before he left the Post Office and told me to call if I ever had an emergency while in Greece.

Saturday, I took a day trip to Epidauros in order to see the Sanctuary and Theater of Asklepios. Last semester, at Tufts, I took a Ancient Greek and Roman Medicine class, where we spent a lot of time learning about the cult site of Asklepios at Epidaurus and the role of divine healing on the development of the medical techne of the time. I got up around six a.m. to take the metro (first time by myself!!) to a suburb of Athens in order to get on a KTEL bus to Kranidi, which had a stop near the sanctuary. After a little panicking about missed stops, and help from a very nice bus driver and some translating Greek passengers, I got off the bus a kilometer from the Sanctuary. I found it very adventurous of me to be walking off a bus and proceeding to walk a kilometer on a deserted road, surrounded by olive farms, in order to reach the sanctuary. On a side note: I really love the way that the olive trees  make the mountains look silver, as if they are gilded.

Road Sign to the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus

 Once at the Sanctuary, I started at the Theater of Asklepios, where theater performances took place in order to entertain the invalids seeking divine healing from Asklepios. I have seen the theater complex at Pompeii but the shear size of the Theater of Epidaurus was breath-taking (literally, I actually gasped when I came through the trees and first saw the structure). The acoustics were also amazing and I am in awe of the technical level of engineering required to not only carve out the hill formation and construct this theater, but also calculate the precise angle and size required in order to create the acoustics. I could clearly hear the tourists speaking from the ground all the way at the top of the structure as if they were sitting next to me. In the following picture a small stone is visible in the center of the sand in the circular platform on the ground level of the theater. When you stand on that circle, your projection is the strongest, but even cooler is that if you tap your foot on that stone circle, the tapping sound reverberates back at you amplified.

Top Down View of the Temple of Epidaurus

Ground Level View of the Theater of Epidaurus

After spending time at the theater, I spent two hours at the archeological site of the Sanctuary of Asklepios. Here I was followed, and at times guided, by a stray dog. Dogs were sacred to the god Asklepios, to whom the theater and sanctuary were dedicated, and were often kept at the sanctuary for healing purposes, as the Greeks believed that ailments could be cured by the lick of a dog's tongue. Being guided through the site by the dog, felt as if Asklepios himself was guiding my tour through the hostel, baths, and temple ruins.

Dog of Asklepios

The remains of the Propylon among the ruins of the Sanctuary of Asklepios

Visitors of the site approach the ruins of the Sanctuary in the reverse direction from the traditional procession of supplicants during antiquity. Having learned about the proper steps needed to be admitted into the Sanctuary complex for healing, I wanted to walk through the Propylaia, past the Cistern, and up through the sacred way. The picture below shows the remains of the Propylaia, which would have mirrored the appearance of a temple while the site was getting used. After crossing the Propylaia, I stopped at the cistern and used my water bottle to wash my hands, in the same manner supplicants two thousand years ago would have washed in order to achieve physical purification before entering the Sanctuary.

Propylaia of the Sanctuary


I then proceeded to the Abaton, which is where the invalids would have slept in order to receive, in their dreams, healing from the god, either in the form of Asklepios himself, a dog, or the elaphae longissima longissima, the sacred snake of Asklepios (which I sadly did not see). Having read the stelae containing written accounts of the miracles believed to have been performed here in the abaton, it was surreal to be in this place of healing. In fact, I laid down on the marble benches against the back wall in order to partake in the process led by thousands of others before me.

Abaton of Epidaurus

Due to the fact that the Tholos Temple, a round temple in which the sacred snakes of Asklepios are believed to have been kept, is being refurbished and reconstructed, I was able to see the methods that archeologists are using in order to reconstruct these monuments as precisely as possible while maintaining the integrity of the ruins. As seen below, the archeologists are using an exacting tool, a modified version of the tool used by the Romans in order to make exact replicas of Greek Bronze sculptures in marble, in order to etch into marble. The archeological remains are then placed within these marble pieces, and the Tholos Temple will then be reconstructed so that the public will be able to view what the original temple would have looked at while still seeing the remains in their correct orientation within the ruin. Seeing this method of archeology has made me think about reconstructive archeology as a career path, which I had never considered before.

Reconstructive Archeology
Along with the Theater and the Archeological Site of the Sanctuary, the site also houses a museum which contains the sculptures and material finds of the archeological site. For me, the most exciting material objects on display were the copper-alloy medical instruments: scalpels, forceps, tweezers, cautery irons, and probes. The evidence of these instruments at the Sanctuary of Asklepios prove that the site served as more than a location for divine miracles but also as a site where actual medicine was practiced.

Tweezers, Scalpels, and Cautery Irons from Epidaurus

Medical Probes
Epidaurus was an incredible day trip out of Athens. The trip gave me confidence to travel alone, take public transportation, and to trust the people of Greece to help get me where I am looking to go. I am so thankful that I was able to see this ancient marvel. Part of the beauty of Athens rests in the fact that the city is a testament to the Athenian people throughout history, with Classical, Byzantine, Early Modern, and Contemporary architecture right next to each other. Epidaurus, however, was a strong break from the charm of Athens. Situated in a forest of  whispering trees in a valley between silver mountains, the site almost serves as a small asylum for Ancient Greece, untouched by the modern era except for the inevitable passage of time and monumental collapse. And if one squints (really hard) it is almost possible  to see the line of supplicants making merry while waiting to be healed by the god.

Statue of Asklepios