This last week was filled with activities all across the (Greek Culture) board. From onsite class to lentil soup to a beautiful concert and an elaborate series of transportation to reach a well known hot spring.
“Athens On Site” is a class that quickly became my favorite. Each class we meet at a different location in Athens to explore a historically significant site (pretty self explanatory, I suppose). Last week, we had the privilege of having two of our classes in the Ancient Agora. The Agora is the meeting place and political center of a city. The Agora of Ancient Athens, specifically, was the first place in the world to have demonstrated democracy and has archaeological finds that document the 7th – late 5th century BC (which includes the occupation and reoccupation of several different empires) making it high on the list of “Super Vital Archaeological Sites”. You can feel that the soil is rich in history as it seems to seep in through your feet as you grow in appreciation for your surroundings. Our first day was rainy, working out well for us to visit the museum that is constructed to model an ancient stoa which is a public building where merchants would buy and sell as well as religious gatherings and displays of artwork would be present. The next class, we walked the paths of the Ancient Agora as our professor shared with us the value of the ruins we saw (if you want to know the details, google can help you out or let me know. I would love to share my notes with you). It seemed appropriate to learn in this place where the people of Antiquity exchanged ideas and Socrates himself taught his philosophy to eager (or annoyed) listeners. You can even walk past the place where he was imprisoned and eventually put to death under the charges of impiety and corruption of the youth.
The monument that brought the most attention was the Theseion or Hephaisteion. This temple was built in 460 BC as a dedication to Theseus, the hero and founder of Athens (mythological grey area) and later converted to a Temple of Hephaestus, the protector and god of laborers; and even later, transformed into a Christian Church dedicated to St. George (who was a knight, by the way) in the 3rd century AD. It is the best preserved temple in Greece, thanks to the many purposes it had (shout out to Christianity for preserving things!). “Why is this seemingly simply building so stunning?” you ask. Well it isn’t my photography, it’s a little thing Pythagoras likes to call the “golden ratio”. It was explained to us that the Greeks lived seeking perfection in everything (art, philosophy, poems, etc). In a word, metron (μέτρον). This word means more than just “measure”, but the beauty that lies within dimensions, proportions, and balance rather than monumentality. The golden ratio represents the proportion that yields the most aesthetically pleasing products. Take it or leave it (there is a whole lot of math that I can’t explain to save my life to back it up); but you have to admit that this is a beauty.
On a completely different train of thought, let’s talk food! I am a big fan of cooking, however due to my habit of straying from instructions, “recipes” usually have a 50/50 shot of turning out well. My goal was a lentil soup over rice that would resemble that which I hold so dear from Madison’s beloved Mediterranean Cafe. Although I didn’t have a blender to make it the preferred thickness, I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. I highly suggest it because it actually wasn’t demanding at all other than just time to sit and let the flavors get to know each other. The roommates even approved. My cooking skills were humbled this week with a bad batch of hummus. Important note to chickpea lovers: boiling and “de-shelling” once dried chickpeas is an important step and should not be skipped; soaking them is not enough. But hey, now I know!
Friday night was a program outing to the Megaron – Athens’ Concert Hall for a concert performed by the Athens State Orchestra. The program was titled “έρωτας και πεπρωμενο” translated as “Love and Destiny”. I am not so sure I got that out of the music, but I felt pretty cultured when I identified the Cupid and Psyche sculpture in the program as the exact one I saw in the Louvre about three weeks before. There was a featured harpist who definitely knew what she was doing as she performed an encore after more incessant clapping than I think I have ever heard. It was wonderful to hear such seamless and soothing music. Not something I do as often as I would like!
With the weekend at our fingertips, we all decided to take a trip to a sunken hot spring lake that is known as a year-long spa: Lake Vouliagmeni (Βουλιαγμένη). Important note to winter Greece travelers: this is a blatant lie. The water is warm, true. But the 60 degree Fahrenheit water doesn’t quite do it when it is 50 degrees and breezy outside. That being said, we all had quite the fun adventure. To first get to our destination, the fourteen of us walked, took a trolleybus, rode the metro, and bused. By grace alone we all made it to the Lake without getting lost nor losing anyone along the way. Although it wasn’t ideal weather, we rolled with the punches and enjoyed the day away from the norm. The brave swam for a while (as the two other people there and the workers looked at us like we were insane . . . maybe rightfully so) and after warming up with some hot drinks, we all headed to a nearby city for dinner where we parted ways and then back to home sweet home in Athens. On the return journey a helpful couple helped us navigate around a demonstration that was happening at the Hellenic Parliament. Thanks, locals!
If this is the average week in Athens: sprinkled with history, delicious food, lovely music, and road trips to new places with wonderful people; then I think the semester will be quite the — to quote Bilbo Baggins — “unexpected journey”.
“From failure you learn. From success, not so much.” -Meet the Robinsons
“Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, not even if your whole world seems upset. If you find that you have wandered away from the shelter of God, lead your heart back to Him quietly and simply.” -Saint Francis de Sales