Monthly Archives: March 2014

Aegina: The Land of the Lotus Eaters

It has been a while, true. Give me a break, I have been exploring some Greek Islands! But really, that’s what I have been up to the past two weekends and now that I am back and sun-kissed, I am ready to share all the strange, beautiful, and unexpected happenings.

photo curtesy of Miranda.

photo courtesy of Miranda.

 

First we travel back to last Saturday when I went with three other ladies from the program (Annie, Milica, and Miranda) to the nearby island of Aegina. We arrived with zero plans other than the intent to explore as much as possible. After sampling some of the island’s famous pistachio nuts, we rented four-wheelers to cruise around the island. After growing up in Wisconsin, it was pretty crazy that this was my first time driving one! The man giving us directions observed my newness astutely as he stated “No driver, no driver” but nonetheless allowed us to drive away. We caught on quite quickly and soon were making our way across the island.

Apse

Apse

Saint Nectarios

Saint Nectarios

 

Our first stop was the Church of Saint Nectarios. This was initially a monastery established by the Saint himself in 1904. As we wandered the outskirts of the Orthodox church I found a lovely nun who pointed us in the right direction of the entrance to the actual chapel.  Something you notice after visiting many Orthodox churches is that they spare no extravagance; chandeliers, carved wood, tapestries, painted ceilings, icons, and absolutely stunning apses and tabernacles. Sadly, there was scaffolding taking up the entire middle of the church, a view up the aisle was near impossible.

Monastery of Agios Nektarios exterior.

Monastery of Agios Nektarios exterior.

 

We set off again to find (literally. because we took a few wrong turns) our way across the island. Through some detours and nature walks, we eventually found ourselves having a little picnic before checking out the Temple. While enjoying our snacks of almonds and apples, a middle-aged woman starting making conversation with us. A friendly local who used to own a shop by the shore and now lives elsewhere on the island. After recommending another location to visit on the island she invited us over for lunch followed by outrageously complicated directions to her home (“back the way you came . . . a left, and then a right, then it goes sort of up a hill, there’s a bakery, then a white van, then two bins, that’s my street . . . ” etc). Greek hospitality, right? Well, we will put a hold on that story for now.

With our student-discount tickets acquired we entered the ancient site to see the Temple of Aphaia. Although this temple was erected around 500 BC this site has evidence of cut activity since the 14th century BC. Not much is actually known about this strong Archaic Temple.  it was originally thought that it was to Athena because of her appearance on the pediment reliefs but inscriptions indicated that it was to Aphaia, a fertility goddess. 113A sweet temple, if I do say so myself, and a pretty spectacular view.

Temple of Aphaia

Temple of Aphaia

 

Next was our trip to a monastery per our new friend’s recommendation. This was the Monastery of Agios Minas. Saint Minas was an Egyptian martyr in very early 4th century AD. We arrived at the same time as a large tour group so, allowed or not, we followed them in. The courtyard was beautiful and the chapels, of course, were as well. I was reprimanded for attempting to take a picture so I resort to stealing a sneaky photo of Miranda’s of the beautifully painted iconic ceiling.

monastery

 

Between the lovely weather, fabulous company, and the gorgeous landscapes we wanted to stay on Aegina forever. It is here that we return to the strange and complicated tale of our friend from the temple. It is quite a saga so here you will receive a very much abridged version. We set off to try and locate this woman’s house and through much trial, error, and eventually her happening to pass us on the road, we found it. Long story short (for those of you who know me, making a short story is quite the feat for me), we made a delicious lunch, hung out with her visiting aunt who was awesome and decked out with self-crocheted clothing, talked, ate, then she got strangely and subtlety bossy/controlling, invited us to stay the night, and we left . . . quite quickly.

mixed rice, stuffed pepper, mussels, and salad.

mixed rice, stuffed pepper, mussels, and salad.

fleeing the scene.

fleeing the scene.

The best way I can explain it is by providing the analogy of the Land of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey “They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return”. For some reason while the whole series of events were unfolding it did not seem strange. Only as we were speeding away on our four-wheelers mush like Odysseus’ men fleeing on their ships did we realize the craziness of it all.

 

I am happy to report that we made it safely back to the port. We returned the bikes, and shopped for some of Aegina’s famous pistachios. Yum! Then we rested on the port, and watched the sun set over the sea-green water and admired the full moon as we recapped literally the strangest day of my life.

Farewell Aegina!

Farewell Aegina!

 

None of us would have guessed that we would have such an adventurous day when we set out at 6:00am to visit our first Greek Island. Aegina will always hold a special (and weird) place in our hearts that only the four of us will truly understand. A valuable lesson was learned that day of walking the line between being open to new experiences and staying logical and prudent in decision-making.  I’d like to say I have since mastered this skill, but alas, I am still a work-in-progress.

 

 “Prudence is the footprint of Wisdom.” ― Amos Bronson Alcott

 

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Athens Loving and Letters from Sir Arthur Evans

This was a week full of love for Athens. From class spelunking adventures, to quality time with the roommates, to archiving letters dating from the 1920’s, Athens had me wrapped around her finger.

My favorite class that is spending the semester essentially exploring Athens had an extended class this past Thursday. Completely unaware of our destination, I hopped on the bus in the morning to be blindly lead. I (and everyone else, I would venture) were quite pleased to end up at the Pentelikon.

The cave from the entrance.

The cave from the entrance.

The cave from the inside.

The cave from the inside.

This is a mountain range from which they quarried marble for the Parthenon and other buildings of antiquity. This artificial cave and quarry was active from the late 7th century BC through the late 3rd century AD and is now protected by law and only used for the Acropolis Restoration Project. Deep within the cave was a place to worship the ancient mythical god of wild nature, Pan, who came to resemble the Christian devil. We tried to find it, but no matter how many holes we crawled into there was no avail.

The thing about caves is that they are pretty dark and thus impossible to capture in a photograph. However, they are also incredibly fun to explore and explore we did, emerging slightly muddier than when we entered (or maybe that was just me who may or may not have had a less than graceful slip).

When cut, the marble has a yellowish tint that glows almost golden in the sunlight, hence it’s coveted nature. Once quarried, the marble was partially worked before being transported about 15 kilometers to the city by means of a roadway you can still see today!

Ancient roadway

Ancient roadway

In the 5th century AD Christian hermits built a hermitage into the cave-side. This location was chosen for it’s remoteness but also to purify the area from the past pagan rituals. When I say “built into the cave-side”, I mean it. This construction used the sides of the cave for it’s own, becoming one in the same.

Byzantine Hermitage.

Byzantine Hermitage.

Byzantine Hermitage interior.

Byzantine Hermitage interior.

The door was wide open, so we poked around inside. I was surprised to see that there were small pictures and incense from modern times displayed throughout among the hundreds of years old wall paintings that you could run your fingers along. Pretty beautiful!

An unexpected adventure, for sure, but simply amazing.

 

 

 

The weekend in Athens consisted of plenty of quality time with two of my roommates, Milica and Annie (the third’s father is visiting!).  Friday included a trip to the open air market, fresh bread and homemade tzatziki, life stories, and a semi-Mexican dish before heading out to get a drink in a new area. However we got a little turned around on the way (my bad) so Milica decided to ask two policemen for directions (on the first day we were specifically told “these are not the friendly American policemen that you ask for directions”). Although they didn’t understand where we were trying to go, we ended up having a good half hour conversation with them! We exhausted our knowledge of the Greek language (of which we were also critiqued), deducted our way through confusing stories concerning Patrick Dempsey and the Elgin Marbles, and got advice on a new destination. After bidding “καλο βραδυ” we ventured to the suggested bar. Shortly after sitting down, we decided we would rather have food than a drink so we walked to a nearby cafe and ate a snack, ending the night with a cab ride home. We didn’t even come close to fulfilling our night plans, but instead let Greece lead us into a new, fun adventure!

Annie and Milica on Saturday somewhere in Monastiraki.

Annie and Milica on Saturday somewhere in Monastiraki.

Saturday’s main happening was our journey through uncharted (for us) Athens. We had no other goal but to wander the city and explore whatever interested us. I am convinced that this is the best way to experience a new city. Of course, along the way we stopped at a cafe to get some hot drinks on what was a chilly day for Greece (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Somehow our conversation about how friendly Greeks are in their general hospitality transformed into “story time with Emily” as I told them the long and short of the Trojan War and how it all goes back to Xenia. I stand by the idea that this concept has perpetuated time and is still demonstrated today in modern Greece. From there we continued our journey saying many expressions along the lines of “Wow, this (indicating almost anything) is what I love about living in Athens!” “Greeks are so friendly!” “I love living with you guys!” “How amazing is Greece?!” Needless to say, we are quite happy about our decision to study and live here.

About two weeks ago I started volunteering at the British School at Athens, a school of archaeology. I worked in the library (which is absolutely beautiful) with the archivist, organizing and recording information from letters that came in and out of the BSA from 1928. Sometimes it is a little tedious, but with the right tunes, you get into the letters as if they are a story. I also am a big fan of the way they sign there letters “yours very sincerely” or “yours faithfully” or “Believe me, yours very truly”. It sounds pretty intimate for a business letter, but I love it.

Letters from Sir Arthur Evans.

Letters from Sir Arthur Evans.

Anyway (λοιπον), the other day as I was jamming to some soundtracks, I happened upon some letters from Sir Arthur Evans. I do not know much about archaeology or names of archaeologists, but him, him I have heard of. Sir Arthur Evans is known for excavating the famous palace of Knossos on the island of Crete and developing the concept of the Minoan Civilization. It was pretty cool to hold his casual letter to the BSA secretary about a meeting knowing that he was discovering amazing things at the same time. His handwriting, however, was a challenge to decipher. Note to those with troubled handwriting: If you are planning on being a big deal sometime in the future, be kind to archivists and work towards having more legible penmanship.

 

As you can tell, I kind of like living in Athens. I read somewhere recently that Madison is the “Athens of the Midwest”. I am not really sure where that came from, or what it means exactly, but I love the connection between my two homes. As always, I am loving Athens, but always always sending my love and prayers back to Wisconsin!

 

“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that the point?” — Pam Beesly-Halpert (The Office)

“It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.” ― C.S. Lewis

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Walking with Saint Paul: Corinth

While the majority of the students in my program packed their bags for more distant travels, I decided to spend some quality time with Greece over our extended weekend. Among the coffee, souvlaki, walks,  and brunch with remaining peers, I took a day trip to the ancient site of Corinth. As a big fan of Saint Paul, visiting the places he traveled and spread the gospel are quite near the top of my list of dream destinations while abroad. I already got the chance to stand on the Areospagus where he spoke to the Athenians, but this was my first little solo pilgrimage!

To classify the the success in the realm of transportation as “rough” is a gross understatement. I asked for so many people for help I can’t even count; however thanks to kind people and many Hail Mary’s I somehow made it (eventually) to and from the site. Important note to those traveling to ancient Corinth/traveling in general: If you even have a shred of doubt as to where to get off/any sort of worry,  do yourself a favor and ask for help. Just grow in that humility and do it. Otherwise you will end up in a city about 20 minutes further than your original destination and then have to back-track. Not that that happened to me or anything . . .

Anyway, with the literal “struggle bus” experience aside, let’s move closer to the main point: Saint Paul and ancient Corinth. Like I previously mentioned, I have a special devotion to Saint Paul. Allow me to elaborate a smidgen. One of the many beautiful things about the Catholic Church is that we have hundreds of men and women each with their own unique story and personality who have devoted theirs whole lives to serving God that we can look to for guidance and encouragement. Individual devotions, for me at least, rise up with the feeling of connection to a specific Saint’s writing, life, or patronage; whether out of similarity or differences. Saint Paul made a couple appearances in my life before making his way into my personal litany. The church I attend (and where two of my older siblings frequented while attending UW) in Madison is named after Saint Paul as well as the city where my sister went to college which created a little bond of our family. Then I somehow landed myself int a Religious Studies class about Saint Paul’s letters where I was in way over my head but ended up falling in love with his writing. You can locate his letters in my bible just by finding the page-edges that are the dirtiest from use. Saint Paul lived during the 1st century AD, a Hellenistic world. It is easy to think of the words in the bible as something completely separate from what you learn in history books, but the truth is that they coexist! Not the most revolutionary thought, but it was a realization that blew me away. As a Classics major I read a lot about the ancient Greeks, Constantinople, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. As a Catholic I read scripture about the Prodigal Son, the life of Christ, the troubles of the citizens in Ephesus and Corinth. But for some reason I had never really tried to work the two loves of my life together by putting them in context. I began looking at Saint Paul as Hellenistic man living as an early Christian and since then he has been dear to my heart not only as a Saint but as a symbol of the marriage between my studies and my faith. 

As my hope of reaching my destination decreased with my lost-ness increasing (an unfortunate inverse relationship), I arrived much to my surprise. My tear-lined eyes finally landed on the site of ancient Corinth and I released a sigh mixed with relief, peace, and wonder coming straight from my heart rather than my lungs. I made it. It was a rainy day so, as expected, I had the site almost to myself which was lovely. I did not expect, however, to be greeted by a very nearby school blasting jams including the Macarana and La Bamba. Happy Carnival?

The site has a long history and includes many constructions (stores, stoas, statues, etc) but I will only mention a few.

Fountain of Glauke

Fountain of Glauke

First you are greeted with the Fountain of Glauke. This is a large limestone block that had four reservoirs for the water but was not a natural spring. It was originally built in the 6th century BC and has a little myth to go with it! Story time. Glauke was a princess of Corinth who was promised in marriage to a hero, Jason, who also happened to be married already to a sorceress. Medea was less than thrilled about being tossed aside and poisoned Glauke’s wedding dress, causing her to burst into flames. In effort to extinguish the flames, it is said that she threw herself into this fountain. It didn’t work. Medea followed up that gruesome act with the murder of Glauke’s father and her two children then exited the scene on her dragon-drawn chariot.

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

Next is the Temple of Apollo.  An archaic temple built in the 6th century BC with it’s strangely majestic monolithic (“one stone”) columns is the most prominent in the site. Of course it was altered from it’s original state over time, especially when the Romans gained occupation. Let’s just give a brief shout out to Pausanias who wandered around and documented a bunch of monuments in the 2nd century AD.

The Bema or Rostra

The Bema or Rostra

Now for my main attraction: the Bema. This is the place where Saint Paul would have proclaimed the Gospel to the citizens of Corinth. Wow. Even though a worker thought I was a crazy person as he watched my like a hawk as I inspected this monument, I took my time. It is a raised marble platform that was probably close to brand spanking new when Saint Paul stood on it. A gift from God came in the form of a school bell ringing releasing the children from school and ceasing the crazy music.

To my great delight, I was surprised to find that you could actually walk on top of it! Saint Paul didn’t wear socks and even if he did I doubt that they would have had Christmas pigs on them, but I felt it was appropriate to document my dream moment of standing where he stood.

"In the footsteps of Saint Paul"

“In the footsteps of Saint Paul”

 

When the brief moment of shock passed, I joyfully found a place to sit on top and settled in and flipped open my Interlinear Greek-English New Testament to read some of Saint Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It was so beautiful to picture the city as it was and imagine these letters being read to the public in Paul’s absence.

 

I then headed into the museum to see the numerous artifacts belonging to the site. After having my fill of beautiful sculptures, mosaics, and pottery (of course) I headed back out to pray my rosary. Two decades in I realize that I am being yelled at in Greek to leave because they were closing. Or at least that’s what I assume she was saying based on purely context clues and the close to zero Greek that I know.

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Although I would have preferred to make a real pilgrimage to Corinth, setting out with nothing but sandals and a walking stick, as Saint Paul did, my bus/metro/taxi adventure was a pretty crazy journey within itself. I am so thankful to have made it to Corinth on my mini retreat; growing a little closer to God with the aide of my friend Saint Paul.

 

 

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2Corinthians 12:9-10

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Mount Lycabettus and the Lion Gate

In true, sporadic Emily fashion, here is a brief account of last weekend’s happenings (in my defense, twice I tried to write but the internet would not allow it). From a leisurely walk up one of Athens’ hills to a field study to see archaeological sites that were occupied over four thousand years ago!

On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon (sorry to rub it in, Wisconsin friends), roommate Christina and I decided to journey up Mount Lycabettus, Athens’ highest point. We wandered along the path surrounded by wild flowers and giant aloe plants, taking a break halfway up to re-hydrate, soak in the sun, and enjoy some “girl talk” before continuing. Waiting for us at the peak was the beautiful little Chapel of Saint George. Saint George is super hard core and is said to have slayed a dragon . . . maybe not. But he was a soldier under the Roman Emperor Diocletian who eventually ordered all of his Christian soldiers to be arrested resulting in Saint George’s martyrdom.

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From the peak, courtesy of Christina insisting on taking a picture of me.

From the peak, courtesy of Christina insisting on taking a picture of me.

From the top you could see the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the sea! Sadly all my pictures are awful in which you can’t even see what anything is, so none will be found here. After our journey back down, we stopped at a cafe to enjoy some crepes. The menu had a “build your own” option followed by another section that included basically every combination possible. A indecisive person’s nightmare. Eventually (after about ten minutes of mulling it over) I decided on dark chocolate and orange. A tasty choice.

Indecision. For anyone that has tried to order anything with me, this is a familiar sight.

Indecision. For anyone that has tried to order anything with me, this is a familiar sight.

Because that wasn’t quite enough walking, the next day began bright and early with a bus ride to walk around some Mycenaean sites! But for real, this was a trip that I had been waiting for. Our class studying Aegean prehistory has been recently focusing on the rise and fall of the Mycenaean Culture. This ranges from about 1600 to 1100 BC. Just take a second to let that sink in. We got to walk on the ground and touch the walls that people constructed thousands of years ago. crazy.

Mycenae from afar.

Mycenae from afar.

Our first stop was Mycenae. This is the largest of the Mycenaean palaces and is the home of mythical King Agamemnon who lead the charge against the Trojans. It was was at it’s height around 1400 BC and has some pretty impressive construction including it’s massive fortification walls said to be built by the cyclopes (also a myth), thus receiving the name “Cyclopean Walls”. These walls were anywhere from 4.6 – 6.7 meters wide! They were pretty defensive people. I could tell you about the grave circles, throne room, and tholos tombs, but let’s just jump to the highlight: The Lion Gate.

 

THE Lion Gate.

THE Lion Gate.

The Lion Gate is another one of those things that you see in all Classics textbooks and an obvious point on the sight-seeing checklist. Since the walls were  so heavy, making doorways proved a challenge so the technology of a “relieving triangle” was invented to displace the weight from the typical post and lintel construction. This specific triangle includes a relief of two female lions with a column implying some sort of cult practice (but that would go too far to explain). As you can see, the heads are missing. This is most probably because they were constructed out of another material (most likely precious) that was taken in one of the numerous lootings over time.  Still just as majestic as ever.

Grave Circle A and other ruins.

Grave Circle A and other ruins.

Quite the view the Mycenaeans had.

Quite the view the Mycenaeans had.

 

We wandered the site everywhere we were allowed (and maybe where we we might not have been as we were lead under ropes by our professor as she says “Now that they aren’t watching . . .”) and enjoyed the view of the Argive Plain. We even explored the secret cistern which definitely should be blocked off as you walk in complete darkness down the limestone stairs to find a pit of mud. Still worth it.

 

 

 

Next stop, Tiryns. Constructed a bit earlier than Mycenae, Tiryns follows the typical Mycenaean Palace layout including storage rooms (this time inside the walls), throne room, residential areas, workshops, etc. Way back when this palace would have been located right on the edge of the sea but since the sea has receded.

Just the class milling about the Megaron (public meeting area).

Just the class milling about the Megaron (public meeting area).

And now the last and smallest stop, Lerna. Lerna was occupied not only during the Mycenaean era, but also has evidence of habitation from the Neolithic times stretching  overall from roughly the 5th millennium BC to 1600 BC! That makes it a pretty important archaeological site. Here we find the House of Tiles which is well known in the Archaeological sphere even though we don’t have a whole lot of conclusions about it. It was a public building, maybe for merchants to sell, or possibly a sacred place? There were also two graves found. You can see why there was confusion in deciphering the purpose.

House of Tiles/Corridor House.

House of Tiles/Corridor House.

 

This site was surrounded by orange trees which we were invited by our professor to sample on our way out while being instructed “Guys . . . try and be more discrete”. Who knew Demetra was such a rebel?!

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We then dined at nearby Nafplio, our old friend from the first weekend here, before heading back home to Athens. Quite the extensive weekend of city and site exploration, but well worth the lack of sleep and tired feet.

 

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

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