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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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