April 12, 2009

Athens, Day 12: “And that’s how I got into disarmament”

Quite a long break, as we went on a three-day field trip (after which I discovered 74 emails in my inbox) and then I used my internet time for other things. So, here’s what happened.

Monday I didn’t really do anything for most of the day, and then Priya and I went out for crepes and gelato on Immitou. They put some sort of melty feta on my crepe and it had fries inside instead of real potatoes, which was odd, and I didn’t like it as much as Icosium crepes.

Tuesday we left at 7.30 for the Argolid. They plan these trips down to a T, including “Stop at Corinth Canal for restrooms”. This turned out to be a major tourist stop, and the restrooms were housed in a series of connected venues selling tourist-quality everything – pom-pom fezzes, ouzo bottles shaped like karyatids, tiny imitation Greek sculptures. Fortunately, they also had lots of Haribo candy, which I bought; I had been craving carnauba-con-sugar for a while and they just don’t seem to have. If anyone’s interested in sending a care package, I’d love some Twizzlers. After our stop we visited Isthmia, one of the sites of the ancient Panhellenic games (this one was to Poseidon). All of these cult centers have in common a temple, a stadium, a theatre, and a support system for the complex (hotels and dining rooms for the visitors, priest houses, et cetera). We were led around the museum by an enthusiastic old Englishman named Alistair, who we should really adopt as our tour guide forever. As Sarah said, “I’ve never been more interested in Greek armor than when he was explaining it.” They did have quite an impressive helmet collection, showing the difference between the ones with nosepieces and the ones without. They also had a set of glass mosaics that were going to be installed and then weren’t (can’t remember why) and were just left in a stack, after which they were claimed by the sea. They did some super-conservation (as must happen for anything found in underwater archaeology) and now a few can be on display, and they really are intricate and beautiful. We also took a touristy picture of us starting a race from the ancient starting blocks.


Racing at Olympia

Next we went to Nemea, which had an ancient stadium where we had a race. It actually had a little athlete waiting area that connected to the stadium via a tunnel; walking through it was very reminiscent of track meets. Krystin, Mariana, and I were the contenders, and I think the distance was about 80 meters. Unfortunately, the ancient starting position is like that of our 200m, which I’m not so good at, and I also slipped in mud as I took off and ended up in second place. I mean, not that it really matters, as the whole point was just to run in an ancient stadium.

The third site that day was Mycenae, which was of course the best-preserved and most tourist-filled. It was (if you didn’t know) the center of the Mycenean civilization, located securely on top of a hill with a gate with lions on it and a cistern that needed exploring. I believe it was excavated by Schliemann, who found some tholos tombs (they’re beehive shaped, 40 feet tall, and underground) he named the Tombs of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon. Of course, the famed “Mask of Agamemnon” is in the National Museum. The Mycenae Museum had a small collection too, but replicas of all the gold things; my favorite was a set of bronze rings that actually had phalanges in them. Why they kept the bones in the rings, I have no idea.


Defending the citadel at Mycenae

Afterwards we went to check into our hotel in Nafplio, a cute harbor town. We wandered around and happened upon a gelato place owned by Italians (I had chili chocolate, and ordered it in Italian) that claimed on its menu that “Gelato is good for athletes, the elderly, and pregnant women.”

Wednesday we visited Tiryns, a small hilltop site with floors reconstructed in cement, which was quite helpful for visualizing the layout. This is where Eric jumped and fell and scraped his arm. Next we went to Argos, which had a theatre (which we proceeded to climb, leaving some people behind to sing to us from the sweet spot to see if we could hear from all the way up a the top). We couldn’t visit the Roman baths, but the agora was really interesting. It seemed to have lots of buildings with generally the same purpose, and a nymphaion that was rebuilt like 3 times. It also had a hall of columns, the purpose of which is obscure. Then we went to the Argive Heraion, a temple complex to Hera a few kilometers from Argos. Actually, I think it might have been more than a few kilometers as I fell dead asleep on the bus and it seemed much longer, as naps go. It was really beautiful on top of the hillside, and there were some good ashlars and column drums for bouldering. This is where Eric twisted his ankle.


The Argos theatre

We got back to Nafplio around 3, so I went shopping and bought some nice silver spiral earrings and a very Greek-looking dress, olive green and flowy. Good for the islands. We had a wine-tasting lesson to learn about Greek wines, but as was bound to happen, the owner said things like “here you can taste the citrus and also oak, from the oak casks” and I sipped and thought “tastes like wine.” Clearly all is lost on me and I should stick to my $3 white zinfandels.

Thursday we left our hotel (which was actually nice, by the way, and not just a hostel – my only complaints were the firmness of the mattress and the size of the shower, although it did have hot water all the time) and went to Epidavros, a huge complex with a sanctuary to Asklepios. It also had a theatre, at which we had the same kind of fun as at the last theatre but with more of an audience, but the sanctuary was really the main attraction. Paul explained how people with illnesses (especially long pregnancies) would visit, do ritual cleansing and sacrifice, and then have ritual sleep during which they would dream of Asclepios or his snake and then be healed. Later, the Romans took it over because boy, did they love their bathing and cult healing centers. Here I got to go into the Roman bath.

Afterwards we went back to Nafplio where we explored Palamidi Fortress, a big hulking thing on a cliff built by the Venetians. It had nothing to do with Bronze Age or Archaic Greece, but I guess they just assumed if there’s some large tourist attraction in our town we should see it. We took the bus up but walked down, and then got souvlaki and a final gelato before heading back.

Thursday night I went out by myself to the seder at Chabad. It took about 40 minutes to get there by walking and train, and it was sort of in a sketchy area. When I arrived there were people speaking a mix of Hebrew, English, and Greek; I had a conversation with a woman originally from Maryland who had spent the last four years abroad for her husband’s work – two years in Kiev, two in Athens. There were so many babies. So Many Babies. I was quite worried that the seder would just be overly baby-tastic and super-Chabad when in walked two guys around my age. Turns out they’re French and studying at the American business school in Athens, so they spoke English pretty well. The seder was long, as we had to read every part of the story. Dinner was potatoes and lamb. After dinner, one of the French guys said he needed to leave (his friends were waiting to go out), so I left with him so I wouldn’t have to walk back to the train station alone. Turns out he’s also not Chabad, and had no problem turning on the lights or attempting to use the electronic ticket booth. For some reason, although the trains still run at 11.30, they turn off the electronic ticket vendors, so we hopped the entrance (as much as it can be hopped, since there’s no actual turnstile). We exchanged numbers so maybe next week my friends can all meet his friends and hang out with some new people. (Additionally, he talked about Jewish life here vs Paris – we both had the experience of going to the synagogue here and finding it completely empty.)

Friday we had a free morning and Anna and I finally went to the farmers’ market together. We still bought 8 zucchinis, but at least it was planned. We had a quiz in the afternoon, and in Greek we learned words relating to gyros and souvlaki.

Saturday we woke up late and made scrambled eggs. I have no idea how, but somehow we have finished 11 eggs in two days. I also had my usual toast with tomato and feta, but replaced the toast with matzah and all was well. Last night a bunch of people went to a bar but instead I stayed here and watched “Gosford Park” with Sarah. Anna and I made a dinner of oregano/lemon chicken (it was spiced with both, but somehow both flavors didn’t spread over the entire thing) and accidental-paella part 2, which was not as good as the first time.

Cultural note: I have seen so many Athenian women with amazingly beautiful boots. They all have perfectly shaped toes and interesting decorative elements and are all real leather. I have decided I need to acquire some of these. I saw some in the flea market for 25 euros and some more in the shops for about 40.

Weather: 60s, partly cloudy

Currency: 1.31 dollars/euro

Gelato count is gone. Too many.


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