Αντίο Athens!

These days, when I’m not busy recalibrating my circadian rhythm, I’ve been spending my time missing Athens in every way. I miss my dear friends, the weather, the Acropolis, and the Greek people. I have spent time thinking about how the semester has shaped my views and my temperament, and what characteristics I adopted there that will inevitably carry over here (sitting at restaurants for four straight hours is the first that comes to mind…). At home I’ve been enjoying many unexpected things, including understanding conversations around me, going outside without shoes on, and regularly eating chocolate chip cookies.

One of the biggest challenges I faced in my last days in Athens was mastering the art of saying goodbye; it is certainly not something at which I excel. I did my best, by spending my last few days with friends I had made throughout the semester at places we learned to love along the way. I went to my favorite cafe for iced coffee with my roommate, visited a favorite restaurant with my neighbors, and had one last spinach pie with my field trip buddies.

Standing on Mars Hill during my last visit to the Acropolis.
Housemate Dinner!

There were many tears at the end, as I said goodbye to friends from California, Oregon, and, oh yeah, Greece, whom I will not see again for some time. I don’t feel I can prescribe any advice on how to properly say goodbye, as I am still saying it even now. But I will give you the advice I received from my roommate Kalya when I texted her in a frenzy when I noticed one of my friends on the verge of tears, (okay actually I do have some advice: Don’t be on your phone when one of your friends is on the verge of tears…). Anyway, Kalya said, “Uh oh. Madison it’s okay. Be emotional. Feel feelings in your goodbye!” So there you have it folks, the best advice I can give, for now.

So to Greece I say, one last time, Goodbye, see you later. I will miss your laid back attitude, your bluest sea, and your blazing sun. And to Michigan I say Hello! I have missed your greenery, your familiarity, and your wide open spaces.

Until next time, Greece! And to you, my faithful reader! Αντίο!

“Fast Friends” and Other Idioms

On Good Friday several weeks ago, there was a beautiful procession around the block of the church. Every parishioner was holding a candle and walking in a mob behind the priests who were singing hymns. On any given Sunday, I am often the tallest in my pew. Aside from blocking everyone’s view, this height difference was made even more problematic during the candle light procession: my hair was at candle level, ready to combust at any moment. I awkwardly wrapped my scarf around my hair in the name of self-preservation. As I did this, I heard a snicker behind me. I turned around to see a young guy who was clearly amused by my paranoia. After explaining that I wanted to keep my hair in tact, we proceeded around the church together and continued to talk.

His name is Σπύρος (Spyros) and we became “fast friends.” I say “fast friends” in quotes because it is one of the idioms I had to write down in his notebook. You can see him and his trusty notebook in the (candid) photo below:

He began to carry this notebook after growing tired of asking me, “What did you say?” when I said something like “It doesn’t matter,” or “How’s it going?” Now, if I say something idiomatic or complicated, I must write it down. Yesterday we were walking and I asked if he wanted to walk left through the garden, or right through the central square. He furiously scrambled for his notebook and leafed through the pages, “It doesn’t matter!” he said. One evening, my rooommate Kalya and I cooked dinner and Spyros joined us. He sat down at the table and opened his notebook asking, “Am I the…third wheel?” at which point we could not stop laughing.

In the same way, I have begun to carry around my own notebook so I can write down new phrases like, “να σου πω την αλήθεια…” (To tell you the truth…) and idioms like, “να ‘σαι καλά” (for your health). My Greek language class is very very good, but there are some common words and phrases that are too informal for me to learn there. You would not believe Spyros’ patience as I butcher Greek, saying phrases like “Perhaps we shop for the bill,” instead of “Maybe we should pay.” and “I have fullness,” instead of “I’m tired.”
Every time I fail he says the sentence in proper Greek and I repeat it. Of course, there are some times when my Greek is so far from anything correctable that I receive a head shake and a sad “Δεν καταλαβαίνω.” (I don’t understand).

It’s been very fun to practice Greek and walk around Athens with a person who has lived there his whole life. However, meeting new friends is just another reason to be sad to leave in only twenty days. On a lighter note, I think I will ace my final Greek exam on account of all the extra practice I’ve had.

Birth, Quarantine, and Death: My Trip to Crete

Last weekend, CYA whisked us away to the island of Crete. We took an overnight ferry from the port at 9:00PM on Thursday and arrived in Crete at 6:30AM Friday. I spent the entire night in my cabin feeling like a pirate/trying to forget the excessive amount of Greek meatballs I had just eaten (συγγνώμη soutzoukakia).

On Friday morning, we visited the cave where Zeus was born, Dikteon Cave. The cave was very significant for cult worship of the greatest god of the pantheon as early as 2000 BC.

Here is a view from the bottom, looking up.

On Saturday, we took a small boat to the islet of Spinalonga. The eerily abandoned islet operated as a leper colony between 1903 and 1957. Lepers, along with their families, were sent here to live in quarantine. The day was cloudy and cold, adding to the spooky atmosphere as we walked through streets of abandoned store fronts and through the “sanitization room.”

A remnant of the old fortification built in the 16th century.

On Sunday, we visited the Suda Bay cemetery dedicated to men who died in the Battle of Crete; the battle began on 20 May 1941 as a result of a German air invasion. Many of the graves belonged to Cretan allies, who came mainly from New Zealand and Australia, among others. It was a very somber day, though the weather was not to blame, for the sun was shining and the air was warm. A majority of the graves belonged to young men my age. There were inscriptions like, “A beloved son,” or “A faithful husband and father of two.” Many of the graves had no name and were simply labeled, “A Solider of the War: Known Unto God.” The cemetery was remarkable.

After this, we boarded our beloved ferry. I decided to skip the meatballs this time and go to sleep early. We arrived back in Athens around 6:30AM Monday morning, just in time for a little nap before 9AM classes. We only saw a fraction of the island, since it is so large, but we still got the full experience, hearing a different dialect of Greek and trying new Cretan foods.  It was a whirlwind weekend, but the trip was wonderful.


Xronia Polla

Hello everyone!

Despite what you might believe about my health/safety on account of my prolonged and unexplained absence, I am happy and healthy and not overly stressed (the ‘elusive three’ in undergraduate life). I’ve been out of the game for so long because we took a wonderful field trip to Northern Greece, had a week of midterms, then spring break began. I just returned from a six day Parisian excursion which was truly lovely. With all this travel, you would think I could easily whip up half a dozen posts complete with pictures, catchy titles, and funny stories. I have all three things in my arsenal (ok maybe not so many catchy titles), even so, I am not quick to blog them, or share them with my family, or email my friends; I am not very good at keeping others updated. I suppose it comes from the feeling that I can’t do a memory justice until I reproduce every last detail. And each memory is inlaid in the culture, the people, the place. To quickly explain these things without giving extraordinary background info seems unjust.

Nevertheless, I’ll try to do a quick update of the last three weeks. I truly have experienced the heights of beauty in both Greece and France, I have seen great art, eaten good food, and made remarkable friends. See for yourself:

Great Art:

*goes to Paris* *still looks at Greek art* (Winged Victory – Louvre, Paris)


Beautiful porcelain fireplace in a 300 year old home in Northern Greece.

Good Food:

Lovely lunch on the top of the Pompidou museum in Paris. If you’re curious, I did eat the violets.
This face says, “I cannot believe the perfection of this pain au chocolat.”

Remarkable Friends:

This is Kalya – my travel buddy and flat mate. She has an almost eerie sense of direction, a wicked humor, and is a great conversationalist. Here we are eating lunch on the Seine.

That’s all for now! I’ll join the chorus of the other off-campus bloggers by saying, “I can’t believe I only have one month left.”

And I’ll join the chorus of Greeks this Holy Week by saying, “Xronia Polla!” Many Years to you!

A Double Holiday

Today, March 25, is a double holiday for the Greeks; Greek Independence Day, as well as the feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated on this day.

Greece began to become independent from the Ottoman Turks in 1829. The exact date of the liberation was not March 25, but since the day is a significant Orthodox holiday the two were blended into one celebration. Today there was a huge military parade through the main square. Ranks and ranks of military personnel marched proudly through the street. The line of tanks and jeeps of every size and shape seemed almost endless. Incredible amounts of artillery passed in front of me, while helicopters and jets flew overhead. It was an impressive and awe-inspiring display of the Greek military forces. As soon as the parade began, we started to clap and we did not stop clapping until the very last person passed an hour later. There was an incredible feeling of pride and vocation among those in the parade and those who were watching.

It was a beautiful day for a parade!

The feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the celebration of the day when the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her she would conceive the baby Jesus.  This holiday, of course, occurs nine months before Christmas day. The Annunciation is a very common subject of Christian art. Yesterday I visited a middle Byzantine monastery in Daphni and saw a beautiful mosaic of the Annunciation. I made sure to take a photo in honor of the holiday!

A mosaic of the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary –  Daphni Monastery (11th c.)

The Pantokrator of Daphni is a very famous mosaic of Byzantine art. You can see why!

The weather is becoming so nice. We have had several days of sun and 70 degree weather. Since it gets to be around 100 in the summer, the Greeks don’t consider 70 degrees to be all that warm. I actually saw a doting mother put a snow hat on her young son yesterday, though I was sweating in my t-shirt. In an effort to blend in, I am resisting wearing dresses and sandals, though I would certainly wear them in this weather at home. Tomorrow we’re heading to the beach because the temperature will be nearly 80. Hopefully we don’t see a single parka!



Historical Pilgrimages: Delphi and Hosios Loukas

Last weekend we took a trip to upper central Greece to visit Delphi. If you have read The Odyssey (or other classical texts) you know Delphi is the place to consult the oracle. If a person was facing a tough choice, let’s say to attack a city or not, they would make the trek to Delphi to make a sacrifice and ask the oracle to decide for them. Whatever the oracle said is exactly what they did. It is interesting because there are many archeologists and chemists, among others, who have tried to explain how this divination could occur. Some say there were drugs involved. Others say that underground gas pockets caused them to become frantic and spout prophecies. The professor leading our group told us not to believe any of these theories, since the oracle of Delphi is not something that needs to be explained in a logical way. It was simply the practice for these people to accept the prophecies they received. This is made even more interesting by what I am currently learning in my Philosophy class. We have just crossed through the period of the scientific revolution and are reading Descartes. We are discussing how strict scientific thinking emerged only after the scientific revolution, and, after this point, westerners are unable to think of things as ‘true’ unless these things are scientifically quantifiable and ‘prove-able.’ It makes sense, then, that we have a difficult time accepting the oracle as a thing that is unexplained. Here is a photo of the archaeological site:

This is the lower portion of the site. The actual oracle consultation happens higher up in the mountain where you can faintly see the other columns.

The very best part of the field trip was visiting the Hosios Loukas monastery in Boeotia, founded in the early 10th century by the hermit Saint Luke (not to be confused with the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke). The artwork in the monastery and the crypt (!) was so beautiful. My Byzantine Art & Architecture midterm is tomorrow, so allow me to rehearse the information in the photos’ captions.

These buildings are adjoined (remember this for later), but were built at different times. On the right is The Church of the Theotokos. It has a slim “Athenian dome” and has a cross-in-square floor plan. It was built in the 10th century and is the oldest cross-in-square type building in Greece. Very important in byzantine architecture! The church on the left, named Katholikon, was built in 1011/12. It has a heavy octagonal dome. Both churches were built with the cloisonne technique: each stone of the church is framed by bricks. Both churches are decorated with pseudo-kufic script. This script is made of decorative characters which imitate Arabic Kufic letters. It is called pseudo because it does not spell any real words. It shows just how influential Islam was on Western art and architecture.
Here is a photo of the mosaics in the narthex of Katholikon. They’re stunning. The mosaics have been expertly restored by removing each tile (called tesserae), adding new mortar, then resetting the tile. Something worth noting is the abstract nature of the empty backdrop. There is no sense of “place” in these icons.
The crypt lies below Katholikon. The relics of St. Luke are actually kept upstairs in the hallway that joins the two churches, but St. Luke’s tomb was here for many years. The crypt also held funeral ceremonies and commemorations. The crypt is decorated with frescoes. Some of them were damaged early on as pilgrims would chip pieces off the walls to take home with them. Vandalism is an age old problem, folks!

And an obligatory photo of the flora and fauna:

One of our favorite local pollinators off to make some delicious Greek honey, or “μέλι.” Yum!

That’s all for now – as soon as mid terms are complete they will whisk us away to Thessaloniki (Northern Greece) for an entire week. I feel like the bees, bouncing here and there, but buzzing right along nonetheless. There is much to see and do, but the rewards are sweet!


Peloponnese Field Trip

So much time has elapsed since I last wrote, and for good reason: I spent the last 4 days in the Peloponnese, the large peninsula of southern Greece. It is good for me to review the itinerary, since I learned so much information in just a few days. Overall, the field trip was equally thrilling and exhausting. You’ll see why as this post goes on and on and on…

This post begins where the field trip began, on our first stop to the Corinth Canal. The Peloponnese peninsula was separated from the mainland by its construction  in 1893. The size of the canal is hard to comprehend, even when you are standing directly above it. See for yourself in the photo:

The canal is is 8 meters deep, 21 meters wide, and 6343 meters long. The walls stretch 79 meters above the level of the sea.

Next, we visited the archaeological site of Mycenae. The Mycenaean civilization was the first major civilization of Greece (and Europe, in fact). The citadel we visited was inhabited during the Bronze Age and, at its peak in 1350 BC, the citadel and area outside the walls was occupied by 30,000 people. The famous “Lion Gate” is the main entrance into the fortified walls, which are built in the Cyclopean style, called such because the stone blocks are so large they could only be moved by a cyclops.

Each site we visited was covered with spring flowers. Here is a flower from Mycenae.

On Thursday we visited Mystras, a fortified city near Sparta. The city was built in 1248 AD.

Panagia Hodegetria – one of many churches in the walled city of Mystras.
Churches with domes often have a Pantokrator – an icon of the all powerful Christ. The word ‘pantokrator’ means all powerful. This particular Pantokrator is a fresco surviving from the Byzantine period.

On Friday, we went to Pylos and visited the Palace of Nestor. This was another Bronze Age Mycenaean palace like the first one I described. Here, 1000 tablets written in Linear B were found. Linear B is a syllabic type script and is the earliest form of the Greek language. These tablets were used to record receipts and business transactions, not specific people or events. In fact, these tablets are usually wiped clean after a month and used again to record more business transactions. The reason so many tablets were found at the Palace of Nestor was because the palace was burned down in 1200 BC and the clay tablets were essentially ‘fired’ like clay in a kiln and the script remained until 1939 when the tablets were discovered. After visiting the palace we went down to the city and had lunch.

Lunch on the sea in Pylos. This sort of view is what one imagines when one thinks of Greece!

On Saturday, the last day of the trip, we visited Olympia. Here, of course, is where the very first Olympic games took place. I got the chance to run a foot race through the original Olympic stadium. I did not win, which means no statue was erected in my honor as it was for ancient winners. Near the entrance of the stadium was the “Hall of Shame.” When an athlete cheated in their sport, they were forced to pay a hefty fee. This money was used to erect a huge statue of Zeus with the cheaters name inscribed underneath it. In this Hall of Shame we saw the bases of twelve Zeus statues. Poor guys, still being publicly shamed 2500 years later.

Here is the original starting line of the Olympic games. The stadium did not have stone seating except for the few seats seen in the far left which were reserved for officials of the games; everyone else sat on the grass.

That’s all for now. We visited many more sites and museums than I could include in this post, but I wrote about my favorites. Each place was more interesting than the last (except the olive oil museum which was an alternate plan since we got rained out…they didn’t even sell olive oil there!). Regardless of the rain, we had a very busy week. Now I must get back to work, as mid term exams are about to begin. Did you forget that I’m also taking classes? Me too. With memories of the sea and the wide open spaces I suppose I can endure one week of classes until our next field trip to Delphi on the 17th. Three cheers for the CYA and their wonderful field trips!

Birthday Weekend & Clean Monday

“Happy Birthday!”

When you are quite young, it is not unusual to imagine what your milestone birthdays might be like. Will I get a car when I turn 16? (Definitely not.) Will I have newfound freedom when I turn 18? (No.) Will I party til the sun comes up when I turn 21? (Ha! Still no.) When I was young, I could not have imagined that I would spend my 21st birthday in Athens, Greece. Secondly, I would have never imagined that my sweet aunt Malari would fly all the way from Portland, Oregon to celebrate my birthday weekend.

The celebrating began before that, even, on Thursday night when my entire Greek class met at the home of my Greek professor, Lida. We watched a Greek film called Πολίτικη κουζίνα and ate traditional Greek food. Lida was so kind and got cake and ice cream to celebrate two birthdays: mine and another student’s birthday which happened earlier that week. My professor gifted me a small book of children’s short stories in Greek. She handed it to me saying, “Maybe you will be able to read this when our class is over…” At least I can enjoy the pictures, right?

On Friday, when my aunt arrived, we took advantage of the warm and sunny day and hiked up the Acropolis to see the Parthenon.

On Sunday, my birthday, we went to a traditional taverna to enjoy the very last evening of the Carnival season, which is three weeks long. There was traditional Greek music and Greek dancing. Since I had (poorly) taken one (short) Greek dancing class, I thought I had what it took to join a group of women dancing. Many of you have come to me and said you actually read this blog, so it is with much hesitation I share this video of my dancing skills. Anyway, here goes (feel free to only watch a few seconds):

The weekend concluded with Clean Monday, the first day of fasting in the Orthodox calendar. Clean Monday is celebrated by eating special Lenten foods like unleavened bread and octopus. Traditionally, kites are flown on this day as a symbol of the soul being lifted up. My aunt and I climbed to the top of Philoppapou hill to watch the kites and enjoy the view. The hill is directly across from the Acropolis hill and offers a great view of the Parthenon. Here is a view in the other direction looking out over Athens. The very large green space in the left portion of the photo is the National Garden.

The view of Athens from Philopappou hill.

This week begins the 40 day Lent period. Since 95% of the population of Greece is Eastern Orthodox, it is a unifying time of discipline and increased devotion. I will fast alongside them in preparation for Easter, the biggest celebration in Greece! With the conclusion of this day, my fun birthday weekend/family vacation comes to an end and I am back to being the student I came here to be. I could have never envisioned my 21st birthday to be in Greece, but I am so happy it was.

Meteora: understanding beauty in the middle of the sky

Hello readers!

If you have ever seen a tourism brochure of Greece, the cover was probably a picture of stunning rock formations, like the ones you will see in the photos below. On Thursday evening my roommates and I decided we would like to see this place for ourselves, so we planned our visit to Meteora, which is the name for the rocks on which six Orthodox monasteries are perched. On Friday we boarded the early train to Kalambaka – the small town that sleeps in the shadow of the rocks. After four hours on the train we arrived in the lovely town for an evening of peace and quiet. On Saturday morning our tour bus picked us up and, to our surprise, we were the only three on the tour. Our tour guide, Dimitris, was born in Kalambaka but worked in Romania for many years. He was a botanist and was very successful, but realized money alone could not make him happy. He returned to Kalambaka and decided to multiply his love for the land by sharing it with others, like us! With every fact he told us, and every feature he illuminated, I could not help but be in awe of the beautiful combination of geography and religious life. Look at these photos and see for yourself:

The monastery pictured here is Agios Nikolaos Anapafsas Monastery (14th c.). The word “anapafsas” means something like “the one who rests.” It is called this because the monastery is always in the sun which was a great relief to the hermits who initially lived in chilly caves most of the year. We went inside this monastery to see the frescoes by the 16th-century Cretan painter Theophanes the Monk. Today only one monk lives there; our tour guide told us he is very tall and only became a monk because he could not make it in basketball. Haha!
The building behind my head is the only convent atop the rocks and is called Agios Stefanos. The nuns were very kind and the chapel inside had an entire wall devoted to icons of female saints. I had read many of their stories before and was happy to see the familiar faces- they were very beautiful.
This is the third monastery we visited – Megalo Meteoro. It is called this because it is the largest and it is on the highest point. This monastery was founded in the 14th century but has been renovated and repaired many times. There were several friendly cats in this monastery.
Even the outside walls of the monasteries are decorated with icons. These were in Megalo Meteoro.
The monastery behind us is called Agia Triada or Holy Trinity. It is the most isolated, as you can see, because it sits atop a rock that is entirely disconnected from the others. (Trivia: part of the James Bond film ‘For your Eyes Only’ was filmed in this monastery.)

After spending the afternoon visiting ornate chapels, hearing monastic chant, and viewing the vast landscapes, I couldn’t help but think of the others before me who made the journey up and never came down, choosing instead to devote themselves to the religious life. The beauty of Meteora is not isolated only to the landscape, but is also found in the reverence and devotion that are practiced here. This beauty elevates us to a heavenly realm, and it is impossible to receive this gift and not thank God.

The Week of Heavy Things

If you have been following this blog faithfully (hi mom!) you are probably hoping to see stunning panoramics of the Acropolis by now; I regret to inform you the Acropolis was closed by the time my group got there, so those photos will have to wait for another day.
Instead of a panoramic photograph, allow me to share with you a panoramic shot of my week, which I have aptly titled “The Week of Heavy Things.”

The first heavy thing I encountered was a slab of marble, my slab of marble. On Tuesday night I went to my very first marble carving class at an art studio in my neighborhood. The class is not through my institution, but the studio is very popular among CYA students and there are 12 of us enrolled. Once we settled in and heard some brief introductory remarks, we began to tackle the huge questions of “what am I willing to permanently enshrine in 20 pounds of pure (expensive) marble?” and “how the HECK will I get this home?” After answering the first question (still working on the second one…) I sketched up a Byzantine icon and, before I knew it, was set in front of a cold white slab with mallet and chisel in hand. It took me no fewer than two straight hours of chiseling to complete a paltry outline of my saintly figure. Heh. Though the art is very tedious and physically difficult it is a remarkable change from the fast paced culture of instant gratification in which we live. It seems fitting, then, in a world of feather light computers and putting your whole life “in the cloud,” that this break from the everyday could only come through something very heavy and slow – marble.

The second heavy thing I encountered was far less poetic and far more frustrating. Let the record show that I am always eager to save a few dollars when I can, especially as a student and especially as a student abroad. So, when I was told that most Greeks don’t own a clothes dryer and, therefore, romantically dry their clothes on quaint clothes lines, I knew I would never pay a cent for an “air fluff cycle” and would hang my banners of thriftiness from the balcony, for everyone to see and admire. After all, it is not so hard to carry two bags of dry laundry down the stairs of your apartment and down the huge hill to the basement of the academic center where it will blissfully soak and rinse and become evil in just 35 short ‘express wash’ minutes. If you have not yet figured it out, my friends, the heavy thing was wet laundry. And lots of it. When the express wash was done, I, congratulating my thriftiness, pulled heaps of sopping clothes out of the steamy washer and stuffed it into tote bags for the trek home. The first tote was not so big, and I slung it easily over my shoulder. The second tote bag WAS big and it was the SECOND one. At this point the hot water is soaking through the tote bags and onto my clothes and all I can think of is “up the stairs, up the hill, up the stairs, home.” If this sequence sounds short to you it is because you have not seen the sheen of the marble steps and the incline of the hill. But I am thrifty! And young! And svelte! So I did it. But next time I will pay full price for the longest dryer cycle they’ve got.

The last heavy things of The Week of Heavy Things are my own expectations for myself, which have been nearly as hard to carry as the laundry. It is certainly no small task to assimilate yourself into a new place, let alone do it with any sort of grace. I have had a hard time balancing what I want to do with what I believe others think I should do. Is it enough to order a coffee in the native language and sit with a book for hours, or is it necessary for me to go to a new museum every day? Can I be content staying in my neighborhood or must I venture out to new places each weekend? I believe a little of both is healthy, but it has been a battle against my introverted-ness to strike any sort of balance. And even when I have the grace to find a balance it is always a question of “what more can I do?” I know I must address these expectations and do away with them, but it is easier said than done. Like marble, it takes effort to pare down the weight and, like wet laundry, it simply takes time.