Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Alphabet Soup

All I want to do is figure out how to say "thank you."  In Tukish.

If it takes my brain as long to learn "thank you" as it did to learn "merhaba," I'll be able to adequately issue that sentiment as I board Turkish Airlines upon my departure from this country in three weeks.

It seems rather unfair that our group was subjected to a one hour lesson in the Turkish language on Wednesday morning.  After all, we had just spent fourteen hours of Tuesday extracting ourselves from Athens, which was on the very brink of riots as our bus rolled past Syntagma Square at 8:00 a.m.  The plan was to leave the hotel early, before the scheduled 9 a.m. - noon strike by civil servants.  The staff at the Fulbright office had spent most of Monday changing all of our flight plans--to take the 1:30 p.m. flight to Istanbul instead of the 10:30 a.m. flight.  With luck we'd make our 4:00 connection to Ankara.  Ha!   We fianlly checked into our hotel at 10:00 p.m.

But Turkish lessons remained on the schudule for Wednesday morning, so that's what we did.

Our instructor was Umut Ata.  He was very "student centric" with his approach.  "What do you want to learn how to say?" he asked.  Finally someone added "thank you" to the list.

We started with "yes" and "no," which are pretty easy.  But so is nodding your head, so why bother?  We moved on to "good morning" (the word for which I thought meant "good night" for most of our session).

At this point someone asked a question about the Turkish alphabet.  So we embarked upon a 15 minute recitaton of the alphabet.  Which naturally morphed into a 15 minute discussion of the vowels...phrases were tossed about like "bass vowels" and "round vowels"; double sets of vowels were charted on the board in the front of the room, and somehow the discussion turned to suffixes to indicate plurals and something called "vowel harmony," which seem to go hand in hand.  My brain was starting to hurt.

Thirty minutes had passed, and I still didn't have the word for "thank you."

But I learned how to say pencil.  I have the word for pencil in my notes...long before the word "thank you" appears.  I think I could even say "I am a pencil" using proper Turkish grammar.  Personal pronouns became the discussion's next trajectory.  That's  because someone at the table thought it might augment understanding if we connect this new language to something we already know, like pronouns.  If my notes are correct, the concept of the pronoun is not conveyed by a separate word but by adding various suffixes to the base words.

And I can say "good bye."  That's "gule gule." (Of course, I'm not actually spelling that correctly, because I'm not computer savvy enough to know how to access a keyboard that allows me to put those two dots over the "u" which is how the word is spelled.)  Gule gule is actually easy to remember too: think of the actor Rober Goulet.  Then say his last name twice. You got it!  Some of my fellow Fulbrighters are sure to depart from a conversation with a Turk with a hearty "Robert Goulet Goulet!"  Perhaps we are not a smart as we are made out to be.

As I review my notes, I finally see the word for "thank you" on the third of the four pages of notes that I took.  "Tesekkurlar."  But add a mark under the "s" and dots over the "u."  There.  Now, I dare you to pronounce it.
 
Today I have one more one-hour Turkish lesson.  As I see it, I can approach my lesson in one of two ways.  I can sit in the back, try to be invisible and not risk the embarassment of mangling this language in front of my colleagues.  Or, I can say to myself I really don't have anything to lose, so why not give it a try and have some fun.  What the heck!  I'll try the latter!

Until next time,

Robert Goulet Goulet!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fulbright Greece


How do you say hello to an ambassador?  With a firm handshake and confident look into the eyes...just as I was taught in cotillion lessons as a seventh grader.

As a Fulbright grantee, I had the opportunity to put those lessons to work last week.  The greeting, not the dancing.

The biggest hightlight of our trip, outside of the academic enrichment and touring experiences that comprise most of each day, was the opportunity to attend the Fulbright (Greece) Annual Award Ceremony on Wednesday, June 22.  To be a Fulbright grantee is an honor like no other.

The awards ceremony and reception was hosted by Mr. Thomas Miller, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Athens.  The guest list included all current Fulbright scholars (Greek citizens ready to embark upon their exchange to the U.S., American citizens either finishing up their year in Greece or just beginning their exchange), Fulbright Alumni, Fulbright donors, the Executive Director of the Fulbright Foundation in Greece (Artemis Zenetou), and Ambassador David Bennett Smith.  Oh, it might seem obvious, but our group (The Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad group) falls into the "current Fulbright scholar" category.  In all, there were, perhaps, 125 people in attendence.

The Miller's residence was spectacular.  At least the back yard was; that is where the reception was held.  The multi-level home, faint pink (if I recall correctly) with a red tile roof and a patio that stretched across two thirds the length of the home, served as a lovely backdrop to the lush green grass that covered much of the expansive back yard.  Magnolia trees and azaleas were among the rich landscaping.  A fountain bubbled in one part of the yard.  The weather was pleasant and dry.  As I took in what I saw, I could have easily been on Longridge Avenue.

The Fubright Foundation in Greece hosts an Awards Reception once a year; our group just happened to be in Athens at the time of this year's gala.  Lucky for us! I did my best to meet as many of these bright minds as I possible could.

I had a long conversation with a young Greek who is a pianist; as a Fulbright Artists and Art Scholar he will be studying at UCLA for a year.  He was most interested in knowing if he would really need a car while in LA!  Boy, will he learn a lot from his American experience!  I met 3 Greek graduate students who will be studying architecture: at Berkely, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT.

I spoke with a research scholar who is a professor at one of the Universities in Athens.  She is a plant biologist and will be collaborating with an expert at Harvard University from the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.  Obviously my conversation with her about her field of expertise was extrordinarily superficial; if only my father-in-law had been there!  He would had a lively conversation with her, I'm just sure of it!

At one point I found myself without anyone to talk to; I simply walked up to a couple and extended my hand to them.  He was a Fulbright alumnus who had flown down from Thessolaniki just for this event.  His wife was a PhD and taught at the Univerisity of Thessolaniki...I can't remember which department!  He does architecture-related work, with a focus on construction/preservation in areas, like Greece, where seismic activity is great.  When I told him that our group was going to visit the Parthenon and the New Acropolis Museum the next day, he mentioned that one of his jobs was to, basically, engineer the security of the statues in the museum in the case of an earthquake.  Wow!
 
I chatted with three members of the American Embassy.  One was a student intern from Winchester, MA, who had been studying abroad for the past semester and (on somewhat of a lark) applied for an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Greece.  Much of her internship involved handling administrative details for the Special Olympics, which were to begin within days.  Another woman was a Greek American.  She had lived her whole life in the U.S. (again, in New England) until her broadcasting job brought her to Athens for the Olympics in 2004.  There, she met her husband and settled in Athens.  The last member of the Embassy's office staff I met was one of the administrative assistants, a native Greek who had worked at the Embassy for over 30 years.  We all agreed that she was the one with the true inside scoop!

Finally, I picked the brains of the two young American graduate students who were finishing up their year in Greece.  Their experiences had been extraordinary and life changing.  "As an old person" (which is how I often describe myself), it is so envigorating to see young people embrace the lives that stand before them, ready to be experienced.  I could only think of David, over and over again, as I spoke with these young women, and as I heard echoing in my mind the many Fulbright alumni with whom we have met during our tour...."Oh my gosh," I kept thinking to myself.  "David needs to do this.  He would be the perfect Fulbright Scholar."  (As I write this I'm finding myself saying, "Well, what about Erin and Philip?  Wouldn't they be equally perfect in those shoes?"  Proud mom that I am....of course!  I suppose I haven't thought that far ahead!)

Back to the garden reception.  I had seized the moment and engaged with many people within this extraordinary group.  Yet I could hardly believe that my own name appeared on the heavy stock program.  American Scholars.  Summer Fulbright-Hays Cultural Enrichment Seminar.  It's right there.  My name.  The honor of a lifetime.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Photos for Philip

This post is dedicated to my son, Philip.  I thought of you today when I sat at an outdoor cafe after visiting the National Archaeological Museum.  Yum!




Sights of Aegina

Aegina.  An island in the Aegean.  First capital of Greece.  Location of artifacts dating back to prehistoric times (1,500 BC.)  Modern suburb of Athens.  Day of rest for Fulbright scholar-teachers traveling through Greece.

Arrival!

From atop ruins dating back to the bronze age

The view outside the Brown Hotel

Sunset over the Aegean

The town of Aegina

The fishing village of Perdika as seen from the water taxi to Moni Island

From the beach at Moni Island

An alley way in Perdika

Sunset at Aegina

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Off!


Lunch ended at 3:00 p.m. yesterday (Saturday), which meant we had 27 hours off until our next required lecture or tour.  A bonafide holiday within the structure of our Fulbright tour.

And we were on the island of Aegina!
 
When I woke up this morning (Sunday, June 26), I was shocked to see the hands of the clock standing at 8:45 a.m.  At home during the school year, I typically rise at 5:30, ride on my trusty Life Cycle for 30 minutes while watching the news, take a shower, then simultaneously make lunch for Philip, breakfast for myself, catch up on emails from work, and nail down a fabulous lesson idea that may have occurred to me while riding or showering.
 
This morning I rolled over and snoozed some more.

When I finally decided that lounging around had become too boring, I grabbed my morning coffee and yogurt and headed out of the Brown Hotel, crossed the street, and sat at one of the tables on the beach to enjoy my breakfast, the Aegean Sea lapping on the sand just a few feet away.
 
We decided that the perfect thing to do on our day off was to explore the tiny fishing village of Perdike, on the southwest corner of the island.
 
The bus took us out of the tourist trap of Aegina along a road that hugged the water.  For twenty minutes I gazed out of either side of the bus, taking in the sight of the houses and the vegetation.  Ever since we got as far south as Napflion, I've been struck with how much the landscape resembles that of southern California.  Eucalyptus trees, azaleas, palms, bouganvilla, orange trees are everywhere, and some of the mountains have that brown, scruffy appearance.  Red tile roofs line the tops of buildings, which are a mixture of white wash, pink, and tan stucco.  Looking inland, I almost felt as though I was looking up Beverly Canyon.  But when I looked towards the sea, I found myself gazing upon the Greece that you imagine when someone says "Greek island."  Structures dot the canyons, making their way down to the blue and green water.

The main road in Perdike is one street: boats docked along one side, shops and restaurants along the other.  When we arrived (at about 10:45 am) shop owners were setting up tables and wares, although there were no crowds anywhere (thankfully).  A stroll, a coffee, a chat...it was the perfect way to spend the morning.
Gazing out to sea from where we had our coffee was the island of Moni, a foreboding looking rock that soared into the sky.  Someone had been told that there were "great beaches" on Moni, just a short boat ride away.  From where we sat, Moni looked more like the perfect place for Survivor Man, not for a day at the beach.  The wind was whipping, and there were strong currents tossing a small boat around that seemed to be headed to Moni.  Was that the boat that we had been told about?  Was there really civilization somewhere out on that rock?  We decided to find out.

I loved the way the boat operated from Perdike to Moni.  When enough people sat at the bench nearby, a boat "captain" would step up and offer his services.  How very Greek.  Inside the boat, we sat nearly at water level and rode the waves as we headed toward our destination.  After about 20 minutes appeared an isthmus connecting the large rock to a small one; some signs of civilization appeared on the dock near the isthmus.

Deer and peacocks grazing on scraps of watermelon and other delights greeted us as we disembarked.  We decided it was lunchtime for us too.  Not far from the dock was a patio with a bar and a bar-b-que, ready to service the sun tanners who claimed the chaises on the beach.  We were thankful that today's air temperature was at least 15 degrees cooler than yesterday's, keeping the crowds away from our prime spot.

We bonded over Greek salad, fries, and souvlaki in our island paradise.
 
Everything about our excursion to Moni was perfect.  Including the timing of our meal.  As we polished off the crumbs, we heard the toot of the boat-taxi as it approached.  Since we had no idea when any subsequent taxi might arrive to return us to Perdike, we scrambled to the dock and boarded.

A freshwater shower in the Brown Hotel was rejuvenating upon our return.  And now, with 20 minutes left of my day off, I sit on the patio of the Brown Hotel and gaze out at the Aegean.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Medium or Well Done?


My husband Hugh is the smartest person I know.  Well, the truth is, he's one of the smartest people I know.  It's just more politically correct to claim your husband to exceed all others.

I need Hugh right now to calculate the temperature for me.  I don't need him to tell me that it's hot.  My skin has been melting off of my bones since arriving on the island of Ageana this morning, telling me that it's plenty hot.  What I need is the temperature.  How hot is it?  They tell me it's 36 degrees.  Since there is no snow on the ground, I know they mean Centigrade.  I've never learned the conversion formula between Farenheit and Centigrade because my walking-computer-husband always does such high level math for me.  All I can come up with is this:  1) Way back in high school we had to record the temperature of the room whenever we did experiments in chemistry.  I remember often recording 17 or 18 in those days.  I would be wearing a sweater, chilled to the bone, complaining to my lab partner about how cold it was.  2)  I think body temperature is somewhere in the 30s.  Maybe 33?  Maybe 36?

It's hot.  It's brutally hot.  It's beyond-description-in-words hot.

After strolling and sweating (and sweating and sweating and sweating) in the midday sun through ruins that date back to 2,500 years B.C., I found myself thinking about the history of Greece through a lens I had never considered before: the lens of the weather.

I'm going back and reconsidering the Battle at Thermopyle.  And I deperately want to know what month did the battle take place?  I'm thinking of today, June 25th, and am wondering if this was the time of year 1,000 Greeks and 100,000 Persians battled in that narrow mountain pass.  Could it be possible that so many men would put on the full armor of battle, march for days on end with the heat radiating from the land, then engage in hand to hand combat?  What kind of crazy people would do that?  Where did they get their drinking water?  How in the world would they have enough energy to take a stand against the enemy or even raise their shields to defend themselves?  Whose insane idea would it be to fight in weather like this?  I will tell you right now that my entire opinion about these warriors will change if I find out they were actually nut-cases who fought in temperatures as extreme as what I'm experiencing right now.

My curiosity overwhelms me, and Wikipedia is just two or three clicks of the keyboard away.  Googel.....Thermopyle....translate from Greek to English......waiting......Oh!  On the right hand side of the Wikipedia entry for Thermopyle is a photograph of the the plain where the battle took place.  I've been there!  (How cool is that?!)  But I must get over myself and find the answer to my burning (pun intended) question.  Will this source tell me more than just the year of the battle?  Will it tell me the month?

I scan the article and find the information I have only just become interested in during the last two hours of my life.   "....marched north to close the straits in the summer of 480 B.C...."  Just sentences later "....arrived in late August or September...."

Holy smokes!  Swarms of crazy warriors fighting for over a week in the swealtering heat!  It's nearly beyond comprehension to me.  Even as I write this, I am shaking my head.  Weren't diplomatic efforts, like talking over a dip in the Aegean, considered?  I'm sure my husband Hugh would have come up with a very creative solution to the conflict that would have involved much less sweating!

As for me, it is time for the bathing suit and a swim!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Eight Million Feet


If there are 4 million people living in Athens, that means there must be 8 million feet that reside here.

I didn't do a formal count, but I'm convinced that there are enough shoes in the shops along Ermou (the bustling pedestrian boulevard that connects the parliament building at Syntagma Square and the Flea Market at Monastiraki Square) to cover each and every foot in the city...perhaps five time over.  I'm serious.

As I'm wrapping up my time here in Greece, I've been wondering what kind of gifts to bring home to my family.  It only took three days of wandering around acity where modern Athenians worship the shoe god to realize that the perfect gift for Erin would be a pair of sandals.

This afternoon I joinded the millions of Athenians shoe worshippers in the quest for the perfect sandals.
Those who know me well know that clothes shopping doesn't even make it onto my personal list of fun things to do.  Retail overload strikes me within minutes of entering a cluttered shop.  Racks and stacks make me positively dizzy.

I knew this wasn't going to be easy.

Some of my fellow Fulbrighters had discovered "the sandal man" down in the Plaka area of Athens.  The Plaka is an area just at the foot of the Acropolis, north west of it.  Apparently the sandal man has custom made sandals for decades from his shop in the Plaka.  For two days my classmates  came back to the hotel with Cleopatra's and John Lennon's.  Just listening to them I could tell.....I was catching the sandal fever.  I thought I might try to find the sandal man.

As I headed out of The Electra Hotel, I was immediately pulled away from the destination I had in mind.  The sandals displayed behind floor to ceiling glass storefronts along Emou whispered to me, called to me, beckoned to me.  No!  Not here!  I'm bound to pay too much!  And how will I know I have found just the right sandals if I don't survey every single pair that Athens has to offer before I buy?!

I told myself to get as far as the Flea Market.  There I might find sandals at a price even better than that of the sandal man.  And our class had strolled through the Flea Market earlier that morning, on our way for an archaeological tour of the ancient Agora, so I had satisfied that "first peruse, then choose" requirement of the retail hunt.

The Flea Market is a narrow pedestrian thoroughfare with stalls lining each side.  Products are displayed and hung on every available square inch of surface area in the front of the stall.  In a sense, the Flea Market reminded me of Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.  But the Flea Market is considerably bigger and sells everyday goods as well as items considered strictly "tourist."

I refused to even browse at the first sandal stall I encountered.  I went deeper into the Flea Market.  Finally, a wall full of sandals marked "10 Euro" shouted out to me.  "Try me on!"  they cried.  I politely obeyed their command.  But I wasn't entirely sure what I was even looking for; how do you find just the right pair of sandals when literally millions are making their case for your feet?

A block or so deeper into the Flea Market I stopped at another overwhelming display of sandals.  A pair of teenage girls were fingering some sandals and were ushered into the shop.  I soon followed, because one pair caught my eye.  Well, that's a lie.  About a hundred pairs caught my eye.  Like at every other shop.  Heck, I thought to myself.  I just need to get these stupid sandals!

"Inside the shop" meant going down a steep flight of stairs into a room no bigger than my bedroom, full of large brown boxes (the kind you'd use when you move) and tables covered with sandals.  There were 3 chairs with wicker seats squeezed amongst the boxes.  The lady who helped me pointed at one of the chairs then dove into a large box, tossing aside pairs of sandals rubber banded together, until she found my size.
 
Perfect!  I mean, it's perfect that Erin and I wear the same size shoe!  I loved the sandals I had chosen for Erin!  But as soon as I put them on my feet, I decided they looked quite nice on me.  Hmmmmm.....I started thinking that I had just made my original problem (of finding a gift for Erin) more complicated.  I know!  I'll buy another pair of sandals!  Then, I'll let Erin choose which pair she likes better, and I'll keep the other!  I pointed to the style that one of the teenage girls had put and was admiring in the mirror.  Erin might like those.....

I walked up the stairs and out of the shop with my bag of purchases, glowing with that retail euphorea that accompanies the perfect purchase.

But I am a little worried that the sandals might not be able to stay inside that bag during the next three weeks as I travel through Turkey.


Guess Where I Was Yesterday

Sometimes you just have to let the pictures speak for themselves.

Or, maybe someone only just now really figured out how to include photos in her blog.

Yesterday my fellow travelers and I made our pilgrimage via the Panathenian Way to the top of the Acropolis with thousands of others.  Enjoy the view!





This photo is really misleading. It looks like I tried to do something fancy by creating shadow effects on the corners of the image.  Of course my super-model pose only adds to this notion.  The truth, however, is much more mundane.  While oogling the Erechtheon (the temple with the maidens used in the place of pillars), a wind storm blew sand everywhere, including into my camera, jamming the lens-cap feature.  I didn't even realize this had happened until I got down off the mountain!


After attending a performance of traditional Greek dancers in an outside theater, this sight greeted me on the way home.  Breathtaking!



I guess I'll spare you my thousand words about this magnificent structure!

Surprises


Was it only a week ago that I had the amazing experience of Skyping with the entire sixth grade at Douglas School while they were gathered in Mrs. Christensen's class preparing to for an end-of-year spelling bee?  Technology is certainly an amazing thing.  Here I am, across the entire Atlantic and 2/3 of the way across the Mediterranean Sea from Acton, and yet I was "in" the familar surroundings of my colleague's classroom for half an hour thanks to the electronic age in which we live.

During that conversation, the students bombarded me with questions.  They wanted to know everything, from why people are protesting in the streets of Athens to what my hotel room looked.  One question in particular seems appropriate to answer now...now that I'm nearing the end of my stay in Greece.  I think it was Sarah who posed this question to me: What has surprised you the most in Greece?

I'll start with the answer that I gave to my sixth graders last week, but I will add several thoughts beyond that.
Reflecting on the answer I gave to the sixth graders, it was pretty lame.  Perhaps I was caught off guard, not ready to field a question that would make me think critically when I was still somewhat jet lagged!  At the time I said this: I was surprised at how "the same" people looked there in Thessolaniki as they did in the Boston area.  In Thessolaniki, people seemed to project a similar "personal appearance" in that city as they do in Boston: hair styles, clothes, shoes.  Maybe more cosmopolitan than compared to Acton, but then again, who wouldn't be?  I haven't done much international travel, but I have been to London on three occassions.  Now THAT is a city where you could pull up a seat at a sidewalk cafe and watch all manner of "personal expression" walk by.

As I think about the past week, I think I can put into words what else has surprised me.  Not only has this country surprised me, but the travel experience has surprised me as well.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am surprised at just how mountainous Greece is.  Despite the fact that every source that I've ever read about Greece talks about its many mountains, for some reason I never painted an accurate picture in my head.  I guess I've lived in New England too long; poor Mount Olympus being associated with Mount Nashoba is pretty pathetic.  The reality of the physical landscape has surprised me considerably.

I'm surprised, although I shouldn't be, at just how widely used the English language is used here.  Billboards along the roads and names upon buildings seem to be as likely to be written in English as Greek.  And of course English is one of the languages widely spoken by the population.  In school, students begin studying English and another language (ususally German or French) in 3rd grade and continue through high school.
I'm always surprised when I see "old" right next to "new" here.  It is not uncommon to turn a corner and literally stumble onto an archaeological site.  In Thessolaniki, there are six story apartment buildings with laundry hanging from balconies overlooking the palace of an ancient royal whose name is long gone from my brain.  In Athens, cars in five lanes buzz down the city boulevard at breakneck speeds, passing the Hadrian's Arch and the remaining columns from the Roman Temple of Zeus like they weren't even there.  Walk into another area of the city and...oh yeah, there's the Temple of Hephaesus..gotta run to get my hair done.  Ancient past sits in the midst of the present.

I'm surprised at some of what I've learned about the education system here.  My surprise, in this case, is definitely cultural; it's hard for me to imagine a system outside of our own.  Here, in Greece, when students finish high school they take the National Exam for placement into university.  But before they take the exam they rank the various jobs or areas of work that they would like to pursue.  For example, a student might say his or her first choice career is to be a doctor, then to be a lawyer, then to work in advertising.  The student then takes the exam.  The exam is scored, and the score on the exam determines which area of study you will allowed to enter in the university.  Stathis, our faithful guide for this trip, has an 18-year old son who just finished high school.  While we were in Delphi his son received the scores from his exam.  He did not earn enough points on the exam to go into law, which was his first choice.  I don't know what field of study he will undertake next fall, but it won't be law.  My American experience with education makes me enfuriated with the Greek system.  But I need to remember a couple of points.  First, I don't have complete information about the Greek system; I have many questions which are unanswered.  Second, for all its antiquity, Greece is actually a very young country.  Since WWII these people have endured a civil war and a dictatorship.  As an independent and democratic state they are going through difficult growing pains right now.  Perhaps I shouldn't be critical of their educational system as they grow.

I'm surprised at how surprised I am about Athens.  Does that make sense?  When we first rolled into this big city I as very excited.  Hustle, bustle, energy.  Over 4 million people live here, almost double the number of 30 years ago.  And it's population density rivals that of large cities in eastern Asia.  Hooray!  I thought.  Civilization!  After three days here I'm changing my mind.  Lots of cars...I'm familiar with that.  But you would not believe the moped/motorcycle population here!  These one and two person vehicles are everywhere!  On 4-lane boulevards motorcycles fill the empty gaps between cars the way sand fills the space between rocks in a jar.  Furthermore, motorcycles are not bound by any kind of laws.  Riders don't wear helmets, they don't stay in marked lanes, they don't even stay on the road!  That's right, motorcycle drivers drive wherever they want, in whatever manner they want.  Beware, you pedestrians strolling upon the sidewalk; sidewalks are just another avenue for the motorcycles.  Watch out!  I have also seen my fair share of beggars on the streets: haggard looking women holding an infant; a man with no legs sitting in the midday heat; another man with stumps for arms geturing towards his hat where a few coins glisten in the sun.  In stark contrast to these figures are the storefront window displays of shoes, dresses, shoes, sunglasses, jewelery, shoes, and shoes.  As I pondered which pair to bring home as gift to Erin, I wondered how many fellow ooglers were tourists like me.  Yesteray I found myself thinking, "I'm not so sure I really like Athens..."   Perhaps Athens is much like Los Angeles: very, very big and therefore very difficult to understand unless you live there.

A final surprise (because this entry is beyond the point of long).  I'm surprised at how much I miss my family right now!  For months prior to this trip I was salivating at the thought of being away from home for five weeks.  No grocery shopping, no cooking, no cleaning up, no dealing with anyone but myself.  (Hey, now that I think about it, this is a great deal!)  But I do miss Hugh; it is a different experience simply knowing that we don't share it together.

We finish the week on the island of Aegina, for some well deserved R&R.  Then we're off to Turkey.  I know many surprises await me there!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saving the Economy of Greece One Nail at a Time


This post is dedicated to my sister, Jenny, and my sister-in-law, Kathy.  They will both laugh out loud when they read about how I spent my first hour of free time in Athens, Greece.  It's OK.  I laugh at myself as well.
I got a manicure.

Jenny and Kathy are now both laughing and wondering what alien has invaded my body.  What's so funny?  For years (and I mean years) I pooh-poohed the notion of spending time and money on something as trivial as one's nails.  Whenever there was a Taylor family reunion, Jenny and Kathy always managed to fit in a visit to the salon.  It was always my choice not to join them on these grand events.  I'm not really sure what I did during their absence; probably made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the swarms of kids!

Flash forward many years (a lifetime, in fact) to Mother's Day, 2010.  Erin, a senior in high school at the time, gave me a mother-daughter outing to the salon for a mani-pedi. I did have fond memories of the pedicure I had done during one Taylor family vacation.  It was the year I was 8 months pregnant with Philip, so a traditional massage at the spa was out of the question.  I opted for the pedicure and remember that my feet actually looked good well past the day Philip was born.  So, I joined my daughter on our bonding excursion.
Not only did Erin and I have a blast pampering ourselves in those high-tech massage chairs that are installed in our local salon, my finger nails looked so good that it was easy to resist the persistent childhood habit of picking at (or worse, biting) my nails.  Since that time I have tried to keep up the good grooming.

We rolled into Athens at about noon on Wednesday, June 22 and got settled in the Electra Hotel.  On the way to lunch I approached the consierge of the hotel.  "I have a silly question," I started, hesitantly.  "Could you tell me where I could get a manicure?"  The beautiful, young Greek woman smiled and admonished me, "That is NOT a silly question at all!  That is a very good question!"    She turned and grabbed a three inch three-ring binder and thumbed the pages like a woman with a mission.  The page turning stopped abruptly, and within moments she was chattering away on the phone, booking an appointment for me.

I had not walked out of the Athens hotel since I had arrived and had lunch.  I was eager to get my bearings in this capital city of over 4 million residents.  I studied the map and directions that the consierge gave me and took off, into a sea of people.

The salon was just 2 or three blocks away, on a small alley-sized street tucked behind the main boulevard where the Electra Hotel is situated.  As I walked past store fronts announing their wares in an alphabet that resembles ours, but with some additional, strange symbols included, I felt like everything about my being screamed "American!"  I pulled my sunglasses across my eyes.  There, that instantly makes me more hip, with-it.

It was easy to spot my salon; it was called "Mad Hair."  Must be a British influence, not American.  Anyway, three women were hanging out, talking to one another.  It looked to me like they were manicurists with no customers at the moment.  I told them of my appointment; they replied that it would be about 15 minutes.  I wondered why one of these ladies might not be able to get started right away.  I was taken to the room next door, where one woman was working on the feet of another.  "She will be ready to take you soon," I was told.  Hmmmm, I thought to myself, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in my mind.  There's a manicurist; she's busy with a client.  But who are these other people?

I busied myself by flipping through a recent edition of Vogue magazine.  In Greek, of course.  But you don't need to be bilingual to educate yourself on high fashion.  And high heels.  Don't mind if I say so, but the new high heels are just awful.

It was so relaxing, flipping through the pages of a magazine and listening to the sounds surrounding me.  The chatter between the manicurist and her client; the shoes pounding on the street just outside the door; the occassional rumble of a moped or motorcycle as it zipped past the salon.

Finally the manicure ritual began.  If my manicurist spoke much English, she didn't let on.  The phrases that passed between us were "what color?" and "you like?" from her, and "ne, ne" from me.  Another woman entered the spa in the midst of my manicure.  She, my manicurist and the woman who had received the pedicure entered a lively debate.  Words flew from one to the other, often at the same time.  "Ne, ne, ne" and "Ola kala" were the only phrases that I could extract from the tumble of words.  No matter.  I had fun pondering what their topic of discussion might be.  The vote of confidence for the Prime Minister that was taken in the Greek Parliament just last night?  The austerity package that must be OK'd by Parliment in order for Greece to receive another infusion of money from the international community in the hopes of forestalling bankruptcy of the country?  The fact that their husbands don't pull their weight when it comes to household chores?

I gently fingered through the Vogue magazine for about 15 minutes after the last coat of polish was applied.  I was ready to enter the world of Athens.  

Now I know what I  was missing all those years--what Jenny and Kathy knew all along: a little oasis of relaxation.

3,000 Years Ago in Greece


It's really hard for Americans to get their brains around the concept of the "city-state."  I would say that Americans have a strong sense of national identity, the history that we share stemming from Lexington and Concord, Gettysburg from coast to coast.  Perhaps the closest we can come to understanding the "city state" is to relate to the city or state from which we hail.  For me, it was only when I moved to Massachusetts at the age of 30+ that I was stumped when posed the question, "Where are you from?"  For a number of years I clung to my Southern California roots, refusing to claim "being from" Massachusetts.  After nearly 20 years of residency in New England, Massachusetts is "home."   Yet I still pause at the question, "Where are you from?"  Where am I from?

In the ancient world there was no such confusion.  Identity was rooted in the village, or city state, where you were born...and your ancestors, as far back as anyone can begin to remember, were born.  Mycenae, nestled within the Arcadia Mountains, is considered, by southern Greeks, to be the place where Greece began, marking the "beginning" of Greek history.

 Myth and fact are inextricably entwined when speaking of Mycenae.  Heracles (Hercules), worked and performed mighty feats in this area.  King Agamemnon was from Mycenae.  Civilization there dates back to 1200 or 1300 B.C., the bronze age.  The time of pre-history, before the age of writing.  Mycenae was the dominant force throughout the region during this ancient time, sacking and taking control of many city states in the Aegean.  Finally Argos rose to power and took control of the region.  Homer mistakenly names Agamemnon the King of Argos; attributing this title to Agamemnon makes sense since Argos was the powerhouse of the Aegean later, after the "discovery" of writing.  It is simply mind boggling to consider the age of the artifacts found here, dating back over 3,500 years.

The geography of Greece is the driving force behing the development of the city state (a self governing region).  Mountains and the sea drive people to settle in contained pockets of communities.  The highest point within the region was usually fortified to withstand invasion from outsiders.  Within the walls lay more than just the palace.  There were also dwellings for living, graneries, burial grounds--everything the population would need to carry on, should there be an attack on the city.

Words can't adequately capture the simple geography of Mycenae.  The acropolis of Mycenae is on the top of a fairly tall hill.  Duh.  The word "acropolis" literally means city (polis) on top of the hill (acro).  But the word and desciption doesn't convey just how "on top of the world" you feel when you are standing next to the ancient palace ruins.  Imagine yourself on the top of Mammoth Mountain (or Wachusett, if you must).  The height is dizzying.  Now, replicate the mountain you are on into the view that meets your eyes and adjust the heights of the peaks, making some higher, some lower.  Now, carpet the slopes with olive trees.  You now have the view from the acropolis of Mycenae.

If it didn't take me about 4 minutes to upload a single photograph onto my blog (due to the limited power of my netbook), I would bore you with approximately 100 photos taken from the top of this acropolis.  I know, you are thanking God right now that I don't have this capability; I head to Athens today...home of the Parthenon!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Theatah, the Theatah....


 Three weeks ago my sixth graders shed their roles as classroom students and took on the roles thespians.  They performed Alice in Wonderland to multiple audiences in the span of three days.  Costumes, scenery,lights, curtains, exits, entrances, movement, monologue, dialogue: the forty minute production earned a standing ovation from me every time they took the stage!  The performances were a culmination of, perhaps, the largest undertaking these kids have done during their elementary school year.  As I reminded them time and again, they took words written on paper and transformed them into a living, breathing art form.  They were spectacular!

 You may not know it by looking at me, but theater is in my bones, in my blood.  My earliest memories of being in the audience of a theater are a jumble.  A trip to the ballet, local community productions.  Then there was the civic light opera with the family: The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady.  Stop the World I Want to Get Off with my Aunt Bea.  High school performances...everything from The Boyfriend to a Good Bye Yellow Brick Road (yes, written around the music of the Elton John album).  When I visited London for several days as a young single, I attended the theater every night; Starlight Express was my favorite show.  When it was time for my children to perform in their school plays, I jumped at the chance to be involved.  And now I am privileged to direct my own class in this classic endeavor.

My grandfather was a playwrite.  So it's probably not surprising that I am so fond of the theater.

And here I am, in Greece, where it all began.

Yesterday we visited Epidaurus. Specifically, we toured the theater of Epidaurus.  Not only is this theater the best preserved theater in the ancient world (what about Ephesus?  has that one been reconstructed?  I guess I'll find out when I get there....), but is the best preserved site of the ancient world.  At some point in its ancient past, a landslide filled and covered the theater, preventing the stones from being looted in the ensuing centuries for other building projects.

Must have been a huge landslide, is all I have to say!  The theater is simply enormous!  And with the exception of the skene (the stage, located behind the orchestra), the facility is perfectly intact.  Row upon row upon row of marble seats arch in perfect semi circles around the orchestra.   I can just envision a full house (50,000 people) filling the mountainside from which the theater was cut.

But its not the sight of the theater that brings modern visitors to Epidaurus; it is the sound.  The theater is a feat of engineering excellence.  After Staphis gave us our lesson on the theater, some of us scrambled up, to seats as high as we could get to listen, while others elbowed one another to be first onstage to perform.  I was among the former group, happy for the opportunity to do something about all of the food I've been eating on this trip!

Richard, the drama teacher from Berkeley, was the natural choice to be the first to perform.  He belted out what seemed like an entire scene from Shakespeare's Richard III.  Of course, I had to be told what the text was, having never read or seen that play.  But the sound was fabulous!  Richard certainly projected, ennunciated, and spoke with passion (and you would expect any drama teacher worth his salt to do), and the words seems to ring, almost like a bell, magnifying themselves as they bounced off the stone that rose and surrounded the player.  Staphis explained that this sound quality is not lost when the theater is full of people.  I find it hard to believe that 50,000 bodies would not, somehow, muffle or absorbe the soundwaves coming from the actors on stage, but our guide insited otherwise.

Julianna recited something, Maryann sang Amazing Grace, and Dunn's deep voice resonnated throughout the edifice with "Bring Me My Flowers Before I Die."  Finally, as we were getting ready to depart, Leeann stood in the center of the orchestra and began a cheery rendition of "You're a Grand Old Flag" which drew all of us around her, joining her in the song.  Wow!  What a sound from the stage!

But Dunn roused us for one final encoure: Lean on Me!  We belted it it out; our voices rocked the ages and overtook the canyon.  We gave ourselves a standing ovation, not realizing that we had completely annoyed the people who worked at the archaeological site, who had been waving at us to stop singing not long after the first chorus...

The Canal at Corinth


Corinth---pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.   I've been pronouncing it wrong all of these years.

Corinth lies on the northern most region of the Peloponnese.  In modern times, Corinth is considered a suburb of Athens; a train ride from the center of Corinth to the center of Athen will take 59 minutes.  If you look at a map, you will notice that Corinth lies right next to the isthmus that connects the Peloponnese to mainland Greece.

As far back as the 6th century B.C., the tyrant of Corinth wanted to cut a canal across the isthmus.  This 4.5 mile wide piece of land was the barrier between the Ionian Sea on the west and the Aegean Sea on the east.  Because of this piece of land, that rose to 200 feet above sea level, sailors and merchants who wanted to reach Athens from the Ionian Sea had to sail all the way around the Peloponnese--a journey that took an entire day.  Not only that, navitating around the Peloponnese was extremely dangerous.  One of the two deadly capes on its south tip was considered to be a gateway to Hades (the underworld), so you know what that means!

6th century B.C. engineers weren't quite up to the task to cut a canal across the isthmus.  The tyrant of Corinth did order a slipway to be built.  The slipway allowed slaves to drag boats from one sea to another, in much less time than it would take to sail around the Peloponnese.  Oh yeah, this was a fabulous opportunity for the tyrant of Corinth to collect duties from all ships making this passage.  Little wonder Corinth had a booming economy during ancinet times.  It sat smack in the midst of a trade route, and was a perfect stopping point.  Think of all the secondary businesses that cropped up supporting the trade industry (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and it's not hard to imagine why the Apostle Paul wrote to the young, struggling Christian church to encourage them in their faith!

Back to the canal:  Finally, in the late 19th century, engineering techniques (already used in Panama and the Suez) allowed a canal to be cut in Corinth.  Greeks, French, and Hungarians built the canal that was inauguarted in 1893.  The canal is an impressive view.  Straight walls plunge  vertically down on either side of its narrow valley; a glistening blue streak of water creates a line as straight as a boulevard of a city.  a boat wider than 80 feet will not fit through the canal.

Check out Corinth on a map!  I have had such fun explaining the geography and facts of the slipway to my sixth graders at Douglas as well as to my Sunday school students at church (who are high school age).  Both audiences are astounded....as am I!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Oracle Speaks to Room 17 on the Occasion of Their Graduation


Pythia has an oracle for the students of Room 17 as they prepare for their graduation from the Douglas School on June 21.  Let's hear what she has to say.

How do we, humans, receive a message from the god Apollo, who speaks to us the unsearchable truths through his medium, Pythia?  I have come to Delphi, the "center of the earth"---where controversial and opposing earthly powers are put into balance, so the ancient myth proclaims--- to follow the path that the ancients before me walked to in order to meet the oracle.

I get into a great procession, led by Pythia herself.  Before gathering the people who will follow her up the hill to the Temple of Apollo, Pythia takes a ceremonial bath in the local spring water.  Then she begins her journey up the winding road, the procession snaking its way up the mountainside.  She chews on the intoxicating bay leaf as she walks.

Shortly, we enter the Precinct of Apollo, as the larger temple area is known.  In one of the stalls I buy a suitable offering for this mighty god.  Like all the others who enter here to present the oracle with a question, I know my job is a serious one.  I will not waste Pythia's time with trivial matters.  As if I need a reminder, the walls are inscribed with a warning to those of us who seek an audience with Pythia: "Know thyself," and "Do nothing in excess."

I follow Pythia as she enters the Main Gate and proceeds up the mountain.  I am focused on my goal of attaining the oracle; I am undeterred by statues and trophies and treasuries that call my attention to the feats of man.

I am almost there.  I pay homage to the Rock of the Sybil.  It is behind this rock where Apollo hid on the day he struck and killed the snake---the python that had entered the underworld and had therefore learned all there is to know.  By taking the python's life Apollo had also taken its knowledge, of all things that man would ever want to know.  But these things are really unspeakable.  In order to convey this knowledge to man, Apollo needed a medium:  Pythia.

I notice the laurel tree growing next to the Rock.  It reminds me of Daphne, who begged Zeus to change her into a tree rather than be pursued by Apollo.  Poor Apollo, who was so unlucky in love.
I am at the altar of Apollo.  Pythia is several hundred feet away, at the other end of the building.  I will not be allowed to see or speak directly to her.  Instead I write my question and a priest will deliver it to the oracle herself.  "Tell me," I write.  "Tell me the future of my students."

Although I cannot see it, I know what is happening.  The priest is presenting my petition to Pythia.  She reads it, standing in her chamber.  She breathes deeply the intoxicatng vapors of the mineral water that runs directly beneath the far end of the temple.  She speaks!  She babbles something, and the priests capture her words in writing. Back on the other side of the temple they present to me, in written form, the message from Apollo.

I read and smile.  The message to my students--graduates--is this:  You are ready.  You are prepared.  Go forward; grab hold of life as it comes to you and let it take you where you have never imagined.

Students of Room 17:  I will truly miss you on the day of your graduation.  But I know you will take the oracle's message to heart.  My best wishes to you all!

Demonstrate Need at Delphi


"Demonstrated need."

That's basically a writing prompt for one of the four essays you need to compose when you apply for a Fulbright Hays Seminar Abroad Program.

When I was in the throes of penning my essays last fall, I would moan to Hugh, "How in the world can anyone possibly answer this question.  I mean, really.  I'm just a sixth grade teacher, and I can get any information I could possibly want about anything from the Internet."

Today we visited Delphi.  You know; the place with the Oracle.  There are about three pages in our social studies text book about Delphi.  And there is a two-page spread about Delphi in one of the large, photo-laden  Usborne books on Greece that sits perched in a stand atop my classroom library.  I already know everything there is to know about Delphi.

Not.

One of those pages in our social studies textbook contains a map of Delphi showing the Temple of Apollo, the Sacred Way, the Theater, the Gymnasium and Stadium.   The map sits within a rectangle about two inches tall and three inches wide.  Let me be the first to tell you that printing such an infinitesimally small map of a temple to Greek god would be enough to make that god inflict a famine on your family for generations.   Or worse.

Photos can't capture the majesty of even the ruined skeletal remains of Delphi.  And words can just begin to capture the importance this place, this god and the associated myths hold for the ancient Greeks.  For starters, Delphi is nestled into the southern slopes of Mt. Parnassos, which, at its highest point, reaches 2400 meters.  The mountain simply soars into the sky.  Not far from the road (was this the same access road that the Greeks used to reach the temple in ancient times?  I don't know...) are the remains of the wall that surrounded the temple.  Such a wall was commonly used; it was called the "temenos."  In Greek this word means "to sect" or "to cut."  In other words, the purpose of the wall is to "cut" or separate the godly from the human.  Makes sense.

Before passing through one of the eight gates visitors might stop at a marketplace stall located just outside the wall, perhaps to buy something for an offering.  A courtyard with peristyles served this function.  Upon entering the main gate, visitors would find themselves climbing, "snaking" their way up the winding "Sacred Way," the pathway from the main gate up to the Temple of Apollo.

The Sacred Way did not function simply as a connecting mechanism between two points.  Not at all!  The Sacred Way was a strange cross between "Trophy Alley" and "Ambassador Row."  On either side of the Sacred Way stood "treasuries," small buildings that exist today only as ruins.  What was put in treasuries?  Treasures, of course!  But what kind of treasures, you ask.  Well, here is the perfect example of treasure.  We stopped and studied the location of the Treasury of the Argives (that would be the people from Argos).  There is a large, theater-like display area at this treasury.  This is where the Argives proudly displayed large bronze statues of their kings, flaunting Argos's glorious victory over the Spartans in a war during the 6th century B.C.  To make matters worse, the Spartan Treasury is located downhill from the Argive Treasury, so, essentially, those Argive kings had a perpetual view looking "down" upon the Spartans.  As you can see, the Sacred Way was really a place for each city-state to show off to its polis neighbors.

The Athenian Treasury has been rebuilt to display its ancient splendor.  It looks like a temple with columns and artwork on top.  The building is made of Pentellian (? need to double check this) marble that, due to its iron content, takes on a rich honey color as it ages.  The Treasury of Athens is located near the top of the Sacred Way, right next door to the building that housed the Counsel of the Amphyction, which was just next to the Rock of the Sybil.  (Right around the corner from this: the Temple of Apollo itself; in other words, the Athenians had the best location, location, location.)  On some of the stones of the Athenian Treasury are inscriptions about their victory at Marathon.  Elsewhere on the edifice appear etched laurel wreaths inscribed with the names of the Athenian winnners of the Pythian Games, which, like the Olympic Games, were held every four years.

So, there were a lot of buildings along the Sacred Way....and we haven't even gotten to the temple yet!  This oracle "stuff" was huge business, back in the day, and the Oracle at Delpi was the best and most accurate of the oracles around Greece.  Her advice was highly valued, and as a result, city states clambered to Delphi and the Pythia there.  But the Pythia didn't just hand out advice any old time.  The most important oracle was delivered on the first day of spring each year, and this was the meeting that city states longed for.  How did the oracle decide whose question to answer?  Duh!  The next one in line!  Yes, city states sent representatives to Delphi who often had to wait for years before their number came up!  Perhaps not surprisingly, because they had so long to wait, these representative became something like ambassadors; they created the Council of Amphyction.  Remember?  They had an "office" right next to the Athenian Treasury, near the top of the Sacred Way.  Hmmmmmm....prime location for one-on-one meetings between Athens and members of the Council.  Does this help explain Athens's supreme position of power among city states at the time?

Wow, I've droned on and on about The Sacred Way, which was just a squiggle on that 2 x 3" map that appeared in my social studies text book.  Did I really say I knew everything about Delphi before coming to Greece?  Do you have time for the stories about  Giah (sp?), the snake, Apollo, Crete, Daphne,............

Boring Journal Entry #1: June 14-June19


WARNING: The following entry is extremely boring!  There is no unifying theme.  There may be several spelling errors.  You can expect to find typos.  I know for a fact that sentence fragments abound.   And, perhaps worse of all, I have not adequately proofread for grammar and punctuation. Sixth graders: bring on The Grammar Hammer and slam away!  The following is simply a quick listing of the places I've visited since arriving in Greece.  True travel-log style.  These are really my own down and dirty notes...I'm not even really sure why I'm sharing them on my blog.  So, read them if you want (especially if you like hunting for typos), or simply ignore!

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Can it only be one week ago that I was driving the Mass Pike headed to Logan Airport to begin my overseas adventure?  It seems a lifetime ago.

At this very moment, I'm semi-reclined in a very comfortable seat aboard the tour bus that has been home and mode of transportation since our arrival.  Today's desinations: Thermopyle and Delphi.  But I have already covered many, many miles of this country.  Here is a brief summary of where I have been and what I have done.

Tuesday, June 14:  (Happy Birthday, Hugh!!)  Arrived in Thessolaniki via Rome.  We landed at about 2:00 p.m., boarded our Magic Bus and rode into the center of town.  Stathis shared much about the history of Thessolaniki during that ride.  Surprisingly, I stayed tuned in to all he was saying, despite severe jet lag.  Lunched at Negro Ponte: serenaded by musicians and accosted by a variety of peddlers.   Welcome to Greece!  After a couple hours of relaxing (don't fall asleep....might not ever wake up!), headed over to the American Consulate.  The American Consul General, Catherine Kay, greeted us and presented us with an assortment of goodies that included a Greek/English dictionary, various maps, a copy of Salonica: City of Ghosts, 2 books on the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece--all conveniently nestled in a Fulbright tote bag! Owen Brady, Professor at Aristotle University (and Fulbright Scholar) and Kate Peterson (Fulbright Teaching Assistant at the American Farm School) welcomed us and shared special thoughts about Greece to us.  Dr. Yiorgos Kalogeras, Fulbright Alumnus and Professor of American Ethnic and Minority Literature at Aristotle University, presented to us his paper on the Greek Diaspora.  Finally, we dined at the Excelsior (what time did my body think it was?) and went to sleep!

Wednesday, June 15.  Interesting day.  Earlier in the week (Monday?), the national government of Greece announced that all state employees would be taking a 20% cut in pay.  Already in dire economic straits, this action prompted the populace to strike.  On Tuesday evening we (the Fulbright group) were told that a general strike was planned for Wednesday.  We could expect state offices to be closed, perhaps museums would be closed, businesses would close, and there was going to be a major demonstration in the center of town.  Thessolaniki is the second largest city in Greece (at a about 1 million people); Athens is the largest city (at about 4.5 million).  With a total population in Greece of about 11 million, these two cities represent about half of all residents.  We were warned that demonstrations in Athens would be widely broadcast around the world, and we might want to contact our loved ones at home and assure them of our safety.

On the morning of the 15th we met with a representative at City Hall, who greeted us to his country.  I don't have the name or title of the gentleman who welcomed us; somehow we were under the impression that he was the Vice-Mayor of Thessoloniki.  At some point during the morning he laughed out loud when we addressed him this way and thanked us for the promotion.  Didn't really matter to us; from that moment on, he was OUR Vice-Mayor of Thessolaniki!  Our V-M talked much about the current state of affairs in Greece.
After meeting with the V-M (!), we went to the University of Aristotle where two representatives from the School of Educaiton explained (at least a little bit) about the Greek education system, including how teachers are trained and appointed to their jobs.  Obviously this was a topic of great interest to our group!

Fortunately for us, the Archaeological Museum of Thessolaniki was open that day (despite the strike), so in we went.  Wow!!!  Fabulous exhibit on gold.  Maps of how/where gold came into Macedonia and hundreds of artifacts.  Beautiful wreaths that royalty or the highest level of social classes adorned themselves with when they were buried.  Coins, jewelery, jewelery, jewelery.....

Next on the agenda: a city tour, including a visit to the acropolis of the city, the keep, the ancient agora, the ancient palace (which is currently being excavated---except that there is no money right now for excavation).  Still jet lagged and in somewhat in a stupor, I was shocked when someone said it was 6:00 p.m. by the time we had done all of the above; it felt more like early afternoon.  Dinner wasn't scheduled till 9:00!

Thursday, June 16.  This morning we had a school visit, to Peiramatiko (an experimental school) in the heart of town.  After that, more of a walking tour of the downtown area.  One place we visited was the Aghia Sofia, basillica built in the 9th century.   The Aghia Sophia is an example of solving  "the problem of the dome."  Historically speaking, one of the design elements that people longed to do when constructing buildings was to put a dome on the top.  This presents an engineering challenge.  How do you do it?  First stage: an arched "ceiling" spanning two other arches.  An example of this: the triumphal arch in the center of Thessaloniki.  Next accomplishment: The Aghia Sophia.  Building built as rectangle crossing or within a rectangal (this is hard to explain...).  This creates four pillars inside the building on top of which a dome can be built.  This is a super-poor explanation of what Stephis so eloquently explained....I'm really just jotting it down so I can look up details when I get home.  I was inspired to create an engineering lesson based on this....but I still need to really understand it myself!  Stephis also mentioned that the "final solution" to the "dome problem" was found in the 11th century.  Must look this up!  (I am reminded of the Ascent of Man class I took at Westlake---I neven really "got" why everyone got so excited about flying buttresses.  They looked cool, but actually the big deal lay in the engineering!  I get it now!)

After lunch we toured the White Tower--an ediface built in the 4th century AD. it is the harbor end point of what used to be the wall that climbed the hill, joined up with the wall of the keep, then continued down the west side of the city to the sea (where another tower used to be)...thus the wall that enclosed Thessolaniki.  Now the White Tower is the "dividing point" between west and east (old and new) Thessolaniki.
We also strolled what was the ancient east/west thoroughfare that connected Macedonia to the Black Sea on the east but is now a 4-lane city road, complete with traffic, honking horns, traffic signals and pedestrians  (I'll have to go back to the map to get the name of this street.  Aaaah!).  This was a major trade route in ancient time.....I walked that very road, now a city street.  How cool is that?!

Later in the afternoon we visited the Byzantine Museum.  Honestly, it is hard to remember the details of this visit, and it happened just a few days ago!  Oh no!  I'll have to go back to my photos for details....
Dinner late again---well, I suppose it was typical for Greeks--and then a few of us returned to The Bazaar (where we had eaten lunch) where we were on the hunt to hear some Greek music, specifically, the bazugi (SP????).  Not hard to find!  At many of the tavernas nestled behind the tall buildings along Aristotle Street sat musicians plucking away at their instruments.  We found a quiet corner and relaxed with a drink.  Photos and recordings were taken...I wonder how the recordings turned out?

Friday, June 17.  Morning: visit to Mandoulines School.  Then, we departed for Vergina and Pella.  Vergina was "hometown" to Philip II and Alexander the Great.  It was awesome to visit this spot....we study both of these larger than life figures in sixth grade at Douglas.   The real nod here is to King Philip II.  In 1984 one of the tumuli there was excavated, and, unbeknownst to anyone, King Philp's burial chamber was there....fully intact!  This archaeological find is considered to be the 2nd most important discovery of its kind, second only to the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in Egypt.  The artifacts are absolutely breath taking.  The gold death crown that was buried with Philip is the most intricate, delicate representation of oak leaves---gold pounded into leaves.  The box that held his ashes and bones---solid gold, elaborately decorated.   Other artifacts, too numerous to recount, filled the museum (which was devoid of visitors, except for us).  Perhaps most exhilerating was seeing the front wall of the tomb itself, an ediface that stands about 20 feet tall and perhaps twice or three times as wide.  Columns flank the door that served as entry to the tomb. The wall is predominantly white, but spanning the length of the wall above the door are veriticle stripes of blue, echoing the marble columns on either side of the door and flashing forward to the Greek flag of today.  A painted frieze lies atop the blue stripes: Philip II as well as Alexander the Great each on horses reared on their hind legs, poised to charge.  If photograpy had been allowed inside this museum, you know I'd be the first to have my portrait taken there!  It was positively exhilerating to be walking the floor of the final resting place of this magnificent, powerful Macedonian king.  A nod to MY Philip back home!!

Saturday, June 18.  Visit to Meteora and tour of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity.  Note:  a breakdown of the word Meteora:  "met" = middle    "eora" part of this means heaven, part of this means earth (I'm not sure which is which).  So you have: "meteora" meaning suspended between heaven and earth.  And these monasteries certainly are!

Then off the the forest in the middle of Greece, in the midst of the Pindos Mountains.  Lunch with Alex Dimitrakopoulos, Associate Professor of Forest Protection, Department of Forestry and Natural Protection (and Fulbright alumnus), who then gave us a lecture on "The Natural Environment of Greece: Perspectives and Challenges."  Very engaging!  Alex lived in the U.S. for 8 years, studying at Penn then graduate studies at Berkeley.  In a nutshell, Greece is in its infancy when it comes to environmental protection.  The sentiment of th Greek population is this: the forest is public land, I can do with it as I please.  Despite recent regulation stipulating land use in the forests, there is little to no enforcement of the laws.  (I have also learned that this is the case when it comes to paying taxes to the State....but that is a story for another time...)  Alex led us on a nature walk in the area, pointing out maple trees (with very small leaves!), the most commonly found variety of oak tree throughout Greece (the tree of Zeus himself), wild wheat, wild oats, wild roses and an assortment of other wild flowers.  Look at all the pretty flowers!!

The 300


I have stood in the very place where the 300 took their stand against the Persians: Thermopyle!

I could hardly get out of the bus fast enough at the stop this morning.  A visit to Thermopyle was not on the Fulbright Hays original itinerary, but some persuasive members of our tour convinced our guide that we simply had to visit this widely known, inspirational location.

The location of the battlefield stands at the foot of imposing, craggy mountains, part of the Pindos mountain range.  As a side note, the Pindos Mountains are actually an extension of the Alps as they crawl south into the Balkans.  Today, the site of the clash is bordered by the mountains on one side and a road and farm land/valley.  In the 4th century B.C., however, the battlefield was on the edge of the sea.

The details of the battle are widely known; sixth graders devour this story!  1000 Greeks fought a Persian army numbering in the tens of thousands (Herodotus's account tells us there are more, but that's hard to believe).  Nonetheless, 700 Thespians and 300 Spartans stood against the giant land-based empire in three battles here.  At one point, sparking the second clash, a Greek traitor is said to have told the Persians where the Greek army was located, obviously giving the Persians a huge advantage.  But what I didn't know about our traitor is this: according to Staphis, our guide, the traitor was not a member of the Greek army, but rather was a local farmer.  The Persians and the Greeks had already battled it out on part of his land (first clash), and the farmer simply didn't want the rest of his livlihood to become a casualty of the war.  So he got the Persians to move off his land by telling them where to find the Greek army, and sent them around the mountain!  A very interesting side note to the story.

Ultimately 700 Thespians and 300 Spartans were slaughtered by the Persians at Thermopyle.  But here is another fact that I was unware of until today: each and every member of the 300 Spartans was a warrior between the ages of 25 and 35---and every one of those men had at least one son back at home in Sparta.  It's not hard to figure out the thinking behind this recruiting strategy.  If a Spartan was unable to come home waving his shield in victory, his body was carried home upon it---but there would be, guaranteed, a young Spartan at home to grow into the role of his father.

I stood where the Spartans spilled their blood, defending a foe that obliterated them.  Their bravery inspired Greeks from across the Aegean to do the impossible against their Persian enamy.  May I be so inspired by these ancient warriors to stand my ground against whatever forces threaten to devour me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Art


Karen is my museum buddy at home.  When our children were in grade school we became art afficionados, making pilgrimages to the MFA with the announcement of every special exhibit.  We lunched at the Gardener Museum.  We exchanged gifts that poked fun at our growing appreciation for art.  We even "field tripped" to the Met in NYC.  Much of my present tour could be described "art museum on steroids."

Our guide, Stathis, is an expert of all things Greek: geography, history, architecture, art.  He shares volumes of information with us at every stop.  I gobble up every word he utters about art.

We just visited the Monastary of the Holy Trinity, located in the Meteora region of Greece.  You might be familiar with another monastary in the same region: The Monastary of the Transfiguration.  Yes, you have seen this monastery, even if you have never been to Greece.  Think James Bond.  For Your Eyes Only.   You know, that place on the top of the rocky spire that James Bond parachutes to in the opening scene.  That's The Monastary of the Transfigurations.  Monastary of the Holy Trinity is on a neighboring spire....truly inspirational.

Not only does the view of the building, perched upon a precipace of rock take your breath away, so does the art that covers every square inch inside the monastary.  From floor to ceiling the walls are covered with art of the post-Byzantine era.  Some of the images are painted in the Macedonian style; others are painted in the Cretan style. What is the difference?   Oh!  I just knew you would ask!  Please, let me explain.

In the Macedonian style, figures are depicted against a dark, almost black background.  The faces of the portraits are expressionless, perhaps severe, harking back to the period of classical Greek art.  Poses are stiff and unnatural.  In creating an image in the Macedonian style, the artist uses a limited pallette: one tone of blue, one tone of yellow, one tone of red, and so on.  Finally, the faces of portraits are washed in white, giving the figure the appearance of being illuminated from the exterior or outside the picture.  Artists adhered strictly to these style elements, derived from the agreement between the eastern and western churches when they split in the early second millineum.  Towards the end of the first millineum the church had begun to incorporate the use of icons, or painted objects and scenes, into the religion and worship.  But many people didn't want these icons to appear inside the churches.  A compromise, of sorts, was agreed upon: icons could appear in church, as long as they adhered to a strict style that appeared other-worldly, thereby maintaining the separation between things of God and things of man.  Much of the Monastery of the Holy Trinity is adorned with images of saints, martyrs, and apostles painted in this style.

The Cretan style of the post-Byzantine era is completely opposite to that Macedonian style.  Of course, to my untrained eye I would never have deduced the difference between the two.  At first blush, I would have described everything I saw today as "cool, old paintings on the walls."  Now I know otherwise.  Well, they are still cool, and they are still old, but I now know how they differ in terms of style.  The Cretan portraits are depicted on a gold, bright background.  The figures are posed in a more fluid, lifelike manner.  Furthermore, their faces express the emotions from their hearts.  Clothes worn by the figures are painted in colors that span the spectrum and appear to drape around the bodies that wear them.  The draped clothing is more a nod to classical Greek art than to an attempt for realism.  Finally, the human faces are painted in a tone close to that of human flesh, and give the impression that the portrait's face is illuminated from within.

After learning all of this I felt very smart indeed.  I found myself examining the remaining walls of the monastary for evidence of all I learned, congratulating myself every time I recognized a feature.

Of course I'm compelled to write this all down.  Otherwise, I will forget...

Salonica


I refuse to retire.  The
Warm, dry night air
Surrounds me, moves me
Through the streets of Salonica.

A symphony of sounds
Greets me along the waterfront.
Tires squeal and
Pull cars onto the clogged road.
Music mixes with laughter and
Floats from taverna after taverna.

Aristotle, himself, beckons to me.
Come into my plaza.
Sit.
Stay.
Siga, siga.
I soak up Salonica.

I see ears of corn.  Their kernals
Slowly turn from gold to black as
Vendors tend to their grills.
Bubbles float into the
Night sky, from the wand of a child.
Girls giggle, seated next to
Aristotle,
Larger than life.  His
Bronze figure presides over his plaza,
His home.
Columns line up
Like soldiers at-the-ready, flanking the plaza.  They
Flaunt engraved capitals, nodding to their
Corinthian relatives of long ago.
I witness a brilliant bouquet of balloons
Threatening to
Lift their vendor
Into the night.
A soccer ball soars.
From the ground below
Echo shouts and laughter between teammates.

Banter envelopes me.
Unfamiliar.
Energetic.
Language.

I refuse to retire.

Salonica.

My Book Problem



My name is Katie, and I am a bibliophile.

The first step to fighting an addiction is to admit that you have a problem.  I'd like to blame my addiction on genetics.  I come from a long line of bibliophiles.  In fact, both my father and my father-in-law have the same affliction.  What?  You say it's impossible to inherit traits from your in-laws?  Clearly you do NOT have in-laws, and you don't know what you are talking about.  I speak from experience.

An retired attorney, my father made a living out of words.  Spoken words were always woven into impenetrable logic, meant to foil a wiliest witness on the stand or his teenage daughter when caught sneaking in past curfew.  Written words are to be read and collected, especially if they come in form of his favorite topic: WWII.  My father's personal office is essentially a libary, with shelves of books practically surrounding his desk.  The wall with the window has been spared such a fate, but, it could be just a matter of time before curtains are no longer needed there.  I know I don't help matters with his addiction.  From me he receives at least three books a year as gifts.  Sorry, Dad!

Then there's my father-in-law.  A professor by trade, he clearly took the "publish or perish" mandate to heart.  Not only has he written several texts (unintelligible to me beyond the fabulous titles, such as Fossils, Teeth and Sex), he simply cannot resist a bookshop.  Just ask my mother-in-law.  She gets the special honor of carrying all of his spectacular finds during their jaunts around the world.

I arrived in Greece on Tuesday, June 14th.  Today is Saturday, June 18th.  Count 'em.  Four days.  Yes, four. In the past three days I have bought at least one book at every place we have visited that sells books, like museums.  I don't really want to stop and count the number of museums I've been to so far; it's a little bit embarassing.  Perhaps it will sound less incriminating if I speak of my book purchases in terms of weight as opposed to number of volumes.  No, that would actually be worse.  After all, I am limited to 50 pounds in my suitcase when I board the plane to Turkey and ultimately back home.  When I departed the U.S., my bag weighed 45 pounds.  Oh dear....

The people I'm traveling with are total enablers.  I will not be able to count on them to help me with my plight.  They are, after all, nerds like myself: teachers.  Here is how nerdy we can be: yesterday, on the bus ride between museum stops, three of us engaged in a lively discussion about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  These people are also book collectors.

You might think I can catch a break during the "academic portion of the day" of my tour.  (Much of our trip will consist of academic sessions as well as cultural tours.)  On the contrary, we are given complimentary written materials everywhere we go.  Colorful manuals about the Gods and Goddesses of Olympia; Greek/English dictionaries; brochures about Fulbright; non-fiction texts written by Greek lauriate authors.
 I will be touring Greece and Turkey through July 17th.  Good lord, that's a month away.  Maybe I can impose some self control.  Maybe I can enlist the assistance of Amazon.com in my efforts to control myself by writing down the ISBN number of any luring titles, and hitting "Buy with 1-click" from their website.  Maybe I need a professional intervention.

Help!

Gymnasium and Lyceum


Test:  Name an aspect of modern Greece that most tourists know nothing about.

Answer: The Greek education system.

Yesterday and today I got a glimpse inside the education system in Greece.  Let's be perfectly clear--I only got a glimpse!  But what I saw was eye popping!  As teachers with the Fulbright organization, we were able to meet with representatives from the School of Education at the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki.  After that we had two tours.  One tour took us to The Experimental School, a public school in the heart of the city.  The other tour took us to Mandoulides Elementary School, a private school more on the outskirts of town.
In Greece the elementary years are considered to be K-6; Gymnasium (lower high school) is grades 7-9; Lyceum (Sr. High School) is grades 10-12.  School is compulsory through grade 9.  After that, some students enter a vocational education path.  Entrance into the university requires a certain level of proficiency at the high school level, and successfully passing the National Exam.  Approximately 50% of students who complete high school go on to university.

All very well and good.  Here's where it gets interesting, from an American teacher's point of view, anyway.  Teachers are hired by the State (the Ministry of Education) and are, of course, civil servants.  Teachers are placed by the State.  In otherwords, if I am a Thessalonian who wants to become a teacher, I train to become a teacher at the university, apply to the Ministry of Education for a job, and when I receive an appointment (perhaps years after I apply), I go to that city to teach.  Which may be on some remote island out in the Aegean.  Teachers teach the curriculum as specified by the State, of course.  Oh yeah, and they use the text books that the State directs them to use.  In other words, first graders learning maths in Athens use the exact same text book and materials as first grade students in the far reaches of Macedonia.  Teachers are paid for 14 months of work per year.  Yes, you read that right.  They are paid for the 12 months in the calendar (of course, students are not in the classroom for all of those 12 months...) as well as for 2 additional months that don't even exist.  When first hired, a teacher is expected to teach 24 hours per week in the classroom; as a teacher gains seniority, the teaching hours per week decreases.  Salaries do not decrease as teaching hours decrease.  When a teacher returns to university to complete a Masters or Doctorate degree, they do so as a full time student for 2 years.....and are paid 100% of their salary.  Oh, and by the way, it impossible for a teacher in Greece to be fired.

I'm not an economist by trade, although my undergraduate degree was in that field.  And, admittedly, the above is all I know about the education system in Greece.  Furthermore, I know even less about the rest of the Greek economic system.  Nonetheless, I'm having a very difficult time not connecting the dots between what I have learned about Greek schooling and the current state of economic affairs here.  I'm just sayin'....

The schools that we visited stood in stark contrast to one another.  The Experimental School is a public school (funded exclusively by the State), although it is somewhat unique in the sense that students are selected by lottery.  Usually, children attend their neighborhood school.  The Experimental School includes after school enrichment programs that, perhaps, are not regularly available at the average public school.  And, if I understood correctly, some of the teaching methods are more innovative there.  Located in the middle of the city, the classroom buildings surrounded the playground on all sides.  It was difficult to get a sense of the facility because we only saw one classroom, which consisted of about 25 chairs, several double-desks, a white board on one wall and two small cases with various classroom materials.  Along nearly the entire length of one was was a window that opened to let a fresh breeze flow over us.  The walls were bare, a pale yellow.  The floors were linoleum.  There was a projector mounted on the ceiling; teachers have use of computers for their lessons, and the school has enough laptop computers for 1 out of 2 students.  The teachers were friendly, but upon leaving our morning at the Experimental School, many of my colleagues and I had an unsettled feeling.  It just didn't seem like a very cheerful place to be.

Then we visited  Mandoulides Elementary School, located about 15 minutes by bus outside the center of the city.  Mandoulides is a private school, serving grades K-12.  The moment we walked onto the facility we were in awe.  Large, modern, beautiful fac ilities.  Bright hallways and classrooms decorated with student work.  Well stocked library with a Smart Board on one end.  About 15 members of the staff were there to greet us, and we embarked on a lively question and answer session.  Mandoulides prepares students to study at the top universities around the world, and they do so effectively.  Beginning with their full immersion English language program (called "The English Garden" where the 3 year old class is referred to as the "Seeds" and the 4 year old class is dubbed "The Flowers"), students engage in 6 hours of English language education per week by the time they are in high school.  (In contrast, there are 2-3 hours of English language education in the public schools.)  The English language magazine produced by the high school students can only be described as spectacular.

I spent quite a bit of time speaking with Janette, who teaches English language to the elementary level students.  Janette, actually grew up in Connecticut, and lived for a time in Haverhill!  She moved to Greece about 15 years ago where her family is from.  I was thrilled when she shared my  interest in our sixth grade classes becoming pen pals with one another.  Hooray!

I left Mandoulides energized and envigorated!  In many ways the school reminded me of my own high school experience.  I was reluctant to depart when the call came to board the bus.  As I left the building a teacher named Elizabeth found me; she had heard I was from Boston.  "I'm from Watertown!" she exclaimed.  Another Greek with ties to New England.  (Mr. Mandoulides, himself, told me about cheering the Red Sox on at Fenway park; I gave him some postcards of Boston that I had in my purse, including one of Fenway.)  I thanked Elizabeth for the hospitality her school had shown us, and I confessed that I would love to be a teacher there.  "We'd love to have you here," was her cheerful reply.

I might start taking Greek language classes upon my return home...