Sunday, June 19, 2011

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!

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!!

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