Friday, October 31, 2008

More Greek Mannequins

This comes from a store that sells medical supplies.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Spooky Archaeology and Dangerous Tales

As Oxi Day came to an end, we returned once more to Athens and the School. Doing so is always a great relief – suddenly having your favorite pair of pajamas again, a familiar bed, a greater variety of clothes, unlimited Interwebs, reliable food at the same time every day, and hot water – it’s like heaven. HEAVEN, People!

But Trip III was a really good one, and I already miss Thessaly and Boiotia and Aitolia just a bit. I think at this stage the trips are starting to blend together into one big memory of superimposed theatres, climbing up mountains, caves, and a series of small walls. But! Trip III was memorable because it was, more than anything else, SPOOOOOOKY! First there was the bat living down in a dark Hellenistic tomb, which we saw while being swarmed (and I mean SWARMED) by malarial mosquitoes. There was also the total ghost town of Palaios Platanos with its collapsing houses, dilapitated churches, and rusting metal. A dead and dying town in its death throes.

Palaios Plantanos, abandoned in the 50s, dies a slow death.

Then, when we were staying near the town of Kalambata at Meteora, we stayed in a very special type of hotel. Denver explained it to us on the way there, just to prepare us: the hallways were huge and long, and all he could think about when he visited it was the Shining. He kept expecting to see murdered girls, oceans of blood, and Big Wheels.

The Shining: Denver's nightmare.

When we got there, we saw that he was correct. Even the bathroom was scary. I say this because, rather than being small and moldy and lacking shower curtains like many a bathroom we have seen, this one was huge, a wide open expanse, but totally and completely white and sterile and shiny, so white that it felt like being in Purgatory’s Bathroom. The entire hotel was huge, with enormous identical hallways stretching in all directions; the huge sense of space was claustrophobic.
The extraordinarily large lobby of the Hotel Amalia at Kalambata.

Then there were the near death experiences. Eric Cox presented at Kalapodi, a really important sanctuary site that *may* show signs of continuity with Bronze Age cult. It’s really important for people who study sacrifice. But Eric gets props for giving his entire presentation amidst gunfire. It seems that on Sunday mornings, all the Greek hunters go out looking for birds. Tiny birds. They walk among the olive groves and spray birdshot. We made enough noise that it was clear that we were at the archaeological site, but the three hills around us were still full of hunters. Apparently birdshot is not that dangerous to be around, when you are at a good enough distance, but some of it did actually fall out of the sky to hit Regular Member Ben Sullivan. But props to Eric, for stoically delivering his entire presentation anyways.
Rainy muddy Kalapodi, with Jason Harris ducking the bird shot.

Then we climbed up the acropolis at Orchomenos. The hill was gigantic, but still came a close second to Philipi.

Yes, way up there. That little thing on top of the hill. That's where we hiked.

Unfortunately, it was also covered in big horrible sharp rocks. At the top of the hill were the remains of a Hellenistic tower, which we climbed all over like monkeys. It was a beautiful afternoon, until Regular Member Jason Harris stabbed his foot with a sharp rock and twisted his ankle. And then had to climb back down the mountain. Perhaps this should give you an idea about how much land we actually had to traverse.

Tom and Julia on top of the Hellenistic tower at Orchomenos; below them, the rest of us hiking along the walls; further below that, the town where the bus waited for us.

He basically hopped down the mountain on one foot, although at one point in time Eric Cox (who’d already braved the birdshot that morning) felt chivalrous and tried the fireman’s carry. Of course, that only lasted about 30 feet, but still.

We also visited the creepy Oracle of Trophonius, where I gave my site presentation. Pausanias has left behind a detailed description of what it was like to visit the Oracle and it seems to have been, above all else, SPOOKY. *Cue ghost noises* And creepy. And terrifying. Some have argued that the process of the ritual falls within the framework of ancient journey’s to the Underworld, and there is a lot to be said for that argument. In fact, the whole area of the sanctuary was chock full of weird Underworldy things – the hero’s tomb of Arcesilaus, the pit of the Trophonius’ dead brother Agamedes, the spot where the dread Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, caused a spring to burst forth, the Hunting Ground of said Persephone ( I don’t even want to know what that is). Anyways, Aristophanes says in his Clouds that if someone was sulking around, morose and depressed, it was because they had been to see Trophonius. Apparently, after the ritual itself, the participant was so shook up that he could not laugh and was nearly paralyzed with fear. *Cue sounds of creaking doors, rattling chains, and screams of terror*

In other words, the trip was a good one for ghost stories and spookiness and for getting psyched up for that best of all American holidays, Halloween.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Religious Visual Art in Konstantini: Iconography and Blasphemy

I study dead religions. They’re fun. But I still see and think about living religion all the time. On the trips, we’ve randomly seen a great deal of interesting things relating to religion in practice, and so I thought I’d make a few posts over the next few months on the more noteworthy or quirky or freaky things we’ve come across. I’ll start with one of my favorite works of religious art here in Greece so far.

During Trip II, we visited a small church in the town of Konstantini because it had a very important Lex Sacra built into the wall of the entrance. Dan Leon gave his site report on the ancient decree (from Andania), which has some very valuable information about ancient Messenian religion and mystery cults. Besides the ancient stuff, one of my favorite things was this picture, framed and hung on the door of the small church. The text accompanying the image says basically: “Don’t Blasphemy.” It details all the horrible things that will befall those who do so.

What I especially love about it is the iconography. What does it tell us about blasphemy and those who practice it? Here’s my art historical approach to the pic. First, let’s see what it actually shows. Jesus hangs upon the cross. At the base kneels a soldier, hands clasped in prayer and head bowed, eyes closed. His gun has been laid at his side and his helmet rests before him – he seems to have come straight from the Front. He has short-cropped hair and is clean shaven. As a soldier he is a brave young man defending his people from evil; he is pious and correct, humble and thankful. But behind him is his mirror opposite.

Another young man, decked out in the latest fashion, moves towards the peaceful scene. He has long hair and enormous side burns. His pants flair at the bottom. His demeanor is loud, he struts about, his head is raised defiantly towards Jesus, rather than lowered as it presumably should be. He looks like a spoiled city brat, a late night drinker, the kind of man who hangs with less-than-demure women. He clearly lacks any discipline whatsoever and wastes his time doing frivolous things while the humble soldier does his duty. The contrast between the two could not be more pronounced. The townie’s words, blasphemy physically aimed towards the cross, spews out and up - but it hits an invisible barrier just at the location of the young soldier, leaving him and his god in a protective bubble. The blasphemous words bounce back towards the upstart, changed into rocks (my favorite part): he is condemned and stoned by his own words. The serpent creeping up behind him is either egging him on or it is waiting to consume him when he turns away from the salvation depicted before him.

It’s fantastic. As a composition it is split down the middle, the townie upstart and the serpent on one side, the pious soldier and Jesus on the other. It says a lot about rich kids that don’t serve their country when they should, and the assumed devoutness of soldiers. It contrasts rebellious fashionistas with those who wear modest and drab uniforms. It contrasts silent prayer with loud voices. It contrasts gi-normous monster snakes with the culturally weighty symbol of Jesus on the cross. Its message could not be more clear.

I wish I knew when it was made. The picture elevates blasphemy to a mortal sin, while reflecting that old dichotomy between the two stereotypical kinds of young men. What a totally brilliant picture. Love it!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Trip 3: Greatest Hits of Archaeology

Lot’s to post about but for now I’ll have to keep things short. We’ve been in Nea Anchialos for three nights with the Interwebs, but there’s also a beach out front with lots of walking paths. The potential strolls are inviting enough that I’ll have to apologize for not blogging much while on this trip. In fact, it’s always hard to write something worthwhile on the trips because each day is so exhausting, exhausting in all ways possible. The trips are intellectually grueling (you can only do so much learning), they are physically tiring (we climbed two acropoleis today), and socially strenuous (being crammed on a bus can do that to anyone).

Katie not blogging. Note how arduous thinking seems to be.

It’s become clear that my posts from the trips will have to be confined to a series of trip-greatest-hits. Today’s will be short.

Trip III covers central Greece. We’ve hit up a real variety of regions and sites; I’m thinking the northern parts of the School trips might be my favorite. Some cool things we’ve seen:

1) A really big cave, sacred to the Nymphs and Pan in antiquity. It was quite a climb to get there, but no Philippi.

2) A bat. It was living in a Hellenistic tomb that we climbed into. It almost hit Margie Miles in the head.

3) The Orphic Gold tablets! Yes! They are even smaller then I imagined, but totally cool nevertheless. They are basically road maps to the Underworld, assisting the dead as they attempt to traverse the dangers of the afterlife. I’ll be talking about them when I present on the Oracle of Trophonius.

4) One of my favorite places was a ruined town called Palaios Platanos. It was abandoned in the 1950s and has been left to decay alone in the hills. As Denver said, exploring the town was a way to illuminate the process of site formation. It was also a remarkable way to spend a quite hour in the morning. I’ll talk more about this site later.

5) The Volos Museum. One of my favorite museums so far, stocked full of painted stele from the Hellenistic period. Great displays, cool sanctuary finds, sweet-ass Neolithic figurines. Basically the total package.

6) Oh. And the dudes had to move a car again. Except that then the car’s owner came out and agreed to move it himself, but then drove it into the side of our bus.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tea and Ouzo: Social Traditions at the ASCSA

A place like the American School is full of particular traditions, and long lasting ones at that. Many of these traditions center around the Saloni in Loring Hall (aka the Common/Living Area). The most popular are, without doubt, Tea and Ouzo. Every day at 5pm is the Tea Hour, complete with tea (obviously) and cakes. It happens five days a week, month after month, year after year. That’s a lot of tea, especially given that we’re Americans, and we gave up tea a long time ago. But the tea hour is primarily social, and harkens back to the olden days when the American School was a place of gentile living.

I haven’t quite figured out when Tea started as a tradition, but it’s likely to have started as a daily thing when Loring Hall was first built. Yet, as Bob Bridges just told me, teas were a big deal at the school from the very beginning, since they were a great way for scholars of all ages to get together and meet in an non-academic environment. He mentioned a tea guest book from back in the day signed by Sophie Schliemann and the Duke of Sparta – I’ll have to check it out in the Archives. In the 1920s when she was a Regular Member, Wilhelmina van Ingen attended several teas. She writes in her letters and journals about them, but they seem to have been special occasions (rather than daily), hosted by the ladies in nearby houses (since Loring did not yet exist). Several of them were put on by Ida Thallon Hill, over at the Blegen/Hill house. Van Ingen talks about how pleasing the teas were and ALWAYS notes who poured. I guess the tea-pouring-part was a big deal. On December 8th, 1927, she was given the honor of pouring herself, which she made clear to note; this was also the day that, at tea, she was introduced to Professor Dörpfeld himself, a major excitement according to her comments. So already back in the day, the School teas were a way for geeky Regular Members to meet archaeological Bigwigs.

Tea, Loring Hall's Saloni, October 16, 2008

And then there is Ouzo Hour, every day at 7pm. Drinks before dinner is a big deal among archaeologists here in Greece – when I was living in Nafplio for the summer, we’d always go over to someone’s house for pre-dinner drinks, where I distinctly remember stuffing my face with pistachios. When Ron Stroud came in 1959, Ouzo Hour was an already established tradition. Day after day, week after week, year after year. That’s a lot of ouzo, too. My own Undergraduate Advisor, Ann-Marie Knoblauch, has given me strong-worded warnings about bewaring the Saloni in Loring Hall. I believe the term she used was a ‘vortex,’ sucking you away from your spot in the Library, where you were supposed to be doing work. After all, if you come down for Tea from 5-6 pm, then it's almost time for Ouzo Hour to start at 7, so you might as well stay in the Saloni until then. And then Dinner starts at 8pm, with coffee in the Saloni afterwards, and then just like that, if you’re not careful, there goes your whole evening into a cup of tea and archaeological storytime.

Ouzo Hour, Loring Hall's Saloni, October 15, 2008

I guess it’s a good thing I don’t like tea or ouzo. The cakes are nice, though.

Tomorrow morning bright and early we head off for Trip III, to Central Greece. I’ve spent the day packing, buying maps, getting my handout together (which includes my Flowchart of the ritual process at the Oracle of Trophonius), had lunch with Carolina and Anthony from OSU, etc. I did have an hour to head down to the Museum of Cycladic Art to see the Russian Modernism exhibit. If anyone is still around in Athens, I highly recommend it. There were several pieces by artists like Malevich, the acknowledged creator of Suprematism, and others such as the Constructivist Rodchenko and avant-garde Popova.

The exhibit space; Malevich's Black Square

It’s a small collection, but a really great one. Glad I made it before the exhibit closed, and glad I took Myroslava Mudrak's modern art class so that I could have half an idea of what I was looking at.
Katie Rask, 'self-portrait' with Rodchenko

Monday, October 13, 2008

The ASCSA Cats: Pandora, Rusty Pumpkin, and Wallie

As anyone who knows me will be aware, there is a tradition of American archaeologists rescuing animals from Greece and taking them back home to the States. The main reason this happens is because cats and dogs roam freely in Athens but, as strays, do not receive the best of care. Greece does not have the state and private-sponsored system of shelters, nor the laws protecting animals, exhibited most dramatically in hypnotic shows like Animal Cops. For years Agora excavators have been finding stray animals in the excavation trenches, fallen in love, and taken them home. The School’s current Director, Jack Davis, had his own rescued Greek pet for a number of years. Ron Stroud just told me at dinner about the Momma and Son cat duo that he and his wife took to the States in the 90s. And then there is Beast Cat, whom I rescued from Nafplio about three years ago, complete with her unborn children. (Beast Cat, incidentally, is currently chilling with my Grandma and Aunt in Atlanta while I am here.)

Sleepy time: Beast Cat and Son.

But the School itself has had to be wary of adopting pets. Really, there are just too many animals about to adopt, and once you take one, it becomes harder to say no to others. It’s a hard thing to see the cats about with their dripping eyes and the dogs with their bone-y flanks. But it turns out sometimes we have been too sappy to refuse them. Molly Richardson, a wonderful resource for School stories, said that just before she came to Athens, there had been a School dog named Exo (always trying to get inside the buildings and always needing to be shooed out, thus his name – ‘Out!’). But the current Queen of the School is none other than our own black-and-white mottled ball of goodness, Pandora. According to Molly, Pandora showed up one day and claimed the School as her own. Bob Bridges had been circulating advice to all newcomers to Athens – ‘don’t touch the cats, no matter how cute they are, because you’ll get ringworm!’ When the students at the time saw Pandora, they naturally took to calling her ‘Ringworm.’ But the School policy was to just say no, and Ringworm was told nicely but firmly not to hang around.

Ringworm could care less, of course, and was always lounging about by the Blegen (the main School building), occasionally sneaking into the building when she was able. She was so brazen in fact, that the then-School Director Jim Muhly (not a cat person) found her sitting in his office chair, declaring who it was that truly ran the School. No one knows what happened (or at least I haven’t found out yet), but the Director decided suddenly and to the surprise of all that Ringworm could stay. He posted a contest to name her, offering a bottle of Champagne to the winner. Ann Stewart won that contest, dubbing the cat Pandora, perhaps a sly allusion to the dreaded gift that Pandora might unleash on unsuspecting Members (i.e. ringworm). And so Pandora has remained at the School and is much loved by all, getting her own special dry food, and being cared for by Member’s like Alexis Belis.

Alexis and Pandora in the foyer of the Blegen Library.

And then there is Rusty Pumpkin, who showed up at Loring to claim it as his territory. He is apparently not an official School Cat, but unofficially he his, since he has his own little Cat-House on the porch with well-appointed foodstuffs nearby. Rusty is well-known to the Regular/Associate Members living in Loring as the cat who loves to sit in your lap, but will bite your fricking face off if you touch his belly or mess with him in any way. I have witnessed some close calls of that sort already – Regular Member Jason Harris is lucky to still have eyeballs.

Rusty in the garden of Loring.
Apparently the appearance of kittens is not an unusually phenomenon around the School, with ‘oohhh’ and ‘awwing’ students begging to adopt them, but they are usually reminded that when the students leave for America, someone has to deal with the kitties they’ve left behind. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that. The current reason? Wallie.

Me and Wallie.

Wallie (which is, at least, her/his temporary name) was discovered meowing piteously on top of the wall at the British School several days ago, unable to get down. Getting the cat down seems to have been quite a trial, ending with a bunch of Americans and Greeks standing around, clapping ‘brava!’ But poor little kitty had gooey eyes and when the Rescuing Americans attempted to leave, s/he tried to follow them into traffic. So little Wallie has been nestled away in a back corner of the School grounds and is receiving eye drops and enormous amounts of love from several Members who are quickly becoming smitten. S/he has a wonderful personality and comes running to leap into your lap whenever you visit, is a great fan of being swaddled, and has the most adorably pathetic meow. Spoiled already, s/he is. But everyone knows it is not likely to last, and at some point, someone will have to decide what to do with swiftly fattening Wallie. Finding her a good home is on a lot of people’s minds. But damn she’s cute.