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.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Very date appropreate. The photos you took gave a great impression of the "Shining" like nature of the large hotel. That said as long as no one started mumbling "redrum" I think you were pretty safe.


Maria P. said...

As always, I love reading about your trips. They sound exciting and full of new information. I've only visited a few of the places you get to see, I'm jealous.

Btw, the town with the spooky hotel was Kalambaka. You almost got the name right. (damn Greeks and their foreign language!)

Katie said...

Kalambaka. Typo, my bad :)