Monday, November 17, 2008

Nafplio and Corinth, Oral History and Excavation Photos

Now that I’m back in Athens, it seems that I must give a brief report on Trip 4, and do it soon, since our seminars (i.e. ‘course work’) start tomorrow, bright and early. The last trip, which ended on Friday, took us to the Argolid and the Corinthia. Since we were staying mostly in two regions, we stayed in only two hotels; the impact this stability had on our happiness and enthusiasm was, I think, palpable.

Nafplio was, as per usual, fantastic. I’d spent six weeks there a few summers back working at the Argive Heraion, and when I was there, appreciating the view of the bay from my balcony, I had no inkling of how fortunate I really was. Now I’ve been around Greece just a bit, and Nafplio has risen in my esteem to a glowing shiny height equivalent to the Palamidi at night.

The Palamidi fortress, from Nafplio's main square.

It is also the birthplace of Beast Cat, who emigrated back to America with me 3 ½ years ago.

Beast Cat's jealously guarded territory: the terrace of Rooms Bekas.

I remember our five days in Nafplio as peaceful, content ones, although I also logically recall being cranky and annoyed on multiple occasions. But all those moments seem to leech away in the happy haze of long dinners outside, charming streets and nightly gelato. I believe there might have been some Bronze Age stuff, too, probably?

The welcoming committee at the Corinth Dig House.

The second part of our trip was based in Corinth; our guide on Trip 4 was Guy Sanders, the director of the Corinth excavations, tall, rangy, constantly smoking. His trip was marked by long morning hikes, inexplicable British slang, and a general feeling of laid-back-ed-ness.

Guy Sanders, an enthusiastic fan of geology. We definitely heard a great deal about marl, and jurassic limestone, and even on one occasion about what happens when a married super-continent decides to get a divorce. Here, it's volcanic rock from Melos.

When he showed us around Corinth, I had the distinct feeling that he was showing us around his backyard. Of course, he literally did show us his backyard, where he had built an experimental kiln; his two dogs even welcomed us and watched us go (mournfully) each day at the dig house. Corinth had a home-y and historical feel, perhaps because of Guy’s long experience with the area and his reminiscences, as well as the tight connection between ancient Corinth and the American School.

The homemade kiln, firing clay at 700 degrees since, well, since I don't remember.

In fact, the School began excavating at Corinth in 1896 and has been doing so ever since, minus breaks during the World Wars. The work there is intimately tied to the Regular Year Program, since in the Spring Quarter, Regular Members excavate there for a number of weeks and have been doing so for decades. The staff working in Corinth was fantastic to us: every day we ate lunch until bursting at the Corinth dig house, we took long tours in the excavation storerooms, and were treated to lectures in the living room.

In the dig house, Nancy Bookidis lectures on the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore.

As I said, history is strong at the Corinth excavations, more so, I think, than in Athens at the School. I didn’t have to ask quite so many questions to get quite so many good stories. Nancy Bookidis, Assistant Director Emerita, had some great ones about her time as a Regular Member, told with Ron Stroud over double helpings of pastichio in the dig house. Apparently, our whining about the necessity of lunch breaks is the whining of the spoiled; in Nancy’s year, as in all the years before, every lunch was a picnic lunch, and the acquisition of food was handed out to a handful of Members (the women). Nancy described getting up at 5am to search for a central market that would supply enough food for 30 people, and then, at lunch, having to deal with the guys complaining that she wasn’t slicing bread fast enough. She also described not being able to wear pants in deference to Greek custom, and hiking through the absolutely deadly Greek underbrush wearing a skirt and socks pulled up as high as they could go, yet unable to protect against the thorns.

Ron Stroud and the wall of photos, just after pointing out a picture of his wife from the 1960s.

One of my favorite parts about Corinth was the wall of photos, packed with pictures going back to the turn of the 20th century. The Peirene Fountain in the city of Corinth, for example, was prominent in the photographs, excavated back under Bert Hodge Hill in the early 1900s.

Framed photo of Bert Hodge Hill's excavations at the Peirene Fountain.

There is also a picture of one of the School’s archaeological superstars, Carl Blegen, just after having climbed out of the subterranean tunnels of the Fountain, utterly covered in mud, beaming.
Swift and Blegen, mud besplattered. Make sure to note what a looker Carl Blegen was.

For years the young man next to him was unidentified until rumor got round and the man sent a letter to clear up the mystery: Emerson Swift.
Swift's letter from 1971, describing their experience, taped to the back of the picture frame.

Since then, others have searched the tunnels as well, better equipped, I think, then Swift and Blegen, who described tunnels so full of water and mud that they had to hold their mouths right up to the very tunnel roof in order to get oxygen.

It’s a bit cleaner in our day, but at least we can add another photo to the Peirene palimpsest accumulating at Corinth; I’ll make sure to tell the story of my first visit to all the little snot-nosed Regular Members when I’m 80, in Loring, over pastichio.

Us at the Peirene Fountain, following in the footsteps of 113 years worth of ASCSA members.

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