Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jogging in Athens #3: Lykabittos Hill

The first place that comes to mind when you say 'Jogging in Athens' is Lykabittos Hill. Lykabittos is pretty much the tallest point in the city center, and is surrounded by the neighborhoods of Exarkia and Kolonaki.

Visitors tend to associate the hill with the splendid view that it allows, and many a trip or study abroad program begins at the very top, in order to take a gander at the topography of Athens and Attica.

What's great about Lykabittos, however, is that it is a large wooded spot smack in the middle of the city; beneath those trees are a series of paths. They're populated by joggers, dog walkers and the occasional couple making out. There is also the chance to see sleazy dudes exposing their manhood, but read this for ways to deal with such an event. Luckily I have had no such problem and have, in fact, been enjoying the Lykabittos run quite a lot. For those coming from Souidias St., take Aristodimou 'up.' The entrance to the Lykabittos Park will be on your right. If you come up on those terribly steep steps that every large group seems to follow, head back down through the cafe terrace on the path into the trees.

The first thing I do when I go on this run, is WALK to the top of the hill (I'm not crazy, you know). I enjoy the view and feel like I have accomplished something by getting to the top. Then I head back down into the trees for the fun part.

The paths on Lykabittos are pretty well-maintained. Most of them are dirt, but several stretches are made of small gravel. The stairs, path edges and handrails are made out of logs/branches. It has a very 'national park' feel in that sense. The trails can go from pretty wide to very small and faint. Near the bottom of the hill is a 'ring road,' for those who like to stay on fairly level ground:

Now that it is Spring, everything is gloriously overgrown, but you can expect it to be far from lush during the rest of the year. When it IS spring, though, keep an eye out because it's not all pretty flowers and soft grass. Whole sections are lined with stinging nettles, which are no fun when you're jogging along and happen to hit the fricking daggers with your swinging arm or legs:

I promise that jogging with nettle poison spreading through your blood and sweaty boil-like welts growing all over your body is not especially awesome. Anyways. If you'd like to put some hills into your jog, I highly suggest just exploring the many different routes that you find along the mountain. In fact, the last time I did that, I found a huge ravine that I had no idea was there, and which had a little trail snaking along the bottom. Just on the other side is a whole other series of paths.

I used to find Lykabittos mostly boring. Perhaps I have been swayed by the red poppies and slanting sunlight of Spring, but over the last few weeks I have really grown to like this park. It's really never boring, since you can always take an entirely different route on the criss-crossing paths. I still haven't explored them all, so I appreciate Lykabittos Hill since usually there actually is something new around every corner.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

1918: Quite a Year

I’ve gotten another cold or, if it’s not a cold, its spring allergies wreaking havoc with my body. I’ve been ill since Thursday, so I’ve had to step off my exercise regiment while still attempting to blearily fight on towards the end of a research project in the library. Being in this state has, of course, made me a bit more inclined to read the headlines about the ‘swine-flu’ rearing its ugly head State-side and Mexico-side. It’s amazing how skilled the various ‘news’ outlets are at revving up the fear machine. One of the articles said the new ‘swine-flu’ had the potential to escalate into a Spanish Influenza-style pandemic.

I’d learned about the Pandemic of 1918, but, like half the female population in America, I am most familiar with the Spanish Flu because it is what almost killed the dreamy (but also disturbing) Edward Cullen in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. Just about to succumb to the virus, he was instead turned into a vampire so that 90 years later he could melt the hearts of screaming teenage girls everywhere.

Thinking on the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, I decided to use the internet for what’s most handy about it – learning stuff. The 1918 flu killed twice as many people as the Great War. It turns out that just over half of the Americans who died in said Great War didn’t perish in the trenches, but were killed by the influenza. It seems to have also turned people a bluish color; most died by drowning in their own lungs, and most who died were at the height of their youth and health. The Spanish Flu actually set people’s immune systems on overdrive – they were killed by their own efforts to fight the virus. The pandemic of 1918 blew the Bubonic Plaque out of the deadly-virus-water.

It also turns out that scientists, in order to learn more about the mystery pandemic, recently dug up a flu victim frozen in the Alaska permafrost and used some ‘preserved tissue samples of WWI soldiers.’ Yuck. Most pleasant of all, they brought it back to life and infected mice and monkeys. The mice were dead in three days and on the third day, the scientists had to start euthanizing the monkeys.

Funny that I never learned about this in school.

If you really want to get freaked out, watch the awesome documentary from PBS here.

Hopefully my own mini-flu will be gone in a day or so, since tomorrow I head off to ancient Corinth to join the excavations. Good health is also essential so that I might venture out on a new exciting venture, the Great Kopanos Hill Quest of 2009, in search of Isadora Duncan’s dream house. Come Saturday next, the scavenger hunt begins.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Greek Easter: Itsy Bitsy Fireworks

The most exciting of all the Greek Easter celebrations comes on Saturday evening. In the States, people tend to do a Sunday morning mass to employ the symbolic effect of the rising sun. Here, however, there's a midnight mass like you would expect at Christmas. Even though it happens in the dark, it is primarily concerned with 'light.'

A group of Greek and Orthodox leaders fly to Jerusalem and procure some of the holy fire at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They return to Greece where the flame is received at the airport with all the honors of a foreign dignitary (much like the Olympic torch). Then the flame is dispersed all over Greece and the priests take a part of it to their own churches. At midnight on Saturday, Greeks crowd into their churches and light their own candles and tapers off of that brought by the priest.

When the clock strikes 12, people also start shooting off fireworks in a very New Year's Eve manner, with each little neighborhood having its own display. Then everyone must get their candle home without it blowing out, make the shape of the cross over their door, and then try to keep their flame alive for as many days and weeks as possible. I guess this is the only night in Greece when it is perfectly okay to get into taxi's with an open flame
There's a whole lot that could be said about this fascinating ritual from a religious study's perspective, but I think I'll save that for another day. My way of partaking in the ceremony was to climb up Lykabittos Hill to the highest point in Athens, where tons of people were smooshed onto the landings, trying to get their candles lit. Looking down on Athens in the dark, with fireworks exploding far below and in all directions, was quite a site.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jogging in Athens #2: The University Run

One of my favorite walks/jogs in Athens runs from Lykabittos Hill down through the University to the base of Mt. Hymettos. Like the Stadium run (Jogging in Athens #1), there is approximately 2km of city walking to do before you get to the relaxing, 'outdoorsy' bits. In total, the path is roughly 5km in one direction.

Here's how it goes. Head down Lykabittos to the Hilton. Go past the hotel on Leoforos Vasileos Alexandrou - this is the street that runs between the Hilton and the Art Museum. Follow this for just a few blocks until you turn left on Euphronios St. - you'll know you're in the right spot because this is where everyone has inexplicably decided to park their cars on the sidewalk. Cross over Hymettos St. and do a little jog to the left, where you will see the entrance to the University (called the Athens Polytechnic), which has a little gaurd gate.

Go through the gate and you will have entered a magical place where people actually do exercise. There is a long stretch with nice side walks, green lawns and sports areas (i.e., a scary concrete track and rusty basketball hoops). Walk along here until the little sidewalking bit dead ends (the paved road keeps going). You will see a gravel road with a yellow barrior across it to keep out cars. This is your destination point.

Now you have entered what I consider the University 'park' area. You'll see people wandering around, walking, riding their bikes over little dirt ramps (which still give me chills and reminders of my childhood's worst skinned knee). You will also see people with their dogs, many of whom have not heard of a thing called a 'leash law.' Today I got pseudo-attacked by a lady's dog. The creature did the whole run up to you, growl, look menancing, bark, slaver, nip at your pants, repeating the whole process any time I tried to move on. The lady had another dog she was trying to hold on to so she just kept yelling at her aggressive dog to 'Ela, Ela!' (trans. 'Get over here!). So obviously this went on for a while because the dog had no interest in getting over there. I didn't get bitten, of course, but it made me a tad more wary when I went past another dude with his rottweiler sitting sphinx-like in the grass. Not on a leash.

Anyways, this woodsy area is quite large for Athens. It is mostly up-hill because it is actually part of a spur of Mt. Hymettos. There is a central gravel road and lots of dirt paths that you can explore running along beside it.

You will never be beyond yelling distance of civilization/roads, but it definitely feels like you are.

You will pass a few buildings and a place where cars can come in and get on the road. Go until the paths/center road dead end at the university buildings.

Take a right down to the road that runs by the university, turn left and keep heading up the slope. This part is a sidewalk. Once you get to where you can't go anymore, you'll see a little fence with a gate in it. Go through this and you will see a dirt road that carries on through the trees.

This will dead end at the Attiki Odos (i.e., the highway). This is where I turn around, although if you were going on to Mt. Hymettos, you would continue on under the overpass.

I like this walk/jog because it really allows you to pretend that you have left civilization behind.

I don't like this walk/jog because the incline never seems to end, although if you take the side paths you actually can find flatter ground. Besides the central gravel road, the paths come in many forms: hard packed dirt, pine needle soft, very rocky. As with any good jog in Athens, you'll catch glimpses of the Acropolis. I usually plan for the whole round-trip to take an hour and a half. It can be shorter or longer, depending on how much time you walk vs. jog and how many paths you decide to explore.

Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Random Flier

It's always interesting to see the trickle down effect of scholarship. Given that academia is often notoriously insular with no effect whatsoever on non-academia, it's nice to see scholarly ghosts in pop-culture.

A few years back a book came out called Black Athena: the Afroasiatic roots of classical civilization by Martin Bernal. It was hugely controversial and spawned a whole series of other books: Black Athena revisited, Black Athena Writes Back, Black Athen Ten Years After. And apparently now it's moved into DJ-land.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jogging in Athens #1: The Olympic Stadium

When you're living overseas one of the most effective ways to get yourself settled and feeling like you really live in a place is to start a jogging regiment. It helps you get your game back, while also making you feel like you're an active member of the community. It also helps you pretend to stay in shape when you're usually sitting on your rear in the library. So if you're interested in jogging in Greece, I'll be posting some routes here.

I like greenery, so my main jogging spots are in places where there are trees. The most fitting place to begin is the Olympic Stadium. No, you can't run on the stadium track itself, since they've got that thing locked up tight. Instead, there's a track up at the top of the stands, running along behind the seats.

It's pretty soft and cushy on the feet and miracle of miracles has the distance in meters painted along the wall. If you're taller than me and can see over said wall, you'll have a nice view of the city. Halfway along the track there is a path that runs up the next-door hill, which is covered with trees and is a pleasant place to wander about.

The main path is well-maintained and, if you choose, there are very short dirt paths that you can take to vary things up. The hill is not particularly large nor the path that long, but it is steep in places. If you follow the 'outer ring,' you'll find some decent things to look at.

There also some archaic looking pieces of exercise thingies, if you are interested in climbing ropes, hanging on rings, doing sit-ups and that sort of stuff.

Some things to keep in mind. First, because the Olympic Stadium is a tourist destination, there are actually bathrooms down below at the front of the Stadium. This will probably be the only jogging route with that luxury. Second, the track is pretty well-used, so there will always be some other people walking or jogging along it. If you go up through the trees, and you are a woman, keep your eye out. Violent crime is very rare in Greece, but for some reason a large number of men think public exposure is acceptable. Be prepared. Your best bet is to yell loudly, ridicule or confront the person. After all, their whole point is to freak women out - so be aggressive instead.

This has never happened to me before, but I've heard of two great ways for dealing with this sort of situation. If you happen to have a camera, take a picture. This upsets them, what with the 'shame culture' thing going on. As another alternative, at the Stadium a few weeks ago a teenager chased after two Associate Members with his junx hanging out. To his dismay, one of those girls turned around, chased him down the hill, grabbed him by the hair, and beat the crap out of him until he cried...a story with a happy ending! All in all, though, jogging in Greece is a pretty safe endeavor, so don't let the creepo's get you down.

The stadium is located at Vasileos Konstantinou about 2km from Evangelismos. If you are coming from Lykabittos, the easiest way is to go down the hill to where Vas. Soph. and Vas. Kontant. intersect at the Hilton. Turn right down Vas. Kontant. so that the Hilton and Art Museum are on your left. Walk for a while.

When you get to the Stadium, you will realize that every single gate is locked. For some reason that I cannot understand, all the gates that would allow the public to enjoy the shady park or the running track are closed.

Instead, take the little street (Agras) on the left of the Stadium.

When you get to the main road, you will see on your right the public buildings associated with the Stadium, and usually there is a little door that is open. Just stroll on through like you own the place, go up the slope, and there you'll be. Happy Jogging.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Greek Easter: Eating Brains. Does this make me a zombie?

So this weekend was Greek Easter, which is like a week long celebration of churchiness and family visitations, in contrast to a measly Sunday morning at home. The School threw a lamb roast in the back garden.

The roasting of the lambs started pretty early, while I was still asleep. They were skewered over the flames with electronic motors, each one staffed by a baster. I was one such baster for a brief time.

I'm quite proud of this gruesome picture.

This toothy fellow is the one I basted for a while. The gross part was when somehow his brains erupted out of the back of his skull and stuck there, perched like a revolting, oozing brain mushroom. Then I accidentally touched the nastiness with the baster brush, which I guess means I basted the lamb with its own brains.

Happy Easter, Everybody!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I've been pretty busy the last week or so. Mostly I blame this place:

Look far over to the left, underneath the statue on the mantleplace. That's about where I sit.

Yes, it's the Blegen Library. Somehow when I am in research mode, I cannot simultaneously be in blog mode. But I did get out for some fun one night.

Went over to a friend's house to experience some really gracious hospitality. Very pleasant evening.

He's got a fantastic terrace. Possibly the best there is. This was the view:

Then we moved out to Baraki again, the place where we saw the Medieval music the other night. This time it was traditional Anatolian.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ancestor Worship

This is my Great-grandma, Anna Mae Schutt, ca. 1910. It's because of her that there are three living generations of Rask women with Anne as their middle name, me included. You can also get a look at my little Grandma there, Myrtle Sirl, who was also middle-named Anne.

Katherine Anne.
Any resemblance?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

You Won’t Believe What I Did Last Night

On Friday some friends and I went to a music bar in Kolonaki, called Baraki. It’s one of those art house places – if it were 1950 there’d be some beatniks on stage with berets, reading poetry off napkins. The guy who owns the place was a gruff looking man with a long mustache  – a spot of unadorned confidence among Kolonaki snootiness. The bar has been there for years and years and they specialize in interesting, unusual music – you know, the kind you hear on NPR.

Last night the band played Medieval and Renaissance music. It was the most incongruous thing. Here we are going out on a Friday night to see a band that doesn’t go on until after 11pm, in a smoky bar – and the band sings in Latin. Think Renaissance fairs, monasteries and recorders. Fortunately, they were wearing normal musician clothes – all black.

The best thing about the group, Lyrae Cantus, was that they seemed to be having a ton of fun – you could tell they had lots of inside jokes and had been together for a long time. My favorite part was the different personalities. First there was one of the singers. Imagine a super tall dude with really broad shoulders, a bald head, and the distinctive look of a soccer hooligan – then imagine him beating a tiny drum with a mallet and singing with the most angelic expression. Then there was the actual percussionist – long ponytail, glasses, with an aged up Trustifarian look, who played his Medieval bongos with all the arm flourishes and head bobs that you’d expect from a Phish concert.

But my favorite member of the group was one of the two women. She had black Hermione Granger hair, rock-star-tight jeans, 3-inch heels and a very satisfied expression. And she was playing this:

A lute. I swear to god, she had 3-inch heels and a lute. It was frickin’ awesome.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009



I went to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist today that I found on the US Embassy list of English-speaking doctors. I went because one of my ears hurts and is big and swollen. The office was in Kolonaki and looked very old-fashioned, with wooden panelling and leather furniture and a doctor who had a snaking light on his forehead in the exact manner of a deep-sea-flashlight-monster-fish. He said he didn't see anything wrong with me (even though my ear is swollen!), told me I had allergies, and prescribed me an antihistamine. And then charged me 100 euros and wouldn't take a credit card. Thanks for nothing, dude.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Tar Tumulus at Belevi, Turkey

This is what happens when you climb through a huge tumulus in the dark and you think the dirt you're touching is just dirt, but it turns out a few years back some people thought it was a good place to burn tires, so in reality you are climbing through tar.

And then the bus driver doesn't want you to get on the bus and covers your seat with newspaper as if you weren't house-trained, and your clothes won't get clean and they feel like they have a scum of fat on them, and when you take a shower it turns out that the tar actually went through your multiple layers of clothing (including longjohns) and needs to be scrubbed off your flesh, and it soaked through your shoes which you can no longer wear and the the soles of your feet are black. And no matter how many times you wash your hands and no matter how many wet naps you uses, your palms are still covered in tar for a few days.

Night on the town

Last night Julia, Hüseyin and I went to see the band featured here:

They were called MAHALA RAI BANDA and they played at the Half-Note Jazz Club in Athens, a joint down by the Olympeion. It was a lot of fun. There was a little old man who played a mean tuba and a singer in a bright-blue sequined shirt. There was a skeezy trombone player who was doing the salsa hips while he played and kept trying to work his slide out in front of the other musicians. The audience was pretty psyched and there was much stamping and clapping and bravo-ing. All in all, a nice night out.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

36 Things for Future Regular Members

Okay, this post is for next year’s Regular Members. Feel free to skip reading this if you do not fit that qualification. Although the American School generally sends out suggestions for what to bring and what to consider, we came up with a few things to add to that. Hopefully this will make your lives a little easier when you get to Athens. Make sure to consider and/or bring the following:

1) The back-up discs for your computer. This is crucial. If something goes wrong and you don’t have your Windows Vista or Microsoft Office discs, or Mac whatevers, then you can end up in big trouble. And I guarantee that if you don't bring those discs, your computer will crash.

2) If you have a warranty on your computer, you should call the company to let them know you will be overseas for a year. This is also pretty important, since it affects whether or not you can get computer help while you are in Greece.

3) External hard drive. Apparently these things are really small these days. You can buy them in Greece of course, but electronics always tend to be cheaper in the States. This will be important once you start taking tons of pictures. Incidentally, if you do not plan on taking your laptop on the trips, you may want to have extra memory cards. I always brought my laptop because we actually got internet more often than you would expect. Oh yea, and duh, a jump drive is absolutely necessary. And don't forget the proper cables for your camera to transfer pics.

4) Electricity – Be aware that no matter what voltage converters you bring (and you should bring one - these are different from plug adapters, which you should also bring), all your batteries will show a significant drop in use life. That is, they will never really charge up to their full capacity again. This means that for laptops, it might be a good idea to get one of those 6-9 hour batteries, with the knowledge that you will probably get half that when you are here. A laptop that lasts for more than 45 minutes comes in really handy when you are on the bus all the time and want something to do. PS. If you do not plan on bringing your laptop on trips, make sure you have the plugs to charge your i-Pod from the wall, not just from the computer. PPS. You will want to buy a new Greek plug to run from the wall to the box-adapter thing on your computer power cord. This is because a lot of people have three-pronged (grounded) plugs and a lot of adapters/converters are two-pronged. Just take your cable down to an electronics store and they will find the right cord for you. Of course, when you go back home for Christmas, make sure you switch back to the American version.

5) Don’t bother bringing over hair dryers or electric razors because they will explode. You can buy really cheap ones in the electronics district near Syntagma.

6) When you get here, you should buy a surge protector/power strip for your electronics. This is not a big deal in the States, but electricity surges happen a lot more frequently here. You can buy them at a store just down from the School.

7) Don’t come over without international health insurance or a year’s supply of your difficult-to-find prescription drugs (which you should NOT check in your luggage, as they will get stolen).

8) Ear buds. And I don’t mean those old-fashioned i-Pod ear buds. I mean the kind that actually go inside your ear. These things are great because a) they release NO sound and thus do not irritate everyone else on the bus by making them listen to your music all the time, b) you don’t have to turn up your music so loud to block out the endless chatter of people on the bus who are never silent, and c) they don’t fall out when you go jogging on Lykabittos.

9) Ear Plugs. Crucial when a) you are sleeping in hotel rooms with people who snore, get up at 5am, or stay up all night, b) you need to hand them out to your roommates because YOU snore, c) when people won’t shut-the-eff-up on the bus during nap time, d) you need to sleep on the plane, or e) the Loring garden dude turns the leaf blower on at 7am under your window.

10) Neck pillow. Really, really important to have a good one of these for planes but especially the hours on the bus. You will never get enough sleep and will constantly be trying to doze on the bus. I recommend the blow-up kind that has a soft pillow-case-cover on it. I also had a little eye patch thing, so that I could put in my ear plugs, block out the light, and have a pillow for sleeping on those days when we had to be on the bus at some outrageous time like 6:45am.

This is how we spent a lot of our time on the bus.

11) Lots of people would recommend having a clipboard since it is nice to have a hard surface for taking notes when you are on site. I just used thicker spiral notebooks, which worked for me.

12) Water-proof shoes/hiking boots. I made it the whole year through with Chuck Taylors and ‘water-proof’ Nikes, since I am sort of anti-hiking-boots. I think I have changed my mind, however. So if you can, get a pair of light hiking boots that are water-proof. If you have to spray them to make them water-proof, then bring the spray with you, since it will wear out halfway through the year and you will have wet feet for 10 hour days in the field.

13) Two pairs of walking shoes. If something bad happens to one, then you always have another. I brought two pairs of tennis shoes on every trip.

14) Rain Gear. Some people on the trip brought ponchos and felt that they were great. I myself got soft-shell rain gear on the advice of Katie Swinford. It meant I had to carry it around a lot (although I mostly left it on the bus), but on those occasions when it was pouring, I was very grateful to have it. Windbreakers are pretty nice, too.

I promise that's a backpack under there.

15) Hot sauce. Greek food is, above everything else, non-spicy. You will suddenly find yourself adding a ton of salt and pepper to everything you eat. So if you like to have even a little bit of zing to your food, bring hot pepper, hot sauces, soy sauce, whatever.

16) Contact solution. Mega-expensive so bring the big bottles and a small travel size which you can refill before you go on each trip.

17) Underwear. Lots of it. More than you think you will need. Dudes should bring loads of boxers because I am told that the Greek boxer shorts are cut differently and are uncomfortable.

18) Thermal Underwear/Longjohns. I wore my thermal underwear like everyday for about three months. When you are on site for hours at a time and its 45 degrees outside, you end up getting cold, quick. Loring Hall is also a freezer because the heat is only turned on for a short while at bed time and in the morning. There is nothing worse than never EVER feeling like you can warm up. I would suggest a few pairs of Thermal outfits because, let me tell you, it sucks going on a two week trip with no chance of doing laundry and only one pair of longjohns.

19) Warm Gear. Gloves, hats, scarves, a warm coat. We were wearing scarves on Trip 1 because it was in northern Greece. Also a variety of winter clothes, because you will get very, very tired of seeing the same sweatshirt. I have three hoodies, in addition to the standard array of Target long sleeve shirts/sweaters. One Regular Member here advises not bringing a big winter coat and wearing layers instead, but I disagree with him because I get cold and it’s my blog so there.

20) Bathing suit. Self-explanatory. But you’ll also need to bring it if you want to go in a Turkish bath, just to avoid a lot of awkwardness.

21) If you are into that, American liquor. I’m told its impossible to find a good bourbon over here.

22) UNO. Also crucial. Any other game you like is a good, too, although keep in mind that Loring has several decks of cards, Taboo, and a variety of other table games.

23) Movies and books on tape. I loaded my i-Pod with these, as in, I’ve got over 15 audio books (including most of the Harry Potters for those times when I need a little soul food). I also came over with 40+ movies on my i-Pod. TV shows are good to have because you can’t watch most of the US Interweb video channels due to international streaming rights. This means no Netflix-Insta-Watch, no Hulu, etc. Luckily one person here brought over the complete Battlestar Galatica, which ended up seducing half the occupants of Loring Hall. There was also a True Blood fest, the Wire got passed from hand to hand, Mad Men was pretty hot, etc. In fact, we thought (when it was too late) that it would have been a really good idea right at the beginning to have everyone pitch in 5 bucks for an external hard drive; let everyone dump their movies on it and keep it permanently in the TV room. It could have acted as a video library so that people could borrow whatever they wanted, WHENEVER they wanted. But we never got around to that.

24) American football. You can’t buy them over here, and come Thanksgiving you’ll really want to have one. Keep in mind that the playing fields are in short supply and are short on grassiness. You may want to bring Frisbees or whatever sporting goods you are into. (Note: If anyone has a strong itch for American sports that needs to be scratched, including NFL, NBA, MLB and NCAA, you can watch these online through http://atdhe.net/ or www.justin.tv. The internet reception in Loring is very good, so accessing these sites is generally quite easy. The games broadcast on www.justin.tv are sometimes shut down, but they always work on http://atdhe.net/.)

25) Skype. Obviously you can download this program whenever, but you might as well get it working before you come over. For those who do not know what Skype is, it will become the most important program that you will have on your computer. It allows you to video-call your family for free. It also allows you to call any phone (either land-line, cell, or 1-800) in the States for 2 cents a minute. So make sure your laptop has a webcam/microphone in it or bring one along. There is no point whatsoever in buying phone cards. You'll end up wasting TONS of money and having to deal with a lot of trouble and awkwardness (e.g. wandering the streets looking for a pay phone, inability to make phone cards work, talking to your loved one on the phone in the hotel lobby). There’s also Ja-Jah, which I never used but some people highly recommend.

26) Incidentally, you will want to buy a cheap cell phone when you get here and get a phone number. You won’t really use it for making phone calls (due to the seriously OUTRAGEOUS price-per-minute), but you will definitely text the other people on the trip ALL the time and will make occasional calls when you get lost on a mountain top. Once you are here, go down the big main street in Kolonaki and you will find lots of phone stores. The best bet is to get a pay-as-you-go card. Don’t flip out because your phone only talks to you in Greek. Ask the nice people at the store to write down instructions for changing your phone to English – otherwise you will pay money for a phone that you will never be able to figure out how to use. Most people will toss the phones when they leave Greece, so we may be able to get some people to donate their phones to next year’s students. I'll look into it but don't count on it. I brought my Razor with me from the States and just switched out the SIM card. If you don’t know what a SIM card is, well, you’re in trouble. You should only bring your phone over if you have verified with your phone company that it works overseas and that the SIM PIN is unlocked. For some reason, every year the Regular Members have to re-figure this phone crap out for themselves, but there is no point in reinventing the wheel.

27) Compass. Not super important. Denver’s got one, but I really wish I’d brought one of my own.

28) Flash light. You can live without this, but it is really nice to have one anyways and to remember to keep it in your backpack. And no, a crappy pen light or key chain flash light will not really do you any good.

29) Dress up clothes. The School recommends bringing one or two fancy outfits for lectures and garden parties. This is nowhere near enough. Once the lecture circuit starts up, you will be going to at least one lecture a week (until you are so overworked that you will just give up and start skipping them all). You do not want to wear the same outfit that many times, trust me. So make sure you go the mix-and-match route that Stacey-and-Clinton (from What Not to Wear) swear by.

The dudes always seemed to be in a tiff because they didn’t bring both brown and black dress shoes, so that’s something to consider. Make sure to bring more than one dress shirt and ca. 3 ties. Girls may want to have more than one dress for the more formal occasions like Thanksgiving and the Open Meetings. Apparently the social life of the American School has gotten much more formal than it used to be, so you need to be prepared. Be forewarned that our washer/dryer is brutal and may destroy your clothes.

30) Aleve/Midol/Your Pain Killer of Choice. Nyquil Capsules. Travel tissues (majorly necessary since on some of the trips your only bathroom breaks will be in olive groves – girls need to plan accordingly and be prepared from some major discomfort and awkwardness, at least until you get over it and don’t care anymore).

31) Your favorite snacks. It’s nice to have a taste of home, e.g. peanut butter, which you can buy here but is “roughly the cost of gold.” If you want care packages, DO NOT allow your family to send them Express, FedEx, UPS, etc. Express doesn’t work in Greece, I promise. Once the package leaves the US border, it travels by Greek time. No amount of over-nighting-fee will change that. Packages sent by FedEx/UPS will get stuck in Customs, which means you have to go to the airport to pick it up and will have to deal with extortion to get it out. And I’m not exaggerating. As an example, a girl this year had her mom send an external hard drive with some important files on it. Customs would not let it though unless she paid 200 Euros. That was not a typo. When she said she wasn’t going to pay and they should send the package back to the US, she was told that there was a 50 Euro charge to send it back. So send packages through the US Postal Service. (Note: If you want to send packages home, keep in mind that going to the Greek post office is like going to the DMV. Take your passport and go instead to the post office in Syntagma Square on Sunday morning - you'll be in and out in 5 minutes.)

32) Pillow. This is very important, because the pillows here are sad. I brought my own pillow and it made a big difference. When I came back after Christmas, though, I also brought my down-comforter which I was able to skwoosh to the size of a cereal box. It really changed my life, since the beds here are older. What I did is this: I put the comforter that they gave me UNDER my sheet to act as a mattress pad, then had a sheet and my own softy comforter, and my own pillow, and the pillow they gave me to act as my body pillow. Sure, I took it to extremes, but I would bet 100 bucks I have the most comfortable bed in Loring Hall, if not the entire American School. For me it was vital to create my own little nest, since it's very difficult to get privacy and quite-time on the Regular Year.

33) DO NOT BRING the ‘recommended’ reading material like Camp, Hurwitt, etc. Don’t do it, don’t do it, you’ll regret it I promise! There is a library here and you will just waste room in your bag that could be taken up by a soft beloved pillow. If you are a Herodotus or Thucydides freak and you want to bring copies, just bring a Penguin and you’ll be fine. We’ve got Loebs in the living room and the full collection of texts and commentaries in the library. Regular People shouldn’t bother lugging them over. All the 'recommended' reading books are on reserve in the library.

34) Travel guide? Sure, the Blue Guide is useful to some extent. Some people really like Goette’s guidebook. Otherwise, there’s a pretty extensive collection of Lonely Planets et al. in the living room, including guides for commonly visited countries like Turkey and Italy. BTW, if you borrow one, be sure to bring it back.

35) If anybody happens to be high tech, you may want to bring the cables that allow you to attach your laptop to the TV. Since most people will be bringing their movies in digital format, this is pretty important. Also, the DVD player is totally wonky and skips - I would suggest pitching in 2 Euros each and buying a new DVD player when you guys get here.

36) Patience. And a lot of it.

Disclaimer: This list was compiled by a group of several people and any inaccuracies are their fault entirely, of course. This post also has more to do with the particular situation of being a Regular Member visiting all parts of Greece rather than just being a long-term resident in Athens, where people have the luxury of free time to go searching for favorite brands of peanut butter; in other words, these suggestions may not be useful for non-Regular Members at this particular institution. Thanks.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Happy Anniversary to the ASCSA Regular Member Class of 1959!

It was the year that the Twilight Series debuted on TV and Barbie’s face was first revealed to the public. Eisenhower was president. Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th States of the Union. Two monkeys went into space, managing safely to return to Earth. It was in July that Charles Ovnand and Dale Buis were the first Americans to be killed in the Vietnam ‘Conflict.’ The Dalai Lama fled Tibet on the same day that Busch Gardens opened its doors in Florida. On February 3rd, Buddy Holly died.

It was 1959. In the autumn of that year, a group of graduate students from all over the United States converged in Athens, Greece, arriving by plane and by boat. They came together in the suburb of Kolonaki, looking not much different than it does today (but without quite as much glamour). They met at the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, an institution in the midst of a financial crisis, filled with an extraordinary number of driven individuals, and nevertheless possessed of a sense of immortality and tradition. Institutionally and personally the memories of World War II were strong; many of the members in 1959 had acted as Allied Intelligence officers because of their knowledge of the Greek countryside. There was more than one person at the School who could estimate troop numbers and lay explosives under bridges, or conversely, had spent time in Nazi concentration camps. Greece itself was still recovering from the shock of the Civil War, with military rule still clamping down whole regions of the country.

The students who arrived that autumn were the 1959-60 Regular Year Members. General consensus reveals that no year’s students are the same, some are less than stellar, less than pleasant, or the opposite entirely. The group’s measure seems to be determined by the luck of the draw. But no one denies that the ’59-’60 Members were anything less than extraordinary. It seems that altogether that year produced a very special batch of Regular Members, including none other than Ron Stroud, T. Leslie Shear, Jr. and his wife Ione Mylonas (as in daughter of George), William and Sandra Wyatt, Patricia Lawrence, Theodora Stillwell (later MacKay), Pierre MacKay, etc.

This year it is the 50th anniversary of that Regular Year, so I have decided to interview Pierre MacKay and Ron Stroud to find out what that year was like. I’ll be posting excerpts of Pierre’s interview over the next week or so, as I transcribe them. So stay tuned for a little ASCSA history.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Step Off, Steps of Ancient Theatres in Turkey

Turkey has a lot of ancient sites. And what it probably has more of than anything else, is steps. I feel like the only things I saw the whole time were ancient steps - steps of a stadium, steps of a bouleuterion, steps carved into bedrock. Most abundant, of course, were the steps of theatres. I am dreaming steps.

The Turkey Trip has been going since the 1980s. Of course, long before then it had been a tradition for Regular Members to take off for foreign parts as soon as the seminars ended, often travelling in groups. John Camp didn't lead the first 'Optional Trip' to Turkey, but he took it up just a year or two after. That was around 1984-5-6. Here it is, 2009. That's a lot of Turkey trips. While we were recently there for 2 weeks, we covered over 4,000 km. If you do the math, you will see that the peeps of the American School of Classical Studies (at Athens) have covered an enormous amount of ground in that particular country.

And they have come across a lot of theatres. Ionia, Caria, etc. are marked by a large number of cities founded in the Hellenistic period, and all of those cities had to have a place for the magic of the stage. What's horrible is that they all have started to blend together in my memory. I just remember steps and steps and steps. Here's a sample of what we saw:

The well-preserved theatre of Priene.

The wet theatre of Magnesia-on-Meander.

The gigantic theatre at Ephesos.

The theatre seats at Alinda, uprooted by olive trees.


The theatre at Miletus, right before it filled up with about 100 teenage boys on a field trip.

The super-tall theatre at Pergamon.

The overgrown theatre at Notion.

Jennifer Neils shows off the theatre at the Asklepion of Pergamon.

And of course, best of all, take a look at the theatre of Iasos. Almost nothing remains, but the shape of the structure, cut into the hill, is entirely clear. Look to the cows.

I'm getting twitchy just thinking about it. That's a lot of ancient theatres.