Athens

Apr. 1st, 2014 11:01 pm
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
So today I had lunch sitting on a bench surrounded by pruned-back rose bushes in the grounds of the French School at Athens, sun shining on my back. A friendly white cat, a timid marmalade cat, and a grumpy-looking tortoise who rapidly stumped off into the bushes were also enjoying the sunlight, alongside several white butterflies and at least one Red Admiral.

I went through five books to look for relevant research material and take notes over the course of four hours, and then later went for a walk in Plaka, around to the Philopappos monument, showing the new guy visiting the Institute the best place to have a walk away from the traffic.

This chapter annoys me at present.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Before, or just upon, entering the sanctuary of Asklepios, it was probably customary to have a ritual wash: to pour water over one's head and shoulders as a gesture towards purification. There is neither fountain nor well by the entrance to the sanctuary, so perhaps this was not done here - or perhaps our example, Alexandros, would have found a pithos filled with water and a dipper with which to pour it out over his head.

Whether he (and his slave, who is still carrying the cock in a basket) washes here or not, whether he's still sweaty-faced or whether he feels the breeze cold on his freshly-wet head and beard, he's faced with the rear of the temple of Asklepios. We don't know, at this remove, how it was decorated: whether there were wooden dedicatory pinakes or cloth banners or pleasantly-scented wreathes or wall-paintings or a wax board or piece of slate chalked with a list of days and times during which the iereus (who held the priesthood for life) or his underling, the zakoros (who was required to be an Athenian citizen) would be present to oversee private sacrifices. At this remove, we don't know. Nor do we know where the inventory lists, which listed the dedications previously displayed inside the temple (but removed at intervals to make way for new ones), would have stood: perhaps under one of the stoas.

Alexandros goes either right or left around the temple, perhaps going in under one of the stoas to get out of direct sun. Probably there are a handful of other people present, admiring the dedications or the votive statues (including one of Herodes Atticus and his daughter) or just hanging out having a conversation. Perhaps he knows one or two of them and joins in. Perhaps one of them is the zakoros, or the iereus, with a gathering of friends discussing regimen and dreams from the god. Perhaps Alexandros wanders around for a bit, admiring the dedications inside the temple, or perhaps he goes straight to the temple personnel to make his sacrifice and discuss incubating within the sanctuary.

Perhaps there are no sacrifice-overseeing personnel there, and he has to send his slave or bribe one of the sanctuary's slaves into running a message to them at home inquiring when they might actually be present, who knows?

So say he makes his sacrifice - giving the cock to the temple's throat-cutting slave to kill over the alter while the priest makes a prayer - and makes his arrangements to incubate, discussing what kind of monetary offering he should give the god in order to have a chance of healing dreams. Maybe he makes the arrangements for that night, or maybe he arranges to come back. If it's for that night, maybe he sends his slave home with the leftover sacrificial chicken for his wife and hangs out in the sanctuary until it is time for the purificatory ceremony. Maybe there is singing of praise to the god. Maybe he hears choirs performing in the Theatre of Dionysos or the Odeion, or up at the Parthenon. Maybe he hears a minor procession go by. Maybe he smells incense or sweet flowers from ceremonies, or maybe the air is thick with the smell of offal and burned meat and someone vomiting from a purge prescribed by a doctor or by the god. Maybe he and a couple of other incubants wash in water from the sacred well and make offerings of wheatcakes and fruit and other appropriate things before the priest sends them to lie on a couch either inside the temple or somewhere within the sanctuary enclosure, presumably after dark. All of Alexandros' somatic attention is on the possibility of relief from his ongoing complaint. The lights are doused, and the priest enjoins the incubants and their slaves to keep silent.

And then, presumably, they sleep.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
I try not to think about the future, because it depresses me - on a personal level, and on an ecological one. But it turns out that being away from home gives me plenty of time to think. And it's paralysing.

I'll try to do less thinking about me, and more about ancient Greece.




Yesterday I walked up to the Asklepieion on the South Slope of the Athenian acropolis and tried to imaginatively reconstruct as much as possible what an ancient visitor might have felt. My thesis is concerned with experience, and that means striving as much as possible to reconstruct whole worlds.

So let's take as our example a citizen man of Athens of the mid-2nd-century CE, but not a Roman citizen; a man in the prime of his life, perhaps thirty, married in the last few years. Someone who owns a small bit of farmland but rents it out, whose father apprenticed him to an artisan and who is now a fairly respectable carpenter or potter or something of that sort, who has some education but (unlike Lucian of Samosata) didn't throw over a career as an artisan to make one as an orator and satirist. A man who participates in the duties of a citizen but not at the highest level, who has served as a juror and maybe for a term as a very minor magistrate and/or priest in his deme, who pays his taxes and whose family probably turned out to cheer the emperor Hadrian when he was a child. He has apprentices and owns at least one male slave and more than one female slave for his household; he is prosperous enough to afford to pay doctors and traditional enough to use the amulets and remedies that Lucian satirises in [dialogue whose name I cannot remember but will look up on Monday].

Let us assume he lives on the far side of the agora from the acropolis. Let us further assume that recently he has been much troubled with his digestion and, although having consulted with a doctor and used magical remedies, he has a dream which he interprets to mean he should supplicate the god Asklepios. So let's say he gets up one day and sets out to walk up to the sanctuary, perhaps in company with a friend or neighbour, and attended by his male slave, to sacrifice a cock to Asklepios and arrange to spend the night in the sanctuary as an incubant.

First he must walk across the agora. (Another image.) Let us suggest he lives near the Kerameikos. So he will walk up along the Panathenaic Way, passing the boundary stones of the agora, with the acropolis and the rock of the Areopagus always looming up ahead. It is the middle of the 2nd century CE, so the old agora is no longer quite so solidly the commercial heart of the city. Many shops are now to be found in the Roman agora instead, but the Classical agora is still fairly full of business: fishmongers, hawkers of dubiously edible foodstuffs, greengrocers, buskers, men selling meat from the public sacrifices and men selling live animals for sacrifice - roosters and pigeons in wicker cages; perhaps a few pigs or a handful of goats or sheep roped in a string for the big spenders - sellers of wheatcakes and flour and unmilled grain; the smell of urine and offal and rotten fruit and maybe worse things wafting from the Great Drain; a whiff of smoke and burning meat from a sacrifice at the Altar of the Twelve Gods, perhaps, or one from a private sacrifice at the Altar of Ares beside the Panathenaic Way; a clamour from metalworkers with workshops in the lee of the Hephaisteion; an orator or a philosopher who's attracted a crowd or boys practising their rhetoric under the stoas; stonemasons working on repairs or new construction; dedicatory statues painted all sorts of colours; perhaps a funerary procession going by or a Roman citizen of senatorial rank surrounded by clients and slaves clearing a path or market officials going around inspecting permits or a doctor disputing with a rival over who is best at vivisecting a live monkey.

So our Athenian citizen man - let's call him Alexandros, for the sake of hanging a name on him - sends his slave to buy and carry the cock, and carries on up the Panathenaic Way to the acropolis proper, past the Stoa of Attalos and the Library of Pantainos (probably filled with students of the philosophical schools) and the fountain house and the road to the Roman agora. He goes up the Panathenaic Way under the shadow of the Propylaia, where smoke from the sacrificial altars drifts in the air with the smell of burning meat, and incense or myrrh. Perhaps there is yellow-flowered broom growing in the cracks of the acropolis rock, or white deadnettle or red poppy growing where the road joins a temple wall. Perhaps there is the odd olive tree or laurel or fragrant bay. Anyway, Alexandros doesn't go up to the top of the acropolis rock (plan; Travlos' plan), where the temples of Athena and Artemis are, and the Erechtheion, but he follows the path (the Peripatos) that leads around to the south side of the acropolis slope, under the walls of the temple of Athena Nike and the sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia, behind the top tiers of the fairly new Odeion of Herodes Atticus, past a temple of Isis and a temple of Themis and a fountain house, with the top part of the Stoa of Eumenes on his right and the top tiers of the Theatre of Dionysos ahead, until he comes to the west end of the sanctuary of Asklepios, on the far side of the acropolis from the agora. From here Alexandros can look south to the Piraeus, down past the remains of the Long Walls and see Aegina on a clear day, and beyond the straits of Salamis, and the coming and going of squat merchant ships and lean galleys of the Roman fleet from the harbour.

The Asklepieion is a small sanctuary. Its long axis runs west to east. The temple faces east, with the altar in front of it: built up against the acropolis rock is a stoa of the Doric order, now more than three centuries old, and backing on to the Peripatos is the rear wall of a stoa of the Corinthian order, perhaps about a hundred years old now and only recently remodelled. The east end of the Doric stoa incorporates access to a well cut into the acropolis rock. There is a very modest monumental entrance, possibly including wooden elements, at the southwest corner.

So when Alexandros goes through this entryway... that's when the important bit starts, the bit about which I have the least information.

To be continued in part two.
hawkwing_lb: (Aveline is not amused)
If I'm more scattered and less communicative than usual - or just as scattered and more communicative - I blame being in Athens. Athens is scattering.

This morning I breakfasted on microwave porridge brought from home and marched the fifteen or twenty minutes it takes up (one of) the hill(s) to l'ÉFA, the French School at Athens, picking up a zambontyropita and a couple of mini chocolate croissants for lunch on the way. And passing three paramilitary cops - green fatigues, black berets - standing on a corner staring at passers-by with really hard eyes.

At l'ÉFA I was welcomed once again very graciously to their gorgeous library - Salle A is the original 19th-century article, all old dark wood and moveable ladders and old-fashioned oval reading tables - where, from sometime before 1100 to sometime around 1500, I wrote over 1000 words on my thesis and took some 400 words of notes not directly related to those 1000 words.

Now if only I can do that every day!

Then I came back and messed around instead of working on a review. Went for a shuffle-run in the park; managed to go for 90 seconds, approximately. Better than nothing, right? I can try again tomorrow.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
I didn't miss the windows rattling while fighter jets buzzed the city, though. Even though I couldn't see them.

It being a national holiday, I stuck close to home until mid-afternoon, since all the archaeological sites and libraries would be closed anyway. But eventually I went down to Plaka, and had a kebab and some frozen yoghurt, and walked up around the Roman agora and back down to the square at Monastiraki, where an African drum band of some description was playing. Recorded drum music never quite captures the bass tremor, the reverberation of beat in one's diaphragm. The guys playing were so obviously having fun, and I wanted to dance really badly - but no one else was dancing.

So I came home and went out for a run - I lie, it was more of a shuffle - for the count of one hundred in the park. My wind is so gone. But if I try to do that every couple of days, it'll get easier.

Now, I suppose, I should work on this review. Since I'm supposed to be dedicating the rest of the week to research...
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
I need to make a plan for the next and possibly final thesis chapter. In order to do that, I should sum up what I have already done, and restate the goal of my research.

So the question I am trying to answer is "What did the ancient Greek person experience at a sanctuary of Asklepios? What did they experience in religious healing?" We can break down this question around the following axes:

- what is the built and natural landscape of the sanctuaries of Asklepios in our case studies
- how did people perceive and use them: ie, sensory dimension, theories of perception, practice, experiencing place, movement, landscape
- what is the social landscape of the sanctuaries of Asklepios: ie, who went there, why, what did they do there, what sort of social intercourse took place, how does it relate to other kinds of interactions with healing practices in antiquity
- what is involved in religious healing itself: ie compare modern and ancient material, look for ways to using modern comparative material to illuminate ways ancient people may have used or experienced or understood religious healing in antiquity
- combined with social and perceptional questions as well is the issue of what the ancient Greek person experienced in sickness, and how we should understand sickness and health in the ancient world: the context for religious healing


So I have good material for the first bulletpoint, the theory bulletpoint, and the comparative bulletpoint. And I have inadequate but decent attempted hacks at the idea of sickness and health, which I can fix in draft. So what I really need to focus on is the social world of the sanctuary: in particular the social intercourse and interactions, who was there, why, relationship to professional medicine. So I need to dig up everything on Aelius Aristides, everything on Greek public physicians, everything about how medical doctors interacted with each other and their patients... other things as they occur to me.

Aelius Aristides is our one source from inside a sanctuary. Also need focus on Galen, medical training at Pergamon? Public physicians. Inscriptions. Herodas's 4th mime again. Lucian?

Okay. I think that's an outline of a plan. Time to hit the library catalogue and make lists.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
And cranky, because the common area of the institute has been taken over by a posse of smokers, leaving me to huddle in my bedroom and grow increasingly annoyed every time I have to brave the lingering fug to go to the kitchen or the bathroom. I thought we had a bloody no-smoking-indoors policy, not an "it's okay if you blow it out the window every so often" one.

But if the AD doesn't seem to mind, what the hell can I do about it?

Anyway. Athens. It's warm during the day and chilly at night, which is about normal for March, and which means I should've packed more than one jumper and more than one pair of trousers, but I'll survive. Finally crawled out of bed this noon after a broken night's sleep (I missed my down-stuffed duvet, even if I did bring my pillow, and a damn good thing I brought it, too) (I also miss my bed, which even with its bockety mattress offers more back support and less narrowness than this one) (yes, I am spoiled and like my creature comforts and have used too many brackets) and headed out to Plaka to get lunch and wander into the agora.

Was packed. Seems like everyone in Athens was down in the flea market this spring Sunday.

Every time I come here, I find something new in the agora. Not that it is a new bit of recently-uncovered archaeology, no: just that each time I see something I hadn't seen before, or notice it in a new light. Today, with all the spring flowers blooming and common and rare swallowtail butterflies chasing each other through the air, it was the Altar of the Twelve Gods, or the corner of it that is as much as can be seen since the establishment of the Athens-Piraeus railway in the 1890s; and the foundation-stones of the Arsenal in the lee of the Hephaisteion.

It is beautiful, and I cannot think why my mood now is so sour.

Perhaps I am cranky because I am tired. I will feel better once I start spending my days in the library of the École Francais, and start making noticeable progress again, I am sure.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Soon I shall go to find a taxi for the airport.

It is hot today. Last night in the attic room, it proved almost too hot to sleep. I finally dropped off around 0500. In consequence of that, or perhaps of my very odd dreams, or perhaps of the odd sense of failure I have at going home, I find myself something depressed. Ah, well. Such is life.

Peaches

Jun. 8th, 2013 08:12 pm
hawkwing_lb: (Bear CM beyond limit the of their bond a)
I will miss peaches after Tuesday. They are sweet and juicy and taste like summer, like nothing in Ireland: ripeness flooding the tongue, rich and yellow and stinging on a cut lip.

Yesterday, I went out for a walk. The sky had clouded over grey and threatened rain: there was a pleasant coolness about, and in consequence I headed up to the acropolis. But no sooner had I reached the Place Of No Shade (big, white, treeless, no, it has no shade), did the sun come out. I refused to be cheated of my walk, and so, in consequence, I ended up slightly enpinkened last night.

Hey, back home rain means no need to wear sun cream all day. How was I to know it was all a fakeout, here?

But at least I'm not one of lobster brigade. It's already fading to tan.

I spent today, with the exception of a brief trip out to get more protein, working on a powerpoint and some supplemental information for my conference paper. Wrestling with this for hours - with something that will take twenty minutes to give, with a small list of extra information probably no one will even read - it occurs to me how much hard work and effort go into making things look easy and effortless. I thought I knew this already: but not, it turns out, quite viscerally enough.

Tangentially related: I am going home on Tuesday. I am going home because I do not have enough cope - nor, to be entirely honest, enough cash - to put stage two of the Greek travel plan - have fun and a holiday - into action. I now have forty euro to get home on, or a little less. Grant me no disasters, O Hermes, for it is as yet twelve days until I get paid, unless the freelance cheque comes promptly on Monday.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
I appear to like sleep. Judging by how much of it I do, anyway. When I finally rose today it was noon. I swear, I meant to get up earlier, but when I was lying there it just didn't seem nearly as important...

The metro from Viktoria was disgustingly packed - I will never feel comfortable squashed against strangers - but fortunately I was changing at Omonia for Akropoli, so it was only one stop. Went to the Tourist Info place to pick up a map and a timetable for the buses to Nauplio, and met there one tiny tabby cat, who had figured out a trick for tiny cats to open automatic doors. It was friendly enough to permit skritches - and yes, I'm missing my kittens. I'm even more of a sucker for strange cats than usual.

Made use of my free entry card to cut up the south slope of the acropolis and down through the agora to reach the Kerameikos. I was hoping to see a tortoise at some point, but no joy there. Instead I had a brief glimpse of a bird I had never seen before: brown head, black and white banded wings, with a thin pointy beak.

Wandered around for a bit, finally getting to proper grips with the layout of the Dipylon Gate and the Tomb of the Lakedaimonians, before heading to Yogolicious for yoghurt lunch. Now I must attempt to work on the conference paper - and not scratch my itchy bits to death, goddamn flies.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Having spent the weekend - bar laundry and midnight bursts of conference paper productivity - sitting on my arse watching videos* and reading non-SFF books, today I set out to go walking.

Despite having visited Athens lo these several times, I'd never been properly walkabout on the hill of the Pnyx - also, and more cartographically known, as the Hill of the Muses. So, after stopping off for a frozen yoghurt lunch at Yogolicious, I walked around by Thisseio and up to the place of the assembly - and from there I set off to explore the Hill of the Muses more thoroughly.

There were no unsociable tortoises today. Instead, churring pigeons rustling in dry pine and leaflitter, and the sound of drums from the Greek Dance Theatre. It is a surprisingly long walk from the Pnyx to the Philoppapou monument - erected by a king of Commagene and benefactor of the Athenians in the Roman period - at least by the route I took. As one of the archaeological parks of Athens, the Hill of the Muses is grown with pines and trailed about with pathways. I went down and along by the remains of the Koile road - the road that in antiquity led through the deme of Koile and down to the Piraeus along the long walls - and up to the Philoppapou monument. There are excellent views from up there: a whole new angle on the acropolis.

To describe it beggars my abilities, you know. The vasty spread of Athenian metropolitan sprawl, reinforced concrete in shades of white and grey, rolling out from the centre to the mountains and the sea - but at the centre?

The centre remains a monument to the idea of Athens, that classical city-state: from the top of the Hill of the Muses you can see that there are three hills of Athens - Lykavittos, the Acropolis, the hill of the Muses itself. In the low ground between the Hill of the Muses and the Acropolis lies the agora, that jumble of broken stone: from the Philoppapou monument the Acropolis with its ongoing, much-debated reconstructions dominates the entire central aspect of the city, drawing every eye.

In antiquity - even at the end of the 19th century - the land now covered in concrete would have been olive groves and vineyards and land under the plough. Now all we have of the likeness of ancient Athens are her hills - but above the pines on the Hill of the Muses, above where the Macedonian walls closed off the approach to the city, looking across at the back of Herodius Atticus' Odeon on the south slope of the Acropolis, the past still seems close enough to touch.

I walked back via the eastern side of the Acropolis, taking a moment to slip on the too-well-trod (and consequently smooth as glass) promontory of the Areopagus, and passing by a flautist and some listening cats, made my way to the restaurant Eucharis, where I ate lovely chicken fillet grilled, and then took the metro home and sort of wobbled sideways onto this couch, where I have remained ever since.


*Let me take this opportunity to mention how very odd it was, having watched all five The Fast and the Furious films, which provide a diverse cast of compelling characters, to then watch the first episode of Defiance. The post-alien-invasion future of the American Mississippi is only 1% black.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Another morning of sleeping through my alarm. Shower and breakfast before noon: strawberries and Greek yoghurt. Then off to the École Francaise d'Athenes to renew ma carte de lecteur and settle in for two hours' reading of Gere's Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism. I really need to think more thoroughly about my conference paper's goals: it is easy enough to point out elements of "Minoan" symbology in two SFnal works, particularly when both works make explicit reference to "Minoans," but interrogating why and pointing out the evidentiary problems with the received wisdom on "Minoan" civilisation may prove somewhat more complicated.

At 1510, having spent at least two hours in the library and grown cranky with hunger, I left l'ÉFA and set off for Plaka - via, due to my disinclination to walk much before food, Panepistimio metro - where I found myself satisfactorily fed at the first estiatorio on Adrianou. Pretty good chicken fillet grilled, fried potato, and cucumber (all for 10 euro!) and then frozen yoghurt in the yoghurt place. Decided to walk up to the Pnyx, around the back of the agora, it being after 1600 and the Agora, in consequence, being closed. Hot, but not scorching: about 28C. Dust and laurel and bay. Pink flowers which I wish I could identify - I need a handbook of Greek flora - cascading at intervals in the bushes.

At Thisseio, turn left. It would've been easier to get to the Pnyx proper and the seat of the assembly if I'd turned right just before the Sanctuary of Pan, but I did not know that then, and continued up to where the tourist buses turn around between the Pnyx and the South Slope of the acropolis, and turned right there. Pine trees! Tourists! No water fountains! The late fourth century wall built to protect the agora and the city from the Macedonian threat - or at least its very sketchy remnant.

I came out onto the assembly space eventually. A grassy flattish slope, the Areopagus visible across the agora, the Propylon of the Acropolis half-hidden by pines: from the right angle, the skene of the Odeon of Herodius Atticus can be seen, and one has a true sense of its size. I sat there for a while, watching an unsociable tortoise retreat from munching on a plant and slope off towards the trees after I sat down beside it.

I was sitting on the wall that encloses what looks like, to a casual glance, an earlier phase. But it's not labelled, nor marked on any of the nearby plans. I wonder now if it's not a sanctuary of some kind, but without doing some more reading (which is not immediately relevant to my concerns right now) I hesitate to hazard a guess. I met two archaeologists (students? properly employed?) there, one from Vancouver and one from Richmond VA, who also seemed to be puzzled by it - and who also did not know the agora closed at 1500, which inclined me to believe they had not been in Athens before.

Then back to Monastiraki via the flea market, and home. I wandered through the book festival that seems to be going on in Ares Park for a while, wishing my Greek was better, and now I am sitting on the couch listening to a cat complain somewhere outside - sounds like the grounds of the Austrian Institute, though I could be wrong. Miaow! Miaow!

I suppose I should do some calisthenics, and go lie down. Tomorrow, as they said in that episode of Farscape, is a rest day.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
So I spent most of yesterday, apart from a break to go to agora, working on my paper. And then last night I couldn't get to sleep.

I don't know why, really. Maybe I didn't walk far enough. Maybe I drank too much coke. End result: I fell asleep after four, slept through my alarm, and crawled out of bed and into the shower barely before noon.

That put paid to my plans to go down to the École Francaise. It also puts paid to any notion I had of going to any of the museums or enclosed sites, since they all close at three - bar, as far as I know, the acropolis and the Acropolis Museum.

I feel pretty cruddy right now. I expect that's lack of sleep. I'm also eating less, I think, than I was at home - partly because I'm worried about making my money last, and partly because the easiest quick food is from the bakery and I don't want to be eating too much cheese pastry all at once.

It's 25C with 60% humidity, says the weather site. Add an extra degree for central Athens. I should, I suppose, be kind to myself for a few days until I adjust, although I almost wish it was 30+ already, so I could have an excuse for feeling cruddy.

I should try and go out for a proper walk this evening, though. If I do, I can have yoghurt on Adrianou again.

Athens

May. 29th, 2013 02:05 pm
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
A breakfast of plain yoghurt and sweet strawberries, the yoghurt all but solid. Afterwards some work on this conference paper, but at 1300, hungry and frustrate, I set off for Plaka.

There's nothing terribly exciting about the metro to Monastiraki, but the souvlaki place on the street opposite the station still seems to be doing good business. The one problem is I always forget its name, but you can get souvlaki kebab there - two kebabs in one pita for 3.30 euro, and a solid helping of tomato and red onion. (I always ask for the tzatziki to be left off.) The kebabs were salty but tasty; the tomato juicy, and I wound up with tomato juice dripping on my white t-shirt before I polished off the remains and sauntered into the agora.

The upper level of the reconstructed South Stoa was open, with an exhibit on the changing face of the agora in antiquity. This is the first time I've been up to the upper level of the Stoa, and the view over the agora is rather astounding. It makes you think what it must have been like, when more than one stoa stood; when the Odeon of Agrippa loomed in the centre and altars and shops and temples and offices all around.

From the Stoa I wandered up towards the Hephaisteion, sat on a bench in the shade on the shoulder of the rise, above the Tholos. This is what I wrote in my notebook, wanting to keep hold of the moment:

The agora smells like burnt caramel, almost: some sweet combination of pine, laurel, olive, dust. The acropolis and the hill of the Areopagus before me, circled round with still-green pines - and off to the left, further distant, the slopes of the mountains. It's not a perfect peace. But by Zeus - yes indeed by Zeus - it's glorious.

It is not yet truly summer. The heat has not yet stifled movement. Birds warble in the greenery, sleepy pigeons fluff their feathers on a corner of the South Stoa, yellow and white butterflies flutter past. The drone of cicadas is missing - although I don't find I miss it.

Every time I come here, I see something new, among the archaeological clutter. Or rather, have the time to appreciate something old, until now unnoticed. This time it was the "Civic Offices" in front of the Middle Stoa, and the small boundary stone adjacent, I am the boundary of the agora; ΗΟΡΟΣ εἶμι τῆς ἀγορᾶς. And on the slope of the hill whereon sits the Hephaisteion, the "Geometric Cemetery" and the building marked "Strategeion(?)" whose purpose is disputed. The geometric cemetery is blink-and-you-miss-it stuff: stony holes in stony ground, grown about with grasses. And yet here we touch 2,800 years of history preserved in the earth - sheltered only a little from the passing feet of sun-pinked complaining American tourists. (Overheard: "I donwanna do this anymore," which is not the style of whine one expects from an adult woman.)


Shortly thereafter, my train of thought was interrupted by the blowing of whistles as the site guards closed up for 1500. (I succeeded in startling one of them, a nice boy, by responding to his inquiries in my dreadful Greek.)

Stopped off for yoghurt on the way back to the metro. There is a delicious yoghurt place on Adrianou. Frozen yoghurt! In many flavours, and with many toppings - and they charge by weight, not by topping. Strawberries and redcurrants and figs and grapes and glacé cherries and strawberries in syrup and raspberries in syrup and orange bits and OTHER FRUIT I DON'T EVEN KNOW. And all kinds of chocolate and cereal toppings, and honey and caramel and a sort of light syrup? And melted chocolate of several different sorts. The flavours of yoghurt this time were plain, vanilla, banana and hazelnut. (Last summer they had mango and strawberry and - I think - lime.)

And the woman remembered me from last year, and gave me a discount. Which was aces, and if I'd thought she was going to do that, I'd have filled my little yoghurt tub more full.

Delicious.

Now, though, I suppose I should try to do more work.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Traveling is a weird experience, and airports are expensive places. But Lufthansa, whatever their flaws, at least feed and water you. The food on the flight to Frankfurt wasn't all that great: some kind of sour potato salad... but it existed! Which is more than you can say for a lot of airlines.

After a long layover in Frankfurt (where everything is more expensive than I believed possible even for airports, but where I made a decent meal out of an Asian restaurant called "Coa" for about twelve quid with a bit of inventiveness), the onward flight to Athens came as a welcome relief. And the dinner provided, a vegetarian ravioli dish, was sufficiently tasty I would've eaten twice the amount. (And they provided dessert! A Toblerone!) This, to my mind, makes Lufthansa amazing.

I lucked out, too. The miracle of a seat with legroom by the emergency exit came to me without my asking.

For a wonder, when I reached the taxi rank at the Athens, the taxi driver actually recognised my street. We had a nice wee chat in which he asked me how I came to speak Greek, and told me that, while it's been bad economically, one should only believe half of what one sees on the news.

The new AD at the Institute is a lovely guy who waited to let me in despite it being 0200 in the morning. So I got settled, with my own pillow (which I brought from home, yes, because I remember the Institute's pillows and they suck) and finally fell asleep at 0400 or thereabouts - which isn't as late as it seems, because Athens time is two hours ahead of Dublin time.

Didn't really emerge to consciousness until 1300 today. Still a bit sleepy, to be honest, but at least Athens is giving me a day's grace of cloud and 22-24C before it breaks out the scorchers.

It's odd, how much being here is like coming home. I mean, not as comfortable as home-home, and the cops in Dublin don't look quite so like a well-armed motorcycle gang late at night, but I've been here often enough that the shops around the corner are familiar - the woman in the bakery recognised me today, and asked if I'd come home. I had to check myself before I said yes.

Also, there are strawberries and cherries in the vegetable shop. CHERRIES. OMNOMNOM.

Not really doing much today. I'm still a bit wiped from travel.
hawkwing_lb: (Helps if they think you're crazy)
After some days of huddling and messed-up sleep patterns, today I got up before 1000hrs. And then proceeded to wander around Athens from noon until four, walking in the relative cool of thirty degrees centigrade. There was a Syrian solidarity march making its way down to Syntagma Square, bongo drums and call-and-response in Arabic, Syrian flags and scarves and banners featuring Assad with a pig's nose or monkey's face.

I've been reading bad lesbian romance and watching New Tricks and The Bourne Identity and the two sequels - Identity is revolutionary in the genre, of course, but I think many of its later imitators, including its own sequels, don't realise that what made it revolutionary wasn't the lean, visually-arresting realism of the fight scenes, or the subdued hues of its colour palette. What made it revolutionary was the fact that it wasn't an action thriller. It worked primarily as a psychological thriller: the focus is on character, mystery, the danger is intimate and personal - Bourne is himself afraid of what he is - as much as it comes from outside.

And Marie is fucking brilliant. Interesting as Nicolette Parsons becomes in the third film - no. I will never forgive the fridging of Marie.

(What the Bourne franchise did right, in all of its instalments, though? The women are smart, and competent, and save themselves. They're not freaking super-assassins, and when the freaking super-assassin tells them to go - they go. And they damn well stay gone.)

Onto the books. But first, a digression. Many of the books I've been reading in the last three or four days are - to make no bones about it - bad books. Narratively and technically naive, relying on familiarity with tropes to fill in the blanks left through lazy and/or careless writing: like much romance, actually.

But sometimes one needs the entertainingly bad.

Books 2012: 142-155

142-145. R.M. Meluch, The Myriad, Wolf Star, The Sagittarius Command, and Strength and Honor. DAW, 2004-2008.

Interesting space opera by a women writer (this is an insufficiently frequent occurence that I find it noteworthy) but marred, however, by clunky prose, some unpleasant rape culture skeeviness, and the fact that once again, the future is American - except for the parts where it's Roman.

Still, I look forward to getting my hands on the next one. Space opera yay!


146-149. Gun Brooke, Protector of the Realm, Rebel's Quest, Warrior's Valor, and Pirate's Fortune. Bold Strokes Books, 2005-2011.

I'm embarrassed to have read these. Bad skiffy lesbian romance. Entertainingly bad, naively bad... Why did I enjoy reading there again?

Oh, right. Women. Nothing but women.


150-154. Xenia Alexiou and Kim Baldwin, Lethal Affairs, Thief of Always, Missing Lynx, Dying to Live and Demons Are Forever. Bold Strokes Books, 2007-2012.

...Ebooks are bad for instant gratification of the popcorn urge. These? SPIES ROMANCE LESBIANS. It's bad. But like crack. Crack with assassinations.

(No, I do not feel this way about heterosexual romance. It is the mere fact of the women having all the screentime that gets me. Women! Being important to each other! Having friendships! Having... really somewhat tedious sex scenes, but that's romance for you. The sex scenes are almost always tedious and serve no other purpose beyond SEX NOW.)


155. Lee Battersby, The Corpse-Rat King. Angry Robot, 2012.

Reviewed for Tor.com. This book has no plot and feels hectic, yet empty. Do not recommend.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
I am made of failure as an adventurous traveller.

It's just embarrassing that I have such... awkwardness with buses.

So, I got it into my head that I'd take the bus to Marathon this morning, and see what the archaeological stuff out there looks like. Which, fine. But today's the Panaghia, so everything out there would be closed. Fine, sez I to myself, I'll just go have a look at the lay of the land and see if there's a beach.

I tried to forget that I'm a nervous traveller who has in the last two visits to Greece developed a paranoia concerning Jesus fuck where's the return bus-stop? Aieeee, the bus doesn't come back for five hours!

And succeeded, until I saw how far everything of archaeological interest at and around Marathon was from everything else, including the disparate bits themselves. So, sez I to myself, I'll just stay on this here bus and ride it back to Athens, having enjoyed the nice scenery.

Except.

The bus, she does not do immediate turnaround.

She goes on and on among olive groves and the red earth of Attica, along camping sites and farm villas, towards a lovely beach at Skianias... At which point I'm saying to the driver, "Er. Bus goes to Athens, yes?"

He says, in Greek - and at this point I'm the only person on the bus - "We make a circle! Marathona, Skiania, Marathona, Athena!" He looks at me. "Is there some problem?"

I say - useful phrase - "I don't speak Greek well. I don't know what I'm doing." Shrug. "I want to go back to Athens. This is okay?"

He smiles, laughs, is very understanding. The bus waits at Skianias beach for fifteen minutes - the bus driver tells me where we are, and that - as far as I manage to understand - the bus stops here three times daily. I wanted to get off and go to the beach, but I did not want to be stuck there. So the bus driver took a picture of me at my unexpected destination, a nice Greek lady and her Italian husband got on, and we turned around.

And had a three-way conversation in my broken Greek and the married lady's good English on the way back to Marathon about how the rich people who had villas at Skianias were all thieves. Who'd stolen all the money from the people. The same in Italy! the lady said. The same in Ireland! I agreed. The same the world over! the bus driver exclaimed. Bankers and politicians, no-good-very-bad people.

(And look, my friend! sez the bus driver - in Greece, everything seems to be Hello, my friend! and Ah, my friend, you're here! even when you've only just met - there's the artificial canal they built for the 2004 Olympics rowing. Not used afterwards.)

So I spent a little over four hours of my day bussing around Attica. Very nice scenery, once you get out of the industrial edges of Athens. Not really sure I want to do it again.

Next time, someone with a car should come with me. That way, less fear of stranding.
hawkwing_lb: (Ned virtue)
I went for a walk from Plataia Viktoria up to Omonia, and from Omonia on to Monastiraki. On the way I passed a "Fantasy Shop," with Game of Thrones trading cards in the window and advertising for Magic the Gathering Friday night tournaments and Warhammer 40K gaming sessions.

Geekdom is international, and so is the curiously off-putting subliminal chauvinism in the posters. (Just once, I would like woman not to equal afterthought in the advertising.)

Anyway, on my way down to Plaka, I decided to walk through Athens' covered meat market...

It's an antechamber of hell.

Okay, I exaggerate. So I'm not that squeamish. But it's about 100m long, and the space between the meat displays is three people wide. The butchers aren't behind the meat displays, but in front, hacking off cuts with cleavers the size of my head. THUNK THUNK THUNK. There are chips of bone and bits of meatflesh on the cobbles, and something flew free from a THUNK twice on my way down and a meatfleck landed on my face. There were skinned lambs' heads with the eyeballs still attached, and a lamb's skin with a butcher still taking out the legs. Halves of sheep's carcases hanging suspending on racks, the bones thinly sheathed in fat and flesh, the ribs white where a bit had been sawn off. A pair of flies buzzing over a heaped tray of fresh mince. The smell of liver - liver itself, glistening darkly beside kidneys on the metal trays - and meat and old blood didn't exactly turn my stomach - it was realising that chips of bone and meatflesh had stuck to the bottom of my shoe that did that.

Yeah, I'm not about to turn vegetarian. But I think I prefer my butchers' filled with less THUNKing. And fewer flying flecks. And with more room to avoid the men wielding their knives.

I'm too young to remember if there were ever meat markets like this in Dublin. But in conclusion: will never make an industrial butcher, me.
hawkwing_lb: (No dumping dead bodies)
...I went to the beach. I had such great plans for getting up early and day-tripping out to Marathon - but as it turned out, I slept in (again: bloody hell, body, start going to sleep at a sane hour, k?) and decided instead to go to Paralia Glyfada, instead.

Like fine wine - although I'm rather coarser than wine, I think, and not as drinkable - I don't travel well. Especially to new places on my own. (Part of me not going to Marathon is constant chickening out. I hate having panic attacks of o-shit-am-I-going-the-right-way on buses that only go once every two hours.) So getting to Glyfada was a little adventure.

The details of which bus went there which I got from the internet were out of date. I asked the nice man in the bus info kiosk at Akadimias, and eventually (after much waiting) got on bus B2. I had it in my head that there were beaches at the turn-around-point for bus B2 at Agios Kosmas, but when I got there, I could see none. Bus driver said, "Alpha Ena kai Alpha Dyo yia ti Paralia Glyfada," and pointed me at an onward bus stop.

So I caught bus A2 onwards for a couple of stops, and got off at the stop that said 2 Glyfada, where there were a couple of hotels. (It's all apartments and urban retail and minor port/marina industry along that bus route, rather lacking in personality. And the apartments on the landward side all look alike, so I was nervous of finding landmarks. Seaward side, the tramrail runs.)

Behind the hotels and across a smaller road beside a marina, turns out to be the beach. A rocky beach, at that. No sand, just the sea with a throatful of stones. The water is very blue and very salty, murky with salt, and the churn of the sea on the stones means you can't just stand - or squat - peacefully in the water. Or float, really.

In addition to being a nervous traveller-to-new-places, I also happen to be a nervous swimmer when I'm on my own. The water was a lovely temperature, and so was the day, hovering around highs of 32C. But I can't have stayed on the beach above half an hour. It's bloody boring on your own.

So I wandered along to the tram stop, because it was nearby and obvious - and easy to find, what with tramlines leading right to it. In retrospect, I may have been better off going looking for the busstop. The tram, when it came along, was uncomfortable and slightly smelly, and rather than taking 30 minutes or so to get into the centre of Athens, like the bus, took over an hour. (I read my book. It wasn't too hot, and I was still damp from the beach, which had a usefully cooling effect.)

In conclusion: public transport, wonderful. Me = scaredy-cat

Now Athens is cloudy and expecting thunder. If it cools off below 30C tomorrow at any point, I may go for a run.
hawkwing_lb: (Liara doing)
A little poorer, perhaps, and full four degrees Celsius hotter, but much the same. Albanian men sitting on the steps in the evening across from the off-license, a pair of Nigerian boys in Exarcheia square hawking pirate DVDs, skinny cats lurking in the shadows of the dustbins, mosquitos whirring around like tiny bitey devils. The orange trees along the streets that were trimmed back in the spring are now a riot of green, while the dust is thick and gritty on the pot-holed paths. Athens smells of diesel and dust; Exarcheia plateia of hash and grilled meat, chips and beer and dust and fly repellant. There is no river in Athens, and we're far enough from the sea that there's no water-scent to lend a greener tinge to the air.

I notice things here that I don't notice at home, because at home my senses aren't engaged by newness. I hope when I go back this time I'll be able to see the strangeness in the familiar, though.

I haven't been outside Exarcheia yet. The monthly visitation of the Red Menace laid me out flat yesterday, although I managed to get up to the plateia yesterday evening, to eat in the taverna where they remembered me from the spring (and in the spring, they remembered me from last autumn). I spoke bad Greek to them, and English to the polyglot bloke from Algeria. There was French documentary crew inside, making a documentary on food - I learned this, because I said to the cameraman when he was shooting the doorway, "Pardon, monsieur, qu'est-ce que vous faites?"

This had an interesting effect on N., the friendly polyglot waiter. "Vous parle le francais aussi!" he said, and ended up giving me dessert on the house. I'm embarrassed for anglophones, if my pathetic attempts to make myself understood in other languages end up impressing Greek and Algerian blokes like that. Honestly, who knew that a "Je'n le parle que mal," or "Den milo kala ellenika," goes so far?

In a couple of hours, I and my Red Menace and my sweaty armpit hair will go run our errands - batteries, food, picking up some of the Institute's photocopying. And then I should spend the rest of the afternoon working on study tour notes. I'd really rather nap. Perhaps I will nap first.

Last night I dreamed that America had a emperor in a shiny pointy hat. My brain goes weird in the heat.

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