Aug. 27th, 2012

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The Lakonian plain is slightly fantastic. The sun comes up over the mountains in the east, all kinds of colours, and the light hits the tops of the Taygetus in the west. The Langada pass is a deep bowl in the Taygetus, and the light works its way down onto the plain - rapidly, all things considered.

Sparta's archaeological remains, apart from the theatre, are not very impressive. One goes for the myth, and to say that one has been: what remains is a scattering of blocks and bricks and some mosaics in the museum, closed on Mondays.

Mystra, on the other hand? Mystra is six kilometers from the modern town of Sparta, on a hill at the foot of the Taygetus. It is a medieval town, fortified by the Franks during their medieval domination of Byzantine Greece, during the 13th century. Retaken by the Byzantines, its cathedral was where the last Palaiologos Byzantine emperor was crowned in 1432. It was known for its silk trade. Later came Venetians, and Ottomans, and it was a living town until the 1950s, when the last inhabitants were relocated. Today it is home to several churches, most - save the cathedral and the church of the Orthodox convent of the Pantessa, where cats and kittens lie flat out in the shade of pink and orange blossoms - in ruins. The Palace of the Despots, where Byzantine lords - and an emperor or two - lived. A kastro, or castle keep on the peak, which I did not walk to, for the temperature broke 39C again.

Thence to the opposite side of modern Sparta, where in 39C the few, the brave, the proud, hiked twenty minutes up a hill to a Middle Helladic site, where also there is the Menelaion, the shrine where Helen and Menelaus received heroic cult in Classical Sparta.

And from there to Tolo in the Argolid, across more - lower - mountains. Where the internet is bouncy, and where I spent an hour in the sea with my students. I do not think I am quite capable of maintaining teacherly detachment in the middle of a waterfight - not that I'm good at it at all. They are close to my age, and wanting to be liked is one of my besetting sins.

There are several standout moments from this trip already. Drinking from the Castalian spring at Delphi. Running in the stadium at Olympia, the stade-long footrace, in a cloud of dust with the students and the baking heat. Staggering around Messene in 41C, and seeing the defensive walls while the wind blew in hot gusts. Eating fish in Itea, water-fighting in the sea right here in Tolo while the moon rose over the water and the light died.

I like this.


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