Monday, February 8, 2010

Eleusis, Nightlife Exploration, Go Saints! (?), and Philopappou Hill

So, I successfully made it to Apostolos’ favorite café in Syntagma square (with the assistance of a map-capable friend/classmate). We sat for two hours drinking cappuccino (that we ordered in Greek of course—“Ena cappuccino, parakolo”) and chatting with Apostolos about great travel destinations in Greece. While it will be great to plan a spring break trip outside of Greece, I want to focus on getting a taste of as many faces of Greek culture as possible while I am here studying and experiencing. I love that you can order a coffee and sit at a café forever without being bothered. The coffee addiction here operates differently than in the States, but it is definitely an essential aspect of Greek culture—one that I enjoy and one that I will be studying through a sociological lens for class while I am here.

On Friday Stavros took our Byzantine History class to Eleusis, the site of ancient cult worshipping for the goddess Demeter. We learned snipits of its background history as we sat in front of the ruins of the famous temple. Not a bad backdrop. Surveying what would become my first panoramic view of these famous Greek ruins while listening to Stavros’ poetic recounting of its story made the early morning wake up infinitely more tolerable. As the myth goes, goddess Demeter traveled to Eleusis as she frantically searched for her daughter Persephone, a victim of Pluto’s kidnapping to the underworld. She asserted that a sanctuary should be built in her honor so that she could teach the people her secret rituals and continue to mourn and pray for her helpless daughter. After the building of the temple she locked herself in this sanctuary, consumed by these secret rituals as a tribute to her missing daughter. She refused to let any seeds grow from the earth until she saw her daughter again. Zeus formed a compromise that holds Persephone is the underworld for one third of the year before she returns to her mother for the rest of the year. It is out of this myth that the barren, cold months of winter and the rebirth and flowering of spirit of spring—the creation of the seasons—was born. The myth’s richness and detail in conjunction with the visual grandness of the site itself created an overwhelming sense of history and tradition. Walking around the grounds and browsing through its museum only magnified this feeling. In less academic terms, WOW this place is very very old and very very stunning. And I have a distinct inkling that this country is just crawling with opportunities for similar experiences.

This weekend was not without cultural experiences of its own kind. Highlights include a viewing of the Greek classic film, “Stella”, at the Arcadia Center (reminds me that I want to check out one of the many open-air movie theatres peppered around Athens) and hawking out some cool lounges/bars on a main drag near our apartment called “Imitou” street. We chatted with some local Pangrati residents who told us about some cool clubs nearby that would be a little less touristy. Four of us decided that it would be fun to check out this “Greeker” club, and after a half hour of hilarity during which the three of us girls tried to convince our accompanying friend Paul that he should hop on the back of our new male Greek friend’s vespa, we hopped in a taxi and rode into central Athens. I think Theodore (one of the guys we met on Imitou) did not seem too thrilled by the prospect of Paul adorning the back of his bike. Not exactly what he had in mind, I suppose. The club was a fun, free Friday night as a result of our newfound Athenian connections, and a nice peak at nightlife here from a local perspective. On Saturday we did some local window shopping, got coffee at a little café bar across from school that also serves great grilled cheese with turkey and tomato, and did our food shopping. Food shopping in some form seems to be part of the daily culture (Dad, you’re so European!) given the abundance of fresh produce at the markets and such. The phrase, “let’s use up stuff and clean out the refridge” seems to have leaked into my vocabulary. Some cliché about apples and trees comes to mind, no? My apartment made dinner with our friend Ben that night who contributed freshly baked bread. Amazing. Then we got dolled up as an entire apartment for the first time and headed over to one of the other Arcadia apartments to attend a fellow Arcadia study abroad student’s birthday celebration. The majority of the kids from our program were there, and after hanging out and probably eliciting noise complaints from the entire block, we walked to Syntagma square (previous knowledge of our destination may have impacted my shoe choice) to a club called “Lollipop”. The place was OK, but seemed kind of Americanized. We ended up meeting up with our Greek friends again. Nice people, although one of them speaks very little English and kind of looks like a milk maid. We went to a different bar that was a lot more populated and authentically Greek than our other spot. I’m sitting back at Lucky Charm currently, contemplating a nap in preparation for a possible trip to an Australian pub later to watch the Superbowl. We’ll see.

So I actually did go to the James Joyce Pub with many fellow Englishmen and Americans last night from 2am to 5am and am only slightly regretting it today. I know that this is not the point of watching the Superbowl, but the actual pub itself (once we found it) was an extremely cool space inspired by Mr. James “The Dead” Joyce himself. We have been talking a lot about the effects of isolation and spatial issues in my Greek Key Seminar, and this Superbowl party was a perfect experience of displaced sense of community. It was strange to spend three hours surrounded by obnoxious men in jerseys chest bumping each other and eating hotdogs only to be greeted by the somewhat less familiar Athenian air when we left around 5, hopped in a cab and snapped back into elementary-level Greek communication to get back to Pangrati. After a few hours of naptime, I rallied and got over to the bus stop in an attempt to make it on time to my first walking tour facilitated by one of the co-teachers of my Greek Key Seminar (designed to familiarize us with the personality of the neighborhoods and get a native and historical perspective). I won’t say that our small traveling group (about 6 people go on each walking tour) arrived at our destination flawlessly, but we did eventually make it to the Acropolis monument meeting point where a slightly peeved and flustered Maria was waiting. We coincidentally ran into an English speaking woman, actually a friend of my Contemporary Greek Society Class, who had helped us to locate our destination. Small Athenian world! Although our tardiness cost us about fifteen minutes of our walk (Hey, I thought Greek time was about that far behind anyway?), the route did not disappoint. We scaled Philopappou Hill, a picturesque mini-hike past an amazingly ornate and tiny church at which we were able to sneak an unexpected peek. I only wish I could have taken pictures, but as I understand it and witnessed, the walls are so ancient and elaborate that one snap of a modern camera flash would rob it of its romance. I felt privileged to soak in the mental image, but sorry that I can’t share! The top of the hill boasts an impressive 115 AD monument to the Roman Galus Ioulius Antiochus Philopappos (say that one time fast, let alone three), the benefactor of the town. Philopappou seems like the most perfect, silent spot to contemplate lofty, philosophical ideas while absorbing the truly Athenian surrounding wildlife (apparently any tree planted that was not native to Athens was semi-recently removed). I only wish I could have taken this walk down the trail in times past as Themistocles and other great orators shared their craft on the hill. Shops, cafes, and a museum dedicated to Greek dance share the place at the bottom of Philopappou with the surrounding Acropolis area. Definitely an area to explore again. And I have to add one more detail for my father: as we sat in the shade of the acropolis discussing the associated readings that Maria paired with this walk, I found myself caught up once again in a complex discussion of Edward Said’s theories. That’s right, my knowledge of “the Other” and “Orientalism” actually came in handy!! Thrilling, I know.

On the docket for this week: get into more of a routine with my class schedule, plan our upcoming trip to Meteora in Northern Greece (we have an extra long weekend this coming weekend because Monday is “kite flying day” or something. Makes sense to me!), wake up insanely early tomorrow to go get TB screenings and hug a cold metal pole in the nude to get chest x-rays with the rest of the students in my program and the inevitable multiple apartment trips to the lykke!

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