Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Nafplio, Experiential Learning, and Angry Greeks

So. Nafplio is officially one of the most beautiful places on earth. The bus to reach Nafplio took us on a twisty, two hour ride through It was overcast when we first arrived, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the charming little town full of shops, tavernas, and unusual nature. We took a lovely walk down what I can only compare to a boardwalk--one side lined with little cafes, the other pulsing calmly with picturesque views of the waterfront and the fortress sitting on an island in the foreground. As we continued to stroll around, we came across what appeared to be a “forbidden” area, but the guard was content to garrulously welcome us to the coastal town and let us pass through. We made our way through a surprising scene of hills, mud, and a lot of cacti, stopping at one point to peek in this strange cave-like situation with random graffiti that provided a perfect photo opportunity.

Arcadia took us out to a delicious taverna oozing with Greek small town ambiance. I am becoming familiar with traditional cuisine in these types of places—lots small plates and wine flying everywhere. No complaints. After dinner we sat around at a café and then decided to check out the nightlife. I only said a few words, but I think I may have actually passed for Athenian?! Maybe wishful thinking, not really sure. It was fun though, regardless of what nationality I exuded. The next morning we got up extremely early to go on a hike up to the top of the fortress (pictured here). Reminded me a lot of the hike up Masada (early morning, around 1,000 stairs, totally worth it). We even had a rainbow cascading over the mountains below as we continued to hike up. We noticed a lot of the features of the fortress on the way down--as we were less focused on not hyperventilating—like the tradition Napflio lion engraved on the sides of the mountain and the safety features that would attempt to provide those who lived atop the fortress. Well worth the four near death experiences on the way up.

We stopped to get gyros for lunch—a Greek staple actually starting with the letter “ramma” not “gamma” (apparently it has become gamma in the English adaptation because the “ramma” sound is impossible for us to pronounce, although Apostolos is working on it with us). Lamb, French fries, taziki, tomatoes in homemade pita. Delicious, dirt cheap, and found on every street corner that doesn’t have a bakery. The other noteworthy event was our visit to the ouzo distillery. A few of us decided to get up early before the bus left to take us back to Pangrati to take the walk to see where they make the ouzo, the cherry brandy, and several other Greek liqueurs. The walk was beautiful and took us through a neighborhood of huge and ornate Nafplio houses. We were the only ones at this tiny distillery and thus got a private tour from the 4th generation owner of the three room museum/working distillery. We learned the interesting and actually multi-cultural history of the place as well as insight into the inner workings of the factory room (and of course, we got free samples of the products.) It was a nice little morning treat (oy) as we were glad that we didn’t sleep the morning away and miss out on the experience.

So, back to Athens and the start of classes! I am being encouraged—rightfully so—to use my limited knowledge of Greek as much as possible. I had to go get additional passport pictures for some student IDs that I want through Arcadia to get student discounts at museums and such around the city, so I decided to try my Greek at this little photography shop I found on Proklous Street on my way to school. “Yassas, Kalemera! Ti Kanete! Meh leneh Suzanna y…. diavatirio…?” (Hello, good morning. How are you (formal)? My name is Suzanna and…passport…uhhh…?” He replies in perfect English, “you’re from Arcadia?” Oh well, at least I tried.

I have, however, mastered the art of ordering my coffee in Greek after many failed attempts of consuming disgusting frothy concoctions because I didn’t want to be the entitled American who complains after they order the wrong thing. That hurdle, thankfully, is no longer a issue. Speaking of hurdles, my roommates and I plan on going for a run at the original Olympic stadium which happens to be just minutes from our apartment.

But back to Greek. Not only does Apostolos (my Greek teacher) run our class in a law school set up—you can and will be called on at any time to read an eleven syllable word that looks like a geometry test problem—but our classes in general are structured in ways that force us to use our admittedly limited knowledge of Greek to interact with each other, natives, and the city itself. While this is a bit intimidating, I know that this kind of personal interaction is the reason for being here and I know it will infinitely enrich my experience. After all, an anthropologist’s fieldwork is most successful when she is able to call herself a native—to understand not only the systems and priorities of a culture, but also what motivates these traditions from a personal standpoint. To learn how to get as close to this sense of comfort and natural understanding of a culture while still maintaining the distance necessary to apply what you learn to your own life is the real challenge. I think that my “Contemporary Greek Society” class will help me to make inroads into understanding more about the intricacies of Greek culture—the rituals around everyday activities, coffee drinking, night-life activity, education systems, gender, feelings around religion, etc etc. This class, along with most of my other classes, will force us to become a part of the surrounding community and of Greater Athens through field observations in coffee shops, bakeries, public transportation systems, cemeteries, and more. We will even be conducting interviews with local immigrants that we will have to seek out individually. This professor, Lois, is my only American professor. She has quite a host of credentials and is equally as impressive academically as her hair is strange. No, but seriously, she has an academic and social obsession with moving to new places and achieving “native” status. She speaks around 7 languages and has lived everywhere from Mexico to a small town in Ethiopia to Spain to Crete to Athens. Even though this class is listed as a sociology course, her deep interest in anthropology will suit me well.

All of my professors seem ready and willing to cater our courses to our individual interests—an attainable goal seeing as my classes are generally about ten people. My Greek Literature professor (Pauline Bithara) has structured our course as a collection of classic Greek novels, short stories, and films which we will study around a few thematic units, the first of which being an exploration of “the virtuous and the guilty sinners: a debate of morality” through three short stories and a film. We are reading Georgios Vizyinos first. She emphasized that if we have particular interests (and the budget to support those interests) that she would be happy to take us to the theatre, the ballet, a soccer game, an art gallery, or whatever kinds of cultural activities that we want. The professors here really want us to get out into the city as much as we can, and their help is invaluable to us as a way to find inroads toward this goal.

My Byzantine History professor is named Stavros and is a brilliant lecturer who will provide me with a smart, thorough, and creative survey of an academic subject of which I have almost no previous knowledge. It is a good thing that he is so compelling because otherwise I’m not sure how jazzed I would be about a nine AM class. Stravros is taking us on an early morning field trip (what is it with this guy and academic pursuit before the sun even gets warm??!) to Eleusis on Friday. I’m sure I will be reporting more on that later. My last class is an informal Greek Key seminar. This class divides us into small groups and leads us on walking tours in different parts of the city, asking us to observe as well as sight-see and hopefully encourage us to ask more informed questions about the city. The professors seem keen on helping us to become simultaneously comfortable in our identity as semi-permanent Athenian residents and uncomfortable in our constant reaching for more information and foreign things to figure out and untangle.

I have to go meet Apostolos for our Greek class tomorrow at a café in Athens center, “Syntagma Square” where the Parliament is. We’ll see how that goes. We have to meet at 3:00 and it takes about 20 minutes to get there, so I’ll probably leave around noon. To end for now with the academics, it is amazing to me that I will have this deeper understanding of so many facets of another culture that so many people never experience. The classes are just as interesting for the way that they are taught and the things they prioritize as they are for their actual subject matter. Now if only they could regulate the temperatures of the classrooms (although with all of these experiential learning classes who knows how much “classroom” time I will actual log!), then academia would be perfection.

OK, I have to go finish reading for my Greek lit class. My roommates and I are going to cook dinner afterwards (at 9, because we are very European). We went to great lengths to procure the food for this meal. We went to the lykke (the outdoor market) at 7am in the pouring rain on Tuesday before class so that we could get there when it opened and get the best produce. We have learned that if you stand near multiple citrus vendors and look indecisive it is not uncommon for them to offer you samples of the product. I had some strange orange-grapefruit-tangerine combo. We bought a few to stick in the Sangria that we plan to make. I also think we might be forbidden to go back to our neighborhood supermarket. We tried to use our Greek with the cashier and she rolled her eyes and popped a pill. Then we shattered a jar of spaghetti sauce everywhere. One of my roommates is quite possibly the only blonde in the city of Athens, so we are pretty sure we need to wait at least a month before we attempt reentry.

Also, I think that the shower floor looked worse after Olga the cleaning lady left. And she made my bed very weirdly. I suppose some things are universal.

No comments:

Post a Comment