Thursday, January 29, 2009


Today and yesterday have been two of the most eye-opening, awe-inspiring days of my life. We’ve been really busy, and we walk everywhere so my feet are kind of sore, but it’s a small price to pay for the cultural education I’m getting. I’ll try to give you a picture of what life has been like, but I’m sure it will fall short.

Yesterday I woke up around 3am Athens time (that’s 7pm Missouri time). Jet lag sucks, guys. I went to the lobby of my hotel and got on the internet, which was nice. Finding free internet here is tough, as I’ve said, so I had to pay a few euro to log on for an hour. I hung around and read some guide books (thanks, Jess!) until breakfast with my roommates at six thirty and then waited until nine for the day’s events to start up.

We headed straight to the Acropolis at nine, which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There is so much history there, so many stories with so much weight. We heard about the Parthenon, the Erekthion, and the temple of Athena and Nike, each with their own amazing stories. The most incredible part was the view, though. You can see all of Athens and the surrounding mountains and bay from all angles of the Acropolis. It’s breathtaking and very humbling.

Our guide told us some of the stories behind this city, which really helped me to put what I was seeing into context. Athens has seen the rise and fall of Caesar, Nero, Alexander the Great, Herodius, the Turks, Hitler, and many more. It’s been raised to the ground and rebuilt many times. Where ever you walk, you’re standing on twenty meters of rubble from older civilizations. Everything is built upon centuries of history.

When I thought about that as I looked out on the city from the Acropolis, I couldn’t help but feel like part of some grander beautiful story. This too shall pass. Hard times, happy times, stress, pain, ecstasy, joy, fear, despair. They’re all fleeting. Athens is a testament to that fact. The city endures all things and sees all emotions come and go with the wind. It’s a difficult feeling to describe, but I felt at once very small and incredibly empowered. It’s an amazing, spiritual place that I could spend hours writing about (and I did, in my journal, when I was up there. Three, to be exact).

We’ve done lots more since then (visited the Plaka, which is the touristy market place with lots of shops and cafes, seen lots of architectural advances and innovations, talked to lots of locals and made friends, visited the largest museum in Greece, drank, ate), but my other favorite moment so far was visiting a modern art museum in the renovated industrial district. The featured exhibit was by an artist named Αννα Κινδγνη, who lived from 1914 to 2003. She lived in Greece (or Ελλάς) through the Turkish war (which is something we don’t really hear about as Americans, but it was pretty brutal) and WWII. WWII, by the way, was suffered very intensely by the Greeks. Mussolini tried to take Greece but failed miserably, so when Hitler attacked he was furious. Many of the Greeks were killed outright, and the rest were starved. Two thirds of Athens’ population starved to death during the occupation. The work of Αννα really reflects that pain and struggle.

All of her work is done in charcoal, which really makes it pop out against the white paper. The quasi-characaturized figures are haunting. Their bodies are emaciated with hunger and their eyes stare at you with a despair that you can’t ignore. It’s all exacerbated by the fact that the drawings are nothing but black and white figures. There’s nothing to focus on but the well portrayed emotions of the pieces. It’s tragically beautiful, and it says so much about the Greek people.

Panos Leventis, our program director, and I have gotten to know each other fairly well over the past few days. He and I had a lengthy discussion about the Greek people and exactly what it means to him to be Greek in order for me to better understand the people around me and where they’re coming from. These people have so much cultural history. It’s amazing. Panos says it’s both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, you are part of something great. You are a member of a group of people who have endured and done so much in the three thousand plus years they’ve been on the planet. On the other, you have a legacy which is nearly impossible to live up to. Being Greek almost entails a responsibility to be the greatest person you can be in all areas. If you don’t, you simply aren’t living up to your potential as a member of the Greek nation. Take it or leave it, but it’s a great insight into the people I’m surrounded by constantly.

Again, I’m having a wonderful time and growing exponentially. I’ll be in Volos on Sunday evening (early Sunday morning for those of you in the states) and I hope to talk to you all more frequently then. Enjoy your ice and snow in Missouri!

1 comment:

Mozart said...

Sounds pretty amazing. What a cool experience this is for you! You need to get some sort of online photo album to document your sight-seeing activities.