Monday, September 28, 2009

Alright, I lied. Crete.

Apparently I just don't have time for private emails and public postings so we are all going to agree right now that this blog will just stay between you and me, k? I mean, obviously you're going to want to scream the URL to the world- but resist the urge.

on our program wide trip to Crete:

"...I think it was the first time that these ruins felt like something actually ancient and not just a modern symbol of antiquity. I think it relates back to when we were talking about that elusive experience of actually experiencing. I found myself, at sites, for moments at a time able to actually see this pot as a pot that someone made that someone used, that someone touched- just 4000 years ago. It made me feel a very real link to what I previously could only imagine. The woman who used this pot was for a second, for me, not the slave of 1650 BC with defining cranial features, of significantly lower height, who probably wore such and such a garment, and such and such jewelry. She seemed to be a girl, a real girl, who also touched this pot. ...

But I probably should back up a little. We took a 13 hour ferry to Crete, which is the Greek equivalent of Florida in so many ways. It's much warmer, much more touristy, very beautiful, and it attracts old people and couples. But that's just the southern most part. In the north and in the mountains, it is filled with rough and tumble rednecks who constantly defy the authorities and believe very strongly in the right to bear arms and the right to do whatever they want without the po-leese in-tuh-fearing (that's exactly how they say it too.) And I'm not sure about Florida's excuse (for being so rednecky and yet touristy) but the island of Crete has been in rebellion mode since around 1500 AD. They were given away to Spanish crusaders, then the Ottoman Empire, and then to Turkey for a bit and only "reunited" with Greece relatively recently. There is literally a period of 200 years in which they were in a constant series of revolts against their mainland authority and as such they, to this day, have great disdain for authority in general and instead have built up a more family-based series of clans. In fact, only recently, some policemen stopped this car on one of the main highways in Crete and discovered that they had a store of unlicensed firearms. So forty policemen went to the mountain village of the car's owner to investigate the level of arms trafficking and before they could even make it to the village they were ambushed by sixty armed men from that very village, determined to, well, I don't know- throw over the police? I'm not sure the plan was very well formulated, since a few days and a few hundred police men later, the uprising was quelled and their trial actually starts this month in Athens. They couldn't hold the trial on Crete because the entire island harbors such an anti-authority sentiment that the accused, or many of them, would likely get off. Right, so I've set the scene. I'm basically in the wild west of Greece, investigating Bad Ass archaeological sites (but are there any other kind?) with the foremost expert on Cretan archaeology. I call it Cretan archaeology (as opposed to Minoan or Mycenaen or whathaveyou) mostly because I like referring to everything as Cretan. There, we ate food made by Creta(i)ns and drank the alcohol of Cretans and would occasionally shout "Cretan!" at passing Cretans. The joke never got old.

Anyway we got there at 6 am and immediately went to Knossos and met up with aforementioned expert. I didn't know this but apparently archaeologists (or at least this archaeologist) are the modern day equivalent of Indiana Jones- he wore a leather jacket, wore i'mwaytoocoolforyou aviator sunglasses, had a faint Scottish accent, and he basically, personally, excavated every site we went to at some stage or another. And here, I'm only guessing- but I could swear that he's raced a few rock avalanches in his day. Over the next 3 cities, and ten or so sites, he- with his accent and leather coat and amazing sunglasses- led us through his fiction of Minoan culture (and to a lesser extent, the later Mycenean one).

I say fiction because that's exactly what it is and partly what makes the field of archaeology and the area of prehistory so interesting. They just make stuff up. Everything is a theory and the more dramatic the theory the more attention it gets, so the archaeologists are encouraged to come up with the most elaborate scenarios and debate among them is lively, creative, and usually has a two drink minimum. Christine- my roommate who is a philosophy major and grad-school bound- actually holds them in contempt, saying the entire field is basically an institutionalized slippery slope. For example, on many Minoan walls and on certain Minoan items there is a symbol called the "double axe." Some say they are simply mason marks used to tell who made the wall and that the double axe was a nation symbol, simply the equivalent of our bald eagle, let's say. But because of the particular placement of these double axes in the "royal apartments" and ritual rooms (which they may or may not be), some think that these double axes denote ritual or religious significance. In the "basement" of the palace there are these large columns with double axes on them, and so, some archaeologists surmise that these columns were worshiped and that people would strip naked and cling to these marked columns in a dark basement in order to commune with nature through the stone. They also venture a similar ritual was enacted on large stones in the open courtyard, which actually sounds a little more fun but a little chillier. The truth is we- they- have no idea what Minoan culture consists of because it's prehistory- before history- and without any kind of literature, it is only a series of guesses. Until only a hundred or so year ago, Minoans were considered a fictional race and even the term "Minoan" is one invented by the first man to take an interest. He saw that this island must be that of King Minos, so the people became "Minoan," and recently prehistorians of "Minoan" culture have decided that the term Minos is like that of Pharoah, so it's like us calling the ancient Egyptians the Pharoese or Pharoahites.

But anyway, having to simply make what they will of the scattered remnants of a buried culture has its downfalls and its blessings which is perfectly embodied in Knossos itself. It was the first major excavation of Minoan culture and it was excavated by the infamous Sir Arthur Evans, the same interested man who took it upon himself to name the Minoans. And he also took it upon himself to heavily reconstruct the palace. Most archaeology sites are reconstructed to a degree, to imply certain aspects of the architecture that have since been destroyed or to provide physical support for what are generally fragile structures. But Evans did one better and actually painted entire wall frescoes based on 6 square inches of the original, rebuilt walls and roofs and columns based often on little more than logic combined with an impressive imagination. What we know of the Minoan culture is completely how we choose to interpret the remains and his reconstruction embraces this notion. The reconstruction is more to give you a sense of the grandeur, the scale, and the purpose of the palace. But with such heavy reconstruction, the place starts to feel like a Disney version of a Medieval palace. It limits your own imagination because he's imposing his own which, granted, might be more informed of Minoan civilization, whatever that might be. Anyway, the Minoan culture, supposedly, is one built off a series of "palaces," epicenters of commerce and trade in which all goods went into the palace and then were redistributed to the people to fit the need and we looked at a few different ones besides Knossos. I much preferred the lesser, but still significant palace of Phaistos which we went to the next day on the opposite side of the island. There, it was easier for me see the place as actual ruins, to actually if only momentarily relate to what's there- to, as I mentioned earlier, feel like I was walking among the actual remains of something real and once vibrant instead of rocks and demarcations signifying as much.

But, of course, this is my commentary now. The actual moment to moment thought process, especially when we weren't on a site, was more "This place is fucking ridiculous." Crete is soo beautiful and aestheticly, surprisingly different than the other Greek islands (you know, which are old news by now) It was, at one time, ruled by the Venetians, the Romans, the Turks, and the Greeks and the architecture and city orientation reflect that. So, especially in the cities where we were, there were these elaborate Turkish fountains, Roman Churches and monasteries, and giant Venetian fortifications, shipsheds, and walls built out of proportion with these fragile-looking Greek and Venetian buildings crowding otherwise tranquil harbors. It looked very much like Venice reimagined onto the ruins of Rome with the coastline of Greece. Which is what it is I guess. And the tourist industry itself had its charms- the place was built for hedonism. I guess they embraced the Roman/Greek idea of lounging while you eat because there were maybe only two tavernas that had actual chairs instead of sofas and recliners. And the shopping and nightlife matched accordingly. So, you know, not a horrible place to spend a birthday I guess."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cut Off

This blog has become much more public than I'd like so I feel uncomfortable putting in excerpts from personal emails; it will be discontinued until I write some original material. :(


"It's as unreal now as it was then- Paros is paradise, there must be an etymological link between those words because every picture taken is a postcard, every cafe is a seaside cafe framing the mountains, the cliffs and the sea, it's really too much. Luckily-fortunately- by the grace of God, the weather on the day we arrived was overcast and chilly (well, low 70s), so that we weren't completely overwhelmed and could ease ourselves into it. We could only stay for a night since the ferry returning on Sunday was full but we had some sun the next day and we enjoyed ourselves.

It amazes me still that such a place that could be enjoyed as an island paradise in its own right actually finds itself into my curriculum. Coincidentally, just before we came my professor was telling us of the cold north wind that blows down the Mediterranean turning what would other wise be the desert tops of a flooded mountain range into the picturesque islands that form the Cyclades. Anyway, this cold wind is the same wind that prevented the Mycenaen ships from sailing to Troy (hence Agamemnon sacrificing his daughter), the same wind that forced so many sailors to take harbor at Sounion, and, if you see the picture below, the same wind that forces all those trees to grow at around a 45 degree angle. See? It all comes together. It's right outside a church called the "Hundred Doors Church," which, by my count, had only around six and which is famed to be very beautiful but which we couldn't go into because Christine was wearing shorts (Sacrilege!).

Paros is incidentally the most important archaeological site for examining the early Bronze Age. But we encountered very few sites of historical relevance both because we couldn't get very far from the port and because we were, after all, there on vacation for only around 36 hours. While biking around the limits of the harbor we did find some mosaics from the Hellenistic period (3rd century BC) that we looked into but that clearly no one else on the island cared about. Garbage littered the perimeter and we couldn't tell at first whether it was a ditch or whether the sign labeling it as an archaeological site was legit. I guess sites of this kind are so commonplace that they can afford to take them for granted. Lucky Paros. We got back to Athens around midnight and today we took the bus (an adventure in its own right) and went to the beach. I still taste like salt. The sensual experience of floating in the sea is something that I can't do justice but there really isn't anything like it and this isn't a Greece observation, this is a general one- I just like to swim."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finally, literally, in ruins


"...But returning to the point, the more I look around Greece- especially as I move away from Pangrati and visit the more wealthy and commercial districts, the more my 'village of Athens' idea becomes a little more complicated. There are clearly strains in Athens that are more resistant to this western ethos of economy but I'm afraid I've been looking more at the outliers. It's disappointing, but I think I've mistaken almost cosmetic cultural differences for differences of another kind. Not that I'm completely ruling out what I've spoken of before, but I -to an extent- feel that this culture is not foreign enough, that I'm not in enough of a Wonderland. Of course, I didn't come to Greece simply to be disconcerted- and I'm not completely "concerted" now but it definitely strengthens my resolve to go to even more foreign cultures- hopefully ones that have been isolated from Western influence to a greater extent. That's misleading. Athens has not been isolated at all and seems to only convert its forms or resist out of national stubbornness

But my personal discombobulation was not why I wanted to come to Greece at all and was only something I've really focused on because I didn't really expect or think about it. What Modern Greece actually is wasn't a serious consideration. So it's greatly gratifying to have the ancient world take on a more dominant role just as I'm becoming accustomed to the modern one. Meaning: classes have finally started to get going and we've visited many an ancient site since I last wrote to you. I don't know if you recall, and I didn't realize to what extent, but my classes are so completely and uniformly focused on ancient Greece that I can't escape thinking about it constantly. But there's no better place to do it than here

The juxtaposition of ancient and modern Greece is actually quite odd since they don't seem to engage with the history any more than your typical classicist does but I suspect the culture and traditions are something more deeply-rooted, even visceral. This is encapsulated well, I think, in the fact that most ancient Greek sanctuary sites have a modern Greek Orthodox church right next to it. Ritualistic sites remain ritualistic sites even though they've adapted. Similarly, in antiquity, the last sacrificial festival of the year had a special twist: they would do the regular ritualistic stuff, cut some hair from the cows head, and tempt it up to the altar with cakes&c (the animal always had to go up to the altar of its own free will) and then they would pounce on it, surprising it, and then kill it with an axe, cut it up, and roast it. But in this last festival of the year the man who killed the cow was then brought into town and put on trial for murder. He inevitably said "I didn't kill the cow, the axe did!" The axe was then put on trial, convicted, and they would all go down to the river and throw the axe in. Today, there is an annual ritual in Greece in which the Greek priests lead a parade to the river and throw in a cross. Obviously, there isn't the sense of the scape goat, the atonement for sacrifice (atonement being an imprecise word that doesn't cover the larger implications of the ceremony, I think), and many of the more interesting qualities- but it is oddly similar. It's similar to traditions in Mexico in Catholicism in which the religion is different but the local customs can't be rooted out and thus become sanctified. But anyway, this was all an aside to tell you about my trip on Saturday to Sounion/Brauron!

The trip was amazing. I wish that Americans didn't always speak in hyperbole (not that I don't adore hyperbole- my most recent facebook group is "I speak in dramatic hyperbole and would rather set myself on fire than stop." My favorite quote: This party is literally worse than the holocaust) so that I could use a word that isn't also routinely used to describe hamburgers, showers, and really nifty belt buckles. Sounion is a temple dedicated to Poseidon located on the outermost tip of Attika. Lord Byron visited there (and actually, legibly, carved his name into one of the columns) and wrote of it in Don Juan: Place me on Sunium's marbled steep/ where nothing, save the waves and I/ May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;/ There, swan-like, let me sing and die.

So, a satisfactory place to die and although I might not share his pathos the general sentiment is something I certainly can understand. It, as you can probably tell from the photo I sent earlier, is on top of a cliff that falls off into the sea, surrounded by similar cliffs and similarly breathtaking islands. Apparently, it's the first land you see whether coming from Troy or Crete and it offered safe harbors, so a key strategic area to control and usually the beginning of some pretty daring journeys, so it is just the place for a quick sacrifice to Poseidon. I don't know if you remember the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur (the one with the maze, the bull-man, and the virgins- but doesn't every Greek legend have a virgin somewhere in there?). But accordingly, Theseus was sent off to slay or be slayed by the Minotaur and on the way home he was to put up black sail if the venture was unsuccessful and a white one if he was. Sounion is where Theseus' father, the king of Athens, waited to see whether the sail was black or white. However, on the way back Theseus "forgot" to change his white sail for the black and so his father, upon seeing the coming black-sailed ship, threw himself off the cliff and Theseus incidentally became the king of Athens. A very convenient lapse of memory. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Of course I didn't take a single picture, since I didn't think to bring my camera.. or sunglasses or sunblock, more serious of a problem than you'd think in Greece.

After which, we went to the oldest remaining theater in Greece which is, curiously enough, located in the silver mines of southern Attika. It's a region that was mostly populated by slaves at the time and adjoining the theater is a silver "washer," as it were, that separates the ore. Apparently the 'boss men' of the slave camp didn't want to have to go all the way to Athens on festival days, so they built their own theater. Isn't that so The Man? I found out after the trip that it was only my group that went there and we did so only because of a timing/staggering issue and because it was on the way. But doesn't that say something about the sheer quantity of sites that our professor could pick out a site almost at random to waste a few minutes?

Then we went to Brauron, a sanctuary of Artemis. The sites that aren't so central (or as absolutely beautiful as Sounion) are almost untouched and they aren't as controlled and roped off. So Brauron was almost interactive, we could walk the bridge and sit (or rather lounge, as the Greeks, like the Romans, didn't bother to sit up while eating) at the 'dining table' (or stone pedestal remnant of a dining table) and even rehearse the ritual bear dance in the courtyard- not that I did, but I could've. Okay, so Greek mythology again (and I find these things fascinating but if you don't you might want to scroll down. I probably should've warned you of this earlier). When Agammenon left Mycenae to sail for Troy, the weather didn't agree. So he, in true Agamemnon fashion, sacrificed his own daughter, Iphigenia, in order to make for fair weather. Apparently, at the last moment Artemis swooped in and replaced Iphigenia with a stag and carried her off to Asia Minor to be an attendant in one of her temples. After Agamemnon returned to Mycenae successful, his wife, understandably pissed about the whole daughter-killing business and having acquired a lover of her own (don't they always?), gives Agamemnon a bath and then kills him. Agamemnon's son, Orestes, upset about the murder of his father kills his mother and her lover and goes off to find his sister. It's a vicious circle, really- once you get started killing family, you can never stop. The spot where Orestes and Iphigenia landed upon their to Attika is where this temple to Artemis was built. Since, the ocean has moved back about kilometer so it's located in very hilly, dry countryside (only a mile or so from where the forest fire devastation cut off- divine intervention, no?). The mythology is interesting enough but even more interesting to me is the ritual that was built upon it. All Greek girls were sent to this temple at eleven or twelve years of age so that they could become properly domesticated into women. Or rather, girls were sent there upon puberty so that they could become wives (since they were always married shortly after). They stayed there for four months to a year serving as attendants to Artemis, like Iphigenia, and then had a great ceremony ( in which they performed what is known as the "bear dance," where they stripped off a bear costume) to celebrate their having changed from wild things (ie archtoi "little bears") into women and then they offered up all their childhood toys and gifts to Artemis. And when the girls died in childbirth (which 40% of them did, since they were only 13 or 14 when having children), the bloody clothes they died in in labor (eek) along with the rest of their childhood things were offered up as well. Afterwards, we went to the beach, which was fun and salty and beautiful


We've already encountered Brauron in text in my Mythology/Religion class, which is promising to be much more interesting than I had anticipated. About which I'll tell you more, as I've grasped a better idea of it myself and if you're interested. I can completely sympathize with your rusty-Greek woes! We just began translating yesterday (Thucydides- History of the Peloponnesian War Book IV) and I'm completely out of practice- I just stared at the text for a half an hour, completely overwhelmed. But, although I made some embarrassing and obvious mistakes, I think I'm getting back into the swing of it. Remind me to never discontinue translating if I don't want a massive headache later. By the way, I feel like I've been writing a little more British-y than usual. I blame my professors- two of which are British, all of which are characters. Oh! I almost forgot- a joke!

How can we tell that Oedipus was an amateur classicist?

He conjugated when he should have declined.

Pangrati- Bohemian commune?


"...It's funny that you mention "America has all the food, and it's ours, only ours, and only belongs to the owners" (well said, by the way). Because it's something I really took note of while observing Athens. One of the first things the program director told us in his orientation speech is to avoid the "curse of comparison" between Greece and the US and he then proceeded to tell us to adopt the Greek lifestyle. The second part I understand and agree with but he didn't really elaborate on the first and I'm not sure I've followed his advice because almost all I've done is compare, not in a "better or worse" way- which is perhaps what he meant- but in an almost anthropological way. When I first came to the city (not that I've been here so long that reminiscing on my initial impressions is warranted), it was almost culture shock- everything seemed so strange and so, shall I say, foreign (haha) but slowly the differences, the big ones but especially the small, have belied the completely different value-set, which I suppose I expected but I didn't really anticipate what form it would take.

For example, there are stray cats and dogs everywhere and they don't go around begging for food or following humans- they have adopted a lifestyle completely suited to their environment. But they are fed. I find upended cans of dog/cat food in the less busy areas of the the neighborhood (particularly on the stairs leading to the top of the Marble stadium- one of the arenas from the 2004 Athens Olympics that's right next to my apartment) and when they are sick, people take them to the vet. In this way it's very communal and it is in many aspects. But in the US it's not "a sick dog," it's "my sick dog." Likewise, children are embraced by the entire community- obviously not to the same extent, but children are precious things to be cared for before they are my precious things I must care for. These things are simply understood. The sense of private property is more fluid, as you were saying- not to the extent of village life in maybe Africa or South America; It is still a city and it is still more or less Western. I'm not sure if this mentality reflects the Middle East influences, the age of the civilization, or the idea that Athens is in some ways very much an urban village that I mentioned before. But this seemingly universal understanding that things will be cared for and it is not so much the responsibility of an individual but the only way things can and must be manifests itself in other ways too. Traffic laws are really more traffic suggestions (they are ALL maniac drivers) and there is no drinking age. It is simply understood that the drivers will take care of what needs to be taken care of and that drinking will go according to custom- in moderation and always socially (public intoxication is taboo). It's as if they all simply agree on the way things are generally done and the details are really no one's business but your own. Maybe the US needs to be so strongly regulated in comparison because it can't rely on this relatively homogeneous population and this strongly rooted common value set or maybe it's a question of efficiency. It may be novelty to me and more pleasurable and easy going way of life that places a stronger emphasis on quality of life but I can see also how in the larger sense of a structured society it is impractical how Greeks always double park, park on sidewalks, drive on sidewalks, drive the wrong way down one ways streets, and ignore red lights. I always assumed practicality and efficiency is what determine things like traffic and commerce. I never really thought of it as a new idea that could is only easily implemented in a relatively new country (ie the US) without strong customs or perhaps just in a more Western society in general.

But it so refreshing (and much more enjoyable to me, so far, at least) to see a country based on people's inclinations rather than efficiency- I could really get used to coffee shops open at all hours simply because people like to hang out in these plazas late into the night. And I could really get used to siesta (almost everything is closed between 2-6pm). The Puritan ethic is so deeply ingrained in me that I marvel at how businesses can operate based on anything other than maximizing profit (because profit is clearly a secondary consideration here). Obviously, these observations are based only on a survey of Athens and it'll probably become more nuanced and less exaggerated as I get to know the people and culture well enough to appreciate the commonalities as well as the differences, but even with this cursory glance, I think I'm getting a better perspective on what American culture is. Not even in just the "capitalistic society" way, but other things that I appreciate and will probably miss eventually.

Like Michigan, for example. I've always just thought of it as a relatively beautiful, spacious place for Chicagoans to enjoy on vacation but now when you talk about going up there I appreciate it more as a beautiful place in it's own right. I think I think about it more as the coordinates 45°0′54″N 85°44′11″W (and yes, I did just look that up on Wikipedia- although it would be awesome if I just knew coordinates like that) and less as 'seven hours from Chicago', if that makes sense. I don't think I've really become all that much more worldly, but I think I have a better understanding of what it is to be worldly. I get tired so much more quickly here because everything lends itself to analysis, which worries me a little. I worry if the small things I'm observing really a window into the essence of Greek life or only incidental, Things like notebooks and pens are much more expensive here and things come in much smaller packages (eg it cost me 16 euro for three notebooks (and they don't have college-ruled) and six pens and they sell hot dogs in packages of 3 as opposed to 8). Does this show a society that doesn't place the same value on education, that writes less and thinks more (or just writes less), that places a stronger emphasis on oral communication, or is it simply that it costs more to import- or maybe I'm just being ripped off cause I'm an American? Likewise with the hot dogs- is it because they shop more but for less at a time (which is true), because they don't like hot dogs as much (which is also probably true) or because they don't manufacture them in the country? It may be something of a combination of all these things to different degrees or none of the above or maybe it is, again, just incidental and I'm overanalyzing it. And as fun as it is to constantly try to understand the culture as a whole, I feel like I'm not simply "living it" as much as I should. Perhaps that will come with time.

Don't even get me started on the scenery. I started writing in my travel journal last night (I would've started earlier but I actually couldn't find a pen for three days. Shameful, right?) and I limited myself to just a half hour of writing (because it was 2am and I had a class at 8:30) and all I wrote about were how the directions of the streets and the facade of the buildings told me innumerable things about the culture. To tell you the truth, writing in a travel journal is much more difficult than just writing...) But, to be a little more economical in my descriptions- all the buildings are almost identical in every way but color. They are all relatively tall cement buildings painted bright colors and every building is completely decked out with balconies. And usually the balconies are filled with plants. Everything is crowded in on itself and over the street so that sidewalks are unreliable and of varying sizes (I guess city planning/zoning laws are as lax here as anything else). I was thinking about how because of the narrow zigzag streets and the tall, crowded buildings, hills, and overwhelming plant life you can never see farther than a block ahead of you (if that) and wondering how this frames the Athenian psyche.

Then again, the rest of Athens may be very different. I actually haven't been outside the Pangrati/Kolonaki neighborhoods yet, which I'm not too worried about since- for now- this area has been overwhelming enough and I don't want to try to get in all of Athens in a week. I have time. All the CYA students live in either Pangrati or Kolonaki. Kolonaki is the richest neighborhood in Athens and it's where you'd find all of the Michigan Avenue stores (and the prices! don't get me started) but Pangrati is a very middle class neighborhood, all small stores and low prices (very few stores are much bigger than my room and they're all super-specialized; ie one store only sells socks and underwear and not even lingerie or fancy underwear- just practical stuff. This makes trying to find something specific quickly a great ordeal). I live in Pangrati (only three minutes away from the CYA academic buildings). Some students were complaining about living in Pangrati as opposed to the more posh neighborhood but I much prefer it both for the cheaper cost of living and for the exposure to the more common elements of Greek life. The distance doesn't hurt either (the further apartments in Kolonaki are at least thirty minutes away) My roommates and I leave for class almost as the class begins."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Day 2: Initial Impressions/Time to learn how to give playful Blog titles

At this point- because of my limited internet access (both self and CYA-imposed)- my blogs will just be a series of excerpts from emails. But hopefully, that will give my blog a more 'book of letters' vibe


"...They have demonstrations over everything- even the schoolchildren demonstrate when they don't like their teachers. Anyway, we walked around Pangrati and I feel, if anything, more confused about how to get around. The entire city is a maze. It's very unlike any American city. It's densely populated but almost evenly distributed. Everywhere feels like "downtown"- there are no quiet or strictrly residential areas. It's clear that it grew from a village. In every way you can feel how the old the city is, how modernity has only helped build up a traditional society. It's kind of a series of contradictions that they don't find troubling because it is how it's always been i.e. Church attendance is higher than in any other European country (and the crime rate is lowest) but they eat well, drink constantly, and party late (like 8am-late). And they're so social! There are a million coffee shops and they're all always full (and open until 2 am). They sit around for hours drinking one cup of coffee, just talking.

...During the tour, our guide pointed out this wine shop that sells wine in giant plastic water bottles, which is apparently not an unusual way to buy cheap wine. I thought that was really funny and tacky but the other two wanted to buy some- Christine for the novelty, and Hilary because it's alcohol, it's cheap, and it's massive. So after we found our way back to the apartment, we bought some along with some ouzo- the national drink- (all of which was insanely cheap. 1.5 liters of wine for 3.60 euro and a small bottle of ouzo for 1.80) and we went over to our neighbors apartment (there are two CYA apartments in our building) who invited over other girls she knew from Notre Dame and some other CYA kids.A word of advice - NEVER buy wine in a plastic bottle. I didn't think I knew bad wine from good, but the red "wine" tasted like prune juice and dirt. The white was drinkable but only in the literal sense of the word. And ouzo- a licorice tasting hard alcohol- was gross but I expected as much from licorice alcohol. We all went out to a bar in Kolonaki and had a good time. Next time I go out, I would like to go with less Americans, since we didn't really get to meet any Greeks but for a first venture it was probably easier and more comfortable the way that it happened. It was a success if only because I didn't lose anything and found my way there and back."