Saturday, December 20, 2003

There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays

There are only five days until Christmas. It should feel like Christmas, but it doesn’t. Not yet. Not for me. On Monday, though, I expect that all to change. On Monday, I will be home for the holidays. Right now I’m just trying to pass the time until I head to the airport and spend almost a day in transit to the one place where Christmas really feels like Christmas.

I can’t imagine spending Christmas anywhere except at home. I’ve been trying so hard to get in the holiday spirit here, but the effort has been largely unsuccessful. Despite decorating our house, playing Christmas carols (or more often, singing them), and going on day long shopping trips, I’m just not feeling it. There is a Christmas village set up in Syntagma square, which tricks me into the mood for a few moments. A large Christmas tree is surrounded by gingerbread looking houses where confections are sold, and long lines of people wait for a ride on the carousel, which seems to go dangerously fast. At night, especially when a hint of cold is in the air, it almost feels like Christmas.

But the illusion doesn’t last long. There are simply too many things here which don’t jive with my version of Christmas. The decorated palm trees, the relatively mild weather, the fact that not one Santa I’ve seen here has had a real beard and that without fail they are 100 lbs too thin. Christmas here isn’t nearly as big of a deal as it is in America. Of course, since the country is 99% Greek Orthodox, they do celebrate it as a religious holiday, but there is little emphasis on it being a holiday centered around tradition and togetherness. The Greeks spend much more energy celebrating New Year’s, when St. Vassilis brings them gifts. Santa Claus is nothing more than a Western import…along with much of their means of celebrating the Christmas holiday. Unlike in Germany where Christmas is absolutely authentic, most holiday goods here amount to nothing more than cheap imported junk.

Yet it’s not just the shortcomings of Greece, which put a damper on my holiday spirit. I’ve felt the same way in Germany and in Texas. It never feels like Christmas until I am home. I am a Christmas traditionalist. Christmas to me means certain very specific things, and without those things, it doesn’t seem like Christmas. Christmas is…decorating the Christmas trees with my family while Christmas music plays in the background; making batches and batches of Christmas cookies and candies; watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” with the whole family; driving around and looking at Christmas lights all over town; having my dad’s family over for a Christmas Eve brisket dinner; going to Midnight Mass; leaving out cookies and a note for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph; crowding into one room with my brothers to sleep so that no one can wake up without the others; sitting at the top of the stairs with my brothers right after we wake up and having our picture taken; opening the Santa Claus gifts, then the stocking gifts/family gift, and finally the gifts we bought each other all before anyone even considers eating breakfast; having my grandparents and now my aunt come over in the morning for more gift exchanging; going to my dad’s parents for Christmas lunch; going to my mom’s parents (and now my mom’s sister’s or brother’s) for Christmas dinner; coming home and playing with Christmas gifts until wee hours of the morning.
This, and this alone, is Christmas. I can’t imagine it any other way. I don’t want to imagine it any other way. That it might change when I get married or have kids is an idea I’m not willing to accept. It’s hard enough for me that I’m missing some of the pre-Christmas preparation. Missing Christmas itself would be completely unacceptable. I’m going home on Monday, and I can’t wait. Then, and only then, will it really begin to feel a lot like Christmas.

P.S. If any family members are reading, I have a proposal. Since we are having Christmas at Charlie’s house and since Charlie’s house is so close to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, don’t you think we should stop by and see if we can take a picture on the steps? Wouldn’t that be fun?

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let it Snow!

It’s snowing here in Athens. I woke up this morning to a light grey sky splotched with dark grey clouds that were gently releasing the tiniest flakes of snow. The snowflakes fell slowly, each the lead ballerina in its own short glorious dance. During the course of my first period class, the snow picked up in intensity, with clouds of snow swirling in the wind. The flakes are noticeable, but not sizable. They cling to your coat, your hair, and your eyelashes, but they leave nothing but a lingering wetness on the ground. The snow will probably end soon, and by this evening or tomorrow, this morning’s magic will be nothing but a dreamlike memory. But for now, there is snow in Athens, defying the begonias blooming on my front porch and the patches of bright green grass that are appearing for the first time since I’ve been here, declaring loudly that yes, even here in Athens, there is a Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Randomness

I just typed a long blog and it disappeared. It claims to have saved it, but I have no idea where. I can't seem to find it. Fortunately, it wasn't a long story or anything, but simply some random thoughts. I'm frustrated and annoyed right now, so my random thoughts are going to be pared down to what Matthew refers to as talking points. Perhaps I'll elaborate later if I still find the thoughts interesting in a day or two.

---At the Monastiraki Flea Market last weekend, D, Kate and I could have bought a quarter for 2 euros. A man was selling old coins and among them we found a quarter. We asked the guy how much he would sell it for, not telling him what it was of course. He studied it for a while, and then declared that while most of the coins were only 1 euro 50 cent, this one was 2 euro. We found that to be pretty funny. Especially considering the fact that the dollar isn't worth crap nowadays. Even funnier was the fact that the guy across from him was selling a dildo. It was laid out on his blanket, not in any sort of package, right between some old doorknobs and a bucket of tools. It was quite the flea market.

---There's a kid at the elementary school who claims to be James Bond, Jr. He's a really funny kid. We met one day while I was typing at the computer and he kept whispering, "Close the computer." (They say close when they mean turn off.) All the while, of course, he was acting as if he had no idea who was saying this. (Hmm, Dad, remind you of anyone you know???). I see him all the time now, and he always runs up and gives me a big high five. I like him. He's funny.

---I'm not a very good English major. A lot of the other Teaching Fellows were either English or Literature majors, and they are much better fits for it than me. They like Byron and the Romantics. They can name and discuss all the literary periods. They have read Beowoulf, Canterbury Tales, The Iliad, The Odyssey and other such books in their entirety...and sometimes for fun. I, on the other hand, can make no such claims. While discussing this, Darrell made a very good observation. He said that he thinks that I don't so much like literature as I like stories. Excellent point. I don't really appreciate a lot of the things I'm supposed to as an English major. I don't want to discuss the literary merit of any work, and I'm not particularly interested in analyzing it. All I want is a good story. I want something that makes me turn the pages, that grabs my attention and my imagination, that is enjoyable to read. I want stories, not literature.

Monday, December 08, 2003

It's A Circus Out There

Going to Ermou Street, the main street in downtown Athens, is much like going to the circus. To begin with, there are performers everywhere. One of the most popular acts is the statue act. People dress up and paint their bodies and stand perfectly still on top of boxes or other platforms in a variety of poses, acting as if they are statues. The really good ones make you look twice or even three times before you're convinced that they are actually alive. People stand and gawk, and when the occasional person throws a coin into the box at the performer's foot, the performer comes alive for a short moment, usually doing nothing more than artistically waving their hand, blowing a kiss, or elaborately curtseying. Every week I see the same performers, and I can't help but wonder how one comes to do this. Do they stand at home in front of mirrors for hours on end practicing being as still as possible? Do they really make much money this way? I can't imagine that they do, but there must be some reason they continue doing it.

Aside from the statue people, there are performers who are a bit more lively. There's usually at least one person playing the guitar and singing. Occasionally there are groups of people performing together. Yesterday, for instance, there were three men dressed in full Native American regalia, singing, dancing and beating their drums in the middle of the street. They drew quite the crowd. And there's always a few old men pushing carts that have big wheels which you turn with a handcrank and from which music emerges. They push the carts up and down the streets, cranking out the music, occasionally singing, more often that not making strange chanting noises. This usually attracts my attention the most, perhaps because I don't really understand it. I wonder if the men constructed the carts themselves and it's considered an art form, or if I'm supposed to reward them with money simply for turning a crank and pushing a cart all over town.

And then to make the circus complete there are tons of people selling things. I can buy scarves, rip-off purses, balloons filled with flour with faces drawn on them, balloon animal kits, flowers, and a variety of other novelties that change on a weekly basis. Plus there is food: popcorn, roasted chestnuts, roasted corn on the cob, pistachios, cotton candy, coconut.

It's a real honest-to-God circus. It doesn't matter one bit that every store on the entire street is closed on Sunday...Ermou Street is still packed. It's something to see, and every week there's something new and exciting. Maybe next time there will be elephants and a flying trapeze. I can hardly wait.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Ich Liebe Deutschland

On Tuesday, I returned from a little holiday trip to Germany. Most of the time I stayed with my friend Laura in the area near Ramstein Air Force Base, but I also spent one night in Cologne with another friend from my time studying abroad in Freiburg, Jeff Ellis. I had a great weekend. I didn't do any crazy sightseeing tours, running from one must-see site to another (I did enough of that the year I was there), but instead I relaxed and enjoyed the country I got to know quite well two years ago.

I really like Germany. As soon as my flight took off and the flight attendants came on the intercom speaking German, I felt comfortable. After living for three months in a country whose language I don't speak, hearing a language I knew was refreshing. It was amazing how suddenly German, which I studied long and hard to learn, seemed so natural and easy. Stepping off the plane, it was almost, but not quite, like being home. Germany is a comfortable place for me.

I'd never really thought about it before, but I think there are certain places that are just right for certain people. I enjoy Greece, but I never feel completely in sync with it. The chaos irks me. I'm not a huge fan of taking long naps in the afternoon in order to go out at 3am and stay out all night. I don't like the fact that the bus that is scheduled to come at 1pm might come at 12:45, might come at 1:15, or might not come at all. I definitely hate the pollution and general lack of concern for the environment. Greece is a great place to live for a year...a great place to vacation...but it's not somewhere I could ever imagine living.

In all honesty, I'll probably live most of my life in the United States. This is what I want. But I could live in Germany. In Germany I feel more at home than I do in any other place besides home. I know how things work, and beyond that, I like how things work. I love the efficiency, the order, the respect for the environment, the political consciousness, the desire to do quality work. I feel like it's a very real place, and a place where I myself can be real, can be who I am.

I spent some time considering whether this was simply a condition of the fact that I had lived in Germany for a year, and that maybe I'd feel the same way about Greece after a year, but I don't think that's the case. As proof, I offer Houston. I lived in Houston for three years, but never really grew attached to it. I would never live there again. Houston and I simply don't mesh. Yes, there are places that can grow on you, but there are also places where you just feel like you're in the right place.

If you've never been to Germany, you should go. It might not be right for you. But it might be. And there's plenty to do there, so it will turn out to be a good trip either way. Instead of rambling on and on about the place, I'll just offer up some of the things I really like about it. If you go, I'm sure you'll come up with some more.

1. The way it's really really dark at night. So dark that you almost can't see your hand in front of your face...and therefore you can see millions of stars.
2. The way that there are woods and nature everywhere. The towns interrupt nature, instead of nature interrupting towns.
3. The bakeries...mmmmm. So much good stuff, it's impossible to choose.
4. The Christmas markets. Germany knows how to do Christmas right. It looks like Christmas, smells like Christmas, feels like Christmas, and tastes like Christmas. Try some gluehwein. Have some chocolate covered strawberries. Buy a hand carved nativity. Take a ride on the merry-go-round.
5. The way that people in stores ask after you've made a selection, "Nach einen Wuensch?" Literally this means, "Another wish?" It's as if they are little fairy godmothers who will grant you whatever wish you choose.
6. The Altstadt (old town). The downtown section of almost every town is almost completely pedestrianized. You can walk up and down the cobbled streets, window shopping, snacking, talking without fear of getting run over.
7. The sense of history. The towns are really well preserved. History is alive in Germany. There's a bit of pride, a bit of embarrassment, a bit of apology, a bit of protectiveness.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Happy Turkey Day

I just wanted to wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a relaxing, enjoyable day full of things to be thankful for. I'm heading to Germany today for a weekend visit with friends, so you won't be hearing from me for a bit. Eat a little extra for me today.

What I'm Thankful For...
1. My parents...for being the best in the world (plus in case you didn't know, my mom sends the best packages ever).
2. My brothers...for being three of the coolest people I know
3. Jeff...for being so amazing
4. My friends...for making me laugh
5. My extended family...for being less "extended" and more "family"
6. My education...for giving me so many opportunities
7. My job...for paying me to live in Greece
8. My health, my country, green beans, laughter, summer, e-mail, books...I could make lists all day, but I have a plane to catch. Hope you all have as many things to be thankful for as I do.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Making a List, Checking it Twice

In case you are feeling generous (now or at any point in the future), I thought I would make my wish list clear. This way you can surprise me with one of the things I’ve always wanted. And yes, I know many of these things are not at all practical given my current situation (or perhaps practical at all), but that does not lessen my desire for them, and thus should not lessen your willingness to procure them for me. And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to update the list should things change. Now, in no particular order, the list….
1. an old typewriter – with raised round keys that make loud clacking noises when you type
2. a digital camera
3. a good bike and a helmet
4. quality hiking boots
5. a canoe
6. an Italian leather journal – They sell them in Venice. They have beautiful leather covers and the insides are filled with homemade paper.
7. The chest I received from my grandmother restored and lined with cloth.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Ready or Not, Here They Come

Last night, Carl, a friend of the house, stopped by and Kate, Darrell and I hung around with him chatting. Carl’s age is a mystery. We used to think he was in his late twenties, but references to jobs he’s had and how long he has worked at them, make us think that perhaps Carl is actually in his mid-thirties. His age really isn’t important, but it was kind of interesting how far off we were on his age. I guess it’s true that you’re just as old as you act.

Anyhow, Carl, who is Australian, works as a consultant to the Olympic Games. He started with this in Sydney, kept it up in Salt Lake City, and is now in Athens on a 2.5 year contract. Hearing him talk about the upcoming games is hilarious. Anyone who has visions of how great these games will be seeing that they are taking place in the birthplace of the Olympics will be set straight after a short chat with Carl. I’ve been in Athens for three months and I’ve frequently wondered if I just made up the fact that the Olympics will be held in this city in less than a year. Unless you’re walking through Plaka, where stores selling Olympic souvenirs abound, it’s pretty hard to believe that the attention of the world will be on Athens in August 2004. I can see the Olympic Stadium from the third floor of the high school, or to be more accurate, I can see the part of the Stadium that is actually built. I can also see the cranes that are supposed to be working on it, but which I have never once seen move. It will take nothing short of a miracle for this city to be ready.

Anything that could possibly be an issue is. The taxi drivers are constantly striking because they refuse to meet the demands of the Olympics Committee which include issuing receipts, having cash boxes, and brushing up on their English. The entire city is under construction, none of which seems to be scheduled for completion before 3850. There isn’t one single mosque in the city for Muslim competitors/spectators to worship in. The athlete village is a decent bit away from the main venue, yet there is as of now no arrangement for how to transport the athletes to and from the events. Getting from the airport to town is a huge pain, because no one seemed to consider it a good idea to link it up to the new Metro. Trash piles up on sidewalks for weeks at a time because the garbage workers are on strike. Really, you’d think that someone just sprung the idea of having the Olympics here on them about a month ago. And to think that they’re still pissed that Atlanta got the Olympics for the centennial event in 1996 instead of them.

All of the above are problems that need to be addressed and need to be addressed soon. The real problem though is an apparent lack of interest and leadership. According to Carl, no one wants to put their name on anything because they don’t want to be held responsible for its failure. So instead of things getting down, papers are simply passed around. Then, when someone asks about it, everyone denies having ever seen it. The most amusing part of it all is their method of planning. I’ll play out Carl’s story for you…
C: (talking to Greek officials) You all need to make a plan for this (referring to security, events, whatever)
Officials: What do you mean a plan?
C: You know, what you’re going to do, who’s going to do it, how you’re going to do it, when you’re going to do it…
Officials: Okay. But, how?
C: What do you mean how? Just write it down.
Officials: Okay. Do you have a copy of how they did it in Sidney or Barcelona?
C: Sure. (gives them a copy)
A few weeks later the officials give Carl a copy of their plan, which he proceeds to read through.
C: Um, I’m not sure about this reference to the Harbor Bridge. How exactly are you planning to use the Harbor Bridge for the games here in Athens?

Yes, that’s right. The Greek officials simply copy the plan they were given, not even bothering to change obvious things like the names of places specific to a city. And the kids at Athens College don’t understand why I make such a big deal out of them not cheating. Cheating, which will be saved for another blog, is rampant here and Greece, and this is evidence of the fact that it’s not a habit that you just lose when you are out of school. So yes, they’re even cheating on the hosting of the Olympic Games. I’m not really sure how that’s going to work out. I had really wanted to stay around for the Games, but now I’m fine with the fact that I’ll be missing out on them. But if you do go, let me know what you think of the way they incorporate the Harbor Bridge into the show. I imagine that it’ll be pretty interesting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

My Old Kentucky Home...

There’s something about human nature that compels us to make connections. Whenever we meet someone, we search our minds for anything that will build a bridge between us, no matter how distant we may actually be. As a foreigner in Greece, I am constantly asked where I am from, and then I am forced to listen as people dig furiously for an association.

Since I’m not from New York, Boston, DC, California or Florida (the apparent travel hotspots for Greeks), most Greeks have no real experience with my hometown or home state. Many, in fact, aren’t exactly sure where it is, and using the places they know, it’s still pretty hard for me to explain. Well, yes, Kentucky is north of Florida, east of California, and southwest of NY, Boston and DC. But hell so is Nebraska, Arizona, Ohio, Kansas and about every other state in the country. There’s not a tidy little explanation of where my state is. We’re not on the East Coast or the West Coast. We’re not really Southern (at least in comparison to Georgia or Alabama). We’re certainly not Northern. And we’re not quite Midwestern. We’re the gateway to everything, but we’re not quite any one thing. Try explaining that one to someone with a limited knowledge of both the English language and American geography.

Yet despite the relative anonymity of Kentucky, there are still connections to be made. KFC, for instance. The chain is all over Athens, and it’s the first thing that seems to pop into the minds of many Athenians when they find out I’m from Kentucky. Yes, of course, I say. You know, Colonel Sanders is my grandpa. Everyday we eat fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and biscuits straight from Harlen and Claudia’s kitchen. Finger-lickin’ good. Sometimes I’m not sure they realize I’m joking. Maybe I am heir to the most famous fried chicken in the world…me and every other Kentuckian.

But don’t despair fellow Kentuckians. There are those who know more about our state than KFC. The cab driver I had this weekend, for instance, upon finding out that I was from the Bluegrass State, immediately steered the conversation to bourbon. Great, I thought, a topic that I am extremely well-versed in. Bourbon. Is that what Jim Beam is? Is bourbon the same as whiskey? Hell if I know. But don’t’ worry…I didn’t let on. Instead I proudly announced the one fact that I do know about bourbon…to be real bourbon it has to come from Kentucky…just like Champagne has to come from France. That connection to France makes it sophisticated you see. Kentucky…just like France.

And oh yeah, I bet you never knew that the blue people who live in Appalachia are a topic of international interest. That’s right, one of the passages in the 7th grade literature book here at Athens College is titled “The Blue People of Kentucky.” Definitely an important thing to be learning about at that age. I hope they don’t forget the pearls of wisdom they gleaned from this reading. At least when they meet someone from Kentucky, they won’t have to talk about KFC. They can talk about Troublesome Creek, the Fugate family, and inbreeding. That’s a conversation every Kentuckian I know is dying to have. What, you think it’s strange that my brother is also my uncle?

To be fair, not all people I meet have such misguided ideas about Kentucky. Emmanuel (with two m’s as he pointed out), the self-proclaimed “Capitol Man”, who I met just this weekend while walking down Ermou Street in downtown Athens, proved to be quite the expert on Kentucky. In his own words: “Kentucky. The capitol is Frankfort, but Louisville is the big city. The first Saturday in May. The most important horse race in the world. Quite an event. Have you ever heard of a man named Rick Pitino? He used to coach the Wildcats, but then went and coached the pro team in Boston. It’s a pretty state, I’d say. Quiet, too. Nice.” After I informed him that Mr. Pitino had returned to the great state of Kentucky to coach the Louisville Cardinals, I asked him if he’d ever been to Kentucky. With his wealth of information on the state, I was certain that he must have some real connection with it. But alas, no. Emmanuel, aka Capitol Man, had never been to Kentucky or known anyone from there. He just liked memorizing random facts about every place in the world. Interesting, huh. Actually, it’s kind of weird. If the only people who really know anything about Kentucky are those who read reference books for fun, I think maybe I’ll just stick to the people whose connection to my state is KFC. At least that means they’re somewhat in touch with the world.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

He Who Saves One Life, Saves the World Entire.

Rosa is, in my best estimate, in her seventies. She is not even five feet tall and speaks in a quiet voice. Yet both her presence and her words are commanding. Rosa is a docent at the Jewish Museum in Athens, which I visited this morning. She spent at least thirty minutes sitting and talking with Kate, Sarah and me about the history of Jews in Greece and of her own personal history. I am fascinated by the topic of Jewish history, especially in regards to the Holocaust, and when I meet someone who has lived this history, I find myself captivated.

The Holocaust was a horrific event in the history of the world. While initiated and carried out by the German nation, the Germans were aided and abetted by the world. The United States refused to allow any more Jews than normal into the country. Cuba turned away a ship that was to dock there, forcing the Jews back into the hands of Hitler. The Pope harbored the Nazis in Italy. Gentiles in German-occupied lands cooperated with German forces, turning Jews in for monetary rewards, knowing full well that their actions would result in the murder of these Jews. Einsatzgruppen in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Russia were assisted by local civilians as they murdered entire populations of Jews. Humanity and morality were abandoned by an incomprehensibly large number of people.

But not all. There were people who looked into the terrifying eyes of the Holocaust and challenged it to a fight to the death. Rosa -who lost her uncle in Bergen-Belsen, who had to change her name to a Christian name in an effort to remain unknown to the Germans, who was one of the mere 10,000 Greek Jews who survived to Liberation (Greece lost 87% of its Jewish population), who has every right to be bitter toward the world - reminded us that there is always a light in the darkness. In Greece, there was Angelos Evert, head of the police in Athens, who issued false identity cards to Jews, recording them as Greek-Orthodox. There were Bishop Chistostomos and Mayor Karrer of the island of Zayknthos, who were told to submit a list of all the island’s Jews to the German authorities, but who instead turned in a list, on which there were only two names…their own. Of course, neither was Jewish. These two men then proceeded to smuggle out all 257 of the island’s Jews. And there was Archbisop Damaskinos of Athens, who wrote an angry letter to the Nazis, denouncing their “intolerable acts of barbarism,” praising the role of Jews in Greek history, and refusing to collaborate with the Nazis, thus becoming the only head of a European Church to officially demand a stop to the persecution of the Jews. When Nazi General Stroop wrote back threatening to shoot him if he did not cooperate, the Archbishop defiantly replied, “General Stroop, the Priests of Greece are not shot; they are hanged. Please respect this tradition…” He then issued instructions to all monasteries and convents to give sanctuary to any Jews who came to their doors, and he issued false baptismal certificates to aid Jews trapped in the city.

Despite all of these individual acts of heroism, Greece lost a larger percentage of its Jewish population than any other country. But because of these individuals, there were survivors. Because of these individuals, Rosa is here today, sharing her history with those who take the time to listen. Rosa has not forgotten the horrors of the Holocaust. For her, 65,000 dead has more meaning than it ever will for any of us. But Rosa does not dwell on this alone. To dwell on the horror of it all would, in a way, be a victory for the Nazis. But to look past the evil, the collaboration, and the cowardice to the moral courage of a heroic minority is to refute the Nazi message of hate. It is a bold statement of resistance. A statement that, throughout history, too few of us have been willing to make.


Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Saying Thanks

I am the granddaughter of veterans of the Second World War. My mother’s father served in the infantry from before Pearl Harbor was bombed until after the war ended. My father’s father served in the Army Air Corps from the time he was old enough to be drafted until the war’s end. Both of my grandfathers were POWs, one managing to escape twice and one being freed in a prisoner exchange. Both were wounded. Both lost friends. Both proudly served their country because they believed in the ideals for which our nation stands. Because of stories they have told, questions I have asked and research I have done, I know all of this. I know the facts of their years of service.

But I don't know what it must have been like to watch your closest friends die. I can't comprehend how overwhelming the fear must have been at times. I can't imagine not knowing if you'll ever see your family again. And for that, I am thankful.

I have never been called upon to sacrifice in such a way. My beliefs have never been put to the test. I don't have to decide if I am willing to give up my life for ideals like democracy, freedom, or the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, without multitudes of men and women throughout our country's history who were willing to put their lives at risk for these beliefs, I would not even have such concepts to ponder.

Today is Veteran's Day, a day to honor those men and women who have proudly served our country, who have protected the rights that we take for granted every day. Each of us must know someone who has served or is serving this role, and I hope we have all taken the chance to tell them how grateful we are. I know today there are many of us who do not support the military action that the United States is engaged in. That is our right, but a right that was given to us through the sacrifice of many, many lives. So take a stand against violence, war, and hatred, but don't forget to honor and respect our military personnel. They are performing a difficult job that most of us are not willing to do, and thanks to them, it is a job we do not have to do.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Shut Your Hole

Twice a week I help out in the college counseling office. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working with a student who’s applying to schools in the University of California system. Let’s talk about a pain in the ass application. But anyhow, one of the questions on the application asks: “Do you have a special connection with any particular cultural, ethnic, societal, or religious group? If so, please explain here.”

We both kind of scoffed at the question, joked about his attachment to his Greek heritage and then left it blank and moved on with the application. I wondered how many people actually answer that question. At age eighteen, how many people say they strongly identify with any one group of people? At age eighteen, how many of us have the first clue where we belong? Actually it’s probably not right to limit that question to any age. At eighteen, most of us probably don’t have a clue where we belong. But do we at age 25? At 30? At 50? Ever? I am not sure. I think we just think about the question more at age eighteen, because belonging is more important then. As we get older, groups become less distinct. We don’t divide ourselves up into the jocks, the cool kids, the nerds, etc. We know how to function within the many different groups that make up society. But that doesn’t mean we actually know where we belong.

But despite the fact that I think most of us aren’t completely sure where we belong, I think we have much stronger attachments than we wish to admit to the groups which we use to try to define ourselves. Wait until someone criticizes a group you associate yourself with and see how you react. I compare it to the way you react to people who criticize your brothers or sisters. You can say whatever you want about them, but as soon as someone else opens their mouth, you defend your siblings to the death.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a lot of critical things to say about the United States. I hate the corporate culture that puts money above human interest. I hate the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. I hate the ignorance most Americans have regarding the rest of the world. I hate the apathy we display when it comes time to vote or take a stand about something we believe in. I hate our kiss-my-ass attitude. But I also really, really hate it when someone who is not American says any of these things. Suddenly, I am America’s greatest defender. I justify. I make excuses. I attack them back. Who are they to criticize my country…and thus criticize me? Because I am American, because, despite my resistance, I am part of all of this which I hate, I have the right to comment, to criticize.

The same is true of people who make negative comments toward the Catholic Church. Lord knows, I have a long list of complaints. Confession, come on. Do you really think there is any need for a priest to act as a go-between between you and God? The Church’s stance on women and homosexuals. Don’t get me started. The pope’s infallibility. Celibate priests. Holy days of obligation. The bread and wine becoming flesh and blood. There are plenty of things about the Catholic Church that I scoff at, argue about, and can’t reconcile myself to. Regardless, I am Catholic, and I don’t want to hear your criticism unless you too are Catholic.

We are constantly defining and redefining ourselves. We become members of different groups in the effort to figure out who we are and where we belong. But there are some groups that we can’t escape. We are bound to them, for better or worse. Whether we admit it or not, we do have special connections with certain groups. And because of this connection we can criticize, and we can become overly sensitive and perhaps even unreasonable when someone else makes the same exact criticism. It’s not the criticism, but where it comes from that matters. I can criticize the U.S. I can criticize the Catholic Church. Because I belong to these groups. Because I am an insider. And because when this is the case, there is, behind all of the criticism, love.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

No Worries

Everywhere you go in Greece, you find men carrying worry beads. These strings of about ten beads, usually wooden, sometimes metal, are occasionally stowed away in pockets, but are usually clutched tightly in the hand. The plump, agile fingers of men close in age to me, and the gnarled, arthritic fingers of men whose lives have spanned almost a century find a similar solace in these beads. These men rub the beads between their thumb and forefinger, they let the whole string of beads slid through their hands like water, they flip the beads quickly and expertly. I don’t know if they actually use the beads for their worries, or if they simply like the repetition and routine. Whatever the reason for their widespread popularity, I like them. I like watching men drink coffee in a cafĂ©, unconsciously working their worries out with their fingers, the way babies do with blankets. I like watching old men, dressed in suits that have grown too big for their stooped bodies, walking with the beads hanging from their hands as if they are an extension of themselves. And, most of all, I like the way they remind me of my grandma rhythmically working a rosary through her hands.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I Can't Hear You. I'm Reading

I go through spells where I consume books madly, as if I’m starving and they are my sole sustenance. I pick up a book and don’t put it down until it is done. And then when I’m finished, I immediately pick up another and begin the process again. It’s as if I’m addicted, and I can’t quit even if I want to. Then eventually the spell ends, and I have a short drought before the process begins again.

When I read, the whole rest of the world disappears. I might as well be deaf and blind. You can talk to me. I might even answer. But I'll have no idea what you said. It doesn't matter if I'm reading the ingredients in the toothpaste, the comics in the newspaper or War and Peace. For however long it takes, I'm lost in the world of those words.

I love books. They are not just one of life’s great pleasures, but for me, they are one of life’s necessities. I don’t think I could survive without them. I don’t need a TV. I could maybe get by without the Internet. But without books, I would starve. Living here, I’ve become even more aware of the truth of that. We have a TV, but it gets horrible reception and almost all of the programming is in Greek. I perhaps watch it for ten minutes a week. We also have the Internet, but the connection is miserably slow, so I use it to send emails and update my website but that’s it. Being here, I’ve realized how much time I waste in front of both the computer and TV, consuming things that don’t mean anything to me and are of no real value. I don’t miss them here. Especially because I have shelves full of books in my house and a whole library just a short walk from my house.

I don’t understand people who don’t like books. That’s right, Gregory, I don’t get it. I love everything about them. The way they smell. The way the pages feel. The flow of the language. An image that you can’t lose. A character you can’t forget. A world you are invited into and allowed to inhabit for a short time. I loved all of this as a child. Ask my parents about the times I took books to the lake so I could read while everyone else went fishing. Ask the librarians who I saw all the time as I read hundreds of books more than were required to earn the prizes for the summer reading program. Ask anyone who knew me. I was never without a book.

And I never want to be without one. Unplug my TV. Cut off my Internet. But don’t take away my books. I can’t live without them.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Tales of a Golden Kazoo

It is now time for you all to meet my friend Davos. Davos is a good friend for many reasons, but mainly because of his willingness to entertain his friends with his amazing skill at a most unusual instrument.

I met Davos only last week. It’s hard to believe I have known him for such a short time, because my memories of him are so dense and penetrating. Our friendship began on the beach at Gythia. Kate, Darrell, Sarah and I were enjoying the last rays of sun, when a man (who we later came to know as Davos) who was probably between 35 and 40 and wearing nothing but a blue speedo approached us. He crouched down and smoothly asked us if we had been swimming. Seeing that he had been watching us from down the beach for quite a bit and that none of us were wet or wearing swimming suits, it wasn’t quite as smooth as he had hoped. But he seemed friendly enough and considering that there were four of us (one of whom was a boy), we weren’t intimidated or concerned. He struck up a conversation, and we quickly realized that he was quite intelligent. He knew a number of languages, was very well traveled, well read and well educated. He owned a bookstore in town, which all of us found interesting. Additionally, he was full of local folklore, telling us all about the different winds and predicting how the winter would be based on signs he’d gathered through the year. We asked him for suggestions on a place to eat, and he informed us of the wineshop which I mentioned in an earlier post. It sounded charming (as it most definitely was) and we were convinced that we should go there.

Davos left the beach about 30 or 45 minutes before we did. When we left, we decided to go straight to this wineshop because we were all tired and figured that if we went back to our room we wouldn’t make it out again. We sat down as the sole customers and ordered our drinks and were deciding on dinner when Davos appeared at the shop. It turned out his bookstore is only a few stores down from the wineshop. He pulled up a chair and proceeded to order a wide array of food for us to try. It was all delicious and he was a most excellent host. This was Greek hospitality.

Dinner went on for quite a while, and we were all stuffed, tired and ready to fall into bed. Davos, however, had other plans. He kept making references to getting icecream, and while we kept telling him that we had no room, he was insistent. So when we left the restaurant and he began to walk down the street, we followed. We entered a door and suddenly found ourselves in Davos’ apartment, a very sweet bachelor pad. There were windsurfers, fancy bikes, and a huge amount of electronic equipment. I thought to myself, “Hmmm, maybe he has to get something.” But no, he emerged with some chocolate and water and had us sit down on his couch, which we all did while looking at each other and making puzzled faces. “Whatever,” we thought, “he’s a nice guy and with such a big group of us, it can’t really be sketchy or anything.” This was, however, before he turned out the lights and lit the candles. At this point, I couldn’t help but begin to giggle. I was overly tired and at that point of silliness. But it only got better. With the ambience set, Davos pulled out his guitar, positioned his microphone and began to play and sing for us. He did the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan, playing okay on the guitar but singing like he had never before actually heard the songs. We tried to help out, but there wasn’t much we could do. So yes, at this point, I was out and out laughing. I couldn’t help it. Neither could Kate or Sarah. Darrell remained fairly composed. “What,” I wondered, “does he think he is doing? Is this normal? Would he do this even if we weren’t here and thought he’d just share it with us? Does he think we’re impressed? Am I in the freaking twilight zone?”
And then it was confirmed, I really was in another world. While playing a Greek song which none of us knew, Davos pulled out a golden kazoo and began to play. That’s right…a golden kazoo. It was made out of real metal and was quite elaborate. Yet it was definitely a kazoo…that weird, strange instrument that usually appears only in goodie bags at children’s birthday parties. There was nothing I could do at this point but collapse into gut-wrenching laughter. I buried my head in the pillows and howled. I literally thought I might die because I couldn’t catch my breath. It was unbelievably funny. It was a moment like no other. I looked around the room and took it all in, told myself to remember every little detail. It was a once in a lifetime occasion. It was not to be forgotten. No matter how hard I try I’ll never be able to tell you how funny it really was. But just imagine…a couch, a set of bicycles strung with Chinese lanterns, the soft glow of candles, a guitar, and a one of a kind golden kazoo. Ah, Greece.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

We're All In This Together

When we were in Gyflio, we were walking around the Platia, the town center, and happened across a funeral. We saw what seemed to be a hearse parked out on the street, but we didn’t think anything of it until all of the people sitting in the cafes on the Platia or wandering around grew quiet and rose from their chairs. We followed their eyes and watched as a funeral party emerged from a nearby building, the funeral home I presume. Everyone in the party was wearing black and many were teary-eyed and holding on to each other for support. The coffin was loaded into the hearse, which was really nothing more than an old black station wagon with all but the front seats removed. The coffin rested in the middle and along the sides were electric candelabras. Flowers were piled atop the car. A professional drove the car, and the Greek Orthodox priest, dressed in full attire including hat and long beard, sat in the passenger seat. Everyone else walked behind the car as it crept forward. In front of the car, a band, dressed all in red and composed of people of all ages, walked and played a dirge.

The church was only a few buildings down from the funeral home, and when the party reached it, they all moved inside for the funeral mass. Flowers were piled in front of the entrance, and we could hear songs and the chanting of the ritual funeral service. The smell of incense drifted out and perfumed the entire town with its bittersweet odor. Following the service, the funeral party reorganized itself and made a slow trek along the sea to the cemetery. The band played its dirge, the mourners wept, and the entire town stood quietly and respectfully as one of their own exited the town and this life.

The rituals surrounding death interest me. Cemeteries and funeral services speak to the way in which people care for other people. While it certainly does not concern the dead, it is still heartbreaking to see an overgrown and forgotten gravesite. On the other hand, it is touching to see fresh flowers, a letter, or a small trinket atop a gravestone, especially gravestones which reveal that it has been many years since the person buried there passed away. I didn’t know the person whose funeral was being held in Gythio, but I felt connected to it, because I was in a town that felt connected to it. Not everyone in the town knew the person who had died, but they all stood quietly, paying their respects. It was a simple gesture. But it was a gesture full of meaning. The funeral was not for a person who would be considered important by worldly standards, but to family and friends, to the town, to the space of world to which he/she belonged, he/she was important. The dirges, the slow walk through the street, the public display of loss was appropriate. In Gythio, it was not true that when you cry, you cry alone. There the whole world mourns with you. There they have not forgotten how important one person is. There they have not forgotten how important empathy is.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

On the Road Again...Going Places That I've Never Been...Seeing Things I Might Never See Again

I just came back to Athens after a four-day weekend exploring the Peloponnese. We were given a long weekend, because today is “Oxi Day,” the day when Greece said no (oxi) to Mussolini’s request to allow Italian troops in Greece, thus effectively dragging Greece into World War II. It’s an interesting holiday I think, and the day is celebrated with parades, masses, flags, laurel garlands, boys and girls dressed in blue and white, and the complete shutting down of everything.

My weekend was fantastic. I love the Peloponnese. It’s Greece the way I want it to be, completely different from Athens and its cosmopolitan, consumerist culture. It’s the Greece of history, mythology, and life before 1/3 of the population decided to move to Athens. I spent the weekend with Kate, Sarah and Darrell roadtripping around in a car we rented. It was liberating to have a car and drive through the mountains and valleys of small town Greece. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this part of Greece is. It’s a stark beauty, with steep rocky mountains of a purplish-grey color, skies that are perfectly blue, water that makes you realize what color Agean blue is, and trees that are heavy with oranges. It’s a delicious beauty that you drink in madly but can’t get enough of.

We headed out early Saturday morning towards Sparta and the center of the Peloponnese. It’s strange, but the ancient towns that are so well-known really aren’t worth writing home about these days. So instead of stopping in Sparta, we went a few kilometers outside of town to Mystra, an extremly well-preserved ancient city. We spent a few hours exploring the churches, monastery, fortress, castle and random buildings that remained on this huge hill. It’s a great time of year to go exploring, because the weather is beautiful but the crowds are small. Leaving Mystra, we headed south to the middle peninsula, stopping at the top in a town called Gyflio. Gyflio is on the water, but it isn’t a tourist town, which made it all the more charming. A sailboat regatta was taking place when we arrived and it all looked picture-perfect. We took a room in the house of an older Greek woman, who was as sweet as could be and cooked us a mean breakfast of homemade donuts and other sweets the next morning. We spent the afternoon/evening at the beach, which was sandy except for the perfectly smooth multi-colored pebbles along the waters’ edge. The pebbles reminded me of the worry stones my grandpa gave to me when I was young, so I picked up a few and tucked them away in my bag. The sunset was a fabulous cotton candy pink and blue creation. Dinner that night was fabulous...it wasn’t even really in a restaurant but in a wine shop where the owner cooked for you on demand. Very small, homey, and amazingly delicious. The best food in Greece hands down.

Day two we spent driving around the Mani peninsula, which is again gorgeous. I know I’m overusing the description but I can’t help it. Our first stop was a cave which we toured by boat and then by foot. It was a neat experience. I was impressed with the navigation skills of our guide…some of the passages were quite narrow and made dangerous by protruding stalactites and stalagmites. Further down the peninsula, we stopped in the town of Vathia, which is now home to a single-digit population, but used to be home to few hundred people who lived in stone tower houses. The Mani people are known for being traditional and conservative. They are also known for their feuds. Up until the end of the 19th century, families would have huge feuds that would last decades in which the object was to eliminate every male member of the opposing family. It was for this reason that they all lived in stone towers, which they continually built higher in the hopes of surviving. I don’t know what brought about these feuds, but they were quite intense. Also interesting was the fact that none of the doors in the town seemed to be over 5 feet tall. Small, angry people it seems.

Day three we explored Monemvasia, which is this Rock of Gibraltar type formation. It’s an island which is connected to the rest of Greece by a causeway. From the mainland, it looks like nothing but a rock, but when you go out to it and go around the rock, you find an entire town that faces out to sea. It’s pretty cool, but kind of touristy. We spent the rest of the day driving up toward the part of the Peloponnese close to Athens. Distance-wise it’s not that far, but the driving is on tiny, windy mountain roads so it took a long time. It was a great drive though, so no complaints from me.

Day four we checked out Argos, of Jason and the Argonaut fame, which really wasn’t all that interesting. We also climbed among the ruins of ancient Corinth, the city to which Paul wrote his famous epistles. Corinthians 13:1-8 was quoted in multiple places in multiple languages. It was a nice connection to the familiar for me. We arrive home back in Athens in the afternoon, relaxed and pleased with the success of our trip. It was as if we’d finally seen Greece, and it was a wonderful experience.

So that’s it in synopsis…not brief I know, but I really did cut out quite a lot. I hope to be able to post more this week to expound on some of the more interesting aspects of the weekend, including the golden kazoo, the funeral we witnessed, forty-five minute breaks in the showing of tv movies, the old woman we stayed with, and the elderly people and their donkeys… I know you are on the edge of your seat. I’ll do my best to deliver.


Friday, October 24, 2003

I Wanna Live Where the Green Grass Grows

I'm not a city person. I've decided once and for all. Some people talk about how being in the city makes them feel alive. In the hustle and bustle of downtown, they can sense the pulse of life. Something about honking horns, revolving doors, the rush of traffic, and crowds of people appeals to them. I don't feel that way at all. In the city, I feel claustrophobic, as if the whole world is squeezing in on me, crushing out every bit of life. It seems to me that life is out there somewhere, but that I can't reach it, and I'm stuck running after it without any real chance of catching it. The garish sights and sounds overwhelm and confuse me so that I feel as if I can't even think. I come home exhausted, usually without accomplishing anything.

I want to live somewhere where I have a patch of grass that is all my own. I want trees and maybe even some water. I don't want a skyline; I want a horizon. I need somewhere I feel like I can breathe, think and exist. It doesn't have to be out in the middle of nowhere necessarily. In fact, I'd like to be near a city. I am not so backwards as to think that the city has nothing to offer. If you want the arts, if you want museums, if you want sports...you need a city. I know that. And once in a while, I enjoy the city in all of its dirty glory. But I don't want to live right in the heart and soul of it, because for me, it is an empty soul. Despite the thousands of people running around, I feel lonely in the city. Outside of it, I can be completely alone, yet never feel lonely. I'd much rather keep company with nature than with strangers.

I don't think I ever want to live in a city bigger than Louisville. It's the perfect size. It has the right amount of green space, the right amount of city, and the right amount of places to go out. I'm not sure if it's the biggest small town I know of or the smallest big town. Either way, it works for me. Strange isn't it...the one place I couldn't wait to leave when I was younger is now the measuring stick for every place I would ever consider living.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Click Your Heels Three Times

Hanging in the halls of the middle school is a flyer advertising a meeting of the Refugee Club. At the bottom of the flyer is a quote: “There is no greater loss than the loss of one’s homeland.” This quote caught my attention, and the other Teaching Fellows and I got to talking about it. Was this really the greatest loss one could suffer? We started discussing the things that would be most unbearable for us to lose, and while there are many things we would not want to give up, there really are very few things that would be absolutely unbearable. Family, health, and intangibles like freedom, love and intelligence. One of the other Teaching Fellows argued that his homeland would not be the worst thing to lose. I wasn’t sure. The more I pondered it, the more I felt like it just might be the greatest loss. Perhaps I feel this way because I have a very dear attachment to my home, or maybe it’s because I take a very broad view of what home is. Home is definitely family. It is also freedom and love. In a sense, it is health because it is where I feel the most whole and well. It is who I am, so losing my home would be like losing myself.

In arguing that the loss of the homeland would not be that great, the other Teaching Fellow pointed out the fact that for all practical matters our homeland is lost to us this year. We live under the laws of another land. We are surrounded by a foreign language, culture, and religion. All of this is true, but I still don’t feel as if my homeland is lost. There is a huge difference between choosing to leave your country and being forced from it. When I am frustrated by my current home, I have the security of knowing it is temporary. I know that my home is still there and that upon returning I will find it almost the same as it was when I left. I know that if I really wanted to I could be home within one day. It would cost me a lot of money and would require hectic planning, but it could happen if I wanted or needed it to.

To be a refugee, to be someone without a homeland, must be terrifying. Not only is your future uncertain, but your past is nothing more than the few memories your mind is able to cling to. What must it be like to be forced out of your homeland by war, political chaos, disease or death? Could you imagine leaving your home and knowing that you may never return and that even if you do it will not be the same place that you knew? I choose to travel, to go to new places and leave behind old places. I will probably live in a multitude of different places during my lifetime. But I am not homeless. I have my home, and I can return to it whenever I want. And even if I am not there, I have the peace of mind of knowing that the one place in the world where I am known and understood and comfortable is there and waiting for me. It is my home, not only in my mind, but also in reality. In this world, I have a place where I belong. There are so many who do not, who understand in all its literal terror the phrase “You can’t go home again.” They may find a house, a job, a life in a new place, but still, I think, they must be homeless. Home is so much more than a place. It is a feeling, as warm and soft and comforting as the baby blanket your mother has saved for you to pass on to your children. Home is where we come from and where we aspire to. It is who we are and who we hope to be. We all deserve a place where we can go and say that we are home. We all deserve ruby slippers.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Wedding Bells

My cousin is getting married today, and I, obviously am missing the wedding. So in lieu of my presence I am sending my very best wishes. I hope that today is a beautiful day filled with wonderful moments.

Traditional Irish Blessing
May God go with you and bless you,
May you see your children's children,
May you be poor in misfortune and rich in blessings,
May you know nothing but happiness from this day forward

Congratulations Michael and Laura!

Monday, October 13, 2003

Penny for Your Thoughts

Sometimes I just want to walk up to people and ask them to tell me a story. It doesn’t have to be their life story. In fact, I’d prefer it not be. I want a story about one single moment in time. I want to hear whatever they have to tell me, whatever it is that sticks out in their memory like the streaks in the sapphire sky left by a passing plane. I wonder what they could show me, where they could take me, how much they could make me understand. What would you tell if someone came up to you and asked you that question? What is your story? You know, the one that makes your eyes glaze over and your mouth curl into a smile. The one story that transports you to a place so real that you swear the smell of that place and time is drifting on the breeze.

Yesterday Sarah and I went for a run and ended up atop a mountain/hill that is pretty close to our house. From the summit, it seems that you can see the entire city, although all you really see is maybe one or two tiles in the mosaic that is Athens. The path to the top is paved, although it seems as if they simply poured asphalt over top of gravel, all of which is now falling away in large chunks. It is steep and uneven, but it winds around so that you get views from every angle. From one side you can look out and see the neighborhoods in the area I live. From another side, you can see the Olympic Stadium, currently under construction. And yet another view allows you a glimpse of the sea and even the islands, which seemed to have been painted over by the pink and blue of the sunset. It was the perfect time of day to be there, because light and shadow marbled the entire view and the orange fire of the sun set the whole city aglow.

Having felt caged by the city, the mountain was a perfect escape, and Sarah and I enjoyed it in silent awe before heading down. As we rounded yet another curve, we caught sight of two older women who were climbing up. They must have been over seventy and were both dressed nicely. They wore calf-length skirts made or coarse cotton or wool, long cardigan sweaters that they had probably made themselves and dress shoes. One wore orange-red lipstick. The other wore large glasses. One leaned on a cane for support; the other leaned on the one leaning on the cane. Their hair was white and wispy like freshly picked cotton, and it was pulled back neatly from their faces. I don’t know if they noticed us, but about the time we noticed them, they stepped off the path into the scrub brush. They stared down at the city below, and the one with the cane picked it up and pointed with it. For a while, she held it out, beckoning at something and speaking to her companion. What she said, I don’t know. I wasn’t close enough to hear them, and even had I been, I wouldn’t have understood the language. But I am certain she was telling a story. Maybe she was pointing to a place she had recently been. Maybe she was pointing at something that was no longer even there, but in her memory was as real and fresh as the evening breeze. Maybe the story she was telling took place when she was ten years old and Greece was caught in the middle of a decade of war. Maybe the story she was telling took place only the day before. It doesn’t matter. It was her story. It was a moment that she had captured and was forever hers.

They didn’t stay that way long. Gingerly they moved back onto the path and continued slowly up the mountain. Sarah and I continued down. We passed each other, and said hello. We will probably never meet again. They had their own stories to live and tell, just as we had ours. Yet in that one passing moment, we forever became characters in each other’s stories, perhaps in the stories that we will someday tell if anyone ever asks us for our story.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

I'm Nobody. Who are You?

Actually, I’m Theresa. Or T, if you’re a member of my family or a close friend. Mary Theresa if you’re a family member on my dad’s side. Theresa Mary Margaret Zimmerman Dowell if you’re my mom’s dad. Theresie-Weesie if you’re Cristina. There’s a whole slew of names I’ll gladly respond to. You can probably even make up a new one, and I won’t mind.

If you live in the country you’ve always lived in...if you work with the same people every day...if you are near your family and friends, you probably never give too much thought to being called by name, because you hear your name called out all the time. When you hear your name, you probably just respond without ever thinking about the intimate connection you have with that one word. Although you didn’t choose it and although you may not necessarily like it, it is yours and at some point in your life you became it. I am Theresa. Theresa is me. I can’t be anyone else. I don’t want to be anyone else.

And that, my friends, is why living in a foreign country can be really hard. When you move somewhere where you know no one and you can’t speak the language, you lose a very important part of your identity. You lose your name. People talk to you, but they don’t address you. Your name is lost to them before the introduction is even over. Here the kids refer to me as “Missus” or “Teacher.” Sometimes I don’t even get to be a single nameless person…I’m “one of the Teaching Fellows.” I remind them over and over of my name. I tell them that they can ask me as many times as they like. But they don’t. It’s not that they are trying to be rude; they just don’t realize how important it is, and they probably feel like it’s rude to make me keep repeating it. I know, because I’ve often been guilty of the same crime. If you do the same thing, trust me, the person would probably rather have you ask a million times than have you never address them by name.

On long days when I’m not even once addressed by my name, I remember being young and watching Cheers, not because I liked the show (or at all understood it), but because I liked the theme song. Perhaps it’s silly and sentimental, but it’s also true. “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see troubles are all the same. You want to go where everybody knows your name.” Sometimes, really, that’s all I want.

But then there are moments like the one that happened Friday afternoon as I made my way up the stairs to my last class of the day. Aris, a student in my SAT class, passed by, smiled and said “Hi, Theresa.” I know he didn’t think anything of it, but I almost stopped right in the middle of the stairs and hugged him. I’m sure he would have thought I was out of my mind, and for a moment, I may have been. It was just one word, but it was my word. It was me. I was…I am somebody. I’m Theresa.

Friday, October 10, 2003

You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato

I always buy my tomatoes from the same man. His tomatoes are delicious but that’s not the real reason I buy from him. I don’t know how his prices compare to the other booths, but I don’t really care. I buy my tomatoes from him simply because I like him.

If I had to give him an age, I’d guess that he’s between sixty-five and seventy. He’s a short man with a round belly, over which he always wears a v-neck sweater. Today it was dark red. His face is round and he’s mostly bald except for a bit of white hair around the edges. I have this sneaking suspicion that he is related to Santa Clause. He is the type of man who is undoubtedly an excellent Grandpa. I don’t know his name, and I feel kind of guilty about that. He deserves a name. I think I’ll ask him next time I go to the market.

Tomato man, as we fondly refer to him, gave Sarah and I a smile and a wave today as we walked past him. He knows that we always walk to the end of the market first before making our way back, stopping here and there to buy oranges, zucchini, grapes, and whatever other produce appeals to our senses. He knows that when we get to his booth we’ll fill our bags with tomatoes and a few cucumbers. And every week after we’ve filled our bags and he’s weighed them and told us the price, he sneaks a few extras into our bags as gifts. Today while we filled our bags, he took a cucumber, peeled it, and offered us each half as a snack. Last week, when we told him (through Despina) that we were planning to make tatziki, he helped us pick out the perfect cucumbers for our first attempt at the Greek specialty and then gave us an extra one just in case we needed it.

The free produce is nice, but we don’t really need it. The prices are so low we could afford to buy more than anyone could ever eat. We appreciate it, not for the money it saves us but for the gesture. Tomato man makes us feel welcome and wanted in a country where most of us know no one. I buy my tomatoes from him, because out of the many customers he deals with every week, he remembers and acknowledges us. He doesn’t speak English and we speak very little Greek, but with him I am reminded that communication goes far beyond speaking and that language should never be used as a barrier. And it doesn’t hurt that he is one of those people who smiles with his whole being. You can’t help but want to be around people like that.



Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Hasta La Vista Respect

Last night we were watching the European edition of CNN, and they were reporting on the governor’s race in California. A British correspondent had been sent to California to cover it, and the man was loving every minute of it. The circus that is American elections had him practically hysterical. I think he may have been trying to impress Hollywood with his theatrics. But who can blame him? The story he was covering should have been on Saturday Night Live, not CNN. It’s hard to practice serious journalism when the story is ridiculous. The Terminator vs. a man that looks like a mole. A state that has an economy bigger than the national economies of most countries in the world, and this is the choice we get???

What will America come up with next? God forbid we ever elect someone with real ideas, someone who has a clue about how the majority of Americans live. I have my absentee ballot for the Kentucky gubernatorial race sitting here on my desk. I’ve filled out most of it, but I haven’t chosen who I’m voting for governor. Do I choose the man who thinks that education should be financed through gambling? Or do I choose the man whose slogan is “Restoring Hope,” as if we’re all so destitute that we’ve lost the only thing left in Pandora’s box? And who should I elect to be attorney general…the man with the drug problems, the man who was charged with arson, or the man who doesn’t pay his child support? Such choices. Free elections – the basis of democracy. Yet without a single worthwhile candidate on the ballot how strong is our democracy?

We need smart people to run for office. People with strong ethics and broad visions. We have these people in America. I know them. They are teachers, small business owners, farmers, stay at home parents. They are my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my neighbors. They know what it is to be an average American. They’d do a fine job of representing me. The problem is the small print. How free are elections when the campaigns are multi-million dollar affairs? Don’t even begin to tell me that you can’t buy votes.

I can’t wait to tune into CNN tonight to watch the anchor try to compose herself when they return to the studio after the report on the Terminator’s victory. I love watching the world laugh at us. I’d laugh too…except I’m afraid I might end up crying.

Monday, October 06, 2003

What Might Have Been

All I was doing was standing at the bus stop. Just standing there. Glancing at my watch. Checking the sign to make sure I was looking at the right times on the right day. Scanning the streets to see if bus 602 was in sight. And then it happened. The words every woman wants to hear were spoken to me. “I will love you forever.” This was it…my happily ever after.

Too bad I didn’t know the man who told me this from Adam. He had approached me asking a question and I had replied with one of the few Greek phrases I know: “I don’t speak Greek.” Apparently there is something in those words that makes men fall madly in love with you. If anyone’s looking for a man to profess undying love to them, let me know and I’ll school you in the proper pronunciation of this erotic phrase. It’s potent, so use with care. But I must warn you…there may be a slight qualification on it. Before he declared his love but after I said my line, the man looked at me and said in pretty good English. “Ohhh, blue eyes.” Dangerous combination I’ve got. Look out world.

But the bus came, I got on and left Kostas (I think he told me his name about fifty times) standing on the curb. I broke his heart. I’m hoping he can look back on the memories and smile though. For a few brief moments, it was true love. I didn’t say more than ten words. I shot him dirty looks. I kept checking my watch, the street, the sign. He madly declared his love. My one phrase, my blue eyes…he was swept away. It was just like the movies…love at first sight…or first word. I hope that tonight he can close his eyes and remember just how blue my eyes were as I shot him dirty looks.

Sadly, I don’t know how many more men are going to fall for me. I started my Greek class today. Soon I’ll no longer have use for my deadly phrase. Kostas could have been my last chance. I sure hope I don’t regret getting on that bus and leaving the man who would love me forever standing in front of McDonalds. When I’m fifty and alone, I’ll sigh, think longingly of him and wonder what might have been

Friday, October 03, 2003

Put A Hole In My Head, Dear Liza, Dear Liza

Yeah, you know the song I’m referencing. Slightly different words, but after getting to hear it over and over for one class period and after spending an entire day at the elementary school, these words more accurately reflect my thoughts. I’m pretty sure that anyone who teaches elementary school kids could probably be certified. One day a week there and I think I might go insane. It probably doesn’t help that I have to ride the bus with them both to and from school.

The buses themselves are interesting. To begin with, the kids take tour buses to school. No plastic vinyl seats with holes torn in them for stuffing spitwads and other such valuables. No tricky windows that are almost impossible to open. No emergency exit door at the back. These kids get cloth seats, window shades, seat belts even! And they also get a bus matron. I have no idea what else to call her. She is a woman who rides in the front seat of the bus, tells the driver where to go, keeps track of what time it is when the bus arrives at each stop, and marks off the kids as they get on and off the bus. She also rises regularly to yell at the children in an unbearably high-pitched shriek and then to react melodramatically to every little thing they do. For some reason, people here haven’t caught on to the fact that yelling without any follow-up action does not intimidate anyone into behaving. I, personally, am much more annoyed at 7:45 in the morning by the screeching woman than by the rumbling children.

Elementary school is like a cross between a daycare, a zoo, a mental hospital, and a circus. I am not sure what to think of people who choose to spend their lives working in such an environment. Sure, they do important things. Teaching kids to read for instance. Noble. Crucial. But oh dear God. The hand-holding, the repetition, the theatrics, the unadulterated insanity. I’m not sure if these teachers are saints or if they have a few screws missing. If it’s the first one, then I’m definitely not cut out for the role. And if it’s the second one, I just need some more time at the elementary school and I’ll probably be a perfect fit. Apparently my head’s still screwed on too tightly at this point. I’m all for it staying that way.



Thursday, October 02, 2003

What's Wrong with Middle School

I never imagined I would be saying this, but I think I like middle school kids the best. Well it's actually more like junior high here, since it is 7th, 8th and 9th grades. I don't know if I'd say the same in the U.S. - I've never even been in a true middle school - but so far that's the way I feel here. The kids in the middle school (gymnasio) are so eager to please. They volunteer. They have things to say. They do what you ask them to do. The kids in the high school, on the other hand, just might be vegetables. They stare at you like you are a martian or as if they've never heard English before. I don't think it would matter if I spoke to them in Greek. They'd probably still look at me as if they'd never heard it before.

I don't know if that's the way it is in America. I've tried to think about my own experience, but I can't see it objectively. I don't know what it must have looked like through my teachers' eyes. Are all high schoolers comatose? Does the school system here create such an atmosphere? For most students here, school is only the beginning. They spend hours and hours after school every day attending lessons which cover practically everything they already studied in school. Seniors in high school do hardly anything at school, because they are studying for massive national exams which are apparently the most important criteria for admission to Greek university. For being such a laid-back culture, the amount of stress put on students to succeed academically is out of this world.

So I don't really feel like I get much out of teaching the high school students here. I'm just filling up the hours they are required to spend at school. The middle schoolers, however, make me feel like I just might be doing something worthwhile. When I teach a class and it goes well, it's like a small victory. I like the feeling. But I don't know if I could maintain that feeling. I don't teach anywhere near full time, and I'm still pooped at the end of the day. Teaching, especially in America, is hard work. There is so much work to do. So little pay. So little recognition. So many battles to fight every single day. There's no way it all balances out. I think you might need to be more optimistic than I am to teach...at least to teach well.

Monday, September 29, 2003

He's Gone Ape

Did anyone else happen to read the article about the gorilla who escaped from the Boston Zoo? I particularly love the fact that a woman saw this gorilla sitting on a bench at a bus stop. I wonder where it was planning to go.

It's kind of like that time when I was working at the Louisville Zoo and the lion escaped....Except that the lion didn't actually escape. Oh well. It could have been like that.

Who Do You Think You're Talking To?

The kids here call me “Missus”. Not Ms. or Miss. No first or last name following it. Just “Missus”. What kind of address is that? Apparently it’s a literal translation of the Greek way of addressing a female, but it doesn’t really work for me. Does anyone else think it sounds like I’m a rich white lady living on an antebellum plantation being addressed by my poor slaves?

Sunday, September 28, 2003

To Sleep, To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

I have never been a good sleeper. My mom tells me that as a baby, I did little more than catnap. I wasn’t capable of taking real afternoon naps. I’m still not. Sometimes I lay there and try, but I always fail. My failure at this skill is particularly obvious here in Greece where everyone takes a long afternoon nap every day. I may be the only person in the country who is up between 2pm and 4 pm.

My sleeping problem is not restricted to naps. I frequently have trouble falling asleep at night regardless of how tired I am or the fact that I was practically passed out on the couch before climbing into bed. I remember that when I was little I would lay in bed for what seemed an interminable length (probably less than a half an hour really) and not be able to sleep. I’d creep out of my bed and down the stairs and then present myself at the top of the stairs to the family room announcing, “Mom, I can’t sleep.” My mom would then respond, “Close your eyes, lay real still and don’t say a word.” I guess the advice worked, because I’d eventually fall asleep.

Now sometimes no matter how hard I try to follow her advice, I just can’t get to sleep. I’m a very picky sleeper. I hate any form of light or noise. I prefer the room to be cool so I can use a lot of blankets. But even with all these conditions met, there is no guarantee that I will fall asleep. My mind and body do not have a harmonious relationship. As soon as my body decides it wants to sleep, my mind races to life and cannot be shut down. I think about everything. Books I’m reading. Things I want to write about. What I have to do the next day. What happened that day. And lots of things that I can’t describe because they make absolutely no sense.

But there are times when I sleep perfectly. When I fall asleep with no effort. When I sleep the whole night through, untouched by worries about things I need to do or things I didn’t get done. When even a little light or a little noise has no bearing on my slumber. I used to think it was random whether I had a good night sleeping or a terrible night of tossing and turning. But it’s not. There are certain times that I sleep well no matter what. Like when Jeff’s around. I can have a huge project to work on the next day. I can have spent the whole day worrying and driving myself insane. But come that night, I will sleep well. The reason, I’ve figured, is that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. The work will get done, the worries will prove fruitless. Everything will work out. When he’s there, I quit worrying about the future and reliving the past. I’m perfectly content in the here and now. And that makes for a great night’s sleep.

Interestingly, I’ve slept great since I’ve been here in Greece. It was one of my worries before I left. Knowing my difficulties with sleep, I pictured myself staring at the ceiling all night long, getting up for drinks of water, trying to read a few pages, and watching the hours in which I should be sleeping tick away. But I fall asleep fairly easily and wake refreshed in the morning. It’s a good sign. I don’t believe there’s only one right place for a person to be or one best route for a person to take. There are a number of places I could be right now and be happy, content in the moment, sleeping well. There are also a lot of places I could be where I’d be tossing and turning, dreading the work that had to be done the next day, wondering what the heck I was doing there. Fortunately, that’s not the case. For now, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. The bed-head proves it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

The Results of Your PLAN test: Garbage Collector

Sometimes I feel like I’m still in school, like I’m spending a year studying abroad. But every now and then I realize that I’m out of college and am in the “real world”. While my little Greek vacation may not be particularly “real world,” the fact that I have to find a way to support myself when this assignment is up is most definitely “real world”. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want to do, but I make very little headway in regards to actually deciding on anything. There are lots of things I want to do…zillions really…but I can’t imagine one job that I want to have. Jobs just seem so thoroughly unnatural. Is it realistic to ask people to decide on one thing that they want to do with their lives (or even do for a couple of years)? I don’t think it is. It’s downright absurd.

So I need some help here. I assume that if you are reading this, you know me pretty well. What the heck do you think I should do with my life? What should I do next year? To make it easier for you, I’ve compiled a list of things I like: books, writing, travelling, non-profits, the arts, World War II, teaching, thinking, outer space, meeting people, research, German history, American history, languages, sports, historic preservation, biology, the outdoors. Also the things I don’t like: people who work solely for the money, development offices, investment banking, hospitals, cold weather, hole-punching, binding, filing, cubicles, assembly lines. The general requirements for my ideal job are: intellectually stimulating, meaningful, potential to “make a difference,” interaction with a variety of people, exposure to new things and ideas. As long as I make enough to pay my bills, money isn’t really an issue. I’m open to exploring any and all ideas. So if you’re reading this please, please, please throw your ideas at me. What type of job should I look for? Where would be the best place for me to work? Should I consider going back to school? If so, what degree should I pursue? Should I work for a few years first? Who do you know that has the perfect job for me and I absolutely must meet? I’m listening, people. Talk to me!

Monday, September 22, 2003

This Land is Your Land

I have now been in Greece for three weeks. Three weeks that have, like the light of a comet, passed so quickly that there is little time for comprehension. Three weeks in which there have been moments that have passed as slowly as the night before Christmas when you are five years old. Either way, it’s been three weeks. Twenty-one days. Five hundred and four hours. For better or worse, faster or slower, Greece has been mine for that amount of time.

A banker who goes to Aegina to catch octopus for his friends on the weekends. A nun who lives alone atop Hydra, watching the worldly come and go at the port below, baking sweets for the handful of visitors she may have each month, quietly existing in a world unknown to most. A Greek cabdriver who tells you in perfect German that he has rocks in his heads for leaving Germany to come back to Greece, and replies to your comment that Greece is home with the wisdom of his father…home is wherever you are happiest. A man and his two sons(?), nephews (?) who spend every day slow roasting pork and chicken to make gyros and who for 1.35 euros will provide you with dinner and a few new words of Greek. The rich who sit in cafes in their designer clothes and sip frappes. The poor who sit with their tin cans on the sidewalks of Syntagma and sell their deformities for mere cents to the unseeing eyes of shoppers buying hundred euro shoes. The prejudiced comments about Albanian refugees spoken in loud whispers on crowded buses. The bowl of scraps set outside the door for the stray dogs that roam the city. The farmer at the Friday morning market who slips an extra peach into your bag as a gift. The teacher who invites you to her home for dinner and calls all the people she knows who are your age so that you might have someone to hang out with. The housemates who laugh with you, yell with you, eat with you, and sit quietly with you while you simultaneously wonder what you are doing here and how you got so lucky as to be here. Sapphire water. The smell of pine. Light as you have never seen it before, brighter, more illuminating. This is my Greece.

How would someone who had only been in America for three weeks see it?
What, I wonder, is my America?

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Does This Look Like A Zoo?

Classes have been in session for a week now, but I’ve yet to do any teaching. So far my days have consisted of shadowing, sitting in on classes, and attending endless meetings. In all honesty, I haven’t seen or experienced enough to make a fair judgment call on the schools here. But over and over, one thing has jumped out at me. There is a serious lack of discipline. Never have I seen so many students who talk throughout class, who pay little heed to the bell, who don’t know how to raise their hands, who have to be told repeatedly to spit out their gum, who don’t bring their materials to class. While this in itself astonishes me, I am most taken aback by the fact that none of the teachers or other authority figures really seem concerned with it. They ask the kids to behave, but they don’t demand it. I’ve seen one teacher move one kid to a different desk. I’ve heard one teacher threaten to send a kid out of the room. But the actions are empty and the threats idle. Nothing changes. It’s all a farce…and all the kids can see right through it.

While the kids should be more respectful and well behaved, I am not convinced that the fault lies with them. They have apparently grown up in an atmosphere, which, if not publicly, at least quietly condones this behavior. No one demands that the students be on time, that they don’t talk during class, that they turn their homework in when it’s due, that they come to class prepared. And if they don’t have to do it, why should they? Kids will be kids. They’ll push the limits. They need someone to set limits and demand accountability. By not doing so, the authority figures in these kids lives are, in my opinion, failing these kids. If they don’t learn these things now, when will they? If we don’t show them how to be responsible, respectful, conscientious people, how will they learn?

I haven’t been to other schools in Greece, so I don’t know if this is a nationwide issue or one that is confined to this school. I think part of my shock stems from the fact that Athens College is considered the most prestigious school in all of Athens, and perhaps Greece. The children of the rich and powerful go to school here (along with talented students on scholarship). People pay huge amounts of money for their children to be educated at this institution. It seems to me that they would demand the best. Or is the school like this perhaps because these are the rich and powerful and no one is willing to challenge them? I don’t know the answer, but it’s something I’ve been pondering. I’m not an expert on schools, so if you have any insight into this issue, please share.

Also, it’s interesting to note that among all of the Teaching Fellows I seem to feel most strongly that the behavior of the kids is atrocious. We’ve all expressed some astonishment, but the others have told me that many of their classes and schools were pretty undisciplined (although perhaps not to such an extreme). I’ve only attended two schools (both of which were private), so I have a pretty limited basis for comparison. (I am in no way condemning public school. I am aware that there are many excellent public schools in the U.S. I simply think that discipline is a bigger issue in public schools, because of the strict limitations public schools are burdened with in regards to discipline.) My view is perhaps a bit tainted because I went to schools that had high expectations regarding proper behavior. While there were students at both St. Athanasius and Sacred Heart who weren’t well behaved, they were usually dealt with swiftly. The philosophy of both schools was if you didn’t like the rules, then you were free to go to school elsewhere. Harsh…maybe. Effective…certainly. Many times I thought the rules were silly and superfluous, but now I see the way that small things really do matter in regards to creating a productive learning environment. And I see how enforcing rules early and uniformly allows for a lessening of discipline as students age, because they have already learned the proper way to behave and don’t need to have it spelled out for them. There are a lot of things to be learned in school beyond what’s in the books.

I don’t really see myself as a disciplinarian. But I’m certainly nobody’s babysitter. So straighten up your uniform, spit out your gum, raise your hand if you have something to say, and let’s get to work. School is in session.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Every Day Is An Adventure. Weird Shit Will Happen.

Although it does sound like the perversion of a fortune-cookie message, the above wisdom actually came from Heather, an American teacher at Athens College, and her British husband Russell. This was their way of telling us that things in Greece often don’t go the way you want or expect them to and the best thing you can do is play like it’s all one big adventure. They’re right, of course. There are many days I wonder how anything gets done in this country. Some days procuring a loaf of bread seems like a really big accomplishment. But then there are days like yesterday when you forget about all the chaos, the bureaucracy, and the insanity, and you think, “Ahh, this is the life.”

The nine o’clock ferry took us to the island of Aegina, an oasis of serenity only an hour away from Athens. We didn’t really do anything, but it was perfect. We strolled through the town, sampling the pistachios grown all over the island, peering through the windows at displays of handcrafted jewelry and ceramics, and grabbing a few items for a picnic lunch. Late morning we headed out on foot along the road running beside the coast. The island was gorgeous. It wasn’t Hawaii or the Bahamas; there were no real beaches to speak of. The coast was kind of ragged, and fir trees, cacti and scraggly desert plants dotted the landscape. But the water was sapphire and turquoise perfection. Before we found a place to settle for the afternoon, we came across a man who, from our vantagepoint, seemed to be pounding a bench with a stick. We went closer and discovered that he was actually beating octopuses. When we asked if we could watch, he excitedly began to tell us all about what he was doing, taking us on to his thirty-three year old boat with the hit-and-miss engine that puffed like a freight train, showing us the chandelier-shaped hook at the bottom of a long string tied with various lures used to land his catch, and letting us gingerly touch the octopuses. Dionyssus (as we learned he was called) told us that this was only a weekend hobby, and he caught the sea creatures not for sale but to give to friends who enjoyed them. We must have talked to this man, who on weekdays wore the clothes of a bank manager, for at least half and hour, at the end of which he gave us his number and told us that if we called him he’d be more than happy to give us an octopus too. When we left him, we were carrying a bunch of grapes he had washed off for us in the sea and presented to us telling us that he grew them in his yard. As we stood talking to Dionyssus, who treated us not as strangers or foreigners but as long-lost friends, and watched the shrimp, crab and fish darting through the pools of water at our feet, felt the sun warm on our skin, and smelled the sea on the breeze, the world seemed small and personable and at peace. The rest of the day we spent swimming in crystal water, snoozing on the warm stones, and meandering slowly around the island.

When we got back to Athens twelve hours after we had left, the city was as chaotic as ever. A week of ambiguous work awaited me. But it didn’t really matter. Weird shit will happen. Every day will be an adventure. And there’s an island only an hour away where the only thing to do is let the day simply and joyfully live.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Theatre Thoughts

Last night I saw The Shakespeare Theatre from Washington D.C. perform the Oedipus Cycle at Herodes Atticus Odeon, the theatre on the Acropolis. To see an ancient Greek tragedy performed by a modern American company in an ancient Greek theatre was an amazing experience. Almost 34 rows of stone seats remain, rising seemingly straight up from the ground. Behind the stage, there is a row of arched windows, above which is a row of smaller square windows, then another level of bigger arched windows. To the sides, ruins linger, making it clear that at one point the theatre had at least two more levels. While I am sure the theatre is nothing more than a shadow of its former glory, it is unqualifiedly grand.

As I watched the show with one eye and examined the theatre with another, I couldn’t help wondering, “What is the cost of such greatness?” Not the cost in money, but the cost in human lives. While it is certainly worthwhile to marvel at the way these buildings, constructed hundreds of years before Christ, still remain, demanding respect and reminding us of the ancient roots of democracy, it is important, I believe, to think about how these buildings came to be. Structures of stone, they required tremendous labor. Each stone had to be cut from quarry. Each stone had to be transported to the site. Each stone had to be arranged and secured to withstand the change of centuries. “Who did this work?” I wonder. Who gave themselves fully to the task of creating such a monument? Who lost their lives when a rock shifted unexpectedly? It wasn’t the great men of Athens. It wasn’t those we read about in textbooks or see statues of in museums. It was the common man. It was, most likely, men held slaves by other men. Greatness is a strange concept. There are men we consider great, and there are things we consider great. Sometimes we forget that many great things result from the toil of many forgotten people. It is not just true here in Greece, but in the United States and throughout the world. That which we marvel over and hold precious often has a hidden cost. That doesn’t mean that we should quit marveling. We should marvel, but not just over the thing but also over the people who created such marvels.

On a different but related note, have you ever gone somewhere and wondered what it used to be like before it is the way you see it now? For instance, whenever I go on long roadtrips, I always find myself imagining what our country must have looked like before interstates, or even roads of any sort, crisscrossed it. What must it have been like to have crossed the U.S. by wagon, without roads, interstate signs, fast-food restaurants, billboards, hotels, convenience stores? All you had was yourself and whatever you could fit in your wagon. All your food had to be prepared, found, or hunted. Every need had to be fulfilled by you. You didn’t know what was up ahead. You couldn’t consult Mapquest. You couldn’t call AAA. In one day, you would travel the distance we now travel in one hour. Strange, isn’t it? Could I have done it?

So yes, I’m getting to the part that relates back to my theatre experience. As I sat high above the stage, just as others had done centuries ago, I wondered what it must have been like for them to sit there. What was the same? The glow of the full moon, the pin point light of the stars (multiplied exponentially, I am sure), the trees like rough strokes of black on an illuminated canvas, the shadows dancing wildly on the stone wall, the balmy summer air, the whispers of theatre patrons. So much must have been the same. But as I looked out the arches over the stage, I saw city lights, buildings, restaurants, endless streams of cars. Where there must have been rolling hills and fields, there is now development. While the Acropolis stood stoically, the city around it grew and changed to become a modern metropolis. If the people, who in B.C. sat in the same seats that were filled last night, returned, what would they recognize? Would they even know where they were? While some things remain, so much changes. Bit by bit, the familiar becomes the unfathomable. The world is only ours for a brief moment.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Mmm Food

If I were to pick one thing particular to European countries that I would like to transport to the United States, I would, without hesitation, choose the markets. Yes, I know that America has farmer’s markets, but they are few and far between, never particularly close to our homes or our daily routes. While almost all of us would claim to enjoy such markets, in all honesty, who of us really shops there on a regular basis? Most of us go to the grocery store or the super-mega-everything-in-one Target or Walmart, where the produce is arranged into fantastic looking displays, doesn’t have a bad spot or discoloration, looks wonderful in a fruit bowl, and has very little taste. We spray, alter, and modify our produce until it’s more like art than food. And sure, there’s organic food to be had, but only if you are willing to pay a pretty penny.

But in Europe, fruit and vegetables are still real. Sometimes the oranges have green spots on the outside. Sometimes the zucchini curves into a strange shape. The grapes aren’t always perfectly symmetrical. The onions and carrots have dirt on them more often than not. Yet clean it up, take off the peel, slice and dice and you have the best produce you could imagine eating. And there’s no middleman, no giant company producing in mass. The woman or man who grew that produce packs it into the truck, sets up the stand, offers you a sample to prove that the green spots and the asymmetry don’t matter at all, and then sells you the fruits of their labor for pennies. Today I bought three peaches for fifty cents. Three of the juiciest, most delicious peaches I have ever had cost a mere fifty cents. It’s almost criminal.

And although it’s rare for someone to leave the market without at least one purchase (most people have cartloads full of food), the market is worth going to even if your refrigerator is already overstocked. The food smells wonderful, the sellers are incredibly friendly, and with one in every neighborhood you’re bound to run into someone you know. The markets build community. For a few dollars a week, you can buy all the produce you need, eat incredibly healthily, and contribute to the maintenance of a vibrant community.

Growing up in a world where “neighbor” carries less and less meaning every year, it’s wonderful to see that a neighborhood can be much more than the place where you live. Imagine what America could be if we quit selling out, if we put our collective foot down and said to hell with letting the bottom-line be the end all and be all. Imagine a world were people were more valued than things. Imagine starting with a market.