Friday, March 19, 2004

Catching Up

Over the next month you might not be hearing too much from me. Jeff got here on Wednesday and will be staying until the 27th when my mom arrives. I will then spend a week here in Greece with her before we take off for a week in Italy. At the end of that week, Jeff will meet me in Italy for a few more days, and then together we'll head up to Sweden for a week. It's going to be a fun month. This evening Jeff and I are headed to Santorini which out to be a lot of fun. It's an island that was created by an exploding volcano, and it's supposedly extremely beautiful. I'll take lots of pictures. Speaking of pictures, I've taken quite a few that I'd like to post but the connection in our house is so bad that it takes years to upload even one picture. I'm still trying though and hopefully I'll succeed one of these days.

It seems that spring has finally arrived for good, and I'm loving it. The weather is beautiful. Sixties and sunshine. Plus there are wildflowers everywhere which are quite beautiful. A big change from the rest of the year. When I got here in September it didn't seem as if there was anything alive in this whole country. It's a strange place. Everything grows in the winter and dies in the summer. But it's great now so I'll enjoy it.

I think I've decided what I really want to study. This is the big question I ponder all of the time. For those of you who don't know, I decided a while ago that I'd like to go back to school in a year and get a master's in museum studies. Working in a historical museum really interests me. But that's not the end goal. I think I might want toget my PhD. In what though I haven't been quite certain. Not English. Not German. Maybe History I thought. Yet the other day while lying around outside in the sunshine it became perfectly clear to me what I should study. I want to study Memory. I don't really know how I go about this or what discipline it falls under, but I think that is the one thing that interests me most. I like history, not for facts and figures, but for what people remember about it and how those memories compare to the facts. I like museums because of how they influence what we remember. I like stories because many times they are simply mutated memories. I like language because it affects the way we think and remember. I wrote my thesis on the memory of the Second World War. It makes sense. I like a lot of things, but they are tied together by this common theme of memory. I think I'd like to do an interdisciplinary type of thing - science, history, literature, sociology. I want to know the scientific background of how we remember. I want the humanities background of what we do with our memories. And I want the sociological background of how memories affect us and the societies we build. If anyone has any ideas of who I should talk to or where I should look to figure out how to study this, let me know. I'm sure I'll figure it out somehow but a little advice never hurt.

Monday, March 15, 2004

What Exactly Do You Have In That Bag?

This morning I took the metro into town. No big deal. I take the metro a couple of times every week. I didn't think anything of it as I bought my ticket and waited for it to arrive. But when I sat down, things changed. A man and woman wearing dark sunglasses and carrying a black duffel bag sat down across from me. Honestly, that's not at all unusual in Greece. People wear sunglasses all the time and use the metro to get to the port and other places where luggage is not at all unusual. Yet today I got to feeling really on edge. One part of my brain told me to move or to get off of the metro at the next stop. The other part told me to quit being irrational and just go on with my normal life. It was weird, because I'd never before felt like this. I'd never thought that I could be somewhere where a terrorist attack could happen. Sure I've not wanted to fly or whatnot, but since the attack on Spain, it seems that the seemingly benign is perhaps a bit dangerous. I mean, who would have ever thought Spain would be a target. And the strange part about the situation was not really knowing if I was being irrational. On one hand you can't freak out over everything. But on the other hand if you have the chance to protect yourself from something bad, you don't want to waste that opportunity. The thing with terrorist attacks is that there really is no way to know. It's not like you're running out in front of traffic without looking, driving drunk, or playing with a loaded gun. You're just living your ordinary life when tragedy strikes. So I guess what I'm saying is that there is nothing you can do but live and live everyday as best as you can. And it can't hurt to say your prayers, keep your eyes open, and smile at every single person you see (Kate and I are convinced that smiling is the solution...I'll explain more on that in a separate post). Anyhow, that's all I have to say about that. Just a strange feeling I thought I'd share.

Sunday, March 14, 2004


I’ve been following the news of the Madrid bombings on television and the Internet. I’ve seen the coverage on Greek stations and on CNN, in international newspapers and in American papers. The way it’s covered is very different. America takes a much more distanced and neutral look at it. We report the facts and let it go, moving right on to what Kerry said about Republicans or who won the latest basketball game. Greece and other European countries take a much more personal and in-depth look at what happened. In general, Greek news is more sensational than American news, but in regards to this event I haven’t really found it to be all that sensational. I’ve found it to be more real. Watching Greek news, even without understanding most of what they are saying, I can feel much more the effect of the bombing. It’s much more terrifying, devastating, and real. It has affected people who are very much like me. They aren’t unnamed. They aren’t faceless. They all have stories. They all have family and friends. They all have hopes and dreams. I find that too often this information is missing from American news. We give numbers in place of names. Or if we do give names, it’s simply a name and an age. We don’t know whose son or daughter they were. We don’t know what they liked to do. We don’t know who they wanted to be. And this makes it easier for us to swallow. I understand that we all need coping mechanisms when dealing with tragic situations. We can’t mourn for each person killed in actions of mass destruction. We can’t process all their stories. But at the same time we can’t forget that they are individual people too. Each one of the people in Madrid got on the metro that morning with a specific plan. They were going somewhere to do something that had some meaning to them. They probably never thought that they would never make it there. They could have been us. I don’t say that because I think we should be fearful or that we should think every time we go somewhere or do something that this might be the end. I say that because I believe if every person in the world thought about these people and all other people who die in such tragedies as individuals we would be doing so much more to make the world a more peaceful place to live. We’d be doing so much more to make sure that we and the people we love never have to deal with a situation like the one in Madrid.

Perhaps I am ignorant but as I watch the coverage of this, just as when I watched the September 11 coverage, I can’t imagine how anyone could do such a thing. I can’t begin to fathom how people can plan and then carry out an action that will result in the death of hundreds or even thousands of people…or for that matter even one person. How can they see, talk to, listen to, or be near even one other person and still go through with whatever they had planned? When they see a little baby, what do they think? When they see two young people holding hands, what do they think? When they hear laughter, what do they think? I simply cannot understand how someone can look at the world and all the love in it and consciously make a decision to bring harm to people. Sure there is hate. And sure there are bad things that happen. But there is so much good and so much love and so much hope and so much to live for. I don’t understand this violence. I don’t understand what people think they will accomplish with it. And I don’t understand how someone who lives in a world in which there is constant interaction between people can carry out such an act. How inhuman must one be?

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Good Health To Me, Good Wealth to Me, The Best of Everything

I turned 23 yesterday. If you haven’t yet sent me a gift, it’s okay, I accept belated ones. I usually find birthdays to be a bit anti-climactic. You anticipate it for a while, but when it actually comes, it’s nothing too extraordinary. It’s not like Christmas. Most of the time you don’t even get the day off. You work or go to school like it’s a regular day, and if by some chance you don’t have to, all your friends and family still have to so it’s not that exciting anyways. In a foreign country, there’s generally even less to look forward to. You can’t go out to eat at your all-time favorite restaurant. Your family isn’t there to celebrate with you. You can’t gather up all your friends for a party. But yesterday, despite all that, I had a really nice birthday. I woke up around nine to discover that Despina and Kate had trapped me in my room by roping off the door completely with streamers and hanging Reese Easter Eggs from the ceiling. After breaking out (Kate made me slither out under the streamers), I got to open the presents my family sent and I received “The World According to Mister Rogers.” In case you weren’t aware, I love Mister Rogers. Matthew was a Sesame Street kid, but I was 100% Mister Rogers. Then I checked my email to find lots of birthday wishes, some from people who I don’t generally think of as knowing exactly what day my birthday is, and a really nice card created by Mark. The middle of the day was business as usual, but when I came home from my classes at 3:00, I found the house decorated in balloons. And my roommates hadn’t just blown them up, they’d drawn all over them. There were portraits of me, a picture of a spider with big fangs, a cake (chocolate even!), and a horse (that one’s hard to explain). It was really nice of them. Then I got phone calls from Jeff and my mom. (Later I also got a call from Dad and Mark.) In the evening, we went to Santa Fe Restaurant where they treated me to an excellent burrito and some margaritas. Back at home, we had chocolate cake to top it off. And best of all, there were presents…and presents unlike any anyone else has ever received. I got two homemade cards, a used eraser named Ferby with “I love Theresa” written on it, a marzipan chocolate that had been sitting on the bookshelf for about a week, a tiny bottle of Jack Daniels which Kate got on the plane when the two of us were flying back here from DC, the house’s copy of “The Prince of Tides” which barely has a cover anymore, a mug that we have that usually says “40 and Fantastic” but was altered to say “23 and Funtastic”, and a blown-up balloon that says “This is not a balloon. It is a container for all your dreams…don’t let them pop Theresa. Cherish them.” I’ve never unwrapped better presents. Complete surprises, all of them. It was fun. So all in all, a good day with lots of nice surprises. Thanks to all of you who made it nice.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Mount Your Donkeys

Last night you would have thought that the Greek soccer team just won the World Cup. People were driving around honking their horns in precise rhythms, waving Greek flags out their windows and charging through the streets in celebratory mobs. Fireworks could be heard exploding all night long. Kate's sister Caroline arrived for a spring break visit, and not knowing what was going on, she thought that the people here were awfully proud of being Greek. That really isn't a wrong thought. I'm not sure I've ever met people more proud of their nationality than the Greeks. But that wasn't the cause of all the commotion. What was the cause were the elections for prime minister.

Voting is a big deal here. It's compulsory (although nothing bad happens to you if you don't go vote I'm told), and you have to vote where you are registered. Although 1/3 of the Greek population lives here in Athens, most of them are actually registered in their villages. So come election weekend everyone migrates back home, just like Mary, Joseph and that donkey did thousands of years ago. Yes, I've told you before, Greece isn't particularly modern. So to accomodate all of the travel, Friday and Monday are holidays. And in the US we think it's nice that our places of employment have to give us an hour or two to vote. Here the election is on a weekend, but you still get two days off. We sure get the short end of the stick.

Anyhow, the elections resulted in the conservative party regaining power. This is quite a change, considering the socialists have been in power since the year I was born (and for those of you who may not be good with dates, on this coming Wednesday I will have been alive for exactly 23 years), excepting one term in the early 90s. Since Greece didn't even become a democracy until after the revolution of the 70s, that's quite a lot of control the socialists have had. But people here aren't happy. The standard of living isn't all that good...especially for an EU country. Salaries are low. The strong Euro is hurting Greece, because less Americans and other foreigners want to spend their dollars here. And the Olympics, which are now only five months away, may turn out to be a major embarrassment for the country. Currently, there is concern over where the roof of the main stadium and a vital link in the metro will be done before the Games begin. Yeah, kind of important things. Whether the new government will be able to change things remains to be seen, but the celebrations that were taking place all over town yesterday give the impression that the people think it can happen.

I hope come November we too have something to celebrate. Wouldn't it be nice to see people in the US care so much about voting? Imagine that...caring as much about voting as about the SuperBowl. Whoa...what a concept.