Archive for March, 2000

Back in the Eternal City

19 March 2000 at 7:47 am
by Berck

Nothing too exciting happened in Athens that I haven’t mentioned. From Athens, we headed to Nafplion, a small beach town. Here many UD’ers felt compelled to swim in the Aegean regardless of the fact that the water was quite cold. I happen to know what cold water feels like, and wasn’t persuaded to jump in just because it was Greece. (I didn’t stick more than my feet in Lake Superior either when I was there this summer.) We were all warned upon entering Nafplion that the rocky ocean bottom was covered in Sea Urchins… This didn’t stop at least 5 swimmers from stepping on them, which led to Joe Weinpel, the student life coordinator, spending the better part of an evening and night with a needle, a magnifying glass, and my flashlight with me holding it. Two of the victims were my roomates, so I had the choice of trying to sleep with the sounds of “YOW!” as Joe poked around with his needle, or assist by holding the flashlight. In addition, another girl got out of the water, said something about the fact that she was freezing, and proceeded to pass out on the rocks shivering. She ended up being just fine, in spite of the Greeks saying “This is not America, the water is still very cold even though the air is warm.” They were a helpful lot anyway, and I believe they assisted in transporting the hypothermic girl back to the hotel.

In addition to Nafplion we also stopped at Corinth and Mycenae to look at a whole bunch of old rocks which I had a hard time finding too fascinating, even if I managed to grasp the importance of some of them.

We also made a stop in Epidaraus where I got to read in the enormous theatre on the site. It was an amazing feeling to stand on the “alter” in the middle of the orchestra and read the part of Pentheus in the Bachae while a classmate read Dionysus. With the theatre mostly empty, its natural amplification due to its shape was phenomenal. Standing the center, it felt like I was talking with a microphone. It’s no where near as lound in the audience, but even at the very top of the top section, one could still here quite clearly. I really wonder what its like when the theatre is full. The reading was only a few minutes, but still, it was in incredible experience.

Our last stop was Olympia where we toured the original Olympic site and those athletic ran the length of the stadium. The professors competed in a relay event and managed to win through a clever bit of cheating–all in the original Greek spirit, they claimed. The UD’ers have a knack for finding a disco club wherever they go, and somehow they managed to convince several of the professors to join them. I didn’t attend, but heard it was quite a sight.

During our last meal together in Greece, Lunch in Olympia, Joe Weinpel presented the award for the most Gyros eaten in Greece. There were two awards, one for the girls and one for the guys. He had all the girls stand up and sit down when the number of Gyros they’d eaten was surpassed by the number Joe called out. By the time he hit 14 or so, Claire Nerbun was the only one left standing. For the guys, he started at ten, and at 24, Brian Potts, Jon Bird, and myself were left standing. Potts sat down at 25. Joe called out numbers with a look of disbelief until I finally sat down at number 36. Bird managed 38. However, the contest was officially between the students, so I won the prize: a box of Tums wrapped in what should have been laurel leaves. It was quite an accomplishment, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily something to be proud of :)

The bus ride to Patros and the subsequent return on the Superfast ferry, specifically the “Superfast II”, was rather uneventful. Dustin decided he didn’t want his couchette because he planned to stay awake all night for some reason, so he gave it to me. (Dustin, my first roommate at UD, stayed up many nights, whereas I only attempted that feat once and failed miserably.) I, once again, slept quite well.

In the evening, as the ferry was just pulling off, there was quite a strong wind on the water. Once we started moving about 20 knots, the wind on deck was incredible. I stood on deck and could lean back into the wind and it supported me as if I were leaning on a wall. At one point though, it ripped my glasses from my face, and hurdled them at least 20 feet in the air, and I, with a feeling of horror, watched them land on the fan tail where someone, thankfully, stopped them from blowing off the boat entirely.

The bus ride wasn’t really too eventful either, save the fact that I was actually awake for a good bit of the trip having slept the night before. The Italian Autostrade was fascinating. The buses cruised at fairly slow 100 km/hr, while I witnessed motorcycles and fast cars fly by at what had to be their top speed. Three lanes per side of a fast divided highway, and I never saw an Italian have to pass ANYONE on the right side. They all stay to the right except to pass. Furthermore, its not like there isn’t a wide variety of speed, there are little scooters that can’t be traveling faster than 50 km/hr, to cars and motorcycles traveling 200 km/hr or faster. And somehow it all seemed to work. They all use their turn indicators to change lanes as well, but they’re used in a manner completely different from how I’m accustomed. To pass someone in front of you, you turn on your left turn signal, pull into left lane, leaving your left turn signal on, then pull back into the right lane, all the time with the left turn signal on. [It’s starting to warm up in Italy, and Italians don’t seem to shower. Ever. Ugh.] Furthermore, if you’re in the left lane and want the person in front of you to let you by, you just flip on your left turn signal. There are all sorts of other times they use the turn signals as well, but those are the only two uses I’ve managed to decode. The Italians get really scared when they drive in the US, because of all the passing on the right and unpredictability of American drivers.

I’ve got two more midterms on Tuesday, Philosophy and Literature. I tried reading on the metro on the way over here. It seems to require a skill I don’t have. You’ve got to make sure no one is trying to do something to you (i.e. pickpocket you, etc.), make sure you don’t miss your stop, keep from being thrown about, and READ at the same time? Maybe I’ll get it down eventually.

Anyway, I’m hungry and am going to go find a nice Pizza Rustica (It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve had Pizza!) and head back to campus and study, perhaps paint as well.

Until next time.

Greece so Far

13 March 2000 at 7:47 am
by Berck

Europeans have really got to figure out that a fast connection does not entail a 14.4 modem line. (Actually, I have no idea what it is, but it isn’t fast. In spite of the fact that its advertised as being such.) Luckily, a Greek keyboard seems to consist of an American keyboard with Greek superimposed on top and a method of toggling between characters. So, I can type. I’m in Athens at the moment…. My feet were REALLY hurting when I came across this net cafe… So, instead of stopping for a beer as I was thinking about doing, I stopped to e-mail.

Last Tuesday was “Greek day” on campus. Greek olympics with bedsheet-togas ended up being more enjoyable than it might sound. I think I won style points for a full backwards somersault during the backwards race and simply picking up my partner in the 3-legged race. The night before we left we built a fire out in the vineyard and those with talent played guitar for the rest of us. A fun night.

The trip over here was a bit rough: an all-day bus ride followed by a 15 hour boat ride. The “Superfast Ferry” was, however, rather comfortable. I was one of those lucky enough to get a couchette instead of an airline seat and got some sleep. The couchettes are basically catacombs, but they are (usually) horizontal. The Greeks on the ship spoke English for the most part, but it sounded as if they learned from some television show full of idiomatic speech which they haven’t quite grasped, making things quite humorous. For instance, a waiter said to me in reference to my empty plate, “Hey, my man, you finished?” “Yes.” “Very good, I take it now, so far so good, I catch you later, my man.”

We arrived in Patros (I’d try to type the Greek stuff in Greek, but it probably wouldn’t wind up right on your screen) a small port in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday. We boarded two double-decker Greek buses for our ride to Delphi, the navel of the world. The Greek bus drivers supposedly smoke twice as much as the Italians and drive twice as fast. Ours simply smoked twice as much and drove half as slow. So slow, in fact, I thought we were going to have to get out and push. Delphi was good, I had my first 5 Gyros at at a Taverna… It was a good night, we sat in this Taverna from 5pm to 1am (there just isn’t that much to do in Delphi when you’ve got the sanctuary of Apollo and the sanctuary of Athena down… Plus the really boring archaeological museum…) Anyway, we drank about as many Amstels as we ate Gyros — and they’re about the same price. In just about all of Greece, beer comes in three flavors, Amstel, Heineken and Mythos. Mythos is actually a Greek beer. It’s also really nasty and smells something like a cross between a skunk, a latrine, and sulfur dioxide. The Greeks generally drink Ouzo, which is this hell-liquor that is similar to Sambuca, but quite a bit stronger. No American I’ve talked to, even those who like Sambuca, are too thrilled with Ouzo. Its usually consumed at a Kafeneneo or something like that, only written in Greek, and I can’t remember what the last half is. This institution is funny in that it hasn’t faded in the least with the advent of feminism. No women are alowed inside. Men go in, sip Ouzo, and smoke these water pipe things. I’ve not yet gone in one myself as they look rather scary. Anyway, Saturday morning we left for Athens, land of the best Gyros in Greece. (Gyro is a fun word. I just can’t get it quite right. The pronunciation is the middle ground between Hero and Euro.) Jon Bird is captain of the Gyro brigade, of which I seem to be a member. Its our mission to eat more of them in Athens than the record last semester, which is 24. So far I’ve eaten 19, and I’ve got tonight left. It’s gonna be tough. For those of oyu that don’t know, Gyros are pita bread (freshly made and then dropped onto a skillet to make them hot) with some sort of meat (Lamb, Beef, Chicken, Pork. Pork and Lamb are the most popular.) The meat is roasted on a rotisserie devicer, and they shave off the outside bit and put it in your Gyro. Then comes onions and tomatoes (I’m not much of a tomato fan). On top are chips (french fries) and a yogurt-cucumber sauce. Then they sprinkle this really good seasoning on top, wrap it up and stick it in a little paper wrapper. All of this takes about 14 seconds. They cost 400 Drachma pretty much everywhere. Its funny that while Gyros have a set price, beer ranges from 200-1400 drachma for .5 liter. It’s nuts.

On to more educational things in Athens. There is, of course, the Acropolis, or as my art and arch professor refers to it, Athena-land. Wow. I wasn’t really impressed with it from pictures, but it becomes obvious why Athena belongs there once you see it looming over the city. The Parthenon itself isn’t that exciting, but it looks really neat from Lekapito (something like that) a pointy mountain-hill right next to it, from which you can actually look down on the Parthenon and see across the water to the Mountains on the Peloponese. Most of yesterday was spent on the Acropolis and then down in the Agora where we soaked up all sorts of fun stuff. Our professors aren’t licensed tour guides, so they get harassed by people occasionally–usually in Greek. Such an occurrence is usually great fodder for amusement on our part, especially since Dr. Hatlie, our Western Civ professor, is fluent in Modern Greek and yells back at them.

Last night and the night before held an unprecedented sort of amusement no one was prepared for. We were (un?)lucky, and managed to catch Carnevale twice. In Italy, it’s celebrated on Mardi Gras and the week or so before. People dress up like Halloween and go into the streets and throw confetti and drink. The Greek Orthodox calender is different, and they celebrated Carnevale yesterday and the week or so before. Today is the first day of their lenten season. So, we left Italy on Wednesday, and get to greece in time for more celebration. The Athenians celebrate Carnevale much in the same way, only on a much larger scale with one addition. They not only throw confetti and streamers and things around, they also purchase plastic clubs and club people. They mull about the Plaka and just pummel each other with these plastic clubs. It doesn’t really hurt for the most part, although some blows smart a bit. Well, you can imagine that this cause much confusion amongst an unsuspecting group of Americans. So what did we do? Bought a bunch of clubs and whacked ’em right back. It’s really pretty fun when you think about it, you walk by and just whack random strangers. In the states I’m sure it would turn into deadly gang wars instantly. They’re pretty good about it here, though some of the groups get together and fight each other pretty viciously. They line up on each side of the street then charge at each other, and whoever gives up first loses. I wonder if anyone ends up seriously hurt or not, I didn’t see anything worse than the occasional bloody nose. For the casual clubbist, its not much of a problem, you just don’t take on vicious groups. Anyway, after two nights of that mania, the city is pretty much dead today, save the tourists. In fact, I was quite surprised to find this place open.

After climbing the hill this afternoon, I stopped to rest on the steps of some important looking building when a guy with an uzzi in his hand comes out and starts talking to me in Greek. I naturally get up and start walking the other direction but he says “No, no, please, please,” and points to the steps. So I set back down, he smiles, jabbers some more in greek and walks off. I’ve never been accosted by anyone with an automatic weapon before–I suppose there’s a first time for everything. The police all carry them, and you get used to people carrying large firearms, but I’ve never had anyone say anything to me. I’ve wanted to take a picture of one of them, but they really don’t look too thrilled about that idea, so I haven’t tried.

Tomorrow morning, its on to Corinth and Mycinae and the Nafplion where we spend a day or so. The beaches are supposedly nice.

So far, I really like Greece. Athens is big, noisy, dirty, and not as easy-going as Rome. Otherwise, I really like the country I’ve seen so far. The land is just amazing. It seems to be almost entirely mountains with the sea surrounding it. Where else can you get so much sea and so many mountains? My two favorite places…

The weather is spring. I’ve never really been in a place with much of a spring before. Greece is much hotter than Rome was when we left it, it’s about 75-80 here in the afternoon, whereas greece was about 70. I have a feeling that once May rolls around I’m really going to want to be headed North.

One last interesting event:

After acquiring some gyros, a small group of us were looking for a curb to sit on and eat them when some old fat greeks, 3 guys and one woman, motion us into this alleyway where they’ve got a table set up that has some extra chairs. It looked like it was sort of their yard they were eating in. We decided to be daring and join them, but none of us knew any Greek and they knew no English. Actually, Mark knows classical Greek, but it doesn’t help him with spoken, modern Greek at all. He can read most of the signs though which is more than the rest of us can manage. So they sit us down and offer us some wine-looking stuff out of a Fanta bottle. After a couple others try it and don’t die, I have a little cup. WHOA. I don’t know what it was, it tasted like homemade wine with some really hard alcohol mixed in. We sat around and drank with them for a good hour. They fed us octopus and stinky cheese and olives and other unidentifiable stuff. They seemed to just really enjoy having us to laugh at. We were able to make minimal conversation, and overall, there was something fun about mingling with the locals. After we thanked them and were walking down the street, a couple of the guys who’d had a bit more of the wine concoction than others noted that they were feeling quite tipsy and muttered something about hoping it wasn’t laced with anything too bad. I was just fine, having had no more than my little plastic cupful.

Those of you who wrote me, thanks a bunch for the e-mail, but I’m having difficulty with this Greek connection, so I don’t think I’ll be able to respond until I get to Rome…

Imperial Empericism

1 March 2000 at 1:41 pm
by Berck

Nothing new and terribly exciting is happening, at least not compared to the last letter. I’m doing my best to enjoy myself here and learn what I can.

I’m in Rome this afternoon because Professor Gish was giving a talk about Imperial Rome, its architecture, and so on. It wasn’t really a talk, more of a tour, but of places we’d already been. We were supposed to meet him at 3pm at the Colloseo metro stop, only I was running late because I was talking to the dean of the Rome program, Dr. Ambler, about a certain really frustrating Theology professor, so I got there at about 3:15. I managed to guess his route, and caught up with them at the Fora Imperiali. There were about 20 of us that decided to go (UD Romers don’t seem too thrilled about optional lectures in general) and along the way some guy with long curly hair just sort of started tagging along. Professor Gish handed him handouts as well, and he seemed thoroughly engrossed in what he had to say. Thinking about it, a university professor makes an excellent tour guide. Turns out the guy that joined us is an electrical engineer from Boulder Colorado. Lucky for him, he got a good tour. Even had intelligent questions to ask at the end, which is more than I can say for certain members of the UD group.

It’s 7pm, so I guess I won’t make it back in time for dinner at 7.30… Good, because I’m in the mood for some good food. There was a Chinese place with a menu outside that said �15.000 for a full meal, and a decent menu. It’s been a long time since I’ve had any Chinese…

A couple of days ago I was talking to Jon Bird while he was painting on some Shakespeare characters that he’s doing sort of mural style underneath the theatre in a little passageway between the Capp Bar and the dorm lounge. I asked him if he’d teach me to paint some day, and somehow I’ve gotten stuck with painting Cordelia from King Lear. (I haven’t read King Lear yet, but will in a couple of weeks.) He’s sketched all the characters quite roughly with charcoal, and I was fascinated with the way Bird had drawn a really deep expression on Cordelia’s face with just a few strokes of charcoal. So now I get to paint it. It’s all being done in greyscale which is appropriate for its location. Also makes it easier for me, since colors scare me. At first I refused to help him on the grounds that I liked her too much and didn’t want to mess her up. He promised I wouldn’t, and taught me how to paint her face. In just a little over four hours, I found myself looking at a face with real depth. that I’D given depth. Something VERY fascinating. Her lips weren’t really drawn, and I more or less did them myself. Bird remarked that they were some of the most kissable lips he’d ever seen. Yay! I’ve done her hair too, and that took forever. I think I painted it 3 times before I got it even close. Good thing about paint that I’d never really realized is that you can’t really mess up, you can always paint over it. I’m currently fighting with her clothes, which I can’t seem to make look ANYTHING like clothes. Oh well. I’ve got the rest of the semester….. It’s been a cool experience, I never thought painting was something I’d ever be able to do. I still don’t think I could without serious guidance, but its fun while it lasts.

The semester is really moving along. We’ve moved into Christian architecture in Art, finally gotten out of Greece in Western Civ, have gone absolutely nowhere in Theology, doing Augustine’s confessions in Philosophy (Augustine is frustrating), and are still doing endless Greek tragedies in “Roman and Greek Tragedy and Comedy”. After I thought it couldn’t get more tragic than Oedipus the King, we read Oedipus at Collonus and then Antigone for next class. Sophocles is amazing and wretched. Next comes the Bachae and Lysistrata–our first comedy. We’re supposed to get to Shakespeare eventually.

The Greece trip. Next Wednesday we pile into buses and head for Greece. (I’m assuming the buses don’t float, despite Marcello’s skill and that we’ll hop onto a boat sooner or later…)

On a less happy tone, I present the following series of events…

Dr. Crider, our literature professor, maintains that the theme behind our course work this semester is that we’re limited, we suffer, and we die. Nah, not depressing at all. In class on Friday, he was discussing Aristotle’s Poetics, specifically what the word Tragedy means in an Aristotilian sense. As in illustration, he mentioned a story about driving to the train station on the Via Appia Nuova, which is (and always has been) one of the major roads into Rome. He claims that the International Tribune called the Via Appia the most dangerous road in Europe. One out of every four collisions are fatal. This, I think, is more a testament to Italian driving than anything about the road itself. The road is straight, four lanes wide for the most part, and fast. I’ve never noticed anything particularly dangerous about it, especially compared to some really harry roads in the states. The Italians, it seems, don’t get into collisions very often, but when they do, there isn’t much left. They all drive little boxes here, (every time I see a Miata, I’m amazed at how big it looks here), and drive them very rapidly. Dr. Crider said he saw a wreck on the Appia that was particularly bad, and judging by the size of the cars left on the side of the road, not much left the wreck alive. This, he said, is shocking, but not tragic. Similarly, he said, if one of us were to step off the curb on the Appia and get hit by a car and paralyzed for life it wouldn’t be tragic, not in the Aristotelean sense.

Friday afternoon I left with about 35 other guys to go on a “silent retreat”. This is apparently a common thing UDers do, they all get together and go off somewhere, don’t talk for a weekend and pray and listen to religious lectures and go to mass and so on. I wasn’t going to go, but Joe Weinpel talked me into it, promising good food and lots of sleep, and said he wouldn’t make me pay for it. It was relaxing, but the place was run by a bunch of nuns who, as Deacon Bill said, “Aren’t German, but they act like it.” That and we got to ask all sorts of fun questions at the end that the Catholics frequently couldn’t answer. It was worth going for the decent food anyway.

On Friday evening, they told us that two UD girls were crossing the Appia, and somehow didn’t see a motorcycle that was traveling very fast and hit them. One of them only had some cuts and bruises and was released from the hospital with a few stitches. The other is still in the Hospital, her 5th and 6th Vertebrae are fractured. They’ve got one of those fun halos on her and have her in traction, her parents have flown up from the states. They said she doesn’t have any spinal cord damage and the risk of paralysis is almost nonexistent. Coincidentally, another student’s father is a neurosurgeon and happened to be in town visiting and has been helping advise her and her parents. Italian medical care isn’t exactly the best, we hear. Latest is that instead of letting the doctor here operate on her, they’re going to put her in some sort of halo jacket and ship her back to the states for further evaluation and may or may not operate on her there. Needless to say, it had been rather glum about campus of late, but everyone seems to be getting over it. It seems to be a better realization of our own mortality than I think even Dr. Crider could have recognized, Aristotelean tragedy or not.

I hate to end a letter talking about such things, but I’m running out of things to talk about and my stomach is growling. I’ve got a midterm on Friday for Western Civ that’s going to kill me, and then a paper on Augustine’s confessions due on Monday. Tuesday is a day of festivities of some sort with Greek olympics and other things before we leave for Greece on Wednesday.