Thursday, October 22, 2015

Athens Part I: The Acropolis and Agora.

          Sitting in the small, worn, airplane chair all I could hear in-front of me, was excited German. Next to me was a relaxed British couple chatting about their upcoming vacation.  Here I was, an American finally going to cross off one of his dream visits to Athens. The city that birthed democracy and helped inspire me to travel. Yet, I felt disjointed, unconnected to the people around me.  It wasn’t until we were all in the terminal and I stood waiting for Mom, Gary and Landon to gather their bags that I heard a noise I hadn’t heard in a long time.  It was the comforting, mid-American tourist drawl.  Turning to my left I listened to a family chat about the long plane ride over, the hot weather here and if the currency exchange booth had any Euro’s left.  
          In that brief moment I smiled as memories of playing soccer at my high school, walking through Nashville, listening to a street band in Austin and meeting my New York stepfamily for the first time flashed through my mind. That family brought regular, middle America back to me. The insulated Peace Corps bubble that I’d been living in for the past eight months slowly caved and popped. That family didn’t give a damn about geopolitics, learning Macedonian, or chatting with a baba at a slava. They were there together, as a family, to experience their vacation together. All the frustrations, the laughter, the created memories were to be done together. It was in that terminal that I finally accepted I too was on a family vacation.

          Athens is one of those cities you have to visit.  It's a sprawling, organic, fluid city that is watched by the ancient Parthenon's gaze.  By day it's an aggressive tourist town but by night it transforms into a sophisticated European town, filled with cafe's that were hidden from the tourists daytime gaze. In the tourist center I enjoyed sitting at a cafe lazily gazing at the strolling tourists, most of whom were couples, Asian tour groups or Americans. Remember I was there in June, so if it was August or September then it would have been mostly Europeans not Americans. 
          For our first night Landon and I sat on our terrace and watched the sun set. It was the perfect setting to appreciate a building I'd been wanting to see since I was five. Enjoying it with my little brother, while smoking a cigar was icing on the cake. 

No words needed.

A flaming piece of icing none the less.

Being on a rooftop bar with the Parthenon as the backdrop? Perfection. 
          The following morning we were all up early and on our way.  As you will see we weren't the only ones but I am glad that Nashville has a perfect replica because I was able to envision the ruins in their glory.  To think that the Parthenon was built in eight years on top of the most imposing hill in the area is inspiring. The foundation stones were laid perfectly, the columns rose majestically as if they yearned to support the absent roof once more.  

During the day this was an empty space. 

The theater of Dionysus. It held 15,000 people, larger than most basketball arenas. 
Gary and Mom in front of the Temple of Nike. Yes, the Athenians built a temple called Victory after defeating the Persians. 
Travel goal. Check. 
The fam, and the engineer, checking it out. 
Seeing it together, priceless. 

I had no idea how large and sprawling Athens was.
Under the ever-present sun Athens gleams and shimmers as a sea of glass and white walled stone. 

          The Athenians built the Parthenon to celebrate their victory over the Persians in the 5th Century B.C.E. Standing in front of it brought a chest-thumping smile to my face. They built it because they won, because they could and it was majestic to see. Have we not done the same. It's no surprise why Europeans, and later, early Americans were so inspired by Ancient architecture, literature and history. 

This is the print I bought of the Acropolis showing what it was like completed. 

This the Athenian Agora. The Romans later added their own temples and buildings.
          After visiting the Acropolis I lost the family in the crowd and figured they would venture down the hill to the Agora. The Agora is a public space for people to meet, shop, worship etc.  It was used by the Athenians and then the Romans. I had been so focused on seeing the Acropolis I'd forgotten about the Agora. It was really neat walking around and seeing the ruins of a place that for millennia had held concerts, debates, executions, shopping and worship.

The Temple of Hephaestus
Built before the Parthenon this temple is still intact with it's original stones.
These engraved figures are showing the trials of Hercules. 
I have no idea why but in the grass were large tortoises who just hung out there.
A well from the 5th Century B.C.E.

This is the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos. It was originally built around 150 B.C.E. and is now a museum for the Agora.

It was massive.
This is a bust of the Emperor Hadrian and many more were lined outside, and inside, the Stoa of Attalos museum.
Following Rome's collapse the Byzantines occupied Athens which brought Greek Orthodoxy to the Agora. 
It was special going to a place where history wasn't wholly buried over top itself. I relished being able to walk through different time periods while the buildings were adjacent to each other.
Another print showing what the Agora looked like in it's prime. 
Across the tracks lay modernity and all it's hedonistic zeal.
          Visiting the Acropolis was a phenomenal experience that, like many millions before, I was awed by.  Nevertheless, Athens is more than it's historical monuments, it's a modern city that had delicious food to try, art to see and people to meet.  Additionally, it was the epicenter for a government in bankruptcy that was on the verge of collapse. What was it like being there days before the people voted on whether to stay in the EU or leave? That's in part II. Enjoy your weekend. 

*Photo taken by Landon Monday

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lakocerej Village Life Series

          During September I didn't blog because I was busy spending each day finding something new to appreciate in my village.  I posted a picture each day on Instagram and Facebook with a caption describing the picture.  I've consolidated them here into one post so you can see them all. Enjoy!

This post begins my 30 day series: Lakocerej Village Life. Today was the first day at school so that means the traditional Macedonian greeting of the older students by singing advice to the first year students took place.
Here, in sequence from the top left, is how my host grandfather, дедо/Dedo, processed honey. First, he removed the honeycombs out of the bee hive into the central drum. Then he hand cranked the drum, which why he's out of focus he's quite fast, to separate the honey from the honeycomb. You can see how dark and rich it is in the bottom left picture. The bottom right picture is how much honey he'd processed to date. He had about 10x more before he was finished. His honey is some of the best I've ever tasted and is almost as thick as molasses.
It's great having pets, they're adorable, but they also bring the unwanted addition of fleas. So Goce and Petar made it a family affair by cleaning them with flea shampoo and spray. As Goce discovered, kittens the world over scratch everyone just the same when they're wet. The little puppy in the corner is a new addition to the family and is smaller than the kittens!
Ohrid is famous for its agriculture, specifically apples. Here are just a few of the bountiful fruit ready for harvest.
These are just a few of the omnipresent peppers that are being hung in each house, apartment or barn all over Macedonia to dry for the coming harvest.
Here we're hanging out with some of the ladies who get together every Saturday night at the local grocery store. Because my village doesn't have a restaurant or cafe this is the hang out spot. The reason my village doesn't have businesses is due to so many people leaving for jobs in the capital or abroad. This isn't isolated to my area as all of Macedonia is having to deal with people leaving for economic opportunities that can be found elsewhere. However, that doesn't keep them from being together nor us from sharing our stories, jokes and laughter with each other.

Today had us going on a "Екскурзија" or "excursion" aka field trip. We gathered the kids in several buses and went to Pretor, a resort town on Prespa Lake. The kids enjoyed a day of playing in the sand, skipping rocks and eating pizza. We teachers enjoyed lunch together and caught up after the summer break.  On a side note it was the first time I'd been to a sandy beach in over a year and it was divine.

Here's the sign that hangs outside my family's home. "Продавам Мед" means "We sell honey." 
As a bonus, rising underneath the sign is the full Moon.
Check out these guys who got together to build steps behind the church. 
It does take the work of a village to keep a village intact.
This adorable puppy is Lisa. (Лиса). She's just a few weeks old and is the newest addition to the house. Here she was learning how to be on a leash while going for a walk. Walking dogs isn't a cultural norm here so we certainly received some stares but she's so cute the neighbors can't help but pet her. Lastly, yes that is a shoelace leash.
My sixth grade class was copying some new vocabulary before we used those words in a speaking game. Having the kids become comfortable with me, I'm the first American most have ever met, has been a daily challenge.  However, when I took this photo they were becoming very enthusiastic and enjoyed the in-class activities my counterpart and I were creating for them.
This shot of my backroad commute to Ohrid is one of my favorite from the series. Riding my bike into town I soak in similar sights and smells that I enjoyed as a child in Tennessee. (Excluding the fortress of course).
Why did I take a picture of a rock? Well without a gym or workout partner it's a challenge for myself and other PCV's to stay somewhat fit. Part of my exercise routine was, and still is, to run up the mountains behind my village and use this rock as my resistance.
What happens when you leave colored chalk lying around? My coworkers add some festive artwork to the teachers lounge that's what.
On the fifteenth day of the series it was physical fitness time. I caught this shot of the students running the 30 meter, 33 yard, dash. Kids here play a lot but don't continue their athletic pursuits since there are not enough resources for extensive trainings and competitions. Simply put, there are no grade school or middle school competitions, no Friday night lights and athletic scholarships are not given in the Universities. Oh, and the three fastest kids in the school were girls. Bravo, ladies!
Here my family was making concrete fence poles. On your front left are 3/4 enclosed metal frame molds. They're the frame molds for the concrete pipes you see in the background under the blankets. Why is this in my backyard? Well, my host father and his father-in-law are making them to enclose the property that surrounds their bee hives and walnut trees.
This is one of my sixth grade classes. Here the students are continuing an alphabet game we played at the end of class. The boy who's in the blue shorts, Andre, Андреј, is naming the letters on the board and the girls are racing to circle the letter he says first. The winner gets full bragging rights until the next game!
 This is the first American Culture presentation of many that I'll be having all school year. The topics will include American Holidays, food, movie theaters, what our schools are like, malls, anything and everything that shares our life with my students here. 
  For the first topic I chose one near and dear to my heart: Football. As you can see in the top picture I hadn't finished my first slide before one of my fifth graders asked if this was rugby. I showed them tailgating pictures, my family included, dressed up fans, homecoming, cheerleaders, mascots, food, Titans and Giants Stadium, some Super Bowl commercials and a video of what Rocky Top sounds, and looks like, after a touchdown. 
  I really want to have fun, engaging and concise presentations that connect my life, and yours, with my students. For the next presentation I'd like to show them what school life is like. If anyone can share some pictures from inside an elementary, middle and high school you'd be a huge help!
 These are two of the biggest vegetables I've seen here. On the top is a massive squash and the bottom is a pumpkin I could barely put my arms around. As I've mentioned before agriculture is a point of pride not only in Macedonia but here in the Ohrid valley. These vegetables are grown without additives and are organic in the truest sense, not for PR, but because that's the only way it's done here.
I took this shot of my neighbor preparing for the upcoming winter. They're doing several things here. First, they're heating up the outside wood stove so they can cook peppers in the process of making ajvar. That's what the zoomed up bottom picture is for, so you can see the stove. Secondly, they're also canning vegetables in preparation for winter. Lastly, this house is nestled between hills beside the road. As the smoke slowly curled upwards, it's smell mixing with the smells of Nature's Fall, I was comforted by how much it reminded me of my childhood in Appalachia yet is a place entirely it's own.
This was quite the traffic jam that held me up. Free ranging goats, and their shepherds, are still common throughout Macedonia. I see this herd at least once a week in the mountains and in my village. (Oh and check out the center goat's crew top haircut!)

On the way to work I saw these farmers also up early to begin prepping for apple picking. They're stacking the packaging boxes for the apples that will be stored and transported. As I mentioned before apples are a specialty crop in my village and the Ohrid valley. I can't wait to have them and start making apple jams, pies and cakes.
For day twenty three of the Lakocerej Village Life series I felt it was fitting that on the first day off Fall I could show a staple of Macedonian life: grapes. (Гразиа in Macedonian). Soon those luscious grapes were plucked, stored, frozen for the winter or mashed into barrels so wine, вино, or rakia, ракиа, could be produced. Making wine and rakia during the Fall isn't only for Ohrid it's done everywhere in Macedonia and the greater Balkans.
This is the kitchen at school. It's where everyone gets together to share their lunch, drink coffee, smoke a cigarette and chat. (Yes, smoking inside is acceptable in Macedonia). I've had many hilarious stories and jokes told to me here and you're seeing three of the biggest storytellers. My counterpart is on the left, the school pedagogue in the center, and the school's do all handyman on the right. (He's the wittiest Macedonian I've met so far).
This day was day twenty-five of the Lakocerej Village Life series, and we ended up having a doctor come to our school to swab for viruses and the flu? (I believe so my Macedonian is pretty limited when it comes to medical terminology). He also put a swab up our noses. That was a first for me. (I didn't have a virus).
It was a misty, calm day in the village so another PCV and I hiked up behind the village for this scenic view. I feel that not every view has to be picturesque, the clouds alone are cool, and what better way to unwind from the week than with a Fall hike overlooking your home.
This is my neighbor moving his apple crates from the construction yard to his warehouse. He, and most people in the village, were prepping for the coming apple harvest.
I rarely take photos of my lunch but I couldn't pass up showing you this. White beans, some veggies and bread so thick it might as well be cornbread. Some things are the same no matter where you are.
Each day after the second class out of six, students go to the nearest store and buy bread, toast or chips and candy. They get to eat and hang out for twenty minutes before classes start again. It's certainly different from our school days but that's the way it is here.
  This is the last of the Lakocerej Village Life series. These four students are in my six grade class, with three others out of the shot. They have every subject together and are hilarious because they're so close-knit. Sveten is the character in the top left and always enjoys sharing his new favorite American song, movie or clothes. 
  To me this is what it's all about as a TEFL Peace Corps Volunteer. Getting the kids to share their interest in American culture and have fun doing it. 

  I hope you've enjoyed the series, keep the messages coming for ideas and questions because it'll be back next year.