Archive for May, 2009

My kingdom for your underpants

May 31, 2009 5 comments

It was my sincere hope to be able to post before today, but connectivity issues as the hotel have complicated my posting schedule. Even the best plan doesn’t survive first contact with the facts on the ground. I learned this lesson with startling alacrity when I found myself wandering around the alleys of Pylos, among the stray dogs and cats of this mountainside town, desperately searching for underwear. I hadn’t expected to find myself in this position, certainly not during my first full day in Greece. Yet there I was yesterday, wearing boxers I’d put on Thursday, straining to remember that the Greek word for briefs is ‘kilota’. Even if I’d been able to remember the word at the time, I doubted either the dog or cat, or the surly woman walking in front of me talking to herself, would be able to offer much assistance. Pylos is both a seaside city and a mountain town. Unlike the boringly efficient Great Plain towns I’m used to in the Midwest, radiating outward from a center in vaguely concentric circles, stubbornly efficient, Pylos is a series of zig-zags cut out of the face of a mountain, staring out over a series of cliffs into the Bay of Navarino. The automobiles, however, simply refuse to acknowledge the hairpin nature of their fair city, and come barreling down the mountain at three to four trillion miles an hour. It is the only city I’ve visited where cars actually manage to violate Einstein’s theory of relativity. My working theory is that the tight switchbacks of the mountain roads actually manage to curve space-time itself past the breaking point, creating a quantum singularity that allows cars to drive so terrifyingly fast, they actually run you over BEFORE they leave their driveways in the morning. It is because of this insane quantum paradox that there are no famous Pylos physicists. At the bottom of the quantum horror that is the main road through Pylos lies the Plataea, a town square that sits next to the bay. The majority of the town’s stores (ie, five of them) surround the square, which acts as a sort of a communal backyard for Pylos’ families. It’s in this charming setting that young children first learn the skill of diving out of the way of drunk moped drivers at 11pm.

The Plataea, where small children practice soccer and dodging psychotic moped drivers

The Plataea, where small children practice soccer and dodging psychotic moped drivers

We’ve been informed by the project supervisors in strict, stentorian tones, that Pylos is a quiet, conservative town, conservative even by Greek standards (which, it must be noted, includes having their priests continue to run around in gigantic, medieval, fuck-off beards), and that quiet hours are strictly enforced by the police. Someone has clearly neglected to inform Pylos’ children of this, as they continue to play a live-action version of frogger at midnight. But at two in the afternoon, the Plataea is relatively quiet, Pylos’ adults pleasantly drunk, and the children either tucked away or passed out under the hot sun. I flit from store to store, each no bigger than a New York City bodega, and with as much selection. I repeat ‘kilota?’ with a smile and a hopeful raise of the eyebrows at every shoe store, liquor store, and tourist trap I walk into. I come away with no underwear, but several boxes of Greek cigarettes and a T-shirt with Greek statues dressed in hulu skirts. At last I find a lingerie store, all sultry models with come hither looks impressively brief briefs.

The local lingerie store, and home to my underpants

The local lingerie store, and home to my underpants

I consider the possibility of washing the one pair of boxer shorts I own everyday, then realize that, if I want to maintain even a modicum of heigeine for the next three weeks, I’m going to have to cross-dress. I swallow hard and enter the lingerie store. I patiently wait among the three other housewives in a space about as large as my Brooklyn kitchen, feeling faintly ridiculous as they haggle over G-strings. After sorting through various thongs and frilly things that I can only imagine would be exceedingly uncomfortable on an archaeological dig, wonder of wonders, I find a box with a man’s chiseled abdomen on it. MENS UNDERWEAR. I’m so happy I almost cry. The price on hte box is listed at 17 Euros, which at the current exchange rate converts to roughly 200 USD. I cry again, this time at my imminent poverty, whip out the VIsa and gamely acquire three pairs. I’ve never been more excited by a clothing purchase. It isn’t until I get home that I realize to what extent Greek men’s underwear mimics the style of Greem women’s underwear. Ladies who have dated European men, you know of what I speak. Perhaps I’ll spend the rest of the dig going commando…

Seriously, though, someone please get my underwear out of storage and send it to Hotel Karalis, Kalamata Street 26, GR 24001, Pilos, c/o me, Room 107. I look absolutely ridiculous in Greek boxer briefs.


It is accomplished

May 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Just finished my final archaeology exam, from what I remember of it. I think I blacked out under the strain of regurgitating that much info in two hours. Seriously, what the hell is my name?

On the other hand, I may never forget that the Parthenon was built by three guys named Phidias, Iktinos and Kallikrates from 447-438 BC, is primarily of the Doric order but with Ionian highlights, and uses optical refinements known as entasis to combat an optical illusion that would have made it appear to sag under its own weight without it. More useless information I plan to put on my resume.

I have a houseguest staying with me for the last few days in my apartment. She’s a former roommate who left to travel in South America for two and a half years. Originally, it was just supposed to be a three month tour. Be cautious when you set foot outside your door, Frodo. You take one step, then another, and before you know it you’ve been living in a rather unpleasant hostel in Mordor for eight months with Orc-like roommates and teaching Common as a Second Language to Wood Elves.

Or something like that.

Now that the exam is done, I can finally get on to the really exciting activities like alerting my credit card company I’m going to be travelling and cancelling my many utilities. “What? No, I don’t want to transfer my DSL service to my new address. No. Greece. No, I don’t think Verizon has service there. Please stop.”

Also, Chase offered me the rather ludicrous exchange rate of 1.46 Euros to the Dollar. I’ll be waiting for the Eurozone economies to collapse before making any more withdrawals. Come on, Berlusconni!

May the gods be with you

May 18, 2009 3 comments

Juan kindly responded to my first post with the phrase “The gods be with you on your journey.” That’s a comforting benediction. I doubt there are many other pantheists out there reading this, and I myself am an atheist, but the request of help from the gods, rather than a single god, seems more in keeping with the nature of the universe.

From a monotheistic perspective, it seems to me that there’s no real purpose to praying for God’s protection. God’s going to do whatever God damn well pleases, and that will be for the best, from God’s perspective, if not ours. You can’t reasonably expect a course correction from the divine plan just so you can be offered a little more protection. If there is a God, and a plan, well, you’re either screwed or blessed, and not a lot you can do to change it. The fix, as they say, is in.

On the other hand, a polytheistic perspective suggests the world is populated by competing forces, some which will favor you and some which won’t. The gods were fickle, selfish creatures, who often destroyed whom they once made proud. This suggests to me a fore more flexible, if not more pleasant, reality. Poseidon may have been out to get Odysseus, but Aphrodite had his back. The gods change sides and the winds of fate blow first one way, then the next.

I prefer this idea. The world is a sea of forces it conflict, crashing against each other. We can, at our best, attempt to navigate the eddies and currents that pull us forward and back. The alternative is to passively let a single, strong current take us inexorably where it will.

And hell, it’s just a damn fitting sentiment on a journey to ancient Greece.

“The gods be with you.”

And maybe so they shall.

14 days to go

May 14, 2009 2 comments

My checklist these days runs extraordinarily long. Typically, I usually have one or two “must do” items along the lines of “eat” “meditate” and “exercise.” The last couple weeks, items like “Write a 25 page paper today” “Set up appointment with movers” “Buy new camera” and “create new bank account” have been more common.

I’m equal parts excited and terrified by the prospect of the upcoming trip. Yes, of course, three weeks on the coast of Greece is hard to kvetch about. But really, most of that time is going to be spent in a dusty hole in the ground, meticulously brushing potsherds while trying not to get sunstroke. My roommate will likely be an 18-year-old kid with bad acne who will want to play Jay-Z at 3am.

Do the kids still listen to the Jay-Z?

I’m sure I’ll have at least a few hours of free time, and the destination does look gorgeous, but I’m expecting three weeks of labor-intensive, difficult work. Just what the doctor ordered.

I fly out May 28. Five days before that I’m flying to Boulder, Colorado to run a 10K.

Wait, couldn’t you have run a 10K in New York City, without having to fly to the other side of the country? *SIGH* Yes, but that would be making things easy, now, wouldn’t it? Not the smartest move to be going on back-to-back trips while moving out of my apartment, but then, I’m not the smartest guy around. And I seem to be congenitally incapable of moving at a moderate speed. Just once, I wish I had a gear setting somewhere in between “total sloth” and “Mach 5 with my hair on fire.” Given limited options, though, I’m ditching sloth for a few months in favor of the scalp-singeing thing.

More as events unfold.