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An apricot at the end of the world

We get a wakeup call at 5:30am. There’s no point in showering, since we’ll be getting extremely dirty in a few minutes anyway. We have thirty minutes to eat breakfast, and to steal as much food as possible from the breakfast buffet to make our lunches. There are over thirty of us, so being just a few minutes late getting out of bed can spell disaster for both breakfast and lunch.

We pile into our Mercedes bus, drive half an hour to the site, where we hop into the beds of pickup trucks, eight to ten of us in flatbed, and drive the last kilometer. We work for five hours straight, without a break. Then we eat whatever we were able to scrounge up in our few free hours, assuming the shops were open. One day, Yannis, one of the workmen, brings us apricots from his personal orchard. Another day, the local Orthodox priest brings us juice and cookies, and observes our work with a detached, pleasant smile. We work another two hours, then collapse in exhaustion on the bus. Some of the more energetic will hazard a swim afterward. We have class from 5:00pm to 7:00pm, then dinner at 7:30. Then a few hours to ourselves to try to make whatever preparations we can for tomorrow’s lunch with whatever is available at the local shops that happen to be open. With apologies to Henry Miller, I am the happiest man alive.

Project director Michael Cosmopolous, left, shows off the site to some visitors

Project director Michael Cosmopolous, left, shows off the site to some visitors

The red clay we’re digging is moist, and clings to every pore when we dig it out of the ground. As it dries, its tiny granules form a thick film of dust across your skin and choking your breath. One of the trench supervisors, Jen, explains to me that out of all the soil types, clay is composed of the smallest, below silt, which is below sand, which is below gravel, which is below cobble, which is below boulders, and is the reason I presume it is such a pain in the ass to clean off your skin and clothes. A box of Tide, which cost me eight euros (twelve dollars, with the current exchange rate) sits on the floor of my hotel room. None of us have had time to do our handwashing yet. There is no laundromat for 50km. There will be a test at the end of the three weeks, but I don’t think anyone has had time to study. Honestly, I’m cutting into pressing shopping and cleaning time by posting these precious missives to you, dear reader.

A quiet moment as the excavators break for lunch

A quiet moment as the excavators break for lunch

One of the workmen, Panpaglio, is teaching me Greek. I try to teach him some English. He knows maybe ten words in English, I know even less than that in Greek. We have become friends. He tells me he is forty-eight, He asks me if I have a sister. I tell him I have one. I ask if he has sisters. His sisters are such a pain in the ass, he feels like he has forty! He teaches me the Greek for “big problem”: megalo provlema. I swing a pickaxe through the sticky red clay. Panpalgio and I trade our only wheelbarrow back and forth, with gestures and single-word questions. When lunch comes, I gratefully eat Yannis’ apricots as I lie on my back, staring into the Ionian Sea, trying to imagine the thoughts of the people that lived here over three thousand years ago.

Georgina, resting by her two motorcycles

Georgina, resting by her two motorcycles

I see a Hilton being built on the coast, which will have an eighteen hole golf course and a four star hotel. What did they see when the looked out to sea? Their livelihoods? Invaders from abroad? A rival city-state? Did they ever travel down the ravine that leads to the city, and if so, did they travel on foot or on horseback? What did they do when they got there?

The view to the west. Now a Hilton, but once upon a time...

The view to the west. Now a Hilton, but once upon a time...

The apricot is fresh, juicy and sweet. I suck on the pit meditatively. We’ve found charcoal at this site, what I at least think could be a destruction layer. After hundreds of years of occupation, this was brifely a site of intense violence. I ponder this abstractly, secure in the banality of my apricot, in the safety of my own existence. I try to picture the burning of this hilltop. The flames would have been visible from miles around, perhaps even from the seaside where the Hilton is now being built. The children would have screamed, and this would have echoed back from the mountains, and people here would have died terrifying, painful deaths. The scene would have been on par with every other urban destruction in history, as undignified and as horrific. Today, I eat an apricot, I look to the sea, and am pleased to find a bit of charcoal, the evidence of a violent end.

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