Day two in Kythnos, still no sign of the Professor despite the proximity (the owner of the room informed us that we were staying right beside his room), we decide to take a walk around the port. We meet Marios, a marine biologist assigned in Kythnos, who shares with us some of his experience with the local fishermen. There beside the fish and the old women sitting and waiting for the next fresh catch, we hope to learn some more about this difficult job. After an hour with the locals sitting, smoking, sipping on cups of coffee, Mario finally explains that they are camera-shy and only "the most beautiful" president of the fishermen's association of Kythnos could agree to do an interview. After a few exchanges in english-hellenic, Marios as our middle-man, they agreed to meet us again the following day, early in the morning to experience the first catch.
Sometime around 6pm in the afternoon at a cafe near the port, we finally meet the Professor. After a brief exchage of introductions we head off to Chora, a nearby town, where the makeshift office/workshop is the old municipal hall, soon to be transformed into the first museum of island. I get to experience first-hand the work of an archeologist - brushing debris off an ancient piece of pottery! It was thrilling and it was even more interesting to be hearing stories of the challenges involved in archeological work. After hearing from the Professor himself, we grew to appreciate this profession as something beyond Indiana Jones or The Mummy, archeology is also hard and determined work. Despite that, the only grafitti on the workshop wall says, "I love my school". and I think that says it all.
It wasn't easy leaving Athens. One day without seeing the ancient ruins is like passing by Egypt without seeing the pyramids. Shame, shame.. But a certain Professor Mazarakis awaits us in Kythnos, an island we know nothing of, and this is enough for us to cross the sea and brave the unknown.
On board the ship we gather our materials, read some more of our printed bio on the Professor and his archeological work in Kythnos. Hes a well travelled man and has established himself in the field of archeology as an authority of the Greek archaic (ancient) period, sometime around or before written history. Hes held several talks in some of the biggest universities and is responsible for the biggest archeological discovery in Kythnos together with other Greek archeologists.
At the moment of arrival, looking out to see the island, we are met with shock. Hills and hills of rolling brown devoid of green and trees, and a cluster of white houses by the port was all there was and this made Fra shiver at the thought of not coming back mainland. This was our first taste of the dry Cycladic island terrain and who could prepare for such a sight after looking through too many pictures of luxury white hotels overlooking the sea. Clearly these were pictures of major touristic destinations like Mykonos or Santorini. This is Kythnos, a much simpler island with less than 1,500 inhabitants. Commercial tourism hasn't infected it at least and the thought of spending a couple of days in this strange land gave us a rush of energy.
First thing in the morning, still in Delphi, enjoying the view, rushing for the last minutes of breakfast, we head off to the Temple of Athena, the guardian pre-empting every foreigner for the great Temple of Apollo and its many pilgrims who come to visit the Oracle.
For a moment I think about Athena, the virgin goddess, the woman fit enough to be a man. She embodies both female: wise, protective, and male: shrewd, mighty. She's the only god born not from the womb but straight out of the head of Zeus, her father the king. What a woman and what a difference with the character of Gaea, previous goddess of worship, vulnerable mother. Did the worship of Apollo and Athena (and the rest of the Olympians) mark societies' transition to the patriarchy? After all, the most famous Greek personalities have almost always been men or manly (in some cases, male-lovin' men). Greece is credited for the birth of western civilization with democracy, polis, and philosophy as some of its greatest contributions. Many conquests have expanded its borders and during its height reached the far end of the east towards Afghanistan and on the west heavily influencing the Romans, who copied many beliefs and ideals.
They say that the Mythology of a society also reflects its people. Perhaps amidst all the drama, as written by our ancient poets and sung by the old bards of the rise and fall of gods and goddesses, so did the lives of the ancient people animate and evolve. Could there be any link between ancient mythology and present-day telenovelas or TV soap operas? or at least, is there any wonder why, until today, masses of people from all over the world are entertained by these shows? Such a topic requires more time and perspective. Would love to hear what others think.
Finally on the edge of Athens. First thought, how in the world can anyone find their way here without GPS?
We go off towards the ancient city to meet Myrto, a documentary film-maker currently working on her latest project, Life in a City Full of Errors. Soon she will also be releasing her documentary called Crisis, a personal account on life in Athens amidst these recent problems. She spent some years in Barcelona and London for her work and studies until she decided to go back home to do something creatively, to help improve the current situation. Recently, BBC world featured her documentary. Shes also looking forward to submitting it to several festivals.
We meet her two friends, Yannis and a chef Cavalier member, who both have very interesting perspectives on the crisis and on broader world issues. Dinner was a mix of many different delicacies -all of them absolutely more delicious than the other. and of course, together with several shots of Rakia, a liquor similar to Grappa, our walk uphill was a light one.
We both had the pleasure of seeing part of Myrto's documentary. I liked it a lot and loved the personal perspective she shamelessly exposes through her shots, recorded conversations with people and experience on the streets. After hearing some of her own thoughts on her work, she confirmed to us the same message we felt at the end of watching Crisis - its still up to us. Our part may be small but many small great things is still much better than a mob of cynics.
First day in Delphi, first taste of ancient Greece. Walking from the little town towards the ruins features a most excellent perspective of the land from high up the mountains. It was nothing like what I expected it to be, but thats normal I guess, it was much much more. The ancient ruins sit facing a grand valley almost covered entirely with olive trees, which while passing by them on our way up, looked quite ancient as well.
We saw The Charioteer, the most acclaimed piece of sculpture according to the guide who spoke in such a slow yet loud manner, enunciating in such a way that reminded you of Discovery Channel documentaries. I think The Charioteer has really nice eyelashes, yes - he has eyelashes made of bronze and inlaid eyes that pierced through you.
My biggest curiosity in Delphi was the Oracle and unfortunately there weren't many answers for me on site. The locals knew few or just the very basics of its history, perhaps it was too hocus-pokus to retain in their memory. I did some research anyway and discovered that Apollo, the main god-boss of this region, defeated the serpent Python, a son of Gaea (earth mother goddess, the first object of worship before Apollo) who was said to rule over the land and by doing so, buried its remains under the ground. A crack in the mountain, where the dead Python lay, released some hallucinogenic fumes that made the Oracle speak.
Interestingly the symbol of the Python or snake used to be linked to wisdom. Take the ouroboros symbol of the snake eating its own tail, for example, and how it symbolized the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth - constant renewal. In fact, the Caduceus, or the symbol for medicine and commerce reveals the serpent as well. Whats curious is how these symbols have evolved over history as Christianity began and replaced pagan beliefs and changed the meanings of symbols like the serpent into the devil. Being raised Catholic, I often notice pictures of the Virgin Mary stepping on the snake, the famous one who tricked Eve into biting into the forbidden apple of truth.
In the ancient ruins near the temple of Apollo is also the omphalos, or the navel of earth. The word Delphi also comes from two distinct greek words meaning "hollow" and "womb". Apollo himself was also known as Delphinio, or the Delphinian, "One from the Womb". Already a link is established between the former worship to Gaea, the mother goddess, the womb to which all life is born.
There is so much more to be explored as more and more links are established the more we discover and learn. Stay tuned.
24 hours of ferry is taking its tall on our necks. Slept maybe 2-3 hours, maybe just excited, had a tea and witnessed the first stop to Higoumenitsa around 6:30am, just in time for the sunrise.
Off we go from the boat to the road. The first signs in foreign alphabet made it clear that this is somewhere else indeed. Narrow busy streets, pedestrians walking, talking, and people on motorbikes without helmets zooming past. Feels like home.
After this brief introduction we enter the tollgate for this humongous bridge, completely unprepared for the price of €12.20. "What if you had to pick something up from the other side and you had to come back?", Fra wonders out loud. Its a sure sign of times-a-changin'.
Its probably safe to assume that driving from Patras to Delphi exposed the various landscapes and nature of Greece. Its amazing how immensely diverse it is. Some parts are completely bare and rocky and other parts are completely lush with pine trees all huddled together in a forrest-y mass.
Today we left from the port of Ancona, Italy, to Patras, Greece. First stop in Higoumenitsa, at the very north bordering with Albania, where our friends Laurentiu and Iuliana get off for some well-deserved vacation. It's a Balcanic scenery awaiting us: narrow streets and mountains of rock, the bay embracing entire towns like a lake. It's a sunny day, at least we made it half way with no problem. 24 hours of ferry takes us finally to the port of Patras where we set off for Delphi. The weather gets gloomy, it reminds a bit of Ancona ('ankon' in greek means 'elbow'), ancient Doric town that happens to be my hometown. The only Greek place in a region made of the Piceni, the local, short and loyal people that inhabited Marche. Ancona was founded a bit after Plato's stay in Syracuse, first as guest, then as a slave. Some people back then left their wealthy city to go explore more to the north. They were Greeks, just as the people we met today. We cannot say the same thing about italians, such a young people compared to its ancestors: roman, etrurian, celt or any people living in Italy when this was not even a nation.
The Greeks instead feel strongly about their national identity, the language did change, but the name stayed the same: Greeks.
We're finally on land and the limit already shows itself: if you don't know the islands, you don't know Greece. And that takes a lifetime, from Cyprus to Corfù, through Ithaca and Samotrakia, it would take a real Ulysses to claim rights over Greece.