Saturday, January 28, 2017

Quiet Hours?

Our very nice Greek neighbors (no sarcasm, I truly mean that) are definitely going to be told off for this one. Not by me, because they're not waking up my infant, but definitely by the Americans underneath. 

I should point out (because I know someone's going to be like "10:45, what are you, a granny?!") that this is the beginning of the party. People just started arriving a half hour ago. Winter quiet hours began at 10.

Tread lightly, Greeks. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Banana Bella Contest WINNER!!

At 10:13am Greek time, The Kid pulled the winning name (attached to a wood block) from his red bucket.

Pre-drawing. I wanted to show you my process, but he was already trying to grab. 

And the winner is...KAYLA L.!!!!!!

She successfully found all 6 of the Banana Bella photos in old blog posts.

Hooray for you! I already have ten different prizes in mind. I can't wait to pick one, and send it to you.

This was really fun (for me). Thank you to everyone who participated. We should do this more often.

**If you didn't feel up to searching, the six photos were hidden in: Of Fake Grass, and Fresh Produce, and Language Barriers; Mani Peninsula: Cape Matapan, The Entrance to Hades; Athenian Anecdotes; Shopping While Tired; Wind Tunnel; and Transformation Tuesday.

Weekend in Italy: Pompeii

On this special day, I wanted to tell you a special story. This is the story about a group of people who ignored warning signs to their severe detriment. Wait, let me rephrase that. This is a tale about a group of people who buried their heads in the sand, until their heads were buried in sand. No, one more time: Pompeii is a city that was destroyed by a volcano.

Pompeii was a beautiful city situated on great agricultural land. The city was inhabited by several different groups of people, before ultimately ending up in Roman control. Some of the homes served as vacation villas for the Romans, who crammed them full of mosaics, frescoes, and "modern" amenities. The city had beautiful bathhouses, a stadium for gladiator battles, taverns, vineyards, and a brothel--which can still be seen with the original "menus" painted above the bedroom doorways.

In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius, a formidable formation overlooking Pompeii, blew its top. The area around the mountain had been seismically active for many years. In AD 62, a massive earthquake destroyed large swaths of the city of Pompeii, which was still being rebuilt when Vesuvius erupted.

Pompeii was buried in 25m of volcanic crap, and remained buried until 1599, when a construction crew building a water pipeline uncovered some old buildings and frescoes. While the majority of residents had evacuated, a few remained. These people were killed by the heat of the volcano's pyroclastic flows. Their remains left voids in the ash, which were then filled with plaster. Several of these casts are on display at the site. More on that, later. First, some photos:

Phil at the entrance to the site. It is massive. It would be easy to spend an entire day here. The scope of the site makes it difficult to explore, and even more difficult to conserve. Many of the unexcavated buildings are beginning to decay.

There is some weird modern art mixed in with the ruins. I don't care for it. The ruins are impressive enough on their own. I feel like the art detracts from the site. Apologies to the artists, who I'm sure would disagree violently. This is a look at the old courthouse. 

Phil's standing in the forum. Vesuvius is looming in the background.

The bathhouses were segregated by sex. The men's bathhouse was opulent, gorgeous, and richly decorated. The women's bathhouse was fine. There were three areas of each bathhouse, apart from the dressing room: the tepid bath, the hot bath, and the cold bath. The hot bath functioned through a feat of engineering. Two floors were built, one raised above the other, with a space between. Slaves stoked a fire, which pushed hot air through the vacancy between the floors. The heat rose through the floor, and warmed the bath.

Phil exalting in his manhood. 

A look at the double-floor heating system.

Inside the bath.
Here's a look at one of the food counters/taverns.

The holes in the counter held money or food.

Something that I was really eager to see was the chariot tracks carved into the streets. The chariots would race through the city, leaving imprints in the rock. The streets were often filled with water, part of their aqueduct system, so pedestrians would cross the street on those raised stone blocks intersecting the street in the background of the photo.

The size of this archaeological site is really something else. I'm used to seeing Greek ruins, which are impressive, but, at the end of the day, are literally ruins. This city is still in tact!

Phil near the smaller theater. 

I'm standing in front of the large theater, where gladiator battles were fought. Mount Vesuvius is in background. I'm very shaded because we were standing under a portico. The ancient portico was destroyed in an earthquake, and was rebuilt as part of the archaeological reconstruction of the site. Many bodies were excavated in this area, some belonging to gladiators who were still locked in their cells. 

This is the Temple of Isis. Isis refers to the Egyptian God. The Temple was the site of a cult dedicated to Isis. Many of the members were part of the lower class. A good number of the frescoes from the Naples National Archaeological Museum were found here. This Temple inspired the themes from Mozart's The Magic Flute

The homes that were uncovered were given names by archaeologists, reflecting the items that were found inside. I've forgotten most of the names, so you can name them yourself.

Here's one of the frescoes, in its original location.

This is the House of the Faun. Apart from this faun statue, it's most famous for...
...the mosaic "welcome" mat. 

The mosaics in Pompeii were incredible. Some are in the museum, but some are still in place. 

This mosaic is famous. It says "Beware of dog."

I've always wanted to see Pompeii. The eruption of Vesuvius was one of the first natural disasters I remember learning about as a kid. In the way I had imagined the event, people were going about their daily routine, when they were suddenly, unknowingly, buried and killed by a volcanic eruption. I've occasionally thought to myself, "What would people think if they uncovered my body in this position in 2,000 years?" It's been an interesting thought experiment, and has enthralled me for years. I never really believed I'd have the opportunity to see Pompeii for myself, and I still can't quite believe that I did. It was an absolutely flooring experience, and my favorite archaeological site so far. It's easy to get caught up in awe of Pompeii, and forget the tragedy.

The story of Pompeii is unavoidably tragic. The people who were killed in the eruption of Vesuvius were citizens who didn't, or couldn't, evacuate. Undoubtedly, some didn't believe they were in danger of losing their lives. Others were too poor to evacuate, or were physically restrained from leaving. The bodies of victims were found in various locations throughout the site, and it was obvious that they were trying to flee. The victims died quickly, but the reality of their impending death was clear to them. There are a few sites where a group of victims were found. One included an area that had been converted to a vineyard shortly before the eruption. The people found in that area were climbing over mounds of pumice stone, desperately searching for an escape through the city walls. There were men, women, and several young, young children. Their plaster casts are on display, and are deeply disturbing. 

I debated for a long time about whether to take photos of the plaster casts, or not. They are a unique part of the site, and worth viewing. At the same time, these are the final remains of people who died terrified. The plaster casts encasing their skeletons are a testament to the fear they felt at the moment of death. I frankly couldn't photograph the casts of the children, and decided against photographing some of the others, including one of the most famous casts of a victim crouched in a ball, shielding his face with his hands. In the end, this is the only photograph I took.

I didn't intend to leave this post on a somber note, but I did want to point out that it's possible to enjoy Pompeii, while also respecting the site for what it is. Pompeii was magnificent, and my thought experiment still stands. If you were to die today, how would you want to be found?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Spider Surprise

I'm traumatized by something that happened to me today, and it was so horrible that it acts retroactively as an excuse for why I haven't blogged this week.

I found THIS on my oranges today:

Now, look, this guy is dead. He can't do anything to me. But that's not the point. The point is, WHAT ELSE IS LIVING IN MY FRUIT?!?

Spiders don't typically terrify me, unless they take me by surprise.

When they surprise me, this is what I do.

Actually, this is funny, I went looking for Bella the other night, and found her totally wrapped in blankets (above). She'd tucked herself in for the night. I'm at a loss to figure out how she did it. That blanket cocoon was snug, and had no visible entry points.

Tomorrow, photos from Pompeii. Eventually, a photo or two from Rome, and a big pile of photos from Santorini!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Parenting Mistakes

I went to the store today with the sole aim of buying diapers. I returned to the house with milk, cereal, cottage cheese, baby biscuits, whipped cream, frozen peas, yogurt, broccoli, bread, oranges, strawberries, honey, bananas, bell peppers, carrots, and a thing of gum. The diapers were missing. It seems that babies don't understand what, "Hold on to these for a minute, okay, buddy?" means.

God bless the guy at laiki who found the diapers, hid them behind his table, and handed them to me when I returned, sweaty and chagrined.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Weekend in Italy: Naples

This past Friday was Epiphany, a holiday you can read about in greater detail if you scroll all the way back through a year's worth of blog posts. I could link to it here, but I think it will be character building for you to find it on your own.

A few months ago, Phil and I decided we'd like to go to Italy during the holiday weekend. Phil's been to Rome and Florence before. This time, he wanted to see Naples. Phil is an adventurer, traveler, and planner. I'm a homebody. He organizes all of our trips, and I gratefully tag along. For this trip, though, I provided forceful, adamant input. I told Phil I wanted to eat Neapolitan pizza, try Italian gelato, and visit Pompeii. Mission accomplished.

We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance hotel, made possible by a generous contribution from hotel points. The first night was a wash. We arrived late because our plane out of Athens was delayed. Shortly after takeoff, an indicator light showed there was an issue with the aircraft. We had to turn around to the Athens airport and make an emergency landing, which sounds more dangerous and exciting than it was. We landed, they offloaded us, we waited for a half hour, they found another plane, and we took off again. The most surprising part of the experience was how mellow and unaffected people were by the delay. Phil and I tried to theorize about why that was, and we think maybe it's because Naples was a terminal destination for everyone--no connecting flights.

After an unsettled night of trying to get The Kid to shut up and go to sleep for once in his life, we hit the streets of Naples. It was an interesting place. It's sort of like Greece and Germany got drunk together, became pregnant, and gave birth to another drunk country. It was beautiful and dirty, organized and chaotic. The driving was nuts. I liked it.

One of the top sites in the city, according to our muse, Rick Steves, is the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The museum is home to a lot of the stuff that was uncovered in Pompeii. We had to go see that. Along the way, we ran across an old mall thing that was sort of abandoned.

Not totally abandoned, but sort of. 

That red building through the doorway is the museum. 

There's another, more famous abandoned mall thing in another area of the city. We saw it from the outside, but didn't go in. It was cold, we were crunched for time, and I needed to eat something. I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the museum:

Can you tell how cold it was by the lighting in this photo? Or by the bundled people on the sidewalk? It was cold, darn it. 

Shortly after I took a thousand photos in the museum, I realized my camera was on a really weird setting I'd been experimenting with earlier in the week. Oops. The following photos reflect that setting, in that they're not very good. Sorry.

Phil with Hercules. 

The famous "Woman being tied to a bull's horns" statue--carved from a single block of marble.

I originally planned to find and photograph every single work by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle artists after finding a horse head sculpture by Donatello. That plan failed to materialize, so instead I focused on the frescoes recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum. They were terrifically impressive, but the thing that struck me most of all was the absolutely bonkers faces of the people (and animals) depicted. Phil and I began curating works for our series, pictured below, and titled, Faces of Frescoes: The Pompeii Paintings Who Looked Like They Knew What Was Coming.

And finally, because this one really deserves a place of honor, my favorite piece of the series:

Bizzarro faces notwithstanding, it is mind-blowing to think that these works survived a volcanic eruption and burial. I'll save further commentary for my post about Pompeii, which was

Here's one more shot from the museum. The building is old, and needs repair. It's still beautiful.

We walked down the main tourist drag, where little shops sell Christmas ornaments, keychains, and really adorable wooden creches, and creche pieces. I wanted to buy all of them, so I bought none of them. On our way back to the hotel, we wandered into neighborhoods which, to be honest, were really shadowy and gloomy. Frequently, we'd run across little chapels on the side of the street, like this one:

We found a pasta place that was pretty good, and near this castle:

On the other side of the castle, we stopped to talk briefly with a guy who described himself as a refugee from Nigeria. In the eyes of the EU, he would technically be considered a migrant, rather than a refugee. I feel a large exposition of the legal implications of these labels coming on, so I'll hurry and finish this post before it bursts forth. The point is, he was a really nice guy who is having a hard time in Italy because he can't find a job and has to beg. That's the reality of millions of people around the world, and it sucks. 

Back to my self-congratulatory, ostentatious display of privilege and comparative wealth--here's the view from the roof of our hotel. It was beautiful.

That's Vesuvius. Right there. That thing. Oh, Vesuvius, you don't know how long I've been wanting to meet you.

Naples nearing nighttime. 
There is so much more to Naples. I don't think it's fair to say that we even scratched the surface. We smudged it, maybe. But I'm glad we saved time for Pompeii. Teaser: it was amaaaazing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Snow Day

Today is a snow day in Athens. It's true. Hang with me for a minute while I give some background.

The weather in Greece turned wintery shortly before The Kid was hospitalized at the beginning of December. I like to think that Mother Nature was sympathizing with us. In reality, I think that's pretty normal for this area. Last year, it stayed warm throughout the winter, except for a little snowstorm on New Year's Eve, and a week and a half of rain in March. This year, it's business as usual. 

Before you run away with an exaggerated report of the winter weather in Greece, I should say that, objectively, the weather is still pretty freaking fantastic. When we left the hospital last month (a week after we went in), we walked home in a blaze of sunshine (and glory). Though The Kid was subjected to a number of follow-up appointments, and repeated blood draws, the weather remained mostly nice, with scattered rain-ish days, until we left Athens for our R&R trip home. If my sources are correct, Christmas in Athens was mild, high-40s, and above freezing at night. 

Winter weather in Athens.

All of this, then, begs the question--what's a snow day doing in Athens? Frankly, I'm not ready to tell you yet. Let's talk about our trip home, instead. Athens is considered a hardship post, so we're allotted an R&R trip after a certain time of residence here. We chose to go home for Christmas. We flew from Athens to Paris, then Paris to our home. It was about 13 hours of flying. The Kid decided, on the night before our early, early departure, that he wasn't really feeling like sleep, and wanted to yell until one of us came to play with him instead. He played from 11pm-1:30am, then took a quick 2 hour nap before a long day of international travel. 

Believe it or not, he did impressively well on the flights. He's on Phil's orders, so he was given his own seat on the plane. His own seat came with his own meals. He loved the French baby food, and devoured it cold, which is an impressive feat for that dude.

He did not, unfortunately, do as well the next day, when we flew from our home to the Bay Area to visit relatives. I'm not sure if the lack of sleep finally caught up to him, or if it was plane cabin fever, but whatever it was, it whipped him into a fury. He kept rearing his head backward in rage, and finally headbutted the window, which actually seemed to calm him down once the wailing subsided. We were lucky that there were so many other kids on that flight. We had cover when we left the plane.

In California, we took a BART train to the Mission district of San Francisco to eat one of the original Mission-style burritos. Phil insisted. The loss of Mexican food has turned out to be one of the sorest trials of our journeyings. The burrito wasn't wonderful, but it wasn't terrible, either. In Phil's review, it "[was]n't life-changing, but it's good." 

That burrito is just slightly smaller than The Kid's birth weight.

Visiting with our Californians was wonderful. They very graciously put up with two zombies, and a baby for a few days and nights, and packed us full of delicious food while we were there. 

A beautiful day in the Bay.

Upon returning to our American homeland, we had to visit a pediatric specialist for The Kid's continuing medical saga. It was a great visit in the sense that the doctor was clearly an interested, knowledgeable guy, who got right to the root of the issue, and gave us practical suggestions. It was not great in that The Kid has an inheritable liver condition that could cause problems in adulthood. The condition itself is as yet untreatable, but the effects can be mitigated by lifestyle practices. We also have to periodically monitor his liver. From a clerical standpoint, this means that The Kid's medical clearance for State Department has been changed to post-specific. In the future, he will only be cleared to live internationally in places where the local healthcare can support his needs. So, that's kind of a bummer. 

Overall, our trip had a lot of ups and downs. There were plenty of highlights. The Kid got to meet relatives and friends he didn't know before, including a grandpa, aunt, uncle, and his only cousin. We had a very snowy, white Christmas. The food was outstanding. Phil and I played (and won) a round of 5ive Straight with some of our favorite people from D.C. Phil went skiing. I spent time with good friends. We attended an insanely fun gathering of my cousins. It was hard to see so many people, and not enough people simultaneously. We didn't get to spend enough time with anyone, except maybe the people who flew back to Greece with us on the plane. They're probably glad to be rid of us.

We'll have another chance to cram in a bunch of visits this summer. The advent of 2017 means that we're entering our final months of Greek life. Sometime this summer, we'll be transferring to our next post. We have home leave in between, though we haven't decided where we'll be spending all of that time yet. 

In the meantime, we'll be traversing as much of Greece as we can. We'll also be playing host to several of you, which will be fun. You'll be coming at a good time. The strawberries will be hitting their peak, the tourist sites will be deserted, and the weather will be improving.

Okay, you've waited long enough. Let's talk about the weather, and the snow day. We returned from a weekend trip to Italy to find a full-on snowstorm blanketing the city. Europe has been under blast for the past few days from a cold front. It's actually killed several people, which is heartbreaking. Greece usually sees one or two snowstorms a year, but the scale of these is a bit unusual. Here's what it looked like last night:

Here's what it looked like this morning:

Here's what it looks like now:

It's still Greece, even in winter, so the snow doesn't last long. Last night, when things were more slippery, the municipalities in Athens declared a snow day for today, and cancelled school. The kids were delightedly throwing snowballs at each other this morning. Snow days are universally awesome.

Coming up this week on the blog: photos from Italy! Other stuff that I haven't planned! Excitement! Joy! Everything you could possibly want! Unfulfilled promises! Eventual disappointment!

Stay tuned.