The remaining four

With merely four full days remaining, everything has become a countdown. Four group breakfasts under the orange groves, three morning rehearsals, two taverna (traditional Greek) dinners, one day until our class presentation in the ancient theatre.

When we left Athens it didn’t feel like an end, it felt like a new beginning: new town, new performance spaces, new (extremely generous) landlords, new home. We said goodbye but it wasn’t a departure. It divided our six weeks, it was merely a continuation.

When we moved to Epidaurus it didn’t feel like the program was nearing a close, it felt like a new program entirely: new tavernas to sample, new discoveries in our monologues, new arenas to rehearse in, new understandings of the plays. Now we’re saying goodbye again, but this time it is a departure.

In four days we leave Greece. Returns will no doubt be in our future but we won’t ever return as a group or with the same purpose. Our group has become a family and we’ve grown fond of our daily ritual: each day we wake up and have a leisure breakfast together, then we rehearse for a few hours and present in the late afternoon and evening. We work on group chorus pieces, we present individual or small group scenes, and we respond to these scenes. At this point we are all working on a few pieces. Each of us has one main piece which we’ve shown in class two or three times and developed along the way. These main pieces have developed tremendously; my classmates are all very talented, but I’m constantly floored by the work they all put into their pieces to strengthen them, exceeding expectations with each new draft.  Six weeks spent studying these plays intensely and extensively has been quite a journey for us all as we make them come to life.

About eight weeks ago we were told to read a dozen plays to prepare ourselves for what was to come. To be honest I found the plays a bit intimidating and even foreign at times. It was difficult to imagine putting certain scenes on their feet, to connect to some of the language and characters, and to understand the context in which these plays were written and performed. But now we can imagine, we have connected, we do understand, and that’s special. Now we’ve read them, reread them, memorized snippets, staged them, and perhaps the most importantly, we’ve been able to contextualize them by rehearsing at the sites where they were first staged and touring the towns in which they were based.

These texts, being 2,500 years old, might not be the easiest to access right away, but through trial and error, dedication, focus, and time, we’ve each taken a monologue or scene apart and sewn it back together with our own nuanced understanding of the character, situation, and play at large. Besides my classmates general awesomeness, I think the main reason we’ve been able to sink our teeth so deeply in these texts is time.

For five weeks we didn’t have to juggle labs, finals, dance recitals, problem sets, a capella arch sings, rehearsals, college council meetings, and the reading load of three or four other classes.
For five weeks, we have focused solely on the forty or so extant Greek comedies and tragedies and the history surrounding them.
For five weeks we were instructed in and outside the classroom by two brilliant professors who master the balance of theatre’s academic and practical sides and who are ever-encouraging us to push ourselves and our understanding of the plays.
For five weeks we’ve seen our classmates become Medea, Cassandra, Dionysus, Antigone, Clytemnestra, Oedipus, and others. We’ve made Agamemnon’s watchman a slam poet, Tecmessa a Spanish slave, Menelaus a British explorer, Helen a real housewife of Argos, the furies a 90s girl band, Lysistrata characters shadow puppets among many, many, many other original interpretations. We’ve adapted the story of Helen and Menelaus twice–both in ways untried and imaginative, Aristophanes’ Frogs to provide commentary on the 2012 presidential election, Prometheus and Io’s story to make it a modern radio drama, and Aristophanes’ Knights to roast everyone in our group.
For five weeks we’ve felt Dionysus enter our classroom.
For five weeks we’ve waged agons (competitions) over matters big and small, just as the Greeks did.
For five weeks we’ve immersed ourself in Greek culture, ancient and modern, which has greatly improved our understanding of how, why, and where theatre began.
For five weeks we’ve seen roughly ten shows in three different languages and learned from them all.
For five weeks we’ve spoken to and worked with Greek actors, directors, and professors all of whom stress how theatre was a part of society in a way we can no longer fathom. How the theatre was a place for everyone — men’s attendance was mandatory — and a place where society could be criticized, where stories that moved masses could be shared, where mutual experiences were had and appreciated by all.
For five weeks we’ve wondered why this is no longer the case.

And now we have four days.

Fortunately, I’m certain that the lessons, the thoughts, the progress, the wondering, the curiosity, and the discoveries will continue far beyond these four days. We’ll make the most of these remaining four and carry what we’ve learned back to Princeton and far beyond.

General update!

Yasas! Hello there!

This blog has been less than active the past week, but that hardly reflects our level of activity. In fact, they operate quite inversely. The past seven days have likely been the busiest we’ve had yet and our blog, unfortunately, suffered slightly.

The biggest news of late is our location change. We spent the first four weeks of our program in Athens with day trips to towns and islands in the area. On Friday we said goodbye to Athens and ventured to Mycenae, an archaeological site southwest of Athens. Mycenae was fascinating but it wasn’t our final destination.

From there we moved to Nafplion, a gorgeous seaside town, where we explored castles and fortresses, dined at gelaterias and tavernas, and shopped for komboloi (worry beads).

The main square in Nafplion.

On Sunday we moved to Epidaurus, famed for its ancient theatre. We moved just in time for the start of the Epidaurus festival. Epidaurus is divided into an old and new town and we’ll actually be spending most of our time at our apartment complex about 20 minutes by bus from Ancient Epidaurus.  These photos show why there’s not a complaint to be had about our new home:


Upon arriving at the beach

We’re pretty content with our new residence

Monday’s sunrise around 6:45am. How breathtaking is that?!

Though it’s difficult to believe that we’re approaching single digits with only ten days left in the program, we’re all thrilled to be spending them in Epidaurus and we’re sure to make the most of them.

Athens highlights in photos 2

These are some random but memorable moments from our four weeks in Athens.

National Archaeological Museum of Athens. Our wise and wonderful tour guide, Sofia, toured us through this museum for nearly three hours.  We’ve seen many statues that resemble this one, which are called kouros (if male) and kore (if female).

This sculpture depicts Aphrodite raising her sandal to ward off Pan, with her child Eros hovering between them. If you look close enough, you can make out three holes on the bottom of her sandal which hold her straps in place.

The old Parliament building turned into the National Historical Museum.

Academy of Athens with statues of Athena and Apollo.

The informative and persuasive rug merchant who told us the history of rug making then proceeded to convince nearly all of us to buy her rugs.

Outside of Athens highlights in photos

Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio.

These two are from our day trip to Delphi, most known for the Delphic Oracle. It’s also a major site of worship for Apollo, the god of the sun and prophecy. An interesting aspect of the cult at Delphi is that Apollo shared the site with Dionysus. Every year at the onset of winter, Apollo abandoned Delphi and left it to Dionysus.

Our class from afar in the ancient theatre at Delphi.

From our day excursion to Agistri, a small island in the Saronic Gulf. Only about 1,000 people live there and it’s not an especially common stop for tourists so we enjoyed the quiet and easygoing pace of the island. We had a blast biking along the road which connects the two settlements on opposite sides of the island.

Thorikos, the ancient city we visited written about here. These were taken at the site of the second oldest theatre in the world, dating from the 6th century BC, where we sang Old Nassau!

Athens highlights in photos

Changing of guards is definitely not something we’re accustomed to in the States, but in Greece (and many European countries) it happens every morning with a more elaborate procession on Sundays. The guards, called Evzones, change their posts in front of Parliament in Syntagma Square. Syntagma, meaning constitution, is the square where most of the riots have taken place the last few months.


Though their costumes are traditional and beautiful, it seemed unbearable to be wearing so many layers in 90˚F.


Though we haven’t run into many other critters, dogs roamed everywhere in Athens. Once in a while they would even roam with us. Here there are a couple walking to the metro with us:

We climbed Mount Lycabettus at sunset one evening and though the hill was steep, the view was worth it.  It’s about 275 meters above sea level; the highest point in Athens.


Underground wonders

The Athens metro is the most beautiful metro we’ve ever seen.  It is clean and it runs smoothly which makes it easy to like, but the true gems are built into the metro as mini-museums that take you back thousands of years.

The metro has one line which dates back to the late 1800s. Two other lines were added when the metro went through major renovations in the 1990s and, if I’m not mistaken, this renovation was partially inspired to bolster their 1996 Summer Olympics bid.  Though the attempt proved futile, the metro is absolutely striking.  The renovation ended around 2000 and was quite the expenditure which some Greeks say contributed to their current economic state.

Work on the metro was slow because of all the antiquities discovered along the way. The main problem construction workers faced was not having to dig through rock but having to sift through history.  Every time they dug a new hole they would find an ancient grave or a wall or road so they would put down their picks and shovels and call in the archaeologists who would do their digging with toothbrushes.  This time was well worth it, however, because this metro is no typical transportation network, it is a series of mini exhibitions.

Walking down marble steps into the station, you find yourself in a modern universe with ticket machines and escalators.  But as you descend to a track, you pass all sorts of artifacts from different periods of Athenian civilization.  Encased in glass is stratified excavation where you see ancient pots, oil lamps, mosaic floors, columns, portions of walls and roads, cisterns, burial remains, clay drainage pipes, and more.  These artifacts range from the 6th century BC through Byzantine times.  There are also plaster casts of figures from the Parthenon.

On top of being cultural and educational, the metro is untarnished which is a feat for any public transportation unit.  The cars themselves are clean and operate smoothly. The stations are spacious and well-lit with hardly a mark of graffito or piece of garbage to be seen.  Most platforms even have a monitor which indicates when the next metro is arriving.The only unfortunate aspect of all this free and especially available history is the fact that it is overlooked due to the inevitable quick pace demanded by its milieu.  People generally treat public transport as a means to an end and therefore wouldn’t stop to look at a vase.

However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who do stop and think about artifacts.  Quite a few people do gaze at the 2,500 year-old ceramic vase, more properly called amphora, which was once given to the winner of the Panathenaic games.  Many appreciate the fact this vase was once filled with first-class olive oil—a precious and expensive delicacy.  And that this olive oil was a prize for one of four sports festivals held in ancient Greece collectively called the Panhellenic games.  And that one of the other three sports festivals held every four years in Olympia is still celebrated.  Very soon in fact, in London.  All of this history is contained in one vase, in one mini-museum of one metro station. Fortunately for us, we pass through these stations daily and take it in as we scurry through.

In Athens, history truly is everywhere to be found.  Even underground.

Euro? Drachma? Try the TEM.

Greece’s currency has recently been in the spotlight with political pundits everywhere questioning the drachma’s reappearance. But not much has been said about a revitalized system already in place in one Greek town.

Volos, a port city in central Greece, has formed an alternative local currency.  Citizens of Volos found themselves struggling to afford items in euros so they turned to TEM.  TEM stands for topiki enallaktiki monada which translates to alternative local currency.  In effect, it is a highly-organized barter economy. Members sign up online to activate their own TEM account which starts at zero.  For their goods and services, they take payment in TEMs and use TEMs given to them to buy the goods and services of others.

The rules are simple: one TEM unit is equal to one euro. No one may hoard more than 1,200 TEMs and no one may owe more than 300.  This initiative is still based in a currency, but haggling and trading are integral to its survival.

Though it’s reminiscent of an ancient system of bartering, this is no simple reversion.  People can now pay for their purchases via text messages and check their online account at any point to see their TEM balance and the transactions they’ve made.

This currency began functioning in 2010 and has been embraced by nearly 1,000 residents of Volos.  Each Saturday, the TEM-users of Volos gather at a large central market venue and barter away.  Euros are nowhere to be found.  Among the participants are unemployed locals who put their skills to work again as baby-sitters, gardeners, tutors, mechanics, hairdressers, and technicians.  And locals have added incentives for TEM-users.  Some restaurants and cafes, for instance, offer discounted meals for TEM-diners.

The euro is not being forced out by Volosians, but the TEM is undeniably being let in as a means to manage their burdens in this time of strife.

Some basics

Thought it might be good to let readers know what our daily/weekly schedule looks like.

Three days a week we have language class from 9-10:30. Our Greek professor, Angeliki (pronounced ahn gel eee KEE), is wonderful. From the first class she understood that we were there to learn conversational Greek that would best help us immerse ourselves in Greece during this six-week program. She says she’s like the bride’s father from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” because she never misses a chance to point out how English words have Greek origins. On Tuesday she showed how the root of the word technology is techni meaning art, which I don’t naturally pair together.

Fortunately Angeliki has taken to our rowdiness so she is always up for joking around or translating the random phrases that suit our individual needs, especially when it comes to food. Monday’s trip to the open market was eventful for those who partook because we hadn’t yet learned most food vocabulary, so finding and describing what was needed was a challenge. There may have been some accidental cucumbers purchased in place of zucchini…

The walk from the apartment to class is only about 15 minutes, and directly in our route is a lovely bakery which gets daily business from this band of students. Usually they have just taken the bread out of the oven when we arrive (a large loaf is only .60€!), so we are treated with that warm, fresh bread as we make our way to class. The bakers have been pleased with their new and devoted customers so they often let us sample their cookies and biscuits, as well.

After Greek we have acting class for a few hours. Acting class is loads of fun as we perform, adapt, revise, rework, and rewrite the comedies and tragedies from the 5th century BC. There are fewer than fifty extant Greek tragedies and comedies from comic playwright Aristophanes and tragedians Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles. They are all rather short, so we are looking at the entire body of work over the six weeks. It’s amazing to think that what we’re restaging is 2,500 years old, yet it is ever-accessible.

Most of us have mastered the afternoon siesta, an integral part of the Greek day. Also in the afternoon and evening we like exploring different parts of Athens on foot or by metro, bus, and trolley. The beach is just twenty minutes away so we’ve been sure to make use of the warm Mediterranean. Though we’ve found some favorite bakeries, creperies, markets, and gyro and other food stands, we often try new places to sample as much Greek food as we can. There are shops, markets, gardens, hills, churches, theatres, museums, ancient ruins, and modern structures everywhere in sight, so new adventures are to be had each day.

Just to give you a glimpse of what we have coming up this week in addition to language and acting class:
Tonight we’re going to see Greek folk dancing (more info:, tomorrow we have an all-day trip to Sounion and Thorikos, on Sunday we’re going to see a show from Berlin’s Schaubuhne — one of Europe’s leading theatres, based on Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses (more info:, on Tuesday afternoon we’re speaking to a Greek rug-maker about his craft, then on Tuesday evening we’re off to the theatre again to see the Apology of Socrates, and on Thursday we have a day trip to Delphi. So much to look forward to!

Greek greetings

Kalimera, paidia! Good morning, pals!

While it may not be morning, Greeks use this phrase up until the early afternoon. Then there isn’t a defined greeting from the afternoon until around six pm. From six til ten, you’d say kalispera (with a soft d or slight rolling r) which translates to good afternoon. Then from ten pm on it’s kalivravi: good evening.

Just last night, Michael ordered dessert for our group dinner at Tim’s apartment, and the bakery told him to pick it up “in the afternoon… at seven”.

So what happens in those hours the sun beats down the hardest? Greeks sleep. They siesta. And, not wanting to be culturally insensitive, most of us have taken up this ritual. There’s essentially an institutionalized nap time in Greece, and it’s lovely. The heat is greatest then, and some days that great heat has meant simply stepping foot outside at three pm brings such discomfort that one is tempted to get a few minutes, or even hours, of slumber.

By the late afternoon the temperature drops ever so slightly and after some good shuteye Greeks are ready to resume the day refreshed. At eight pm, there’s still plenty of sun to take in as we wish pleasant afternoon tidings to one another. Accordingly, Greek dinner is usually at nine or ten, as the sun sets.

So, dear readers, kalimera! And kala evdomada ~ have a good week!


Greek elections June 2012

Sunday, June 17th was a historic day. Even Google doodled about it:

On the 17th, Greece held a second set of elections, six weeks after the previous set in which no party received a majority.

So here’s what happened as I understand it. All this information comes from people we’ve spoken to and articles I’ve read. Please note I have simplified some aspects of this, but my hope is that in doing so I have not detracted from the essence of the particulars.

In November 2011, former Prime Minister George Papandreou called for a referendum to be held over Greece’s continued commitment the euro. Papandreou later called off the referendum due to political pressure and as a result he resigned. This ushered in an interim government headed by Lucas Papademos which lasted until elections in May 2012.

The May elections resulted in no political party winning the majority of seats in Parliament, which is required by the Greek constitution to form a government. The three largest parties had an opportunity to form a simple majority by aligning but they did not do so. The constitution called for Parliament to be dissolved and new elections scheduled, and these elections happened on June 17th.

This election, as Greeks described it, put to vote the public’s commitment to the euro. Voters had a hard choice between continuing with harsh austerity measures or the unknowns of returning to the drachma. Regardless of their votes, social unrest and economic instability are here to stay.

The three main political parties:
New Democracy is a pro-bailout/austerity conservative party.
Syriza is a radical left, anti-bailout/austerity party. The word “syriza” references a Greek word meaning “back to the roots”.
Pasok is a socialist party, which had long ruled Greece.

In the May election, New Democracy received 19%, Syriza received 17%, and Pasok received 13%.

In Sunday’s election, New Democracy received 30%, Syriza received 27%, and Pasok received 12%.

Both elections reflect a minority victory for New Democracy, which is a party notionally committed to keeping Greece in the euro by sustaining a national austerity program.  This program has reduced the nation’s economy by 20% since 2007, and promises to cut wages and pensions by another 15% next year.

A Greek political pundit said that for Syriza, this was the best possible outcome. They didn’t win which means they won’t have to run the country, but they proved that they are a viable opponent to ND. Syriza, founded in 2004, was not taken seriously until a couple of years ago, and now their popularity is undeniable.

If Syriza had won an outright majority, Greece would have likely exited the euro zone and defaulted on its loans. Abandoning the euro surely sounds dramatic and it would have likely sent the world financial system into turmoil, but it’s important to note that Greece has a history of corruption and tax-evasion that seems to have burdened its EU partners.

We’ve been told that Greece will run out of money by the end of July. Can’t quite wrap my mind around that. Sunday’s elections added to their debt, and if a third set of elections is called for, that will surely run them dry. Let alone all other costs that are, you know, necessary to run a country.

Since no party won a majority, no single party will have enough seats to govern by itself and New Democracy must now form a coalition. On Sunday evening, Pasok (socialist party) announced that they would not join a coalition with ND (center-right) unless Syriza (radical left) did so. This coalition, if I’m not mistaken, is supposed to be formed by tomorrow, Wednesday the 20th. If they do not form a coalition, they will schedule a third set of elections in six weeks.

Fortunately for us (and primarily our worried parents) this means that at least for the next 35 days in this global seminar, the euro will remain Greece’s currency and the drachma will not make a comeback. Greece’s troubles are certainly still present but they are not being dealt with until they have a functioning government again and it’s not clear whether that will happen during our time here.

Perhaps the strangest part of being in Athens during tumultuous times is the fact that we’re simultaneously learning about Greek history, simultaneously visiting the Acropolis, simultaneously (and constantly) hearing from Greeks how there’s was the city that fashioned democracy. It seems an unfortunate paradox that we can so praise their origins and treat their current state as a cancer.

Hopefully this served as a clear, inoffensive, and relatively concise explanation of the Greek political climate.

Over and out,