Thursday, April 29, 2004

Beth says: How can I be already writing about Italy when Greece is barely a memory? Greece was unforgettable, somehow blending in with the Greek ruins we saw in Turkey, and the good times we had with Gordy, Lynda, Jamie and Henry. But the transition from Greece to Italy took a lot of stamina -- first a 4-1/2 hour ride down a mountain, then a rush to catch the overnight ferry from Patras, Greece, to Bari, Italy, then another good 4 hour bus ride to Naples. As the Greeks would say, "Know yourself."

So, here is Allen's summing up -- in the form of a letter to Rachel and Nick, our kids.

Allen says: Dear Rache and Saint,

We're in Delphi but it's raining so the oracle wasn't available for questions. This place is really lovely but it's time to say goodbye to these lovely mountains and jump on the ferry for Italy and that means it's time for my monthly summing up letter.

I find Greece hard to sum up but here goes. Greeks in some ways remind me of Jews. Both groups tend to be loud and a bit argumentative. Just as we gave monotheism to the world, the Greeks gave the world many of the basics of our Western culture - everything from democracy to philosophy to literature to drama to science. Both Greeks and Jews often feel a sense of ingratitude from the world, a feeling that tthe world owes them something. Modern Greece feels cheated out of its patrimony.

Here in Greece this shows up in many ways. Just as in Israel, the Greeks live as if the past and the present are one. And just as in Israel there is a reasonable rationale for their viewpoint. Athens, for instance, would not be the capitol of Greece were it not for the Acropolis. Athens real raison d'etre is the Acropolis. Otherwise it would have been a small village bypassed by the growth of modern Greece.

Constantinople (Istanbul) and all of Asia Minor were once Greek ( the Byzantine Empire descended from the eastern Roman Empire and over a million Greeks, heirs to Alexander the Great, lived in Asia Minor until the 1920s) and Greeks believe correctly that their expulsion from Asia Minor was the direct result of Western imperial machinations.

The sense of a betrayed present and a proud past seem to inform Greek character. Ah but what a wonderful place this is and what a wonderful past it brings to life. I felt like I could almost touch Agamemnon and Orestes in Mycenae. At the theatre of Dionysus in Athens I could almost see them performing the tragedies of Sophocles and hear people laughing at Aristophanes political and dirty jokes. I even got to stand in the spot where Socrates taught his students. Wow!!! As many times as I've seen the Parthenon, it will always be an amazing, overpowering place. Then there's Knossos, Sparta, Olympia, and Delphi - just the names are enough to hint at the awe I experienced in seeing them. I actually stood in front of the helmet Miltiades wore when he led his soldiers to victory at the battle of Marathon.

But ancient Greece was only a part of the magic of this place. We spent a day climbing up and down the side of a mountain exploring the Byzantine ruins of Mystras. We explored Venetian forts at beautiful Napflion and Rhodes. In Rhodes, we also got to explore its still lively medieval old town. And then there's Crete with its wonderful memories of my somewhat wild youth. Crete is different today but it's still beautiful and its museum is great. Actually we saw about a half dozen wonderful museums all over the country. Finally, there's the food. It was great - moussaka, baked squid, veal in lemon sauce, and greek salad loaded with feta cheese. Of course, it's still not Turkey.

It seems this letter is more travelogue than analysis, and it's a light travelogue at that. So be it.

Love, Dad

P.S. Enjoy The Brothers K. and your new place.

It's raining in Naples, but after a day of walking around medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque churches, we are happy to have found a small internet cafe close to our hotel. Naples is quite an experience. We are staying in the old part of town where narrow streets are barely wide enough for a single car to pass. Naples takes its name from "neo-polis," from the Greeks meaning "new city", as Naples was once a colony for ancient Greece. I think the Greeks laid the streets in these old massive cobblestones of marble, a tradition which continues to today. I did laundry and hung it out to dry, looking directly across the street at another building, just about 8 feet away. The medieval period did not want to waste any space!

The Italians are passionate people. If they're not arguing, they are gesticulating, bargaining, hugging, laughing. Here we see many cafes, as in Greece, but the atmosphere is different, or at least in Naples, so far the climate is somehow small town in the middle of a very busy city. I can't get used to the motorbikes that everyone rides -- with little more than a beep to tell you to get out of the way. We saw 3 people on one moped nearly go head-on with 3 people on another moped. They stopped just in time, hugged, laughed, and continued on their way. Cars are about the same. The drivers can turn on a dime and back up at speed. It truly is pedestrian beware!

Shops close up between 2 and about 4:30 pm, so everyone can go home for lunch and a long siesta. I like the siesta part, but overheard some tourists say they hadn't had a square meal in quite a while because they didn't know that the restaurants didn't reopen until 7:30 pm.

Yesterday, we visited the Archaeological Museum here in Naples and were entranced by the mosaics from Pompei. I have been fascinated by Pompei for many years but I never realized how big Pompei was or how much had been covered by volcanic ash. Now, tomorrow, we go to see the real thing. Excavations have uncovered hundreds of murals, temples, mosaics, and even a theater and stadium, modeled after any Roman town. Today, we skipped from the ancient past to the medieval period up to the Baroque. I think we visited 5 churches, and we saw two weddings today -- complete with bride in floor length gown -- and admired religious art and architecture. Our last church somehow combined several styles. It's billed as a Renaissance church, but because it is constantly being updated, and closer to the size of a cathedral, we were overwhelmed by intricate marble inlay of every color -- everywhere we looked! Major white marble sculptures, detailed painted ceilings in the style of Michelangelo, and tall columns combining Corinthian with every style -- from simple to bulbous, lots of gold and silver, many flowers, in short, we were overwhelmed! But what impresses me most is the deeply spiritual feeling that pervades each church, despite the tourists tromping in and out.

The writing goes well, the camera -- despite a sometimes jammed cover -- is still working well, and we've already found a few used bookstores in Rome for next week. We're doing well on the road, but now are a little more cut off, since all the TV channels are in Italian, no CNN at all, our only news is online. Expenses are up for hotel rooms (you don't want to know), but being adaptable, we buy fruit from street vendors, yogurt from the little corner store, and head out for "real" pizza or a hot meal once a day. All is well as we hear from home. The bread is good here. Visit the Harvest Bread Company in Corvallis and think of us. Fondly, Beth

Monday, April 26, 2004

Just a quick note this morning as I write to you from this small Internet cafe, Greek music in the background. I used all my Internet time to upload some new pics so go look! We leave in an hour for a busride down Mt. Parnassus (we were visiting the oracle at Delphi, but sorry, no questions and no answers). Then hop a ferry to Italy. More later. Beth

Monday, April 19, 2004

Whew . . . Today in Napflion, Greece, south of Athens, deep in the Peloppenese (and no spell checker), the exchange rate of Euros to dollars is making us say ouch! Internet is about $7 an hour now; I miss Turkey!

Today we took two buses to Epidaurus, the best preserved Greek theater, and we oohed and awed at all those empty seats and great acoustics. A lovely red-headed tourist sang opera dead center and got a standing ovation. Epidaurus was a sanctuary for Asclepius, the god of healing. Apparently people believed that snakes had formidable healing powers, partly because snakes "renewed" themselves by creating new skins. So a favorite therapy was to line up and get licked by a snake. So that's the story behind the snake that appears on the physician's staff.

Museum at Epidaurus was closed, always a disappointment, but that's OK, we caught an early bus back to Napflion and headed up to the Palmidi fortress, built in the very early 1700s by the Venetians (and taken over by the Turks one year after it was finished). After climbing through amazing ruins and taking lots of photos of blue sky and blue-er ocean, we climbed the 999 (yes, 999) steps all the way down. Those steps add new meaning to circular stairway. We're now cosily ensconsed in a bar (loud music, pool hall, sports TV AND internet), and typing as quickly as possible. Tomorrow we head for Sparta and anticipate not much in the way of ancient ruins (the Spartans were ever practical and probably have recycled everything). However, the real highlight of the trip is coming up in yet another World Heritage site -- the monastary complex at Mystras, a complex of religious retreats at the top of a mountain. The monks were hauled up by ropes, safe from the political unrest of the Byzantine period. Later, tourists of the 19th Century asked how often the ropes were changed and were told -- Until God breaks the rope. Today we can visit by hiking (or taxi-ing) up and then walking down, enjoying sweeping vistas all the way.

Breakfasts are fine (I still miss feta cheese and green and salty olives for breakfast). Dinners range from outrageous to pizza. Not much different from home. Home here is where we sleep -- our books keep us company since friends have all headed back to the states, that is, until June. Warm weather leads to optimistic thoughts. So much to learn, and we're now half-way in the trip. Keep the e-mails coming. That's the only way I've found to counter real home-sickness!

I hope your world is going well. Beth

PS Update on pictures. I can't post any new ones until I find a less expensive Internet cafe, but if you haven't seen the new ones from Turkey, please just click on the button at the top of the page (right hand side). I did post two links -- one for Mystras and one for Epidaurus. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

A note from Allen to Rachel:

Now, as I did with Egypt and Israel I'd like to give you some closing impressions of Turkey.

First let me begin by saying that it's very hard for me to write objectively about Turkey because I've dearly loved this country ever since I was in my 20s. It awed and amazed me then with its beauty and the warmth and the innate decency of its people.

I'd expected this visit to remove the rose tinted glasses of memory and yet I find Turkey even more wonderful and more romantic than I'd remembered. Partly, I suspect, that's due to the presence of your ever lovely ever wonderful mother. But it's also Turkey. The Mediterranean coast with its blue water, green tree carpeted mountains, and picturesque villages is romantic. Istanbul, the Ottoman geographic soul of Turkey, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its palaces and great minarets rising straight up from the waters of the Bosporous and the Golden Horn. Only in Istanbul would a 400 year old mosque be known as the New Mosque. On the Princes Islands in the strait you go around by horse and buggy because no cars are permitted. Each morning we ate our breakfast on the roof of our hotel. On my left was the Sea of Marmara, to my front was the Blue Mosque (my favorite building in the whole world), to Mom's front was Haga Sophia (the greatest church in christendom for 900 years). Topkapi Palace was a 5 minute walk from our hotel.

Yet Turkey is much more than its physical beauty and romance. If geography is destiny, Turkey, with one foot in Europe and one foot in Asia and a knee in the Middle East, is and has long been destined for extraordinary things. It has long been the battleground of eastern and western armies and ideas. The Greeks, the Macedonians, and the Romans invaded from the west, the Arabs from the south, and the Persians and the Mongols from the east. And both the people and the culture show it. You meet a great mix of Turks - from blue eyed and faύr skinned to swarthy and slant eyed peoples. The people are 99 percent moslem and yet the country is as secular as the United States. The Moslem sabbath is friday and yet the weekend here is saturday and sunday. Trading has long been at the core of Turkish life and it shows in turkish hospitality and the warm friendliness of even short contacts. Here, inviting strangers to tea is a way of life and social interaction is the grease that makes life work. Alas, that results in long and elaborate meals and many hours in the Turkish baths. God, am I going to miss turkish baths and turkish food.

Sic transit gloria.

Love, Dad

We've been on the road from Marmaris, Turkey, to Rhodes by ferry, then another ferry to Iraklion on Crete. Sunny Mediterranean weather everywhere gives a golden glow to all we've done -- We visited the Acropolis in Rhodes as well as the most amazing medieval Old Town of Rhodes itself, an entirely enclosed medieval city, complete with the Grand Master's palace and the most amazing frescos from the Greek and Byzantine periods, the architecture a mix of Islamic, Crusader, and Byzantine styles. The streets narrowly twist and turn in unexpected directions; Greeks still live in the town, a vibrant combination of very old (most from the 1300s when the knights of St. John built extensive fortifications) and simple whitewashed box-like houses common to the Greek Islands -- as this area does suffer from occasional earthquakes.

We walked down the Street of Knights, each massive "row house" divided into the six different "tongues" that the knights spoke -- so six different languages -- French, Spanish, Provence, etc. French flags fly next to Greek flags. Our favorite was the Palace of the Grand Master with its very large inner courtyard; the entire palace was refurbished by the Italians for Mussolini in the 1930s -- and the island itself was occupied by the Germans between 1943 and 1947. But the Palace was beyond grand with its large Roman columns, early Greek and Roman mosaics everywhere -- gladiators and dolphins. We stopped for lunch in a square opposite the Turkish baths, delicious moussaka and like the palace, an immense Greek salad, summer-fresh tomatoes, fresh oregano and feta. We saw renovations going on everywhere in this World Heritage site, our second, and Rhodes Old Town deserves its designation. Here we really can get the flavor of medieval life -- a mix of Islamic, Jewish and Christian architecture -- though today only church bells ring in the hours. Here once the Colossus of Rhodes graced the harbor as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

We then came by ferry to Crete and found our home at the Kronos Hotel (think Kronos Quartet!), right by a charming string of waterside outdoor restaurants. Last night we ate baked melt-in-your-mouth squid and watched the ferries head north to Athens, our next stop. Yesterday we tromped around the Palace at Knossos, actually a Minoan palace through three different periods from about 1900 to about 1450 BC, a short period to have been so influential. The Minoans have a reputation for being peaceful, island people, but their palace was again monumental in scale. Some say the Minoan word for labyrinth actually means large palace, not the later gory Greek tale about the Minotuar who required 14 beautiful young youths and maidens each year in tribute (a tasty treat). Some parts of the palace have been closed off perhaps permanently because the murals are delicate.

Today we spent four hours in the musuem, appreciating the complexity of the Minoan pottery, statuary, and murals -- as well as their influence on early Greek art. Interestingly, we could see influences from Egypt and Mesopotamia on this island culture in the Minoan period and later. And I'm not so sure the Minoans were so peaceful; their religious rites did include animal sacrifice (common to the times). Some of the murals were so lovely (even if incomplete) with dancing maidens, dark hair in ringlets, and young men in religious processions, small waists, bearing gifts for the cult of the bull. I think I took too many pictures here, but the artwork is lovely. I'll try to post a few a little later as tomorrow night we head for Athens by the red-eye overnight ferry in a cozy cabin for four. Henry and Jamie are going to Athens as well, and they've been lovely company. Tonight we head for an Easter celebration at midnight at a local church which features, we've been told, fireworks and cherry bombs. Ah, culture!

I hope sunny skies are everywhere -- English language television is at a real premium at the hotels we stay at, so we're relying on the internet for news, unfortunately all bad. The Greek language seems very foreign right now, especially after five weeks of Turkish.

Be well.


PS Yes, that PHOTO LINK at the right hand side of this website works now. Check it out!
PPS Allen has written his end-of-stay-in-Turkey, so I'll post that later too.