Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Greece is on Fire

It seems only write to blog on the issue of the riots while I am sitting in my apartment awaiting updated information on what tonight is going to look like. As most of you have read, a 15 year old boy was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday night. This boy (Alex) and a group of his friends were allegedly throwing rocks at the cop car. As Alex threw a petrol bomb the cop shot him. Things quickly turned from bad to worse. Protesters took to the streets that night, torching stores, pummeling banks with windows, and battling with the police. My roommates and I had no idea any of this had happened the night before because we do not have a TV or internet in our apartment. So, we went to Ermou street on Sunday to get coffee and go shopping. Little did we know that over half the stores (shopping district of Athens) had either been torhed or had broken windows. About 10 minutes after we walked around and checked things out we got a text message from our school saying to avoid the area we were standing in as well as 3 other parts of Athens due to large protests. At this point we were watching the police department file out of their vans with their riot gear in hand. Needless to say, we decided to head home.

We still had no idea why the massive destruction had happened until people started getting phone calls from their parents asking if they were ok and explaining what had happened. Rioters continued to clash with the police throughout Sunday. We went to class on Monday only to be dismissed early because things we escalating. Monday night has been the worst so far. They torched the city's Christmas tree, destroyed downtown Athens through fires and smashing storefront windows, and lighting anything and everything on fire.

Our last day of classes for the semester was canceled today due to the boy's funeral. Things are expected to be violent tonight again. We walked downtown this morning to where the city's Christmas tree stood and checked out the damage. It is extensive but not as war zone like as they are describing on CNN. The cities outside of Athens that are seeing riots as well as just as badly destroyed. We also learned last night that Greeks in other European cities were taking the Greek consulates and burning their own flag. They want to mark their solidarity with the youth protesters in Greece I suppose.

So Why? Why such a violent reaction to the death of a 15 yr old. Well it is more then that. This is the straw that broke the camel's back so to say. Greeks are furious at their current government and the economic situation. There cost of living has risen (as it as around the world) while wages have stayed the same and unemployment keeps growing. Also, in the youth say the cops are a bunch of "pigs" because they get away with whatever they want. In essence, they see the police and the government working hand in hand and not for the betterment of Greece.

What now? Everyone is really unsure as to how long these protests will last. Many have said that if the current PM calls for early elections next year then things will clam down. However, many have also said that if Greece calls a state of emergency and brings in the military things will get much much worse very quickly. Greeks still reference the military junta that ruled for 6 years as if it was yesterday. They drove their tanks on to the college campus in Athens and killed about 40 students. Since then universities throughout Greece are aslyums.. no police officer is allowed to enter university grounds. This has its pros and cons. Pros it is a way to contain protesters and con--the faculty at the universities have called for a 3 day strike so students are basically just storing ammunition in their safe haven.

The poor kid and his family. Their heads must be spinning over all of this. I'll keep you all posted on my situation. We are having a town hall meeting tomorrow to answer any and all questions / discuss what happens if things do not get better by the end of the week. We shall see.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Perspective Change

With less then two weeks (13 days to be exact) left in Greece I have began to think..not about my memories but about my perspective. I entered this completely foreign country 4 months ago unsure if I was going to like it let alone be able to live in it for a whole semester. I wanted to go where I knew no one (patterns repeat themselves). Yet, when I got here I was unsure if I would bond with the people in my program.

As life in Athens has become less foreign and more like 'home' these worries and concerns have faded. I have made some great friends, people I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. We have this amazing shared experience that no one else really quite gets. When I recount my trips and my weekends exploring around Greece it is these people I will recall. It is strange to think that 4 months ago Leslie and I sat next to each other on a plane knowing nothing about each other and now we are great friends. Life is funny like that.

The people of Greece have been wonderful. They are a very proud people with a very storied past. Their perceptions of outsiders is somewhat understandable when you learn their history of being conquered numerous times. My encounters have been nothing but positive. A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that I'm a student. They respect that you are in their country, learning their history. It means a lot to them.

What I'll miss.. the people we have met along the way. There are to many characters to mention (Anthony, Rony, Old Irish, Tom, Maria, Alexo, the Professor, the Marines, Eddie & co, little man, etc). Each one of them has impacted my time here in Greece all for the better. Some have opened my eyes to parts of Greek life I would have never known existed without them. For that, I am forever grateful. I'll miss everyone's hilarious anecdotes on their cultural mishaps. Understanding that older Greek men have no qualms about urinating on a side street is just part accepting the culture right? I'll miss being talked about in front of in a language I still do not fully understand. I always wonder what they are saying...

I'm going to miss a lot of it. It is the first time I have ever lived in a major metropolitan city. Public transportation in winter park is non existent. I've enjoyed my first city experience but I'm not sure if its for me. Their is always something going on and something to do and see but space is limited..sometimes its nice to not be pressed so close to the stranger next to you on the bus that you can see their pores. Eh just a thought..

Most of all I'm going to miss the traveling. I saw so much of Greece, which was nice because you do not get the "beautiful" impression from living in Athens. Santorini is magical, everyone should go once in their life. The Peloponnese is just this lush mountainous area where the air is clear and the streets are quite. It is the polar opposite of Athens. Crete is one of coolest places I have ever been too.. hiking down a gorge while the sun beats on your back and the rocks make you feel the size of an ant..just amazing. Egypt was shocking on so many levels. As a woman it was a real interesting experience. Not being accompanied by a man was wrong, which is still an idea I can not wrap my head around. Historically it is so rich. So, it was worth the awkward cultural exchanges. Istanbul was my favorite, hands down. I would go back in a heart beat. I feel in love with Italy when I was in Rome. It is a country that I will be back too numerous times.

All of these places I have gone and people I have met seem so vast when I look back on it. With each trip there is another story. Within those there are a dozen that stick out. It is strange how you enter a new stage in life unsure of what to expect and when that chapter comes to a close you look back and wonder when it is you actually adapted and stopped seeing this new chapter as new. I am not sure when that exactly happened to me but it definitly did. I feel at home here. Greece is a place I will visit again. Hopefully come and stay for an extended holiday and just enjoy all that this European / eastern / ancient country has to offer.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where Have All The Tampons Gone?

Ok, so I was telling my mom about this paper that I wrote for my ethnography (a fancy word for cultural anthropology) class. Our second paper we had to write on something about Greece that was bothering us so I chose Tampons. I am posting the paper because I feel like e-mailing to all my friends and family might be out of context. In this respect if you're not interested you can simply skip this entry (as I am sure Chris and Conor will do). No worries boys, this is more for the girls then it is for the guys. Enjoy.. I hope it gives you a good laugh. I have thought of maybe using it to apply to grad school.. thoughts?? I am sure it would have to be an all woman's college with a touch of feminism, but hey whatever it takes right? : )

...When prompted with the question, “what’s bugging you?” about Greek culture, there are a few distinct things that come to mind. I am working through my disgust for cigarette smoke everywhere. I have also gotten over the fact that my debit card is virtually unusable when it comes to purchases. However, there is one issue that I can not seem to overcome.

Every month, like most women ages 14-60, I experience a week long period of menstruation. My issue is not menstruation in itself because lets be honest, I do not really have choice in the matter. It is part of being a woman, like it or not. My issue is with Athens and even Greece at large, hostility towards tampons. During my first week here in Athens I found myself wandering the aisles of the Extra grocery store in search of ever elusive tampons. What I found was not my prized possession but instead shelves upon shelves of sanitary napkins.

I was surprised by my discovery. Growing up in the United States, my only other point of comparison, there is an entire aisle dedicated to women’s products. This includes a multitude of products with many different kinds of tampons and sanitary napkins. Whatever your menstruation pleasure, it has found its way on to the shelves of a typical American grocery store or pharmacy.

Leaving the grocery store behind, I took my quest to the nearest pharmacy. To my delight the woman at the pharmacy showed me right to the tampon shelf. This is where the second part of my issue with Athens hostility towards tampons comes to a head. Tampons are only sold in small twelve packs and the majority of the time they only carry Tampax regulars.

I am annoyed not only by the lack of variety provided but also by the inconvenience. It is not out of my way to go to the pharmacy but it is unnecessary to have to buy multiple twelve packs, when I know bigger boxes exist. Also, I would not have such an issue with the lack of tampons in Greece if the same prejudice was accorded to sanitary napkins. This is not the case. Those who use sanitary napkins have a distinct advantage. They get to choose from different brands and styles, while I do not.

So, what is the deal? After speaking about my conundrum to three different groups of Athenian women, I have come to understand (partly) what is going on. My first stop was the pharmacy. Choosing Kolonaki square as my target destination, I entered a pharmacy right outside the square with a handful of questions. Maria, the pharmacist, informed me that “young girls like to use tampons during the summer months and when they go on trips.” Maria also said that older women see tampons as “foreign, funny objects”. While this classified who the tampon users were vs. the non-users, it still did not offer me any insight in to why they are so elusive. When asked to delve further, Maria said “they are just not as popular, so we do not carry them as much the other products.”

My next inquiry was a group of three young women ages 22-24, who I approached as they enjoyed their late night gossip session at one of the many cafes in Pangrati square. All three shared a similar opinion to Maria, agreeing that it was more acceptable for women their age to use tampons. Angela, the most outspoken of the group, even offered further proof of older women’s distrust of tampons. Speaking in regard to her grandmother, Angela said, “When I began menstruating my mother told my grandmother and the next time I went to visit her, she handed a package of [pads]. She sees tampons as dirty, saying they are bad for your body.”

Angela and the other girls could not explain the reasoning behind ya-ya’s thinking tampons are “bad for your body.” There only explanation was a basic “that’s just the way it is” here. My only thought was one of religious connotation. Some women do not use tampons because they believe that nothing should enter the vagina until they are married and consummate their marriage with their husband. The Greek woman gave this explanation some thought and said “Oxi. They just do not like it.”

Seeking another opinion on this issue, I looked to a Rony. A male, whom I know has a sister and has been in serious relationships in the past. After looking at me quizzically for a minute or so, he opened up. While, Rony has never purchased feminine hygiene products for his sister, he is fairly certain she uses tampons. His sister is in her early 30s. Rony has bought products for his past girlfriends and says that while most use tampons, some have asked him to buy sanitary napkins. He also noted that since he dates women who are usually “10 years younger” then him, that could also be a factor.

It seems to me that I am at a crossroad between the traditional and the modern. Maria’s comments about young girls using tampons during the summer and on trips suggest that tampons are still not the norm. The traditional being that which is followed by the older women, seems to still have an effect on the younger generation of today. My opinion is that this relates back to familial relations. Family life in Greece is of the utmost importance. The relationship between grandmother and granddaughter and mother and daughter is much more intimates that is within the United States.

Puberty and sexuality are topics covered within the school walls in the United States. While parents are encouraged to have a conversation with their child about their sexual health, one would be hard pressed to find how many times this actually takes place. Sometimes, that relationship does not even exist. While estranged parent-child relations are not the norm for every child in the United States, it is fair to say that familial relations are not as strong as they are in Greece.
It is my belief that the closer the family, the more traditional beliefs are valued and kept alive. Example: Angela accepted her grandmother’s kind gesture and classified it as “the norm.” She knows that most women in her family prefer to use sanitary napkins. That is what she grew up learning about. As a result, she has incorporated both tampons and sanitary napkins in to her routine. She uses the traditional and the modern interchangeably.

This explanation provides valid reasoning for why there is little variety. It also explains why the shelves are stacked from floor to ceiling with sanitary napkins and not tampons. However, it still does not explain the small package. Why only twelve?
My only explanation for the small boxes as the solo option is Greek culture. Yes, that is a broad statement so let me clarify. As I mentioned before, there are whole aisles in grocery stores devoted to these products in the States. America sells convenience (think Sam’s Club). We (Americans) crave one stop shopping. The same is not true in Greece, where it is quality over quantity. There is a different cultural mentality. An average American woman would hate to have to go buy tampons every time she had used twelve of them, where as the Greeks do not mind. Daily shopping is not seen as an inconvenience but rather a part of their daily routine. If you run out, you just go get more. Simple enough.

What I originally viewed as a mere annoyance has turned in to an interesting cultural study. I was surprised to hear that age determined which feminine hygiene product Greek women were likely to use. Part of living in a different culture is adapting to the ways of that culture. Prior to living in Greece, I had prepared myself to be open to all changes, ones that I knew would happen and ones that I did not. However, to be honest, tampons are the last thing I would have thought I would have an issue with. So, yeah it bugs me but I am slowly realizing that “that is just the way it is.” I am sure I will laugh at the irony of it all when I walk in to Rite Aid or CVS for the first time back home. Plus, in the end, change is a part of life.

Greek Thanksgiving & THIS IS SPARTA

This past week America celebrated its pride and glory holiday..the Native Americans and Pilgrims shared a feast and the world was at peace...or at least that was the case in history class until middle school. Spending my first Thanksgiving outside the confines of the States was interesting. My fellow students were annoyed that we had class. Eh I was impartial. It was the first and only time I will be in school on Thanksgiving but it was not like I was missing out on the preparation of the feast. It is not as if my family was down the street waiting for me to get done with school. Anyway CYA had a Thanksgiving "lunch" feast for us, complete with sub par pumpkin pie, a GIANT American flag, and Coca Cola (which I am still baffled by). They did a nice job of decorating and making it festive but its just not the same as sitting around the dining room table in Downingtown and solving the world's issues :). My family was appalled when I told them that we did not have mashed potatoes. In fact, I think every Irish person in America cried a little for me over that. Other then our Thanksgiving lunch the day was uneventful. I got to Skype with everyone at my house for the festivities and Kaitlyn (who since it had been so long since we heard each others voice we talked forever...much needed). We went to the Irish pub that night and Tom, a self described "pure blooded" Irish man who owns the pub, wished us and I quote "a happy Thanksgiving, whatever that is."

The next morning I left for my last CYA field trip and sadly my last traveling I will do while I am abroad. When I told Chris I was going to Sparta I could almost see his face light up, reminiscing on the movie and the classic line 'THIS IS SPARTA'. No worries Chris, it was repeated numerous times throughout the weekend. Probably every time we disembarked from the bus. The area of ancient Corinth (think St. Paul's letters to the Corinthians) was our first stop. It was the commercial hub to Sparta's military dominance. They made money and led sinful lives (according to Paul) while the Spartans waged war. The Acropolis of Corinth was this really cool castle like structure built in to a mountain. Virtually unconquerable unless the opposing army just starved out the population, yikes!

That night we went to dinner in a town outside of modern day Sparta, which you would interested to know was rebuilt right on top of ancient Sparta post-Ottoman empire. Saturday we climbed to the top the fortification that was Mystra. It was occupied by so many different groups that there are numerous different style of architecture represented. The one Church was visited was still an active nunnery. I think this is the reason that all the cats we saw were well groomed and looked healthy. Nuns love cats. Then the rain started...pouring buckets. Needless to say no one was happy. Our 3 hour on site tour got cut short and the history lessons got shorter and shorter as we moved throughout the site. Like the Acropolis of Corinth, Mystra was built in to a mountain side and literally expanded down the hill. The view from the top was my favorite part because it overlooked all of Sparta.

Tonight I getting an introduction to Lebanese food..I'm intrigued.

Monday, November 24, 2008


This past weekend Leslie and I ventured to Roma and I fell in love with it all..the people, the food, the sightseeing, the wine, and the shopping. Granted if I ever live there I would be broke and 800 pounds. So a weekend was too short but a lifetime might be unhealthy.

Leslie and I took the X95 bus to the airport on Thursday because the Athens metro workers decided to go on strike. Only in Greece can the entire city's metro system just not be open for 48 hours. Anyway, we took the 1 1/2 flight to Roma and got in around 2:00 PM. The Roma airport is like a huge shopping mall, filled with all sorts of top Italian designers. We arrived at our hostel after a 20 minute train ride out to the termini, or main station. For my first ever stay in a hostel I would say it was decent. I have nothing to compare it to. It was clean, we felt safe, warm bed and shower...so all good I guess. Plus, our guard dog was a German Shepherd mut..always cute.

We took a power nap and then headed out to do some sightseeing and grab something to eat. We hit the Trevi fountain first, which was gorgeous at night. It was packed with tourists. I can not imagine being their during the height of tourist season, crazy. The fountain was sooooo much bigger then I had expected. After the fountain, we headed to the Spanish steps, which is the place to see and be seen. At the top of the steps is a small little Church that overlooks most of Roma. The next level is filled with painters and sketch artists. I bought this cute 8 x 10 watercolor from one of the local painters. I am such as patron of the arts.

As we made our way down the stairs we encountered so many college students. Everyone seemed to be there hanging out and just catching up. Starving, we headed down one of the side streets and found this cute little restaurant. When we walked in the owner was teaching his waiter how to Italian how to dance, so good Italian food, wine, music and dancing. A perfect intro Italian culture. After dinner we did some more wandering and landed at some little gelato place. Absolutely delicious. Enough said.

The next day we awoke and headed to Vatican City. We started at the Vatican Museum where we spent a good portion of the day. The museum is HUGE. Every ceiling is covered, the paintings are huge, tapestries of the Last Supper..just sooo much. When we finally got the Sistine Chapel I had been looking up at the ceiling for the last hour. The Sistine Chapel was unbelievable in so many ways. First, if you think about Michaelango actually painting that..artistically and logistically, amazing. Next, all the different languages of everyone standing in this room looking at this painting. It transcends ethnicity, language, and cultural boundaries. After the museum we headed in to Vatican City square and got in line for St. Peters Basilica.

The only time I have ever seen anything like St. Peters was the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This blows that away. Once again every inch of the ceiling and walls are covered. The tomb of St. Peter is memorialized towards the front of the basilica and the altar itself was so detailed. There are sculptures memorializing many of the different Popes spread out along the walls, along with smaller altars and sanctuaries along the sides of the basilica.

We grabbed some lunch..veggie pizza..mmm and headed to the Colosseum. It was closed for the day when we got there but that didn't stop the Caesar impersonators from asking us if we wanted pictures with them. Who knew there were so many Caesars? We decided to head back to our hostel shower and get ready for round two. We hit an earlyish dinner at this cute little restaurant up the street from the Spanish steps. As we ate, a street performer serenaded us and the rain came pouring down.

After dinner we headed back to the Spanish steps to meet up with the group for the pub crawl. Every night in Roma, at 9 PM you can meet at the Spanish steps, pay $20 Euros and go on a pub crawl with usually all other American college students studying abroad. I do not know who thought of this idea but bravo...it is a great time. You get to drink as much Carlsburg beer or wine in as you can from 9-10 at the 1st bar and then the next too you get a free shot upon entry. You also get a t-shirt (everyone loves a good t-shirt) and pizza. You end the night at a club and can stay there until the doors close. Leslie and I met people studying in Florence, Barcelona, London, Paris, etc. We also met guys in the U.S. air force who were stationed in Venice, not a bad life. Except they were in mortuary services, so I guess that kind of has its draw backs. Anyway, it was just a fun way to go around Roma with 40 other people you had never met before. All Americans, Brits, and Aussies.

After a long night we awoke the next day intent on making the most out of our last full day. We hit the Colosseum first. It is just ginormous haha. The fact that gladiators fought until their death in their blows me away. What it would be like to be in the nosebleeds up there, intense. Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, which reminded me a lot of the Arch de Triumph in Paris. After that we perused the Circus Maximus, where the public games were held during the Roman Empires.

We were craving some shopping at this point so we hit the stores below the spanish steps...prada, gucci, escada, louis, armani, united colors of benneton, etc etc. We did a lot of window shopping for the top name guys and girls but we actually found some decently priced shops further along the street. Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves. You can't leave Roma without clothes right? That would be a sin : )

Our last dinner we went to the Trevi Restaurant where the wine was delicious, the food was even better, and the Tiramasu was heavenly. (See this is why I would be 800 pounds). Our last stop was a little cafe where I got more wine and Leslie got the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever tasted. It was like a melted chocolate bar...mmmm.

We got back to our hostel and had to pay. Upon paying the owner came to our room and brought us shots of Limon Cello. He makes its from scratch and yeah we could tell. That stuff was strong. But his hospitality just sums up the Italian people in general. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. It could have been that we were young college aged girls but I think a lot of it had to do with that we weren't a big tour group. You get to know the people better in smaller groups.

Our flight Sunday was early and we had to hustle to make our plane. Due to not knowing the train schedule we got to the airport with an hour to spare. We made it to our gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding time. No worries, it was all worth it. I can not wait to go back and see more of Italy...Florence, Tuscany, Naples, and all the other little villages in between. I could have spent weeks getting lost in Italy...love Roma. One day I will be back!

Monday, November 17, 2008


This past weekend I took one of my last field trips with CYA. We spent Saturday and Sunday in the area known as Delphi, which is about 2 hours Northwest of Athens. I was with my Athletics class because Delphi is the last of the four sites of the Panathenic festivals. We stopped in the ski town of Arachava for a quick snack and some sightseeing. The town reminds me of small New England ski towns, very picturesque and one main street. The stores were mostly bakeries and fur stores, which sold David Crockett like hats. Priceless.

We drove about 30 minutes to the site of Delphi and spent about an 2 hours at the ancient gymnasium and temples. The gym in ancient athletics was used more as a warm up and cool down area then as a place of heavy lifting. Anyway, after we checked in to our hotel which looked out in the Arcadia mountains, I met up with my professor to go on his voluntary hike.

The EU has put together a hiking trail that connects all the countries of the EU. In essences you should be able to walk the entire EU on these trails. So, we took one of the trails up to the base of the mountain to get a good look over the valley and the archaeological site. It was just nice to be breathing clean air and not have the sounds of blaring car horns filling your ears. Plus the view was spectacular.

The town of Delphi is nothing more then a two street tourist town so there is not much to do in terms of exploring. We had dinner at a local taverna and got hot chocolate afterward. On our way back to the hotel we passed by some traditional Greek dancing in one of the local tavernas so we stopped and watched that for a little.

The next day we spent on site from about 8:30-1:00. We started at the stadium, where we were bombarded by Asian tourists who ended up video taping one of my classmates as they were giving their presentations. Weird. Anyway, we got to see the ancient stadium, theater, treasury, and temples. We also visited the museum and saw a charioteer figure.

The trip was enjoyable and probably my favorite of all of the athletic sites we visited. Olympia was just too big with not a lot of the structures preserved. It was cold at Delphi but thats ok.. I know I soon will be back in my Florida sunshine!

Rome in 3 days...!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I just re-read my last entry and realized that you can totally tell I was writing while multitasking. I apologize that some of my sentences do not make sense. i.e.--convinced by rony that this was going to be the best movie i had seen in years, i decided to go. also, typing up the dog is supposed to prevent the penis from interfering with competition not the other way around.

...i figure you guys get the gist most of the time : )