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Hades and Other Greek Gods
Pros: Santorini-excavated city of Akrotiri, interesting place, frescoes were the most impressive, beautiful temples
Cons: none

Izmir, Turkey

Sunday, Sep 12, 2004 16:06

I'm not sure how I did it, but I survived the Smithsonian tour. "By tomorrow we should be on the island of Delos..." Famous last words. Our tour leaders were incredibly resourceful, but most days the weather prevented us from moving the boat, docking the boat, leaving the boat, or otherwise doing what one would normally do on a boat tour. So on days when we could move the boat, we ran around like crazy people trying to see and do everything before the winds picked up again. At no point were we on land long enough to get our land-legs back, so it was quite comical to watch the group swaying through Byzantine churches and steadying ourselves against enormous Hellenistic columns.

Despite the circumstances, there were some truly awesome moments. For one thing, the rough seas created quite a spectacle of their own when we managed to motor through them. I (sadistically) loved the sound of the hull smashing against 8- to 10-foot swells, the energy of it spraying walls of water up either side of the deck. On overnight passages the mountains of water looked eerie lighted by the glow of our little boat. Then there were the other passengers, always a source of amusement. I managed not to prostrate myself in veneration before the former director of the ACLU, and I spent as much time as possible with the guy who would randomly start sentences with phrases like, "You know, I think the Romans really lost it around 247 AD..."

My favorite landfall would have to be Santorini and the excavated city of Akrotiri. Like Pompeii, Akrotiri had been a busy, fully-developed city when, in 1628 BC (that's BC), the island suffered an earthquake and volcanic eruption with a force four times that of Krakatoa. The center of the circular island sunk into the sea, completely changing its shape, and the city was covered and thus preserved by a thick layer of volcanic ash. It's interesting to note that the inhabitants apparently had prior warning of the explosion and were able to flee the city; Excavations have uncovered no human or animal remains.

What they left behind is pretty remarkable. It was just like any other city, with multi-storied buildings, roads, a city square, and a layout that implies a strong sense of community. Windows faced a communal center, and frescoes depict a wealthy, cosmopolitan culture that traded far beyond its own boundaries. The frescoes were the most impressive. With so many ancient cultures, we can only guess at their appearance, their dress, their sense of beauty. But here in life size are relatively realistic pictures of the people of Thira (the ancient name for Santorini). You feel like you're standing in the room with the people of a 4000-year-old culture. No one knows where they came from; Archeologists once believed them to be Minoan, like the inhabitants of Crete, but now believe that they represent a separate people. No one knows where they went, or if they got far enough to survive the devastating succession of natural disasters. Time blinked and they were gone, tantalizing us with intricately detailed seascapes, wall paintings of Egyptian monkeys, pottery and jewelry from around their known world. As soon as someone invents a time machine, I'll be there.

We've also seen a number of temples, which are impressive to me in their architecture but seem generally removed from everyday life. And that was their function--they were meant to house the gods, and so were designed to be awe-inspiring and utterly removed from the villages that they overlooked. They seem like dual testaments to humankind's genius and to our hubris, to our vision and to our need to dominate.

So here we are in Turkey, playing hookey on the last day of the tour. It's almost noon and mom is still sleeping, so it was probably a wise choice not to get on a bus with 30 people this morning. I feel good today, but it's been a rough week. First there was the seasickness, then the Dramamine to counteract the seasickness, the caffeine to counteract the Dramamine, Ambien to counteract the caffeine, Allegra to counteract the wool blanket, wine to counteract all the counteracting, and still I couldn't sleep much since I was usually being tossed around the cabin. When I started to hallucinate (whoops!), I knew it was time to take a break. I was so grateful for a bed that wasn't moving last night, and I'm ignoring the fact that Helen and Saul, 85 and 92 years of age respectively, are still running circles around me. In my defense, our tour leader claims that out of the hundreds of tours that she's conducted, ours was the worst in terms of sea conditions. In fact, when we left certain ports, the captain had to sign a liability waiver, the gist of which was, "I acnowledge that it is reckless for me to take 30 naive, trusting people out in a boat the size of a twinkie in gale force winds, and if something should happen to them I promise to pay their grieving families out of my own pocket." The group leaves tonight around 3am, and as soon as I figure out where I am, I'll head to Bulgaria.