Pros: Santorini-excavated city of
Akrotiri, interesting place, frescoes were the most impressive,
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