Recently in Reflections Category
As we stepped out of the burning sun and into the dark, cool, chapel, I heard a hushed chorus of spontaneous 'wows.' At least once a day during the field study, I vicariously experience wonder and excitement.
At the end of each season, exhausted and and overwhelmed, I half-question the wisdom of trying to keep up with intelligent and energetic twenty-somethings as they travel through Greece and Cyprus for the first time. But, it is intoxicating to watch students catch their breadth while gazing out over the hazy, crowded, chaotic city of Athens from the top of Lycabatus, to hear students casually and convincingly use the terms spollia and squinch in a sentence, to overhear students debate the merits of archeological reconstructions and the weaknesses of museum design, and to realize that they spent their day off hiking to a Byzantine monastery.
May cannot come soon enough, I'm ready to do it all over again.
Sadly, our journey has drawn to a close.
I find it difficult to describe and reflect on the entirety of the past three weeks. Author Louis De Bernières once wrote of the Greek island of Cephallonia as a place "so immense in antiquity that the very rocks themselves exhale nostalgia and the red earth lies stupefied not only by the sun, but by the impossible weight of memory." In some extrapolation, I find myself in the same predicament, stupefied by the enormity of all that we have experienced. From Athens to Hydra to Monemvasia, Pafos, Platres, and Nicosia, we have studied and grown in an environment beyond anything I could have imagined. No photograph, book, story, or recitation could ever attest to the actual feeling of standing on the Acropolis, looking over the city of Athens, as the sun sets to a warm summer breeze, realizing how stupid you were for once confusing the Pantheon with the Parthenon in history class. The places we explored were so alive with the past, present, and future of these great countries - it was almost impossible not to learn and be intrigued by everything we saw.
Each day held a novel adventure and a fresh opportunity to discover something new. Among the most important educational lessons of our field study, we learned that:
• A "meze" designed for 12 can easily provide enough food for a small army (or an exhausted group of 18 students and 2 professors).
• All's fair in love and war. And basketball. Think twice before you challenge the skillz of a hockey player or a Cypriot professor.
• You are capable of walking farther in one day than you'd think...
• You are capable of climbing more mountains than you'd think...
• You are capable of drinking more water than you'd think...
• There exists more Byzantine churches in Greece and Cyprus than you'd think...
• A gyro is appropriate for any meal.
• Most Greek and Cypriot cats and dogs are friendly!*
*Exemption for pirates.
• Siga, Siga, Siga...
• Yogurt is an important staple of Greek diets and really awesome sunburn ointments.
• It is important to note the direction of an escalator and the correct direction for which you are to approach it.
• Teamwork makes the dream work.
• Birkenstocks = foot-ware of the Gods, Zeus approved.
Above all, however, there is one lesson that is perhaps the most important. At our last dinner together, our professors, Rachel and Nikos, stressed to us the value of all that we have learned in one final message. They encouraged us to go out on our own and investigate the world around us, stating that we had the tools, the motivation, and the skills to delve deeper into to our surroundings to search for meaning beyond what is outwardly apparent. All the architecture and environments that we studied are a product of the people and the cultures that have come before us. We can gain so much from looking at the layers of information that these places present. There is so much to learn from the messages they convey about circumstances and the people that created them.
The past few days I have awoken each morning wondering what new adventure we would embark on only to realize that our group is no longer together and that we distanced from Greece and Cyprus by thousands of miles. I'll admit that for a moment I am overwhelmingly dismayed by the fact that I will never be able to relive the same experience again. However, as part of our final lesson, I think we have learned how to make each day an adventure, even if we are not roaming though ancient ruins, excavation sites, walled cities, or medieval structures. This field study has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Regardless of where we will go or what we will do after this course, each day will be what we make of it. The journey is the reward. There is no end unless we decide it is so.
Now, as we leave each other and say our goodbyes, here's not to the final chapter, but to a lifetime of exploration, proverbial (and literal?) "mountain climbing," and the pursuit of new knowledge. The conclusion of this field study is surely not the end of our expedition.
This is only the beginning.
The traveling amidst traveling, ahh. Often, these are the only days were you can rest. For the most part, these traveling museums offered us a more surreal view at Greece and Cyprus, looking onto pastures or vast vineyards or local growers. Depending on who was our bus driver, it could mean an influx of natural remedies to fight off the motion sicknesses as our commercial bus barreled around corners of 500' drops. Or, on the smaller buses, some quiet chatter amongst the men as to why the bus driver is not shifting into 2nd gear as we cruise along a straight road at 20 kilometers an hour?
Most of use went in and out of sleep as the bucket seats often provided more support than we were used to in our hotel beds. Always the first and last hours of the trips are the most intriguing. You are able to see the city and when approaching a destination, find out more contextual aspects to the cityscape. Nikos and Rachel make sure you would understand what we are going through, and what we were going to be doing there before we get off and offer a more small-town view of the site.
Beyond what you find outside the bus, a more personal observation within the bus can have amusing results. As we step on the bus and adjust to our new homes for the next few hours, we could always count on Tyler being inept to calling out his Greek number and allowing us to leave. Alex, will be one of the few who decides they will never sleep on a bus. He will go up front and chat up the bus driver, take pictures of the sleepy, and make sure he understands that, here, you drive on the left side of the road; sometimes being a guide himself. Not long after people start waking up from naps, you'll find Casey with a Coke Lite withdrawal and looking for trouble. Vinnie will be holding up the fort in the back row doing Sudoku and listing to his music, while Kaleb decides he is going to sing his own version of Journey or Bon Jovi. He wants to rock!
Other than planning our attacks against our professors at the next sites, the bus rides were a place where we spent time reading and preparing our research, observing the natural beauty of the landscapes, and learning from Nikos and Rachel with questions you are curious about. But just being in air conditioning isn't bad either!
We learned about the events leading up to, and the war that ensued creating the divide of 1974, but I feel that any amount of preparation could not accurately depict the complex situation that continues to separate Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriotes in the north and the Greek Cypriotes in the south each have their own story and connection to the country, but currently a buffer zone governed by the United Nations separates the two - cutting directly through the city of Nicosia. Additionally, the buffer zone is patrolled on both sides by armed military forces. Although a conflict has not occurred along the buffer zone in many years, the presence of armed forces and the state of the buildings, frozen in time, serves as a constant reminder of Cyprus's recent past.
My first true realization of the Cyprus conflict came while standing atop an apartment building that overlooks the deserted buffer zone. While silently taking in the surroundings, I observed buildings still riddled with bullet holes, sandbag barriers for soldiers, deteriorating buildings, and vegetation growing in an unrestrained manner. Despite it all, there was a calm, peaceful feeling as it seemed that all of the visual chaos from the past was trapped in a time capsule. Tensions still exist - Greek Cypriote and EU flags flying high behind me and Turkish flags fly high across the divide.
The following day, I passed through the Ledra Street crossing from South to North Nicosia. I noticed how the commercial district of Ledra Street in South Nicosia extended across the border. Shops in both the North and South sold the same products to tourists at competing prices. North Cyprus is neither a recognized state nor an official partner in the Euro; however, many shop keepers advertised prices and accepted payments using the Euro as currency. I am also reminded of the similarities between how Northern Nicosian children played on the streets in the same manner as children their same age did just South of the buffer zone - kicking soccer balls and riding bikes. Similar situations like this caused me to wonder how things were before the conflict and how things could be different in the future.
One of the following days we discussed and explored the areas of Nicosia that were being rehabilitated according to the Nicosia Master Plan. Flexible and open, this plan looks to the future where Nicosia can peacefully be part of a unified Cyprus. Neighborhoods on North and South sides have been rehabilitated from their deteriorating conditions into lively communities with schools, craft and artisan centers, residential districts, and historically preserved buildings. Efforts by the North and South to revitalize these neighborhoods show promise that progress can be made in the divided city of Nicosia.
Even though these two entities are separated by a difficult past, I am reminded of the simple evidence that existed including some graffiti on the side of one of the tallest buildings confronting the buffer zone spelling out "Peace" and "Love is everything." For me, it is signs like this that indicate that peace is possible someday with the hard work and understanding of both sides.
From the port, we walked through the town. The streets became narrower and more intimate the further up we went and the sound of the port faded into the distance. As we exited the town, the narrow street became a walking path and houses rising up on either side of us gave way to trees towering over us. The fresh pine scent of the cypress trees made us realize just how natural and untouched this environment was. The only sounds were ourselves, breathing hard from the steep climb, and a rooster crowing at a distant farm. Between the trees we could see the sun making its descent. We needed to hurry in order to make it to the top in time. The climb turned out to be more than any of us expected. It took its toll on our body and minds, and also one of our sandals. The top seemed always out of reach.
We reached a point where a dirt trail for donkeys stemmed from our path. We decided to go for the adventure and hope it was a shortcut. Unfortunately, the trail led us farther away from the peak, and directly into an area of the mountain infested with giant spiders. Their webs spanned trees and blocked our path. Eventually, we heroically fought our way through the spiders and back to our path, regretting our initial decision. We hurried along the path, trying to reach the top before the sunset. We knew we were getting to the top when our path turned into an enormous flight of stairs stretching straight up. With our final bit of energy, we ran to the top and made it within two minutes of the sunset. The view from the top was surreal. The Aegean Sea stretched out in all directions, periodically dotted with small islands. We looked back north, towards Attica where we had been a couple days before. The sun was setting in the west, behind the peaks of the Peloponnese, creating unreal colors in the sky. The last two minutes of the sunset was an amazing experience in itself. We could literally see the sun moving downwards behind the mountains. And once it was gone, the colors in the sky continued to change between purple, orange, red, and yellow.
I have never in my life witnessed a sunset like this before. This made me realize it wasn't about the sunset, it was about the journey. It wouldn't have been as meaningful to me if the trek up the mountain wasn't as challenging as it was. This just goes to show that taking the easy way out doesn't always result in a satisfying outcome. It's the challenge that makes life more fruitful. That is something that I've realized throughout the entirety of this trip. Even though it was extremely fun, there were some challenges, but they just made the trip that much more meaningful to me.
I remember Nikos' description of ancient baths. Soldiers and citizens - from all ranks, identities, and cultures - left the trappings of society at the door. Without clothing and jewelry, these men shared a social ritual in nothing but their skin. Nikos could not ignore the (almost comical) irony of these situations, and neither could Roy and I. These days, many young people, particularly in the United States, are preoccupied with identity. From superficial titles such as hippie, jock, goth, emo, preppy, coasty, punk, too many try to identify with something outside their inherent humanity.
As my classmate Roy and I walked into the hamam, we whispered "wow" almost simultaneously. The space was overwhelmingly beautiful and special. It reminded us of the hamam we toured in Paphos, with interconnected rooms, central domes, and radiating half domes. This hamam, however, is at least two times larger. In this room, the frigidarium, the masonry of the dome was true to bath architecture we studied. The dome's round drum sits upon a square base, supported by pendentives. The room itself is lined with ten raised niches (approximately 1 x 1,5 meters). Beautiful masonry walls support the dome, beneath which sits stands a large stone slab, used as a table for incense, fresh oranges, glasses for water, and several kinds of perfectly brewed tea, which infused the small space with a subtle, pleasant aroma. Peaceful, eastern music added to the air of relaxation and meditation.
Stripped of our few belongs, and also our liberal, American identities and attitudes, we shyly followed our host; and as he noticed our hesitation, he snickered a little. He told us, "Bring nothing with you - we have everything you need." After donning a pair of rubber sandals and disposable undergarments, we entered the tepidarium (the warm room); at the Omerye Hamam this has been converted into modern shower.
After showering, we entered the caldarium. Like a sauna, it is extremely hot. At the center stands a marble stand (approximately 12 feet in diameter and raised 3 feet from the ground). We meandered to one of the 3 bays, which contain two small stone beds. We had been instructed to rest on these for ten minutes, then 'douche', and repeat, until an aesthetician came to scrub our skin. In the bays, the floors were heated to such a degree that we could barely stand; we were reminded of the hypocausts used to heat the hamam. We had seen these in Kourion, the Roman Agora in Athens, and at the archeological site in Paphos.
Before long, a young man entered and took Roy behind a diagonal bay with a curtain for his scrubbing. I was now 'alone' and sweat continued to pour off me. As I waited my turn, I grew more relaxed by the minute, as every inch of my body was almost unbearably hot. To counteract my colossal heart rates, I escaped to the showers a few times. Roy finally emerged from his scrub with a look on his face that seemed to say "Yeah, it is THAT awesome." I entered the corner room, and the aesthetician closed the curtain. I waited as he scrubbed and cleaned the table. He placed a soft paper cloth on the table and instructed me to lie face down. He scrubbed in circular motions covering my entire back, arms, neck, and legs. He scrubbed first with a coarse glove and then a second time with a loufa and warm soapy water.
My eyes remained closed. I was unaware that reality even existed (at this point, I was genuinely about to pass out). In a dream-like state, I exited to the frigidarium. Roy and I sat in our niche and sipped several glasses of incredible tea for 20 minutes, reflecting on our cleansing experience. We had somehow entered a new state of being and state of mind. We soon gathered up our identities, and re-entered the mundane realities of civilization. We calmly cursed the fact that we had to leave this place at all.
Today we stopped at a little gas station and everyone on the bus thought it was just a lunch break or something, but it was at this station that we met four very nice ecologists. We were handed schedules and divided up into groups. Today we would be studying biodiversity, waste, water and energy on the Akamas Peninsula and in the tourist zone of Coral Bay.
The Akamas Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is completely undisturbed by development and animals and plants thrive. Our group was the biodiversity group. We were in charge of three zones and had to identify plants and animals in each zone. For five minutes, Tim and I ran around the zone picking as many different plants as we could find. Then we would sit there and identify them. Unfortunately we were quite bad at the latter part and the head ecologist eventually just told us what all the plants were. Tom and Vinnie were in charge of the animal portion and spent their time swooping with nets trying to capture the largest and most dangerous animal. Sadly the lizards were too quick for them. They identified many different spiders and bugs. Tim and I found about twenty different plants.
The Waste, Water and Energy groups went to Coral Bay, a tourist zone that leaves much to be desired in the way of the natural landscape. Each group went to different hotels to survey the amount of water, waste, and energy that the hotel dealt with. These groups were searching for ways in which the hotels saved water, the amount of energy they used (which was astronomical) and the issue of waste. They found that the hotels do not use "green" thinking and do what they can with the money the government provides for "green" uses. The hotel owners said that they would develop sustainable practices if the government provided an incentive.
At Coral Bay, my group discovered that the landscape has been altered and biodiversity has diminished in these tourist zones. We only found about ten different plants and the "hunters" found that little insects and other animals are basically missing.
Because the hotels have planted plants that are exotic, animals and insects do not have time to adapt to them and look elsewhere for shelter. This makes biodiversity decrease and the landscape becomes a foreign one. At Coral Bay, Crystal plant has taken over the area next to the beach, and an invasive exotic plant called Acacia has taken control of the upland area. In this area, no other plants are found and no animals can use this plant. The area has become quite worthless in terms of biodiversity.
Since I am studying to become a landscape architect, this day was of particular importance to me and I loved it. My group had so much fun catching animals and being on a gorgeous beach all day. We even found two spiders mating. The female was huge, about an inch wide and the male was very small, less than a fingernail in width. They stood their ground on separate sides of a giant spider web and we saw that the male had brought food for the female to distract her. The spiders here have been a topic of great distress for some as they are all huge and in the mountains they are everywhere. Jocelyn hates them so much that we were forbidden to tell her when they were around.
The best animal we caught was called a Skink and none of us had ever heard of one before. This is a snake with little legs that wiggles like a snake, but also crawls and the combination is very odd. I loved this animal because it doesn't bite and wasn't very big. We found it in the tourist zone, which means that it most likely burrows in turf grass or in the walls of the hotel or something.
In 1879 the British developed a Forestry Department here on Cyprus and began bringing exotic plants to the island. Since these were so beautiful and the British wanted to produce gardens like they have in England, they began to bring more and more of these plants to the island. Today the exotic plants have become a huge problem. The British also love turf grass and it has become a status symbol here. Unfortunately, due to all of the turf grass (which produces humidity) the climate of Cyprus has changed as well. It is more humid now compared to twenty years ago.
The other greatest thing I learned on this day was that Cyprus is filled with endemic plants. These are plants that only grow here on Cyprus. The Aphrodite Dandelion is one of these plants and is endemic to the Akamas Peninsula. I take great pride that all of my plant loving class mates at home have never seen this plant and probably never will unless they visit the Akamas Peninsula. I greatly recommend this area to anyone who comes to Cyprus.
My first impressions of Nicosia was that I was in a place that only existed here, that no matter what language was being spoken or what food was being served the feeling of the city can only exist in this one place. When first arriving in Nicosia we passed through the Venetian walls and I felt secluded. It felt like there was a division between the old city and the new city, which is mainly seem in the immigrant population that lives in the old city but also the architecture. It made me think that there is more than just a separation between south Cyprus and the north Turkish occupied part since 1974 but, that there is also a separation between the old city and the new city of Nicosia.
Walking around the old city of Nicosia put into perspective of how fighting can change not only people but also places. Seeing old buildings from the 1900's that have just fallen apart and have vegetation growing out of them and knowing in my head how grand and elegant these building would have looked like and just wishing that I could fix them. Seeing the UN buffer zone from overhead gave a different view of what has happened to the buildings in the buffer zone then the few glimpses that were giving when walking next to it. Being able to make out the bullet holes and shooting towers and seeing the buildings that have fallen over and nature retaking that part of the city makes me think of what would happen to a city and buildings if people left and nature was able to run its course.