Sunday, February 28, 2010

I don't dilly dally, I just whoopsie daisy

The knee brace is back in fashion and training has commenced. On April 18 I am running the "Alexander the Great" Marathon here in Thessaloniki.It starts in Pella, area of Alexander the Great's birthplace, and runs essentially through the country side right into Thessaloniki. I have 47 days to accelerate my training and kick it into high gear! This will be an intense 6 weeks, especially with Spring Break popping right in the middle, but as long as I can order a supply of sports beans and gu to be delivered pronto, it should be fine! Here I come Today I ran approximately 8 miles along the Aegean back and forth which was a great start, in the next few days though I will need to hit 13 miles. Lemon Squeezy. I've already felt the pains in my knees, particularly my left so we must hope for the best that my knee brace continues to do its job, I have been wearing it all day today and foresee this being a regular occurrence. Where I run, on the bike section is like a different ground texture from the rest of the water line. While all walking areas are concrete/crushed rock mixture, the bike lane is sort of a bouncy asphalt, this should help with shock absorbency.
In addition, I made one of the meals previously described in a blog a few days ago. It turned out.. incredible. I sauteed mushrooms and spinach in olive oil with salt/pepper/garlic salt and used that as my first layer. I baked a piece of chicken, of cutlet size, and laid that on top of the spinach base, followed by a layer of tomato and veggie (spaghetti) sauce, and topped it all with melted feta cheese. If I hadn't reached genius status before, I surely reached it with last night's meal. The joys of cooking were so unappreciated by myself up until this point. Mediterranean diets ( heavy in veggies and olive oil) are supposed to be great for your heart. They lack substantial fats and processed food and require fresh ingredients.
In a final note, tomorrow is my first day teaching English to the ARSIS kids, I suppose we start with names. Perhaps I will be able to gauge how progressed their English knowledge base is, but my assumption is that beyond names - we must learn the alphabet. For the first time today, the idea came to me - what if I didn't go home?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Around the world in 80 days

This week has been more demanding than others. For those who don't know, I have now been living in Greece for a month. It is hard to believe. I have been here long enough that it feels quite natural, I don't feel like I'm anywhere foreign, I feel like I am where I live. This is a nice feeling. Although, in all hoensty, when I begin thinking about going back to America my head just starts going in circles. Sidenote: I originally and accidentally typed that statement as "my heads just starts going" and debated leaving the "head" plural so as to illustrate the idea that I am in fact, nuts. Mais, I did not for the benefit of grammar. Over the course of the last few days, I have entered into crunch time for Spring Break planning. We are looking at doing a few cities in Italy over the course of a week, and then Egypt over the course of 5 days. Some flights have been booked due to daily rising prices. Now it is just other means of travel and transportation, tours, and accomodation. Luckily a very handy book was left in my apartment detailing where to go, what to see, and suggestions on how to get there. Italy should be a piece of cake, but Egypt is giving us trouble. Any suggestions on reliable guided tours and tour companies, please insert in comment box. On Wednesday I took my first cooking class. For those who spoke to me before departure, you might remember that I had a short list of things I definitely wanted to do in Greece - the first one said list was to take an authentic cooking class. Check! In the first class we cooked traditional spinach pie with yogurt dressing. In the states it may be recognized as spanakopita. It was wonderful! And, despite common belief, I think I will do well making it on my own. though it might be a good idea to rewrite my recipe so that it is legible. Hard to write with dough on your hands. Above I have placed an example taking from the web of what spinach pie looks like, as I did not have my camera at the class. I am very excited to see what next week's menu will be. Tomorrow is the day for grocery shopping, it is about time I start cooking something besides spinach salad, tuna salad, mac and cheese, and cheerios with yogurt :-) I am going to attempt to buy meat here. Lawd knows that can be a challenge. My goal will be to buy chicken, and make ( what my mother will be familiar with) greek chow mein, I assure you not a typical Greek meal. And use the same ingredients plus a couple more for Chicken Spanakopita, also not a Greek meal.. but one of my favorites from an American Greek restaurant. I do quite enjoy cooking at this point. The best part is, most of these will have more than one serving, I can be eating for days people! The weather has been beautiful lately, I do hope this sun continues to shine throughout the next few months. Rain rain has gone away.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

She'd say come now baby, I come a runnin'

My first night in in a few nights. Time flies. I've been in Thessaloniki for nearly a month now. Today I went to the refugee center where I will be volunteering to teach English to "youngsters" as they call them, ranging in age from 15 - 23. There are about 19 youngsters, mostly coming from Afghanistan, so I will have perhaps 2 students. We will see. the center is more organized and official than I expected. They are really interested in helping these kids assimilate into a social world. In many cases these kids have grown up in areas of violence, street living, and unimaginables, so their behavior tends to be outside of the social norm. This is an attribute of the center that I did not anticipate but probably should have, I am excited to begin working but slightly anxious about who I might come across. It is a very different world, where they come from, where they have escaped to. I'm afraid you never quite know how one might respond to interaction with a lifestyle so different. It is my hope that with the right mindset and preparation.. I will have totally overprepared. :-)
Here's my latest observation/appreciation in Thessaloniki. It is nearly a sure bet that at any point while passing a sacred or religious item, a church most commonly, you may look around and find a fellow passing pedestrian or bus rider commemorating such passage. By that I mean, making a cross with their finger from forehead to chest to sternum and back again. While I personally have not explored such compelling religious ties, I do find it quite endearing that this faith is a constant thought. The people who participate are readily aware of their surroundings and the appropriate religious sentiment. I feel this is something to be admired. Perhaps we often all too quickly pass by things in life, physically or metaphorically, and fail to maintain a consistent recognition of their purpose in our lives. Think on it suckahs.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

And before I close my eyes to sleep..

One thing to say about the band. While the venue's ritz was a little outside of my preference, through our connection toa band member we were able to get an incredible spot at the front of the stage in order to view what is truly the work of some very dedicated musicians. While most kept their enjoyment within lets say , a 3 tile radius, our blossoming acquaintance John climbed through the crowds, guitar and all, rocking out and connecting with the show goers. Great band, fun music, entertaining performers.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hello Hello Hello Hey Hi How you doing?

I have reformatted my apartment once again. This time I do believe it will stay this way. I admit, despite a common belief, I still very much enjoy public transportation. Taking the city bus to me, is like a ride through town worth seeing. I find a new location or shop or church that I would like to visit. I notice a characteristic or change in architecture that I had not seen before. In Thessaloniki it is my opinion that the basic architecture is fairly universal within the city, very much the same in most buildings. This is not a criticism, just an observation. However, those that know me are well aware of my undying fascination with architecture and its connection to not only time periods- but cities as well. So, I welcome the expected occasions when I see ancient churches. More so, I love riding up further through the hill towards Anatolia and finding a select few spanish style homes. Believe it or not, I have actually located a red and white house which suits very much many of the characteristics of homes on Monte Sano in Huntsville, AL. I will do my best to insert pictures to this blog at a later date.
On the subject of public transport, I'd like to discuss a certain sign. I noticed a sign which indicated priority seating. I searched for my camera to provide reference, but to no avail. In any regard, the priority seating (to me) at first glance indicated, elderly, disabled, women with small children, and people with briefcases. The elderly, were slightly shorter and leaned into a cane, this was simple. The image for the disabled took some time, as it is just a standing man with two lines under his hands, I assume that is meant to be taken as a wheelchair. Woman with baby, endaksi. But the person with a briefcase... now that was an odd one. I looked more closely and gladly figured out that it would make more sense that the briefcase was just a square pregnancy. A the interpretations of art. Hope this post finds all well and in good spirits, prosper on party people.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Give it a rest, the mic's not rocking to your beat.

Today lacked remark in most ways. I ended up coming home early because of a canceled class, which was perfect. It was a sunny, gorgeous day, the first of which I have actually walked around without a jacket. Until the evening came, and the chill returned. Last night, at Silver Dollar, the ladies and I found out about a local band which - from what I hear - is quite popular in these parts. They are playing Saturday night in the all too familiar, Aristotle's Square area.We have all decided that this is something we plan to attend, lawd lawd who is letting the Americans into the Thessaloniki music scene?

Is the moon upside down because we are on the opposite side of the world? :-)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dear god what are u cooking?

As an answer to the title question, I have been cooking quite a lot. Not a huge variety, but quite a lot. I've picked up cheerios and yogurt milk and my choice breakfast, and snack, developed a serious love for oranges, and acquired the taste for less than perfect instant coffee. I feel as if I buy cookies every other day, in Greece they are only sold in packs of 9. I assume that because the women don't work out, they also don't intake large amount of cookies. Crepes are a different story :-) My favorite crepe? Nutella with chocolate cookie bits. I have decided that since gyros are unique to Greece, and Thessaloniki style specific to Thessaloniki, I may seriously have to consider not coming home for the sake of gyros. Do you think they will fedex? Greece does thrive off of sea exports. Of course, I cook none of these things. Those that know me know that I have not left behind mac and cheese. You might also guess that I have not abandoned grilled cheese and tomato soup. What may surprise a few is my new love for balogna sandwiches and a very particular type of salad. Not Greek, technically. I start by chopping tomatoes and cucumbers and putting them in a skillet on high heat. The juices stream out, and I add spinach to the mixture. Following my spinach, comes feta cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic salt. Believe it or not, I tear up some pieces of balogna or tuna and add it to the heated mixture. Call me nuts, I call it budget delicious. If you've added olice oil to the mixture you have failed. It is not common practice, nor is it recommended, to cook olive oil. Olive oil should be the absolute last ingredient added. I elect not to add it until I have removed the salad from the skillet. While this meal is rather inexpensive to make, and healthy, I believe that the warmth of it hides those qualities. In my opinion, it offers a very rich, very unique taste. It doesn't look all that appealing however. The most exciting part of what I have been cooking is that all ingredients can be found at the farmers market. One sunny day I will take my camera down for nice photo opportunities, because you truly have to see it to appreciate how enjoyable it is. Everything is fresh and inexpensive, and you truly can't mistake the fish and meat odor. Or the eyeballs. In any regard, my weekly trip to the farmers' market is absolutely one of my favorite things to do in this city. I begin a cooking class soon and today had my first meeting for my new job substitute. I am teaching English to refugees from the Middle East and Africa. I think I may very well have mentioned this before, but as a recap I am going to have the opportunity to volunteer to teach English to teenagers not much farther from my age who have fled their country, more than likely alone, and come to Greece and a gateway to gain entrance into the United States. I expect this to be a challenging experience, but I do very much hope that I am successful in this venture. I see it beneficial in a few ways, most for the benefit of the children I am helping, but (selfishly) I also feel this is a good resume add-on. If I ever wanted to live out of the United States again, it might be nice to be able to say that I have already had experience teaching English, as this would be a valid job option. While school is less of an excitement, and for the first time in my life more of an irritation, the Sunny days here truly make discovering small perks possible. A cafe, a walk by the sea, stepping onto my balcony, nightlife, tavernas, window shopping, gyro is as I sit at my desk in-taking tzatziki that I realize, this may be better than my favorite place.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The best Valentines, come in groups.

Yesterday was a blast. I had a great conversation with someone back home about.. the rapture, global warming, personal relationships, yoga, and other topics that can be found in today's headliners. It was much needed and much enjoyed. I then painstakingly moved the beds in my room to make a yoga spot in the center of the room and streamed a pretty intense yoga session from the internet. AS a celebration ( or denial ) of Valentine's Day about 10 people from my building, myself included, went out to a teaverna for dinner. Not only were we able to negotiate free wine, but also ended up only paying 7 Euros each because we ate "family style" and just ordered multiple things for the table. This is actually the way Greeks traditionally eat all the time, now I see why. You can't pay 7 Euro anywhere for an individual meal, its so much less expensive to split it all. Following that we skipped over to a bar where we got free shots in exchange for money ;-) and then skipped to another bar, where the fun really started. I learned to count to ten in Greek, an important skill. Spoke to a few locals and some non-locals and enjoyed hearing American rock music reign throughout. This bar, was great. Among multiple mixed shots, often chosen by the bartender or locals, I tried a "submarine". Have you ever experienced drinking a submarine? I have no idea the contents, but I would assume whiskey is involved. There is a base drink in a regular sized glass, following pouring a shot of either vodka or whiskey, the bartender drops the shot - glass and all - into the base drink. It floats and pours as you drink. Im not sure if this is supposed to be a shot, or a quick drink, but I took it as a personal challenge to make it one. Surprisingly, the amount of alcoholic consumption that I had did not terribly affect my mental state, while normally it probably should have. So, the night was memorable for more than one reason. I spent the evening with some really great people who I am continuing to get to know and enjoy spending time with. Perhaps, there is something to be said about the bond of friendships performed in a foreign land and during a foreign experience.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Let's hope I picked up more than just her good looks.

First, an apology. To my faithful few readers - terribly sorry for not writing the past few days, I just couldn't figure out topics. Shit happens :-) Watch your mouth. So, in an effort to solve this dilemma, I elected to go for a walk with my good camera and take some shots of my new stomping ground.
This worked out well because today was the first sunny, mildly warm, day in almost a week. What a relief! This city, is truly worth living in when the sun is out. Ah, I can only imagine how incredible Spring and Summer will be. The natives came out today, but the natives will all be out then. On my walk, I first passed the Russians who run the corner store. This corner store, I might add, must be largest sales spot for Amstel and Heineken. They stay open until midnight and are literally 10 feet from a building stocked with college students who can't drink in the states. In addition, this building's dumpsters must contain more glass bottles than the total of the entire city's output. I don't see this as something to frown upon though, adults, because what we might take an opportunity to notice is that said college students are just enjoying and embracing one of the perks of another culture. It's life, live it or... fall over drunk trying. I digress, following my routine crossing of a heavily trafficked intersection, I continued forward toward Kamara - the arch. This walk involves passing the Rotunda, and many stray animals which call the square parks home. It's an uneasy feeling, having to pass these pups and kitties on a daily basis. particularly on rainy or cold days, it is so easy for me to have the urge to take off my jacket and lay it over the one shaking under a doorway. As it was explained to me, the animal compassion is not so heavy in Greece. While there are pet owners, it is uncommon. Thessaloniki's development into a large Metrapolis was fairly recent, and those living in the rural parts of the country had many animals but either elected not to keep them, or not to bring them upon migration to the urban areas. Occasionally people will get pets, and then weeks later decide they do not want them so they literally put them out on the street. It's a horrible concept to comprehend.
My walk also took my down to the water , along the coast line and then back up to my apartment. I might also add that my daily runs now take place along the Aegean Sea, it's a dream folks. What some may notice from select pictures is that every y-axis (on a grid) street runs directly into the water at the end. This makes for a nice way to find your way throughout Thessaloniki. While walking back I noticed a group of young gentlemen taking a part a motorcycle and inputting car parts. Who knows what beast of a bike that might create, but I did have the opportunity to take their photo. I snuck one of the bike, and took one of the boy who wanted his picture taken. The only thing he knew how to say in English was "West Coast" so I can only assume that he spends a lot of time watching U.S. television because "West Coast" would not accurately describe Thessaloniki's geographical location. When arriving back to my apartment I found my new friend, a small kitty that I have visited everyday since my arrival. I keep telling Igor (the RA of my building) not to be surprised when he discovers a cat in my room. He laughs. Silly Serb, can't say I didn't warn you. This sweet little munchkin is truly a highlight to my day. It is my understanding that the woman across the street feeds him and takes care of him.
On the subject of caretaking. I'd like to say a few things about the person who wiped my tiny hiney. Over the course her life, my Mother has had some undeniable trials, and I think no one can deny her superior handling of any given situation.. which was in essence caused by one original situation. While it did appear that at one point she had gotten to a really safe, lovely, and contented place.. I think it is inarguable that sometimes in life you rise to fall again. The past year in particular has been total bogus. She is not often given credit for her remarkable ability to glide through life's issues without hesitation. But what you realize when she effortlessly helps you with your own struggles, and maintains the ability to put all fears at ease is that you have truly been blessed with a wonderful Mother. One, in my case, who may have no idea how appreciated and loved she is. Yamas Momma. Burn your bras!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I'd give you my jacket but there's nothing under it.

I really only have one major comment for today. This regards my frustration in political discussions internationally. I feel that as Study Abroad students we are representatives of the United States, we travel as students and as educators. What I mean when I say this is outside of the academic setting we have an opportunity to learn about a different culture, multiple cultures which call Greece home ( Serbians, Greeks, Albanians, Africans) and to also educate those people we encounter when they inquire about the United States. They may not even have to ask, we educate just in our actions, our responses, values.. mannerisms. What I think is not acceptable is to not see this opportunity, and to naively display your views as if they were the views of the entire country. In my opinion, you are doing the program a disservice. Clearly, if you look around at the students who have come here - you would see political and individual diversity even in those numbers. So, when asked, "What's the national pride like in the U.S.?" I don't consider , " Everyone feels better because of the new President." to be an appropriate and objective response. I don't easily let my political views known, and in all honesty I have yet to educate myself enough to give a solid opinion so I neither support or deny the President publicly. But what I do feel about this statement is that it is misleading, and henceforth has influenced the ideals of a foreign individual towards the United States, and the attitudes of the citizens - which I dare say.. may not be an accurate ideal. It would be my advice to this particular student to take a step back, and give an outside perspective. Would it not be more appropriate to say " i feel.. the opposing view is.. " Regardless I think I would be supported in saying that not "everyone" supports what you clearly support ( support support support support) and.. in a rather immature statement, but useful for laughs, I'd like to ask - Who died and made you King of opinions?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Not homeless, just college students

The thing to understand about being an American traveller, is that you really want to blend in. It's not like being some attractive exotic ethnicity which intrigues people, it's like being labelled the walking rich idiot. The worst way to blend in is to travel in large groups, shouting English. The worst place to do this is on a crowded public bus. That's what I have to say about that.
I found today to be rather uneventful, though I did do quite a bit. First day of classes, I had one class - Math. I have successfully avoided any math classes in college for 3 semesters, but this one I do have to take. Good times Charlie Brown. I managed to get bus tickets without issue this morning as well, I might also mention I did so in Greek. I enjoy public transit, which is odd and I feel fairly certain that feeling won't last but for this time .. the experience is good.. crowded... and hectic.
Tonight Richie and I went out to look for scientific calculators, as I neglected to bring mine from home. Luckily, here they only run about 20 Euros. After our search, Ritchie brought up the idea of going to a free dinner. What free dinner? It's for the Aristotle University (public) students on campus. We aren't Aristotle students. They dont check IDs. Do I have anything better to do? Nope. For those who know me, you might predict that I was a little nervous about this particular mission. We were breeching security on a campus where cops aren't even allowed (thats right!) while ritchie strolled confidently, I chuckled behind at what may or may not await when it becomes "just our luck" that today they are checking IDs. However, my suspicions were put to rest when I noticed the woman standing in front of me in the bread line was creeping over 50, dressed in multiple layers, and rocking a white substance under her nose. As we walked to the back corner table, I noticed other "non-student" looking characters in the building. Don't get me wrong, there were students, I assume. I'd have to assume though, that if the .. homeless.. can slip by.. then so can two actual students. Of another University :-) The public school kids seem to get all the perks. They get discount bus tickets, free meals with the homeless, discount drinks, etc. This strikes me as odd because public universities are free.. while those in private universities are shoveling out $10,000 a semester. Now, after that.. who would you rightly assume is broke? Ah, it is of no matter to me, but 30 cents on a 60 cent bus ticket adds up brother.
It's a stormy night, let's hope that doesn't make for a stormy morning.

When I drink tea, it steams my pores.

It has been raining in Thessaloniki for two days now, so today I didn't do much other than sit around streaming television from my laptop, doing laundry, and eating cheerios. I managed to get out with Tina in search of an open supermarket. "Search" being the key word, in Thessaloniki almost everything other than gyro stands and kiosks are closed. Not a good day to run out of toilet paper :-).

Today is the day of the Super Bowl, I don't want you to have any fears though - I watched it. While we do not have televisions in the apartment, nor do any of the bars have American channels.. my neighbor Richie did discover that if you offer to bring 70 drinking Americans to your bar if you would just put on the Super Bowl - they'll offer to put up a projector screen. So while it started at 1 Am here, please make no mistake - we all travelled down to watch. In fact, the majority of students are still there and the game is anticipated to continue until 5 AM. This is an interesting choice considering that the first day of classes is tomorrow. I personally only have one class on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. While no classes begin before 11 o'clock at the University, I actually dont have any classes until 2. This is very convenient because I will be taking the city bus across town and up into the hillside. I am not nervous about class, I have actually already met the majority of my professors, I am however nervous about the bus ride back. I take only one bus going to school - but returning I take 3! Count them, 3 buses. That means 3 stops I must listen for in Greek. This will be an interesting first few days, but I do believe I will catch on. Watch out for pick pockets!

I would like to say one thing about my University. It is incredibly small, this is incredibly pleasing. It is unlikely that I will have any classes above 20 students. All of the professors are very involved in the intl. program and support it heavily. I don't foresee any transition issues there. There will also be Greek students in the classes. ACT is a private school, so not very populated. The public university (which is free for Greek citizens) is actually about a block away from my apartment. This location, I hear, is prone to riots. On the subject of riots, there was one just 2 nights ago between my building and the Alexandrias building. And for any watching the news, there is a farmers' strike going on in the outskirts of Thessaloniki and Northern Greece. Farmers' are parking their trucks blocking roadways as a pointmaker. If I could tell you what they want I would but... the all too common saying.. it's all Greek to me.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Do you smell it?

I'd also like to share a few pictures from a historical visit yesterday.

In order : Picture 1 is take from the fortress which is viewable from my balcony. It can be seen within the hillside houses. What I did not guess is that the city is actually built within these fortress walls, there are two gates allowing entrance and exit. The city expands out from there, down the hill, into downtown, and up to the Aegean coastline.

Picture 2 is from the Saint Demetrius church. While I have indeed forgotten the prominent story of St. Demetrius, what I found interesting is the crypt below. While the church is beautiful and lives up to all elaborate churches standards, it is actually a rebuild. There was a large fire years ago which nearly destroyed the entire church, but also allowed for the people of Thessaloniki to locate a crypt built beneath the church which is where St. Demetrius was originally held prisoner and killed. This crypt is an ancient bathhouse built by the Romans. Talk about time periods. Now, on the upper level of the church you can find - in a gold case- the actual bones of St. Demetrius and on his holy day this box is carted throughout the city in somewhat of a parade.

Picture 3 is of a dog which I found when visiting the tombs of Alexander the Great's Father and his Father's wife.

In the dark of the night I can hear you calling my name, So we drink and we Smoke and we ask if you're ever around...

In transcription:

Ya sas! Ti kanis?
Appropriate Responses:
-Mia hara
-Poli kala
-Etsi Ketsi
Translation: Hi! How are you? Good, Very good (?), Not Good, So-so.
Ah, Peut-etre francaise est le plus bonne que helenique pour moi. Mais non, Je parle un petite helenique aussi!
Party people my languages are struggling. who would have thought that my background in French would help me more in Greece than the universal language (English) does? Pour-quoi? Parce que many of the food packaging and general packing labels include French as a second or third language choice. Often, English is not listed. Although, for the Greek companies I might assume it has something to do with Africa's close proximity to Greece.

Today, as an alternative to the supermarket - I went to the farmer's market. Here, not only can you find fruits and vegetables.. meats and fish.. for lower prices than the commercial stores but you can also find boots, kitchenware, glassware, candies, coffees, and religious paraphenalia at discount prices. The atmostphere is an exciting and gives a certain "underground" vibe which makes you feel like you are in this incredibly nondescript, local spot. But in fact, the market is located in an alley right off what is probably the largest and most populated square in central downtown. This is a great place to test language learning skills. While everyone speaks Greek, it is not uncommon to find an English speaker as well. So, here is what I propose - one attempts to start a conversation in Greek BUT if said person cannot follow the conversation as well as intended, then there is a bailout. Thank goodness you can still buy strawberries without knowing the word "strawberries". I have been doing mild amounts of Greek language studying on my own, since I am not taking the course in school and I believe I had a truly exciting moment that solitifies that perhaps I will be able to make it in this city and continue to pick up more than just useful phrases. I stopped at a kiosk ( which is similar to a U.S. street convenience store) to purchase milk. Milk which I discovered later smelled like yogurt, I can only assume it was expired despite the exp. date being 2 weeks away; however, that is neither here nor there. I greeted the kiosk keeper with " ya sas" and held up the milk and said "poso kani?" (how much) and she replied. I then hand her 2 euros to cover the 1.30 charge and said "oriste" (here you are). Then I blew it. She asked if I needed a bag, and I said in English, "Oh no thank you, I will just carry it." Suprisingly she she asked where I was from, and I replied America, and she said not Greece? I replied with a negative and she questioned, "but you speak Greek" and I sadly admitted, "Signomee, milao ligo elinika" ( sorry, I speak a little Greek). How outstanding! I nearly could have walked away from somehow not being the ridiculous foreigner. Better luck next time soldier.

- and for anyone paying particular attention to my titles, this title is from my personal favorite song "Revelry" by an incredible band, which I also claim as my favorite, The Kings of Leon. What a phenomenon to watch them implode over the last year.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Look not at the mask, but at the silly string in his hand.

Yesterday was the first day of orientation here at ACT. Informative and exciting, the 6 hours of desk sitting allotted the directors of the program to cover all grey areas about this University. However, in true Greek fashion.. this day was not without tzatziki or drinks. The University had arranged for an incredible local band, called soulbox, to play at "Nobar"which is located a good distance from central downtown and therefore required my first ride on public transportation. Myself, and 80 other Study Abroad students, in one bus - along with whatever Greek citizens elected to hop on as well. It is my belief that the one time when you need not be concerned about pick-pocketing in public transportation is when you've managed to populate the entire vehicle yourself. Once we reached the bar, incredible times ensued. From the ground shaking voice of the female lead singer to the lengthy harmonica solos - Soulbox rocked the hearts of the students.
Today, orientation continued on more of a cultural level. Crash courses in Greek were given as well as common social practices- dos and don'ts. We then ventured to ikea for necessary home products difficult to find in the city. As with most European homes, the housing in thessaloniki is small, minimal, and slightly primitive. Ikea is an establishment which was created with this style of living in mind, they specialize in simplistic furniture and houseware that focus on storage and space conservation.
Following Ikea, I and 2 friends went on a quick hunt for masks because this evening was the official start of carnical month here in Thessaloniki. Burnt Thursday, a day when most traditional Greeks order and eat burnt food , symbolizes the upcoming lint season where every Greek must fast. As part of this celebration, the Greeks dress up in what resembles Halloween attire and party in the very popular, very posh, Aristotle Square. Here, there is music, food vendors, shopping opportunities, and silly string. Interestingly enough, in the villages years ago it was tradition for men to dress as women and women to dress as men on this day. This was done in an effort to show one how the other lives, the women would go to cafes (which are dominated by men) and the men would stay home and cater to homely and motherly duties. now, it seems, the men just dress up as women in whatever realistic or outrageous way they can come up with and prance through the city - every step with the clicking sound of high heels. It is not uncommon for pranks to be pulled on this day, particularly involving a spray of silly string like substances with shaving cream consistency. Nor is it uncommon to spray random people with it, to chase them across the square, or shower strangers with it mid-picture moment. Looking back on the evening, the silly string truly made the night. It forced interaction with Greeks and led to sporadic movement throughout the crowds. Silly string duels allowed for this study abraod student to break the barriers between what seemed to be an isolated culture and actually "play" with the Greeks. Had I not elected to spend the 2 euros on the spray, my not would not have been half as enjoyable, free-spirited, and carefree as it turned out to be. Hesitate not when faced with aggressive fun, and most importantly do not look at the mask, but at the silly string in the masked man's hand.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We must begin with a description of the program, and how I have arrived at what is now Day 4 in Thessaloniki, Greece. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece, with a population slightly over 1 million it steeps largely from that of the first largest city, Athens, populated at 5 million. The choice to flee the United States was made when I debated between fleeing to Philadelphia and study abroad. in fact, the choice was made rather quickly. It took 3 days to choose Thessaloniki, beginning with a chance finding of the Study Abroad Fair and ending with a short meeting with Greek director, Jim. The original intent of the meeting was to find out what the process was for study abroad and when the deadline was for 2011 programs, but with one sentence the intent changed. "Chels," he said, " why don't you just go this spring?" With that inquiry, the decision was made. It would take incredibly quick movements and document signings.. but Thessaloniki won over Philly - this time. After a long process of doctor's visits and certifications, paperwork, and Visa applications - Jan. 30, 2010 arrived. Hence, my departure of the United States.
The flights were nothing out of the ordinary, delay here, delay there, stress, fatigue, leg cramps, back aches, and a successful landing in the most water surrounded country in the world. I took a 20 Euro cab from the airport to my very central, very perfect, downtown studio apartment. Instead of feeling excitement though, this student had the reoccuring mindset, " What the hell did I get myself into?" 4 months, in a country that looks nothing like I had imagined.. which uses a language I had not familiarized myself with in the slightest. Malaka! - As the Greeks might say. I elected that a nap and a shower would do this American some good. The nap played it's part; however, the shower could not remember it's lines. In translation, I could not get the water to come out of the shower head so I sat under the faucet and attempted a very cold shower. Wet is wet. Thankfully, after an uplifting venture to find a gyro and a three hour walk throughout Thessaloniki, ending at the mediterranean sea, spirits were lifted. On the second day, friends were made. On the third day, Thessaloniki created heaven. And there was light. The equivalency to Walnut Ave, Philadelphia, PA ( a shopping street I adore) "heaven" in Thessaloniki sits on the second main street horizontal to my apartment. On the fourth day, "do you smell that?".. Academia. An elightening visit to my college, ACT, made this student ready for a regular schedule. And so it begins, with every day Thessaloniki becomes more and more my home. The language clicks quicker, the streets make sense, and I feel certain that at one point or another this alphabet will appear as more than just doodles. Any hesitancy to ask for directions, or for an english speaker, any doubt in my ability to succeed in a foreign country crumbles as each of these things becomes a success in themselves. It is a system of affirmations that instills confidence in an individual. One must seek to try, to make effort, and in success of these trials find an affirmation that fear is just an emotion while we - party people - are circulating forms which maintain the power to live. Even in failure, we learn techniques for the next attempt. Courage is the note of importance. Successes and failures.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Post 1

This blog was created to record the movement of one study abroad student, who, over the course of the last year has come to realize that in this life - you must Shake or be Shook! It is in my findings that the world does not wait, that experiences will surely pass you by.. and just as certainly as the sun will rise, it will also go down with or without your consent. The purpose of this blog is to influence and support courageous living, and to provide an example for such living. Successes and Failures.