Thursday, December 3, 2009

be always coming home

I am no longer in Greece, strangely enough. I’m posting this from one of the myriad of airports I need to pass through before arriving back in Calgary for Christmas. Right now it is mostly travel stress and no sleep and a deep desire for a shower. I am certain that within a few days of getting home I will begin to miss Poros intensely but I’m more excited about being in one place for an extended period of time again. Oh, and my mom’s cooking. I won’t lie about that. Three and a half years of living away from home has not cured me of that.

What more to tell you? What handful of images can I scatter at your feet?

- The tiny dessicated tortoise sitting in the middle of one of the benches in the Theatre of Dionysus on the slope of the Acropolis, so perfectly placed and preserved that it must have been an offering of some kind.
- Lola, the young mutt that hung out with us almost the entire time we were in Poros. Despite the fact she had some bad puppy habits (such as chewing on people) and the fact that she was by no means small (at least five hands high and a good eight hands long), there was many a time that she slept in my arms while I took breaks from pottery or sat in the common room. Sweet, smelly puppy.
- Ohe Day – basically the equivalent of Remembrance Day or Veteran’s Day in Greece. “Ohe” is Greek for “no”. All the school children in Poros dressed in uniforms and walked from their classrooms to the municipal building to lay olive leaf wreaths on the war memorial. While we waited with Lola at a cafe for the parade to start, a man came out of the cafe with a sausage croissant and tossed it to Lola, saying, “It’s Ohe Day! She can have whatever she wants.”
- Our last few days in Athens before we went our separate ways, home to Canada or onto more travels. At night, sitting on the balcony of the hostel at the base of the Acropolis with the crowded, loud narrow street below and watching the glowing lights of the apartments across from me. Seeing a woman with curls down to her waist silhouetted in her window, and hearing her practice singing scales over and over until her piano accompanist finally joined in and they sang together, achingly clear and high over the noise of the traffic.
- The skeletons we had the privilege of excavating and handling. In the end Julie and I were able to catalogue at least six individuals from the necropolis. They ranged from a child around 6 years old with a coin in its mouth, to the elderly man with partially collapsed vertebrae and a healed break in his scapula. Another skeleton, curled inside its pithos with amber beads and a silver ring, was nicknamed Penelope because of the gracefulness and femininity of her skull, only to undergo a name change when the pelvis was pulled up and we realized it was male. Whoops. That’s always a danger with osteology – you have a 50% chance of getting the sex right (discounting hermaphrodites), but even with the pelvis you only get 85-90% accuracy. The pithos grave had a textbook female skull – absolutely perfect, and delicate and gracile and everything. But the pelvis? Textbook male, with one of the narrowest sciatic notches I’ve seen outside of the textbook itself. But sex determination is much more accurate with the pelvis, so we wrote male in the catalogue.

It really is a privilege to be have been allowed to handle these people, because people they were indeed. Someone loved them enough to prepare them for burial, to come to that hillside and put them in the ground for whatever their reasons. I don’t think you can become a truly good archaeologist without acknowledging the fact that to many observers we are glorified grave robbers. A hundred years from now archaeologists might look back on our generation and recoil at the idea of our destructiveness and disrespect, just as we today feel a little sick at the lack of systemic, scientific organization in pre-1900 excavations. It is something you have to deal with and move on from and say “I am going to do the best I can with the knowledge I have right now”.

But I feel like I’m able to walk away from this excavation with the assurance that I did treat our skeletons with the respect they deserved, the greatest respect any archaeologist anywhere and anywhen could have given them. I hope I can do that for whatever future excavations I participate in. I did care for them. I watched them being taken out of the ground, not yet dust, and I cleaned them and revealed them and let them speak again. How amazing, to not be forgotten, to still have a story to tell after 2500 years. How lucky am I, not only to hear those stories, but to be entrusted with their translation and interpretation as well.

Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be the mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.

- Ursula LeGuin

1 comment:

  1. Can you, like, keep doing the blog? I love reading about your life--not, I suppose, that it's going to be as exciting when you're back home, but you're such a good writer...

    And you and Sofia can chat about Ursula K LeGuin when you get here. she's asked me at least three times if I've read her.

    I loved your listed descriptions of the things in Greece. and the anecdote about gender-confused Persephone. I can't wait to talk all about it when you get here. One month! :D