Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Back to Kato Zakros...

Cast your minds back to 1994 – here’s what I was doing in mid to late August – I was doing a slow and leisurely road trip by KTEL (with JWH) round Crete. It was then that I first heard of the “Gorge of the Dead” above Zakros – 19 years ago, just less than half my life ago. I have been back to Zakros, but with less KTEL timetabling hilarity in 2000, again that “Gorge of the Dead” whispering to me to explore it. Of course in 2000, I also saw the Ha gorge entrance, but this is a whole new chapter, one of the precursor stories to how I ended up becoming a caver.

On the one hand, it’s a pity that it isn't an exact 20 years since I first went to Kato Zakros, on the other, it is a pity that it took me so fucking long to get to the position where I could consider walking the gorge…

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

National Archaeological Museum of Athens, what a nasty thing to say...

I went back to the National Archaeological Museum on Saturday 13 July. The kids love it and we went to all sections open to the public (apart from the bronze collection), twice.

I was trying to see the museum through the eyes of the tourists writing for the Virtual Tourist website, and especially as regards the staff. The staff in Greek museums are notoriously awful, but this maxim is more rooted in anecdotal evidence than any empirical data. I have my own tale of thoughtful and service-oriented staff (years ago, I managed to have the pot rooms opened for a private viewing of the Pitsa tablets just by asking nicely), so I am not going to say that they are all bad.

Some comments from virtual tourist: Some of these are two-star reviews, some three-star reviews.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
Paid 21 euros for three people. At 2.50pm we were rudely shooed out the door. The museum closed at 3pm
My comment: Aside from the fact that most get kicked out a full 20 minutes sooner, I just want to focus on the “rudely” point – we will be reading this sort of thing a lot below.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
The entire staff is VERY unpleasant: no adjustment, no friendliness (no hello or goodbye, no smile, unable to point out the toilet ...) I am very passionate about the history of art and I visited many museums in Europe and I've never seen that anywhere else! People expected to monitor different rooms are dressed like they’re going to the beach, they stand no matter how (sometimes sprawled on their seats) they make phonecalls (!) laugh hard (!) mock visitors (!) have long conversations making fun of the visitors who are minding their own business, but what annoyed me the most is that two male guards followed me 2 or 3 rooms bestowing lecherous glances and smirks on me (I'm a 27 year old woman and there were few visitors).
My comment: The review is actually titled, “Superb collection / horrible staff!” Let’s add horrible to rude (and probably ought to add ‘creepy’ too). Perhaps over the top, but smoke/fire… Also let’s hang on to the dressed for the beach description (we’ll see some similar stuff below).

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
Unfortunately the exhibits are poorly presented and the staff look like they've just walked in from the street. They're shocking.
My comment: Ho hum. Let’s add “shocking” then. The funny thing is, that most of the staff do actually look like they’ve been dragged in off the street. Wouldn’t call it shocking, but it’s not a good impression.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
This museum, though it had great substance in it, was in the ghetto and I was scared to leave my bag in the front. No uniforms for the staff which look like out of work volunteers.
My comment: Aha – so what the review above does not say is that they look like they’ve come of the street and this street is ghetto street (I have not linked to all the reviews talking about the drug dealers / users in the streets around the museum, but they are there – both the reviews and the druggies).

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
However, the most famous [galleries, with] the sculptures, were closed for some reason. Looking at the map of the museum at the entrance, it seemed to be the bulk of the museum. No idea why they were closed off. I asked one employee and all she said was "It's closed exhibition".
My comment: OK so, moving on now from how they look, dress and stalk, let’s have a look at how they deal with visitors’ questions. To the question “why is this closed” the guard answers, “it’s closed”. Genius.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
In addition, the staff were extremely irritating. Whether they were chatting hard in groups or standing over your head to see if you were doing something wrong. In some rooms where you could photograph the objects, you may not take pictures of descriptions, or your fellow travelers. Bizarre. The guards follow you about in an extremely annoying way. Very uncomfortable.
My comment: OK – so photography in museums aside, the guards were chatting away in groups or intimidating the visitors. More on this later.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
I visited the National Museum and have not seen something like this in my life and I have seen many sites and museums: poor education and lack of respect for the tourists from the employees of the Museum. They are most unfriendly people. They don’t know how to say things nicely, but do so screaming.
My comment: Unfriendly, lack of respect for the tourist. Shouting at the tourist... not much I can say about this.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
I feel like my experience was ruined because of a grumpy old Greek man that yelled at us for taking pictures with the sculptures. Even though photography is allowed, he told us that if we wanted to pose with the artwork, we should just go to a photo studio. This museum needs to train it's employees on how to treat their guests.
My comment: Couldn’t have put it better myself. I am not commenting on the ‘unjust law’, but on the way it is enforced.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
What we did not know was it only opened till 3pm, and they started to kick you out 20 min before, the staff also chatted too loud, a leisurely operated museum.
My comment: Leisurely, unless you dare to take a photo... then you get the screaming and the shouting.

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
I agree with my fellow-travellers below that the staff is terrible. Did not agree to take my coat in the cloakroom, were rude etc.
My comment: Back to “rude”

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
I travelled from Ireland to come and research this stunning collection. Breathtaking but two tips, go first thing at 9.30 to avoid the crowds, and expect the staff, who almost outnumber visitors, to have either an arrogant or apathetic attitude - 80% horrid staff. 
My comment: Title of the review is “Excellent museum despite the arrogant staff” – are we beginning to see a pattern here?

Review source: click for full Tripadvisor review
The staff in the rooms seem to be rather too full of their own self importance and indeed one of them told my husband to delete a picture he had taken of our daughter beside one of the exhibits as she was posing like the statue. He told my husband she could have her picture taken with it if she stood with her arms by her side!
My comment: Again the photography rule, but “full of their own self-importance” says a lot, no?

So, rounding all this up, I would like to add my own three tales with guards, totally anecdotally - keeping in mind that many are great and actually interested in their work and don’t dress like they’ve been dragged in off the street.

In the sculpture rooms, just before the horse and jockey, the guard was sat on a bench for the best part of two hours chatting with a woman who could have been his sister or mother (both the guard and his interlocutor were both at that age where either could be likely). They both looked dishevelled and he took no interest in his room while chatting. This reminded me of the dragged off the street comments.

In the second room with the archaic sculpture, I noticed one of the lights was not working. I pointed this out to the guard and we had a nice surreal discussion. It went a little like this:

- that light seems to be not working
(I was pointing at this light):
One of these kids is doing his own thing
One of these kids is doing his own thing...
- you’ll have to ask at the information desk about that
- err, no. The light is not working, I don’t need to ask about it, look (I point)
- if it is not intended to be off, the technical department will sort it out
- does it look like it is meant to be off?
(the guard was in a room where the exhibits looked like this):
dodgy lighting, national archaeological museum
Kore in the dark, well-lit kouros
- the technical department is responsible for lighting
- and how will they find out if no one tells them?

As an experiment, I am not going to tell anyone just to see when (if ever) it will be fixed.

[edit: on Saturday 7 September the blown bulb had been fixed - so something is working…]

My final anecdotal piece of the day involves a game of ping-pong played by the guards in the vase room. I was looking for the Dipylon inscription (only the oldest evidence for the Greek alphabet currently in Greece – so not really an obscure thing – link to Greek wiki, link to English wiki). I told them I was looking for the pot with the really old inscription, and one guard bounced me into the next room, then the other bounced me back into the first room, the first guard displaying total ignorance of vase shapes in the process.

Disappointing, though my fault in part for not recalling that it's called the Dipylon Oenochoe. It would be interesting to try the experiment again using the actual name of the thing. Anyone want to put money down on whether they will take me to it?

So – what is the MiniCult going to do about the appalling state of its human resources? Sweet bugger-all, no doubt.

Oh, and a cute video from the visit:

Friday, June 07, 2013

A different take on the shit-eaters at DOATAP

So, I was working hard reading about delusions as defined by the new DSM today when I cam across this description of the DOATAP problem. I find it a very clear and level-headed description of something I have trouble thinking about without foaming at the mouth. Well done Elly, for managing to write so much about this system without once using a rude word. Seriously.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sifting through scanned negatives from 2006, coming soon: Kastoria churches

I’ve spent the best part of today (after drilling holes in the bathroom for a new towel rack) trying to sort out some old photos from Kastoria in 2006... taken on film (obviously, given that I was still 2 years away from the beginning of my transition to digital).

Kastoria was like a middle Byzantine playground! Amazing small-scale religious architecture and the promise of some decent frescoes when doors were not locked – like a mini-Ochrid.

I have spent the morning going through two rolls of film, trying to match church names to images for uploading to Flickr (coming soon). 

Some of the images to be sorted and sent to Flickr
Given that I could only remember two of the churches, and one of these not by name, this was a non-trivial detective task. The main thing in my favour was that I had only the one camera with me, and therefore only one roll of film being exposed at one time. The other thing in my favour was that I was carrying my new Garmin GPS and creating a track of our walk.

Screengrab from Google Earth

So I fire up OziExplorer to re-trace my track and get an idea of the route I took chronologically (and so I could export the .trk file to a kml file Google Earth can understand) and I fire up Google Earth to get an idea of where the track is on the satellite image.
Getting jiggy with it
And lo and behold, I get the route and the little jiggy bits point out where I stopped walking and stood and walked around.

The areas marked “a” (with deliberate flame-bait use of Comic Sans font) are the jiggy-bits showing I wandered around and stopped rather than continued to move (making it likely that a photo was taken there). The area marked “b” with vertical dotted line shows a different effect – the dotted vertical is drawn to bring attention to the impossible path beginning and ending at the entrance to the church. This is where I entered the church and lost signal. The sharp line is where the GPS tries to get a firmer fix on my position. 

Path anomalies
 So – we now know I stopped walking in front of square building and entered the odd pyramid cake building, but we are no closer to an id. I then make a guess on the basis of different materials used to roof these buildings that these two are churches (and specifically the churches of St. George and St. Stephen – taking that from Barber’s map on pages 590 and 591 of the 1981 version of Greece’s Blue-Guide, reprinted 5th Edition of 1990, a gift from Charlie).

Some of these kids are doing their own thing...
 Not all buildings with the duller tiles can be churches, but all churches have the duller tiles.

Armed with this knowledge – that St. George (more about this church when I get it up on Flickr) is that one, and knowing which one St. George is in the images, I can then follow my route backwards and forwards from there to identify all remaining images (if only as ‘unknown church on Ag. Anargyron street).

The last piece in the chain of this detective story is the identification of the other buildings – and here at the last moment, I remembered Wikimapia. Firing up a new browser window, I got names for all but one of the buildings I had shot and got the final one from the Blue Guide (although I am curious why wikimapia does not tag it. 

Extract from Wikimapia 
So there we have it – actual photos coming soon.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Youtube monetisation #fail

So, I am taking the plunge and calling myself a Youtube partner and I am allowing Youtube to place advertisements next to my content and maybe, I’ll get a cheque in the post some-day. Like, does anyone actually know anyone who got money out of Google? Anyway, so I clicked the checkbox to monetise this vid:
And I get a snotty message on my channel saying I don’t have commercial use rights to this video of a dragonfly.

Explain in the text box below how you own commercial use rights to your content. You are welcome to use the suggested information as a starting point. However, it is up to you to provide all necessary details. Please note that YouTube may need to ask you for additional information.

Well, I told them: "I made this video. It is shot on my Nikon D3100, with a Nikkor Q 135mm lens sitting on a selection of teleconverters and extension tubes. The audio is crickets chirping (real live crickets, not recorded crickets), waves crashing about 50 yards away and my own voice. The video shows a real live free-living dragon fly (created by God if you believe in that sort of thing, but I don't think he holds enforceable copyright seeing as he's been dead at least since Nietzsche). I guess his shadow still looms.

Like, dudes, WTF?

I have no idea why you are not allowing this to be monetised. I probably have images of the set-up of the camera to send you if you still don't believe I made it myself. I consider this non-approval a little crazy and look forward to a swift resolution."

So let’s see how they react. If you like the vid and it isn’t too shaky for you, click through to youtube and watch it HD, then click on the ads, why not?

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Athena Alea at Tegea, in Arcadia, September 2011

The final stop on the September 2011 Peloponnesian Road Trip was at the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea, in Arcadia.
Temple of Alean Athena, Tegea (Arcadia), September 2011
The remains of Skopas' doric temple to Athena Alea
Much of the temple has been incorporated into the village church and other buildings and there is nothing that would have been visible above ground were it not for the excavation. What is visible is actually the Hellenistic era Doric-order temple undertaken by Skopas (of “Dancing Maenad” fame) after the classical temple had burned down.

For the rest of the road trip, click:

2011 peloponnesian road trip
2011 Peloponnesian road trip

Pellana, LH Chamber Tomb cemetery, September 2011

Off the road to Arcadia, north of Sparta lies the village of Pellana. A dot on today’s map, but for the excavations which have brought to light heavy bronze-age occupation and a rather fine set of chamber tombs built into a hill. These chamber tombs somewhere at some time by someone were called Tholos Tombs and most of the references to the cemetery on the internet refer to Tholos Tombs of Pellana, (so that must be right, yeah?)

Unfortunately, no.

The Tholos Tomb form, θολωτός τάφος, is a very specific funerary structure with a built chamber.

Entrance signpost to the Pellana Mycenaean Chamber tomb cemetery
Entrance signpost
Just because the shape of the burial chamber mimics the Tholos form, it does not make the tombs in this cemetery Tholos Tombs, regardless of what the excavators and local ephorate would have you believe or what the expatriate community in the states would have you believe. This link directs to one such expatriate site which is scarily wrong in almost everything it presents as fact – perhaps interesting for those modern day analysts of urban folklore (or even the texts of Pausanias and Herodotus), in that it tells the story the writer has believed and which readers will find plausible in the absence of conflicting, more authoritative information but which is based on second and third hand “facts” from local people who are more concerned with impressing the visitor with their superlatives than proving factual information.

So, setting aside all the crazy where was ancient Lakedaimon and this was Menelaos’ palace stuff, let’s get on to discuss the cemetery itself.

As you can see from the image above, the cemetery is signposted and fenced in standard fashion, with the cheeky hole (πονηρή τρυπούλα) to the right of the main entrance (if I am not mistaken). Following the ridge to the right takes the visitor above the main tombs, the largest one of which has been covered with a rather funny octagonal pagoda structure.

Octagonal pagoda, over the Large, so called Royal Tomb, at the Pellana LH chamber tomb cemetery
Octagonal pagoda, over the Large, so called Royal Tomb, at the Pellana LH chamber tomb cemetery
The tombs were excavated in the period from 1926 to the late eighties. All had been plundered in antiquity and many had fallen in subsequent to this. The standard practice, as shown in the image below, seems to have been the interment in unlined pits in the floor of the chamber.

Chamber tomb of thr Pellana LH cemetery, from above, showing burial pits
One of the tombs, from above, showing burial pits
The large grave, image below also had pits in the chamber floor. It has a diameter of about 10m, making it one of the largest known LH chamber tombs.

The large Pellana Chamber Tomb, September 2011
The large, so called Royal Tomb, at Pellana 
I rather like the way the bedrock from which the tomb was excavated shows the geological bedding in this photo:
Bedrock stripes, Pellana, Mycenaean chamber tomb
Bedrock stripes on the dromos of the large Chamber Tomb
We did not follow-through with a visit to the Palace, mainly due to time constraints. Ariadne was sleeping and we decided to press on to Alea... It should be noted that at the time of our visit, no doubt because of the preparations for the new Tripolis/Sparta road the road system in the area was very difficult to navigate with roads stopping without warning and much doubling back on ourselves.

For the rest of the road trip, click:

2011 peloponnesian road trip
2011 Peloponnesian road trip

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Amyclae, from the fence, September 2011

A little further on from Vapheio is the sanctuary of Amyclae. On the same trip, we visited the site and drove round the fencing which is in a much better condition, no doubt because of the small church in the site itself.

Just another day in Amyclae, September 2011
Amyclae, on Flickr
The tiny church was built with and on top of the ruins of the temple of Apollo at Amyclae, which was built on and quite possibly with the ruins of the tumulus of Hyakinthos, a pre-Greek deity (yeah, whatever, tell it to the hand) celebrated on-site before the city was subjugated by Sparta, only a few Km away. The old cult of Hyakinthos was swallowed into the cult of Apollo (now Apollo-Hyakinthos).

For the rest of the road trip, click:

2011 peloponnesian road trip
2011 Peloponnesian road trip

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Vapheio Tholos Tomb, September 2011

The tholos tomb at Vapheio in Laconia was famously excavated in 1889 by Christos Tsountas, pioneer Greek archaeologist of prehistory. The tomb is huge, only slightly smaller than the so-called Treasuries of Atreus and Minyas. Even at the time of excavation, it was in far worse shape than most tombs of this type, but still gave up two glorious gold cups with beautiful carved scenes depicting bulls in relief. Cups of this shape are now called Vapheio Cups. 

I first visited the tomb in the mid-nineties although I don’t think I walked down to the entrance then. We visited again on the way back from Mani in September 2011 and while Corinna fed Nausika, I took Ariadne to her first Tholos Tomb...

Vapheio Tholos Tomb
The tomb, from above and the south
The site is in pretty rough shape, despite a nicely paved walkway going most of the distance from the road to the tomb. The fence is in the standard Greek archaeological site fencing condition – or perhaps slightly worse, with the “cheeky little hole” (by which I mean to render «πονηρή τρυπούλα») being large and just next to the padlocked fence.

Shambolic fencing
Shambolic fencing that even a two year old can circumvent...

The fence closes off the tomb at the end of the dromos, which is more than 30m long, leading up towards the stomion.

Dromos of the Vapheio Tholos, September 2011
The stomion is in a pretty bad shape as well – it is thought that the blocks from the tomb have been incorporated into structures in the nearby sanctuary of Apollo Hyakinthos at Kleonae, so it is no surprise that very little remains above the third or fourth course.

Stomion of the vapheio tholos tomb
Stomion in bad shape...
The wooden planks put up, I don’t know when, are not surviving too well and it all looks like the tomb is going to have to fight to make it to the 125th anniversary of the excavation in any shape worth writing home about.

For the rest of the road trip, click:

2011 peloponnesian road trip
2011 Peloponnesian road trip

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Armenoi, Minoan Chamber tomb site, September 2011

Outside the village of Armenoi in the Rethymnon prefecture of Crete there is a huge cemetery of LMIII chamber tombs. The site today is well shaded and there are more than 100 tombs which have been excavated and are open to the public. A nice spot for a wander.

All together in the shade at Armenoi
The highlight of the site is the large chamber tomb, probably royal:
Late Minoan Cemetery outside Armenoi, looking down the dromos of the large tomb, September 2011
The dromos of the large tomb
Late Minoan Cemetery outside Armenoi, interior of large tomb, September 2011
Inside the large tomb
Late Minoan Cemetery outside Armenoi, interior of large tomb, September 2011
Inside the large chamber tomb
I first heard of the site during the Minoans and Mycenaeans Flavours of their Time exhibition in the late 1990’s, because the skeletal remains were analysed for Nitrogen isotopes to see if the researchers could tell the source of the protein in the diet of the interred. If I remember correctly, there was a difference in the male and female skeletons, with men eating meat and women receiving most of their protein from the sea. 

 Well worth a visit.