Heidelberg Lectures: First Appearance

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Why would anyone want to read about the experience of giving a lecture on a topic related to contemporary religion? To learn about the person giving the talk? To delve into religion in society and politics? To experience vicariously the give-and-take of a university “moment” shared by speaker and audience where ideas are presented, examined, debated, considered, deconstructed, rejected, or just possibly, inspiring?

 

I make no claims on any of the above in my first appearance before eight people and two professors (yes, it’s debatable if professors are “people”) during the period between winter and spring terms. For me, what is significant is how I responded emotionally and professionally to the queasy sinking feeling of, once again, facing technical problems prior to the talk.

 

Maybe I should have seen them coming. After all, the Powerpoint I planned on using for the first talk was originally finalized in Jogjakarta, Indonesia back in November. I’d created the basic structure of the talk for my first lecture in the department of Anthropology at the Univ. of Hawaii in September 2013. I had then updated and refined the topic of “experimental religion” while staying at my son’s apartment in Tokyo in October.

 

When I used the computer at Sanata Dharma University in Jogja to add a slide, change a bit of text, and then save the whole thing, I never imagined that the ancient Microsoft word version (1999-2003) would jeopardize the end result here in Germany. Certainly, when I looked at this file while preparing for my talk at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala (Jan. 2014), there was no problems with compatibility.

 

I came to the Religious Studies department offices a couple days before my talk to finalize the slides and Powerpoint, and the office computer had no problem reading the file or making upgrades. But the day of the talk, when I wanted to add one more slide, the entire file was now “unreadable” (or whatever the word is in German) because of compatibility issues. I couldn’t believe it. I tried other files on my portable memory stick/drive and they were unreadable as well.

 

Was the drive corrupted? Was there a God of compromised computer documents I could pray to for deliverance? After close calls in Indonesia and India, this time was I screwed? I was already imagining using a chalkboard and reading parts of my book, and how to make that combination interesting.

 

I decided on a plan of action that might possible result in a functional Powerpoint. I had about 90 minutes to return to the apartment (my iPad could not access the university WiFi because I did not have an account), download the document from Dropbox, send it to my email account, then return to the university, download the email attachment, and rebuild the Powerpoint. Right.

 

But then how to get the document to the lecture location with a possibly-corrupted memory drive? Simple: I had to go downtown and find a computer store and purchase a new memory drive and then return to the university, transfer the file, and head to the lecture location.

 

I did all that, thanks entirely to a little bicycle I was allowed to use that belonged to the owner of the apartment I was staying in. I was watching the minutes closely, breathing deeply, regularly, so as to control upsurges of panic. Internal dialogues went something like, “Chill out! It’s just a lecture (at a major university) during interterm (before graduate students, faculty, and undergrads as well). This problem you’re facing does not touch life or death, only your ego and reputation.” Gee, thanks for being so encouraging.

 

I met my colleague’s assistant, Kathrin, a Ph.D. student assigned to be my “handler” for this talk. She in turn had her own assistant in charge of the laptop and projector. 10 minutes before the 2:15 lecture time, we entered the room and put the freshly-purchased and recently-loaded memory drive into the MacBook Pro laptop. Nothing happened except the “wheel of doom” spinning and spinning. A “restart” menu attempt went nowhere, so there was nothing to do except reboot the computer via its powerbutton override. By now it is 2:10, and the laptop is slowly coming back to life after 30 seconds in shutdown mode. The room has 10 people waiting for my lecture on “experimental religion” to begin. By 2:13, the main screen is back and the Powerpoint icon has been clicked. The “wheel” spins, the seconds flow by, anticipation builds as the three of us hover over the laptop–and then, tah-dah!

 

“Experimental Religion: New Theories and Methods for a Fast-Moving Target” appears on the screen, and Inken begins introducing me. I don’t have a prepared text and work from the slides in making my main points. By all accounts, the lecture is well-received. Several of the grad students mention that my way of “mapping” some of the dynamics in play when a person affiliates with a particular religious tradition is useful and relevant.

 

Immediately after my talk concluded, I used the handy little bike to buzz back to central Heidelberg and attend the keynote address of a conference on Pentacostalism in Brasil and Australia. Cristina Rocha, the speaker, is a co-editor for the Journal of Global Buddhism, a leading scholar of global religious “flows,” and is a person whose work I cited in the opening pages of my own recent book. I’d never met her before and so it was a good chance to see her in action. It was time well-spent, and we later connected a day later for a chatty and fun lunch.

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By the time I returned to the apartment and had a German bock beer in my hand, I was deeply reflective about the day and its challenges. I’d managed to overcome them without despair or too much frustration. No anger was involved either, so all in all, I felt okay about both lecture and lecturer. Yes, this is mundane but the possibility exists that presenting my ideas in an interesting and visually compelling manner will make a difference in the research or thinking of a student or two. The opportunity gave me yet another valuable opportunity to have both research and Self dramatically in the spotlight.

 

One more talk to go.

 

Backtracking to April 1st via 600,000 Years Ago

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The late March/ early April weather in this part of Germany is, like climate in most parts of the world, slightly off its rocker. A string of warmer than normal days have infected Heidelberg’s residents with spring fever and created a relaxed, festive air that pervades even the side streets. Winter is over, flowers are bursting out, and people are happy to be wearing t-shirts and short skirts rather than the scarves and overcoats of the past five months.

I see beer bottles in the hands of men and students at mid-day, and street cafés are full of people chatting, drinking, always eating, and of course smoking as well. Hauptstrasse is always nice to stroll because there are no cars and the stores are inviting, plus there are public squares full of chairs and tables that are serviced by nearby restaurants. It’s a civilized and, lest we forget, privileged scene made possible by Germany’s great economic clout as well as the discipline and conscientiousness of its citizens in complying with state and corporate goals.

What fascinates me about Heidelberg is its role as a historical crucible for any number of significant events that have shaped European and, more broadly, Western civilization. So as I am strolling through the old town en route to the hillside “Philosopher’s Walk” footpath above the city, I’m thinking about some of these historical milestones:

  • Not far from the city was the site of a major archaeological discovery: the so-called “Heidelberg man,” with a jawbone unearthed by a worker at a construction site in 1907. “Homo heidelbergensis is an extinct species of the genus Homo which lived in Africa, Europe and western Asia from at least 600,000 years ago, and may date back 1,300,000 years. It survived until about 200,000 to 250,000 years ago. It is very likely the direct ancestor of Homo sapiens (in Africa) and the Neanderthals (in Europe).” (Wikipedia)
  • At a site in northern Spain, a large pit contained the bones of over 32 homo heidelbergensis individuals and a number of animals. Axes found at the site are fashioned from rare red quartzite, leading archaeologists to suggest that they were a kind of ritual offering for a funeral. If true, it would be the oldest evidence of funerary practices. By extension, these offerings make the burial pit, dated at 350,000 years, one of the oldest known religious sites on the planet.
  • Heidelberg was occupied in the 5th c. BCE by Celtic people, who venerated a nearby mountain as sacred, naming it “mountain of the saints” or Heiligenberg. Mountains as portals to the other world is common in China, India, Tibet, and Japan, with some of Japan’s most ancient Shinto shrines starting out in this way. My second book (Enduring Identities) has an entire chapter devoted to “sacred geographies” in general and the importance of mountains in the Kyoto area in particular. 
  • In 40 BCE, the Romans set up a garrison on the banks of the Neckar river, and stayed until around 240 CE when local Germanic tribes drove them out. That’s 280 years of continuous Roman settlement, or 42 years more than the history of the United States. One can imagine the Romans must have felt they were on the edge of the known universe, separated from Rome (and “civilization”) by the Alps and hostile tribes. That they could stay for so long is testament to their supply routes and the relative military control they had over the area.
  • After the Romans left and the area reverts to local chieftains, the city becomes a valuable pawn in any number of continental power plays. Catholic monasteries were founded in 868 and 1130, the first occupying the old Celtic fortress. 1196 marks the first historical reference to the city in a document originating at Schönau abbey. Control over the city goes back and forth between a number of local princes and lords, until things heat up during the Protestant reformation. In 1518, Martin Luther came to Heidelberg university (which had been founded in 1389) to defend his 95 thesis protesting the domination of and sale of indulgences by the Catholic Church.
  • By the late 1500s, the region was thoroughly Protestant, and yet conflict was persistent between Lutherans and Calvinists. But nothing compares to the “Thirty Years War” (1618-1648) which ravaged Central Europe from the brutality of the conflict caused largely by mercenary soldiers in the employ of Protestant and Catholic forces. Here’s an etching of a Catholic priest giving last rites to executed Protestant prisoners, (good Christians all, of course).

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Jacques Callot, 1632, “The Miseries of War”

  • The fighting and plundering was bad enough but there were also plagues and famines, not to mention witch-hunts. Who else to blame for all the misfortunes and calamities that rained down on innocent peasants and village people? Estimates of population decline due to this war and its consequences are between 25 and 40% in Central Europe, with some places losing up to two-thirds of their citizens. It must have been a wretched time to be alive. (Some of the history of this period is evoked in The Meeting at Telgte (1981) by German author Gunter Grass.)
  • Heidelberg was devastated by a French-Catholic force that besieged the city in 1622 for two months. This etching below shows cannons positioned along the north side of the Neckar river in some of the exact same places I walked and took photos. How the city could hold out for two months facing this kind of firepower and dwindling resources is beyond me.

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  • Heidelberg also claims the spotlight prior to World War II. It was a Nazi stronghold where some of the early excesses against non-Aryan citizens were committed. Jews were singled out, synagogues burned on “Krystallnacht,” and some 1000 were deported to die in concentration camps. Streets that seem so peaceful and commercially-oriented today once conducted mobs of young men wearing black armbands with the swastika as they went about their self-righteous “purifications” of German society. At the end of the war, the departing Wehrmacht forces dynamited 3 of the arches of the lone bridge across the river. Ironically, this was the only destruction to the city during the entire war.  
  • When Allied forces occupied Germany, Heidelberg became a major garrison town since so much of the Wehrmacht infrastructure was left in place and undamaged. After so many battles and close calls, the commander of all Allied forces in Europe, George S. Patton, was severely injured in a car accident near Heidelberg and died some 12 days later in a hospital here.
  • Immediately after the war, Heidelberg university was re-established and guided by a number of leading scholars, including the philosopher Karl Jaspers. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/jaspers/) To his great credit, he resisted the Nazis to the best of his ability whereas philosophers like Martin Heidegger openly supported the National Socialists (as they were called). Jaspers started his career as a psychiatrist but then moved into theology and philosophy. Because of his friendship with the sociologist Max Weber, he was later accused by philosophers like Adorno and Lucaks that he had “contaminated” philosophy with concepts drawn from sociology and anthropology. (Clearly, he is my kind of interdisciplinary guy.)   The Allied forces quickly chose him as one of the top scholars to administer the university.

It was in a building dedicated to Jaspers that my main public lecture would take place on April 7th.

All this history may bore readers who have never visited the city, but to me it provides nuance, depth, and significance for the present day. Perhaps that’s because I come from such a young nation, or maybe it’s because I have a great respect for the lessons of history which we just can’t seem to learn or, having learned them, can’t seem to remember when circumstances require. I was also predisposed to historical perspectives due to my travels in Greece and Turkey where I visited some significant (and significantly ancient) Greek ruins dating back to the 5th century BCE. On the island of Naxos, I encountered Mycenaean burial sites from the 8th c. BCE.

 I guess this summary of Heidelberg’s history helps me understand my own a little better. The settlements, the conflicts, the proclamations, even the witch-hunts remind me of the forces at work within myself. Like the Treaty of Westphalia that established peace after the 30 Years War, this trip I’ve been on has contributed to a demeanor of stability and calm. That is not to say I was “at war” or embroiled in conflict beforehand or during the trip. Anyone who has followed even a fraction of these reports knows that is not the case.

 And yet there is a retrospective “historical” awareness, based on one’s own experiences, that can be useful in navigating the present. A historical perspective can get heavy and rather dark sometimes, but it can also peel back the glittering surfaces to show that human nature hasn’t changed very much. We still want protection and stability, as long as we feel that we are not being exploited. We still hunger for resources that we think will enhance our lives. When we rally together around some supposedly noble cause, whether it is breaking away from the Catholic Church or creating a political party to support a leader called Hitler, we appropriate some of the best and worst tendencies of the human heart and mind.

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On the stroll that provided the photos above, I descended from the Philosopher’s Path and ended up by the river where many people were lounging and enjoying the late-afternoon sun. A group of girls were doing flips and cartwheels with great energy, and seemed delighted that I wanted to take their photo. The girls with glasses were German, whereas the other two identified themselves as Germans with a Turkish background. I got their permission to post the photos, and now hope that they will eventually check out this report about their city, culture, and society…and the dynamism that is part of Heidelberg’s cultural pulse, whatever the historical era.

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Heidelberg, Germany: Last Stop and Zone of Transition


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Eight days have gone by since arriving in Germany, and not a word written or a report filed to recount events, people, lectures, concerts, meals, and adventures. I did spend time on several postings to round out my time in Greece but that was mostly to clear the decks for what would happen next.

When I say “Germany” I really mean one place only: Heidelberg. It is a lovely city beside the Neckar river whose university was founded in 1386, Germany’s first. The Roman Empire had established a small outpost here in 468 and defended it against frequent attacks by local tribes. Germans are persistent people, so eventually the empire had to close up shop and give the area back to its original inhabitants.

Heidelberg is home to one of the premier research universities in not only Germany but all of Europe, and is the academic home of my colleague, Inken Prohl, a professor of religious studies. Back in 2006 when I last came through at Inken’s invitation to show my documentary film on Yasukuni Shrine, the visit was just one stop among several during my winter break. That was when, over a tall glass of tasty German beer, Inken asked me to co-edit a volume on contemporary Japanese religions, a project for which she already had a contract. Well sure, what the heck, why not?

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But that was the beer speaking. I had my own project on contemporary Buddhist temples in Japan and had recently returned from six-months of research followed by another half-year at the Centre for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of British Columbia in Victoria.  I really didn’t need a project editing other people’s contributions, which turned out to be some 21 chapters that ended up being a 561 page tome costing an outrageous $265. As the only native-speaker of English on the “team,” I had to jump-start the project a couple times, and finally pushed it to completion because we were approaching five years of compromised deadlines.

Back in October of 2013, I let Inken know I would be coming through Europe en route to the U.S. and offered to give a talk if time and circumstances permitted. Mostly, I wanted Heidelberg to serve as a zone of transition between the intensities of Greece and Turkey and the slower, even mundane pace/dimensions of life that awaited back in the Bay Area. She obliged by scheduling a talk even though the spring term had not started officially.

Another contact I had was a China historian, Ana Hosne, in a “cluster of excellence” promoting the study of “Asia and Europe in a Global Context.” The cluster concept brings together people from diverse academic backgrounds on particular topics, puts these (mostly-junior) scholars in dialogue with each other, and sponsors research and publications that is directed by a full-time faculty member at Heidelberg. Incredibly, the funding comes entirely from the German government and lasts for several years. There is a pressure to produce quality work in a short period of time if the funding is to be renewed for another cycle. Ana’s speciality is Chinese Jesuit history, which drew her to USF to use the archives at the Ricci Institute, and that’s where we met. She very kindly contacted people in the Japanese-studies group and so another lecture was scheduled: the only option being April 7, the day before my final departure back to California.

She also helped to arrange an apartment for me to stay in after two days in a hotel (the always reliable and quiet Regina close to Bismarkplatz) provided by Religious Studies. Just steps from the main theater and Hauptstrasse, the pedestrian-only shopping street (for tourists and locals), Pablo’s place was available because he and his wife and small child (who live in Paris where she works) were off to attend a conference and visit relatives in the U.S. Pablo is Ana’s colleague at the Cluster, and works on Chinese intellectual history.

Thus I was accommodated, and thus scheduled for two talks: one on “experimental religion” and the other on my book. Here’s the nicely done poster Ana prepared for the final talk:

image And so that is the beginning of and the context for my time in Heidelberg.

Athens Return

The departure from Hotel Grotta and walk to the port is all downhill. Big hugs to Nicoletta for all her kindness and advice and wonderful breakfasts. How she can greet each visitor with such enthusiasm, year after year, is quite a skill. I’m soon on the ferry, have a seat, and watch the boat pull away from this wonderful and very rich island. It turns out that my seat has been sold twice and so once again I have to sort out the details w/ on board staff. Brother.  I try to remember how the day started, with a dramatic sunrise over the mountains to the east of the hotel.  I went out to the WWII memorial about 100 meters from the hotel to take this photo.

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There is plenty of room on board until we dock at Paros island, and then hundreds of people pour into the common and reserved areas. Why on a Wednesday? and why so many people, most of whom are Greek? Once everyone is settled, the TV volume goes up and becomes horribly intrusive and loud. Even though I complain, it stays at the same volume.

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This couple clearly have the right idea, and are prob. exhausted on the ferry due to great exertions the night before.

Once we dock at Pireaus and I catch the Metro to Athens (I feel like a local by now, this the third time I’ve ridden it), I’m highly conscious that each passing sight and moment are the last I will have of Greece for this springtime visit. My hotel is the Adrian, just above Hadrian’s Library and about a 7 min. walk from the main Metro station. The room I booked is on the first floor, with a view of a wall, so I opt for a 10 Euro upgrade and arrive on the 3rd floor with a fine view of the Acropolis. I can even make a decent cup of coffee in the room before setting out to tour the neighborhoods one more time and buy a few gifts.image

The Greeks are known for their outspoken political views and social commentary (indeed, the TV shows on the ferry were all about current topics, w/ a variety of male and female pundits weighing in…although the female participants were all babes in short skirts and revealing tops).  Here are a few examples of graffiti that, without exception, has some message to convey.

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Primarily, the Greeks are unhappy about being part of the EU and having to submit to austerity measures to get their economy aligned with European standards. I’m not sure the Spanish or French comply, but the model is certainly Germany, with Scandinavia coming in second and the UK third.

imageI’m also quite amazed at the café culture, where narrow streets are made even more impassable by the tables and chairs of some restaurant or cafe. I mean it’s Wednesday afternoon for heaven’s sake, and yet look at all the Greeks with time on their hands and money to spend. Just amazing. I figure they are part of the landscape and so take photos at will.

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This beautiful server came into my photo at exactly the right moment.

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My last meal is in a restaurant that is about as close as I can come to approximating the memory from 35 years ago when the eclipse of a full moon took place when I was eating. Upon emerging from the restaurant, the Agora was no longer glowing but, in this part of Athens circa 1979, the stars had come out around this brown sphere in the sky.

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I’d had plenty of retsina, the anise-flavored liqueur that is so popular in Greece (but is an acquired taste, believe me), so was in no hurry and sat on an ancient chunk of stone to wait for the moon to reappear. It was just magical to watch it slowly return to its brilliant self, and set the ancient stones alight with its pearly radiance. All the people and civilizations and cultures that have gazed upon these stones leave me humbled, and grateful.

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Filoti Village and the Chapel on High

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I really liked this hillside town, each home and building facing west to Hora but with a range of hills blocking a straight view of the western Aegean. Behind the town rises the eastern ridge of mountains, of which Mt. Zas (Zeus) at 1001 meters calls me back for a later climb. For now, I’m content to walk the backstreets, see the uppermost village falling into ruins, and marvel at the hive-like nature of these homes of farmers and craftspeople.

imageI learn later from Nicoletta at Hotel Grotta that Filoti men have a reputation for quick tempers and violence, thus the need for high livestock walls between fields. Disputes and conflicts can go on for generations, so it’s better to pile on another stone than risk the wrath and vengeance of your neighbor.

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One quite dramatic feature of the Filoti landscape is a rocky upthrust on the southern road out of town. Carlos and Gabriela and I drove past it en route to the cave we hiked to, but it didn’t register that it was a place I could visit easily. So it was by chance in driving the southern road away from Filoti and past the mountain that I noticed a small road on the backside which seemed to head upward. Eyeing the very steep grade and wondering if my little Hyundai could make it, I decided that this is what 1st gears are made for and punched the accelerator. The road was all concrete and mostly free of major potholes and cracks, so up and up I went. There was no guardrail of course, and a couple hairpin curves with the entire Naxos coastline visible to the west were heart stopping. If I had been riding as a passenger in a car driven by someone else, I would probably have been screaming at this point. Once I rounded those corners, it was smooth going to a big open area just down from the chapel.image

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Awaiting me were spectacularly pretty fields of daisies and other wildflowers on the northern side of the peak. After many minutes admiring and photographing and just hanging out soaking up the tremendous view, I clamored up to the chapel, expecting to find it closed, but the door was strong and latched and opened easily. Inside, I might as well have been in a cave somewhere since the shadows fought back against the light spilling in.

imageWhat I saw was a chapel to John the Baptist, who is venerated in Orthodox Christianity because, as a prophet, he paved the way for the coming of Jesus. He’s called “Saint John the Forerunner.” If you recall your biblical history, King Herod granted the wishes of his daughter Salome to have the imprisoned John’s head on a platter.

imageSo that’s what this chapel venerates: John’s critiques of the rotten times of the Roman occupation of Palestine, and the coming of a Messiah. The images are vivid, bloody, and gruesome to my eye, in harsh contrast with the abundant beauty outside the building. Like the big monastery on the mountainside above Hora, with its five little windows that can hardly do justice to the grand scenery they face, Greek Orthodoxy seems to be a turning away from the world so that religious “truths” can be perpetuated, from one generation of male priests to the next. (On Mt. Athos in the northeastern part of Greece, a group of monasteries have relative autonomy from the Greek mainland and government, and make their own rules. One must have a passport issued from Mt. Athos to disembark and spend time there, with only men allowed. They don’t even allow female animals, save for cats to serve as deterrents to the rat population. Buddhism may have been a thoroughly male monastic enterprise, but its monks never denied the world, only managed access to it so as to create a boundary that could serve spiritual practice.) There appears to be no place for women in the church hierarchy, and yet they are among the most faithful practitioners.

It is a relief to exit the chapel and be once again outside, looking at the field of wildflowers as well as to Filoti and the huge view in all directions. For this last trip on Naxos, my cup runneth over.

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Naxos Final Tour: the Old Fort, Filoti village, the Chapel on High (in two parts)

The low tourist season on Naxos has many blessings and benefits, but public transportation is not one of them. Buses running from Hora to the villages are infrequent and make trips difficult to plan around time-tables. And with cars renting for only about $26 a day, it’s a no-brainer to make the most of the good roads and scenery.

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My last car trip takes me first to the outskirts of central Naxos near Halki. I’ve seen the big rocky spire on other trips but the ruins of the old fort blend in with the color of the stones, making its features difficult to discern from a couple kilometers away. Not today, however, as I park the car beside what used to be village washbasins in the shadow of yet another church. I follow the signs for “Plano Kastro” (the Plano Castle) and “8th C. BC Cemetery” on the only trail possible, and am soon tooling down a narrow lane hemmed in by high rock walls. Walk past a couple chained dogs that strain at their restraints and are fairly insane, outraged that someone should invade their territory. Ugh. I carry a rock in each hand.

The cemetery is visually unremarkable because the stones of tombs blend in with other rock features, so I continue on and scale a wall to enter a sloping field of grass and flowers that leads upwards to the castle. A variety of civilizations has used this high and strategic point–Mycenaeans, Greeks, Turks, Venetians–with the last group responsible for the structures that remain in various stages of decrepitude. The little chapels (I count four among the ruins) indicate that each must have been sponsored by a family or guild, enlisting the Catholic God to help defend and protect “our” people on this mountain.

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En route to the top, I come across several old structures have doorways and archways still standing, and I delight in the frames they provide for landscapes beyond. While too far below to photograph, flocks of black and white goats with iron bells around their necks provide a soundtrack that further colors each direction I look.

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imageAnd since I am in the remains of a castle-fort, I imagine how one clear morning a sentry cries out an alarm that Turkish ships are approaching. Cannon fire ensues some 13 kilometers distant, both from the ships and the town of Hora. Before long the town’s defenses fall silent. It will be only a matter of hours before the fort is besieged and its commanders and troops either captured or killed. Despite the beauty of the spring morning and flowers blooming everywhere, I have no illusions that people suffered and probably died here. Requiescant in pace (rest in peace, Latin).

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(Note: the white smudge in the distant background is the town of Hora)

From the top of Plano Kastro, I surveyed my circular return route to the car, bypassing the mad dogs and traversing the crest of a series of rocky upthrusts, of which the fort occupied the most dramatic. Lots of rock-hopping, tricky maneuvering, tip-toeing my way across little chasms, plodding over smooth inclines, taking a break here and there to admire the scenery even as the sun heats up. The livestock walls are rocks piled head-high, indicating a serious concern to keep property lines distinct.image

Greek Independence Day, March 25

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The event is March 25, Greek Independence Day. The actual story of how Greek wrested a nation out of an independence movement against the Turks is too complicated to recount here. It involves British, French, Russian, Austrian and Egyptian intervention, troops on the ground and warships in the straits, deals and negotiations that bounce around European courts. The British seem to be the deciding factor, as well as the latter stages of the Ottoman Empire that was in the process of slowly collapsing.

At any rate, the first move to independence was hampered by Greek infighting since there was no national consciousness or consensus in the early 1800s. To get local kingdoms to cooperate and share agendas that affected other parts of the islands was perhaps an impossible ideal. The federation that was cobbled together seems to have had enough commonality (and perhaps expediency as well, given all the hostile forces surrounding Greece) to persist and to have been reified over generations of schoolbooks.

But I wonder if they teach about the massacres of Turkish and Greek civilian populations that followed Greek declarations of independence? Do they claim credit for themselves or give thanks to foreign powers that intervened militarily and diplomatically on their behalf?

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The school kids of Hora town would be the ones to ask, but they are too busy marching in a parade that assembles first at the big church I visited last Sunday morning for the mass of the ascension. Each class/level has a flag bearer wearing traditional costume, flanked by several more kids in dress of the 18th and 19th centuries. Everyone else wears blue and white, shirts and trousers or skirts.

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What animates the event are the drum corps. I heard drums this morning at 3:30 a.m., moving around the town till 5:00. (!) Fortunately, Hotel Grotta is on the outskirts of town so the closest the drums got was the big church 10 minutes away. They pound out a strange halting rhythm that stops just as it builds momentum, then pushes forward to an end that loops back to the beginning. Mostly boys, a few girls hang in with snare drums and determination. The groups are not well-rehearsed, which adds a frenetic randomness to the soundtrack of the whole affair.

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First there is blessing in the Metropolitan Church, led by a high-ranking priest. There was plenty of church-state symbiosis at various points, but that is the way it is done in other countries as well. The blessing is not a mass and not very solemn in how people interact with the ritual, so there’s lots of coming and going, with most kids staying outside and the adults inside.

image There is horseplay, couples wandering off to smooch, drum corps itching to start their odd rhythms again, and general festive energies. I take lots of photos of people, including a couple classics.image

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From the church, the drums fire up again and everyone moves a short distance to a war-independence memorial ceremony. Here, local dignitaries place olive wreaths at the base of a marble monument on the edge of town closest to the Apollo temple.

imageimageThen the main parade starts, heading down the port road and over to a big parking lot. I don’t follow it but stay in one spot and snap photos of the kids (and a few adults) filing past. Sky is blue, wind nippy and persistent, and everyone participates to the extent of their interest.

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