Thursday, June 28, 2007

Friday Morning in Chios

The wind has picked up this morning. After the calm early in the week, the waves breaking on the rocks and the beach seem dramatic, though they are actually very small (especially compared to the normal surf at Ocean City).

On the drive here to the lab, I noted again the wide variety of vehicles and the many unfamiliar cars. Most of the makes are familiar - Ford, Toyota, Peugeot, for instance - but there are many compact cars that were never sold in North America. Compared to Athens, there are more mid-size sedans and SUVs here. Like Athens there are lots of scooters of various sizes. Yesterday we saw two people on a small scooter slowly climbing one of the hills near Pyrgi.

I have meetings this morning and my presentation this afternoon, and then I fly to Athens. Tomorrow I fly to Atlanta and home.

Mavra Volia and Mesta

On Thursday, the temperature dropped a bit and the wind increased from the east, sending small waves onto the beach near the lab. We were busy with meetings and work in the lab. Lunch was a ham-and-cheese sandwich wrapped in plastic and some cookies from the market around the corner. The afternoon snack was a peach from the fruit stand - I tried to pay for it but the proprietor wouldn't let me.

Minis rented a car around noon. Around 6 PM Minis, Theodore, and I left in the car for southern Chios. We headed first to the town of Emboreios, a seaside town on a small protected bay that is used as a marina. Our destination was the beach at the next bay over. The beach, called Mavra Volia, has no sand; instead it is all smooth, round black rocks, from large pebbles near the water to small rocks away from the edge. It is hard on the feet but beautiful. There are a few little shelters for changing (like the structure that was at the Lake Thomas property), so Minis and I changed and went for a swim. The water was nice, with cool and warm spots and perfectly clean and clear and calm (except when some boats went by); it was wonderful for swimming. Under the water, the bottom is covered with bigger rocks of the same kind.

After rinsing in the shower and changing, we were off to Mesta via Pyrgi. Mastiha grows on this part of the island, which is not as rough as central Chios, so this drive was much straighter and flatter than the drive on Tuesday. The road we took was undergoing improvements; there were some spots where it was only a wide gravel road, but other stretches were a modern highway, and we sped along. None of the roads in the countryside here have names or numbers, so for guidance drivers depend on signs indicating the direction (left, right, or straight ahead) to the next significant city. We made a wrong turn in Pyrgi (I had the map and was navigating, so it was my fault) but the silver lining was that we saw some of the interesting old houses in Pyrgi; they are decorated with unique grey and white patterns. We got back on the main road and made it to Mesta.

Pyrgi and Mesta and the other old towns in this part of the island escaped the devastation of the Turks due to the economic importance of the mastiha. The center of Mesta, from the 14th century, is a wonderful old town, with narrow stone streets and interesting stone buildings around the central church and square. The city's location away from the water, the city walls, and the maze of streets were intended to help defend the city against pirates. Other cities built in that era had the same type of plan, but Mesta is the best preserved. We wandered around some, I bought a stack of postcards, and then we ate at a restaurant on the square. The weather was still and dry and warm but not hot, perfect for sitting outside. We started dinner with salad and greens. There was a dish with baked cheese and tomatoes covered in oil to eat with the whole wheat bread. I had a simple grilled chicken breast with french fries, and we ended dinner with a dessert of sliced peaches.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Minis Arrives

Ioannis Minis arrived at the hotel at 7:30 Wednesday morning; he had just come on a flight from Athens. He will be here with me through Friday afternoon.

With Minis here, things are picking up - more meetings with students, and many adjustments to the schedule. My presentation was moved from Wednesday morning to Friday afternoon, so it will be the last bit of work I do here. I did get out to lunch at the place down the road from the lab; this time I had a chicken and rice dish. George, the student who took me, insisted that it was "rooster," not "chicken" (and not turkey), but it looked like chicken to me - I never thought male chicken tasted different. In any case, the dish was a perfectly done leg quarter over rice with a tomato and mushroom sauce. Dessert was fresh fruit again; this time melon and cherries.

Back in Chios, for dinner Minis and I walked down the main road to a German-style place that offers beers from around the world; I chose a Pilsner Urquell on draft (this Czech beer is a favorite, and back home it is uncommon and only in bottles); Minis had a couple of bottles of Grolsch, a Dutch beer. Dinner was bread and salad (one a Greek salad, the other with greens) and a platter of different grilled meat.

Today there are more meetings, but I plan to visit the little beach near the lab, and Minis plans to take me to Mesta before dinner.

Anavatos and Nea Moni

The Kathimerini (a Greek newpaper with an English edition sold here with the International Herald Tribune) reported Tuesday that this month is set to be the hottest June ever recorded in Greece. Athens reached 43 C (109 F) again, and all government offices in Greece were ordered closed at midday Tuesday and Wednesday to reduce energy consumption.

While this didn't directly apply to the lab, we behaved accordingly. After another meeting Tuesday morning, we set out to see Nea Moni, a 1000-year-old monastery in the center of the island, up in the Chios mountains. The road there was full of extraordinary views and hairpin turns. The mountains are grey and rocky, mostly covered in pine trees, though some areas not as high have olive trees.

We found out that Nea Moni was not open until 4 PM, so we detoured to Anavatos, an old abandoned village with stone houses on the top of a mountain. In 1822, when the Turks invaded Chios, they killed thousands and enslaved many more, and almost everyone else fled the island (for more, see the article; see also the painting by Delacroix). To avoid capture, the residents of Anavatos jumped to their deaths from the cliff on which the town is built. The place is semi-ruined, though under restoration.

It was time for lunch so we drove all the way down to Lethi beach on the west coast of Chios. The beach is sandy and in a small cove; the water was as calm as a lake. We ate at Tria Adelphi (Three Brothers), one of the restaurants facing the main road and the beach. Along with the cheese and bread and other appetizers, I had fresh sardines, and dessert was watermelon!

Back into the mountains to Nea Moni, which was also devastated in 1822. Here, the invaders set the buildings on fire and massacred the resident monks and many others who had taken shelter there. Its Chapel of the Holy Cross contains a case displaying the skulls and some bones of some of the monks. The main church is famous for its Byzantine architecture and mosaics, but it was closed for renovation. Their icons were relocated to another chapel, which we visited. Apparently just a couple of people live there; I also saw a chicken in a small yard behind the chapel, and two peacocks were in a large cage under some trees. As we were getting ready to leave, an elderly lady dressed in black appeared with some fruit rinds for the birds, and she and the students talked for awhile. She has lived there for 50 years.

Nea Moni is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a distinction shared by sites such as Stonehenge, the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon - and the city of Durham, England, according to a post by Mike Warner, who has seen enough such sites to call them "ubiquitous"! :-)

On the way back I saw little structures occasionally next to the road. Each was about 4 feet high. The top part looked like a little church with a cross on top and a front window through which I could glimpse a candle or an icon. The students explained that each one was a marker to someone killed at that location. That is, they are like the roadside markers that we have at home, though ours are handmade crosses or temporary displays of flowers; here they are professionally made permanent monuments.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More about Mastiha

According to Fodors and the Lonely Planet guide, the name Chios is based on the Phoenician word for mastiha (or mastic or mastixa), which is the resin of a the lentisk bush (Pistacia lentisca) that grows on the southern part of Chios. (I wonder, from the Latin name, if it is related to pistachios?) Some folks call it "The Tear of the Shrub." Mastiha has been grown here for a long time and was used in many ways until petroleum products became available. Now it is used in cosmetics and chewing gum and food. Some Greeks, both ancient and modern, claim that it is health food that is good for digestive disorders, and many love the chewing gum that is made from it (I haven't tried that yet).
For even more about mastiha, see its Wikipedia entry.

There was a MastihaShop store in the Athens airport that had many products but that was nothing compared to the MastihaShop on the waterfront in Chios. It had an amazing array of items, some pure mastiha (in little pellets and tablets), others with mastiha as ingredient (jam, cookies, chocolate, chewing gum), and others with no mastiha at all. I bought some mastiha cookies that look like butter cookies or shortbread. I had a couple, and they are good with a definite but not strong citrus taste.

The box I bought has Greek and English text. The cookies are made by a local baker and sold by the Chios Mastiha Growers Association, who run the MastihaShop. (I couldn't help but think of the strawberry growers' and kumquat growers' groups that we know back home.)

Hard at Work

The University of the Aegean is young and growing. They plan to have a new campus in 3 to 5 years, but for now they are using whatever they can find. The lab where Minis and his students work is in a small two-story building that is like a small shopping center, though the parking lot is much smaller. On the first floor, the lab is next door to a shop selling pet food and similar supplies and a market with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. The second floor has more offices for faculty. Next door is another two-story building that looks like a small motel: the first floor is used for classrooms, and the second floor has more offices. Just down the street is a small church and an apartment complex used by undergraduates.

The whole place is a bit north of Chios town on the main road that goes along the sea. One cannot see the sea from inside the lab because it faces the parking lot and another building, but there are good views from the second story offices. Across the road and down a bit is a small, rocky beach. Yesterday (Monday) there were some families there swimming in the cool, blue water.

The students picked me up at 9:30 and took me to the lab. We had some meetings about their projects until about 2:00. Then we went to lunch at a restaurant a short walk from the lab. The restaurant was in the front yard of a house on the main road. The tables and chairs were under a nice shelter; I would say like a carport in construction, though it was nothing like a carport and more like a garden, the whole thing painted in blue with a hedge for a side wall and flowers in pots and birds in cages singing (and a rooster in another one crowing) and decorations in a nautical theme. I had a tomato and a green pepper stuffed with rice, George had fresh sardines and green beans, Taksiarchis had octopus, and there was also bread and feta, of course, and a plate of roasted zucchini.

After lunch I used a pay phone on the road to call home, and then I went down to the beach to put my feet in the water.

Back in the lab I worked on the presentation that I will make Wednesday morning and checked email and reviewed a paper that Taksiarchis had written on cost analysis in product design.
I wanted to Google something, and Google determined that I was in Greece, so I was automatically rerouted to So then I had to Google how to avoid that rerouting and found somewhere in the Google help pages a hint to set my preferences to English instructions, but the first time I had to figure out which word in Greek meant "English," which is a bit confusing, because the Greek word starts with an "A" (like Anglican) and then has "yy", which resembles the beginning of the Greek word for "Greek", which starts with an "Ell" (like Hellenic). So I've been confused a few times already. But I was successful in the end.

Around 6 PM I went for an afternoon snack and got an ice cream bar. Being early summer fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful and good, as I saw in the market, where I bought some peaches and cherries.

A bit more work, then we took a taxi back to Chios town. The students had work to do, so I down to the waterfront in Chios, did some shopping to get a newspaper and some mastiha cookies (mastiha is a Chios specialty), and went to dinner at a place that the guys had recommended on Sunday. I ordered souvlaki with bread but didn't get the gyro I really wanted. Still, it was tasty, especially with a Mythos (the main Greek beer, somewhat like Budweiser). Then it was home to have some cherries and cookies and get to bed to catch up on sleep.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Monday Morning in Chios

My hotel room has a wonderful view. The morning sun illuminates the town of Chios, which faces east, and the hills behind it. The main road runs along the half-circle of the port from near my hotel at the south end to the ferry quay at the north end. A breakwater runs north from here to enclose the port. Two piers run from the breakwater into the port, and there are numerous boats docked there, from small motorboats and sailboats to two large tugboats.

The flight from Athens to Chios was uneventful. The plane was a ATR 30 or 70, and my rolling bag, which fits in the overhead bins of a full-sized plane, was too big for the ones on this plane, so it went under the seat. I took some photos out the window of the plane as we went over Evia on the way up and again as we approached Chios.

Some students met me at the very small airport. Right after my plane taxied to the terminal, a plane from Aegean Airlines arrived, so things got very crowded in a hurry, but we had no problem getting my bag. They brought me to the hotel, and I showered and took a brief nap. They came back around 10 and we went out to dinner.

We walked down the main road to the center of Chios. There are dozens of restaurants and bars next to each other with tables and chairs and umbrellas on the side of the road. Immediately next to the water is a sidewalk, then the road (two lanes), then these tables and chairs, then another sidewalk, and then the buildings. The tables and chairs form an unbroken chain for hundreds of yards - it is quite something for it is not interrupted by souvenir shops - just places to eat and drink. We had some nice salads and I had a grilled pork chop with french fries. Then it was time to head home for some sleep. The restaurants were quiet, but some of the bars were still going strong, with loud music and partygoers drinking hard. Fortunately, my hotel, being at the extreme south end of the town, is in a quiet neighborhood.

The hotel restaurant has a nice breakfast buffet, with everything from ham and cheese to croissants and jam, along with eggs, sausage, yogurt, fresh fruit, and muesli. Some families speaking English and a large group of Greek boys from a water polo team.

It is sunny and warm already at 9 AM; according to, it is 88 F and will go up to 96, with more of the same tomorrow. One of the students will meet me soon and give me a ride to the university, so it's back to work!

All About Athens

Sunday, June 24.

Waiting at the Athens airport for my flight to Chios, which has been delayed by 45 minutes.
The waiting area here (after security) is not nearly as nice as the main part of the terminal, which has many shops (duty free shops as well as international brands like Swatch and Hermes) and restaurants (including a McDonald's) and services.
This area is more spartan and crowded, though there is a booth selling cigarettes and newspapers and another selling drinks and telephones and restrooms.
It is also warm (from the doors opening to the outside) and noisy!

Ioannis and his wife and daughter took me to dinner last night at a restaurant in downtown Athens near Syntagma and Mitropolous. We sat at a table on the sidewalk - though it was after 10, it was still very warm. We had tabouleh and greek salad for appetizers. I had smoked trout and pasta, served with olive oil. Everything was delicious.

This morning I took the metro to Omonia Square and walked to a catholic church I had found on the U.S. embassy's web site - I still working on translating the name of the place. In any case, the mass was in Polish I'm certain. The church was nothing special, a basic rectangular layout. The tabernacle was in the wall behind the alter. Also on that wall was a large icon-like picture of Jesus that reminded me of the huge painting of Jesus in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The Mass was very crowded - I arrived a little before 8:00, not knowing what time it would start, and waited until someone opened the church at 8:00. I went right in and took a seat, and people just kept arriving until Mass started at 9:00. I think there were folks standing in the back and maybe outside as well.

Went to a nearby bakery immediately afterward to buy a big cinnamon roll and some water and then headed back to Syntagma to see the Parliament (where they were getting ready for the changing of the guard) and some museums, where I did some shopping. Along the way I bought and ate a peach, which was good: ripe and juicy. Took the Metro back to the hotel and then a taxi to the airport. Ioannis had suggested taking the Metro to the airport, but in this heat (over 40 degrees Celcius - 104 Farenheit) I didn't feel up to carrying all my baggage to the Metro station (at least 0.5 km according to the map I just picked up here at the airport).

At the airport I rearranged my stuff (going from tourist to traveler), checked in, called home using the phone card I purchased this morning, and got some lunch (a fountain Sprite - no ice - and a ham & cheese pie) at the Athens airport food court. I stopped by the airport Chapel, which is full of representations of icons painted on the walls, and some actual icons as well. Definitely not non-denominational, like those at U.S. airports.

I was thinking about the Church of the Holy Apostles, which I saw Saturday at the Ancient Agora, and the church I visited this morning. The first is certainly the more interesting building (being 1000 years old) but it is now merely an interesting building - it is no longer used for church services. The second was not an interesting building, but it was alive as Church, the Body of Christ, in a way the first is not. And though I understood very few things said this morning (besides the Alleluia) I knew what was happening and could celebrate with these strangers the Eucharist that all Catholics around the world celebrate today.

Saw lots of tourists this morning around Syntagma and often walked past couples or families or young adults speaking English. Tourist-oriented stores (selling souvenirs and sponges and postcards) and restaurants were open, but the finer clothing and jewelry stores (and a store selling Greek Orthodox religious articles) were not.
Also saw lots of natives headed to the beach; the Metro will take them to a tram station, where they can board a tram that heads down the coast to various beaches. Many were wearing coverups over swimsuits; others had blankets or mats to put down. I believe that Ioannis and his family were headed there as well.

Now 5:30 and we're supposed to leave at 5:45.

Next Stop: Athens

[Editorial note: It is now Monday morning in Greece - these first posts were written over the weekend but I only now have an Internet connection. Interestingly, Blogger thinks that I'm in Italy and the instructions are in Italian.]

Saturday, June 23, 2007.

I was very glad when my long flight from Atlanta to Athens finally landed: I was quite tired of being in seat 36E. The wait to get through customs and claim my luggage (a garmet bag with clothes) was not long, and when I left the baggage claim area, my colleague Ioannis Minis was there to greet me, which was a pleasant surprise. (It is nice to have a local to meet you - When I went to Europe in graduate school and my cousin Stephen Barthle met me in Frankfurt; when Laury and I went to France in 1996 Jean-Marie Proth met us in Metz.)

It is warmer than average in Athens today and was still hot when I left around 5:00. The city is like LA: a seaside metropolis surrounded by mountains. (And it has the same kind of traffic and smog.)

Ioannis gave me a ride to my hotel, the G.R. Louis on Timleontos Vassou Street, not far from the U.S. Embassy. I got a sandwich and fries at the hotel restaurant and took a nap. Then I headed out to learn the Metro and visit the Ancient Agora. The Metro system is about the same size and complexity as the one in Atlanta. Only three lines. The stations I used were new and clean and easy to use - directions and signs are in English as well as Greek. I found the Agora after some wandering around Monasteraki and headed to the Church of the Holy Apostles, built about 1000 years ago to celebrate St. Peter's preaching to the Athenians in A.D. 51, including the famous Sermon to an Unknown God on nearby Aerophagus Hill. Views of the Acropolis from every square and open area.

On my way back to the Metro I bought a small cup of peach Italian ice cream, which I finished before entering the station. On the walk from the Metro to the hotel I stopped to buy a slice of spanakopita at a fast food place - it was nearly 7:30 PM but it still wasn't dinner - Ioannis is coming around 10:00 to take me to dinner with his family.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

Father's Day is a good day for reflecting on what it's all about, and one important aspect is teaching. We teach our kids all the time, from the ABC's to what's right and wrong. But no one knows everything.

The Washington Post yesterday had an article entitled
Father Knows Best?
. It's all about how dads, instead to asking someone, make up answers when their kid asks them something they don't know (in this case, things about airplanes and rockets). (Probably this is related to the stereotype of men who won't stop and ask for directions.)

That reminded me of one of my all-time favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips: Calvin and his parents are in the car and drive over a small bridge with one of those truck weight limit signs next to it, and Calvin asks how they know what the weight limit should be. His dad goes into a long explanation of how they drive an empty truck over the bridge, and then add more weight and drive it over the bridge again, and keep doing that until the bridge breaks; then they re-build the bridge! Calvin's fine with that, but his mom says to his dad, "If you don't know the answer, just say so!"

More seriously though, being a good father and teacher means knowing when to look up something you don't know (and teaching your kid to do so - remember the encyclopedias we had as kids?).

Of course, the most important thing that we can teach our children is that God created everything and that He loves us as a father. And if there's something we don't know, there are places to look it up and people to ask - we can't just make it up.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Silver Dollars

Here is a math problem for you, from the 1971 edition of Polya's How to Solve It, a classic on mathematical problem-solving:

Bob has ten pockets and 44 silver dollars. He wants to put his dollars into his pockets so distributed that each pocket contains a different number of dollars. Can he do so?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Lord of the Flies

I recently finished listening to Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. I had read it many years ago (probably in high school) but remembered it always as a dark and violent picture of how bad anarchy is. I was not wrong. It is a violent tragedy.

Brief plot summary and spoiler: an undefined number of British schoolboys (ages 5 to 12) survive their plane crashing into a deserted island (resembling something in the South Pacific). Ralph, initially elected the leader, tries to organize them in building shelters and keeping a fire going to attract rescue, but most of the other boys don't want to do that and eventually leave to form a tribe of hunters. The resulting violent conflict ends when they are suddenly rescued.

In thinking about Ralph's efforts to form a society, I kept thinking of how the family is the basic unit of society. The collegial, democratic model sounds wonderful, but it will work only if there is an authority to set the rules, enforce them, and punish lawbreakers. In the book that was absent - the little ones were interested only in playing and eating, and the bigger ones felt no responsibility to help Ralph, and Ralph didn't try to punish anyone. Another model would have been to setup little family-like groups, with two older boys (like big brothers) sharing the responsibilities of caring for a small number of little ones. Perhaps the big brothers would have formed an attachment to their little brothers and worked to provide for them. Having two big brothers would enable them to share that work and the community work of tending the fire and hunting. (The way two parents share the work of child-rearing and income-earning?)

Ultimately, despite Ralph's attempts to create a social order, the boys' downfall is that, in some of them, the evil part of them (which exists in all of us, thanks to original sin) overcomes friendship and cooperation and leads to selfishness and pride and fear and jealousy and hate and senseless violence.

It becomes a world without rules, without authority; a world where everyone does what they want without considering the long-term consequences; a violent tragedy.