Thursday, July 31, 2014

Home is where the heart is: Athens

My first visit to Athens was in 2011. I was with Keith and we were on our honeymoon. We did all the things that tourists do: climbed the Acropolis, strolled through the Roman Forum, gazed at the Temple of Zeus, ate all the things.

From the minute I arrived in Athens that first time, it had my heart. It's the hometown of my favorite dudes, Aristotle and Plato. It's ground-zero for all of the philosophy of the western world. It's a starting point, figuratively and literally for my professional life and my personal and moral outlook. To be able to see the land that Aristotle walked on, the sea that he gazed upon, and the Parthenon that was the pinnacle of achievement in his day, all of this made me feel intimately connected with the figures whose ideas I work on. Visiting Athens brought everything around for me.

I go back every year. And it never loses its shine. In fact, I actually get more excited to return to Athens with every passing year, and I feel more forlorn each year when I have to leave. Athens has my heart. I feel like I'm returning to myself when I visit.

This year I had only one evening there. One date night. I sat on a rooftop with a stellar view of the Acropolis and read a book. I ate frozen greek yogurt and approximately a pound of cherries. I bought silly trinkets for my family.

Oh, and I found my favorite Greek snack... it's a spicy cheese dip. Usually people eat it with bread, but come on... fries. And a big Fix (it's like a lager).

One night is hardly enough, but I'll take what I can get. Hopefully next year I'll be able to stay a little longer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

That time I went to: Spetses, Greece

So marks the end of another wonderful visit to Greece.

I go every year with my colleagues in ancient philosophy. The Princeton crew meets up with some Greek professors and students, and we all gather around a conference table in order to translate and interpret an ancient text. We always choose one of Aristotle's smaller treatises (De Sensu, De Insomniis, Physics 9) because these texts are conducive to the kind of incisive and careful analysis that we so love. And because, well, Aristotle is a badass. (Disclaimer: my dissertation is on Aristotle, so I have no choice in my attitude about him.)

From year to year, details of these excursions vary. My first trip took me to Crete, where we met with the University of Crete faculty and students. The second and third years were in Athens, each at different institutions. And this year we were on the lovely island of Spetses. 

The island earned its name (from the Italian "Spezia" which means "spice") for its position on a trade route to Venice. But it is most famous not for its relationship to trade, but for being home to a Greek heroine, Laskarina Bouboulina. It might surprise you to learn this about a woman in the 1800's, but Bouboulina was a naval commander. She fought on behalf of Greece against the Ottoman Empire during the Greek War of Independence (1821) and gifted the island of Spetses with the honor of being the first island to raise the revolutionary flag. For its role in the War, Spetses is a very special island.

I had no idea what to expect in terms of the atmosphere of Spetses. Every Greek island is slightly unique, so my experience in visiting other islands did nothing to help me predict what Spetses would be like. It turns out that it's a very, very expensive island. It's not an especially popular destination for international travelers, but the Greeks do vacation there. There are only 38 hotels on the island, and they were all completely booked. And yet, it was quiet. 

There is only one road on the island, a loop along the coastline. And there are no private cars anywhere. Sure, you'll see a taxi or a delivery truck or a garbage truck, but people get around mostly on motorcycles, bicycles, horse-drawn carriages (!!), and foot.

As far as I can tell, the inhabitants of the island are there only part time. Summer draws the rich Athenians away from the city so that they can enjoy the sun and peace of the island for a few months. This trend began in the 60s, so many of the beautiful mansions that grace the hills of Spetses date back about 50 years. Some are older, of course--dating back to the time of the War of Independence--but most of the families who own the homes now acquired them in the 60s. In any case, these are the Athenian elites, so the island has a sort of aristocratic feel--a sense that is elevated as you look out on the Argolic Gulf and see dozens of classic yachts gliding gracefully across the water.

Greek beaches are beautiful. And the Greeks will stay in the sun from dawn to dusk. A whole culture exists around beach time. Even at relatively small beaches, chairs and umbrellas are offered for a fee (11 euro on Spetses--very pricey!) and beautiful bronzed girls and boys run drinks to you from a tiki bar. Basically, it's heaven.

Given my injury, I wasn't able to be as active as I would have liked. My usual M.O. in Greece is to swim for several hours, go running every day, and walk around exploring until my feet hurt. This year, however, I had to dial things back. I was able to swim a surprising amount--about 1 hour total each day. And I walked about 2-3 miles each afternoon. All of this was far more than I've been doing at home, so I was exhausted by night fall. I'm thankful that my leg/back held up though. I did feel sad about not being able to run, but I was incredibly grateful to be able to walk around a little bit.

And, of course, I ate mountains of delicious Greek food.

I really don't recommend this island for a first trip to Greece. There are less expensive islands with much better beaches. But I'm so very glad I got a chance to see it. It was a significant site during the Greek War of Independence, it is host to a beautiful monastery, and in its water float some of the most gorgeous yachts I have ever seen. It's certainly a special place. 

But it's a place that it best visited if you are willing to spend a lot of money. If you can save up for a stay at the Grand Poseidon Hotel (the most luxurious hotel on the island, styled in the mode of the Ritz-Carlton), then I'm sure it would be trip so elegant and so decadent that it would become a memory to rival all other memories. I, unfortunately, was not staying at the Poseidon. Perhaps one day I will. 

Here's a final picture for your pleasure.

Okay, one more...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Injury Update

Days since first doctor's appointment: 51
Days since epidural: 31

I changed my hair a little bit.

So I haven't been diligently blogging my way through recovery. It turns out that this recovery is incredibly boring. There's very little change day-to-day and even week-to-week. 

The biggest marker of improvement (yes, I am improving) is that I am able to walk a lot more than I was able to last month. To be clear, "a lot" of walking for me at this stage of things is not "a lot" by objective standards. This is my health profile right now:
  • I can get up and go to the bathroom without fear of pain. Before the epidural, I was afraid to drink too much water because I didn't want to have to get up to walk to the bathroom. Since the epidural, my ability to make the short trip to the toilet has improved dramatically.
  • I can walk the 1/2 mile to my physical therapy appointments and walk home afterwards. This is a tremendous improvement. Before the epidural and for the two weeks following it, Keith was driving me to and from these appointments. I had trouble just getting down the stairs to the therapist's office and, of course, climbing back out. Now I can make the trip by myself. I am fatigued by the time I get there, though.
  • I recover much, much more quickly than I used to. Before the epidural, if I walked a quarter mile, I would have to rest for a full day in order to recover. I typically couldn't walk a quarter mile straight through anyway. I would have to sit down for a break. Now I can walk a half mile, sit down for about ten minutes and feel almost entirely refreshed. 
  • I can stand at the stove and cook meals. Yes, I do have to sit down sometimes to rest while something simmers, but I couldn't even dream of cooking a month ago. This is a significant improvement for me because I was getting pretty tired of eating my husband's "food". I can't make especially complicated things, but I'm able to feed myself again and cook some dinners for the two of us. Making a lasagna was probably my biggest accomplishment. 
  • I can sleep on my belly again! This is my most favorite way to sleep, and it was entirely out of the question for all of June and for most of this month too. In fact, I only started doing it three or four nights ago. I can't sleep like that the whole night because I become somewhat uncomfortable after a bit (I think it makes me a little stiff? Not sure.). But it does not cause any pain or aggravate my neurological symptoms (tingling, numbness).
  • Speaking of neurological symptoms, they are much less severe and sometimes are entirely absent. Some of my exercises (primarily "superman" and balancing on my bad leg) instigate the symptoms, but I have been doing those specific exercises for only a week and a half and the symptoms are growing less intense already. I'm mostly relieved that the numbness in my toes has disappeared (or else I just don't feel it anymore?). 
This Saturday I'm flying to Greece. I'm excited, of course, but I'm also nervous. It's the flight that has me feeling most anxious. I'm able to sit for much longer periods than I used to be able to (~3-4 hours, as compared with 30 minutes), but when things start to hurt, the only thing I can do is lie down. So that might be a little tricky when I'm trapped in economy class. Boo hoo.

Will report back on how it goes, of course. Let's be honest, I'm pretty lucky to be going to Greece!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Pain of Thinking Thoughts

This article came to my attention today.

It's about a study which found that many students are so averse to sitting alone with their own thoughts that they instead opt to push a button that sends an electric shock to themselves. Yes, they shock themselves so that they can have something else to do, something other than thinking.

This is how the study worked: the students have wires attached to their skin which, when a button is pushed, will deliver mild electric shocks. The student is given the button and put in a room with only a chair. They are told to sit and simply think until the researcher returned. This solitude lasts for only 15 minutes.

Of the males in the study, two-thirds shocked themselves. Only one-fourth of females did. Some shocked themselves multiple times, the furthest outlier being a male who did it 190 times.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Oh.Em.Gee. What?

The researchers surmise that the need for stimulation and an escape from the quiet of thinking is something very basic in human psychology. It's not a result of our fast-paced, electronic and social media driven lifestyle. Rather, our willingness to invest time in those things is a result of this aspect of our psychology.

Bottom line: a lot of people just hate thinking.

They don't just dislike it or find it boring. They flat out hate it. Loathe it.

All of the subjects in the study said in a survey prior to their 15 minutes of thinking that they would pay money in order to avoid a mild electric shock. All of them. Every single one. And then they administered that shock to themselves when they were faced with the task of thinking for 15 minutes.

If the researchers are right that this is some basic feature of our psychology, then I must say... I suddenly have a new found respect for all the deep thinkers, inventors, and scientists of our collective ancestry.

And I also must say... how is it that the deep thinkers/inventors/scientists have largely been men when it is men who are most averse to thought? Riddle me this.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A blog change

They say that love is a madness. And this isn't just the non-descript pack of "theys" that fill out all of our normative sensibilities and cultural lore. Plato said it in the Phaedrus. Shakespeare said it in As You Like It. It's worked its way into our drinking water, and now we all--I think--can make sense of the idea.

Nietzsche, too, associates madness with a kind of desire to break free. It's a philosophical need, a "you must," as he calls it. It's a drive to reach beyond the form of life that looks so comfortable and easy. He says,

"That one wants to go out there, up there, may be a minor madness, a peculiar and unreasonable 'You must'..."

So this is the inspiration for my new blog title. The old name ("Yum Run") represents a period of my life when I was excited--mad even--about starting a relationship with running and learning how to cook. But there are so many other things in my life that inspire a slow burning passionate madness, a love, a need for knowledge and adventure and to transcend this life.

It's not necessarily that I want to share more of those other passions on this blog. It's that I already do. This entirely unimportant corner of the blogosphere isn't just about running and recipes. I may not blog as frequently as I used to, but when I do, I tend to share my thoughts about everything from news stories to my crazy long distance marriage to the trials and tribulations of writing a dissertation.

I love all of these things in my life. I have a little madness for all of them.

So this blog change doesn't represent any kind of change in me or in what I write about on my blog, really. It's about embracing my zaniness and my desire to take the whole world in my hands. Because I'm in love with all of it.

I hope you'll stick with me!