Friday, March 27, 2009

Lazy Monks

Whit and I left our affectionate donkeys, cats, and islands to head into the heart of Greece, northeast of Athens. The destination was Meteora, a place with even more rocks and monks, this time luckily in the same place. Just to recap quickly and add to the confusion already present, so far in the travel blog there have been writings on Madeira – Portugal, Matera – Italy, and Meteora – Greece. I can’t even really keep them straight at this point, but suffice to say they are all different locations. Meteora is in the mountainous region of Greece and was at one point a gigantic lake ringed by a tall mountain range. Eventually one of the surrounding mountains split open and let all of the water in the lake run out to the neighboring regions, leaving many of the rocks in the middle of the lake smooth towering spires of stone rising thousands of feet in the air. Eventually the stone towers became home to hermits living alone in the cracks and nooks where they could find shelter and a life of isolation. Further and further they would climb up, sometimes only coming down for resupplies of food once or twice a month. In time the hermits were united under the banner of Christianity and banded together to form one of the first monasteries of the region, naming it the “Grand Meteoran” and leading into the naming of the whole outcropping as “Meteora”.

There are many theories of how the first monks were able to get the initial materials up to the top of the un-climbable cliffs, but my personal favorite one is that they flew kites attached with light ropes to the top, then used the small ropes to haul up larger ones, eventually creating rope ladders and a complex pulley system for hauling up monks and materials. Like Oscar Wilde, my theory on factual information is that I'll believe anything more interesting, the more outlandish the story, the more truthful it becomes by sheer intrigue. So we'll go with the kite scenario. In reality though, it was probably closer to a series of wood/rope ladders worked up slowly, as can still be seen in the image in the very bottom of the post.

About 6 of the original 18 monasteries are functioning today [we were able to get into only four due to really odd scheduled open hours]. It used to be that the only way to access most of them was either rope ladder, a large net brought up by a pulley, or a small gondola like machine. Only in the 1920’s and 30’s were the stone staircases created to bring tourists up to the heights, before that the monks lived in relative isolation. Why the need for escapism? Why not live down in the valley like normal people and just build higher walls? There is a profound beauty that surpasses standard notions of a "nice view" when you get up to the top of one of the monasteries. A stillness of sound pervades the air and the villages below turn into abstract canvases flecked with a muted palette of colors.

In the frantic pace of many of the metropolitan areas, I sometimes forget that spaces still exist that are apart from the elbow bumping and car horns. As cities expand outwards even more and the human population increases what happens to our spaces of isolation and stillness? Do they then become even more precious by their relative scarcity and lack of availability? Does quiet become something that is as easily commodifiable as bottled water? Quiet bars maybe? Crazy thoughts perhaps, but I've become more aware on my travels of the people, similar to those brave sailors striking out in the great blue nothing in Moby Dick, that actively seek out these spaces of remoteness and extremity. Monasteries in particular are one of the few buildings that necessitate a certain amount of space for reflection and contemplation. The trial of actually getting to the places is half of their architectural power I believe. It's similar to a hot bowl of Zataran's Rice and Beans with beef jerky thrown after a day of long hiking in the rain [Matt F. I'm looking in your direction here]. At the grueling end of a journey, anything tastes better than than nothing, though in that case it was really good beans and rice. In order to record the process of actually getting to these remote environments, I've gotten the "TaylorCAM" up and running again after some more initial testing. Whats the TaylorCAM you ask? Images to come soon, but suffice to say it makes me look like a terrorist and takes a bunch of pictures.

Oh, and there has been some confusion about my flickr photos [mainly because the link is more or less hidden], but if you hunger for more pictures you can click the ".Flickr Pictures! Hooray!" link on the right side of the website or just click here to stare at colored pixels to your hearts content. The photos are also organized in sets broken down to country on the right side of the flickr page if you want to search that way.

Thoughts on Traveling #9 : Using the word "special" to describe something only makes it special the first 10 times or so. Whitney and I found this out after our pension [hotel] owner used it on everything from dinner, wine, his fire, prices, books, and I think at one point his mother's laundry skills. By the way, this blog is "special".

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