Grand Canyon 2022, Day 5

We watched the Canyon again today.

We did so by driving out to Desert View, on the eastern end of the park, and then stopping at nearly every viewpoint on the way back.

The main attraction at Desert View, other than the Canyon, is the Watchtower, designed by Mary Colter back in the 1930s. Like the Canyon itself, it is endlessly fascinating to watch: Colter’s vision of an organic structure resulted in stonework that at first appears random, but upon closer examination is intricately designed.

The whole area is being redeveloped in concert with the Eleven Associated Tribes to feature an Inter-Tribal Cultural Heritage Site, hopefully to be open next year.

The view from the Watchtower is, of course, spectacular.

It’s the point at which the Colorado River does a hard right and heads west, dropping some 300 feet almost immediately.

We found a shaded spot, popped out our camp chairs, and settled in for some Canyon watching.

There, unbelievably, trails down there.

We have questions for Park Rangers. For example, in this next photo, if you find the rapids on the left side, right above them is a little white spot on the cliff. Even with binoculars we could not tell what it was, since it’s surrounded by completely black rock.

I will not insist that you participate in our stop-by-stop Canyon watching, but I’ll share some things.

Another view of the mighty Colorado River. As a fellow watcher commented, “It doesn’t look that big to have done all this.” Of course, it’s a matter of scale — the river is about 300 feet across.


At one of the stops, thistles:

The junipers are laden with berries…

…which got me to thinking. Some enterprising entity, perhaps the Eleven Associated Tribes, could ethically harvest juniper berries and package them for people who are interested in distillations and infusions, i.e., teas, essential oils, gin.

One would not offer just the juniper, of course. There’s desert sage…

… piñon trees, germander, all kinds of herbs and plants that could be harvested and sold to the likes of me.

At one of the stops, a trio of ravens greeted us, and after they hung around a bit, I shared my water with them. Always — always — make friends with the ravens.

I’m not sure what this shrub is, but its blooms are nice. Is it juniper? All the other junipers were in full berry.

Even the dead trees are picturesque.

My Lovely First Wife adventuring out onto a promontory. A bit.

One last panoramic view:

Back at the Village, we decided on a multi-phase plan. First, we’d check out the Hopi House for a couple of items we’re still looking for. Then we’d slip into El Tovar’s cocktail lounge and have a drink and a charcuterie to tide us over. Then we’d sit out and watch the sunset, which is always the main event. After that, we’d retreat to the Bright Angel Tavern for a light supper.

The gang was back.

Including this goober. How the hell did he get into a fenced-in garden?

Not only that, but when we came back around from Hopi House, he was gone. Over charcuterie, we asked the waitress if she knew how he did it. Yep, all of them know just to push their way under the fence. Later there was another one in there.

After we finished our cocktails, my Lovely First Wife suggested that I run back to the cabin to get the chairs while she paid the bill. (It is not a short distance back to the cabin.)

That’s okay. I got to see the fawn suckling.

It’s eating grass, but it’s still dappled and still wants its milk.

We settled in to watch the sunset, and now I will walk you through how the Canyon is one of the most watchable places ever.

Your establishing shot:

(We were joined by this little bug, who trundled back and forth in front of us the whole time.)

As the sun sets, the Canyon goes darker…

…and darker…

…while the sky above remains brilliant.

This sunset had an extra bit; since the sun was behind clouds while it was setting…

…when it finally sank to the horizon, its light escaped the clouds and…

… the Canyon was lit again, for a moment.

The sun…

…the Canyon…

…and then, behind us…

So, just your typical sunset over your typical Canyon with your typical rainbow with your typical elk grazing all around you.

Finally, the sun set.

We headed back down to Bright Angel Lodge, where we greeted our bartender Christine and had a light supper of fish and chips. We told her of our sunset experience and she commented that camp chairs are on her list to acquire, so we immediately offered her ours. We can’t take them back with us and we were wondering how best to gift them to someone else. (Apparently there’s a gear swap kind of thing, but we can just give ours to Christine.)

One more day!

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 4

After breakfast, we hopped the bus to go over to Market Plaza, and I was startled to be warned by the bus:

It took me a long moment to realize it was the bus driver’s name.

One of my goals in coming here was to replenish my supply of local gins:

Mission accomplished.

Once we secured our purchases back at the cabin, we walked down to the Red shuttle to head out to Hermit’s Rest.

Neighbors greeted us.

I don’t think they were actually getting ready to head down into the Canyon — heat advisories for the bottom are off the charts — so perhaps their trainers just bring them over here to keep them in the habit.

A selfie while waiting for the shuttle, in my new Panama hat.

Our goal in heading out to Hermit’s Rest was to be away from the hustle and bustle of the Village and to sit and watch the Canyon. (We took our purchased-at-Walmart-in-Flagstaff-for-$5.99 lawn chairs for this purpose.)

[A chipmunk just jumped up on the wall next to me, greeted me, and chirped along its way.]

Which is a nice segue back to Hermit’s Rest, where we started by getting an ice cream from concessions and sitting to eat. Victor joined us.

Who’s Victor, you ask?

The most dangerous beast in the Canyon, your ground squirrel. They are fearless and opportunistic, and you must not feed them. Which of course two boys from Russia were doing, so Victor and his cohort were all over the place. I’ve found that if they’re insistent, just blow in their little faces and they get the hint.

Victor, after getting the hint:

We moved on out from the concession area towards the Hermit’s Rest trailhead and found a spot in the shade with a relatively unobstructed view of the Canyon, and we sat.

We sat for over an hour, just watching the Canyon: it changes in the light every minute, and if you nap (or blog) and then look up, it’s a completely different place than when you last looked.

A strange and wonderful thing! We were sitting there when we noticed a sundog above us.

It was faint, but it was large. There were two segments, so I got up to take a better picture, and behold: it was actually the outer of two rainbows.

This is a good vacation.

Eventually we headed back to the cabin and rested up. We dressed for dinner at El Tovar and began walking up to the Lodge while the sun was setting.

We turned a small corner and…

… a young elk trying to drink from a leaky water pipe. The southwest is in the worst drought ever, and the wildlife is suffering along with the humans, so it wasn’t surprising that this animal took advantage of our infrastructure. People were fascinated and respectful, although as we moved on to El Tovar there was one girl who seemed to be moving right up to the beast.

Dinner was lovely, though the dining room was very hot and stuffy. After dinner we stopped at the lounge for a final drink before heading back to the cabin:

l to r: an Ellsworth Kolb (named after one of the brothers who relentlessly photographed and promoted the Canyon back in the day), which is brandy, Amaretto, clove, and cinnamon, and which I have been told I need to replicate ; and a good old gin and tonic.

I will say that I am a little surprised that the cocktail game at Xanterra’s establishments isn’t stronger. At the very least, shouldn’t they be offering the local gins and vodkas in their cocktails? They should hire me as an artist-in-residence for a year to up their game.

Anyway, heading back to the cabin we encountered: a gray fox on its evening rounds; three young elk grazing by El Tovar; two baby elk curled up in front of the Thunderbird Lodge; and their mother, sitting across the sidewalk and watching us calmly but alertly.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 3

My view this morning as I blog:

There is a difference between traveling and vacationing. When you travel, you’re Going To All The Places and Doing All The Things. When you vacation, you don’t. Usually when I blog about these things, we’re traveling, but this is a vacation. I’m determined it’s going to be a vacation, and so far my Lovely First Wife agrees with me. (It was a close call when we drove past Petrified Forest National Park on our way to Grand Canyon, but we tabled the idea.)

So you will have to forgive me if these posts are not as detailed, interesting, or amusing as they usually might be.

Day 3, Santa Fe. The International Folk Art Market (IFAM) is quite the org, despite not making it clear on their website that although the festivities did indeed begin July 5, the actual market didn’t open until July 7. We drove to the location where IFAM had shuttle buses to drive us to Museum Hill, hopped aboard the bus, and had a pleasant conversation with a nice Texan lady, whose husband’s stoicism became understandable as the journey wore on and it became apparent, after she repeated the Ali McGraw story, that she had some kind of memory loss.

We were there on the special “early bird” tickets so that we could do the Market and then hit the road to Arizona and not end up pulling into Bright Angel Lodge at midnight. Here’s the line to get in:

It moved quickly enough. Here’s a uninteresting shot of one of the tents:

There were over 100 artists from all over the world. You may be thinking of “folk art” as being somehow primitive or lacking on polish or sophistication, but the wares of this market were nothing of the kind. All “folk art” indicates is that it springs from a folk tradition, not from the art academy.

Again, I failed to take many photos, but here’s an extravagant example:

There were a lot of textiles and jewelry, baskets and useful objects, and a smattering of purely decorative items. I had expected to be overwhelmed with things that needed to come home with me, but there was actually very little that appealed.

Part of the problem was that everything was extremely expensive. There were some really funky straw hats from Africa that I could have worn to a burn, but not for $250. The first woven shirt that appealed to me was $500. You can see why I could resist purchasing. I did walk away with an actual Panama hat (from Ecuador, of course) and a couple of brass temple bells for the labyrinth, but even there I imagine I could find the same objects for a lot less money elsewhere.

Another problem, at least for me, was that most of the merchandise was far more professionally produced than I was comfortable with. I mean, do folk artists always sew laundry care tags into their shirts? I just didn’t sense a lot of folk in the art.

And so, regrettably, we can not recommend the International Folk Art Market as a Thing To Do. The Folk Art Museum is, of course, one of the most amazing places you will ever visit, but the Market is for very rich ladies who decorate.

We hit the road, down I-25 and across I-40 to Flagstaff. Because I was driving, I don’t have any photos of the amazing landscapes through which we drove. After we switched off, I did manage to wrangle a shot or two.

In Flagstaff we stopped at our favorite little hippie crystal store to buy silver chains for some of our new jewelry — yes, we have a favorite hippie crystal store to buy silver chains in — and then at Wal-Mart for a few necessities like a couple of camp chairs so we can just sit here and watch the light change over the Canyon. Then it was a beautiful drive up Hwy 180 to Valle — again, we were practically the only car on the road — and on up to Grand Canyon.

::deep breaths::

We moved into our Bright Angel Lodge cabin, strolled up to the Lodge, and had a light supper at the bar, making friends with the bartender and a couple of park employees, and feeling that urge to chuck it all and come here to work.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 2

We began our day with a sun-dog, always a pleasure.

After a leisurely breakfast at Henry & the Fish coffee shop/bakery, we were on our way to Canyon Road, the heart of gallery art here in Santa Fe. We parked at the east end and walked all the way down to the Teahouse, where we had lunch.

In between we stopped at most of the galleries on the way. So many beautiful things in that half-mile stretch, but none of them claimed my attention the way the Thomas Hamann piece did in New Orleans. (There are some ideas that I’m STEALING FROM THE BEST for my own purposes…)

There was one piece that struck me, part of an exhibit at the Historic Santa Fe Foundation, by artist-in-residence Julia Tait Dickenson. We almost didn’t go in, because we all know how Hysterical Societies can be, but it was staffed by a lovely volunteer and the exhibit was a knockout: Dickenson makes brooms using natural materials, with found objects for the handles.

Don’t raise those eyebrows; these things were gorgeous, a challenge to regard every object you come across in your daily life as a similarly potential handle.

This one spoke to me:

It is an Dogon folk carving with glass beads. I needed this to hang on the wall in the playroom with all my other labyrinth-oriented artwork. But if you see that little red dot on the card, you will know that the broom had already been sold. Why I didn’t see it to begin with is beyond me, but I was doomed to disappointment when we stopped back by to buy it on the way back to the car.

Oh well, it’s not as if we’re not heading to an International Folk Art Market in the morning. Also, I got the artist’s contact info and will see if she has a similar piece for me.

After a quick nap back at the hotel, we headed to our major event for the day: Meow Wolf.

Oh my. We have been to Santa Fe multiple times but somehow never made it to this astounding installation. This trip I was determined that we would do the thing.

And it is a thing.

I am not going to attempt to describe it to you other than to say it is mind-blowing. A group of artists has taken a building and converted it into a labyrinthine fun-house of surreal multiple realities.

Here’s a picture of us getting lost before we even started. (We headed down the hall to the bathrooms instead of entering the exhibit itself.)

Graffiti in said hall:

When we finally made it to the correct entrance:

Yep, it’s a house, the home of a family that has somehow triggered a multiverse catastrophe. Don’t believe me? Just open that refrigerator and go on through. Or slide down the washing machine. Or crawl through the fireplace.

I don’t know what happened to my camerawork, but this is the forest we found ourselves in.

Nothing is normal. There are stairs, balconies, rooms, secret passages. Cabinets open to reveal surprises. Everything is topsy-turvy. Everything betrays multiple intelligences working together to screw with your brain.

Rooms exist outside our reality:

There is a narrative, of sorts, about what happened to this family, with clues everywhere, and that’s a whole meta-layer to the experience that you engage with at your peril. I made note of it (I liked the hamster showing up repeatedly) but soon just gave myself over to the experience. My Lovely First Wife persisted in untangling the threads.

Every surface:

Inside the ice cooler:

See the buttons? Each one changed the colors and activities of the lights as well as the sound track.

Then there was this room:

…where the button-eyes of the critters launched some really fine EDM. From there, we exited into an underwater fantasy:

There was a room with a “laser harp”: thin red threads of light that, when you “plucked” them, created sounds. There were tiny hideouts. There was a seat that put you on your back and when you slid into it you found yourself looking up to the front of the bus that apparently was taking off to the International Space Station. There was always more to see.

It takes about two hours to wander around, get unlost, and go on your way.

We found ourselves in awe of the thing on multiple levels. First, there was the sheer audacity/exuberance of the installation. It dared you not to be blown away by what you were seeing and experiencing.

Second, there was the incredible inventiveness of the artists involved. Some rooms had displays of dozens of tschotschkes each of which had been had crafted into some surreal little thing. Whole cities from an alternate universe might be floating over you. Soundscapes were different in every space. Banks of TV monitors had odd things playing on loop. The house was full of family photos, personal documents, newspapers. It was dense.

(We noted afterwards that it’s extremely family friendly. There’s nothing in the least lewd in the exhibits, and even the aliens who wandered around every now and then weren’t scary. The children who were there were having a blast.)

Lastly, there was the architectural/theatrical design: a twisty maze of space, each area flowing into the next, with the literal two-story house giving way to the multiverse with stairs and slides and walkways. Every structure was secure and sturdy, and exits were clearly marked. It was obvious that a lot of thought had gone into making the space as safe as it could be.

We can highly, highly recommend Meow Wolf (now with installations in Vegas and Denver).

After exiting through the gift shop and into the relative silence and calm of the New Mexico evening, we decamped to Tonic, which seems to be the only craft cocktail bar in Santa Fe that we could find. The drinks were excellent, and the bartenders even rose to the occasion when I asked that I wanted a Manhattan but “do something to it.”

I will be trying the Seaside Negroni at home, albeit with a correctly spelled naval strength gin.

And that was day 2 of our vacation.

Grand Canyon 2022, Day 1

I’m sure there should be a rule about blogging a trip before I have finished blogging about a previous trip, i.e., Greece, but here we are. We live such a glamorous lifestyle — this summer alone we have Greece, To The Moon burn, Grand Canyon, placement trip to Cherokee Farms, minor surgery — that it’s hard to keep up. Apologies.

Our friend Leonard Winters has moved to Santa Fe and alerted us to the International Folk Art Market, associated with the International Folk Art Museum, which you will recall I adore. (Is Leonard here to welcome us to his new town? Of course not; he’s back in Newnan selling his house.)

I checked the dates, booked a flight/car/hotel, then decided that we’d hit the IFAM (as it is familiarly known) on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday, then drive to Grand Canyon on Thursday for the rest of the week. Perfect.

You may imagine my surprise when we arrived in Santa Fe to find that the Market actually doesn’t open to the public until Thursday. “July 5” was simply when the correlative festivities start, including a $1000/person gala opening on Wednesday night. ::sigh:: The travails of the glamorous, amirite?

We landed in Albuquerque and headed to the Payless car rental desk. Hilarity ensued. First of all, Payless doesn’t have a desk. They have a little printed sign alerting you that the Budget desk is handling those rentals. The gentleman who assisted me seemed to be some kind of management person who was filling in and not at all familiar with how the Payless interface worked, but he finally got it all worked out.

We headed out to the car, which actually was the first one we came to. After loading our stuff in the back, I noticed the note scrawled on the driver’s side window: DEAD BATTERY. I checked; it was dead. Back I went to the Budget desk, where I lucked out and got the more competent young man. He typed a bit and gave me a much nicer car, a Ford Edge.

I will say now that I love living in the space future, with its Apple CarPlay and large format navigation touchscreens. I may need a new car in the near future.

As is traditional, we hit a Wal-Mart for water and snacks for the road. We had begun following the “quickest route,” i.e., I-25, but before we left Wal-Mart we decided to head up Hwy 14, the Turquoise Trail, and have lunch in Madrid.

Here’s your first Pro Tip: If time is not of the essence, eschew I-25 in favor of Hwy 14. If you don’t stop in Madrid, it adds only 20 minutes to your travel time, and you are often the only car on the road. No interstate traffic, no maniacs riding your tail, no endless billboards and Hooters.

Instead you get this:

Spectacular. We stopped in Madrid (MAD-rid) for lunch and little light shopping. At first glance, Madrid is just a haphazard collection of shops and galleries splattered on either side of a couple of curves of Hwy 14, but it’s a thriving community. A former coal mining town, it retains all that social and physical infrastructure and is quite a happening  little place.

For example, at the Mine Shaft Cafe where we ate lunch — great burgers! — they have an incredible lineup of live music for the weekends:

“Scorch folk”? I had to look it up.

We pulled into Santa Fe and headed to Las Palomas, the little boutique hotel we discovered on our cross-country trek back in 2013. It has not changed: still funky and delightful.

Yes, that’s a dead tree, painted blue, with yellow birds perched on it.

We settled in, and that’s when I discovered that the Folk Art Market didn’t exist for the likes of us until Thursday morning, necessitating some jiggering of plans. Stay tuned.

We did a little heavy shopping — jewelry and a couple of hats — then headed over to the Plaza for the first public part of the Art Market, a parade of all the artists from the various countries. There were about 100 artists from literally everywhere, with volunteers carrying little signs just like the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. (There was one guy from Texas.)

It was very exciting. The festivities continued with each nation being invited onto the stage and invited to sing or dance or whatever. It was not, alas, very interesting, and we were not in a position to see it very well, so we decamped to the rooftop bar at La Fonda hotel.

My first-class margarita, and my Lovely First Wife’s clarified milk punch. That was very tasty, but the process involved in making such a thing is prohibitive.

Santa Fe. The rooftop view was not perhaps its best side, but the landscape is lovely.

We walked back to Las Palomas to change for dinner at 315, one of our favorite restaurants from our trip here in 2018. The food was marvelous, the wine was great.

Sidebar: I must note that the pandemic has dealt a serious blow to the cocktail community in terms of production. Several months ago I noticed that Averna Amaro had disappeared from the shelves, and when I checked with some Twitter neighbors (including Sother Teague of Amor y Amargo) I found that the east coast at least had been without Averna for five months. The west coast confirmed. Now it appears that green Chartreuse is also missing. This is serious, people.

On the way to 315, we passed by the San Miguel Church, which we had not seen before.

It is in fact the oldest church structure in the U.S. The original adobe walls and altar were built in 1610, about the same time as Saint Augustine was getting going over on our side of the continent.

We made it back to the hotel, where I was delighted by one change in the place:

Lights on our bird tree!

Greece, Day 7, Part 2

Sunday afternoon we went to the National Gallery of Contemporary Art. There is a National Gallery of Art, but reviews said the collection was pretty weak, mostly 19th-c. oils. We opted for exciting.

And boy did we get it.

EMST, as it is known, is in a renovated brewery, so it’s big and it’s industrial. Right off the bat, in the lobby:

A yarn-bomb tree made up of afghans and community-built additions. Have some details:

The building is five stories tall, and the escalators go straight up. Fun fact: they are motion-triggered, so when no one’s around they don’t waste energy going up or down.

The main collection is on the third floor, and at the moment the works displayed deal with the dispossession of immigrants and refugees, which of course is a major concern to eastern Europe at the moment.

As soon as you get off the escalator on the third floor, you’re confront with Fix It,  Mona Hatoum (2004).

It’s made of stuff she found in the old FIX brewery as they were gutting it for the museum. It’s disturbing and compelling.

Most of the work in this collection was disturbing and compelling.

Untitled, Jannis Kounellis, (2004)

99 Names, Kutlug Ataman (2002)

Memorial to 418 Palestinian Villages which were Destroyed, Depopulated and Occupied by Israel in 1948, Emily Jacir (2001)

This refugee camp tent is stenciled with the names of those villages; the artist then invited volunteers to stitch in the names by hand.

Up on the fourth floor, the art was less confrontational/political, more aesthetically conceptual.

Hebraic Embrace, Lucas Samaras, (1991–2005)

In action:

Tolle Blanche, Katzourakis Michalis (1976)

The precise incisions in the medium were what made this piece for me.

Another piece by the same artist:

Untitled, Katzourakis Michalis (1978–79)

This piece was sly. You round a wall and see these cool, elegant panes of glass…

…and then you realize that the “gallery wall” you just walked around is actually part of the piece:

On to the fifth floor.

A glacier at our table, Nikos Tranos (2013)

From the label: “The sculptural installation of Nikos Tranos refers to the climate conditions expected to prevail on the planet after a widespread nuclear war. The mutated pink figures […] allude to the colour of the hospital wing where the victims of radioactive poisoning were treated after the nuclear disaster at the Dalichi plant in Fukushima in 2011.”

Gate, Nikos Alexiou (2007)

This one is made out of folded paper.

The simplest of materials, the simplest of strategies, the simplest of designs, repeated and varied:

Large liquid, Leda Papaconstantinou (1991)

Made of aluminum, wood, and tar. Detail:

Same idea:

Serial de-re-structures, Bia Davou (1992)

This consists of 367 drawings, created by the artist based on a system of sequential structures, e.g., dots on a grid.

This same artist produced the extravagant Sails:

I liked the textures on this one, the use of the fabric versus the medium:

I/1977, Danil (1977)

Detail of that center:

As soon as I saw this piece, I knew that my Lovely First Wife would immediately fall in love with its obsessive categorization and tidy storage of materials.

Untitled (Tables), Nikos Alexiou (2007–2011) (He made the wall piece Gate above.)

I was not mistaken.

This piece was lovely:

At Home, Niki Kanagini (1975)

The exhibit’s grand finale was grand indeed. You entered a room to find a fenced enclosure.

When you walked around to the entrance…

The Boat of My Life, Ilya Kabakov (1993)

This boat was filled with huge cardboard packing boxes. Each of those was filled with clothing, as if packed for a move. On top of each box’s contents was a poster board with random objects with cryptic quotes.

The last box was empty, as if waiting for that final packing.


I’ll post this again in my Pro Tips post, but one of the distinct disadvantages of a tour like Gate 1 is that you do not ever get to spend the time in a museum like we did at both the Archaeological Museum and this one. In fact, neither museum was on the tour or even pointed out as we drove past. That may not be a sticking point for you; Gate 1 does a booming business without catering to the artsy types like me, so as always your mileage may vary.

After the museum and a break, we headed to the main district, hoping to find a good cocktail bar.

The Acropolis was looking lovely…

…as was the Temple of Jupiter…

…but as usual, Athens disappointed us with its cocktail paucity.

The ambience was, as usual, fabulous.

And as fate would have it, we ended up not at a cocktail bar but at a wine bar, Vintage.

We had a salad, a cheese plate, and the best wines I’ve ever had ever. They have over 800 bottles from which you can order by the glass, and the waiter/steward will gently quiz you on your tastes before bringing you one amazing glass after another. Highly highly recommended!

Next up: We backtrack to hit Day 3 and Day 4, then Pro Tips!

Greece, Day 7, part 1

Our last full day in Athens, we decided to divide it between the National Archaeological Museum and the National Gallery of Contemporary Art. Gird your loins: there are a lot of photos today.

The Archaeological Museum is as big as it looks. Here are just some of the things I found interesting.

The earliest sculptures from the Cycladic period are beyond modern in their sparse detailing. This very 20th-c.–looking piece was originally painted; you can still see traces of paint on its left eye.

This jaunty musician playing an aulos was, like most pieces from this period, a votive offering.

This is a fragment of a Minoan mural, a wall decorated with flying fish, like wallpaper. If I ever get around to writing my book Lessons from the Folk, this could be an illustration of the concept that, left to their own devices, humans will prefer the ornate to the simple.

During the Geometric period, the pottery decorations were just that: circles, spirals, squares, and the meander.

The tall one astonished me with its simplicity, especially compared to all the masterworks around it.

Is he not adorable? He’s a little bowl in the form of a hedgehog. I am not sure why the museum shop did not have replicas of him, because he’d be sitting on my desk right this very moment. (In general the museum shop has completely missed the boat on marketable items.)

I loved this little bowl, because the meander decoration around its rim is so clumsy. Either the potter was a beginner, or they were “trying something new.”

Because look at this piece, a “frying pan,” and apparently that’s exactly what these are. Look at the decoration on that thing, the intricate and meticulous design, the precise construction. Whoever did the clumsy bowl above was not representative of what that culture could do.

Or this piece, with its extravagant geometrics. Notice the little meander in the vertical rectangles.

Or this one, with its over-the-top octopus (a major motif in this period). These nicer vases were made for export, both alone and filled with olive oil.

Or even this one, from an earlier period. Its decoration is not as sophisticated as the two pots above, but the artist clearly has a sure hand.

I thought this was a little man, but it’s a Mycenæan shin guard. Made of gold, as one does.

Then we move into the sculptures.

A satyr from the Archaic period; his little quokka smile is typical of the style. I had never seen a sculpture of a satyr from this period, and I don’t remember ever seeing a clothed one from any period.

Of course the place is littered with Hellenistic sculptures of impossibly beautiful bodies. This is — they think — Paris; he would have been holding the golden apple in his right hand.

A decoration for a theatre, a comic mask from the New Comedy period. (That’s when comedy stopped being political satires [Aristophanes] and started being slapstick romcoms [Menander, Plautus].)

This fragment interested me because it looked like an actual portrait, a real human being and not some idealized god or emperor. I had to double-check the dates on the plaque, it looked so much like a 19th-c. piece.

Check out the fire extinguisher in the background for scale. This would have come from an enormous statue of Zeus from a temple.

From a funerary sculpture. Look how sweetly the doggo is looking back up at his beloved owner.

Then there was the jewelry. This is a golden wreath of oak leaves. I’d wear it.

What a necklace! Have a closeup:

The band is woven, and the little leaves are individually and precisely made. Those dark spots on the leaves are garnets.

Little clay figurines of actors/characters from comedies.

There was so much more. My brain began to dissociate from all the craftmanship it was seeing, so many objects of beauty from so long ago, rescued somehow from the great drain of Time and preserved here. Believe me, I have more photos than I have shown here.

I’ll pick up the Museum Contemporary Art tomorrow.

Greece, Day 6

Another free day in Athens instead of sailing the Aegean Sea nonstop with Gate 1.

But first, you have to see the insane little elevators at our hotel, the Callirhoe Athens Exclusive Hotel:

They make us laugh every time.

Believe it or not, this disruption of our tour is actually a silver lining. Tours are great, but they are nonstop. You visit many places, but don’t really get to see a lot of any of them. Having three days to stay put is a wonderful opportunity to explore places here that we either didn’t have enough time to on the tour, or didn’t see at all.

For example, on our romp through the Acropolis, we did not get to see the Theatre of Dionysus, the birthplace of Western theatre, because it was at the bottom of the hill not the top. That was our first stop.

Here’s a statue of Silenus, the tutor of Dionysus, regarded as a symbol both of wisdom and of riotous drunkenness. I’m okay with both.

Notice his shaggy body, sharply contrasted with the oh-so-smooth skin of your regular Olympian. Actors portraying Silenus and other satyrs wore hairy body suits (and outrageous priapuses, but let that pass).

Another Silenus statue:

On the way up the hill, we passed the compound of temples/altars dedicated to Dionysus.

And here we are.

One thing to remember is that the seating extended all the way up the hill. This place could seat tens of thousands, and that’s important because theatre in Athens was a crucial civic/religious event. You didn’t just go see a play, you went to see three tragedies (a trilogy by a single playwright) and a comedy (by a different playwright) every day for the length of the festival. It was not only a religious gathering, it was a competition: the winning playwrights would be awarded an ivy wreath/crown.


Another angle of the theatre. You can see where the stairs went all the way up the hill.

The front row was where the dignitaries and judges sat. They got actual seats, unlike the rest of the crowd.

There were two temples to Dionysus in the compound. This is where the old one was:

And the new one:

Me, declaiming something, probably the lyrics from “Comedy Tonight.”

The altar was outside, because who wants to burn a sacrificed ox inside?

After we had soaked in the ambience of our origins as much as possible, we headed over to the Acropolis Museum, which you will recall we had visited on our first day. Now, however, without the pressure of the tour schedule, we were able to take our time and dig deeper into the archæology and history of the place.

Here are the ruins uncovered in its construction. Notice how the building perches above them. Excavations are ongoing.

Inside, again, there are glass floors which allow you to see all the way down.

Of course, as a kilt wearer I was acutely aware that they also allowed you to look all the way up. I tried to walk on the beams. (Frankly, the skirts of the kilt are so voluminous that I doubt anyone two stories below would have seen anything to be shocked by.)

Many interesting artifacts on display, but these I found especially fascinating.

They are mortars and pestles used by the artisans who painted all the sculptures and buildings, and what I realized is that they’re more ergonomic than the ones we use in our kitchens today: the bent handle means you can use it like an iron.

After the museum we strolled for a while, bought some gifts, and then rested for a while before a lovely dinner somewhere I already cannot remember.

Greece, Day 5

When last we left our hero and his Lovely First Wife, he had been released from medical care in the ER in Lamia, Greece, and their tour with Gate 1 was over.

And now, the rest of the story.

What, did you think was going to happen, that we were just going to get on a plane and come home? We considered it. We looked into just bagging it all and coming home, but Delta was going to charge us $2500 to switch flights from our already-booked flight on Monday to a flight on Saturday that by their own admission was not full.

(This was especially galling since the flight we took to get here was overbooked and Delta was offering, if you recall, more than $2,000 for people to hop off, and I’m going to bet right now that the flight on Monday is already overbooked. (And if it is, as soon as they offer people $800 to give up the flight, we’re going to counteroffer with $2,500 so they can go ahead and get the plane loaded, and we’ll spend another night in Athens.))

So we decided to stay until our regularly scheduled flight. Gate 1 was phenomenal, finding us a hotel in Athens for the rest of our stay, an apparently Herculean task since there was to be an antique car rally in town. (For the record, we have seen no antique cars.)

Thursday night we remained in Lamia, heading downtown to dine and stroll. My shrimp and saffron risotto at the Odos Odeiron:

About €10, folks.

The main square was hopping, with families and kids and teens and a fabulous dancing waters fountain.

Lamia had been decsribed to us as a “village,” but it’s a town of 80,000. It’s just not on the tourist path.

When we inquired about hiring a cab to take us back to Athens, Ifigenia, the lovely clerk at the hotel, suggested we take the train instead — a suggestion we leapt at. One, it was cheaper, way cheaper, and two, oh my god how much more comfortable!

I booked our tickets online, and it was even cheaper because we are Olds. The first car was first class, but it had only one seat available, so I went for second class in Car 2. How bad could it be, right? The train cars had seats in rows of three with a single aisle on the side. (This is a Very Important Detail.) I selected two window seats facing each other on Car 2 — #56 and #57 — paid with PayPal, and added them to my phone.

Hilarity ensued.

Our cab driver got us to the station super early because we needed to go to the ticket booth to see about checking our luggage, since the website clearly said that each of us could have only one carry-on bag. The clerk was very confused by my request. I typed my question into She smiled at my naïveté. There was no such requirement.


She told us to find Track 3, and we set about doing that. I imagine that you are thinking we just followed the signage like at the Five Points or Arts Center stations, and we kind of did, if you’re imagining signs printed out from your computer and taped to the walls some months —if not years — ago. None of the electronic signs were functioning. There was no signage saying which track was exactly which. There was not even — that I could see — any signage identifying which station this was. So unlike our dear MARTA or AmTrak…

The station is, shall we say, unprepossessing.

The train, on the other hand, was quite festive, if 30 minutes late.

There is an abundance of graffiti on nearly every surface in Greece, but the trains are especially artsy.

So, you remember how the train car had rows of three seats, in groups facing each other, with an aisle all on one side, and I had reserved seats #56 and #57? On Car 2?

First of all, there were no numbers on the cars. No ID of any kind. Trusting in math, we hopped onto the second car.

And there we found: two rows of seats in groups of two, with an aisle down the middle.

Hm, I thought, maybe this is another first class car. We headed to the third car, once more finding the electric doors amazingly obscure in their operation. (That’s on us; the doors worked just fine.)

In this car there were: two rows of seats in groups of two, with an aisle down the middle.

A quick glance at the fourth car showed the same setup. I decided to look for seats #56 and #57 and just settle in.

You think that’s funny? Across the aisle:

Next to that:

And next to that:

So either the train seating in Greece is an arcane mystery understood only by the natives, or it’s actually just a fupping free-for-all. (Place your bets now on which it is.)

We took our seats, resigned to being scolded by the conductor for being in the wrong seats — or worse, by some Greek old lady who spoke no English.

But no one scolded us, the conductor scanned our QR codes, and off we went.

Despite the deshabille of the station, the train itself was clean and modern, though without wi-fi, which is my current excuse for not having posted Day 3 or Day 4. It whisked us the two hours to Athens on a reliably straight path, which was calming and refreshing after the torturous mountain roads we’d experienced in the days just prior.

The Greek countryside is astounding.

We pulled into the Athens station, unbelievably no more sleek or organized than Lamia; suffered a cab driver to pounce upon us; and soon we were checking in to the Athenian Callirhoe, the 4-star hotel that Gate 1 had found for us. (They made the arrangements; the cost is on us, but I’m here to tell you that it costs less to stay here than in most Hiltons.)

The view from our balcony:

We collapsed, napped, then went out for a stroll. My Lovely First Wife rewarded herself with jewelry; we ate a phenomenal fresh seafood dinner for less than $30; and ended up at our hotel’s rooftop bar, where I had a simple gin and tonic because Athens is not a craft cocktail kind of town the end.

Greece, a final interruption

I know I promised to continue our journey through Greece — Corinth, Mycenæ, Olympia, Delphi, the islands — after I rested up, but it turns out I have a different story to tell. You may want to skip this one and come back tomorrow for the stuff I promised you yesterday.

On the bus all Tuesday afternoon, after Olympia heading to Delphi, I felt twinges of discomfort in my abdominal area, and by bedtime I was in pain. Since I had not had a bowel movement since Monday morning, I presumed it was constipation.

By 2:00 am the pain was serious, so I went downstairs. The front desk did not have any laxatives on hand, and of course the pharmacy was closed. I decided to tough it out the rest of the night, hit the pharmacy in the morning, and give the Oracle ruins a pass.

By 4 am, however, the pain was too much. The front desk called my Lovely First Wife and me a taxi, and away we went down the mountain, zigging and zagging those switchback roads at high speed. (I closed my eyes and lay down.)

We were headed up another mountain to Amfissa and its small hospital. There we were ushered into the ER, where I was treated by a lovely young doctor and her assistant.

I had two sets of x-rays; an ultrasound (for which we had to wait until the technician came in to work); two pain shots; had another, older doctor consult (he was a bit of an asshole; gave off a whole “little lady” vibe to my main care giver); and a very handsome urologist who told me that I indeed had a kidney stone (1 cm); and a whole laundry list of other issues to follow up on when I got back home, not all of them dealing with the kidney stone, which they told me was not actually moving.

Amfissa’s hospital is an older facility, and while the care I received was first-rate, we were surprised at the old-fashioned procedures, like my doctor writing down everything in a ledger book instead of typing it into the computer. No one wore nametags nor introduced themselves. (The equipment, I hasten to add, was thoroughly modern.)

When I asked to pay, there was some confusion, but eventually the front office came up with a bill for €89.72.

Eighty-nine euros. In real money, that’s about $140. For an ER visit.

But wait, there’s more.

We were able to rejoin the tour, literally on the road halfway up the mountain to Delphi, and set out for Itea, a seaside town where we stopped for lunch. I was still not feeling well, and realized that they had not prescribed any pain meds for me.

Then we began the long drive north towards Meteora, during which I was supposed to be catching you up on Monday and Tuesday, but by the time we hit the rest stop on the way to Kalambaka I was retching from the pain. Our fabulous tour director Efi called a cab, and we left the tour again to head to Lamia, where a much larger hospital ER awaited us.

There was I given a CT-scan and held overnight for fluids, pain meds, and observation. (Once again, the medical staff was TV/movie attractive; a flock of handsome EMT trainees watched my IV being inserted.)

I was put in the men’s three-bed emergency ward.

My wardmate was an older man who was not only garrulous but stentorian. He roared constantly; I put in my foam earplugs. Eventually the Lovely First Wife, now becoming best friends with Gate 1’s emergency-handling person, was whisked away to the Fthia Hotel.

At one point in the evening, I woke to find a very ill man in the bed next to me, tracheotomy and all. The loud man’s treatment was finally deemed satisfactory and his daughter took him home. Quietude descended. I slept, until the pain meds began to wear off and I was back where I started.

They continued to pump me full of antibiotics, pain meds, saline solution, and finally a laxative, which I requested by using (Yes, our friend Sue had given me a gizmo that translates the spoken word, but did I remember to bring it? Of course not.)

Twenty-four hours after we got there, I was released. Here’s a group photo of my team and me — we need vacation shots, after all.

We went to the pharmacy next door, where prescriptions for Ciproxin, Celebrex, and Lonarid cost us €16.

We headed back to the hotel that Gate 1 had found for my Lovely First Wife, the Fthia Hotel. It’s small, perfectly modern, and convenient to the hospital, just in case you need to know that. After a shower, a shave, and some snacks, I was feeling just about human.

We are staying the night and working out with Gate 1 how to get back to Athens and fly home as soon as we can, so no Greek islands for you. (And no Cretan labyrinth/Minotaur for me.)

Oh, and how much does an overnight stay in an ER, complete with CT scan and drugs? Zero.

“It’s a public hospital.”