I’m wondering how I’ll take it all with me. How do I start packing. How do I begin to incorporate the last six months of people, places and experiences into my life.
Based on a true story.
1 A vast interior landscape
2 Entrance scene: memory corridor
3 Island spirits
4 Fear of impossible spaces
6 Signs, remain
7 A house at the center of the island
8 An archive
9 Telephone call, two male voices
10 Encounter scene (stationary shot, empty plateia)
11 Performance. A question of identity.
12 The Kastro, 1540
13, 14 Inside-out space. To look out from but not be seen (2 shots)
15 Preparation, welcome
16 Re-intoduction of reunion scene (memory sketch)
17 Language of the other
19 Scene from a distance
20 Final reunion, souvenir
Diagrammatic workcharts created by Michael Ventris while decoding the Linear B tablets (1951–53). This is a combo syllabic-ideogram system of graphic annotation that he proved to be Greek, as it existed some 600 years before the appearance of the Greek alphabet. Ventris was trained as an architect at the AA and died in a car crash at age 34, just a few years after breaking the code.
- Minoan Linear Script B: Signary Order
- Linear Script B Syllabic Grid (2nd State)
- Linear B Syllabic Grid (3rd State)
An uncharted memory flees stubbornly towards an increasingly distant era.
The sensation of antiquity increases.
A multitude of countries, wrongfully sent to sleep.
And everything looks in order from the outside, unfailingly.
And always is there this rise of vastness on the inside…this rise of memory, drifting.
Like rediscovering flying in the dark across the place of another era.
We’re there now, we’re walking through.
One night, a growing blindness.
Is that where we must go in?
Is that where we were, without knowing?
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted something directly related to design/typography, and for various reasons this has been a nice evolution for me. The writing/posting in Rome and here in Greece allows me to open up a new kind of expression that sweeps over larger parts of my life.
But I have been casually examining Greek typography while I’m here. When I say casual I mean a more “in-the-street” view of the letterforms that surround me in Athens and elsewhere, rather than a deeper investigation. My focus lately has been on meaning — the words themselves, rather than what they look like (of course, how meaning and appearance relate to each other is a whole other matter).
Recently I stumbled upon the Greek Font Society. They have a generic, clunky website via 2005 that is in serious need of an update. But what’s remarkable is that they’ve written a simple history of Greek typography, with free downloads of several Greek fonts.
I saw some version of this typeface (Jackson, above) in and around Mount Athos — enough to think that it was part of a branding effort. The visitor’s visa, a few road and dock signs, books. When it’s hand-painted it takes on different personas, but there’s a formality to the digital face, plus the distinctive yellow-orange color and the two-headed eagle. I later discovered that these are the official identity assets of the Greek Orthodox Church.
It’s Greek uncial script, more commonly referred to as “Byzantine” style — majuscule letterforms that were a critical part of the evolution of the modern Latin alphabet. Here’s an overly simplified chart showing where uncial script fits in (please excuse my lazy use of Wikipedia, the Cliff’s notes of the internet, but it helps). Greek uncial script evolved from the 3rd to 8th centuries as monks transcribed key biblical manuscripts, like the 5th century Codex Alexandrinus — one of the earliest known Greek Bibles, found in a monastery in Mount Athos. Lovely how it all connects.
It’s interesting to note the differences. The C shape is used instead of the modern sigma Σ for the “S” sound, and I’m assuming that the zeta “Z” sound is produced by the last character, which does not exist in today’s Greek alphabet. Psi Ψ is missing, as is omega Ω.
Tricky territory, looking for the authentic. I think it’s a quiet current running through my Roman/Greek tour. An impossible quest. We know how difficult this is — what can “original” even mean today? Wandering around mountain villages with my father, we talked about the food, architecture and rituals that seemed authentically of the place. How long have you done this? Who cooked this? Where was this made?
Questions like these lead to complicated answers — like “the beads of this komboloi are made in China, but assembled in Greece.” At least she was honest.
When I came back from Mount Athos it occurred to me that maybe I had come closer to authenticity. Authentic to what? This recently-aired 60 Minutes feature relentlessly quotes the monks who claim an authentic life closer to Christ but fails to mention their spectacular real estate deals and connection to the financial crisis. I think we know why the monks let CBS in.
Perhaps I meant unchanged. Not the same, but still slippery. As powerful as it was, looking back on my experience there I think it was about as “10th century” as Disneyland.
I guess if you give up the idea of “the original” there can be some kind of satisfaction in finding originality. Maybe the hand-lettering and metalwork that I’ve encountered in some of the villages is related to this: direct evidence of human skill and craftsmanship. That alone seems remarkable these days, if you can recognize it. I think we sometimes forget if it’s even such a worthy cause. I know that I’ve totally lost touch with craftsmanship back home, online and in my life in general.
Handwork doesn’t have to mean crafty, rustic or archaic. Even if it is all of those things. But it can mean imperfection, variation, creativity. Vernacular. Human.
A key in a door in the village of Arachova, the twisted reigns of a horseless chariot driver in Delphi, hand-painted lettering in the sea town of Galixidi, and the black bird folded-metal scarecrows on the rooftops of Arachova.
Here it’s the early morning of March 30. Two clocks hang in the entry hall, 5:10am (local Greek time) and 9:55am (Byzantine time, based on sunrise). I’m in a place that scares me and I’m in awe of it. I’m not sure — no, I know I’ve never been in a situation like this, and yet there are moments that feel familiar. A waiting, a fear, a self-consciousness. The monks. Figures cut in black. They’re moving about in their robes, legs and feet not visible, so they seem to hover. This is partly why they’re scary, but it’s the whole persona — beard, hat, costume, eyes, ritual. Totally intimidating. I don’t know how to interact with them so I don’t.
I attend Vespers. What to do when approaching the icons and relics. I feared this, but decided suddenly to embrace it. Decided this was a moment of interaction. Of engagement. It’s my opportunity to embrace and connect with a privileged thing. In Rome the relics were behind glass, or not visible at all. Here, I’m watched as I kiss the relic. To kiss it, to study it, not to study it, because it’s so quick, but to engage. A fleeting contact point with the holy relics. I copy what the other pilgrims are doing: bow down, kiss, look, cross. What did I see — encrusted boxes, black figures, tiny jeweled chambers, encasing — what? Fragments, memories. Skin, bone, hair. Do this is in memory of me.
It feels as though my entire life has been leading up to this, and yet I am so completely outside of the systems at work here. I am not of them, but I am here and I have reason to be here and to engage. No time to question right now, best to act, engage, observe, suspend everything. Because this is a suspended place, way beyond most other systems.
What do I admire? The ability of a culture to survive and continue and exist despite the world. No women. Very few animals. Many deaths, but no birth. The modern structures are few but very specific — helicopter (transport), generator (power), cell phones (communication). All strategic. What else? Not much else.
The dining hall at Megistis Lavras is a dream space. Somehow it really caught me, threw open an inner door. A giant hall that seats 100 for meals. A central aisle. The booths are stone, with thick slabs of grey marble, very smooth with worn areas, in use since the 10th century. Covering the walls — every square inch of every surface — 16th century painted murals of icons, full-body saints, angels. Colorful, but faded colors. Clear depictions, but the effect was like a haze, like dining in a cloud. This is where I traveled through time. The papas were seated first, and we ate rice, spinach, bread, olives and oranges in silence while one of them recited.
Men who take care of each other, who come together to worship the father, the mother, devotion of such intensity that it defines a life. Severe doctrine, extreme consistency. It defines every aspect of life. An extraordinary thing. Unbelievable, but here I am.
Everything is defined on their terms. Geography, time, gender, worship, relations, food. Life without compromise.
A suspended place without compromise. A fantasy really. I am supposed to be one of them, that’s the feeling inside the church. That I am supposed to belong, that they have accepted me, briefly, to share in something. I feel like a fake (the big “X.O.” beside my name, accurate only on paper), but I accept their systems. I’m acting it out. I’m working it. A system that I’ve rejected earlier, that I can question later, but at this moment I am present with this place and their ways. Worship this, kiss this, pray now, engage here, look there, cross now, kneel, bend, cross, don’t look, fold, write, kiss hand, leave. Challenge it later, work with it now. Let it take over to see what’s there. What I might find.
These men are workers. They live and work without distraction, at least to my eyes. I’m not seeing much, I realize that. I’m only getting the ceremonial. What’s happening outside of the pilgrim’s view? What I love — the simplicity, the silence, the connection to the land, sea and sky. A purity to life, simple means, end goals that I don’t understand but maybe I do. A ringing bell wakes me up, then the haunting drumming of the samandron. The 3:30am Orthros prayer service that I didn’t attend has been going on for almost 2.5 hours. The sky is just barely glowing, 5:50am. Maybe they’re coming out soon. It’s cold but there’s a freshness to it, the air coming in directly from the sea. Now I can make out clouds. Sunrise is about to happen. 1,044 years.
6:45pm. A long day of riding in buses and walking, I realize now how I’ve totally given myself over to something. I feel so outside. Totally. Throw myself in, pretend, try to absorb, then completely remove myself. It’s exhausting. Sun starting to get low, I have no idea what’s happening here, reading the Philokalia. An intense, disturbing, painful text to read. Writing in silence. I hear footsteps, snoring, muffled conversations.
The sudden change of feelings. 6:35am, or 10:35am here at Philotheou. I’ve started to lose track of the date, without constant contact, email and web. No news, no idea. Yesterday as I sat writing I heard the papa in the office, got up and told him we’re here, and he escorted me to the dining hall just below us. I was late but managed to eat — a bowl of vegetable mush, bread, olives and a small plate of preserves. Lukewarm mountain tea.
Birds singing now, wild. Hyper-excited, happy song birds totally free to do their thing, without distraction. Total silence, and these singers. Today is Tuesday, it must be 12 April, although here it’s 30 March. Spitting in the bathroom, muffled chatter. After 2 days of speaking Greek the language barrier came down, sitting in the salon with Papa Lukas last night. I felt an intense connection to this old man and I was able to take in his slow, careful language. He told a story about slicing a watermelon, each slice releasing water, collecting below, slicing again and again until the melon is gone but the water remains.
I attend the 6am service. The church is lit with a few oil lamps. Dark figures on the walls and hovering black shapes moving around me. I’m within something that remains unchanged, I stand here and participate, not understanding, with the hope that I can establish something. A clue, a code, an idea, a connection.
Photographing the monks and the interiors was strictly forbidden. I’m afraid these pretty exterior shots barely portray the place.