Greece with Grammy

June, 1994. I was a 14 years old, and the next grandchild in line to accompany my grandmother on her annual archeology trip. One by one, she eventually took all 10 of her grandchildren on a unique trip of exploration, art and ancient history. This year it was my turn, and we were going to Greece.

Grammy and me in Athens, with the Parthenon in the background. Yes, my 14 yr old self liked to rock dissonant floral patterns and humungous dangly earrings.

Growing up, archeology and Grammy were synonymous in my mind. Sharp-minded, unflappable and eternally curious, my grandmother spoke Greek fluently, read the classics in Latin, was the president of the Board of Trustees at the American Archeological Society in Athens and knew People. Lots of People. Her downstairs glass cabinet housed several museum-worthy artifacts that for all I knew, she picked straight from an archeological dig.

Grammy despised slothfulness and boring people, and never admitted to ever being bored herself. And me? I bit my nails anxiously, was extremely self-conscious and preferred to stare awkwardly in silence than attempt small talk. Needless to say, I was a bit intimidated by the idea of spending the next 14 days with her. I was biting my nails  just thinking about it. But I managed to arrive in Greece prepared: Armed with a copy of the Iliad and the Odyssey, my little blue journal to record pertinent reflections, a notebook where I could quickly jot down “items of interest” (i.e. Greek vocab!), and a small sketchbook and pencil I would whip out at the first inkling of boredom.

No pressure here.

On my way to speaking Greek like a native..

First stop: Athens, where we visited the Acropolis with the iconic Parthenon sitting on top. I was awestruck most by the majesty and permanence of the formidable Doric columns against the smoky sky and the beautiful 6 maidens of Karyai. Did you know that there are layers to the Acropolis, as each new period built onto the existing structures? The original Acropolis was built over 1000 years before the one we recognize today, during the Mycenaean Period— the earliest Greek civilization. And thanks to Grammy’s People, we were able to bypass some “Personnel Only” type signs and walk down some hidden passage ways to see the inner parts of the old Mycenaean walls. Pretty cool.

“Lying here in peaceful bliss
I view the great Acropolis
The mighty pillars stand on high
Shadowing the smoky sky
As I view from such great height
At what must be an awesome sight
The sun falls beneath the set
And leaves a darkened silhouette.”
— 14 yr old Madelene

Next stop on the itinerary: Pylos, which means “no dark cloud” in Greek — a windswept ocean town drenched with sun, the remnants of ancient clay pottery scattered across the bay.

The view from our hotel in Pylos

We visited the Palace of Nestor, nearby. Below is a picture of the king’s throne, with a strange indentation on the ground nearby. Do you know what that indentation was for? (And no, it was not where the king kept his barbell when he wasn’t using it.)

Palatial throne and ?

We were told by our guides that archeologists really had no idea. It was a total mystery! I wonder if they’ve made any headway since then?

Next, on to a host of other Grecian towns, each with their own archeological history: Sparta, Mystra, Chalkis, Nauplia, Menelaion, Lerna, , Corinth, Mycenae, Gla and Naufplion, to name a few.

At most stops we visited the inevitable museum created to house whatever artifacts were dug up from the sites, our intrepid archeologist guide Cynthia Shelmerdine filling us to the brim from her bottomless pit of ancient Grecian knowledge. She made archeology a fun adventure.

Stopping by a Tholos tomb at the Palace of Nestor

The site of Agamemnon’s Palace at Mycenae was my favorite, probably because I was neck-deep in Greek mythology through my reading of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Agamemnon’s real Death Mask?

Textbook examples of Corinthian columns…at Corinth.

By the end of it, I had eaten my weight in watermelon and feta cheese; I had learned to love Greek olives, and discovered I did not like octopus. I had mastered my awkward crush on the 18 yr-old boy in the group by challenging him to climb 854 (or was it 908?) stairs up to a giant citadel, I swam in nearly every pool or beach we visited, and if I ever felt bored, I never admitted it, even to myself.

The Palamidi citadel in Naufplion.

The back of the Palamidi postcard, written by me to my family.

From the end of the postcard, you’ll gather our last stop was the legendary Troy, located just across the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth–look in the windows! Below, we stand on the many layers of Troy. If the Trojan War really happened, the evidence lies under over 3000 years of history.

Grammy and I were able to visit the Blue Mosque in nearby Istanbul, which I described in my journal as having “just enough blue to justify it’s name.”

I must admit that I shouldn’t have worried so much about pleasing my grandmother. As I was sifting through photos and memorabilia from the trip in preparation for this post, I came across an old postcard Grammy had sent my mother:

What? Did I really read correctly that she was anxious not to be a bother to me? She who pushed me to be and act my best, be curious, never have a dull moment? It looks like I passed her test– wrote in my journal, talked with others, asked questions, etc. But turns out, it really wasn’t so difficult after all, because I actually really did love every minute of my trip to Greece. Ok, I had my bumbling, uncomfortable moments, especially when in the presence of said 18 yr old Lacrosse player. But the trip was right before my freshman year in high school and in a sense was a pivotal experience for me as I learned to navigate the social maze called adolescence. Greece taught me there was more to the world than Gap jeans and social cliques. I discovered that adults were just as, if not more interesting to talk with than my peers; that history was fun and really really fascinating; that the old cliché was true: there was no shame in being myself–even if it was a little quirky or odd. Hey, if Cynthia Shelmerdine could do it, couldn’t I?

Not sure what Cynthia and I are pointing at, but it must have been fascinating!

Most of all, I discovered I could push, challenge, and enjoy myself, on my own terms, irregardless of anyone else. This, I realized in the end, was what Grammy really wanted for me. It was the gift she gave me.

It wasn’t until a week after I was home when I realized with a shock another gift: My fingernails were growing out! Somewhere along our trip, I had stopped biting them. I had been so preoccupied, I had broken my habit, and I’ve never picked it up again.

“I have looked with newborn eyes

My first thoughts can tell no lies

The windy air, the olive trees

The citadel over rocky seas

A fleeting glimpse, a backward glance

Then out of the picture altogether

Until at last, some fateful day

Time will take me back that way

And bring to me old memories

Across my face, like one cool breeze

Then I think perhaps the past

Is the only thing that lasts forever.”

— Poem by my 14 yr old self

— Madelene Pario


7 responses to “Greece with Grammy

  1. This wonderful Madelene. How poignant to have the story and pictures and poems from then to share in the NOW!!

    Love it and Grammy would too!!

  2. Honey! I SO resonate to the subtext of your trip, the scary challenge of Being With Grammy, and finding a way to get to your own independent experience of Greece simultaneously through, and despite, her. Grammy would be so proud!! You did a beautiful job describing your trip — I’m jealous that you got to go to Haghia Sophia in Istanbul, not to mention the Venetian citadel. Someday we should all sit around and share our memories of our various Greek Trips. Whatever else they were, they were certainly MEMORABLE.


  3. For some reason I found your account moving. Perhaps because I read to the end.. The drawings and poems also were unique and very nice to see.

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