I like museums. I like them even more when I travel. Visiting museums while abroad guarantees two things: self-led education and feeling more at home. Okay, so yes my feet always end up hurting and that one random back muscle I never knew I had is always sore after my third hour of viewing, but those are very small in the big scheme of things. Museums give you pointers and blurbs about other cultures that you can take to be the tip of the iceberg, or, the whole iceberg. It’s up to you. Museums can be simultaneously a jumping off point, or the point itself. Everyone who goes to a museum is trying to learn about an “other.” An other time, an other people, an other style. Just something different. So in that sense, every museum-goer belongs. Maybe it is just because Greece is the first place I have been to for an extended period of time, and where I don’t speak the language, but walking into the National Archeological Museum this Sunday made me feel like I could finally let my shoulders relax. I was reading about Cycladic art as a women from Australia pushed her small baby along in a stroller and an Italian women got an up close look at the steale next to me. A Greek family walked behind me as a young girl ran in front of me. Three other people also had Nikon’s strapped over their arm. It was kind of like being in an international airport. I felt like I was at the hub of random merges of culture. It was nice, really nice.
So I spent some time studying the museums floor plan before embarking on my adventure through Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean artifacts. Wandering is just bad news for me. I brought my sketchbook along to do some visual studies of whatever struck my fancy. I really liked documenting the Cycladic sculpture of a harpist. The way the stone was smoothed to create these tubular forms was beautiful. The shape of the head was oblong and I wondered if the choice of shape was artistic license or true documentation…Sketching makes me observe, and lets me wonder. That was nice too, really nice.
So I finally make it to the temporary exhibition that documents some objects from a shipwreck. The ship was transporting goods from Greece to Italy on behalf of a wealthy individual. It was interesting to think about how Greek goods got to Italy, and why they were desired. Humph. But what got me was a map displayed in the exhibition. It documented where the ship came from before Greece, and what its entire trip would have potentially been. The ship actually came from the Turkey area, went to Greece, then to Italy. Hold on. The boat was coming from Turkey, and furthermore, the exhibition (and for that matter the entire museum) kept referring to Greeces’ sphere of influence to include that of Asia minor. Honestly, I was surprised to keep having the word “Asia” being presented to me as part of Greek history. But, Greece is right in the middle between a western Europe and an eastern one. This may be pointing out the obvious, but what it was a like of light bulb moment for me, and it made me think back to history. It made me think all the way back to the Mesopotamia era, the Cradle of Civilization. Upon a little bit of research, Mesopotamia, the place of the initial emergence of civilizations, was believed to be Greece, China, India, Egypt and Southeastern Iran. These places became origin points such that understanding their culture became less about what influenced them, but rather who they influenced. That is an interesting thought, understanding a culture based on its legacy, not its history. Maybe that is why Greece is so important. Not because the way it came to be was special, but rather what it caused onto others was special. Yes, yes, maybe you are thinking well “duh!”, it’s not like epic legacies such as democracy or philosophy came from Greece or anything. Yes, this is true, but I think that is just a reminder about why Greece is so heroic, it was a true point of departure. Greece is in its essence…Greece.
So, the ship rightfully made a pit stop in Greece, the embodiment of a western world tinged with eastern influence, but also an eastern world tinged with western influence.