Ka Pohaku – La Pietra – Lithos or Petra

This one below covered with vines is called the Sybillic Stone, located at Delphi.  Ancient Greeks believed that if you befriended a stone, it became your friend, maybe even a protector.  To name this fallen rock would be like petitioning it to tell its friends above to stay where they are.


Kim Ku’ulei Birnie     (c) naleialoha.net

Health & Healing

Aloha, buona serra from Rome,

I’d be remiss if I didn’t learn a little about Italian & Greek practices in health and healing.

I’ve already mentioned my visit to Epidaurus, which was built in the 3rd century BC. The highlight for most is the huge amphitheater with perfect acoustics, but I was more interested in the history of this place as a one for healing, and the attitudes and beliefs about healing in ancient times.

Asclepius was the son of a mortal mother and the god Apollo who inherited healing powers from the blood of a Gorgon. Asclepius was said to have been such a good doctor that he could bring people back from the dead; this ticked off Zeus for a while, but Asclepius proved himself worthy over time and Zeus eventually declared him to be a god. He had several daughters, including Panacea and Hygeia.

He was adopted by Roman culture, the spelling of his name changed only slightly.  The Roman goddess Minerva (Greek Athena) oversees wisdom, wars, schools and commerce, but another form, Minerva Medica is the goddess of medicine and doctors.

His healing center was at Epidaurus, meaning outside or on top of—EPI, and aura—AURA. This is an indication of the holistic sense of wellbeing and healing.  When people were ill, they were first taken into a round room, called a tholos, and made to spend the night with snakes, sort of a shock therapy; their overnight dreams would be interpreted to identify what kind of medicine or treatment would be required for healing. This is where the snakes on the staff of Asclepius come in. If the patient survived s/he was taken to the hospital. At Epidaurus, we saw where physicians trained and saw patients in the hospital, including old instruments and guidebooks to healing certain conditions.

A descendant of Asclepius is Hippocrates, a Greek physician who first documented the sacred responsibility to the patient and whose oath, the Hippocratic Oath, is sworn by medical doctors today.

The guide we had for four days and who took us to Epidaurus happened to be 7.5 months pregnant (although she was the smallest hapai woman I’ve ever seen). She had her first baby 3+ years ago via Caesarean—yes, they call it this even in Greece—and expects to do the same in December. As I had the opportunity to share that both of my daughter’s babies were born in my home within the last three years, we learned from Maritsa that it’s illegal in Greece to give birth at home, but in Holland, where she often vacations, there is an entire movement and developing infrastructure to support home births.

In Ephesus, there is a hospital on one side of the ancient main street and a pharmacy on the other, both symbols in use today. Good hygiene was practiced in Greece and ancient Rome and these practices seem to have been exported to other areas of southern Europe and what was called Asia Minor centuries before Christ was born.

What happened to the continuation of this knowledge? Why is Hungarian Ignać Semmelweiss (read The Cry of the Covenant), albeit posthumously, credited with the preceeding Pasteur’s germ theory with the notion that hand-washing reduce deaths due to infections among women giving birth.

I’ve already talked about the public toilets in Ephesus, Turkey. These practices, indeed early public health practices, appear to have been brought in with Romans of old. Romans introduced public baths, heated, warm, and cold, and a sewer system built in 8th century BC that preceded the Roman aqueducts by nearly 300 years. The Scholastica Baths of Ephesus that included waters of various temperatures and properties, followed by a good scrubbing and body work were further developed into a higher form, today known as Turkish baths.

My next trip will include more of Turkey and definitely a Turkish bath.

It seems that Heracles understood that disease was coming in from the harbors. Not only is he responsible for assuring that Kusadasi harbor was dredged—3 times—to prevent the spread of malaria, but also for setting up hand washing stations at the gates of Ephesus that all desiring entry were compelled to pass. They were also scanned by cootie agents for good health and if they appeared to be unwell, they were denied access or whisked away to the nearest hospital.

Such practices were talked about in Delphi and Olympia, too. The Olympic games, a tribute to Zeus and first held in 6th century BC, were all about celebrating the body and its excellence. Baths were integral to the start of the preparation of the physical competitions, which also included music and art for the holistic health of the citizens. In Delphi, there was a cleansing ritual to undergo before seeking wisdom from the Oracle. As seen in pī kai, or cleansing practices, today in Hawai‘i, there was a purification ritual that was common before accessing sacred places or engaging in meaningful activities.

One thing I noticed in Rome is that there are few obese people, although we saw more as we left Rome, in the more rural areas of Italy. This is similar in France. The average life expectancy for Italians is 78 and 84 for men and women, respectively.

There were many more chubby people in Greece, though not so many on Santorini which I attribute to the many steep hills that are being climbed daily. The life expectancy for Greeks is 77 & 82 for men and women.

Both have national health care programs, although Greece spends more per capita on health care, and has higher chronic disease rates.

An interesting about traveling at this particular time is that group travel has been impelled to be proactive about educating tourists to prevent swine flu and other heebie jeebies from spreading. On the cruise ship and on group tours, guides in Greece are now required to mention H1N1 and advise people to sneeze into their elbows (I heard many jokes by hearty people about whether one could actually reach one’s mouth with one’s elbow), wash hands frequently, use the many new alcohol sterilizers in group dining places, and to confine oneself if flu symptoms arise.

Finally, medical students often find it helpful to have some working knowledge of Latin to help them with the medical names, but it should be noted that most medical words are actually Greek in origin: psychology, gynecology, pharmacy, epiderm, ectoderm, hygiene, etc., etc., etc.

Tweets for 2009-10-28

  • Kalimera,Athens–I'm back! Missed you so much this is my 4th one-night stay. #
  • Ciao, Roma! #
  • Athens airport offers free wi-fi for 45 minutes! #
  • Safe and back in Roma… #

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Tweets for 2009-10-28

  • Kalimera,Athens–I'm back! Missed you so much this is my 4th one-night stay. #
  • Ciao, Roma! #
  • Athens airport offers free wi-fi for 45 minutes! #
  • Safe and back in Roma… #

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Greek holiday

Kalimera..today is a Greek holiday, Ochi Day, or Oxi Day, something to do with marking a day when Greek forces staved off the Fascists at the onset of World War II, choosing, instead, to side with the Allies. In Athens, businesses are closed and young families are out in force waving blue and white flags. Syntagma Square is a hub of kiosks, flags, vendors, clowns and loud modern music. A festival!

First came to my attention with cannonfire during breakfast.  A 21-gun salute.  Not three volleys of 7 rifles, but 21 separate cannon volleys spaced a minute apart from high atop one of the hills within Athens metropolis.  And then loud music and a military parade that lasted all morning.  A celebration for all.

Did I mention Beyonce is playing Athens on 8 November? And then in Egypt on the 6 November. Very modern, over here.

Off to catch my Metro to Athens airport.

Kalispera to all!

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie (c) naleialoha.net

Tweets for 2009-10-26

  • a more mellow evening last night on Santorini, drizzly this morning. Bus ride, I think… #
  • Was going to buy a clean shirt, but remembered that I brought along 2 sweaters. Ahhhhhh, that's better… #

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Colors of Santorini

Kalispera, good evening,

Tonight is my last night on Santorini. It’s the first night without thunder. The weather has been bad so I’ve not been able to take the boat tour to offshore islands, swim through thermal springs, or sun at its renowned beaches, all things one dreams of doing here. But the peace, the spectacular view, and the end-of-season rates compel me to stay an additional day. So, yes, you could say it calls to me.

This is interesting because the two most frightening events on this trip have occurred here, a chest-splitting storm and an ‘elemu-clenching bus ride.

Imagine the drive to Sandy Beach, sections are like Hāmākua Coast, only you’re in a bus going 6oMPH driven by a swarthy single-syllable grunter, and road is half as wide, and the cliffs are 4 times as steep, and there’re no guardrails. That was the bus ride from Fira/Thira/Thera (pronounced both ways, spelled all three ways in Latin, but Greek spelling has ‘theta’, ‘θ’ as its first symbol) to Oia (EE-ah, no glottal stop).

The main volcano erupted about 1630 BC in what is called in all accounts a cataclysmic event causing its collapse and a huge tsunami leaving an archipelago of islands surrounding a big lagoon where a crater once stood. As you might imagine, the water is quite mālie, or calm. The bays tucked in against a couple different places of this main island Santorini are like Kamohio, but gi-normous.

Actually, the name Santorini is Roman in origin. At somepoint they renamed this island of Fira/Thira in honor of Saint Irene.

Although it’s a volcanic island, it isn’t as fertile as those of us from volcanic islands might imagine. It’s less like Kona Coast and more like Kaena Point or between Hālona Blowhole and Koko Crater Rim. There is no grass, even in people’s yards, and mostly cacti and succulents like ‘akulikuli, and beach heliotrope, but less green.

I wondered about the water source. I haven’t seen any catchment tanks. Is there cap rock, a water table? I still don’t know, but today, I passed a de-salinization plant on the way to Oia.

So is the volcano extinct? Dormant? Nope. It last erupted in 1950.

Okay, leaving Santorini in the afternoon.

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie (c) naleialoha.net

Tweets for 2009-10-25

  • Rainy all day, but for the view and quiet time, i think I'll stay an extra day in Santorini. #

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Tweets for 2009-10-25

  • Rainy all day, but for the view and quiet time, i think I'll stay an extra day in Santorini. #

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Kalimera kakou,

Most are aware of the the acropolis of Athens, but there are other acropoli throughout Greece so one must distinguish:  Acropolis of Lindos, Acropolis Athena, Acropolis at Mycenae and so forth.

Any English speaker can figure out Greek by looking at the root words.  As the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding pointed out, you can link any word–except, perhaps, kimono–to a Greek one.  Actually, about 3500 English words are easily linked to Greek ones (the majority others to Latin).

Acropolis means ‘highest city.’  Metropolis, megalopolis, politics, policy, etc. all come from ‘polis’  meaning ‘city.’  And the root of words like acrobat and acropolis is, to my surprise, not ‘akro’,  but ‘akron.’

Huh?  Akron?!  Why, then, is the city in Ohio, altitude 955 feet, named Akron?  And its county is Summit County.  Known for rubber tires and the first Alcoholics Anonymous, now I know that it’s perched on a summit.  Interesting…

Anyway, the Acropolis of Athens is best known, day and night images shown round the world.  The Parthenon,  built in 5th century BC, is in the 3rd phase of a 10-part renovation.  Still dramatic as it oversees a population of 5.5 million.

The one in Mycenae is much more ancient, dating back to 1600 BC.  It flourished during the Bronze Age and many of its relics were bronze and gold.  It is most famous for the nearby Mask of Agamemnon, though it’s said to post-date the actual years of Agamemnon’s life, and the Lion Gate, one of the earliest large sculptures in history.  Mycenae’s excavation was undertaken by a German archaeologist named Schliemann.  Consequently, signs are in Greek and German there and busloads of Deutsch-speaking tourists visit.

Both of these acropoli are designated World Heritage sites.

I love the acropolis in Lindos on Rhodes, which I’ve already written about.  All else being similar–sanctuary of Athena, rebuilt after one or more destructions, geographic prominence and so forth–it may be due to its seaside location.  It balances on a bluff overlooking the ocean making the ascent and the view quite dramatic.

More on heights later when I put my thoughts together about the monasteries.

 Acropolis at LindosAcropolis at MycenaeAcropolis in Athens at night

Kim Ku’ulei Birnie           (c) naleialoha.net