First week of classes

July 16, 2006

We’ve finished the first 5 days of classes. As someone who is not facile with languages, not to mention starting one at my age, I must say that the methods they use here really make learning Greek possible, if you work at it. The hard part is continuing it when you leave, but when you’re here, it’s pretty much an immersion experience. We have about 10 students and 2 teachers. This allows for a lot of attention and help, and also some interaction. The teachers use pictures, projects, cd’s, plays, lectures, slides, singing, dancing, cooking, conversations, and very little of any textbooks. Sandra & I have talked with the Spaniards here who’ve taken classes at other schools in Greece, and they say this is far and away the best. The other schools seem very much by-the-book operations, literally, with the result that if you don’t have that learning style, you are in trouble.

We are in class for 2.5 hours each morning, then a long break, for doing homework, shopping, and resting, till around 7, then 2.5 more hours of class. The classes are divided by level in the morning, and then we are all together in the afternoon class. Two days ago we read fairy tales in small groups, then re-told them to the class. Yesterday, we made up our own fairy tales, using small pictures of “fairy tale objects” (sword, dragon, forest, princess, witch, etc.). Each group got the same pictures, but each member had some randomly assigned, then we went around in a circle, adding a picture and continuing the story. You can see how many different things are involved here: vocabulary, comprehension of others’ speech, conversation for clarification, and speaking yourself, for starters. Way more fun and useful than reading a text and anwering written questions on a piece of paper. The school is worth the money it costs to come here, believe me.

Two nights ago we all cooked together, some Ikarian dishes and others, as our evening project, had a short dance lesson taught again by me, then sat down for another long dinner outside on the upper patio. There we had a discussion on what a “party pooper” is in 3 languages. You ought to try to explain some of these things in Greek sometime!

[Note from Sandra:


There is no good , compact word in Greek for “party poopers”. When David, another student, one of our Greek teachers and I left a wedding party quite early (1:30) the Sunday we arrived, I explained to the teacher that “sta Anglikä” (English) we use the term “party poopers” to describe what we surely were just then! Evgenia, (the teacher) was really entranced with the term and repeated it many times with her unique Greek pronunciation which cracked us up completely. It ends up sounding more like one word, the way I wrote it above as a title, with slightly rolled Greek “r’s”  and the last syllable like “pears”.

“ParteePOOPears” became the favorite funny phrase of the school for the next few days.  Evgenia said that sadly, Greek did not have a such a good, colorful term to describe someone who was not that interested in remaining for an extended celebration. The night of the wedding, the four of us had definitely been the class ” POOpears”!

A few days later at the school, David and I were decifering some Greek from a CD that explained some of the traditions of Carvaval in the northern Greek town of Kastoria. We came across a lovely phase in Greek: “The city of Kastoria has its own way of bringing spring back from the heart of winter”. “Ah!” I lamented to our Greek teacher Evgenia who happened to be passing by as we GOT the translation, ‘the HEART  of winter!’! That is really beautiful!! In English we have to say, in the DEAD of winter! We really do not have an expression that is as beautifully descriptive as this!”

Eugenia thought for a moment and then said in Greek, “Yes! But you DO have ‘ParteePOOPears!’ We don’t have THAT!!


Other nights we go out to dinner after the late class, arriving at the taverna around 10 or 10:30. More conversation (in Greek), more mistakes, but communication is also achieved, and the practice is what we all need. The food, especially at the taverna in Pera Arethusa, is really delicious–it’s like Greek tapas–and the prices here are not city prices at all, shockingly low for an American.

Yesterday we went to a different beach and spent the whole day there. I hardly ever do this, so it’s a treat more me, not that I get to swim (I can’t) but just to relax. We walked along the sea rocks to another, smaller beach, above which was a taverna with a terrifci view. This is common on the islands, and makes for a complete experience. After three hours of eating and talking we walked back on the high road, because the tide had come in. there we met a man born there but who had lived in Chicago. He spoke Spanish with a Mexican accent and told us about his restaurant in Chicago where he talked once with Micahel Jordan. We also spoke a little with his wife, up the road. Many Ikariotes have spent time in the United States, earning money, coming back for the summer, then moving back when they older. But we’ve also heard of people returning to build big, American-style homes completely out of place on this island. It seems that the bigger is better syndrome is not isolated to just the US.

This brings up another subject, the way the Greeks treat the environment. We met a photographer who told us about the Ikarians, throwing their old furniture, car parts, etc. right on the beach. This includes the local hospital (ewhose CEO denied it), and consists of old bedframes, needles, toxic waste, etc. There’s a lighthouse a bit of the way out whose light runs on a battery, similar to a car’s. Well, when the battery dies, the Coast Guard goes out there, replaces the battery, and throws the old one into the sea. Recreational divers near there see a sea floor littered with old batteries, which of course corrode and release toxins and metals into the water; these work their way up the food chain, etc. There’s a lot of asbestos int he buildings, and when workers are revoving it, they just tear it down and toss it. The dust gets everywhere and they don’t wear masks or protective clothing. Kids play around the work area. The photographer is having an exhibition here at the school with some of his photographs about these subjects. He lives here near Evdilos.

On a slightly lighter note, the Greek pluming system leaves much to be desired. We’ve had several installments of “The Turd That Would Not Die,” and you take a shower hoping all the water will go down the drain. On the other hand it is possible to have running water, even hot water (solar-heated), so it’s actually very convenient, and it mostly makes for a good story.

If you want to see some pictures of Ikaria that I took the last two years, go to my flickr photostream at

and click on either of the Ikaria sets. I won’t be uploading this year’s photos till I return home; the connection’s too slow.

About 8 new students arrived this morning (Sunday), from Germany, the US, Russia and Spain. They’re all worn out, but we’ll be getting together tonight for a dance lesson with me trying once again to do it in Greek. There’s a paniyiri in Arethousa tomorrow night. We can walk to it, have a very late meal, and then try not be parteePOOpears again! Talk to you in a few days…