Thursday, May 25, 2006

May 25th, 2006

Providence, RI
9:00pm EST

Greetings Again,

This past Sunday the V-TEAM gathered at Bill Mullen's house, which we have now come to think of as our V themed "Valhalla". We were meeting to discuss the adventure which is rapidly looming on the horizon. With only 12 days left before our departure, the teams preparation has begun to quicken it's pace and all of us are now spending a significant portion of our day working on trip related activities. Although I can't speak for much of what anyone else is doing, I thought it would be interesting to give a brief snapshot of my personal preparations at this point.

Also, as a side note it is worth mentioning that when I decided to embark on this journey I did so with the knowledge that I probably wouldn't have a job to come back to. That possibility has now become a reality; so in addition to planning for the next month, I am also trying to tie things up at work. Oh, and on top of that my lease runs up while I am on the water so I have to move out before I leave. Now then... where should I start...

1) Made list of items to bring on the trip including a bathing suit for chilly morning dips, 2-3 sweaters to survive the 40 and 50 degree days, a bottle of all purpose Dr. Bronners biodegradable soap to minimize stink in close quarters, and an Oxford shirt and dress pants to make sure that we look presentable for all media presentations, or, more importantly, for any potential meetings with winners of the Mrs. Helen of Toija contest!

2) After talking with Peter Criswell, a old friend of Bills who is a multi-talented multi-continent trip planner; it has been decided that our safety precautions are not up to snuff and therefore we need to collect and compile information that will be used in dire circumstances. Although I understand the importance of this, I can't help but admit that it leaves me feeling a bit superstitious. However, given that we are already breaking traditional superstitious rules by bringing a lady on board (who we are all lucky to have joining us for the record) I figure that this is just another detail to add to the stack.

3) A few months ago, when departure was further in the periphery, I made plans to go home for memorial day weekend. At the time I intended it to be an opportunity to rest and relax before the real preparation began, but since it is going to be the last opportunity for me to see people before flying off for a month it has quickly turned into a weekend that will be filled with friends, family, and household chores. Although this means that I am throwing all my ideas of rest and relaxation out the window, I am hoping that splitting logs in the Maine woods will serve as a way of getting into the mindset of the hardened men whose past we will be tracking.

4) Last but not least I have taken this friday (the 26th) off from work with the hope of packing all of my belongings out of my room and into the basement. Thankfully they do not have to go farther than that due to the generosity of my landlord, but to try to do it in one day will surely prove to be a challenge. Also, once everything is moved out on friday I will spend the next week living in an empty room with no bed. Although I can't be sure, I am betting on the fact that after a week of conditions such as this I will be more than happy to find myself in a cheap youth hostel or in the cramped quarters of our 38 foot boat.

In addition to these tasks there are also dozens of other details that will need to be addressed in the coming weeks. Confirming reservations, choosing a small selection of books that will keep me going through weeks on the water, arranging travel insurance, and having my mail forwarded to my parents address are only some of the ones that come to mind.

But for all that this may sound like a long list of complaints about how busy I am, I would be a fool if I couldn't see the implications that are embedded in the fact that I am able to have such a list at all.

While we were sitting around Bill's living room on sunday and toasting each other on the efforts that we have put in so far I suddenly realized that part our goal for the night was to celebrate the end of the first section of this adventure.

Sunday marked the last time that we will be together as a team before we get on the water, and it was also one of the few moments that we have all been present together to plan and mentally prepare ourselves for whatever comes of this. Over the last months the vast majority of our communication has taken place either through e-mail or over the phone. Because of this we haven't had much opportunity to acknowledge the time that each of us has devoted to the project and to the ups and downs that are inevitable in planning for an adventure such as this one. My long list of chores serves as a good illustration of the fact that we have all been very busy with the rest of our lives over the past months and there have been many times when the reality of this trip has been put on the back burner.

But this past sunday we were able to commemorate the end of the preparation phase, and the beginning of butterflies in the stomach and that almost imperceptible restlessness that takes hold in everyday life.

Cooking together in the kitchen, trying on our new team shirts, and talking about the feelings that are evoked by a storm on the water there was an almost palpable palpable anticipation of the reality that we are about to be faced with. And even though all we have now is vague feelings, soon we will all be writing from the water, and it will quickly become clear how great a distance there is between speculating about an adventure, and actually experiencing it.

Until next time...


May 12th

May 12th, 5:00 PM (EST)

Providence, RI, USA

Greetings Readers,

I came across another point of Interest in Vinci's book today regarding his proposed location of Hades (the land of the dead), and the reasons that it may have been described as lying so far north by Homer and the bards that came before him.

Vinci's theory of Baltic origins is rooted on the belief that Homer's stories contain a multitude of factual references. From this perspective Homer's works are not seen as being primarily (or even partially) fictional, but are viewed as a compilation of geographic and cultural allegories that are based on the events of the people who lived during this time period.

It is from this historical perspective that Vinci draws out his theories regarding Hades origin.

Since Vinci proposes that Hades can be located on a map using climatological and geographical descriptions from Homers narratives, then the question becomes not whether it exists, but rather why the poets of that time period placed it in, what is today, northern Russia.

Vinci's answer to this is that the migration southward necessitated leaving behind not only basic physical infrastructure, but also the burial grounds and temples that were part of these communities history. To account for the loss of these loss of these important cultural artifacts, Vinci proposes that the bards who passed down the Odyssey modified it to create a literary world in which Hades was representative of the land that their cultural forefathers had been buried in.

If this is the case, than it is a fascinating example of the way in which people can adapt their historical narratives to reflect a changing environment.

A modern day example of this adaptation can be found in the Finnish town of Toija (which we will be visiting in our travels). Vinci has proposed this town, and the surrounding area, as being the former location of the city of Troy.

To say that the locals embraced the idea would be an understatement.

Almost immediately the community of Kisko (the area where Toija is located) began to integrate the possibility of this new found heritage into their lives. There was a wave of news coverage when the theory was initially put forward, followed by a variety of local initiatives that were intended to recognize and celebrate the meaning of Vinci's theory in the lives of the local community.

This so called "renaissance of Kisko-Seura" (the society that organizes community events in Kisko) is described here in a passage from the community website:

"In the summer of 1994, only a couple of months after the first article on the theory appeared in the Finnish media, Kisko-Seura organized the coronation of the first Helen of Toija, opened an art exhibition called Ulysses in the North, and had a play performed by
amateur actors."

However the greatest feat for this small community was the renovation of an old storage barn that had previously been used to store farm equipment. In order to prepare the building for the coming celebrations the locals farmers worked together for months, finishing it just in time for the beginning of the celebrations in June.

Since then the community has continued to celebrate their place as the northern Troy. Every year they coronate a new "Helen of Troija", and continue to sponsor a range of cultural events in the renovated storage barn.

What I find noteworthy about this transformation is that in many ways it represents the cyclical nature of historical adaptation. Vinci theory suggests that Homer altered his stories to compensate for the missing pieces of his communal heritage. Toija, on the other hand, was vaulted into a cultural "renaissance" when they learned about a part of their heritage that they may have been missing for thousands of years.

Just as each individual is prone to alter their memories of the past to adapt to changing situations in the present, so too communities are able to use common stories to adjust to rapidly changing environmental and cultural realities.

It is these realizations that help me to see why I, as a psychology major, may indeed find my place on this historical voyage.

That and the fact that after spending three weeks on a cramped boat my traveling companions may all be in need of a little informal counseling. The question then will be whether I have retained enough sanity to offer it.


May 10th, 2006

May 10th, 2006 (10:30 PM EST)

Providence, RI, USA

Greetings Readers,

Now that we are only a few short weeks away from our departure date I thought that it was about time to get this blog rolling and figured that there would be no better way to jump start than with my reaction to the incredible maps that Sophie has recently put together for us.

Looking at them on the website I was suddenly made very aware of how close we are to making this trip a reality. Having talked and thought about it almost non stop for the last few months it had gotten to a point where the whole trip had started to seem overly vague and theoretical. I was so focused on the little tasks that are involved in fundraising and planning for a trip like this that I had lost the larger view of what we were going to do.

Thankfully, our new maps have given me back some of my lost perspective and I am looking at things with new eyes.

It has also helped that I have been reading through Vinci's text over the last few days and am now seeing some of the connections that had eluded me earlier.

One that stands out in particular is the power of the "maelstrom" as physical evidence of Vinci's theory.

In the course of his attempts to return home one of the major obstacles that Ulysses encounters is Charybdis, the maelstrom which threatens to destroy his boat and drown his crew. Although he is able to escape his first encounter by sailing close to the cliffs of Scylla (and sacrificing some of his men), his battered ship is later blown back to the maelstrom and Ulysses is only able to survive by hanging onto a "fig tree" (Vinci postulates that the "fig tree" was actually a particularly thick type of seaweed found along the coast in Atlantic waters that was altered to conform to the new environment during later renditions of the story) until the suction of the maelstrom abates and the remnants of his ship are regurgitated out into the surrounding waters.

What is truly amazing about this passage is that its description, though likely exaggerated for literary purposes, describes a real environmental phenomenon. A phenomenon which, incidentally, can be found in the coastal waters outside Norway where the variation in tides create just such a whirlpool several times throughout the day.

This and other details are the kinds of evidence that makes this trip so exciting. To be able to retrace a voyage that took place over 2,000 years ago is a truly remarkable opportunity and it is this type of evidence that gives many historians faith that Homer's tales are based on references to real events.

What Vinci in particular has given us with his new theories, especially those regarding natural phenomenon such as the maelstrom, is the opportunity to reconceptualize the lives that the individuals in these stories lived. Just by looking around the world today we can begin to see the way in which culture can shape beliefs and preferences of everything from food to religion. To ignore the cultural differences that may have shaped the lives of the individuals portrayed in The Iliad and The Odyssey is to miss out on the possibility of understanding the characters on new levels, and to learn more about how they reflect the values and traits that we share today.

By moving the setting of these classic tales from the Mediterranean to the Baltic it suddenly becomes possible to see the events and characters in the stories in a new light. This altered perspective is what I am looking forward to exploring in the course of our journey, and I hope that by publicizing our progress along the way we are able to interest others in our search as well.

So keep checking in and tell others to tune in as well. It should be quite a trip.


April 4th, 2006

April 4th, 2006 (11:25 PM EST)

Red Hook, NY, USA

Today I created the V-TEAM webpage based on documents we have been developing over the past few weeks. The webpage will serve as a forum to convey information about our project both before and after the voyage. This is the first V-TEAM blog entry and my first ever attempt at blogging. In the future entries will include a combination of individual and collaborative texts and photos. Keep an eye out for future updates, especially when the trip begins. The boat has been chartered from June 10th-July 1st, but we plan to explore Copenhagen (near Ithaca) starting around May 31st.

Anchors Aweigh,