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The Aegean, Lectures, Refugees and the Acropolis


The Aegean, Lectures, Refugees and the Acropolis

Sadly, we left Greece today and flew to Naples. Our last week and a half had been varied and typical of our action-packed time in Greece. The last places we travelled to in Greece outside of Athens were the Aegean Islands of Chios and Samos.

After flying into Chios we headed straight towards the famous Koraes Library in the old part of Chios Town. This is one of the oldest libraries in Greece. It had been destroyed once by the massacre of Chios by the Ottoman Turks in the early 19th century and again by a tremendous earthquake in the late 19th century. Each time it was rebuilt and made better by local philanthropists and the people of Greece. It has a rich archive including a 14-volume set of illustrated albums of Egypt given by Napoleon to Adamantios Koraes in the early 1800s. The Library’s conservationist was very proud to show us the work he was doing to help preserve these priceless books.

We spent the next day touring the island. This including taking a quick dip in the warm waters of the Aegean, visiting the fabulous Mastic Museum (look up the incredible story of mastic), and visiting the traditional town of Pyrgi (where Christopher Columbus hung out – he liked mastic a lot).

The next morning we watched the sun rise over nearby Turkey (only a few miles away).


We took the two-hour ferry to Samos and came to a very different place. Chios is larger, dryer and beautiful but has a dark history. Samos is lush, has great beaches, fantastic mountains, and excellent wine. We walked along a deserted beach near our hotel and marveled at the beauty of it all. I kept seeing bits and pieces of things washed up along the shore. As we came around a corner on the beach we saw a large, brightly colored pile of life vests clumped together. We found out later that there had recently been another landing of refugees on this beach and these were things they had discarded. Because the secluded beach was less than a mile from Turkey there were still refugees landing frequently on Samos.

That night I gave a lecture at the University of the Aegean campus in Karlovasi. It was a good crowd that asked a lot of challenging, questions. We were told that Greece started a series of University campuses about 30 years ago on these outer Greek islands next to Turkey. The idea was to have a bigger population to solidify Greece’s claim that these islands belong to Greece, and to strengthen the national identity. My lecture began at 8:00pm, so by the time they took us out to dinner it was getting close to midnight. Ah, Greece! The next morning I photographed the library at the University (which is housed in an old school) and later in the afternoon the Public Central Historic Library in Samos Town. Then we took an evening flight back to Athens just before the rain.

I gave another lecture Wednesday night at the wonderful Athens Centre. It was founded and directed by the remarkable Yannis Zervos whom we had dinner with at the beginning of our stay in Athens. My slide talk included some images from my American Public Library work but mostly was an overview and summary of the work we had done in Greece over the last two months. It was good for me to be forced to make sense of this experience and to put the images together to tell the story of our Fulbright in Greece.


During our last week in Greece we voted on our laptops (watch out Republicans!) and continued our pursuit of literary Greece.

We went back to the Books & Play center/library for refugees and homeless to attend a Farsi reading session for refugee children and their dad. We also met again the dynamic founder of “We Need Books” and of this center, Ioanna Nissiriou and her co-founder Nadir Noori who left Afghanistan at the age of 12 as an unaccompanied minor. All are inspirational volunteers doing the right thing.

We had a lunch with our new friends at the National Library of Greece. They have been the most amazing “hosts” during our stay and we can never thank them enough. They are from left to right: Director General Dr. Filippos Tsimpoglou, administrative staff Evi Stefani  and Gregory Chrysostomidis. We couldn’t have done this project without them!

Throughout our stay in Athens we felt like we were circling around the world-famous Acropolis. It comes from the Greek words meaning “high” and “city” and you see it from all over Athens. We finally visited it two days before we left Greece. This was partly to avoid the tourists and the heat. It was also because we have just been too darn busy to go. We got close the evening before when we visited the world-class Acropolis Museum and its fabulous rooftop café, with an “up close and personal” view of the Parthenon. The next morning we arrived at the Acropolis just after they opened at 8:30. It is unlike anything I have seen before and I highly recommend that everyone experience it at some point in their life.

We ended our stay in Greece by visiting a refugee camp in Athens. I photographed their library/classroom with a group of kids taking a language lesson. Their shoes outside the door reminded me of what we had seen washed up on the shores of Samos. We finished by photographing a room containing an Ideas Box which was leased by a group called Libraries Without Borders. Hopefully, we will meet up with this group again during the next leg of our odyssey in Italy. I was fascinated by the creative thinking that went into producing this traveling library and resource center. The Ideas Boxes had just come from Jordan and, after Athens, it will travel on to another place of need. The symbolism of the signs on the walls of this room only suggest some of the struggles endured in this place of refuge.

Ideas Box, Eleonas Refugee Camp, Athens



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One thing required for a trip like this is a lot of office time to plan for what’s next. I literally spent all of last summer preparing for this trip, especially for the Greek part of it. I spent much of this week on my computer in our apartment in Athens getting ready for the next two weeks and also the next two months in Italy. Ellen continued her heroic effort of tying down the logistics of everything. This is really a team effort! In between office hours we continued to photograph.

One day was spent at the remarkable state-of-the-art Conservation Lab at the National Library of Greece. I love places like this because there is so much physical stuff to photograph.

We also had two evenings with remarkable groups that are dealing with Athens’ homeless and refugee populations. The first was a mobile library staffed by a group of women volunteers. We met them in a dilapidated “artists squat” that they shared with a van providing a free mobile laundry for the people living on the street. One woman said that Athens has a big drug problem and we saw a street full of junkies shooting up as we drove away in their van at night.

The next night we went to an opening for a new library/center for refugees and homeless sponsored by a group called We Need Books. The Mayor’s Office helped with this project and we got to meet the Mayor before he gave a little speech to the large crowd. The DJ blasting tunes gave a feel of an art opening in the Mission District in San Francisco. It was a stark contrast with the rough neighborhood we were in.

We also met with three remarkable people this week: Artemis Zenetou – the head of the Greek Fulbright in Athens, Ioannis Trohopoulos – former head of the Veria Library and also the former head of the Niarcos Foundation Cultural Center, and Ioanna Nissiriou – the head of We Need Books. We are lucky to know these amazing Greeks.

Finally, we photographed the beautiful Gennadius Library. It was established in 1926 with funding from the Carnegie Foundation (yes, that Carnegie). It contained a remarkable exhibit by a contemporary Greek artist Antonious, about the 19th century German archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered Troy and made major discoveries at Myceane. He spoke 19 languages and this exhibit was using his words as art. It felt very appropriate for this historic library to show this exhibit re-interpreting words from the past.

Our next week was back on the road again. The Peloponnese is steeped in history and contains several really great libraries. Corinth was where St. Paul unsuccessfully tried to convert the natives to Christianity. Ancient Corinth was master of this part of the world in the 6th Century BC and today the site called “Ancient Corinth” is spectacular.


The modern Corinth library is very active. We watched a short video made about the library that included the librarian’s son playing really good guitar. After they served us delicious Greek coffee we had fallen in love with this library. As always, it is the quality of the people working there that make this place special.

After a brief stop at the historically famous Corinth Canal we headed on to the city of Argos. Sadly, the library was closed and the outside looked like it had seen better days. We will have to find out why. We ended the day at the pretty coastal city of Nafplio. We stayed in a pension in the old town with attractive narrow streets, elegant Venetian houses and an interesting library. It reminded me of a smaller version of Corfu Town without the tourists.

The Nafplion Library is another example of a generous benefactor endowing the city with his collection of books. In this case, to begin the first high school in Greece in the 1830’s. The books are now in the library and this seems like a well- loved place.

For the rest of the day we went back several thousand years to visit two ancient sites: Ancient Mycaene and Ancient Epidavros which consists of the spectacular Theatre and the Sancturary of Asclepius. Mycenae has many tourists, especially near the famous Lions Gate. But it is so spread out that we find ourselves being able to contemplate in solitude the vast distance of time that separates us from this place and culture. The underground cistern is especially interesting. It’s all about water!

The Theatre of Ancient Epidavros is the best-preserved structure of this scale from the ancient world. Literally, one can drop a coin on the stage and you can clearly hear it at the top seats of the 14,000-seat theater. The Sanctuary is also impressive and is considered one of the birthplaces of Western medicine and healing. Travel is a great teacher and all these sites today were a revelation.


The next morning after a several-hour drive we enter the beautiful and steep Arcadian Mountains. Our goal was a library in the tiny mountain town of Andritsena. After a gazillion hairpin turns on a tiny mountain road we came to the Public Historic Library of Andritsena. This one is a gem. Established in 1840, it is one of the most important historic and richest libraries in the country. It is housed in a neo-classical building built in 1879. A Greek ex-pat of staggering intelligence and no money living in Paris somehow gathered together one of the largest privately held libraries at the time. He donated his collection of books to his father’s home town. He planned to move there with his library but while cleaning the books he got a paper cut and later died from infection. The books eventually arrived in Naplion but sat there for decades because of unpaid bills. Years later they finally arrived in this tiny mountain village. We are met by the President of the Board and his wife. After a wonderful overview of this romantic place I have just a few hours to photograph this amazing library. The library even contained replicas of carvings stolen by the British in the 19th Century from a nearby ancient Greek temple. As we head to our apartment I am amazed that such a really small town could have such a really great library.

So as to not waste any time we rush off again on even smaller mountain roads to the very remote ancient site of the Temple of the Epicurean Apollo at Vasses. This is another extraordinary place and we are the only people there! High in the Arcadian Mountains I feel like we are the edge of the world. This UNESCO World Heritage temple was completely covered and was in the process of being stabilized and restored. The tenting and an artist’s soundtrack playing in the background added greatly to the surreal experience of photographing this crazy interesting place. I had 20 minutes to photograph before they closed and I was exhilarated when I finished. Some places are just very special and this was one of them.

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As we drove back at dusk we saw incredible vistas and a shepherd and many goats and dogs on the spaghetti-like road. We head back to Andritsena and go to dinner. As I was driving down the one street in town we spot a tiny café and a woman who comes out and invites us in. It is where the locals eat (not the tourists) and we thoroughly enjoy our meal. The TV news is on and when Trump’s face appears on the screen I instinctively cover my face. When I look up at the Greeks in the café they are all smiling and nodding at me in approval. This is a moment of cross-cultural connection. At breakfast the next morning I spotted a large black and white photograph of a shepherd girl spinning wool in front of the Temple of Epicurean Apollo that we had just visited. The owner of the café explained that the girl in the photo is her mother. She had fond memories of playing in the rubble of the Temple before it was turned into a World Heritage site. I gain a small insight into the transformation of this small community. It also represents something of the larger transformation of Greece today and its relation to its near and ancient past.



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NORTH BY NORTHEAST: Thessaloniki and Xanthi





We left Athens in the rain on a train heading up the long coastal plain to Thessaloniki. I love the stately, almost 19th-century pace of traveling by rail. Countless Alfred Hitchcock movies flashed before my mind. But the beautiful Greek countryside was the real star of this show.


Thessaloniki is often called “Geece’s Second City” but it really is a world on to itself. Athens is considered the heart of Ancient Greece. But this part of the country produced the Macedonian Empire and Alexander the Great. They conquered Athens and much of the known ancient world.  Thessaloniki today is a vibrant port city with a great cultural scene including world-class museums of contemporary art, cinema and photography. Lonely Planet is not exactly our Bible but it does help us locate interesting and quirky places to eat and stay, here and throughout Greece.

The next day we rented a car and headed east into the part of Greece called Thrace. Soon, looming just to the north were the massive Rhodopi Mountains and the border with Bulgaria. Kavala is bustling city with a massive old fort sitting atop the highest hill in the old town. History is never far from the landscape here. The Kavala Public Library is large but mostly empty when we visited. The very friendly staff were excited to see us and I make some nice images of researchers in the newspaper archive. As we were leaving a young man sprinted to catch up with us in a parking lot. He was a local journalist and we did an interesting interview on the spot on why we were there, libraries, refugees, politics, etc., etc.

We continued east through the mountainous, coastal Thracian landscape to our destination of Xanthi. This is one of Greece’s least visited places. It was once home to a powerful, non-Greek ancient civilization and is influenced by its neighbors Bulgaria and Turkey. The area contains unique Muslim minorities that settled here during the Ottoman times.


The old town of Xanthi (it means “blond” in Greek and I am guessing it’s because of the presence of people here from the north) is located snug up against the beautiful mountains. It contains timber-framed houses on narrow, winding streets and old mansions once inhabited by tobacco barons. Walking the main street around 7PM we are astonished at the number of families with children strolling past the high-end shops. In the crowd I saw several elegantly dressed Muslim women wearing scarfs. Xanthi is obviously a fascinating mixing zones of cultures.

We spent a good part of the next day at the wonderful Xanthi Public Library. It contains a Tech Lab run by Dimitris Giannakoukis. The Tech Lab is part of American Spaces which is sponsored by the US State Department. We first encountered these two years ago in Poland and Ukraine. They receive books and American technology that are a part of a “soft power” effort by the US government. Like the Fulbright, it is an effort to engage America, on a local level, with the world.

The library was started in the 1950s by a Greek writer who donated his personal library to the city. He survived WWII and he was a communist. But he felt that books were a way of healing his fractured country. While photographing his Greek language notebooks and journals I felt as if I almost got to know him as a person. It was interesting to see how one person could make such a huge, positive difference. We saw the same story earlier with the founder of the library in Veria.  The most vibrant libraries that we have encountered so far seem to have been founded by a generous, charismatic individual.

We came back to the library at 6 and I gave a lecture to a large crowd of mostly young people who seem fully engaged with my talk. I am always surprised and happy when this happens.


The next morning we are undecided which of several places we should visit in the nearby area. I had been awakened at 7:00am by a marching band going by our window. When I later looked down on the street there was a police car parked in front of our hotel and our street was earily quiet. Images of the Greek military coup in the movie “Z” flashed before my mind. When we were about to check out we were told that we would have to wait because all the streets were blocked for a major parade. We decided that this was what we would do today and plunged into the gathering crowd. Ellen reminded me that the Fulbright had warned us not to participate in demonstrations but this seemed like a peaceful, even joyful group. After waiting a long time a group of generals with lots of medals and swords met a group of Orthodox priests on a reviewing stand and then the parade began.


It seemed that almost every child in Xanthi marched by us in school uniforms. There were all kinds of groups including Muslim girls in scarfs, people in traditional Greek costumes, a group of special needs kids and even a Tai Kwon Do club. The crowds were enthusiastic and everyone seemed to know someone in the parade. After that, a sizeable chunk of the Greek army marched by carrying machine guns and stepping smartly. We found out this was a celebration of when the Greek army kicked out the Bulgarian army in 1919. Apparently the Greek government makes a real effort to have a presence here because this area is considered an important frontier. After three hours we felt this was memorable way of getting to know this part of Greece. The sound of marching music filled my mind during the three-hour drive back to Thessaloniki.

The next morning I photographed the Derveni Papyri at the Thessaloniki Archeological Museum. It is considered the oldest European “book” and is part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World program. Greece’s climate prevented any earlier papyri books from surviving. This one was completely burned in a 3rd Century BC funeral pyre. But in the ashes the text somehow was preserved. This is an example of “bibliocide” where the destruction of the book actually preserved it.

We then schelpped my camera gear over to the large Thessaloniki Main Library. It is in a striking building with a friendly staff and lots of people. However, I had tried multiple times since last June to get permission to photograph here and had not heard back a peep until this morning when permission finally came through. Better late than never!

We ended the day at the Ano Poli Branch Library. It is housed in an old, beautiful mansion built for an Ottoman Turk military officer. At one point it housed refugees, later was a school and is now a library.

We ended the evening having a late dinner with a fellow Fulbrighter Herman Adney, his wife Michelle and their adorable infant daughter Sophia. He is on a Greece-Turkey Fulbright and they will be spending six months in each country. The conversation ranged far and wide and we all agreed that the Greeks have a very special regard and treatment of children and a love for sharing good food and conversation.


The next day we hopped back on the train traveling along the plain without the rain to Athens and home.

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Refugees, Fulbright, National Library and Athens





This was a week where the weather changed from hot to windy, cooler and rain. Even the Embassy sent out a weather alert. The project also shifted to finally include refugees in Greece and we spent a lot of time with various NGOs throughout Athens. Photographing refugees is always hard and I am especially sensitive to not photographing people that express any reluctance to my camera. Most people, however, are very accommodating. Much of what I photographed turned out to be symbolic of refugees such as child’s drawings, paintings, maps and posters. A child’s sketch of drowning people being rescued by a Greek ship was especially powerful.  We spent an afternoon photographing Afghan women doing hand work such as crochet and making jewelry which they later sell. The woman who volunteers for The Greek Forum of Refugees explained that much of the work is therapy from the trauma they have endured. We also went to a soup kitchen for a Catholic charity for refugees called Caritas where I photographed families and volunteers.


During the middle of the week the Fulbright Foundation sponsored a reception for all the Fulbrighters in Greece (both teachers and researchers) and then a two-day orientation, lecture, briefing at the American Embassy and a cultural walking tour. It was all quite fascinating, especially meeting the other Fulbrighters both young and older (like us!). It was also a chance to meet the exceptional staff of the Greek Fulbright. For 70 years this program has tried to use people to people diplomacy between Americans and Greeks to help create a mutual understanding between cultures. We are proud to be a part of that tradition.

We also spent a few days back at the National Library of Greece looking at their digital labs and manuscript departments. There was a great show by a Greek photographer on homeless in Athens inside the library. They have an amazing space which made us think that we should have an exhibit of my library work there someday.

Between the work and the rain we did have time for some fun in Athens. What is most interesting are the everyday things we encounter on the street. Like the changing of the guards at the Greek Parliament as they were walking down the street. Or Ellen standing in the pouring rain next to the ancient Tower of the Wind with the lit-up Acropolis in the background. These are the unexpected, magic moments that help define our time here. We spent yesterday dealing with my wallet being stolen and celebrating one month in Greece. Never a dull moment. Onward!




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WAY UP NORTH: Veria & Kozani, Corfu and Meteora





This was the week that we split from Athens and headed out into Greece. Like New York City, I imagined Athens to be the most and least typical part of Greece. The Greek mountains are everywhere, the coast is rugged and the country is beautiful. It reminded me of parts of southern California – with ancient ruins.


After a 5 ½ hour drive on an excellent Greek highway (lots of tolls!) we arrived at the delightful town of Veria. It is in the heart of the Macedonian empire and near the birthplace of Alexander the Great (yeah, that guy). Veria’s old Jewish quarter (the Germans wiped out most of Greece’s Jewish population during WWII) is fascinating and right near the fabulous Veria Public Library. Ellen scored big-time by booking us for three nights at the Agroktima Kapsali. It was a challenge to find it as the light was fading, what signs we saw were all in Greek, and it was half an hour drive out of town into the ­­­­­­­­­­mountains. But when we finally got there we felt like we had landed in paradise. After the Manhattan-like density of Athens we had arrived at a Greek farm! The mountain lodge is a family run business that was built by hand by the father and run by the mother and daughter. The food was mostly from what they grew and was delicious.


The Veria Public Library is considered one of the best in Greece. It received a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant and seemed filled with state-of-the-art everything. The head of the library took us on a long tour of the library and then took us out to a long lunch. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of time to photograph. I finished just before I gave my lecture at the Veria Tech Lab in the library. I am always amazed when I get a large audience for my talks on American public libraries. It turned out this audience was a very interested local photo club that has also done some great work of their own.

After a full day in Veria I couldn’t imagine that Kozani could be as interesting. How wrong I was! The small town of Kozani has a massive new library (two weeks old!). As the Veria Library was compact and cozy, the Kozani Library was large, sleek and beautiful. Everything smelled new. The most unique experience was in the archive with the smell of old books mixing with the smell of the building.

Both towns are on the edge of beautiful mountains and are connected by an unbelievable highway and massive series of tunnels funded by the European Union. Billions of Euros must have been spent over many years to build this world-class engineering marvel. The politics of this must have been mind-boggling. I have never seen anything like it on this scale.


The next day we took this same amazing road through huge mountains for 4 hours eventually arriving at the Ionian Sea on Greece’s northwest coast. We hopped on a ferry with no time to spare and headed to the enchanted Island of Corfu. This is one of the few parts of Greece that wasn’t conquered by the Ottoman Turks and, as a result, feels very unique. It does seem that it was invaded by everyone else including the Venetians and British. Now it has been invaded again by massive amounts of tourists and cruise ships. The smell of burning white skin was everywhere as lobster-red northern Europeans and Russians in sunglasses and shorts shopped for tee shirts and Gucci everything. The saving grace was Corfu Town itself. It looks like Venice and was built, in part by Venetians. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was worth wading through the tourist scene just to experience it.

The Public Central and Historic Library of Corfu was amazing. It is one of the oldest public libraries in Greece and was housed in an old British barracks in an old Fortress. Like much of Greece’s long, tragic history the original library and all of its contents were completely destroyed by German bombers during WWII. The librarian gave us a PowerPoint slide show about the library in Greek with an English translation. We then walked through the crowds to our next destination of the old Corfu Reading Society. It was established in 1836 and is housed in a charming old mansion near the sea. It is the oldest cultural institution in northern Greece and seems like out of another world from long ago. We spent the rest of the day in Corfu Town. After the heat of the day was over we strolled back to the old Fort, watched the sun set, had a beer in a café by the wine-dark sea, wandered through the old town again, had dinner and then collapsed back in our room, utterly exhausted and full of great experiences.

The next day we took the ferry back to the mainland and drove again through the extraordinary Pindos Mountains to an incredible little place called Meteora. The name comes from the same root work in Greek as meteor which means “suspended in air.” When you see the many monasteries perched atop impossibly tall rock columns you can understand why. They were built there as far back as the 11th century to protect the monks from the invading Ottoman Turks. Some are still used today as monasteries. Some still have remnant ladders that were pulled up at night for protection. Magical is a word that just hints at the special power of this place.  At night I photographed the local public library against the lights on the cliffs. Meteora is the second-most popular tourist attraction in Greece after the Acropolis. But it didn’t feel like the craziness of Corfu because it is so spread out and there are no cruise ships here.

Kalambaka Library, Greece

We drove back to Athens on Sunday with what we thought would be a little side trip to a library in Fásala. This was one of our son Walker’s picks from his internet research. It is a library shaped like a tall, thin castle in a small farming town in the middle of Greek farm country. Strange but true. Hours later after we dropped our car off we walked through the now, somewhat-familiar streets of Athens. We strolled by the Sanctuary of the Olympian Zeus at sunset and we once again fell in love this sublime, crazy and fascinating city.



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One of the great luxuries of this Fulbright Fellowship is the ability to dig deeper into our subject than a normal traveler breezing through a new culture. Of course, we are trying to understand the concept of what is a library. What should be in a library and why? What are the roles of different types of libraries? Why do we have this need to preserve memory?


In Greece there is the added dimension of time. Greek history is everywhere and goes back thousands of years. We were told that if you dig anywhere in Athens you will find artifacts dating back to Classical times. We went to one of the great Museums of Athens – the National Archeological Museum to see this rich history. The Greek cuneiform tablets were not as old as those from Babylonia but they show the beginning of the Greek language as it evolved from Phoenician and Mycenean languages. Greek is the second oldest continuously used language after Chinese. An exhibit on the concept of beauty was fascinating as were the archeological discoveries on display.

The Library of the Hellenic Parliament was a rich source of contemporary Greek culture and history. After going through a pretty rigorous security- check we were escorted by a whole range of highly-educated people that expanded that history and deepened what it means to be Greek today. We left with a 20-pound gift bag of their exquisitely produced exhibition catalogues.

The Lilian Voudouri Music Library at the Athens Concert Hall was another surprise. I had no idea what to expect as we entered a library about music. Byzantine musical script was something I had never seen before. How music could be produced from that was mind-boggling. The pages of newspaper clippings about Mikis Theodorakis, the man who wrote the music for Zorba the Greek and Z, gave us an insight into contemporary Greek musical culture.

Like San Francisco, Athens is a very hilly town. As we walked home from the Music Library we decided to go to the top of Mt. Lycabettus where we were rewarded with spectacular views looking down on our densely crowded neighborhood of Exarhia. Off in the distance, like a beaconing jewel was the Acropolis and the Aegean.

Much of this Fulbright trip will be exploring things we don’t know. I did a massive amount of research on the internet about each of the libraries we hope to see. But I am always hoping for the unexpected. The American Library at the Hellenic American Union was housed in a private college that was accredited through the State of New Hampshire. It has a long-running American Spaces that was started years ago by the US State Department. It was interesting to see a book on the Harvard Medical School in Greek with a poster of National Parks in Maine in the background—examples of American “soft power”.

Like all of Greece the Central Municipal Library of Athens has gone through hard times for many years. In some ways, it reminded me of the library in Stockton, CA where Ellen and I have worked for the last four years. It has struggled against all odds and yet maintains the essential ingredients of an important part of the community. These photos show some of its old books, research and a children’s library.

As we walk the streets of Athens I am stuck by the vibrant street life and the political graffiti. We can learn from what these are saying as we try to understand what it means to be Greek today. The image of the exterior of the old National Library of Greece is a reminder of how deeply rooted the past is in this moment of struggle for Greece.

Front of old National Library of Greece, Athens

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1st Week and a Tale of Two Greek Libraries





We spent our first work day this week at the dazzling new National Library of Greece in the Stavros Niachos Foundation Cultural Center. OMG, what a place! We spent our second day at the old 19th century National Library that it has replaced in some ways. Ionian columns surrounded the Reading Room like pioneer wagons defending the sacred space from the crazy, commercial world outside. I was shocked by the difference between these two competing visions of what it means to be a library. In my mind, both are good. And both speak about the times in which they were created. The old library still houses their vast newspaper collection and is, fortunately, still part of the National Library. I spent one hot day in a section of the library that reminded me of the movie Matrix. It is a vast three-dimensional space that once housed the archived memory of Greece in books. I felt like I was walking around inside a brain. The five storey metal structure had no AC. It also reminded me of the metal box the British officer was put in to be tortured in Bridge On the River Kwai. After several hours I emerged from the heat of this space drenched in sweat.

The new National Library is a bold experiment in what the future of libraries may become. Books are a part of that future as seen by the welcoming entrance way  and the “Book Castle”. The fresh air and sweeping panoramic views from the roof of Athens and the Aegean are also a part of it. The public spaces and programming are designed to bring people in to engage them in the culture of this place. But through the telescopes one can also catch a glimpse of the Acropolis -a reminder of the past as we enter the future.

One special person we met at the new Library was Gregory Chrysostomidis. He had visited 150 libraries throughout Greece. He has the same affliction we have of trying to understand the nature of libraries on a big scale. He took us on a quick tour of libraries in Athens and then drove us an hour out of town to north Athens to visit a small, struggling library that was having an open house to celebrate the end of their children’s summer programs. The children all spoke perfect English and were astonished that we had come all the way from America to photograph their library. One group showed us their perfect murder mystery video they had just completed. It included a live performance by their teacher acting out her part. We also heard a boy telling us about the student’s sculptures based on a famous Greek artist whose work was inspired by the student uprisings during the Greek junta.


Our neighborhood is a fascinating mix of the trendy and the anarchist parts of Athens. We see the signs of this everywhere we walk. One of the highlights of this trip so far was having dinner with Yannis Zervos, founder of the Athens Center and former board member of the Greek Fulbright Commission. I found out about him while talking to his son at a coffee shop in San Francisco. Small world. It was a magical evening and hopefully someone will write a book about Yannis and his cultured and eloquent world.

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 Building next to National Library, Athens

Greetings from Athens! Ellen and I are at the start of our Fulbright Library Road Trip odyssey. It seems appropriate that we start in Greece which invented the term “odyssey”. For those of you that have done international travel taking the big flight to Greece is a little like running a marathon (another Greek work). Exhausted and brain-dead when we arrived I was struck how much the setting for Athens reminded me of southern California. I was also impressed at how hot, polluted, crowded and fascinating this city is.

1st night dinner, Athens

We are staying in the Koloanki neighborhood on the edge of an anarchist neighborhood. The streets are filled with political graffiti. It’s all just edgy enough to be very exciting.  Our street is literally full of bookstores and coffee shops which are two things I love. We feel right at home! I am also aware of the deep history that is part of contemporary Athens. We stroll by ancient ruins and 700 year-old olive trees. The old National Library of Greece is very close to where we are staying. It is surrounded by buildings from the last 150 years that refer back to classical Greek history.Grafitti, Athens

700 year-old olive tree, Athens

Old National Library, Athens

We spend our first day of work at the new National Library of Greece at the breathtaking Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. This is our host library for this part of the Fulbright and we are graciously given a tour by Librarian Evgenia Vasilakaki. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, SNFCC is a world-class cultural, learning and recreational urban complex that includes the new National Library and the Greek National Opera. It is surrounded by one of the largest green spaces in Athens which is sorely needed in this crowded city. It also offers spectacular views of Athens and the sea. In the first year that it opened in 2017 over 3 million people visited SNFCC. Like everything else, the Library is amazing and by the time we meet the Director Dr. Filippos Tsimpoglou we knew our experience here will be a rich one.

Book Castle and hallway, National Library of Greece

After the first day here in Athens I realized that one day was gone but we had two hundred and thirty-nine days to go on our Fulbright Library Road Trip. This will be a journey where we can get beneath the surface and deeply explore what is the meaning of a library. Rather than a sprint we have started a marathon. Thanks for joining us on this occasional blog. Please send us any questions or comments.




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The Library Road Trip continues!

2016-2018  San Francisco, CA


8/12/18 – It has been a long two years since I last posted on this Library Road Trip site. A lot of water under the bridge, so to speak. Ellen and I have continued to work on our project on libraries and literacy in Stockton called On Reading in the San Joaquin. A few weeks ago we photographed California’s Poet Laureate Dana Gioia giving a reading at The Write Space in Stockton.

On Reading in the San JoaquinStack of books, Write SpaceDana Gioia, CA, Write SpaceMural, Stockton

Also, we completed our commissioned project on the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC and published a book from that project called Photographing Shakespeare The Folger Shakespeare Library. We did a book launch at the Folger Library in June.

Photographing Shakespeare book cover copy 2_

We are now coming back to our Global Library Project which took a little vacation after our last blog in 2016 from Moscow. The good news is that I received a Fulbright Global Scholar Fellowship this Spring which will allow Ellen and I to photograph the interaction between libraries and refugees in Greece, Italy and Israel for the next six months. After that we hope to extend the work for two more months in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Bosnia. I call it our Fulbright odyssey and we start September 1st. The Library Road Trip continues!

For those of you that have been following this blog I wanted to let you know that we will be starting it again after we recover from jet-lag in Athens in September. For those of you that are new to the blog I wanted to extend a welcome and look forward to communicating with you over the next eight months. Please contact us if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. Besides being the longest, this may be one of the most interesting road trips we have ever done. Can’t wait to start!


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8/2-8/7/16 Moscow, Russia

8/2/16 – We flew from Kiev to Minsk, Belarus to Moscow on Belavia Airlines. I wondered whether or not the national airlines of Belarus would be up to snuff. But it turned out to be fine and it gave me faith that the global airlines business must operate under pretty high standards, even under the longest running dictatorship and most corrupt regime in Europe. img_0901Moscow amazed us and it fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams to come here. Our funky apartment was three blocks from Red Square and located in a very fancy, upscale shopping area. We went to Red Square in the evening and got caught in torrential downpour. It only added to the surreal specialness of being there. This will be a fond, life-long memory.

8/3/16 – The Russian State/Lenin Library is the main library in Moscow and the national library of Russia. In the morning we walked over to it and I photographed the severe, Soviet-era exterior. While I was doing that Ellen wandered into the library and basically charmed her way into getting us an appointment to photograph inside the library this Friday. Amazing! Lightroom (DSC_9556.NEF and 3 others)We then met our friend Acia who I’ve been in touch with for several months. She is the sister of one of my Stanford students and I met her last Spring at Stanford. I told her we were coming to Moscow in the Summer and she did a huge amount of work arranging visits to some of the libraries of Moscow. We all went to the Russian State Youth Library which was housed in the Nosov Mansion. It is a music library and I made a great photo of a young guy practicing on an electric piano. dsc_9620dsc_9635dsc_9673dsc_9663We ended the day at the Chekov Library which is well run but struggles on its very tight budget. Chekov used to live in this building and I make my last image of the day of a room filled with books and a very large photograph of Chekov.dsc_9725

8/4/16 – We met the librarian Maria at the Nekrasov Library at noon. We spent the next few hours going on a tour of this new and attractive library. One of their collections included an amazing display of graphic arts labels, especially for chocolate bars and calendars. It included ones from pre-Soviet and Soviet times and was a fascinating history of early 20th century fantasies. dsc_9733Lightroom (DSC_9744.NEF and 2 others)dsc_9747dsc_9762dsc_9778dsc_9770At noon I gave a lecture again on my American Public Library project to a small group of librarians while Maria translated. Maria then guided us by street and subway to the American Embassy. I gave my last lecture of the trip there to another room full of mostly young Russians. It was one of the highlights of the trip and one of the great honors of my life. Before the lecture, our American Embassy contact Magia impressed us with her sharp analysis of Russian-American relations and also her great fear of a Donald Trump presidency. Like Ukraine, this is one of the front lines of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. Interestingly (and somewhat weirdly) my lecture felt like a small part of a “soft power” effort in that conflict.img_1012img_1021

8/5/16 – We spent several hours being escorted around the Russian State/Lenin Library by a young librarian named Dacia. We spent a good amount of time in the Book Museum which consisted of the highlights of their collections. It was a truly remarkable collection and I made the most of every minute I had there. We also photographed several large reading rooms. The grandest one by far was the main reading room which was not being used because it was under construction. It was a magnificent room and being empty gave it an ethereal quality that made for what I hope are some great photos. Looking down on the empty room was a giant mural painting of Lenin which also added to the strange quality. The librarian said they don’t know when the construction will be done because they have run out of funds. I finished by photographing the Grand Staircase and several of the guards. Thus concluded the photography for the 2016 Library Road Trip to Europe. A quick count showed I had photographed about 82 libraries throughout the trip.dsc_9827dsc_9830dsc_9841dsc_9912dsc_9926Lightroom (DSC_9949.NEF and 2 others)Lightroom (DSC_9976.NEF and 2 others)

8/6/16 – We had a farewell coffee with our friend Dacia and gave her a copy of The Public Library book. img_4640Walker and I played a quick game of ping pong under a statue of Lenin. img_1111Then we had a sad farewell to Walker as he took off for Finland , Belgium, Ireland and finally the US. img_4649Ellen and I collapsed into a short lived nap in our apartment which was interrupted by a loud rock concert outside our window and incessant construction noise. Later we had a wonderful dinner in an outdoor cafe on our street. img_4657We then did our final preparations for the big trip home. We will miss Moscow!

8/7/16 – We never slept this night. At midnight we took an hour long taxi ride to the airport. We tried to sleep a little at the airport but at 3:30 began the check-in and boarding process. img_4661After a 5 1/2 hour flight we were in Lisbon. We waited another 5 1/2 hours in a semi-conscience state in the Lisbon airport. img_4663Finally, after a 7 hour flight we arrive in Boston and I want to kiss the first American flag I see. We’re so glad to be home!img_4665

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