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06.27.2003

Center for Hellenic Studies

I'm writing this on a northbound train, headed back to Vermont after spending three days (and three air-conditioned nights) at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, DC.

The Center for Hellenic Studies is the kind of place that would launch a thousand classics careers, if only more people knew about it. Picture an ivory tower, sliced into two-story bungalows and tastefully arranged along a half dozen acres of shrubbery somewhere between the Italian Embassy and Cheney's underground bunker. Add an opulent mansion filled with rare Greek texts, a full-time chef, antiques in every corner, and a Harvard affiliation, and that's the CHS in a nutshell.

The Center was founded in remote antiquity by someone very, very rich, and it's been quietly thriving ever since as the real estate under it appreciates. Every year, a dozen or so pre-tenure classics scholars are accepted for a year in residence, each one getting a bedroom in one of the cozy white bungalows, a comfortable office to work in, and luncheon served promptly at half noon on the terrace. Each classics scholar writes a book, returns in triumph to his home institution (where Tenure patiently knits), and goes on to raise forth a new generation of classicists to repeat the cycle.

You may be wondering what on Earth I was doing there - all I know about the Hellenic world is what I picked up from filmstrips in the fifth grade. It turns out this timeless discipline has a hard core of forward-thinking markup geeks who are crazy about technology. In more typical higher-ed environments, people will apply for a three-year grant just to install a CGI script, but here they were discussing scalable vector graphics, XSLT, the Text Encoding Initiative, and all sorts of other ambitious projects.

It was also fun to eavesdrop on classicists talking shop. I gave up my place in line at the tuna salad amphora just so I could run and transcribe the following:

"Obviously sole practitioners at individual institutions, however vivarian, can't routinize the charisma"

Where else are you likely to hear that spoken in a slow Southern drawl?

The very best thing about my visit was being within slogging distance of a pizzeria called 2 Amys. I was tipped off to its existence by my very amiable bungalow mate (a man who, if I didn't know my cat, I would call the loudest walker in the country. Stomp! Stomp!). Two Amys has gone through the trouble of getting itself certified as a genuine pizzeria by the appropriate Neapolitan pizza authorities. They serve marvelous tasting pies, thin and puffed up from the oven, served up in a brightly-lit, busy room that cheers the lonesome blogger. Also helpful on that front is the fizzy red pizza wine, which tastes exactly how you wanted wine to taste when you were a kid, before you had actually tried any and were disappointed. The pizza at 2 Amys was so good that I didn't even mind walking two miles through the hot ozone chowder that passes for atmosphere in summertime Washington.

My problem is, now I'm in Brandon, Vermont, where the pizza tastes like rubber bands. Can anyone recommend a good pizzeria in Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine, to take the edge off my withdrawal? I'll be travelling through both Portlands en route to the Open Source conference next month, and staying for a while in the western one. Better yet, if you're at the conference, or just happen to live in occidental Portland, drop me a line and we'll catch ourselves a slice.

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