“COBBLER, COBBLER, MEND MY SHOE …”

Volos is a most interesting city, as I’ve mentioned before. It’s full of little shops, some of them tucked away, small gems waiting to be discovered. One such is my favorite shoe repair shop, owned and run by a father and son team. Christos is the father, and Spiro is his son. Both are superb cobblers for whom no repair seems impossible, no shoe beyond rescue when they turn their attention to it.

          

 

My original encounter with them had to do with shoe polish. The very first time I wore a brand new pair of dark gray shoes by Ecco, I got some kind of liquid right smack across the toe box of one. It left a nasty stain. I bought gray shoe polish in a futile effort to conceal the mark.

When I lamented the disastrous result to my friend, she recommended Spiro. It took me a while to find the workshop, where I asked if there was a better color of polish I could use. “Po! Po!” replied Spiro in true Greek fashion. “I can do better than that. These are beautiful shoes. I will dye them for you.”

“Black?” I asked, in some trepidation for I’d scored these beauties on eBay and I already have a good pair of black winter shoes. “No, no, of course not. I will make them gray. The same color. You will not know they were ever damaged.” It has to be said I was skeptical.

The shoes were left with Spiro, to be collected in two days.  “Ah well,” I said to Ron once we’d left the premises, “it’s certainly not the end of the world if they look funny. I’ll just ask him to redo them black.”

We returned some days later, with me quite prepared to request that the shoes be dyed black. I was more than pleasantly surprised when Spiro showed me the results of his efforts. Beautiful. I’d not asked what the cost would be, and was even more pleasantly surprised at his fee. Five euro. The cost of the dye, and the cost of his labor was five euro.

Since then Christo and Spiro have worked their wonders on several pairs of shoes for us. Shoes that I thought had no chance of salvation. Synthetic materials are increasingly molded to leather shoes these days. I’m not talking dressy shoes, but the stout type of shoe and clog that are so comfortable to wear and walk in, and although these shoes are hardly inexpensive, the fact is that the soles crumble away with use.

I keep my shoes until they fall to bits, and fall to bits these soles often do, long before the shoe’s uppers are worn out. Spiro and Christo carry quite a range of replacement soles – something I’d had no idea existed – and have so far managed to salvage my favorite clogs, as well as Ron’s hiking boots.

Not only do Christo and Spiro provide financial benefit to their clients, many of whom are struggling in Greece’s present economic climate, but their work in salvaging materials makes a contribution to the environment.

“Don’t throw it away!” is their mantra.

FROM TREE TO TABLE

 

 

 Freddie worked hard for three days, picking the olives by hand – he insisted on it – to fill 20 crates. We have much more on the trees, but that’s all we need and we give the rest of the crop to Costa and Freddie. Ron’s very particular about how we pick and how quickly we get the olives to the mill. The more the fruit is bruised, and the longer it remains unpressed, the faster it loses that top quality, that peak of quality we like.

Olive picking has barely started on the Pelion this year, but we picked early. For one thing, our olives ripen early because we’re on the water, but also because we really like the flavor of this oil. Picking at the first opportunity does lower the yield, but we don’t sell our oil and oil from 20 crates is more than enough for us.

I called the mill we use and although they weren’t yet in full operation, the owner readily agreed to open that evening to press our olives.

The photos pretty much tell the story, from Freddie loading the car, to the washing of the olives and the pressing, as well as some of the folk at the mill. Remember to click on them so they enlarge.

The owner always raves about the quality of our oil. It’s described as Extra Extra Virgin, which  amuses me in that one doesn’t think of virgin as having degrees of comparison. It’s also organic. The acidity level of our oil is so low that the mill, which has the very latest in equipment, cannot measure it accurately. To put it simply, you can’t get better oil than this.

OF OLIVES AND STONE

Olives and Stone

This morning turned into a rather hectic one. Freddie has been picking our olives for the last two days. He’s Costa’s son-in-law but Costa’s in Crete at the moment, so is missing out on our olive harvest.

The olives here have ripened very early this year, and are falling off the trees. The mills aren’t even fully open yet but we need to get our olives pressed quickly. The oil should be exceptional because we haven’t had any of the olive beetles this year. I’ve no idea why we’ve been spared – I think this last winter, a very severe one, might have bumped them off, but some locals think the record-breaking heat had something to do with it. I don’t care what caused their welcome absence, and I sincerely hope they will never return.  We don’t spray against them – no poisons have ever been used on the land – but they do damage the olives and affect the quality of the oil.

Freddie was gathering and packing the olives in his quiet methodical way when I got a call from Elia, our most wonderful stonemason, to say he was on his way down and please to open the gate. He’s been doing some work on a terrace, and has finally managed to locate the large piece of slate we need for a table. There are many quarries on the Pelion, and each has its own distinctive stone. We get our slate from Siki for this stone has fossils of plants, and a very attractive color.  Large pieces aren’t always easily found.

Elia arrived with his brother, also called Freddie, who was to help unload the massively heavy tabletop. Their route to the terrace took them smack bang in the middle of Freddie’s olive picking activities, so he had to gather up his tarpaulin for them to get past. Then he cheerfully gave them a helping hand. Actually, these three men and Costa, among others are all part of an extended family clan from the same village in Albania.

The unusual activity had Raki in his element, and he immediately undertook the task of supervision. He has, I’m forced to admit, become something of a lardball in recent months and isn’t quite as nimble as he used to be. He was rather surprised when he had difficulty recovering his footing while disporting himself in one of the olive trees. The pictures tell part of this morning’s story.

THEY’VE TURNED OUT THE LIGHTS!

August has gone. It came in stifling hot, and went out on a slightly cooler note. As the locals say: “At the end of August, the lights are turned off.” And it’s literally so. The lights across the Pagasitic Gulf from us, at the very end of the Pelion Peninsula, didn’t come on last night. They won’t come on again until late April or early May. Holiday homes are in darkness. The tail end of the holidaymakers left in long convoys yesterday, heading to various parts of Europe, some of the vehicles towing boats.

The little boats that bobbed about in front of the house until yesterday are not there today. As I write, in mid-afternoon, the only boats I’ve seen all day are those above – the one slowly and carefully towing the other across the Gulf. I waved to the boatman. He waved back. Perhaps both boats are his. Perhaps he rented them out through the summer. Perhaps the boat on tow needs repairs. Something about him and the two little boats seemed so forlorn, though I hope all’s well. Those two little boats and the solitary boatman said it very firmly: “Summer is over.”

Today is the Labor Day holiday in America, a day that celebrates the workers of the country, and has come to mean the unofficial end of summer in the United States.

Good wishes to all.

 

GETTING AROUND ON THE PELION

Transportation is the movement of people, animals or goods from one location to another.

Here on the Pelion there are many areas which are difficult to access, and some can only be reached on foot. Donkeys are still used although they aren’t seen as frequently now as they used to be. In many instances it can be much quicker to get from A to B by way of the waters of the Pagasitic Gulf. Anything that floats, it seems, can be used.

There is a network of paved roads, most of which are single lane and require great caution on the part of the driver navigating them. We joke that the driving term ‘overtaking’ can be defined variously as taking your life in your hands, and your life being effectively over. That’s not to say the drivers are bad though of course many are, rather too many actually, but because there are multiple hazards on the roads apart from drivers.

Flocks of sheep and goats are frequently encountered once you’re out of the city; there are drivers with an alarming tendency to stop in the middle of the road, usually around a blind corner if the fancy takes them; strange vehicles of every kind puttering along in a fog of fumes; motorbikes and cyclists seemingly intent on early arrival at the Pearly Gates; horses; dogs darting this way and that; trucks and lorries; tractors towing trailers full of livestock/olives/hay bales/barrels, and just about anything else you can think of; cars towing boats or other vehicles; goods of every kind tied and teetering on top of cars.

Getting stuck behind a slow moving vehicle on a narrow road is a nightmare in itself. The death defying manouevres of those who insist on passing – very often slap in the face of oncoming traffic or along some precipitous drop into sea or ravine – do nothing for one’s blood pressure.

The road from Volos runs out along the Peninsula right up to Trikeri village now and is generally quite good, barring the odd pothole. The nature of the terrain ensures that practically any type of roadway here will twist, turn and coil back on itself like vines in a rain forest. Many of the so-called roads are little more than tracks through the olive groves, and are unpaved, badly rutted and occasion all kinds of challenges in mud, ice and snow. That’s when tractors trundle to the rescue, or sometimes your only way out is by boat.

It’s never boring here on the Pelion Peninsula.

THE BACK END

BASKET UPDATED

I wrote about a basket given to me by Ron’s mother here and received a very interesting email from Biljana, a reader presently living in Thailand. She had information to pass along with reference to these Asian baskets – isn’t it amazing how the Internet can link people from across the globe?

Biljana is much interested in this type of basketry, and thinks that the Taiwanese basket given to me by Ron’s mother is not a funerary basket at all. In our email discussion on it, I had written that Taiwanese clients of Ron’s – guests to dinner in our Austin home – were excited to see the basket and told us it was used to take food to a loved one’s grave. She replied: “I am of the opinion that it is actually a wedding (rather prewedding) woven cane and wood (later lacquered) basket that is usually exchanged between families involved.”

She had further information: “The golden painted woman on the basket lid looks like more like a potential bride getting ready for her marriage ceremony than a candidate for heavenly departure. In those baskets the families of bride and groom sent to each other some presents, usually oranges ( mandarins) as a sign of respect . Mandarins are usually fruit of choice in Chinese culture as they consider them an auspicious element.”

She continues: “Black and red colours and golden gilding are also a combination for some baskets – here we have to be careful, as different Chinese groups use different colours, shapes and materials.”

Biljana’s emails are full of fascinating information about various Chinese cultures and subgroups; about how they migrated through the subcontinent, thus dispersing their techniques and symbolism and acquiring new knowledge in the process.

She sent the photograph I’ve included here – it’s one of her baskets and Biljana describes it: “I have a three tier one (antique) that belonged to a Peranakan family. Peranakans are Chinese Malays, a combination resulted in intermarriages between Chinese and local population in Malaysia and Singapore (we lived there also)… So, I am sending you a picture of my own with same combination of colours, but meant to be given on a wedding day, each tier filled with a group of gifts sending a message of wish for prosperity, longevity …. This type of basket is called “Bakul Siah” or “auspicious basket “. In them wedding gifts were transported and exchanged during 12-day wedding period and even from the engagement day.”

I’m delighted to think that a basket bought in Taiwan some 60 years ago journeyed to Texas across the Pacific, was enjoyed for many, many years and then became mine. Since I’ve had it, it has crossed the Atlantic and traveled through Europe and today sits atop a bookcase in Greece. Much has certainly been woven into its life, and now it’s brought me the friendship of a kindred spirit living on the continent where my basket was so carefully made.

Biljana, thank you very much for all the trouble you’ve taken to add to my knowledge of these baskets. And yes, I fully agree with you that people should share such information as they have, and that it’s always important to open a discussion. I’ve learnt a great deal from you and intend to discover more.

A SWIM-ALONG

We were lingering over our caffeine this morning, and were discussing how quiet the Gulf has been – scarcely a boat have we seen this season – when Ron said: “What’s that on the water?” I looked out at the Pag and saw three canoes, in fairly close proximity to each other, heading across in front of the house. Each canoe was escorting a swimmer.

“Must be some kind of training exercise,” I suggested. “For the Olympics perhaps?” A fourth canoe appeared around the headland to our left, with its accompanying swimmer moving along at an impressive clip.

Before too long, more and more swimmers came by, each one with his or her helper in a brightly coloured canoe. Quite eye-catching. Some of the athletes were superb – scarcely rippling the water – and beautiful to watch. Others were perhaps a little less graceful in their strokes, but all were obviously very strong swimmers. We couldn’t tell from where they’d come, but it was from some distance further down the Pelion Peninsula. Milina perhaps?

We watched for some time, moving from window to window to take photos. Raki, as you’ll note, was bored with the whole thing, and made it quite clear.

Mythos watched our antics at the window from below, but showed no inclination to join us. I think he was keeping an eye on Grappa who was hiding under a bush – he torments her horribly. He’s old and cranky and resents the youngsters.

Dolphins appeared a little further out, and kept pace for a while with the canoes and swimmers. I was expecting them to come closer – they often follow a boat – but they weren’t as curious this morning as they usually are.

I checked the local newspapers online, but could find no reference to this rather fascinating exercise. The participants must be in very fine shape for they covered a considerable distance before disappearing beyond the headland into Afissos. Marathon swimmers, I would guess.

I wasn’t asked to participate – they probably feared the competition.

PLATAMONAS CASTLE

We spent a couple of days this week in the Pieria region of Central Macedonia with friend Dave and the indomitable Tex, a Greek sheepdog rescued here in Pelion. Central Macedonia is one of Greece’s thirteen administrative regions; we are in Thessaly.

For those who might be interested in the ongoing row between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which claims Alexander the Great and wishes to be called Macedonia, I offer the following links, picked randomly among the great many that a Google tour will suggest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_naming_dispute
http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072702653.html

Needless to say, I support the Greek view.

The castle, depending upon whose version of events one decides to follow, was built by the Crusaders at the beginning of the 13th century. Other sources maintain it was Byzantine, and built in the 1100s or perhaps even earlier.

Given its prominent position it was of strategic importance in controlling movement through the Vale of Tempe, which linked north and south, and in monitoring sea invasions. Pirates plundered the region repeatedly, as they did The Pelion.

Phillip 2nd, father of Alexander, marched his men along the Tempe valley on his way to Athens, and while no defensive castle existed at the time, there were certainly other structures. We don’t know precisely what, but work continues on the site and evidence is mounting that the ancient city of Herakleion was sited here.

New Tempe Tunnel Entrance

Long before Phillip, Xerxes trotted his troops through Tempe during Persia’s second invasion of Greece. Leonidas and his men fought to the death at Thermopylae in a vain attempt to stop him getting through the pass. Xerxes and his army then continued south to Athens where the Persians were decisively beaten at Salamis.

The castle was never destroyed, but has fallen into ruin over the centuries. It’s a rather fine example of medieval fortifications with all the bits and pieces one usually associates with such structures: towers, crenellations, loopholes, cannons – the whole nine yards. (Ron points out that the cannons to be seen dotted about the castle grounds are later than anything that would have been used by Crusaders.)

Defence Tower

Water Cistern

The cistern for water storage would have served the defence tower – all protected by a high wall. Presumably for a last stand?

Good advice!

 

 

 

 

 

TAGS: FYROM, Macedonia, Phillip 2nd , Alexander, Platamonas, Thessaly, Pelion, Byzantine, Crusaders, Vale of Tempe, Athens, Xerxes, Persians, Salamis, Thermopylae

 

 

 

 

 

 

RAKI – ALWAYS ON TOP OF THINGS

With all the attention recently seeming to focus on the latest furry additions to the household, some of you have been asking if the other cats have been sidelined.

Hardly! Retsina and Ouzo are now almost twelve, and still as standoffish to the other cats as ever – they spend most of their time on various beds and armchairs these days. Mythos is ten, doing perfectly fine considering the poor prognosis he was given as a desperately ill kitten and Raki is nine.

While ‘Sina, Ooze and Mythos are beginning to show age, with Ouzo in particular being quite arthritic, the little white horror is just as lively and demanding as always. He misses nothing, is involved in everything, expresses his opinion loudly and frequently and is absolutely adored by us both. One tries not to have favorites, but….

Remember him?

To this day he seems unaware that he’s a cat and we believe he imprinted on us. He behaves very differently to the others, disdaining all contact with them. He cannot bear to be parted from human company and is extremely inquisitive, always needing to be involved in whatever’s going on. He has an opinion on everything and all but speaks.

Yes, I know we’re besotted, but he’s unique among the scores of cats I’ve ever been owned by.

 

LOO WITH A VIEW

We’re so used to it now that we barely give it a second glance. It’s been there since our very first visit to Kalamos, when we vacationed in Magda’s house, long before we came to live here.

I imagine the enthusiastic hikers who encounter it as they trek along the headland do a double take. Flushed as they are with their exertions, it must rather bring them up short in their tracks.

It’s not exactly what you’d expect to see standing in an olive grove above the rocks and sand that drop away below. The waters of the Pagasitic flow before it and Mt Pelion stares impassively across at it.

In spring it perches proudly among the wildflowers. In summer it hums with bees as the grass and herbs dry out around it. In winter it faces the lashing of the winds and the thrashing of the rains.

Photo by B. Baxter

I’m grateful to our friend Bryan who provided me with this photograph.

Why it was dumped exactly there and not at the backside of the building we’ll never know, and although it’s hardly private, very few people ever pass that way. There’s a little beach cottage, only suitable for summer use, about fifty yards higher up from it.

Built very roughly of cement block and stone long before any electricity and running water came to Kalamos, not to mention tourists, the tiny house stood in splendid isolation from the world. Fresh water would have been drawn from the well in a deep gully below the house. This is now completely caved in, breached over the decades by the heavy winter waves.

Presumably built as a convenience for those who’ve got to go, the facility’s rather a wee one. Maybe the original owner of the cottage, now long dead, enthroned himself there to contemplate the passage of time? Perhaps he felt bogged down by life but the stunning view surely relieved him.

We’re not privy to what passed through his head, but would not all the ants and other creepy-crawlies have driven the occupant potty? A real pain in the butt.

Though bizarrely placed it isn’t quite as primitive as first appears. Ron noticed that a crude septic tank of sorts – a large barrel – was buried downhill from it. A sort of long drop you could say.

Quite a good job.

Whoever built it took fullest advantage of the view to answer the call of nature.