The clocks went back today, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time in Europe. As if on cue, the weather has turned distinctly wintry, with heavy cloud on Mt Pelion, intermittent rain and some chilly winds nipping spitefully about. The waters of the Pagasitic seem unsure of themselves, taken aback that the gales have ceased but ominous cloud remains, so the waves are tentative, hesitant, though I don’t doubt they are more than prepared to rear up in rage if required. No vessel visible. Not one. Those who ply the waters here are generally wise to the ways of the weather, and they clearly are taking no risks.
Resetting the clocks makes me reflect on the passage of time; of the seasons and their cycles; of the impermanence of things. There’s been much in the news of the exciting tomb discoveries at Amphipolis – perhaps Alexander the Great’s mother is buried there – and it all serves again to emphasise that things come and go, things change, they stay the same, they change again. Cycles and circles. Never ending. Round and round.
All the talk of Alexander and the kings of Macedon, the pomp, ceremony and finery associated with royalty, brought the colour purple to mind. Purple is closely associated with rulers and potentates throughout history, who paraded before the minions, clothed in garments of deepest purple, a dye so expensive and time-consuming to produce that only the sumptuously rich could afford it.
There’s quite a bit of purple in my yarn stash. It’s a useful colour to have on hand. Jason, silently philosophical as ever, should get a new hat. And he has. His hat is knitted in the round; it’s knitted circularly, without seam, as most of my hats are. It has four ridged bands which represent the seasons. Green is for spring and fresh growth; yellow is for summer sun; deepest orange for autumn’s fading glory, and red for winter. Red for cosy fires, red for cheer through long, grey days, red anticipating the return of warmer days.
Two of our cats are sisters. The tortoiseshell is Retsina, the marmalade one is Ouzo; they are named for traditional Greek drinks.
We took them into Volos to be neutered when they were little, confidently telling the vet that Retsina was a girl, and Ouzo a boy. He elected to operate on the girl first as the surgery is more involved. When he came to Ouzo, he called us: “You said this cat is male. Well, Ouzo is a girl, and should be called Ouzaki.” We were stunned.
I know that tortoiseshell cats are almost exclusively female, and that a male tortie is so rare as to be considered a freak, but I also believed that an all-ginger cat (no white at all) is exclusively male. Well, all-ginger females do occur. I must say, in a lifetime of being owned by cats, Ouzo is my first ever female ginger.
By the way, Retsina is a feminine noun, Ouzo a masculine, so yes, Ouzo should be Ouzaki, but her name has stuck and Ouzo she is. The vet still teases us about our knowledge of feline anatomy!
Both cats are highly nervous, highly strung, very timid, which I attribute to their early days as kittens born to a semi-feral cat. In fact, many of our friends have never even seen them as they tend to hide away during the day. It gets quite hectic around here a great deal of the time as both are frightened of the other cats, and it’s often a case of “Shut the bedroom door! Ouzo’s on the bed!” or “Don’t let Raki into my study! Retsina’s in my chair!”
Sometimes they disappear all day, particularly in the summer, and only creep in through the cat flap at night to sleep inside, where they evidently feel safe. There are plenty of foxes about, feral cats, feral dogs, and even European Wildcats which can present a threat to them. But mostly they are intimidated by Raki. That little demon, much adored as he is, torments the poor girls at every opportunity, and their lives have never been the same since he arrived.
Ouzo left the house early on Wednesday night – unusual that she didn’t sleep inside – and no sign of her all day yesterday. I called and called through the early evening, with the wind roaring and the waves crashing. Nothing. She did not put in an appearance. Not a trace of her this morning. She hadn’t come in during the night, and heavy rain had set in. I was extremely uneasy, to say the least. I’ve mentioned that few people remain in the village now, and that many houses are boarded up for the winter.
A ghastly thought began to run through my head. Surely not? I couldn’t put the notion that she was somehow locked in somewhere out of my mind, so I set off in the pelting rain, calling. I walked and called. Called and walked. Suddenly, a faint sound. Could it be? Was it a cat’s cry? I called again. A louder cry seemed to answer me. I stumbled on, confident that I was hearing Ouzo. Yes! Her crying was coming from a storage basement in a closed up holiday property nearby. I couldn’t see her at all, but she was clearly down there, and the owners are down in Athens.
So I did the only thing I could and activated the bush telegraph, which has been greatly improved since the advent of the mobile phone. I called Costa, our marvelous Albanian who is the general factotum of most of the village. He called Elias, our equally wonderful Albanian stonemason, who called I know-not-who, who located Niko, the caretaker, who has a key. He lives on the other side of the Pelion Peninsula, quite a long way to come on his old motorbike and in the rain. Bless the man, he said he’d come.
Meanwhile, my husband walked over to see what he could do. Ouzo beat him back to the house! We found out later that Niko had been at the property on Tuesday, securing it for the winter, and hadn’t noticed that the door to the little-used storeroom wasn’t properly locked. Ouzo must have sneaked inside and the wind blew the door shut. Hence her absence.
Ouzo’s asleep now in my study, well fed and warm, but Niko would not have been back for months. I think I need a drop of ouzo ….
Who knows what has infuriated them, but Poseidon and Aeolus are lashing out in dramatic fashion at each other. The normally placid Pagasitic has been whipped white with rage as Aeolus unleashes the winds which he has kept tightly tethered for some time, and Poseidon, foaming at the mouth, responds in great swathes of churning waves. No truce in sight …
My yarn stash cannot be described as small, and it’s certainly very eclectic. Colour dominates the collection of almost every type of yarn, but wool and wool blends are well represented from tweeds to angora, mohair to baby-fine merino, worsted weight basics to the wildest novelties. I confess I collect. Many of my yarns, whether they have been knitted up or not, function as mini travel diaries recording people and places encountered. While delving through the stash earlier in the week, I chanced upon a single ball of Cabaret by Stacey Charles. A burst of colour! Just too, too much but perfect for a zany hat.
Medusa was a beautiful priestess in the temple of the goddess, Athena, which required her to lead a celibate life. Unfortunately, Poseidon rather put an end to her vows of chastity. Depending on which version of classical Greek mythology you read, their love was either consensual (and one hopes so for the poor girl’s sake) or an act of violence. Whichever, Athena was less than thrilled and took a terrible revenge on Medusa, making her face hideously ugly and turning her lovely locks into a seething mass of poisonous snakes. Medusa was transformed into a monster. Shame on Athena, for she was, among other things, the goddess of reason, but obviously reason surrendered to rage.
Medusa, no surprise, fled, and wandered about turning to stone anyone who had the misfortune to gaze upon her ghastly face. Greek mythology is absolutely fascinating, but perhaps not reading material of choice for the faint-hearted!
Cyclamen Graecum – Greek cyclamen – is native to the eastern Mediterranean, lying low during the hot, dry summers, to awaken slowly into full bloom as the autumn rains make their entrance. Where there is shade and a little moisture, a few eager blooms begin to appear in late summer, a gentle reminder to make the most of summer’s remaining days. The flowers seem delicate, but these plants are hardy and thrive in poor soil, peeping up among the rocks, and even quite literally out of a rock if there’s a bit of soil caught in a hollow.
Here on the Pelion where there are large areas of open ground on the hillsides and among the olive groves, the cyclamen are quite a sight scattered about among the rocks and stones. Other wild flowers are preparing for their spring debut, and their leaves are pushing up wherever they too can find a space. Wild oregano and fennel waft their scent through the air, adding to the pleasure of those who take the time to walk through the fields to wonder at the cyclamen.
Seeing such beauty every day is inspirational, so I dived deep into my stash to capture something of it, with the result that Jason has another hat. He made no sound as I hauled him through the fields of pink, seeming content to fix his glassy eyes upon the lovely upswept petals in their shades of pink,arising from heart-shaped dark green leaves.
Cyclamen, derived from the ancient Greek word, kyklaminos, meaning shaped like a circle, which probably refers to the round tuber, are very popular in gardens and as pot plants. There are many cultivated varieties in every possible shade of pink, ranging through to stunning crimsons, and what a vibrant display they make.
And so many colours!
But there’s something about field after field of these little flowers whose history traces deep back into antiquity that can’t be captured in a pot.
As I have already mentioned, the summer visitors have left the Pelion peninsula, sad to go, I would think. The weather was glorious. The refreshing waters of the Pagasitic gulf welcomed the swimmers and divers, and played gently with the littlies who paddled and splashed away happily. All manner of watercraft made its way up and down the gulf, the traffic increasing quite a bit in August when most Europeans take their vacation. Great fun!
There’s an expression in these parts to the effect that the lights go out on the last day of August, and to an extent it’s true. People seal up their summer homes, closing the shutters firmly, tightening everything up against the winter gales that make ancient olive trees vulnerable to their fury, while Poseidon whips the Pagasitic into a frenzy of white water.
No calendar alerts me to the end of the season. The little motorboats being towed up from the resort at Paou to their winter storage tell me that it’s over, that summer is shutting down. Two by two they go, a boatman in front pulling an unmanned boat behind him.
Then he returns, sometimes alone, and sometimes with another boatman, to fetch more. There’s something so final about it. The empty boats, part of a holiday package deal, passed by last week. It’s easy to imagine they were tired, and indeed they are, for they’ve been taking holidaymakers around since early May. They will be cleaned, repaired, painted and freshened up to make memories for vacationers next year.
The people who work so hard in the tourist industry, invariably cheerful through the long, blistering heat of the summer, are making winter preparations also. Some, but not all of them, will be able to take a well-earned rest.
We usually avoid the Saturday market during the tourist season, a busy time on the Pelion Peninsula, as it’s extremely crowded and parking is always a problem, but today we drove up knowing that things would be quieter. Most of the vendors are regulars who occupy the same positions year round, while those who come only during the summer to sell their wares set up tables along a side street. Those summer sellers are gone now, but there was the usual throng of hawkers around the crossroads, selling their goods from the back of a van. Fishmongers, their vans surrounded by cats; gypsies selling handwoven baskets alongside cheap, machine-made carpets; Mr Cluck-Cluck as I’ve dubbed him, who sells chicks from his big truck parked in front of the church, and several souls, usually older men, selling produce from their lands. These chaps are my favourites. They may have only a basket or two of fruits and vegetables, perhaps a few eggs. They sit on the low wall around the church, on a carton, or on a chair they might have brought along, chatting away and catching up on all the news. This is organic produce in the fullest sense of the word. Organic with a capital O, no mass production here. The tomatoes are fat and fresh, so fresh. They are round and red. They often have their stalks. They have blemishes. They are absolutely delicious!
There was a vehicle there today I’ve not seen before, perhaps because I haven’t been to the market for a few weeks. Two men were selling cheese from a small white van with sheep painted in rather romantic style on the side.
I intended to take a photo of this artwork, but it quite slipped my mind once I got caught up in the excited discussion.
They had come from Crete, Greece’s largest island, with their cheese, travelling by ferry – an overnight trip. They handed out samples, cut with a penknife, no plastic gloves.
“Here, taste it!” I managed to avoid doing that, and bought a whole cheese, a small one instead. It is very tasty indeed, quite mild and fairly firm. We ate some for lunch, with wholegrain bread still oven-warm from one of the village bakeries, honey-sweet tomatoes from a delightful character outside the church, sprinkled with basil from my garden, and our own oil and olives.
“So, what’s this cheese called?” enquired my husband, and you know, I forgot to ask.
The sun has been making a tentative appearance today which is encouraging the Sternbergia buds to put on a growth spurt, so we’ll soon have these cheerful yellow flowers dotted about the Pelion again.
Jason was staring at me in his transparent manner these last few days, so I decided to brighten him up with a new hat. He models it as silently as ever. I think I’ll wear it myself quite a bit in the greyest days of the coming winter when the dazzling gold of the Sternbergia fades into memory.
Raki, always curious and ever convinced of his helpfulness, batted one of the Sternbergia gauge swatches off the coffee table and really got stuck into his prey.
I have mentioned before that various Greek gods of mythology were said to be responsible for bad weather, and last night they outdid themselves. An almighty storm blew up out of nowhere as we were reading ourselves to sleep. It raced across the Pagasitic from Volos where torrential rain caused such flooding that news reports likened the streets of Volos to the canals of Venice, and had us scrambling out of bed, scattering indignant cats in our wake, as we rushed to secure the shutters. And did it rain! The water slammed against the shutters and the windows and thundered down on the roof, battering the garden as though driven by some fury of envy at the early autumn loveliness. The gods were certainly enraged. All of them were in on the act, but whose tantrum started it? Zeus flung his thunderbolts about in a frenzy, fuming at Aeolus to release the storm winds. Poseidon, not one to be outdone, shot up from the depths to make his menacing entrance. Talk about a tempest!
The rampage was shortlived, no damage, but a quick inspection this morning revealed that the Sternbergia had suffered. The delicate yellow flowers which are such a delight as winter approaches, were no match for the arrogant actors in this latest drama.