Monthly Archives: December 2015

A FEATHERY CHRISTMAS FEASTING

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The weather here on the Pelion is weird, as I’ve already mentioned in “EATING BREAD AND HONEY…” and is a major topic of discussion. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a tale to tell of weather past, present and future. Some predictions are dire: “Well do I remember the winter of 19-whichever…; how we suffered in 20-whatever…” accompanied by heavy sighs and headshaking. The audience falls respectfully silent and the prophet of doom is gratified. Souls of more cheerful disposition take an optimistic view: “Isn’t the sun wonderful? It will surely continue, so enjoy!”

There are reasons for the seasons though, and much as we revel in the unexpected warmth, it really shouldn’t be so. We need rain, and we need it badly. We need snow, snow that will melt gradually and replenish the water table. We need some freezing to control pests which will otherwise inflict themselves on man, beast and plant in the hot months. Perhaps it’s reassurance that we need the most in these turbulent times; things do not stay the same, not even the weather.

Nature is also confused, blooming far too early – one can’t help but wonder if she’s about to get a stinging rebuke. Probably.

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Fruit and blossom on the same tree in late December

The bougainvillea beyond the kitchen window should have been bare weeks ago, but is putting out new flowers as though challenging the elements. Bees, wasps, hornets and great big bumblebees are busily buzzing and bumbling all through the short daylight hours.

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Can you see the bumblebee?

It’s strange to hear excited twittering in the branches at this time of year. Migrant birds have long since arrived to build numerous nests among the colour, jostling with the resident sparrows, all seemingly unaware that their shelter might be devastated by a north wind as sudden as it’s vicious.

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Caution! Fledglings

I put seed out for the birds each day

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and although Raki regards this as his own personal playground, his half-hearted attempts to assert himself are largely ignored by the nimble birds who retreat in a flash to the branch and leaf of safety.

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Hope springs eternal

There they hide, chittering at him until he loses interest and retreats to the comfort of an armchair. The sentry bird up in the olive tree trills the all-clear, and back the feasters come.

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The weather will surely change, these birds will move house and take up residence throughout the property, and I will continue to provide seed for them. But Nature is cruel, and some of these birds will be food for the raptors. Life goes on.

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A WINDOW INTO BULGARIA

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We recently spent a few days in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, driving up from the Pelion and crossing the border outside of Serres. We’ve travelled quite a bit through Balkan states, but this was our first visit to Bulgaria, nestled deep in the heart of the Balkans.

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It will take me time to process my impressions, to reconcile what I saw and heard with the very little I knew of the country’s history and its warm-hearted people. Of course, it can be argued that a few hours of driving through small towns en route, together with a somewhat hair-raising encounter with rush hour traffic in historic downtown Sofia, hardly qualifies one to make pronouncements, but first impressions do frequently find their mark, which in this instance make us eager to return for further exploration.

Bulgaria’s history is long, and long has its geographical position subjected it to invasion. Social turbulence, hideous conflict, unspeakable horrors have dominated the country since time immemorial; the Ottoman Occupation lasted here even longer than in Greece, and finally ended in the Independent Bulgaria of 1878.

Not for long, sadly, for immediately post World War Two Bulgaria was gripped, choked by Communism. The Soviet-era scars remain, both in the hideous concrete structures built to house the populace – visible memories of poverty, fear and repression – but also in the recollections of those who lived through it.

Plovdiv, the second largest city, is ancient. Its buildings are a fascinating mix of architecture; there’s a Roman city, there are mosques, temples and churches, museums, theatres, and dwellings of historic significance. The city was home through the ages to peoples of all ethnic groups, religions and cultures; it was a crossroads of commerce, a thoroughfare of tradesmen, a meeting point for many minds.

Bulgaria was admitted to the European Union in January, 2007. Plovdiv’s inner city is undergoing urban renewal – the inevitable signs of rapid development apparent in the many construction sites, with their scaffolding scarring the facades of graciously genteel buildings. Steel and glass modernity is juxtaposed with gems of bygone architecture, and in some cases is even imposed upon these older buildings in that the lower levels have been updated – plate glass windows and doors – whilst the upper levels remain untouched. So far.

The wealth of architectural detail and ornament still to be seen is quite stunning. Many are the photographs I took while ambling in a very small area, some of which I’ll share with you in the next few posts.

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