Monthly Archives: March 2017

GET MY DRIFT?

COMMUNICATION: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior

As previously mentioned Costa and I do a lot of talking in various combos of Greek and Albanian. He speaks a fair Greek considering he learnt as an adult when he came here from Albania in search of work.

Kids usually learn a new language so much more quickly than adults do, but it’s amazing how much can be communicated by just a few words, and the universal language of hands. Pointing, waving, gesturing help quite a bit to get a point across.

“So,” says Costa, “I cut down your oleanders. That’s upset you?”

“Well, yes, seeing they were flourishing and seemed always to be in bloom.”

“They’ll grow,” asserts Costa, “they needed it.”

“But I didn’t tell you to cut them back,” I respond.

“Well then, cut me down,” he jokes, making ghastly throat cutting actions. “I’m Albanian. We had the Ottomans. We know about that.”

“Stop! Just stop!” I say, shuddering. He’s been making these jokes for years. We used to laugh, but now in the light of recent horrors they can’t even be thought of.  I throw up my hands as we play through the familiar pantomime. “Do what you like, Costa, do what you like.”

He grins and goes off into the garden, whistling.

His cheerful whistling is another form of communication for it usually brings at least one of the cats and dogs running. No words needed. It’s probably also a very polite way of Costa pointing out that he’s won. Again!

When it comes to people trying to communicate in a foreign language it’s invariably a game of hands. Some cultures ‘speak’ with hands more than others though, and family and friends tell me they can tell what language I’m speaking just by watching my hand movements. I’m not conscious of it, I must say, but it’s interesting to know.

The hand raised in greeting is one of the most ancient forms of non-verbal communication. It’s universal, and when accompanied by smiles it’s clearly friendly. The classic STOP hand signal might however have all manner of connotations, from a warning of danger ahead to a very definite “Get the #$!* out of here!” The accompanying body language often establishes the context.

I had a wonderful conversation in Izmir with this lovely fellow and his companions. We laughed, we smiled, we made hand gestures. None of us had the faintest idea what was being said. It didn’t matter a bit. What was being said was that we were having a grand old time just being. They were all such good ambassadors for their country; it’s distressing to think of what’s happening there now.

It’s probably not escaped your notice that I love to knit. And yes, I guess I do go on about it. A bit.  Yarn and needles are a language spoken worldwide. There can’t be many countries where the language of knitting isn’t known, where yarn and its attributes and possibilities are not at the very least a dialect.

I have been fortunate to meet knitters in many countries. We have an instant connection – we communicate instinctively without any words. Non-verbal communication is more than adequate when the topic is knitting. The hands and eyes can explain whatever it is you want to know about a technique.

Diagrams and symbols, yet another form of non-verbal communication, can be jotted down and carried with you to be studied again and again, and can be passed on to others.

Those who speak knitting are often oblivious to the lack of verbal communication. The spoken language barrier is of no consequence. Demonstrations, the show-and-tell and the tactile signals translate without any effort from those participating in the discussion.

I have never failed to make an instant connection with a knitter whose language I do not speak. I have never been treated with anything but the utmost courtesy, delight and enthusiasm. I have been warmly embraced, offered refreshment and have often had a gift pressed upon me.

The hands that show me new ways to knit are the same hands that pat mine approvingly when I master some fabulous new technique. The hands that patiently guide my awkward ones are the same hands that would probably like to shake me as I blunder along.

Without my hands and eyes I am reduced. With only my voice to communicate I would be diminished. This photograph of my friend quite literally in touch with a blind man had me close to tears when I took it. They had no common language, but the gentleman could ‘see’ her, he told me, and could tell she’s a very good woman. Communication with no need for words.

The very, very young typically have enormous eyes, a feature designed to appeal to the protective instincts of adults of that species. That demon Raki is a case in point, and coupled with his pathetic little cries he had no trouble communicating his desperate need for care. We fell for it!

So did Mythos, who communicated a great deal of loving care to the infant Raki, and interesting that he recognized Raki posed no threat to his position as dominant male cat.

Non-verbal forms of communication such as signs and symbols written in some manner on a surface that can be preserved convey information of every conceivable type, in every language from the most ancient to the very latest graffiti.

Nothing new about graffiti though – we’ve been making marks where we shouldn’t for aeons.

Messages can be communicated in coded symbols by various means, as witness the tally of guillotined heads entered into the knitting of the fictional Madame Defarge. The methods of passing on info through symbols range from messages worked into textiles, from smoke signals to flags, from piled up rocks to carvings on trees and from word and number play to fires and flashing lights. Such communications are limited only by man’s imagination, and that the intended recipient must know the code.

Music and dance are modes of communication with roots almost as ancient as man himself.

Dances are often codified forms of expressing the record of a culture, as this example of traditional dance from the Pelion village of Trikeri shows.

Costumes, simple or elaborate, body painting and various markings used by countless peoples throughout recorded history contain information of importance, not only to the group, but to anthropologists and other academics who might be engaged in studying them.

The objects carried by this Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church are visual communications, as are the traditional robes, which serve to establish his standing in the hierarchy. These symbols are non-verbal communications of his authority and understood by all who are part of the particular community. So powerful are these symbols that even foreigners understand the implications.

Language and other means of communication have interested me for a long time, ever since I was a small child living in a variety of cultures. I’ve been fortunate to have written a book about language and communication so that kids might enjoy it too.

https://www.quartoknows.com/books/9781633221550/You-Talking-to-Me.html?direct=1

BUD GETS A HAND

Young Bud is a live wire, constantly getting into scrapes, but three weeks ago yesterday he surpassed himself in the trouble stakes. Quite literally. The morning was chilly but with less cloud than we’ve been subjected to this long and bleak winter.

The various teenaged felines were going about their and everybody else’s business in the weak sunshine. In the house, out of the house, up the trees and over the walls. Retsina and Ouzo hadn’t yet stirred from their bed – our bed – Raki was taking a light nap and Mythos lounged in front of the fireplace.

At my computer with ever-present mug of tea in hand I pondered the world’s doings. A pleasant distraction as we all know which I justify in the interests of keeping informed.

Piercing screams of pain filled the air outside my window. Bone-chilling cries that paralyzed me as my brain raced through the possibilities. We’ve had packs of dogs tearing through the property occasionally this winter. Hunting dogs that should never be near here have caused us consternation for fear of a cat being caught.

Yelling for Ron, no clue what I was getting into, I flew down the stairs and out the door. The agonized howling continued. I hurtled round the side of the house in its direction and saw Grappa and Anise huddled together, staring at a tumble of ice-ravaged plants.

Costa, bless his darling heart, is the passionate creator of these grounds. I could write a book on his horticultural activities. I could write volumes on our earnest discussions as to why what he’s done/is doing/is going to do is not what I want/like/deem suitable.

Lest you get the mistaken idea that I have any clue about plants let me assure you that I don’t, but even I know that planting a succulent alongside a rosebush is not going to result in a blooming future for either. Simply put – Costa does his thing. I suggest, I protest, I insist and the outcome is always the same – Costa does his thing.

Our gardening consultations are merely practice sessions of our Greek and Albanian.

But I digress. A few years ago an excited Costa arrived in possession of a plant which he assured me was very special. I’ve learnt not to question the provenance of some of these noteworthy specimens. “Why do you care?” is the response. “It’s here, that’s all you need to know.”

This particular example was planted close to the house, on the seaward side. In summer the sun beats down relentlessly on that spot. ‘”Does it want the sun?” I ventured. In retrospect I don’t think it did but Costa surrounded it with wooden stakes and bits of rebar over which he tied some ground cover. “There! It’s got a little house to protect it from the sun until it’s big and strong.”

I was dubious but agreed to water if faithfully through the summer when he’d be back in Albania. At some point it lost the fight for life, but the ground cover flourished into a rather strange looking clump.

From under this winter-entangled mess Bud’s head and front legs strained in a desperate effort to get free. It took a few seconds before I fully understood that he was somehow stuck for I couldn’t see the rest of him. Ron arrived at a run. “He’s trapped!” I yelled, adding to the ear-splitting noise. Ripping out ground cover and summing up the situation immediately, Ron rushed off to get wire cutting tools.

I crouched down as best I could, bad knee notwithstanding, and grasped the terrified Bud by the scruff. The poor creature was crazed with fear and it took all my strength to restrain him. Pinned down as he was, struggling violently to get away, I feared he was going to damage himself very badly.

It took several seconds to cut away part of the vegetation so as to establish how exactly Bud was caught, and then several more minutes to begin cutting through the wire that ensnared his left back leg. Further petrified by Ron’s efforts to release him Bud worked his neck from my grasp and sank his teeth deep into my hand. I managed to grab hold of him again, but he so contorted his body that he was able to bite me once more and rake my arm deeply with his front paws.

Overcome with pain and shock I abandoned him – at least he couldn’t reach Ron – and ran icy cold water from the garden sink over my hand. Blood was pouring profusely from the wounds, so much of it that the paving looked as though something had been slaughtered. My hand swelled up alarmingly.

I rushed inside to douse my hand in antiseptic, wrapped it tightly in a towel and went back to the scene. Bud was still not free, and when Ron finally severed the wire that was holding him fast, it had been pulled so tight during Bud’s struggles that the loop around his leg could not be cut loose. Bud collapsed on the ground, and Ron was then able to work the snare free.

We were faced with a dilemma. I clearly needed treatment, so did the cat. Sunday, remember? No vet.

“I’ll lock him up under the stairs,” Ron took charge. “He’ll be safe there until we get back. It’s familiar. He has his food, his water, his litterbox, his bed.”

I began to protest: “What if he dies from shock?”

“Cathy, then so be it. That hand needs immediate attention.”  He placed the seemingly unconscious Bud in his bed, covering him lightly with his blanket, and we set off for the Health Centre.

It was not a pleasant ride through the mud and the rutted road. My hand throbbed intensely and I could really have used a seriously strong cup of tea.

The crew at the Argalasti Health Centre was fantastic. They always are. I felt so bad that we were disturbing them at a time when there was no other patient present – they deserve every break they can get. Instead I was the center of their attention.

“Do you know the cat? Is it feral?”  I assured them Bud was fully vaccinated.

“You’ll need a tetanus injection.”  I assured them I’d had one not a month ago when Mythos bit me, but that’s another story.

“You’re very brave.”  I assured them I wasn’t about to pitch hysterics.

My hand required a lot of treatment. I was cautioned what to do if it got any worse, given a prescription for antibiotics and was sent on my way under a shower of wishes for a good recovery and fervent hopes that they wouldn’t need to see me again. Not sure how to interpret that one!

Bud was a little more alert when we returned. I nursed him on my lap for the rest of the day. That is when I could spare the time from working my way through the collection of chocolate Ron had bought in Argalasti while we waited for the pharmacist.

By morning Bud was stronger though very subdued. Limping, of course. We set off again to Theresa. No fractures, but he did have a severe sprain and damage to the tissue. She gave him several medications by injection and prepared the syringes of antibiotic for Ron to inject him at home.

We also had to give him anti-inflammatory and pain meds orally, in addition to the cortisone he was still taking for his throat problem. Thank goodness he did take all that easily in his food.

Bud has not recovered his spirits, I’m afraid to say. Has the trauma affected him permanently? He’s subdued and timid, though as affectionate as ever. He’s hesitant to go outside, and you’ll see in the pictures that he hides away when he does. It bothers me to see him like this, though it’s good that he likes to spend his time indoors with me. Keeps him safe.

My hand has suffered too, no surprise there, for the bites were deep and into the bone and tendons. The swelling is almost completely gone, but my little finger will not bend properly, and there are painful lumps at the bite sites. It is, of course, my right hand that’s affected.

Ah well, I guess I have to hand it to Bud.

IS BUD ANY WEISER?

Bud

As I’ve already mentioned when we arrived back at the house there were kittens as well as adult cats awaiting us. Smart, those felines, for it’s relayed on the Kitty Underground that this is a Safe House.

The Cappuccino Twins were watching warily from under an orange tree as we climbed out of Paul’s car. Raki was beside himself to see Ron again, letting it be known loudly that His Sultanship was somewhat miffed. I guess I underestimated him, all of them, for I was convinced that neither he nor Mythos, Retsina and Ouzo would remember us, but it was as though we’d never left. Freddie and Kosta were with them all the time we were away; they and Stella had been anything but neglected.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of unloading I became aware that the Cappuccino Twins weren’t the only new kids on our rock. Far from it, for more and more wary moggies began creeping out of the forest as night fell. I admit I was dismayed. When finally I went to bed I was hoping that they’d depart for new accommodations once they perceived the house to be occupied by that great threat – humans. Some hope.

Clearly these two adorable girls are sisters. Grappa and Anise, as I soon named them, were waiting bright-eyed and eager on the porch when we awoke. No sign of fear, and their condition was good. Didn’t take me long to figure out that Freddie had been feeding them.

Not a problem, and even better was the fact that they were completely socialized. We have too many that aren’t. They arrive here driven by hunger, but are so intimidated that it’s impossible to tame them and as I’ve mentioned before this makes neutering very difficult.

A few days later along came their brother, soon to be dubbed Budweiser. I don’t know where he’d been but the twins were thrilled to see him. Freddie confirmed that he was with them and their mama when they’d first arrived at our house and as he was the same size as the twins, it’s safe to assume they’re littermates.

He’s a real cutie is Bud. Most affectionate, with a tiny little voice, Bud’s fond of communicating by way of the Silent Miaow.

He’d been extremely lively, fearless to the point of foolhardiness and had to be rescued on a number of occasions. It was interesting to watch him at play with the twins who are no slouches in the adventures department but Bud’s exuberance was unsurpassed. And then he began to cough. Just a little. Only occasionally. Not of any concern.

His cough became more frequent, so I dewormed him again. It made no difference, and we put this down to it needing a day or two to take the fullest effect. The cough became much worse. I suspected some form of cat flu for he’d not had his vaccines yet, but there were none of the other indications of such an infection.

Then he began wheezing. Not terribly, but he was definitely wheezing. Yet he’d lost none of his energy and was eating well, though I noticed he ate only the canned food and not any of the dry. Puzzling.

Several days later on a Saturday afternoon in February – some snow still about and the upper road a boggy mess – the wheezing suddenly became very pronounced, very bad indeed. We were extremely concerned. We are miles from our wonderful local vet Theresa, the best thing that ever came to Argalasti, who would not have been available at that time.

If there even is an emergency vet in Volos, it was pretty much out of the question to attempt the 90 minute drive with darkness approaching and snow on the ground. We felt we had no alternative but to put him to bed as usual. He and his sisters have separate beds, with heating, in a little room under the front steps, safe from predators of the night.

Sunday morning early we let them out, apprehensive as to what we would find. Bud emerged, coughing and wheezing as before, but as the day wore on it was clear this was no temporary affliction. He was getting weaker, struggling to breathe, and perhaps the most alarming was that Raki was willing to tolerate Bud on his chair.

Raki, that most possessive of cats, must have sensed something about Bud’s condition that softened his self-absorbed heart. We cuddled Bud and fretted all day until we locked him up for the night, anxious for Monday to dawn, anxious that he’d not get through to the morning.

When we opened his door on Monday we could see at once that Bud’s efforts to breathe left him in a state of near collapse. We were very alarmed. Having taken care of the rest of the furry and hairy ones early we left immediately with Bud for Argalasti, I trying to tune out the distressing sounds from the cat basket where he lay exhausted.

Theresa was her usual calm and reassuring self. She confirmed that Bud had no infection, and turned her attention to his mouth and throat. Bud resisted all her attempts to look down his throat, so she sedated him and after a few minutes he was limp enough to be examined.

“Ah,” she said, “see what’s here in the throat. The trachea is almost completely closed. He cannot get enough air through this very small opening. There is something in his throat that’s making such a big swelling that he cannot breathe. Look.”

“No thanks,” I muttered, but Ron peered at what she was indicating. Apparently the throat and junction with the trachea were greatly inflamed.

Theresa outlined the possible diagnosis. “There is something stuck here. I cannot say what it is. I cannot see it because the tissue has swollen up so much around it that it’s not possible to see. He will need an X-ray and that I cannot do. Probably he will need an operation. You will need to take him to Volos.”

A German who fell in love with and married a Greek, Theresa is a pragmatist. She’s a gem of a vet, a lovely person, mother of three, and very, very practical.

“What I can try,” she continued, “is to see if I can reduce the swelling so that I can tell better what is going on. You need to leave him here with me until at least Thursday.” This may not sound like a big deal but it is, for Theresa doesn’t have a large surgery, and does not typically keep animals overnight.

And so Bud stayed on in Argalasti. Theresa called in the evenings to report on his progress. He was on large doses of antibiotics and cortisone, and was beginning to improve, but what ailed him she couldn’t tell. She’d taken the opportunity to attend to his little buds, so that meant one more could be ticked off our neutering list. We collected him at noon on Thursday, and took him and his medications back home.

She’d prepared the syringes for Ron to give antibiotic shots over the next four days, and we crushed cortisone tablets into his food twice daily for many more days. Theresa could offer no guarantees, but the hope was that the crisis might have passed, and Bud would be spared the trauma of Volos and surgery.

Bud got better by leaps and bounds, quite literally, but he was thin and soon was obviously smaller than the Cappuccino Twins. His story doesn’t end there though, for the irrepressible Bud was racing headlong towards another and very different crisis, one which was to involve me directly.

NEW BEGINNINGS

 Yes, it has been almost a year and many thanks to those who wrote to inquire. We very much appreciate your concern. And yes, it was a medical emergency that landed us in Split, and no, we weren’t heading there. We were on our way to London and then Austin when Ron became ill. British Airways was absolutely fantastic to us, insisting on getting Ron to medical attention after a doctor on board noted that his blood pressure had dropped to a life-threatening level. I could write volumes on what ensued – perhaps I will someday – but it must be said that the Croatian doctors and hospitals treated us with nothing but care and concern. We will be forever grateful.

I was almost rigid with fear when Ron was taken away in an ambulance and I was put into a taxi. This was intensified when it became clear to me that I couldn’t speak. Not in the usual sense, for all those who know me will tell you I have no trouble prattling on. No, I couldn’t find any words to exchange with the taxi driver who spoke no English. Why should he? I have some knowledge of a few languages but of the Slavic languages I’m mostly ignorant. Being unable to communicate aroused a primal terror in me. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

We spent more than a week there – our departure being delayed by reams of red tape – during which time we fell completely in love with the Croatian people. Croatia became part of Yugoslavia after the First World War. Its history, like that of all the Balkans, is a turbulent one. Centuries of occupations and revolutions, suffering and oppression, were compounded by the Communist takeover following the Second World War. To that must be added the horrors of the Bosnian War at the end of the last century, the aftermath of which continues to resonate.

Today Croatia is a member of the European Union. The country is forging ahead, eager and hardworking after the domination and degradation of Communism. There’s a buzz, a vibrancy, and it’s to their credit that most of those we interacted with spoke good English. This surely augurs well for the future.

We hired a charming young tour guide to take us on the long drive to Zagreb where we would continue the journey to London. He exemplified the enthusiastic spirit pervading the country with his spanking new and spotlessly clean Mercedes, flawless English and most informative running commentary.
Apparently Bill Gates spends a lot of time in this beautiful country, and we can fully appreciate why.

We spent the next several months in Austin, a busy time with family and friends but I managed to finish writing a book to be published in April, 2017.

An uncomplicated return trip and here we are again, back in Greece. We stepped out of the car, four days of travel behind us, and were greeted by this

Here is a tiny part of the new arrivals –

There’s plenty to tell, but it will have to wait. We’ve had what’s being described as the worst winter in the last 50 years. It has really been bad – it’s still very cold but at least no more snow. We’ve been a haven for homeless animals as we are the only people in the area at this time; we’ve taken them all in, never fear, and they have plenty of food and shelter. Those that are sociable have all been neutered, but those that sneak up to eat once darkness falls are a problem. This is a subject for another time, but meanwhile, in addition to our longtime pets, we have 14 cats and 3 dogs.

The garden has been pretty much destroyed by snow and ice, but spring’s putting in a tentative appearance, and the wildflowers are raising their heads to take a peak at it all.