A BELLAFUL OF PUPS

 A few weeks ago a rather scrawny, rather timid dog showed up in the yard, obviously very hungry. I fed her, and hoped she’d go away, and for a while, she did. I noticed that she’d clearly had pups at some point though how long ago I couldn’t tell, and she wasn’t nursing at the time.

She came back now and again, ravenous, and began gaining in confidence. We weren’t sure if she had a home, and even if she did there was nobody in Kalamos that we were aware of, so it was highly unlikely that she was being fed. She came and went. Came and went. I decided we needed to give her some kind of name, so Bella she became. I bought her a collar which I managed to put on her – she didn’t like it much – so that at least she’d appear to have a home and not be shot as a stray.

Yes, it happens. And yes, there’s no excuse for it, and yes, I’m likely to be arrested for attacking any person I see doing such a thing, but the area is remote and the population outside of the holiday season can be counted on one hand. And the @#$%#@ who do this sort of thing know that. And they know it’s illegal and they know they won’t be caught and frankly, they don’t give a damn.

We didn’t see Bella for a while, and then she arrived, fat with pups, her face, head and neck bloodied with many tiny wounds. “Birdshot,” Ron said. “Birdshot. Some bastard has shot her full in the face.”

We cleaned her up and put Betadine and Fucidine on the wounds. She shook her head violently at the Betadine, making the nasty wound on her ear worse, so now I only use the cream. It’s slow going, but is getting better.

It was obvious that she was very close to birthing puppies. What could we do? We still have the kennel that my beautiful dog, Sophia, who broke my heart when she died, hardly ever used; her bed was in the house with us.

I persuaded Bella  to get inside it and she settled in. For one night. The following night she wasn’t in it, but she didn’t show up for breakfast either. “She’s had the puppies somewhere,” I said to Ron. We started looking through the grounds, and although we couldn’t see her, we could hear little noises in the forest. The forest is dense; no way could we have penetrated to search for her.

We left a large bowl of food which was eaten at some point during the day. We left another that night. And that night it poured and poured and poured, and was cold. I couldn’t understand why she didn’t appear. Why she didn’t come to the kennel. It’s a very big one, very nicely made. The bedding was clean. I worried that harm could come to Bella and the pups she surely had, and spent most of the following day calling and calling to her.

And then, late in the day, as night began to fall and I was filling the drinking troughs outside, I saw Bella racing across the yard to the kennel. She’d definitely had the pups. She dashed into the kennel and emerged in a flash with the teensiest of puppies dangling by the scruff. Hardly bigger than a large mouse. It was all kinds of colors, but the way it dangled, and the way Bella was keening, I realized it was dead. She raced into the forest with it. There was no other puppy in the kennel and there hadn’t been all through the day. It was very strange.

I went back upstairs, not knowing if there were other puppies. Not knowing what had happened. Suddenly I heard heart-stopping screams and squeals and just managed to get a glimpse of Bella running from the forest with a most indignant pup clutched in her mouth.

For such a little thing it had a massive voice! She ran back and forth some 100 yards in a matter of mere minutes from forest to kennel, kennel to forest, and brought the rest of the family to their new home. She’d finally seen the light, or felt the warmth, or had some sort of epiphany and brought the babies in out of the cold and danger. So rapidly did she make the transfers that I barely had time to grab my camera, and take pics from the balcony.

Five. There are five of them. Had she brought the teensy one first? Was it already dead? Did she change her mind? And what did she do with it when she fled into the forest with it? It was much, much smaller than the rest of the litter, so perhaps it had no chance. I’ll never know what happened.

 Bella’s pups were born sometime through the night of 19th /20th March. She brought them to the kennel on the 21st, and they’ve not moved since. They’re growing at such a pace that she can’t pick them up in her mouth anymore.

Their eyes started opening yesterday, and they are cute, cute, cute. The black and white one’s already a live wire. He keeps tumbling out of the kennel…you’ll note ma’s keeping him firmly underfoot. Not yet two weeks old and their characters are becoming evident.

Somehow I have to find homes for them. And that’s going to be a real battle.

 

 

PERSEPHONE’S BACK!

We have had a winter of everyone’s discontent. It’s rained, and rained, and rained some more. We’ve had terrible flooding here on the Pelion. Some of the worst ever in parts. Great destruction. Millions of euros of damage. There seems little chance now of seeing a bridge back in Kalamos given how very little money there is in Thessaly’s coffers. 

This morning the sun has made a valiant effort to revive people’s spirits. The cats are enchanted – butterflies, bees, beetles and all manner of airborne flitters to chase, not to mention racing to ambush each other and unwary critters. Try as I might I can’t get a decent photo of the antics, so fast do they all move.

But the spring flowers are more composed. The first of them are beginning to appear. Slowly. Gently. Nodding a brief hello. Secure in the knowledge that before long they’ll begin to explode upon the scene they will dominate for a while, changing roles, giving way to new performers in differently colored  costumes, as they retire from center stage assured that they will reprise their roles again and again in new performances.

Persephone, daughter of Zeus and Demeter, snatched by Hades to be queen of his underworld, has returned to the earth, as she does each year to bring  spring to winter-weary mortals. What a mismatch her parent’s union was! Her mother is the goddess of the harvest; her raucous, thundering father’s behind all this ghastly weather we’ve been having. Well, you can’t choose your parents, but Persephone does all she can to make up for her egotistical father and we’re grateful. She stays but a little while before she’s obliged to return to her underground kingdom.

Rain is forecast again for tonight. And wind. Lots of it. Persephone probably won’t be too thrilled about that, but her father hates to be upstaged and hasn’t yet ordered Boreas, his god of the wind, to skulk back to the north. And Chione, the goddess of snow, daughter of cold Boreas, still lingers on Mt Pelion. Persephone’s resourceful though and won’t be intimidated – she’ll triumph over all of them before long.

 

OF WINDS AND GODS

First we had Theseus, that rainstorm which was determined to wash us away. He was accompanied by powerful gales which hung about for several days after the rain had moved on. We have Aeolus, god of the winds and his undisciplined kids to thank for their destructive tantrums. Were they jealous of the power of the rain? They stormed and sulked and each made sure he took his turn. Zephyrus, god of the West Wind, got in first, driving the storm Theseus across the Adriatic to us. Notus put in a weak attempt from the south, with a bit of help from Eurus from the east, but only briefly before big brother Boreas took umbrage and overpowered them both from the north. Boreas was not happy. Not happy at all. He was absolutely livid and made certain all knew it.

 I’m not sure about Aeolus and his parenting abilities – his kids are often quite out of control. Zeus is the father of all the gods, and that presumably makes him grandpappy of the wayward winds. Perhaps they’ve developed airs above their station? Whatever, their behaviour left a lot to be desired last week, and they left a lot we did not desire in their wake.

Freddie told us that the waterfront way on this side of Kalamos was blocked by a large tree which the gales had seen fit to rid us of. Pity. It is, or should that be was, an impressive eucalyptus which had provided welcome shade to the little beach there. I urged Ron to make haste across the headlands from our side of Kalamos to investigate and take photos for me before something was done about removing it.

He was gone longer than I expected, but when he returned he had a tale of two cats to tell.

A black cat had taken up position on the tree. Cats are wonderful creatures, adapting themselves to all manner of situations, and this black beauty perched itself comfortably on a fallen tree of a type also well accustomed to adaptation. Almost all Eucalyptus trees are native to Australia, but these trees are so accommodating and fit in so well that they’re found all over the world. Here in Greece which can have harsh winters they thrive at the coast where frosts are most unlikely to occur.

But what I didn’t know when Ron set off was that Anise, one of the Cappuccino Twins and who absolutely adores Ron, was following him. That’s not only a long trek across the headlands for a cat, but can be a dangerous one as an unfriendly dog might be encountered along the way.

Anise caused Ron some anxiety when he became aware of her for she wouldn’t allow him to carry her, nor would she turn back, but she did at least remain in the undergrowth once he climbed down the cliff to reach the waterfront.

Whoever said cats are aloof creatures had obviously never been made a pet of one.

 

RAMBLING…

A storm named Theseus moved into Greece from Italy last Friday. The Theseus of Greek myth was a great hero who did away with all kinds of monsters, not least of which was the Minotaur of Crete.

Many and enthralling are the tales told of old about Theseus, but the country could have done without the storm that bore his name. It’s winter here now. It rains. That’s the way of the Mediterranean climate.

We need the rain. We welcome it. But Theseus more than outstayed his welcome. I don’t know what his problem was – I’ll leave that to the meteorologists  – but he was obviously more than just a little miffed about something.

We received plenty of warning from the weather guys about his impending arrival. They got it completely right this time, something they don’t always do, but then forecasting the weather is a bit of an iffy game, no? Snow, they warned. Yes, got that. Wind, they pronounced. Sure thing. Massive gales that did old Sir Beaufort proud. As much as 9 in parts of the country, and we had some prolonged gusts here that certainly were right up there.

Rain, the forecasters assured us. And we got it. Did we ever! It poured. It pelted down. Whatever synonym you want to choose for rain that falls in fury, it did that. You may recall we have no bridge in Kalamos at the moment – we haven’t had for a couple of years since a storm took out the bridge over our usually docile little river.

Promises have been made of a new and wondrous bridge to come – and believe me, should that happen, I will document it here – but in the meantime we have managed with a ford of sorts that was bulldozed across the riverbed, much to the annoyance of the landowners involved. That little difficulty was resolved, and by dint of a circuitous ramble through lanes and fields, a vehicle could get across to the other side. Kala, as I put it, was reunited with Mos.

No more. We have parted again. The torrents that smashed down from on high caused landborne torrents to smash down from higher ground and our little ford went walkabout. It’s certainly gone Down Under.

 The promised rainbow made its appearance on Monday, though intermittent rain continued until early yesterday morning. The Pelion and Volos region suffered mightily from the wind and rain, with some very serious flood damage, not to mention landslides and snow cutting off whole areas from the outside world. Much damage and much to clean up.

The amazing part was that we never lost power throughout the whole thing. While Theseus ranted and while Theseus raved, causing great havoc across most of the country, we here in our remote little part of the Pelion had no power failure. Sure, the power flickered a great deal, and the internet got into a huff, but we didn’t have to do the lamps and candles bit.

The sun put in a cheerful appearance late yesterday morning, so we donned our hiking shoes and set off to check out the neighbourhood. Olive picking is pretty much over now. The landowners are busy pruning the trees, clearing the land of underbrush and digging in fertilizer. If land is left untended for a considerable period – sometimes the case when there are no heirs, or they have long since left to reside abroad – and the land is not kept clear of indigenous growth, then the State may claim it and ownership is forfeited.

A large olive grove near us was recently harvested by its new owner, who then set about clearing the long-neglected land which sits above the cliffs leading down to what we locals call Dolphin Bay. The workers did a very thorough job of it, opening up the view across the sea to Mt Pelion.

Well, well. Look what we found. Right at the edge of the property, high above the cliffs, at first glance it appears to be a well. But not only is its position odd, but the size seems unusually large. And why such a well? How would water have been contained in it? None of the springs I’ve seen in the region have structures like this.

A house? Could it be a Neolithic house? A house where people lived? No! I think it’s a place where dead people were put to take their rest. I think it’s a tholos – a Mycenean burial tomb.

Ron suddenly remembered that he had in fact come across it last year in April, and had taken photos of it. He’d mentioned it to me at the time – wondering what it was – and then we’d both promptly forgotten about it. Too much had been going on in our lives then.

Much erosion of the cliffs has occurred in the centuries since this was built, not to mention earthquakes and floods, so this structure would have been further inland at the time of its construction; one can only imagine what lies in the sea below.

We’ll go into Volos to check out the displays in the Archeological Museum as soon as possible. I wonder if we’re right about it?

 

COFFEE, WITH GOOD TASTE

 

 There may be an awful lot of coffee in Brazil, as Sinatra first sang in 1946, but Volos isn’t all that far behind.  Cafe, coffee shop, coffee house, street cart – whatever the establishment serving the coffee bean  – Volos has a great many of them.

You can take your coffee in the most upmarket of surroundings where you can see and be seen by those who like to be seen, and where you will part with significant change, or you can grab it as you go from very modest premises. Some of these may be little more than a hole-in-the-wall but many serve surprisingly good coffee at a most reasonable price.

Wherever you choose to sit sipping your coffee, you aren’t likely to be disturbed if that’s your preference. At least, not by the staff trying to get you to leave. Take your time, read one of the newspapers placed about, check your email or whatever on your handheld device, contemplate your navel…

Our favourite cafe is in a quiet side street, a short walk from the busy main shopping street. It’s a little gem. A courtyard on the pavement outside catches the eye as you approach. Bright potted plants atop small tables beckon you to an armchair. Glass and wood panels enclose the area, while a large red awning offers protection from the sun, or even the rain should you decide to take your coffee there. It’s a perfect spot to watch the world go by, and catch up with your friends.

So inviting!

   Bentwood chairs complement the round tables inside. The human soul responds to curved forms – Nature doesn’t do straight lines – and the effect is very calming. The owners of the cafe, brother and sister Vagelis and Liana, have taken great care with the decor. Vagelis is a keen collector of antiques and objects of historical and social interest, some of which are displayed in the cafe.

The advertising posters of bygone times are fascinating in what they reveal of social history, and the aspirations of those they were aimed at.

Political commentary

Some of the interesting collectibles which are carefully arranged in cabinets and display tables –

 Wake up and smell the coffee –

Good Morning!

 Perhaps there was a vogue for cheerful greetings in the home at some point. This jolly rooster, done in what is known as Berlin work, was almost certainly worked from a chart, though when I can’t say. I’m no textile historian so I don’t know when needlework motifs became less formal and romanticized, at least in the hands of the domestic needlewoman; experts can date such pieces by the cloth and threads used. Magazines and books with various designs were easily available and in fact, the first printed charts were produced in the 1500s in Germany, so the design used on a piece may be considerably older than the work. This one seems post World War Two to my eye; I would welcome any opinions.

There’s some age to this embroidery. Worked in silk on silk, by an expert hand, it might reflect socio-economic standing. Assuming the piece is Greek – and Vagelis believes that it is – the use of French seems somewhat of an affectation. Or shall we just call it snobbery, plain and simple? The cultured classes prided themselves on their ability to speak French, with all the connotations of such an accomplishment. And of course, the materials used here indicate a moneyed hand. Vagelis laughingly refers to this as “high society”.

A sentimental piece with its happy songbirds which has rather captured my imagination. It’s painted in watercolors on paper. The simple frame is handmade. By whom? When? Why? Was it painted by one person and framed by another? Was the design copied, perhaps from an embroidery pattern, or did the artist have a flight of fancy? Was this a gift to a beloved mother, or to a romantic interest? I sip my coffee and muse on it. Was it appreciated by the recipient? It seems so heartfelt. Vagelis thinks it dates from the 1920s or ’30s. I’m sure it tells a tale.

 A collection of vintage cameras in one of the cabinets caught Ron’s eye the first time we took coffee here. In this day of digital cameras and smart phones with their cameras giving instant results it seems another age when you took your film to a shop to be processed and printed. 

Old photographs are tucked about. Here is the Volos waterfront in 1945, in the last year of the War

and here is Volos today.

(The earthquakes of 1955 almost destroyed the city; only a handful of the beautiful earlier buildings remain.)

A cutting from a local newspaper refers to a photograph of the beloved actress, Melina Mercouri that Vagelis has, and pays tribute to her 22 years after her death. The setting is a typical Greek pavement cafe where a street photographer snapped Mercouri enjoying her coffee. The date is not indicated, but was probably in the late 1950s or early ‘60s. So much is captured in this shot, from the iconic tables and chairs, the little boy on his tricycle, the glamourous actress and political activist, to the older generation. Greece was still trying to recover from the devastation of the Second World War and the vicious civil war which immediately followed it.

 

Vintage furniture adds to the ambiance in this very pleasant cafe.

Whatever you choose to drink – the classic Greek coffee prepared and served to you in the briki, the traditional copper coffee pot – or cappuccino, espresso, iced coffee, tea, fresh fruit juice, it will be presented with a little dish of something to munch on.

What adds to my enjoyment and makes me linger is the music. Traditional Greek music, French, Italian, vocal and instrumental. Vagelis has carefully put together a delightful assortment that is not only pleasing to the ear, but encourages me to stay and listen.

 

“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