Tag Archives: Albania

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.

SHADES OF ROALD DAHL

Several years ago Costa arrived at the house late one afternoon with a happy grin on his face.

“I’ve something for you. Will you give me a beer?”

Biera. That’s possibly one of Costa’s favourite words. Fond of his beer is Costa, and we make sure to have a supply on hand. He drops in when he’s working in the area, and we have our little ritual of beer for Costa and tea for me. He’s the most cheerful man, loving to crack jokes, especially about being a Muslim.

“Yes,” he’ll laugh, “I’m a very good Muslim – I drink beer and I eat pork.” (It’s worth noting here that over 50% of Albanians are secular Muslims; the country was under harsh Ottoman rule for five centuries and then Communism for decades.)

“Are you both well?” he continued, as I made ready to fetch him a beer.

“Sit! Sit!” He led me to a garden bench. “I’ve brought something you will like.”

He darted off up the driveway towards the gate. Puzzled, I waited. Hiding something away to surprise me with is a little game of his.

“What is it?” he’ll tease. “What do you think I’ve got?”

Could be anything. If it’s a plant or bunch of flowers he’ll keep it behind his back until he’s satisfied I’m sufficiently curious, then he’ll produce it with a flourish. He’s a great showman, is Costa, and a most kind and generous person.

He came trotting back down the drive carrying a typical round Greek terrace table. You see these classic little tables everywhere in Greece. Simple and practical they’re the stuff of picture postcards, often painted blue, set amid pots of bright red geraniums, and with an inviting jug of wine or cup of coffee atop them.

They’re iconic, instantly recognizable as Greek, speaking of lazy summer days. Mind you, I’m not sure if the days of the staff who serve customers in tavernas and coffee shops are all that lazy – they run themselves ragged taking care of their customers.

But the table Costa was holding aloft was not new. Its top was quite battered, what little paint left on it flaking off in a mishmash of grayish green, mixed with plenty of rust. It was charming. I loved it instantly. It reflected a great deal of age, hand wrought of thick steel and still perfectly sturdy.

“Costa!” I exclaimed. “Where did you get it?”

“What do you care?” came his standard reply. “I got it and it’s for you. That’s all you need to know.”

Bless him, he knows I appreciate the old, the unusual and most especially the handmade.

We put it in a corner of the terrace where it stood proudly for several years facing Mt Pelion, often graced by a red geranium in an old ceramic pot. The winds can be very fierce across this terrace. Aelos, god of the wind and chosen by Zeus himself, doesn’t always tease gently off the sea. At times he hurls himself savagely onto the land, particularly when Zeus is having a right old spat with his wife Hera and has demanded that Aeolos do his bidding.

The original geranium has been replaced many times, so vicious can Aeolos be when he decides to release the winds under his command, but the pot and the table have never yielded to him, and the table became even more weathered and dignified in its old age.

“You need to let me paint that,” Costa would assert, frequently, over the years. “It’s old and people will think you are very poor and can’t afford to buy a new one.” Appearances matter to Costa.

“No, you can’t”, I would reply. “I love it like that. It’s beautiful. It has a history. Who knows where it’s been, and how many tales it can tell us? Just you leave it alone, there’s no need to paint it.”

Costa would merely sniff, but one day, after a couple of beers, he did reveal he’d found it dumped in a gully with a pile of builder’s rubble. It could have come from anywhere, but it certainly has had a long life.

As you know, we were gone almost all of last year. Costa and Freddie were absolute stars, taking it in turns to come down from Albania to look after our numerous pets and keeping everything going here. Costa isn’t usually in Kalamos during the summer because there’s not much work. The winter months are his busy ones as it’s then that the olives are harvested, the trees pruned and the lands tidied up. So he had lots of time on his hands, and he used it well, doing all kinds of little chores about the property.

Have you read Roald Dahl’s wonderful story “The Parson’s Pleasure”? If not, you’ve missed out on one of his typical pieces of black humour. This tale involves the destruction of a genuine Chippendale commode, and yes, you’ve guessed right. Costa channeled Dahl, of whom he’s never heard although Dahl’s delicious stories must surely have been translated into Albanian.

No, Costa didn’t saw the legs off my beautifully distressed table, my gorgeous piece of shabby chic, but he did finally get his way. He painted it.

He went to all the trouble of having someone buy him the paint, and he painted it. Bright green yet. Rather a startling bright, glossy green. He couldn’t wait to show it to me when we returned.

I confess I gasped. I was stunned, but Costa was thrilled, assuming I was delighted. Oh dear. No way could I have hurt his feelings. Never could I do that. So I told him it was perfect, absolutely perfect, I praised him for his thoughtfulness.

And Costa beamed. He’s so proud of it. He’s overjoyed to have made me happy. And yes, it’s absolutely not what I wanted, not at all, but you know what? It is perfect. Absolutely perfect.

 

His Sultanship

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Computer “Help”

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Just Resting

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Just Resting ….. Some More

Many of you know that Raki is a much adored, much indulged cat who genuinely doesn’t appear to know he is a cat. We fancy that he believes himself to be one of us. Like us. He certainly has no idea how to interact with the other cats of the household, and holds himself aloof from them. Perhaps this is because he was hand-reared, but it also has to do with his personality.

Cats have been part of my life, all my life. There’s a photo of me sitting up in my pram in Scotland – one of those gorgeous large carriages, all wood trim and huge wheels – with a tabby cat asleep at the foot of it. I adore cats, I like to think I understand cats, my childhood home was filled with cats. I was enthralled by the stories my Mother told me of cats she had owned, of cats she had known of, of cats which had featured in tales she in turn had been told in lands far away and foreign to me at the time.

Raki is unique. Not because we are besotted with him, not because we are slowly going dotty, but because of his behaviour which enchants all who see him, even those who are not typically lovers of cats. It’s often said that cats are standoffish, that they aren’t faithful and companionable like dogs, but that can never be said of Raki. He’s deeply affectionate, has the most delightful quirks, and is devoted to us, particularly to Ron. He’s always very close to us, following us everywhere; we never have to search for him.

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Nap Time

A few weeks ago, Costa’s daughter came down from Albania to visit her husband who is working here on the Pelion Peninsula, and accompanied him daily to assist with his work in the fields. Marieklena speaks little Greek, but she speaks the language of yarn. Fluently. Her workworn hands were busy every spare moment in the evenings; crochet is her thing, and she’s an expert.

Marieklena was charmed by Raki, and told us of other Van cats like him in Albania, for of course these cats came to Albania from Turkey as they did to Greece. She returned to Albania with hubby Freddie last week – a few days break for him to see his children. Freddie came back last night, bringing gifts from the family – Costa’s extended, generous and gracious family – but the most important gift is for Raki. Mariklena made it, and sent it with explicit instructions that it is only for him so that he might sleep on bedding fit for a sultan, which is what we occasionally refer to him as.

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Freddie explained that Mariklena made the pompons* so that he’d have something to play with. I admit I was overcome, and clearly so was Raki for he wasted not a minute climbing on it when I spread it out, and fell instantly asleep.

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Immediately

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Three Minutes Later

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As the Day Passed

* Apparently the pompons are created on a wooden device, hand carved for the purpose, which is traditional in Albania.  Mariklena uses a very old one made by an ancestor of Costa’s family. Such an item is new to me and I can’t wait to examine it.

GIFTS FROM ALBANIA

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Every so often a relative of Costa’s who runs a sort of taxi service drives down from Albania to the Pelion. His visa restrictions allow him multiple entry into Greece for a 3-month period, after which he must remain outside the country for 6 months before he may enter again. Costa’s family are generous indeed in their gifts to us, and send the most delicious produce from their land whenever Bleddie drives his people carrier down.

No pesticides are used. Ever. The women of the household work very, very hard to grow their food, to tend the animals, to prepare and preserve foodstuffs for the winter, all the while separated from Costa. Costa has toiled for a great many years here on the Pelion, away from his wife, his children, his grandchildren and the rest of his extended family for several months at a time.

All their products are delicious, but it’s the potatoes that I’m crazy about. We’ve never eaten any like them before; none we can buy here come close to them in taste or texture, and that’s saying something as fresh produce on the Pelion is abundant and excellent. Costa was fascinated the first time I prepared baked potato with bacon, cheese and all the trimmings. Absolutely scrumptious, and fit for the gods.

He’s tickled pink that Ron loves popcorn, and each care package contains enough to keep Ron happy until the next batch arrives.
“Does he like it?” Costa asks me repeatedly. “It pops well, doesn’t it? Is it good?”
Bless his heart, it is, and the generosity of it all touches us deeply.

Bleddie arrived on Monday. I’m sharing here with you just some of what he brought. And yes, we had baked potatoes with dinner on Monday, last night and will again today. Got to eat them fresh!

LOST AT SEA

 

The Pagasitic Gulf has a fairly good natured temperament, but as the saying goes, still waters run deep and in this case they do quite literally for the Gulf’s depth is about 100 meters in most parts. Though usually calm, the Pag can be moody, showing flashes of anger just when least expected, particularly after Poseidon decides to get his trident in a twist. Rather high and mighty is Poseidon, conscious of his position as one of the Twelve Gods; his realm is the sea and he’s a touchy character. Very. Poseidon is quick to take offense, and even quicker to vent his fury, striking his three pronged weapon to cause earthquake and tsunami, shipwreck and drowning. For my part I’ll take his raging seas any day rather than his earthquakes.

Pagasetic Gulf

Pagasitic Gulf from Google Earth

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The waters of the Pagasitic can boil up in no time, frequently subsiding just as swiftly, but when Poseidon’s tantrums are out of control, the sea might rage for days, depositing all manner of debris along the beaches and among the rocks. Plastic, that prince among pollutants in all its forms, nets, ropes, wood, medical waste bearing foreign labels and doubtless dumped at sea, bottles, branches, logs, shoes, clothing, toys, to name but a few. My dog Sophia, keen swimmer and beachcomber, supplemented the toys we constantly bought her, by retrieving various playthings and balls from the tangled messes hurled onto the shore.

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After one particularly fierce storm when Poseidon was completely out of control, I noticed a piece of green knitwear twisted tightly around some vegetation. Intrigued, I retrieved the mangled bundle and set about separating the knitting from the twigs and pine cones, burrs, thistles and bits of root gripping it. A very damaged, hand knitted sweater was finally freed. I was rather upset at first; it was difficult not to think that maybe a life had been lost. But then again, why should that have been the case? It could just as easily have been blown overboard, or accidentally dropped into the sea. Or been swept by a wave off the beach. Washed away in a heavy rainstorm. What about the person who’d lost it? Was it their only sweater? Sophia and I walked home, and I placed the matted little heap on a table to dry in the sun.

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The next day I picked off some of the seed pods stuck all over it. This sweater has been in the water a long time. It’s faded in parts, badly ripped, it’s brittle and disintegrating, but it has a story to tell and I’m trying to understand it. There’s a temptation to indulge in a flood of metaphor and sentiment with regard to it, with waffle about unraveling and dropped stitches, and being battered by life, about what it was and what it no longer is, but the fact remains that someone went to the trouble of making it, and somehow it got lost. The fact remains that it’s handknitted, and that one seldom sees handknitted clothing here any more. The street markets in Europe have seen to that.

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So where did it come from, this little sweater? And by whose hands was it made? The yarn is wool, it’s quite badly degraded, but it appears to have been handspun. This makes me think of Albania where I know women who spin beautiful yarns on drop spindles to knit for their families. The garment is knitted back and forth in pieces, which have been seamed together; the sleeves are set in; the neckband is crocheted. The yarn has been held double at all the cast on edges – a technique commonly used in Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey and parts of the Middle East. A close examination reveals no damage to the cast on edges, which is interesting in that other areas of the sweater have been torn. The cast on stitches are fairly rigid, they have very little elasticity, which again brings Albania to mind.

The workmanship would win no prizes, but this is a utilitarian garment, made to serve a need. It is not the work of privilege, if I may phrase it so. The hands that drew upon age-old knowledge and techniques to make it, that did so with love and concern, created a garment that links all those of us who knit. Who knows how far it’s traveled?P1110973 [HDTV (1080)]A IMG_2241 [HDTV (720)]A