Tag Archives: Greek

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.

 

HELLO DOLLY!

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I’ve mentioned PAWS before; this tiny little charity does good work here on the Pelion finding homes for the innumerable homeless cats and dogs, in addition to conducting sterilisation programmes as often as funds and volunteers allow. In the words of the song: “Money! Money! Money!” and PAWS does all it can to raise some.

In April last year PAWS took a table at a bazaar being held in Lafkos in order to sell donated goods such as books, plants, cakes.

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Lafkos village square

My husband and I had been in Texas for several months; I flew back alone ahead of him and made the journey up to Volos from Athens by bus. Friends very kindly picked me up and filled me in about the goings-on during our absence. We discussed the fundraiser being held in less than two weeks, and the need for items. “I’ll make a doll to raffle,” my tired, jetlagged self announced.

Ah, what Dolly folly.

I started that very night, for my sleep patterns had of course taken a direction of their own. I managed to dig out a doll pattern from my collection, noticing dimly that the pattern pieces seemed rather large. A suitable piece of muslin for the body came to hand, and I began cutting out legs, arms, a gusseted body, as well as some involved shapes for the face and head.

Hmm, it did seem a little more sophisticated than the stick figure ragdolls I’d sewn up for bazaars and fairs in the past. The animals had missed us, so much help was forthcoming from various cats who found the rustling tissue paper pattern irresistible. Such fun!

Finally the cutting was done and so was I, heading off to bed with the rising sun.

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Who’s this?

By mid-morning a few doubts set in. What on earth had I taken on? I briefly debated making a much smaller doll, tossed out that idea and set to work at the sewing machine. Fortunately interruptions were few and I could make my own hours, but Dolly was a most demanding piece of work. She was unwieldy to sew; her head and face were well designed, but finicky, and her body seemed alarmingly huge.

Parts of her had to be stuffed before being joined to other segments and it soon became clear that I had nowhere near enough fiberfill to complete the task. Not only was I in no position to zap to Volos, I seriously doubt that I could have found what I needed there anyway. That problem was solved by gutting the pillows of the guest beds, but the question of her outfit began to raise its head.

My fabric and yarn stashes are well stocked, so materials wouldn’t be a problem, but time would. I pressed on.

Her face was done fairly quickly – I opted for a very basic look. Ah, my button jars, how do I love thee, but hair! And no, not the musical. How was I going to do hair? That turned out to be the most difficult part of getting Dolly together.

I should, in retrospect, have dealt with her hair before attaching the head to the body as Dolly became very unwieldy and every attempt to get her well coiffed only succeeded in a look that would have fitted in well for Halloween.

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Bad hair day!

I resorted to three different knitting yarns, but the end result, after a ridiculous amount of work, can only be described as a great disappointment, and that’s putting it kindly.

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A skirt was easily made; her sweater took more time. The Saturday morning market in the village provided knickers – a child’s age four – for Dolly is slim of hip, and cheerful socks in a woman’s size.

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For shame, Dolly!

I finished her that afternoon, ready to send her out into the world with a few necessities in a cute little reticule (a repurposed confetti sachet) and a touch of adornment in the form of a bead bracelet.

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Early the next day, good friends came to fetch us, Dolly and me, and we drove up to Lafkos. Dolly sure did attract attention for she had not been seen in public before then, but she was quietly gracious, allowing herself to be photographed with admirers, smiling all the while, performing her duties without complaint, while we sold raffle tickets on her behalf.

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By late afternoon the bazaar was coming to an end and we got ready to draw the winning ticket. The box was shaken, we stirred the slips of paper around, and then, to great excitement, a ticket was pulled out. The number was read, the lists consulted, and we had a winner!

Hooray! We were thrilled to discover that our lucky ticket holder was the most enchanting little girl; a local child, she’s fluent in English and Greek and has the sweetest disposition. The family had already left, but we called and before long she arrived with her father to claim Dolly.

I think our winner was almost in shock, but she thanked us beautifully – her manners are impeccable – and stood patiently while we oohed and aahed and took pictures. As you can see, she and Dolly are about the same size. Dolly lucked out too, for she’s much loved; I was delighted.

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The adorable winner taking Dolly to her new home.

The day had been a great success, raising some much needed funds for PAWS, but as with all charities, there’s never enough money and we continue our efforts. This year we held a barbecue at which we sold tickets for various raffles, and guessed the weight of a cake. I donated a doll, but one which I picked out at a store.

Dolly she was not – been there, done that!

DO YOU SPEAK KNITTING?

 

Driving through Central European border crossings does have its moments, rather memorable ones at times. Whenever we set off on such a trek, I have enough knitting yarn, needles and WIPS (that’s work in progress for those who don’t speak knitting) to sustain me no matter what eventualities we might encounter. Not for nothing was I a Girl Guide in my dim and distant youth, so Be Prepared! is my motto. Well, at least where knitting is concerned.

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One particular trip required more complicated packing than usual as several stages were involved. A friend who divides his time between homes in Austria and Greece was to accompany us on the drive, and after we had spent a couple of days with him and his wife in the Austrian Tyrol, we were to fly on to Texas from Zurich.

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Our airplane baggage was carefully packed, locked and secured to the roof luggage rack, ready to be checked in at the airport; the overnight bags and other travel needs were stowed in the car. We set off from the Pelion at daybreak, heading to FYROM/Macedonia with hubby driving at this point and me in the passenger seat surrounded by various knitting bags, our friend in the back, surrounded by various knitting bags. Uncomplaining, good soul that he is.

Knitters will understand that the choice of a knitting project for long journeys can become quite complicated, depending on the knitter’s preferences. In my case, involved projects are reserved for plane trips and overnight stays. For the long drives through countries where the use of phrase books and hand gestures might be needed the knitting is simple, the better to keep my eyes firmly fixed on the road.

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Circular needles are the knitter’s friend here as round and round I knit, and round and round I peer, ever vigilant. This amuses my husband greatly, but I am unfailingly prepared. Who knows if a situation might arise where I will frantically knit details of the incident into my work, in code of course, to be deciphered by those unravelling the mystery of our disappearance. I’ve learnt a thing or two from Madame Defarge!

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And so it was that we three left FYROM/Macedonia, drove through no-man’s land and arrived at Serbian Customs. A long line of vehicles, as far as the eye could see, stretched depressingly before us. Our friend has been making this journey for many years, far more than we; he cursed roundly in a number of languages. “Ach!” he exclaimed. “This has happened to me a few times – they decide to do an extremely thorough search. They will open everything! We will be here for hours!” I knitted furiously in the passenger seat. In front of us cars and buses had offloaded mountains of luggage, among which disconsolate passengers stood in groups, waiting to be interrogated by officials. One tearful young woman was wringing her hands as each item was lifted out of her case and examined minutely. “Holy cow!” I grumbled. “They will open our bags and you know how long it will take to pack everything back in properly before the flight.”
“You can repack it all tonight in the hotel,” soothed my husband, “we’ll soon be in Belgrade.”

I knitted up a storm.

To our right was a sort of watchtower structure occupied by a large figure in grey uniform, complete with peaked cap and red epaulettes – typical garb of the Soviet era. The person began to climb down the steps, and I saw that it was a woman. A woman of slow, purposeful movement and very forbidding demeanour. She approached the car, stern of face, and gestured to me to open the window, speaking rapidly in Serbian. All I could understand was “Baggahjes! Baggahjes!”, but there was no mistaking the peremptory gesture at the suitcases on the roof. My heart sank. Suddenly she stood stock still, then moved to my open window and reached inside. She was smiling broadly! She laughed happily as she picked up my knitting, a boy’s sweater, and held it to her, fingering the work and pointing at the stripes. More rapid speech of which the only word that meant anything was “Plekta! Plekta!” And then I understood, because the Greek word for knitting is very similar – she was a knitter, a kindred spirit.

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She handed me my knitting, patted my hands, and stepped back. “Auf Wiedersehen! Auf Wiedersehen!” she beamed, making a sweeping gesture to indicate that we should move out of line and bypass the waiting vehicles, which stretched at least a kilometre. We were, to put it mildly, stunned, as were the dozens of people we swept past.

And for the rest of that journey, whenever we approached a border post, our friend who had been amazed and delighted at this encounter, would sing out: “The knitting, Cathy! Hold up the knitting!”

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PERSEPHONE and POMEGRANATES

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The pomegranate – known since antiquity

The burial mound at Amphipolis, near Thessaloniki in Greece, has been very much in the news recently but now that an ancient skeleton has been found the excitement has reached peak levels. Thanks to modern science we’re accustomed to the fact that age, sex, height of skeletal remains can be determined, but it’s astonishing that scientists fully expect to learn details such as colour of hair and eyes of the person buried in this tomb. He or she was certainly of great importance as indicated by the splendour of the burial chambers, though the tomb has unfortunately long since been looted.

The mosaic floor is of superb quality. Only imagine the skill and expertise required to carry out the back-breaking work of assembling the scene. I wonder if the pebbles were collected and sorted for the artist by helpers? One would think so. This National Geographic article gives a brief description of the mosaic.

Persephone, daughter of Demeter and Zeus, featured prominently in Greek mythology, though the concept of a goddess responsible for the rebirth of plant growth in the spring has a history which predates the latest versions of the Greek myths; birth and death have always preoccupied Man’s mind.

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Winter fruits: Apples and pomegranates are frequently mentioned in the Greek myths

Needless to say, after all the skulduggery and trauma of being dragged underground, Persephone was more than a little anxious to return to her mother from the Underworld.  In one version of the Greek myth, Hades agreed to free her if she hadn’t eaten or drunk anything while in his underground kingdom.

But he tricked her, of course – Greek myths are big on tricks and treachery!

He fooled her into eating some pomegranate seeds, with the result that her freedom came with certain conditions: six months on Earth, six months with him as Queen of the Underworld. Thus did the ancient Greeks explain the seasons.

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Jason’s quite cosy in warm winter colours


Some years ago I knitted my friend a shawl in what has become my signature style, using many colours and textures of yarn; the original shawl is featured in my first book (2000).

We were photographing this one in late Fall before Aeolus, that normally nimble god of the wind, had dispersed all the Bougainvillea blooms, and together with a bowl of pomegranates on the table – the colours were irresistible. So much fun setting up the pictures!

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Highlighting the colours

Persephone is a lovely classical name, not often heard nowadays; Persa is the common pet name. Persephone, a favourite subject of artists and sculptors, is frequently depicted delicately draped in floating wraps and shawls.

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Worn by an antique olive jar

Did she knit brightly coloured shawls to cheer her through the dark dismal days in Hades?

GOLDEN APPLES?

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Apples feature in several of the Greek myths, as they do in the mythologies of many cultures.

Hera was given a wedding gift of apple trees from the Earth Mother, Gaia, when she married Zeus. Theirs was what you might call a tricky courtship for Zeus deceived her into marrying him.

The wedding planner did them proud and although the occasion was a most splendid affair, quite over the top, with gods and goddesses in attendance, lavish gifts, out-of-this-world food, including streams of ambrosia bubbling about, the relationship went rapidly downhill from there. Truly the stuff of tabloids and trashy TV.

Hera, who had a pretty good background of her own and was quite the career woman, became the goddess of marriage once their unhappy union was sealed. The Greek myths tell of Hera’s jealous rages, for Zeus was not the poster boy for fidelity, and their thundering rows on Mt Olympus struck fear into many a trembling mortal, so one wonders if brides of the time were all that eager to have her blessing?

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Sweet, juicy, organically grown

Hera’s golden apples grew in a garden guarded by a dragon, together with nymphs who flitted about day and night on patrol, for the fruits were much prized. Hercules was charged with obtaining these apples as one of his twelve labours; much mayhem ensued as a result of his efforts.

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An apple a day? Not me!

Frankly, I am in awe of the ancient storytellers whose wondrous imaginations gave us these tales. How on earth did they remember all the minute details of each myth?

I’m hard pressed to recall who are the Twelve Gods, never mind all the demi-gods and various other hangers on, whose exploits are so varied and enthralling. Got to hand it to those who first dreamed up the gods and made them mortal in their foibles.

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Oranges, or golden apples?

The Greek myths have held people spellbound for centuries. They’ve been told and retold in countless versions, discussed, debated and dissected in every conceivable forum, with even the apples coming under scholarly scrutiny. Were these apples, described as golden, in fact oranges?

Were they not apples at all, as believed today by some classicists? Others disagree, arguing that oranges came from the East and were not known in Ancient Greece. The dispute continues enthusiastically among those for whom the fascination of these fables never fades.

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Do I want an orange? No thanks!

Jason steadfastly refuses to comment.

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AMPHIPOLIS

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Jason

The Greek Ministry of Culture has recently made known details of the current excavations at Amphipolis, in northern Greece. News outlets worldwide are featuring the amazing discoveries at the tomb site, which have archaeologists in a flurry of scholarly speculation, and interested laymen eagerly anticipating each new revelation. The tomb appears to date back to the time of Alexander the Great, and although some have debated whether it was built for him, it’s highly unlikely that his remains were ever brought back to Greece. Could the tomb be that of his mother, or is someone of great importance to the royal family buried here? Debate rages among academics and amateurs alike.

What is not in dispute, however, is the stunning quality of the marble sculptures and the mosaic floor which have been uncovered so far. The public is understandably barred from the dig, but the Ministry of Culture has released some pictures and a short video.

The mosaic floor is quite spectacular! Composed entirely of pebbles and bits of stone in natural colours of white, black, gray, blue, yellow and red, the mosaic is large and includes the abduction of Persephone, one of the fascinating Greek myths. The scene has a border of spirals and squares in the typical Greek meander style. Sometimes called the Greek key, the meander is named for the river Meander, which twisted and wound its way to the Aegean Sea.

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Part of the Mosaic

I am fascinated by this mosaic, and particularly by the border, and have attempted to echo an aspect of it in two-colour stranded knitting. “Hats off to knitting!” I say, for knitting a small item such as a hat allows me to play a bit with colour and pattern. The hat is knit in the round, in three colours, using no more than two colours per row, with the background colour predominant. I used charcoal, grey and oatmeal tweed yarns, for the flecks of colour in each yarn are reminiscent of the flecks of colour in the stones of the mosaic. The meanders of the mosaic are too long for me to reproduce in knitting, for this would involve carrying the yarn not in use across the back of too many stitches, so I’ve copied the squares for this first sample. I think I might be playing with this for a while.

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Can’t resist the cyclamen!

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Natural Colours

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Jason Loves Flowers

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Jason Meets a New Friend

This praying mantis is nearing the end of his/her life, for it will not survive the winter but if it’s female, its eggs will have been laid, and we’ll have lots of these curious predators about the garden.

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Contemplating the Mountain, Shrouded in Mist

Mt Pelion and its environs, home of the centaurs, is the birthplace of many of the Greek myths. Here were first told wonderful stories of the gods, their attributes and achievements, their moods and misdeeds. Through how many centuries did these tales form part of the oral tradition? How far were these fables carried by wanderers and nomads to people and communities before ever being written down? Who was the original spinner of these enthralling yarns, and how much were the exploits of the gods embellished in the telling and re-telling of them?

We will never know.