Tag Archives: Mt Pelion

LOO WITH A VIEW

We’re so used to it now that we barely give it a second glance. It’s been there since our very first visit to Kalamos, when we vacationed in Magda’s house, long before we came to live here.

I imagine the enthusiastic hikers who encounter it as they trek along the headland do a double take. Flushed as they are with their exertions, it must rather bring them up short in their tracks.

It’s not exactly what you’d expect to see standing in an olive grove above the rocks and sand that drop away below. The waters of the Pagasitic flow before it and Mt Pelion stares impassively across at it.

In spring it perches proudly among the wildflowers. In summer it hums with bees as the grass and herbs dry out around it. In winter it faces the lashing of the winds and the thrashing of the rains.

Photo by B. Baxter

I’m grateful to our friend Bryan who provided me with this photograph.

Why it was dumped exactly there and not at the backside of the building we’ll never know, and although it’s hardly private, very few people ever pass that way. There’s a little beach cottage, only suitable for summer use, about fifty yards higher up from it.

Built very roughly of cement block and stone long before any electricity and running water came to Kalamos, not to mention tourists, the tiny house stood in splendid isolation from the world. Fresh water would have been drawn from the well in a deep gully below the house. This is now completely caved in, breached over the decades by the heavy winter waves.

Presumably built as a convenience for those who’ve got to go, the facility’s rather a wee one. Maybe the original owner of the cottage, now long dead, enthroned himself there to contemplate the passage of time? Perhaps he felt bogged down by life but the stunning view surely relieved him.

We’re not privy to what passed through his head, but would not all the ants and other creepy-crawlies have driven the occupant potty? A real pain in the butt.

Though bizarrely placed it isn’t quite as primitive as first appears. Ron noticed that a crude septic tank of sorts – a large barrel – was buried downhill from it. A sort of long drop you could say.

Quite a good job.

Whoever built it took fullest advantage of the view to answer the call of nature.

 

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.

 

SPRING’S POPPING UP!

The weather’s been very unsettled, rather like Greece’s political and economic situation at present; brief periods of brilliant and heartwarming sunshine readily give way to gray cloud and rain. The weather forecasters have been speaking of yet another really cold snap to hit us before spring arrives, and plenty more rain which we certainly do need. These prognostications may of course be wrong, and it can’t be easy to predict conditions for the Pelion Peninsula, as we really do have the most mini of micro climates, given the terrain – gulfs, gullies, headlands, hills and pinnacles. The rain nymphs, known as the Hyades in Greek mythology, might be chucking it down hard on us, while Helios, god of the sun, is beaming benignly on our friends up the hill. Does make life interesting!

This morning brought a sunny dawn, fairly warm with only a little cloud.

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Anemones and daisies, always among the first wildflowers, have begun appearing, but I was thrilled to see a poppy – one solitary little poppy on the whole property.

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Poppies typically begin their exuberant displays in March so perhaps this enthusiastic loner augurs well for the coming days. We’ll see.

Mythos and Raki, never ones to miss any activity, made the very most of the sun which sadly decided to make itself scarce come midmorning and by noon sea and sky had settled into deep pewter, this season’s prevailing colour.

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Can you see me?

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Where’s Mythos going?

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What’s he doing?

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What’s he up to?

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Oh, please! I’m always the one who’s on top of things.

The temperature has fallen quite sharply, and now the rain clouds loom, leering darkly down on us, while Mt Pelion has begun to vanish from view.

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But life is busy in the garden – spring is coming for sure!

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New housing developments

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MYTHOS MAJOR AND MINOR

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How do I open this?

This is Mythos, who was named after the award winning Greek beer, Mythos. A very popular brew, Mythos has a good head of foam topping its rich golden colour, so it’s easy to see how Mythos cat got his name, but feline Mythos also has a good head on his shoulders for he was sharp-witted enough to make his home here.

Mythos has a long sad story of his own, which I will tell you in some future post, but today I’ll introduce what is likely to become the latest addition to the furry and hairy household.

For want of a better name at present, I give you Mythos Minor.

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I don’t care that it’s the dog food – there’s so much! And I’m SO hungry

This feisty little chap showed up here just over a week ago, in the rain, out of the forest. Skin and bone, skin and bone but with the typical hugely swollen bellyfull of worms.

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Are you my mom?

When Costa saw him a couple of days later he assured me that the intrepid infant had made his way to us from the furthest end of the village, a distance of at least a mile, across rocky headlands and through dense undergrowth. If Costa says so, then it is so.

Costa is familiar with all that happens here, and it would seem that Mythos Minor was one of several cats and kittens that scrounged around at a particular taverna, now closed since September. This is an annual saga.

Well-meaning holiday makers feed many of these feral cats, but when they leave the cats (and dogs) have to fend for themselves. Anyway, Costa is quite convinced of Minor’s origins. How on earth did this spunky soul make it to us, and how long did it take him? Fortunately, unlike Raki, he’s fully weaned.

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All these big cats frighten me.

What to do? Like all kittens, he’s very cute and curious.

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Smells good! This is catnip?

We’d love to keep him, even though he’s already caused much upset among the other cats, all of whom are rescues. We’ve brought him to the attention of Sharon at PAWS  and our fingers are tightly crossed that he might be adopted, but…..

That’s Raki? He doesn’t like me!

Right now Junior has a warm bed in the shed with a heat lamp and all comforts.

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Please take care of me.

He’s taken out several times a day to play about, climb trees and be socialised. He’s very friendly and affectionate and absolutely hates being put back into the shed after we’ve tired him out.

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Stepping boldly forth

He’s a spunky soul, and does his best to stand his ground, but two of our big toms are determined to hurt him. Funny how they’ve forgotten the dreadful circumstances each was in when they were rescued!

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So much to explore!

He deems everything worthy of his attention, and zooms about as long as I am there to protect him.

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Raki is NOT happy

Mythos Major was advancing on Minor earlier this morning.

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Why should I be nice to the little brat?

Anxious to avoid an upset, I tried to distract him with a cat treat which he is very partial to. Minor had no intention of being left out though, figuring that anything Major got he should get too.

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Bribery – it worked!

Minor’s more than just courageous though; he’s one smart kitty and pretty soon decided not to push his luck,

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Deferring to the big boy

… contenting himself with the leftovers.

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Is that another little bit?

Mt Pelion, home to many of the Greek myths, stares down upon me as I write as though it knows that Mythos Minor is unlikely to be going anywhere anytime soon.

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.

JASON GETS A PHILOSOPHICAL HAT

The clocks went back today, marking the end of Daylight Saving Time in Europe. As if on cue, the weather has turned distinctly wintry, with heavy cloud on Mt Pelion, intermittent rain and some chilly winds nipping spitefully about. The waters of the Pagasitic seem unsure of themselves, taken aback that the gales have ceased but ominous cloud remains, so the waves are tentative, hesitant, though I don’t doubt they are more than prepared to rear up in rage if required. No vessel visible. Not one. Those who ply the waters here are generally wise to the ways of the weather, and they clearly are taking no risks.

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Bleak Day

Resetting the clocks makes me reflect on the passage of time; of the seasons and their cycles; of the impermanence of things. There’s been much in the news of the exciting tomb discoveries at Amphipolis – perhaps Alexander the Great’s mother is buried there – and it all serves again to emphasise that things come and go, things change, they stay the same, they change again. Cycles and circles. Never ending. Round and round.

All the talk of Alexander and the kings of Macedon, the pomp, ceremony and finery associated with royalty, brought the colour purple to mind. Purple is closely associated with rulers and potentates throughout history, who paraded before the minions, clothed in garments of deepest purple, a dye so expensive and time-consuming to produce that only the sumptuously rich could afford it.

There’s quite a bit of purple in my yarn stash. It’s a useful colour to have on hand. Jason, silently philosophical as ever, should get a new hat. And he has. His hat is knitted in the round; it’s knitted circularly, without seam, as most of my hats are. It has four ridged bands which represent the seasons. Green is for spring and fresh growth; yellow is for summer sun; deepest orange for autumn’s fading glory, and red for winter. Red for cosy fires, red for cheer through long, grey days, red anticipating the return of warmer days.

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Bright Hat

Jason will never say if he likes it, but I do.

GOATS GALORE

Thessaly is often referred to as “the bread basket of Greece” as its great plains allow for extensive agriculture. The region has been known since ancient times for sheep and goats, with nomadic tribes shepherding their animals to grazing grounds according to the season, although many nomads have abandoned their traditional migrations in favour of a more settled lifestyle.

The horses used in the Trojan War were said to have come from Thessaly, where wild horses may still be found. It’s probable that nomads clinging to the necks of horses gave rise to the notion of a half man, half horse who came to be called a Centaur. Imagine a remote and stormy landscape, fog swirling around rugged peaks, winds sighing and shrieking their unearthly noises through the valleys, and suddenly a horseback rider appears!

Goats are important to the local farmers, many of whom keep large flocks of these animals. It is not uncommon to see them being herded to fresh grazing lands, and as goats eat just about anything, the prudent villager has to be on the alert when the unruly animals pass along the road lest some choose to munch on garden plants.

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This is a rural area; the farmers work long, hard hours, often out in the open at the mercy of the weather, and subject to all the problems associated with raising animals.

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I always enjoy being caught up in these mini-migrations, and I find it very amusing when the occasional irritable townie vents his frustration and raises his blood pressure because he’s held up for a few minutes.

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The herders, some on horseback, call out to each other as they battle to drive the churning mass onward, but goats do roam and are easily distracted. Herdsmen on foot leap about as nimbly as the goats, using their sticks and crooks to urge the animals back into line.

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The noise! Shouting, chanting, whistling, the constant honking of car horns still don’t overpower the clanging and the clinking and the tinkling of the bells each goat wears.

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And then, suddenly, it’s over. The road is clear. The last animal has been hurried off to open land.

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And all the while Mt Pelion, summer home of the gods and stamping ground of the Centaurs, gazes silently over the Peninsula where, driving home late at night, after a jolly evening with friends and a glass or two, you might just find yourself chasing centaurs through the olive groves.

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In the Land of Jason

Jason, so the Greek myth tells us, set sail from Volos in search of the Golden Fleece. My window looks out over the Pagasitic Gulf down which he steered his fragile wooden boat, the Argo, with his sailors at the beginning of their great and wonderful adventures. Above is Mt Pelion, home of the fabled Centaurs – half man, half horse – among whom the wisest was Chiron, tutor of the young Jason.

Mt Pelion

Mt Pelion

On June 14th, 2008 a replica of the Argo left from Volos on what was originally intended to be the same course as that taken by Jason, but was instead heading to Venice as the Turkish authorities refused permission for it to pass through the Bosphorus. The building of the replica is itself a fascinating story: all tools used were made by hand exactly as the ancient originals were; traditional shipbuilding techniques were employed; wood was sourced and handhewn on Mt Pelion; no modern method or equipment was used.

Crew Boarding the Argo

Crew Boarding the Argo

On the morning of the launch we rose early to drive to Volos seafront, and great was the excitement! I’ve posted some of the photos we took, but a quick search of Google will yield far better ones, as well as videos. When the order was given to raise oars, a shiver ran through the crowd, which seemed to be holding its collective breath. Children scampered about, some were hoisted onto shoulders for a better view. Eyes anxiously scanned the sky for cloud, and nervously glanced at the huge ferries through which the tiny Argo would thread her way. Then came the call to dip oars! An enormous shout went up, a tumult of voices roaring encouragement. Boats of all sizes sounding their horns. Hands waving, hands clapping, hands shaking flags and not a few hands wiping tears.

First Voyage of the New Argo

First Voyage of the New Argo

Historians and archaeologists believe that the Jason myth is based on fact, for there were indeed many adventurers who sailed in search of gold in the areas around the Black Sea. A sheep’s fleece is still used in some parts to sift gold from sluice water, and long is the history of fleece and the wool produced from it. I have rather a large stash of wool, for I love to knit, and my very own Jason who travels about quite a bit. Jason is a glass head on whom I once placed a hat I was knitting in order to take a photograph, and who now serves to record various hats and other bits of my knitting. Here he is, gazing down on Volos from one of the mountain villages.

Volos

Volos, Thessaly, Greece