Tag Archives: Pelion

PLATAMONAS CASTLE

We spent a couple of days this week in the Pieria region of Central Macedonia with friend Dave and the indomitable Tex, a Greek sheepdog rescued here in Pelion. Central Macedonia is one of Greece’s thirteen administrative regions; we are in Thessaly.

For those who might be interested in the ongoing row between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), which claims Alexander the Great and wishes to be called Macedonia, I offer the following links, picked randomly among the great many that a Google tour will suggest.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macedonia_naming_dispute
http://www.mfa.gr/en/fyrom-name-issue/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/27/AR2009072702653.html

Needless to say, I support the Greek view.

The castle, depending upon whose version of events one decides to follow, was built by the Crusaders at the beginning of the 13th century. Other sources maintain it was Byzantine, and built in the 1100s or perhaps even earlier.

Given its prominent position it was of strategic importance in controlling movement through the Vale of Tempe, which linked north and south, and in monitoring sea invasions. Pirates plundered the region repeatedly, as they did The Pelion.

Phillip 2nd, father of Alexander, marched his men along the Tempe valley on his way to Athens, and while no defensive castle existed at the time, there were certainly other structures. We don’t know precisely what, but work continues on the site and evidence is mounting that the ancient city of Herakleion was sited here.

New Tempe Tunnel Entrance

Long before Phillip, Xerxes trotted his troops through Tempe during Persia’s second invasion of Greece. Leonidas and his men fought to the death at Thermopylae in a vain attempt to stop him getting through the pass. Xerxes and his army then continued south to Athens where the Persians were decisively beaten at Salamis.

The castle was never destroyed, but has fallen into ruin over the centuries. It’s a rather fine example of medieval fortifications with all the bits and pieces one usually associates with such structures: towers, crenellations, loopholes, cannons – the whole nine yards. (Ron points out that the cannons to be seen dotted about the castle grounds are later than anything that would have been used by Crusaders.)

Defence Tower

Water Cistern

The cistern for water storage would have served the defence tower – all protected by a high wall. Presumably for a last stand?

Good advice!

 

 

 

 

 

TAGS: FYROM, Macedonia, Phillip 2nd , Alexander, Platamonas, Thessaly, Pelion, Byzantine, Crusaders, Vale of Tempe, Athens, Xerxes, Persians, Salamis, Thermopylae

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER – ‘BYE!

We’ve had our fair share of typically grey days this winter, but they’ve not been accompanied by as much rain as we usually get. This type of weather rather irritates me as I feel we should at least get something back for putting up with drab and dreary days…some token rainfall at least to justify the lack of sunlight.

Dismal proclamations have been made about this state of weather affairs whenever the topic of rain, or more to the point, the lack thereof has arisen in conversation.

“There’ll be no olive crop at this rate,” is the gloomy prediction.

“The water will run out; the dam will be empty; the springs will dry up.”

All of these prophesies are accompanied by head shaking and heavy sighing, and indeed the lack of rain, the threat of drought are serious matters, and not to be laughed at. Some snow has fallen on Mt Pelion, and the snow melt will contribute to the water table, but it hasn’t been enough.

Zeus, that unreasonable god of the rain, has messed us about all winter long. After a fairly long period of unseasonably warm weather, just as I was beginning to think of putting winter bedding and coats away, just as the fig trees are filling with figlets and the orange and lemon trees are beaming with blooms, so has he decided to make himself felt. And did he ever!

He started quietly on Sunday, no fuss. No thunderbolts. A bit of wind later in the day when he called upon Aeolus to join him in mischief. But at nightfall he let rip, throwing down torrents of water which thrummed and drummed on the hard ground, the roof, the trees. Welcome it was, at first, but soon it became too much of a good thing, and began to concern us. I found it difficult to sleep, fearing that flooding would occur, would lead to landslides, that people would have problems.

Monday morning we awoke to the thick brown river of mud flowing across the Pagasitic, evidence of the downpours on higher ground.

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Snow on the mountain, several major and minor landslides, flooding in Volos city centre, and numerous incidents of damage and difficulty as a result.

It rained heavily all day yesterday, and there’s still more to come according to the weather gurus. And so, it wasn’t all that much of a surprise when our friends ‘phoned from their car this morning with the news: “The bridge over the river has collapsed. We have to turn around and go via the top road.”

The unpaved and unmaintained top road. Four-wheel-drive territory at the best of times. The long way round. A quagmire.

Ah well, never a dull moment, but the damage to the bridge is more than just a nuisance: it will take a long time to repair and will be costly. I wonder if the Ancients felt as furious at Zeus?

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The Main Water Supply Line for the Peninsula

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SHRINES

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SHRINE: A place dedicated to a saint or deity; a memorial.

Greece is a bewitching and often bewildering mix of the ancient and the modern, and particularly so in the deep countryside, away from the urban sophistication. There are many springs here on the Pelion; the charming villages in this beautiful region originated in the age-old sites where water sprang from the ground, although some of these springs are dry now. The local people are usually quite well informed about the history of the area, and indeed, several of the families trace their roots back for many centuries.

What treasures of information are in their memories: family biographies, community traditions, local narratives, the historical record, tales of yesteryear. Greeks are well schooled in their history, and fiercely proud of their heritage. I’ve had the pleasure of many a fascinating conversation from which I’ve learned much, and so it is that I’ve heard about springs or caves with shrines dedicated in antiquity to gods or goddesses, but which are now updated, so to speak, to The Virgin Mary, to Christ, or to a particular saint. Thus you may see a little sign pointing to The Spring of Diana, and a few feet away, another sign indicating The Spring of the Blessed Mother. Take your pick. One thing is certain though – the spot was known and enshrined in pre-history, whatever its name or names since.

Shrines abound in Greece, and because they’re frequently found at the roadside, they’re often assumed by tourists to be memorials to a life or lives lost at that particular location. This may well be the tragic case, but many shrines are erected, in prominent places, to commemorate a life lost elsewhere, in circumstances other than a road accident. Shrines may be built in memory of persons beloved; in gratitude to God or saints for favours received and prayers answered; to acknowledge a miracle attributed to the entity so venerated; or simply even as a sign of respect to a divine being.

Many and varied are the shrines. They may be a simple stone, placed perhaps by a tree. They may be tiny, they may be enormous. They may be a basic metal box balancing precariously on rusting legs: these are old, quite often badly neglected for nobody remains to tend them. They may be large, beautifully constructed and maintained. They may even be grand enough to accommodate people: magnificently decorated chapels, open to those who wish to spend a moment in quiet thought or prayer.

All, no matter how humble and long forgotten, represent the hearts and minds of those who placed them there. They are, quite literally, historical markers.

They serve as a reminder to reflect.

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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!

“LET’S JUST HAVE A QUIET DAY…”

January 6th is an important feast day in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox church. It’s a public holiday, a day when friends and families gather after the religious ceremonies to celebrate. Restaurants and tavernas bustle with cheerful patrons, kids dash about. It’s winter here, so there’s good excuse to warm up with a glass or two of tsipouro, that drink for which this area is renowned.  And yes, if occasionally some over-enthusiastic reveller should imbibe more than good manners call for, it’s all taken in stride. Greeks are open hearted, friendly people who enjoy a social occasion, though goodness knows they have little to celebrate these days.

The day dawned with some cloud and enough sun to show promise of reasonably good weather, instead of the dreary chill that’s typical here in January.
“Would you like to go out?” Ron asked. “Shall we go see the cross being thrown in Milina?”
I debated. It’s interesting to watch the wild leaps off the waterfront into the icy Pagasitic by those who, to me at least, have a death wish as they seek to retrieve the cross. The restaurants would be open – a chance to have a meal for they are typically closed in the depth of winter.
“Nah,” I replied after a bit of thought, “let’s just have a quiet day.”

Ron wandered off to chat to some fishermen down on the rocks.
“They’ve managed to catch an octopus,” he told me when he returned. “Not sure if they’ll have much more luck.”
I was at my computer, Raki on my lap, when the doorbell rang. We weren’t expecting anybody. Removing the protesting Raki, I went to answer it. A rather agitated man greeted me and explained that he had been fishing on the rocks. Thinking he wanted Ron, I invited him in.
“No, no,” he said, “it’s my brother. He’s hurt. I need to call a taxi.”
Confusion reigned for a few seconds, but I soon realized that his brother was seated on a low stone wall in the garden, surrounded by a pile of clothing and fishing gear. Calling out to Ron, I rushed over to investigate.

It appears that the injured man, the younger of the brothers, had fallen from a height onto the rocks, and that his brother had managed to carry him on his back up to the house. Quite a feat, let me tell you.

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The poor chap was in considerable pain, unable to walk, clutching his arm and apologising profusely for the trouble he was causing. Hardly. I fetched a blanket to cover him, though he kept maintaining he wasn’t cold, and a large cushion to rest his clearly broken arm upon.

After a rapid conversation we established that the injured man had driven his car to a village some distance away, and that they had then walked along the shoreline. They are Albanian, speak very good Greek and insisted in speaking only Greek to each other as “It’s very impolite to speak in a language you don’t understand, kyria (madam),” they declared. I was very touched.

The older brother can’t drive, it turned out, but he assured me that if I’d only call a taxi to take them to their car, he’d manage to drive to medical help.
“Not a chance,” we said. “you have no licence. Only imagine the police! And anyway, we’ll drive you to the Health Centre in Argalasti.”
Then it struck me.
“Are you here legally?” I asked in some trepidation, for if they weren’t, it would be unwise to take them to a hospital for fear of the medical staff being constrained to inform the authorities.
“Yes, yes,” they assured us, “we’re here 20 years and have all our papers.”
Phew. I’d already been running the names of doctors we know through my mind, planning to ask for help, knowing that the Hippocratic oath would be honoured and few questions asked.

I called our beloved Costa to inform him of the situation and see if he was nearby. He was and arrived at a run a few minutes later to engage in anxious conversation with the brothers. I insisted they speak Albanian while we debated our options. Older brother asked if we could give injured brother (I confess their names escaped me in the confusion) some water, but I explained I was reluctant to do so, or give an aspirin, lest surgery be required. At this point older brother delved into his bag and produced the unfortunate aforementioned octopus which he tried to press upon me.
“No, no! Thank you very much, but no!” I responded as politely as I could, though I confess I’d recoiled; Costa later told me that my face was a picture.

We prepared to drive to Argalasti. The back of the Suzuki was loaded up with their kit, Costa insisting on going along, and managing the operation like a field marshall, while I fetched my cell ‘phone and locked Raki in the house.  We got the patient into the car with some difficulty. He couldn’t walk, and was in severe pain, not to mention badly shocked.
“Don’t bother to get your ‘phone,” I told Ron, “we’re only going to the Health Centre so we don’t need two ‘phones.”

We made slow progress through the rough, muddy roads until we reached the tarred road, Ron driving as carefully as he could to avoid jolting the injured man. He, poor dear, was an interesting shade of green, clutching tightly on to the plastic bags I’d brought along in case of need. But he didn’t require them. Wedged tightly between his brother and the door with his eyes closed, he spoke only when I’d enquire how he was doing.

Costa kept up an excited stream of chatter in Albanian all the while, pausing briefly now and then to pass on some bit of info to me, in Greek.
“They’re from the north of Albania; they’re not from my region; they were young when they came to Greece; they have good jobs; they are married; they have children; they love fishing; he (the injured one) usually fishes alone; thank goodness his brother was with him today.” Yes, indeed.

We finally made it to the Health Centre in Argalasti, where I was relieved to notice an ambulance parked; often it happens that no ambulance is available. I knew that the injured man would need to go to the Volos hospital, as there’s no X-ray machine in Argalasti, which is not much more now in the present economic situation than a triage centre, a field hospital really. And jolly good it is too, with excellent staff exhibiting a degree of care and concern that cannot be faulted.

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I went in to explain, and immediately a young doctor came out with a wheelchair to take our patient into a treatment room. It wasn’t long before I was told that the ankle was broken, and possibly also the tibia, not to mention multiple fractures of the left arm (the miracle was that he didn’t land on his head) and yes, he needed to go to Volos. As well, Ron and I told each other, that the ambulance was there. Ah, yes, the ambulance…actually, we were informed, there was no driver available. Oh boy. We stood gazing at the fanciful representation of Chiron,  exceptional centaur and healer who lived on Mt Pelion, while we discussed the situation.

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“Look,” Ron said, “we hadn’t planned on going anywhere. I’ll pay for a taxi, and we can go home.”
Costa was rather disappointed that he wouldn’t be going to Volos; no point in a second taxi fare. Easier said than done though. Epiphany, remember? No taxi available. In the midst of the decision making, my cell phone rang.
“Where are you?” queried my friend Loula. “I keep calling the house and you don’t reply.”
“I’m at the Health Centre,” I responded just as the ‘phone let out an ear splitting sound, and went dead. I mean dead. Not run-out-of battery dead, but dead. Finished. No more. Kaput. Completely, and for ever. Dang!

“OK, we’ll take him into Volos,” Ron told the assembly and went off to bring the car round to the entrance. We all piled back in; reality struck. Ordinarily a trip to Volos would entail some shopping. Not today. Nothing open but eating places. Sure, we could take our new friends to the hospital, and the three of us could have a meal. With me dressed as I was? Fat chance! I’d left the house in ancient baggy pants, T-shirt and distressed sweater, odd socks on feet thrust into elderly clogs – I resembled a survivor of a shipwreck.

“Give me your ‘phone, “ I said to Ron as we drove along, our patient fortunately dozing as a result of the painkiller injections he’d received.
“I’d better call Loula and explain. She’ll be very alarmed that we were at the Health Centre.”
“I didn’t bring it.” he replied, “Remember?”
“Here,” offered Costa, “use mine.”
I took it, and called Loula at home. No reply. Then I remembered she’d be out. I also realised I simply couldn’t remember her mobile number, and that the number was on my defunct ‘phone. Oy vey.

The trip to Volos hospital took some 40 mins; happy crowds milled about in the coastal eateries, and around the hospital. We pulled up to the emergency entrance

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where Ron dropped our little group while he drove off to find a parking place. We walked in to the crowded emergency area where the patient was immediately taken through for treatment, Costa accompanying him. I remained while his brother gave the necessary details to the receptionist. It took no time at all before he and I could join the others. Our patient had already been whisked off to X-ray. There was nothing more for Costa and me to do but exchange telephone numbers with big brother, and insist that no, I wasn’t going to take the money he offered for petrol, and nor was Costa going to accept any for the time he’d lost from his day labour.

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It was mid-afternoon before we finally got back home. What a relief to rustle up a sandwich and make a strong cup of tea after a day of broken bones, broken ‘phones. Big brother called later to bring us up to date. Little brother had been admitted to the hospital, with multiple fractures confirmed and surgery scheduled for the next morning.

Oh, I almost forgot: It was my birthday.

 

A FEATHERY CHRISTMAS FEASTING

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The weather here on the Pelion is weird, as I’ve already mentioned in “EATING BREAD AND HONEY…” and is a major topic of discussion. Everyone has an opinion, everyone has a tale to tell of weather past, present and future. Some predictions are dire: “Well do I remember the winter of 19-whichever…; how we suffered in 20-whatever…” accompanied by heavy sighs and headshaking. The audience falls respectfully silent and the prophet of doom is gratified. Souls of more cheerful disposition take an optimistic view: “Isn’t the sun wonderful? It will surely continue, so enjoy!”

There are reasons for the seasons though, and much as we revel in the unexpected warmth, it really shouldn’t be so. We need rain, and we need it badly. We need snow, snow that will melt gradually and replenish the water table. We need some freezing to control pests which will otherwise inflict themselves on man, beast and plant in the hot months. Perhaps it’s reassurance that we need the most in these turbulent times; things do not stay the same, not even the weather.

Nature is also confused, blooming far too early – one can’t help but wonder if she’s about to get a stinging rebuke. Probably.

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Fruit and blossom on the same tree in late December

The bougainvillea beyond the kitchen window should have been bare weeks ago, but is putting out new flowers as though challenging the elements. Bees, wasps, hornets and great big bumblebees are busily buzzing and bumbling all through the short daylight hours.

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Can you see the bumblebee?

It’s strange to hear excited twittering in the branches at this time of year. Migrant birds have long since arrived to build numerous nests among the colour, jostling with the resident sparrows, all seemingly unaware that their shelter might be devastated by a north wind as sudden as it’s vicious.

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Caution! Fledglings

I put seed out for the birds each day

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and although Raki regards this as his own personal playground, his half-hearted attempts to assert himself are largely ignored by the nimble birds who retreat in a flash to the branch and leaf of safety.

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Hope springs eternal

There they hide, chittering at him until he loses interest and retreats to the comfort of an armchair. The sentry bird up in the olive tree trills the all-clear, and back the feasters come.

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The weather will surely change, these birds will move house and take up residence throughout the property, and I will continue to provide seed for them. But Nature is cruel, and some of these birds will be food for the raptors. Life goes on.

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THE GATES OF SUMMER HAVE OPENED

Summer has finally settled in here on the Pelion after some rather atypical spring weather, which indicates what is locally called a ‘cool summer.’ The Greek word for summer literally means ‘good weather’, and the prospect of a cool summer isn’t welcomed by too many here for it means days of intense heat, interrupted frequently by wind, bouts of rain and heavy thunderstorms. The classic summer pattern is a long, unbroken stretch of hot, dry weather – predictably stable and free of sudden surprises sprung by the elements – during which residents and tourists alike disport themselves, mindful that all too soon the latter will return home and the former will begin making preparations for winter.

Persephone continues to revel in her freedom from the dark, dismal depths of her obligatory winter home, well aware that her time on warmly welcoming earth is coming to an end and that her husband waits at the gates of Hades. 

Throughout the ages artists have depicted their visions of the Gates of Hades by means of the plethora of media chosen by them – in paint, in sculpture, on pottery, stained glass, carvings, embroidery – whereas the artisan who constructs a gate is bound by the limitations placed on him by his materials. I don’t imply that the woodworker, stone mason or ironmonger is not an artist, but he is further constrained by the demands of function and artistic expression, as well perhaps by monetary considerations and the expectations of those who may have commissioned him.

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WELCOME BACK, PERSEPHONE!

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We were still in Austin when Persephone began her journey back from Hades to return to her grieving mother, so we missed the earliest signs celebrating the end of winter on the Pelion.

Winters here are typically mild with very occasional snowfall and rarely any frost, but the rainfall can be heavy and this past winter it certainly was. No complaints at all as we really needed it; many springs had dried up during the previous summer, causing considerable difficulty for those who depend upon them for their water supply.

The ancients would have attributed this generous rainfall to Zeus, god of rain, who reigned supreme on Mt Olympus. Good of him to spare the time from his lusty pursuit of young maidens! His daughter, Persephone, surely appreciated it for the wildflowers have done her proud, happy as we all are to welcome her back.

Greece is renowned for her wildflowers, and deservedly so for they are spectacular, not only in their beauty but also in their variety.
Habitats are many and diverse: sandy coastlines, pastureland and scrub, rocky ravines, wooded highlands and craggy mountains, saltwater, freshwater, well-watered lands and dry, wind-lashed and tightly sheltered, all with their particular plants adapted through the aeons to their conditions.

Man’s influence has inevitably been enormous. The maquis, which might at first glance seem untouched by man’s activities, will almost without exception have been affected in some way by previous populations and their lifestyles, stretching back into antiquity. The mountains of the Pelion region were once dense with native hardwoods; today only comparatively minute forested areas remain. Man is an innovative creature and where there is something – whatever it may be – to his advantage, he will make use of it.

Greece is a paradise for botanists professional and amateur alike, who may be seen, notebook in hand, hiking enthusiastically about as they spot and document plants. Several species are unique, found only in one particular location, such as an island. Many plants are rare, threatened, on the verge of extinction, others have already vanished, identified only in old engravings and drawings, the regrettable result of man’s impact on the environment.

Wildflowers of varying types appear throughout the year; some are tiny, almost invisible, others stand tall. Colour! Colour! Colour! The bees are frantically busy, knowing that warm days will inevitably end, while the beekeepers carefully tend their hives, moving them about to take advantage of the best nectar. Pelion honey, infused with flavour fit for the gods, is much sought after.

Spring and summer flowers retire, their seeds and bulbs lying peacefully dormant until Persephone calls to them again. Autumn arrives, throwing down dense carpets of cyclamen, welcoming the approach of winter, much as local residents roll out their rugs and kilims in preparation for the cool damp days ahead when more time must be spent indoors.

Look closely, remembering that the photos will enlarge when you click on them, and in some of the photos you’ll spot bugs, bees, butterflies  buzzing busily in the abundance! The cycle continues as birds and other wildlife feed, thus ensuring seed dispersal, and preparing the way for Persephone to return in all her ageless beauty.

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Jason Tips His Hat To Lady Bird

Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B Johnson, together with Helen Hayes founded what became the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center which is both stunningly beautiful and a significant educational resource.

Mrs Johnson, Texas-born like her husband, devoted considerable time, energy and enthusiasm to promoting knowledge and appreciation of the vast number of native Texan plants, encouraging the planting of indigenous species and in so doing gave the state of Texas an immeasurable gift.

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Bluebonnets

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Indian Paintbrush

Texas fields and highways are awash with color each spring as the flowers bloom, as is many a private garden whose owner appreciates the beauty of the flowers and the ecological advantages of planting them.

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This year the blooms have been breathtaking in their color and abundance, thanks to some well-timed early spring rains, even though Texas still suffers from a severe drought. Bluebonnets are amongst the first to appear; so intense is their hue that the fields seem blanketed in a dense blue velvet. They are followed by Indian Paintbrush, Winecap, Primrose, Mexican Hat, and daisies to name just some of the wildflowers which call Texas home.

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Such beauty! To mark their appearance Jason got a new hat from some bits of yarn in my stash, and even though he’s missed most of the wildflowers of the Pelion this year, he didn’t complain.

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COLOUR or COLOR?

Whichever way you spell it, the kilims shown in the last entry radiate with colour. I was almost overwhelmed when I entered the dazzling display area on a rather grey wintry evening. Colour leapt out at me. Colour embraced me. Colour cheered and colour warmed me.

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Magda Karastathis

This impressive exhibit was expertly curated by Magda Karastathis on behalf of the Lafkos Community Association. Magda studied at the prestigious Athens School of Fine Arts and taught at schools in Patras, Athens and Volos before her recent retirement. Her family is from the Lafkos/Milina area: Lafkos, the ancient fortified village on the hilltop, which afforded more protection from invaders and pirates; Milina, now a beautiful village on the Pagasitic Gulf, but only a fishing spot in those very early days.

Summer visitors to the Pelion Peninsula are often surprised to hear that we have a distinct winter season. They’re even more stunned to learn that snow’s not uncommon, and that Mt Pelion has a ski resort. Winters are not usually severe, but there are many dreary days for we have the typical winter rainfall of the Mediterranean climate. If grey’s your colour, take your pick of shades, but it’s not mine and so, still steeped in the saturated colours of the exhibited kilims, I dived into my yarn stash the next day.

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The bobbles and tassels had really caught my imagination!