Tag Archives: Volos

RAMBLING…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

COFFEE, WITH GOOD TASTE

 

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

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

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

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

So inviting!

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

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

Political commentary

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

 Wake up and smell the coffee –

Good Morning!

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

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

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

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

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

and here is Volos today.

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

“COBBLER, COBBLER, MEND MY SHOE …”

Volos is a most interesting city, as I’ve mentioned before. It’s full of little shops, some of them tucked away, small gems waiting to be discovered. One such is my favorite shoe repair shop, owned and run by a father and son team. Christos is the father, and Spiro is his son. Both are superb cobblers for whom no repair seems impossible, no shoe beyond rescue when they turn their attention to it.

          

 

My original encounter with them had to do with shoe polish. The very first time I wore a brand new pair of dark gray shoes by Ecco, I got some kind of liquid right smack across the toe box of one. It left a nasty stain. I bought gray shoe polish in a futile effort to conceal the mark.

When I lamented the disastrous result to my friend, she recommended Spiro. It took me a while to find the workshop, where I asked if there was a better color of polish I could use. “Po! Po!” replied Spiro in true Greek fashion. “I can do better than that. These are beautiful shoes. I will dye them for you.”

“Black?” I asked, in some trepidation for I’d scored these beauties on eBay and I already have a good pair of black winter shoes. “No, no, of course not. I will make them gray. The same color. You will not know they were ever damaged.” It has to be said I was skeptical.

The shoes were left with Spiro, to be collected in two days.  “Ah well,” I said to Ron once we’d left the premises, “it’s certainly not the end of the world if they look funny. I’ll just ask him to redo them black.”

We returned some days later, with me quite prepared to request that the shoes be dyed black. I was more than pleasantly surprised when Spiro showed me the results of his efforts. Beautiful. I’d not asked what the cost would be, and was even more pleasantly surprised at his fee. Five euro. The cost of the dye, and the cost of his labor was five euro.

Since then Christo and Spiro have worked their wonders on several pairs of shoes for us. Shoes that I thought had no chance of salvation. Synthetic materials are increasingly molded to leather shoes these days. I’m not talking dressy shoes, but the stout type of shoe and clog that are so comfortable to wear and walk in, and although these shoes are hardly inexpensive, the fact is that the soles crumble away with use.

I keep my shoes until they fall to bits, and fall to bits these soles often do, long before the shoe’s uppers are worn out. Spiro and Christo carry quite a range of replacement soles – something I’d had no idea existed – and have so far managed to salvage my favorite clogs, as well as Ron’s hiking boots.

Not only do Christo and Spiro provide financial benefit to their clients, many of whom are struggling in Greece’s present economic climate, but their work in salvaging materials makes a contribution to the environment.

“Don’t throw it away!” is their mantra.

 

GETTING AROUND ON THE PELION

Transportation is the movement of people, animals or goods from one location to another.

Here on the Pelion there are many areas which are difficult to access, and some can only be reached on foot. Donkeys are still used although they aren’t seen as frequently now as they used to be. In many instances it can be much quicker to get from A to B by way of the waters of the Pagasitic Gulf. Anything that floats, it seems, can be used.

There is a network of paved roads, most of which are single lane and require great caution on the part of the driver navigating them. We joke that the driving term ‘overtaking’ can be defined variously as taking your life in your hands, and your life being effectively over. That’s not to say the drivers are bad though of course many are, rather too many actually, but because there are multiple hazards on the roads apart from drivers.

Flocks of sheep and goats are frequently encountered once you’re out of the city; there are drivers with an alarming tendency to stop in the middle of the road, usually around a blind corner if the fancy takes them; strange vehicles of every kind puttering along in a fog of fumes; motorbikes and cyclists seemingly intent on early arrival at the Pearly Gates; horses; dogs darting this way and that; trucks and lorries; tractors towing trailers full of livestock/olives/hay bales/barrels, and just about anything else you can think of; cars towing boats or other vehicles; goods of every kind tied and teetering on top of cars.

Getting stuck behind a slow moving vehicle on a narrow road is a nightmare in itself. The death defying manouevres of those who insist on passing – very often slap in the face of oncoming traffic or along some precipitous drop into sea or ravine – do nothing for one’s blood pressure.

The road from Volos runs out along the Peninsula right up to Trikeri village now and is generally quite good, barring the odd pothole. The nature of the terrain ensures that practically any type of roadway here will twist, turn and coil back on itself like vines in a rain forest. Many of the so-called roads are little more than tracks through the olive groves, and are unpaved, badly rutted and occasion all kinds of challenges in mud, ice and snow. That’s when tractors trundle to the rescue, or sometimes your only way out is by boat.

It’s never boring here on the Pelion Peninsula.

THE BACK END

IS BUD ANY WEISER?

Bud

As I’ve already mentioned when we arrived back at the house there were kittens as well as adult cats awaiting us. Smart, those felines, for it’s relayed on the Kitty Underground that this is a Safe House.

The Cappuccino Twins were watching warily from under an orange tree as we climbed out of Paul’s car. Raki was beside himself to see Ron again, letting it be known loudly that His Sultanship was somewhat miffed. I guess I underestimated him, all of them, for I was convinced that neither he nor Mythos, Retsina and Ouzo would remember us, but it was as though we’d never left. Freddie and Kosta were with them all the time we were away; they and Stella had been anything but neglected.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of unloading I became aware that the Cappuccino Twins weren’t the only new kids on our rock. Far from it, for more and more wary moggies began creeping out of the forest as night fell. I admit I was dismayed. When finally I went to bed I was hoping that they’d depart for new accommodations once they perceived the house to be occupied by that great threat – humans. Some hope.

Clearly these two adorable girls are sisters. Grappa and Anise, as I soon named them, were waiting bright-eyed and eager on the porch when we awoke. No sign of fear, and their condition was good. Didn’t take me long to figure out that Freddie had been feeding them.

Not a problem, and even better was the fact that they were completely socialized. We have too many that aren’t. They arrive here driven by hunger, but are so intimidated that it’s impossible to tame them and as I’ve mentioned before this makes neutering very difficult.

A few days later along came their brother, soon to be dubbed Budweiser. I don’t know where he’d been but the twins were thrilled to see him. Freddie confirmed that he was with them and their mama when they’d first arrived at our house and as he was the same size as the twins, it’s safe to assume they’re littermates.

He’s a real cutie is Bud. Most affectionate, with a tiny little voice, Bud’s fond of communicating by way of the Silent Miaow.

He’d been extremely lively, fearless to the point of foolhardiness and had to be rescued on a number of occasions. It was interesting to watch him at play with the twins who are no slouches in the adventures department but Bud’s exuberance was unsurpassed. And then he began to cough. Just a little. Only occasionally. Not of any concern.

His cough became more frequent, so I dewormed him again. It made no difference, and we put this down to it needing a day or two to take the fullest effect. The cough became much worse. I suspected some form of cat flu for he’d not had his vaccines yet, but there were none of the other indications of such an infection.

Then he began wheezing. Not terribly, but he was definitely wheezing. Yet he’d lost none of his energy and was eating well, though I noticed he ate only the canned food and not any of the dry. Puzzling.

Several days later on a Saturday afternoon in February – some snow still about and the upper road a boggy mess – the wheezing suddenly became very pronounced, very bad indeed. We were extremely concerned. We are miles from our wonderful local vet Theresa, the best thing that ever came to Argalasti, who would not have been available at that time.

If there even is an emergency vet in Volos, it was pretty much out of the question to attempt the 90 minute drive with darkness approaching and snow on the ground. We felt we had no alternative but to put him to bed as usual. He and his sisters have separate beds, with heating, in a little room under the front steps, safe from predators of the night.

Sunday morning early we let them out, apprehensive as to what we would find. Bud emerged, coughing and wheezing as before, but as the day wore on it was clear this was no temporary affliction. He was getting weaker, struggling to breathe, and perhaps the most alarming was that Raki was willing to tolerate Bud on his chair.

Raki, that most possessive of cats, must have sensed something about Bud’s condition that softened his self-absorbed heart. We cuddled Bud and fretted all day until we locked him up for the night, anxious for Monday to dawn, anxious that he’d not get through to the morning.

When we opened his door on Monday we could see at once that Bud’s efforts to breathe left him in a state of near collapse. We were very alarmed. Having taken care of the rest of the furry and hairy ones early we left immediately with Bud for Argalasti, I trying to tune out the distressing sounds from the cat basket where he lay exhausted.

Theresa was her usual calm and reassuring self. She confirmed that Bud had no infection, and turned her attention to his mouth and throat. Bud resisted all her attempts to look down his throat, so she sedated him and after a few minutes he was limp enough to be examined.

“Ah,” she said, “see what’s here in the throat. The trachea is almost completely closed. He cannot get enough air through this very small opening. There is something in his throat that’s making such a big swelling that he cannot breathe. Look.”

“No thanks,” I muttered, but Ron peered at what she was indicating. Apparently the throat and junction with the trachea were greatly inflamed.

Theresa outlined the possible diagnosis. “There is something stuck here. I cannot say what it is. I cannot see it because the tissue has swollen up so much around it that it’s not possible to see. He will need an X-ray and that I cannot do. Probably he will need an operation. You will need to take him to Volos.”

A German who fell in love with and married a Greek, Theresa is a pragmatist. She’s a gem of a vet, a lovely person, mother of three, and very, very practical.

“What I can try,” she continued, “is to see if I can reduce the swelling so that I can tell better what is going on. You need to leave him here with me until at least Thursday.” This may not sound like a big deal but it is, for Theresa doesn’t have a large surgery, and does not typically keep animals overnight.

And so Bud stayed on in Argalasti. Theresa called in the evenings to report on his progress. He was on large doses of antibiotics and cortisone, and was beginning to improve, but what ailed him she couldn’t tell. She’d taken the opportunity to attend to his little buds, so that meant one more could be ticked off our neutering list. We collected him at noon on Thursday, and took him and his medications back home.

She’d prepared the syringes for Ron to give antibiotic shots over the next four days, and we crushed cortisone tablets into his food twice daily for many more days. Theresa could offer no guarantees, but the hope was that the crisis might have passed, and Bud would be spared the trauma of Volos and surgery.

Bud got better by leaps and bounds, quite literally, but he was thin and soon was obviously smaller than the Cappuccino Twins. His story doesn’t end there though, for the irrepressible Bud was racing headlong towards another and very different crisis, one which was to involve me directly.

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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ERMOU STREET

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Ermou Street, referred to simply as Ermou, is an important shopping district in Volos. It’s been pedestrianised and is largely free of cars, though it’s criss-crossed by streets running from the harbour on up towards the mountain. Vehicles travel along these streets but it should not be assumed that drivers will automatically stop at the zebra crossings. What typically happens is that one or two people wait as cars carry on through regardless, and when enough have formed an increasingly impatient cluster they surge across.

The shops along and around Ermou are brimful of goods, varied and interesting; coffee shops abound. This past Friday I settled myself with my purchases on a bench in front of the cathedral to wait for Ron and watch the world go by.

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This area is perhaps the heart of the city, almost always bustling unless the weather is particularly foul. It’s quite impossible to be bored if you’re at all inclined to people watching.

Harried housewives, courting couples, elegant shoppers and ladies-who-lunch, locals and tourists ambling along, the frazzled rushing to appointments, mothers with their children, friends and family meeting up, the ever-present students, vendors, musicians, street artists, panhandlers, demonstrators and protestors.

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Wait long enough and you’re almost certain to see a large slice of society. Observe a little closely and Volos will reveal herself in all her layers.

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This cheerful violinist, always smiling and often interrupting his playing to greet a friend for a brief chat, is pretty much a fixture at this spot. His choice of pieces is rather fixed also, comprising the schmaltzy mixed with the occasional polka, but he’s an entertainer after all, a busker performing to the tastes of his perceived audience.

A woman pushing a young boy stopped. “Listen to the lovely music,” she enthused to the kid. “When you’re older you’ll learn the violin, and then you’ll play just like this clever man.” The musician obligingly smiled and jiggled about while the kid stared impassively at him, showing no interest at all until the woman tossed a couple of coins into the violin case. Perhaps the child is destined for a career as a classical music critic, or maybe he’ll concern himself with matters financial.

The violin was emitting strains (in more ways than one) of Tschaikovsky when an advancing group to the right caught my eye – an orderly protest by staff of the state-run home for the aged.

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Greece is in a ferment over plans to cut pensions, representing yet another hardship in the lives of people already heavily burdened financially. The care workers grouped themselves a couple of yards from me, standing quietly as helpers handed out leaflets explaining the issue.

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Soon television crews from various stations arrived to record the event for the evening bulletins.

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The cameramen drew the attention of passersby, some of whom used their phones to take their own pictures, but mostly the demonstration attracted little interest, and people went on their way.

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Tschaikovsky was replaced by Strauss, but as the reporters began to assemble in front of the protestors, the violinist gave up the performance, leaning back to watch the proceedings.

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It wasn’t long before his hands needed something to do, and a cigarette was fished from his pocket.

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The journalists began their interviews of the staff, who calmly, quietly explained their position. I’m very much in sympathy with them, but it’s clear from the political rhetoric that the chances of success are slim indeed.

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Interviewing

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Rather a pragmatic soul is the violin player who noticed the crowds dwindling and decided to call it a day. Smiling all the while he packed up the violin and moved off, nodding pleasantly to me. Maybe I’ll chat to him next time I’m in Ermou.

“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.

 

LIFE, WITH ORANGES

Volos is an attractive little city with a long history stretching back deep into antiquity, and although large parts of the old town were destroyed by the devastating earthquakes of 1954 and 1955, some older buildings still remain. Orange trees line many of the streets, and at this time of year their plentiful fruit provides a cheerful blaze of colour. I’m told the oranges aren’t sweet, being of a variety best used for marmalade, which probably explains why they don’t seem to get picked by passersby. Good – I like seeing them.

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Many years ago, when I was still in primary school, we had a calendar which featured Moncreid’s “Still Life with Oranges.” I loved that picture – I could almost taste the succulent oranges. The green jug was similar to one we had, we too had bone-handled knives, but the kilim on which they rested fascinated me. It spoke to me of far-off lands, of fairy tales and exotic peoples, of different ways of life. I was enthralled.

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Still Life with Oranges

Oranges, lemons, mandarins and other varieties of citrus fruit abound now. Buy them in the street markets, choose at the supermarket, get them from greengrocers, or stop to shop from a tiny roadside stall.
“Are they sweet?” you ask as you climb out of the car.
“Absolutely! Here, taste.”
The seller will whip out a knife and peel the succulent fruit in a second.
“No, no, that’s OK, ” I usually say, “I believe you.”
A bag or two is filled, a euro or two is handed over, a word or two about the weather is exchanged. Everybody’s happy.

The tables in the fruit and vegetable markets would complain, if they could, about the huge heaps of citrus stacked upon them. Oranges, oranges and still more oranges. Even though the produce market is packed with fruit and vegetables, with fresh fish and cured meats, with olives, cheeses, herbs and flavoured olive oils, preserves and sweetmeats, breads and baked goods that would surely tempt the gods, it’s the oranges that are the most distinctive. You can’t miss them.

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The fruit and veggie market is always lively, a meeting as well as a marketing place, with buyers and sellers alike chattering and yelling. The news of the day is announced and pronounced upon, gossip’s passed back and forth, babies and children are fussed over, and all the while supplies are bargained for. Produce inspected, weighed and the sale concluded, the goods are tucked into bags and baskets as the shopper continues on their way. No need to hurry. Lots to see. Much to talk about.

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If it’s in season, you’ll find it here.

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Well…it is an open-air market

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Standing guard

 

HATS! CHAIRS! TABLES!

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The south wind, that most unwelcome bearer of Sahara dust, has been blowing wildly most of the week, yielding occasionally to the rages of the competitive west wind. So choking has the dust been that the elderly and those suffering from breathing complaints have been strongly advised to remain indoors.

Newspapers the world over run banner headlines to the effect that the weather is nuts, has gone mad, is weird, strange, odd, ominous. To hear some tell it, the end of the world is upon us. So must the Ancients have believed when Aeolus, heeding the command of the gods, opened his bag of tricks and let loose the four winds.

Who has angered the gods this time? No idea, but someone up there on Mt. Olympus was certainly livid enough earlier this week to demand that Aeolus really let rip. Unpleasant as the south wind is, it’s no match for the west wind in full throttle. All through the long Monday night it ranted and roared, pounded the coast, sent shutters shuddering, surely terrorized many creatures, and kept us awake. Nor was Aeolus instructed to bag his west wind again come morning, with the result that it grumbled along, squabbling with the south wind until late yesterday.

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Wind is hardly uncommon here on the Pelion Peninsula where the many islands and inlets of the Pagasitic Gulf, together with the hilly and mountainous terrain, interact to influence the weather patterns. The Pag is beloved by sailors, its merry breezes with their sudden shifts in intensity and direction providing challenges to amateur and pro alike.

The locals have a delightful vocabulary of expressions to describe the effects of what Aeolus is offering: kapelato, kareklato, trapezato being among my favourites. Kapelo is a hat, karekla is a chair, trapezi a table. Well, what he unleashed on Monday night had no difficulty lifting tables, none at all, as was soon obvious to us in the morning when we set off for Volos. We took the coastal road which is practically deserted at this time of year and shortens the trip by a good 15 minutes. West wind’s temper tantrum had littered the beaches with debris. Branches, rocks, stones are objects of nature,

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but the heaps of plastic and other examples of man-made items hurled up by the sea are an eyesore, though in fairness some had clearly been dislodged by force of wind and wave.

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Parts of the road had sheared off in the violence, making the narrow road more challenging still,

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but what brought us to a complete standstill was the large tamarisk tree, torn from its position between the beach and the road, blocking any further passage.

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Hubby was unfazed, stopping the car to get out and survey the situation.
I carried on knitting.

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“We left with plenty of time to spare,” he reassured me as he returned to the car.  “I’ve a handsaw in the back – soon take care of this.”

I continued knitting; he appeared to be rummaging about longer than I’d expected.

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“Rats!” he announced (or something similar). “I must’ve forgotten to get it back when I lent it to Costa.”

Well, that put a spanner rather than a saw into the works. I abandoned the knitting in favour of documenting the incident for posterity.

Ron moved on to plan B.
“I’ll use the tow rope to pull it out of the way,” he said, uncoiling it from the collection of hydraulic jacks, oil, jumper cables, tire pump, and sundry other items apparently essential to our survival when traversing the Balkans. (I might mention here that my emergency supplies typically run to plenty of knitting and chocolate.)
“It won’t take long.”

He worked at securing the cable to the tamarisk and then to the car’s bumper, yelling at me to get well out of the way as he climbed back in to start the car.

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Waves crashed, spray spat, tires screeched, stones crunched but the tree budged nary an inch. Again he tried. Again the collection of sounds filled the air. Again the tree resisted.

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Ron climbed back out to retrieve the cable, I climbed back in. There was no option but to retrace our journey and take the upper road. Now considerably delayed we were grateful for the cell ‘phone though it was some time before we could get a signal and let it be known we were running late.

We stopped at the first inhabited property to advise of the obstruction which would need a chainsaw to clear away completely.

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Missions in Volos accomplished – which included hubby purchasing a handsaw – we returned via the coastal road. The tamarisk had meanwhile been chopped up and stacked at the side of the road by some public-spirited soul; Ron had missed his chance.