Tag Archives: Volos

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.

“TO MARKET! TO MARKET! TO BUY…?”

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Street markets are a common sight throughout Europe. Many towns and cities grew from ancient beginnings at crossroads where merchants from exotic parts set up bazaars to buy, to sell, to swap news, to plot, to scheme. In short, to engage in all the activities man is capable of.

Several of these markets are historically significant, well documented in book and film, essential destinations for tourist and trader alike. There is much to explore, both in open air and covered street markets, while the careful observer will note that little has changed with respect to human behaviour. Sadly now in certain countries local markets are fast becoming targets for those whose twisted minds seek to sow horror and carnage.

As one travels further and further east across the Balkans, away from the sophisticated culture of urban areas and deeper into the simpler life of isolated rustic communities, the street market has much more in common with its ancient counterpart. The exchange of goods, especially fresh produce, is vital to the well-being of the community. It is not unusual, even today, to encounter people clad almost entirely in handmade garments, people who have never gone beyond their village of birth.

On to the fun! Friends have been regaling me with stories of their fantastic buys in recent months, and as it’s been some time since we visited a Volos street market, we decided to do so this past Friday. Small neighbourhood markets take place on most days, typically offering fish and fresh produce, while the Wednesday and Friday markets are the largest with regard to clothing and household goods.

They can be huge, occupying several blocks, so these markets are required to rotate their locations in order not to inconvenience residents and shopkeepers on a regular basis. There’s a roster determined by the municipality, but because the clothing markets are situated in an area of upper Volos, away from the town centre, it’s not strictly necessary to know exactly where they will be held – it soon becomes obvious as you drive along where the hustle and bustle is.

It’s also apparent that parking is a problem: the streets are narrow, the vehicles numerous, the obstacles many, the crowds large. Nothing for it but to get stuck in. Literally. You can see why we don’t often go. Hubby dropped me at an intersection and went off to sandwich the car somewhere; thank goodness for cell ‘phones which make it possible to locate each other in the throng.

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We often joke that you can clothe yourself from head to foot as you meander through the stalls, such is the variety of goods on sale, from shoes and socks, underpants and some rather improbable-looking bras, to sweaters, coats and headgear. You can eat too, if street food’s your thing – souvlaki, sausages, grilled corn on the cob, the ubiquitous sesame bread twists. The smells are tempting but I confess to a certain reluctance to sample them.

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You can take care of personal grooming; you can accessorize; you can clean, carpet, curtain and cushion your home; dress up your dining room; brighten your bedroom, and toss a few new tschotsches about while you’re at it. Depending on your taste of course.

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While you may occasionally see a soul selling some interesting item from the ancestral home, the bulk of the goods consists of cheap imports though lately it’s clear that stock has been obtained from defunct business enterprises. This is where the bargains are to be found, good quality clothing in particular – if you’re prepared to rummage through the piles stacked on the trestle tables. Designer pieces turn up – sometimes with the labels removed which I’m told is the practice when prestigious names clear their overstocks – to the delight of the savvy buyer.

Most of the vendors are Roma people, often referred to as gypsies – an offensive term. The Roma in Greece are settled in tightly knit communities, are citizens, and aren’t as a rule itinerant. Their native language remains intact, and certainly here in Greece the Roma are fully bilingual. (It’s worth noting that the Roma I recently encountered in Bulgaria speak a different Roma dialect, as well as Bulgarian.) 

The Roma and their history have been of interest to me since childhood, but I’m not going to elaborate on their culture now – I’ll drone on about it another time.

What all the vendors do have in common is their patter, pitched at ear-splitting volume. Roma women often sit atop the tables stacked with their wares, tossing garments at would-be shoppers:

” Come on, my love!” they bawl.

“Look at this beauty! Where will you find such a bargain! Don’t think for one moment you would pay this pitiful amount in the snooty store!”

Their helpers dart about, taking the money, retrieving the goods, cajoling the doubtful into a purchase.

“Girls! Girls! Would I lie to you? Would I? You think I’m selling things? Am I selling things? I’m not selling things, girls, I’m not selling! I’m giving it away!”

All good fun. I’ve never encountered rudeness, I must say, and find it absolutely fascinating, though I’m not made of stuff stern enough to spend a lot of time in the raucous atmosphere.

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Market’s end

 

MRS SARAKOSTI – A GREEK EASTER TRADITION

Easter is an extremely important part of the Greek Orthodox calendar, and great are the festivities on Easter Sunday, a joyful day of celebration for families. As with all religions there are many customs and traditions associated with each faith and its landmark events, and though there are some regional differences, the preparations for Easter follow certain centuries-old conventions.

Kathara Deftera which means Clean Monday is a public holiday in Greece, and signals the beginning of the seven weeks of Lent which lead up to Easter. Special foods are eaten on this day, kites are traditionally flown, and a period of fasting begins. Lent is a quiet time, a time to reflect, and so there are typically no weddings, no parties, no raucous revelry. Clean Monday is however preceded by the Greek carnival, known as Apokria, and what a fun season that is!

One charming custom for children is that of Mrs (Kyria) Sarakosti, which surely originated as a way for children to understand and prepare for Easter, rather like an Advent calendar. In some parts of Greece, Mrs Sarakosti is made of paper, and in others she’s prepared of a simple flour and water dough, then baked. However she’s made, Mrs S has one leg removed each week until Easter, thus building up great excitement until the effigy is quite literally legless and Easter Sunday has arrived.

We were visiting good friends in Volos last Saturday and had the pleasure of watching their son Michael as he prepared Mrs Sarakosti from the instructions provided by his school teacher; she obviously took some trouble to do this for her class.

The handout begins with a delightful little poem about Mrs Sarakosti and what she represents.

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The verses, roughly translated, explain that:

Mrs Sarakosti
Is an old custom
Our grandmothers made her for us
With flour and water.

For her outfit they dressed her
With a cross upon her head
But no mouth did they give her
For she fasted for some time

They counted the days
By means of her seven legs
Once a week they’d cut one
Until Easter arrived

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Michael with his instruction sheet

Michael followed the directions meticulously. He mixed the dough and shaped the good lady very carefully, before baking her in the oven. His little sister, Nelly, wisely left him to it; looks like she could become a career diplomat.

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So much fun!

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Nearly done

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The master baker with his mother, Lena, and Nelly

TEMPER! TEMPER!

I have mentioned before that various Greek gods of mythology were said to be responsible for bad weather, and last night they outdid themselves. An almighty storm blew up out of nowhere as we were reading ourselves to sleep. It raced across the Pagasitic from Volos where torrential rain caused such flooding that news reports likened the streets of Volos to the canals of Venice, and had us scrambling out of bed, scattering indignant cats in our wake, as we rushed to secure the shutters. And did it rain! The water slammed against the shutters and the windows and thundered down on the roof, battering the garden as though driven by some fury of envy at the early autumn loveliness. The gods were certainly enraged. All of them were in on the act, but whose tantrum started it? Zeus flung his thunderbolts about in a frenzy, fuming at Aeolus to release the storm winds. Poseidon, not one to be outdone, shot up from the depths to make his menacing entrance. Talk about a tempest!

The rampage was shortlived, no damage, but a quick inspection this morning revealed that the Sternbergia had suffered. The delicate yellow flowers which are such a delight as winter approaches, were no match for the arrogant actors in this latest drama. P1230286 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768] P1230289 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768] P1230295 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768] P1230299 [HDTV (1080)] [1024x768]