Tag Archives: Volos

“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]

Of Cat and Cloth

My friend gave me a wonderful piece of Nigerian fabric. A total of 5 yards in length, it’s a lightweight cotton, probably shirting fabric, with small motifs woven into it, and was white before being dyed in indigo with a cassava resist. The artist has painted dark navy stripes across it; the last yard or so is handstamped with dancing figures. Lovely! In Africa this cloth would have been worn intact, wrapped around the body. I’ve made my friend a scarf by cutting a 2 yard length along the selvedge with the happy figures on one short edge, and myself a shirt but enough fabric remains for another garment. Such a treasure must not be rushed, it must be sewn to best advantage. Should it be used as is, or should another fabric be paired with it? I took it outside to check colour against other fabrics, and
immediately my trusty little helper leapt onto it.

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Introducing Raki, a cat of dubious parentage, but of impeccable taste for the finer things in life. He is a Van cat, a breed known for many centuries in the Lake Van region of Turkey. His ancestors would have been brought to Greece at least at the time of the Ottoman Occupation, but probably well before then by Crusaders, traders, pirates and various others who journeyed for whatever reasons across these parts. Raki is now 6 years old, named for the Turkish drink Raki which turns white when added to water, and found by us 3 days after the Argo replica sailed. We were crossing a supermarket car park in Volos when he caught my eye. Pitiful. There is no other word. Pitiful. Under a car, in the blazing heat, tiny and filthy. He would not have lasted through the day. I scooped him up. Husband was not thrilled…cats we have a-plenty.

We shopped very quickly, Raki clinging to my shirt front, then drove the 45 mins to our wonderful vet (not then yet in practice) in the upper village near our home on the Pelion Peninsula. She estimated him at no more than 3 weeks old, pointed out that his tail was broken but would possibly not need amputation, and was doubtful that he would even survive. We continued home, with Raki’s piercing P1050295 [HDTV (720)]Ashrieks growing ever more hoarse. Once into the house, I placed him on the floor, and he immediately ran to the breakfast remains of the other cats which clearly weren’t suitable for an unweaned kitten. What to feed him? No such thing here then as infant kitty formula. I P1050318 [HDTV (720)] [HDTV (720)]Aimprovised, and fed him 2-
hourly, day and night, on a mess of baby porridge, water, evaporated milk and a scraping of yoghurt, squirted all over us both in a syringe. Why the yoghurt? I had some notion that it would provide healthy bacteria to his horribly disturbed digestive tract.

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His belly was huge, hard, round as a tennisball. Worms. But he was too young and weak to deworm at that time. He had sparse hair, was very dirty and riddled, absolutely crawling, with fleas. His ears were full of mites, and his little body had numerous bites. He was a sad and sorry-looking soul, all big eyes and ears. I bathed him in baby shampoo – had to do it twice, so dirty was he and so numerous the fleas, their eggs and other detritus. He objected. Loudly. But I was thrilled to hear that feistiness! These photos were taken almost immediately after he came into the house, but even then he was establishing his place in the order of things. Or maybe I should say our place in the order of things.

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He is like no other cat I have ever owned, and I have had cats all my life. It’s not just his physical characteristics, for his fur is unlike that of other cats – it’s a dense pelt, soft as silk and only one layer of hair. He seems to be self-cleaning in that his fur never gets tangled, in spite of his mad adventures through the garden, the olive trees, and the indigenous vegetation on the property. He is extremely energetic, playful and fearless and shows absolutely no sign of the more sedate behaviour of the other cats, all of whom become impatient with him very quickly. He loves water and considers it an obligation to assist us in the bath or shower. But it’s his affection and devotion that make him truly special. He is ever-present. It’s as simple as that. He accompanies us and our dog on our walks, often having to be carried back when he gets too tired, he involves himself everywhere and all the time, he’s vociferous, inquisitive, determined and very loving.

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Oh, and Husband adores him.

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In the Land of Jason

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

Mt Pelion

Mt Pelion

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

Crew Boarding the Argo

Crew Boarding the Argo

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

First Voyage of the New Argo

First Voyage of the New Argo

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

Volos

Volos, Thessaly, Greece