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

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

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

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

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

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

They serve as a reminder to reflect.

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A strange sound, loud and alarming broke through my concentration this morning as I was reading the news on my computer, and almost simultaneously a dark cloud obscured my view of the water.

WHOOOOOOSH! My first thought: some kind of whirlwind. My second, and more terrifying: fire rushing through the olive trees. Not yet having had the stimulus of sufficient caffeine, the brain was not exactly flying along, so it took a few seconds to register that we were totally enveloped by birds. Talk about du Maurier! Eat your heart out, Hitchcock!

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The starlings numbered in the tens of thousands, so dense that my eye could not initially distinguish an individual bird. Poor Retsina was flung off my lap as I leapt up to grab the camera, yelling out to a rather bewildered Ron. We dashed from window to window while the flock swirled and whirled about the property, above the forest, over the water, up the valley and across the hills. The birds twittered and tweeted, chittered and chirped in a sweep of sound that altered with each massive, spiralling swoop.

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The sight was stunning. It can be described in no other way. The flock moved as one, altering direction at mind-numbing speed, with a precision that a choreographer would envy. No missteps. Patterns in the sky that our cameras couldn’t capture fast enough. Loops, whorls, circles, ovals, arabesques, weaving the patterns of a Paisley shawl in darker and lighter concentrations of birds – a swelling symphony of shape and sound.

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The ballet continued for about ten minutes, then dissolved as quickly as it had appeared. We composed ourselves, made tea, soothed Raki who had been much perturbed by the commotion. Suddenly, an encore! It lasted a full twenty minutes. Twenty minutes of aerial performance, interspersed by some starlings taking a brief break to settle in the olives, or to peck about the ground.

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Then they swept away, leaving us stunned by the murmuration.

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Jason’s been badly neglected lately – he hasn’t had a new hat in ages. I’ve been knitting of course, knitting up a winter storm, but shawls, wraps and kiddie knits have been occupying my needles

Winter’s been grey, not particularly cold, but we’ve certainly had our fill of grey. More than fifty shades of grey, for sure. We need some colour!

Jason never said a word, but he does look cheerful, no? As for Raki… he had to supervise the photo shoot. I really should get him a director’s chair.

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From the Greek newspaper eKathimerini –


“What did I do? I didn’t do anything,” asked Emilia Kamvisi, an 85-year-old grandmother from the Greek island of Lesvos, when she heard she’d been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.


Fisherman Stratis Valiamos, who has rescued scores of refugees from drowning, and Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, who spent Christmas helping refugees in Greece, were also nominated by Greek academics and the Hellenic Olympic Committee.

If only there was no need to nominate these good people
If only there was no need to flee one’s homeland
If only there was no need to struggle in such desperation
If only there was no need to see the anguished carrying dead children
If only there was no need to live forever traumatised

If only there was no need