I mentioned using our own olive oil in “Going Bananas”.   Olive crops are notorious for being unpredictable, vulnerable as the fruit is to a great many factors, and it’s common to have a reasonable harvest every second year as a rule. The farmers, and particularly the older folk, say the trees are resting when it’s clear that no olives are developing on the trees, and who can blame them, the trees that is.

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The olive tree grows slowly, taking its time. It’s been taking its time for aeons and there’s something about its gnarled trunk, its knotted branches knitted into intertwining twists and cables, its roots reaching over rocks and creeping into crevices, that’s very reassuring. Olive wood is extremely hard, the tree is evergreen. We live among olive groves that have been rooted for centuries in a land that has seen everything good and everything ghastly that mankind is capable of.

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There’s much I could write about olives, but for now I’ll contrast the old way of pressing the fruit to obtain the golden oil with the very latest technology.

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Deep in a secluded valley near our home lies a very old abandoned village whose handful of residents attempted to escape the depredations of invasions in times long gone. The few stone houses stand silently derelict amongst wildly overgrown orchards, formerly abundant with fruit, whilst the dense undergrowth strangles the artichokes and a few other vegetables, heirs to earth once cultivated, which have managed to propagate. But the olive trees endure. Untended, unpruned, unfed and unharvested they stand in silent testimony.

Amongst the ruins are the remains of the olive mill which produced the oil upon which the villagers and other locals relied. The olives would have been brought by donkey and stored in the ceramic jars whose design has changed not at all over many, many centuries, until their turn to be weighed and then pressed. The harvest was a busy time for everybody, backbreaking work, even for small children who would collect the olives which were knocked from the trees to the ground. I’m sure all would have been delighted to see the oil flowing from those presses, just as we never fail to be thrilled when we see our oil gushing from the gleaming stainless steel of the very latest equipment.

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Handmade ceramic storage jars
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The crushing wheel in the trough; the spout
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Handcut stone; handhewn rafters
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Hand crafted stone crushing wheel
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The hand-driven olive press
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Balance scales
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Ali Baba oil jar
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A ‘modern’ addition – diesel engine
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Heavy lifting winch
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Engine detail – belt drive pulley

Among massive old machinery

Today every last drop is squeezed from the olives, although the method of harvesting the fruit is essentially the same – the olives still have to be beaten out of the trees. My friend Petra made this video at harvest time last year and it shows the whole process of olive oil production very clearly.

Video by Petra Nowak; music written and composed by loVeu2 (Nowak, Georgiou, Elliot)


As I have already mentioned, the summer visitors have left the Pelion peninsula, sad to go, I would think. The weather was glorious. The refreshing waters of the Pagasitic gulf welcomed the swimmers and divers, and played gently with the littlies who paddled and splashed away happily. All manner of watercraft made its way up and down the gulf, the traffic increasing quite a bit in August when most Europeans take their vacation. Great fun!

There’s an expression in these parts to the effect that the lights go out on the last day of August, and to an extent it’s true. People seal up their summer homes, closing the shutters firmly, tightening everything up against the winter gales that make ancient olive trees vulnerable to their fury, while Poseidon whips the Pagasitic into a frenzy of white water.

No calendar alerts me to the end of the season. The little motorboats being towed up from the resort at Paou to their winter storage tell me that it’s over, that summer is shutting down. Two by two they go, a boatman in front pulling an unmanned boat behind him.

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All by Myself
Then he returns, sometimes alone, and sometimes with another boatman, to fetch more. There’s something so final about it. The empty boats, part of a holiday package deal, passed by last week. It’s easy to imagine they were tired, and indeed they are, for they’ve been taking holidaymakers around since early May. They will be cleaned, repaired, painted and freshened up to make memories for vacationers next year.

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The people who work so hard in the tourist industry, invariably cheerful through the long, blistering heat of the summer, are making winter preparations also. Some, but not all of them, will be able to take a well-earned rest.


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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