August has gone. It came in stifling hot, and went out on a slightly cooler note. As the locals say: “At the end of August, the lights are turned off.” And it’s literally so. The lights across the Pagasitic Gulf from us, at the very end of the Pelion Peninsula, didn’t come on last night. They won’t come on again until late April or early May. Holiday homes are in darkness. The tail end of the holidaymakers left in long convoys yesterday, heading to various parts of Europe, some of the vehicles towing boats.
The little boats that bobbed about in front of the house until yesterday are not there today. As I write, in mid-afternoon, the only boats I’ve seen all day are those above – the one slowly and carefully towing the other across the Gulf. I waved to the boatman. He waved back. Perhaps both boats are his. Perhaps he rented them out through the summer. Perhaps the boat on tow needs repairs. Something about him and the two little boats seemed so forlorn, though I hope all’s well. Those two little boats and the solitary boatman said it very firmly: “Summer is over.”
Today is the Labor Day holiday in America, a day that celebrates the workers of the country, and has come to mean the unofficial end of summer in the United States.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Parts of the road had sheared off in the violence, making the narrow road more challenging still,
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.
Hubby was unfazed, stopping the car to get out and survey the situation. I carried on knitting.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
Some years ago we spent a few days in Delphi, one of the most dramatic of ancient Greek archeological sites. Delphi is situated high on the side of Mt Parnassus, a mountain holy to the ancient Greeks, and commands a spectacular view above the Gulf of Corinth. Looking across the Pagasitic Gulf from our house we can see the peak of Mt Parnassus rising up on the mainland, covered in thick snow; the ancients would be surprised to see the ski resorts!
Like the ancients, I don’t ski, but I share their reverence for the site which is awe-inspiring and never fails to enthrall and humble me. The famed Oracle of Delphi made her pronouncements in the Temple of Apollo, and great was the fame of each successive oracle. Her prophecy was ambiguous: the person receiving the advice would interpret it to suit his or her purpose, sometimes with catastrophic results, as Croesus found to his cost.
A pilgrimage to Delphi, a place difficult to access, was a memorable experience for those who undertook it in ancient days, and it was for me too on my first visit there, but not entirely because of the ruins and the Archeological Museum.
A charming employee at our hotel, Maria, noticed me knitting and told me as we chatted that her mother was a very dedicated knitter, and asked if I might perhaps like to meet her? Would I? Most certainly! There and then it was arranged that Maria, who lived with her mother nearby, would take us home during her lunch hour which she routinely spent taking care of the elderly lady.
The Greeks are renowned for their philoxenia, which translates literally to love of the stranger, or hospitality. In spite of her duties Maria managed to purchase a box of delicious cakes before we accompanied her home, where she and her delightful mother were the epitome of philoxenia.
Mrs Katerina, Maria’s very elderly mother to whom she attended with a devoted love, was dignified, gracious and generous. Generous in every way. I peppered her with questions – about her life, her knitting and other needle arts, and about the Second World War. The war in which Greece suffered immeasurably. The war in which thousands perished from famine. The war in which the Greeks fought with characteristic courage, as they have done throughout the centuries, and about whom Churchill said: “The word heroism I am afraid does not render the least of those acts of self-sacrifice of the Greeks, which were the defining factor in the victorious outcome of the common struggle of the nations, during WWII, for the human freedom and dignity. If it were not for the bravery of the Greeks and their courage, the outcome of WWII would be undetermined.”
Mrs Katerina was a young girl in that war, enduring unimaginable horrors and atrocities, misery and anguish, like so many thousands of others, and, like all those who survived, suffering the effects for the rest of their lives. I have said Mrs Katerina was generous, and she certainly was with her material goods, but it’s her generosity of spirit which I will never forget. Not once did she condemn, not once did she criticize, not once did she express contempt. She answered my probing questions, she told her horrifying stories, but she did not ever pass judgment. Not once.
We drank coffee, ate cakes, and talked knitting. And did we talk knitting! Mrs Katerina’s body was very frail, but her mind was razor sharp, her turn of phrase delightful. I learnt so much from her, and I don’t refer only to knitting though she was a fountain of knowledge. She was working on a sock when we arrived, the second pink sock to the one already completed, the yarn tensioned around her neck in the eastern manner.
I was fascinated by her method of inserting the heel into the sock, what Elizabeth Zimmermann would call an ‘afterthought’, and she took great delight in explaining the technique to me, insisting on giving me the sock, in spite of my protestations. The incomparable Kyria Katerina, assured me she would simply knit a replacement for it.
I have watched Greek, Turkish and Albanian knitters, some of whom employ this method. Mrs Katerina learnt to knit stockings as a very small girl, and could recollect no other way of working the heel, saying simply that’s how it was always done in her village.
Knitting is a way of life to Mrs Katerina who could not hazard a guess at how many pairs of socks she had knitted over her lifetime. “Pola! Pola!” she happily exclaimed. “Many! Many!” were the socks she’d produced for herself, her family and her long-dead husband. A widow of many years she dressed only in black, and was determined, absolutely determined, that I accept a pair of her own socks so that I could study the work at my leisure. It was impossible to refuse, and I treasure her gifts.
But socks were not enough for the indomitable Kyria Katerina. She loved that I share her name, and wanted me to have something to remember her by, not that I could ever forget her. So her last piece of embroidery I was to have, for her eyesight was fading and knitting was not as taxing for her. Here it is – a beautiful piece of work in counted thread embroidery – shown by Maria.
I love the painstaking work, marvel at her patience, delight in the few, the very, very few missed stitches which speak so eloquently of the hand worked item. I’ve thought of framing it, but maybe I’ll turn it into a pillow.
Meeting this good lady and her devoted daughter was an experience I can never forget. The warmth and affection extended to us, complete strangers, remains with us still.
Mrs Katerina, then living in Delphi, is my personal Delphic Oracle for she assured me that whatever was to happen in my life my knitting would always bring me joy.
Whichever way you spell it, the kilims shown in the last entry radiate with colour. I was almost overwhelmed when I entered the dazzling display area on a rather grey wintry evening. Colour leapt out at me. Colour embraced me. Colour cheered and colour warmed me.
This impressive exhibit was expertly curated by Magda Karastathis on behalf of the Lafkos Community Association. Magda studied at the prestigious Athens School of Fine Arts and taught at schools in Patras, Athens and Volos before her recent retirement. Her family is from the Lafkos/Milina area: Lafkos, the ancient fortified village on the hilltop, which afforded more protection from invaders and pirates; Milina, now a beautiful village on the Pagasitic Gulf, but only a fishing spot in those very early days.
Summer visitors to the Pelion Peninsula are often surprised to hear that we have a distinct winter season. They’re even more stunned to learn that snow’s not uncommon, and that Mt Pelion has a ski resort. Winters are not usually severe, but there are many dreary days for we have the typical winter rainfall of the Mediterranean climate. If grey’s your colour, take your pick of shades, but it’s not mine and so, still steeped in the saturated colours of the exhibited kilims, I dived into my yarn stash the next day.
The bobbles and tassels had really caught my imagination!
Poseidon's been pouting, Zeus has been raging and now Aeolus, god of the wind, has joined in. They've been trying to outdo each other all weekend. Rain, lightning, thunder and wind. Not your gentle Zeus-snoring breaths, mind you, not fluffy little clouds ruffling the water, but great gusts of violence. Tempests. Squalls. Gales. Call them any name you like.
Lord Beaufort would have been in his element. Lord Beaufort, who survived being shipwrecked as a lad because someone messed up a chart, and who grew up determined never to have that happen again. Can't say I blame him. I've no desire to make Poseidon's acquaintance either. Anyway, Lord Beaufort went on to do great things after his bad experience, not least of which was becoming a Rear Admiral and a Sir, and generally going up hugely in the world. And while he was achieving all this, he also made time to tinker about with his Wind Force Scale. In use all over the world, it describes the effects varying wind strengths have on smoke, trees, water and so on. It makes for interesting reading, and gives you some idea if you're about to have a really rough go of it.
"Wow, look!" I'll exclaim, gazing out upon a froth of wavelets dancing with little white horses, as I consult my printout of Beaufort's Scale. "I reckon that's a Beaufort 3. Maybe even a 4."
Not this time though. Not on your life. The Pagasitic Gulf has been battling a Beaufort 7 at least, more like an 8 with distinct notes of a 9 at times. Olives are raining down off the trees, bits of geraniums are flying about. The hairy and furry members of the household have the right idea. This calls for restful calm within the house, with tea and munchies, a book and some knitting. And friend Sally's cheesies are just the thing.
4 oz butter – softened
8 oz grated cheese*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups flour – sifted
Preheat oven to 350 degF
Mix butter, cheese and seasonings.
Add flour and form into a dough.
Roll out and cut into straws.
Or use a cookie press if you like to get really fancy.
I simply roll the dough into small balls and flatten with a fork.
Bake on a greased cookie sheet for about 25 minutes
*Notes on cheese
Use an Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese if possible.
I don't usually have this available, so I add a good amount of cayenne pepper.
Chili powder works just as well.
These are very popular at parties.
They keep well and are great with soup.
OK, so I lied, they don't keep long in this household!
The Pagasitic Gulf has a fairly good natured temperament, but as the saying goes, still waters run deep and in this case they do quite literally for the Gulf’s depth is about 100 meters in most parts. Though usually calm, the Pag can be moody, showing flashes of anger just when least expected, particularly after Poseidon decides to get his trident in a twist. Rather high and mighty is Poseidon, conscious of his position as one of the Twelve Gods; his realm is the sea and he’s a touchy character. Very. Poseidon is quick to take offense, and even quicker to vent his fury, striking his three pronged weapon to cause earthquake and tsunami, shipwreck and drowning. For my part I’ll take his raging seas any day rather than his earthquakes.
The waters of the Pagasitic can boil up in no time, frequently subsiding just as swiftly, but when Poseidon’s tantrums are out of control, the sea might rage for days, depositing all manner of debris along the beaches and among the rocks. Plastic, that prince among pollutants in all its forms, nets, ropes, wood, medical waste bearing foreign labels and doubtless dumped at sea, bottles, branches, logs, shoes, clothing, toys, to name but a few. My dog Sophia, keen swimmer and beachcomber, supplemented the toys we constantly bought her, by retrieving various playthings and balls from the tangled messes hurled onto the shore.
After one particularly fierce storm when Poseidon was completely out of control, I noticed a piece of green knitwear twisted tightly around some vegetation. Intrigued, I retrieved the mangled bundle and set about separating the knitting from the twigs and pine cones, burrs, thistles and bits of root gripping it. A very damaged, hand knitted sweater was finally freed. I was rather upset at first; it was difficult not to think that maybe a life had been lost. But then again, why should that have been the case? It could just as easily have been blown overboard, or accidentally dropped into the sea. Or been swept by a wave off the beach. Washed away in a heavy rainstorm. What about the person who’d lost it? Was it their only sweater? Sophia and I walked home, and I placed the matted little heap on a table to dry in the sun.
The next day I picked off some of the seed pods stuck all over it. This sweater has been in the water a long time. It’s faded in parts, badly ripped, it’s brittle and disintegrating, but it has a story to tell and I’m trying to understand it. There’s a temptation to indulge in a flood of metaphor and sentiment with regard to it, with waffle about unraveling and dropped stitches, and being battered by life, about what it was and what it no longer is, but the fact remains that someone went to the trouble of making it, and somehow it got lost. The fact remains that it’s handknitted, and that one seldom sees handknitted clothing here any more. The street markets in Europe have seen to that.
So where did it come from, this little sweater? And by whose hands was it made? The yarn is wool, it’s quite badly degraded, but it appears to have been handspun. This makes me think of Albania where I know women who spin beautiful yarns on drop spindles to knit for their families. The garment is knitted back and forth in pieces, which have been seamed together; the sleeves are set in; the neckband is crocheted. The yarn has been held double at all the cast on edges – a technique commonly used in Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey and parts of the Middle East. A close examination reveals no damage to the cast on edges, which is interesting in that other areas of the sweater have been torn. The cast on stitches are fairly rigid, they have very little elasticity, which again brings Albania to mind.
The workmanship would win no prizes, but this is a utilitarian garment, made to serve a need. It is not the work of privilege, if I may phrase it so. The hands that drew upon age-old knowledge and techniques to make it, that did so with love and concern, created a garment that links all those of us who knit. Who knows how far it’s traveled?