The State of Sykia

I’m happy to report that there have been no observable changes in Sykia during the eight months we were away.  All of the tavernas and cafes survived the winter, which is reassuring. The seaside tamarisk trees got a good, and much needed, haircut at some point, and the In Memoriam notices on the power poles have accumulated in this village of mostly retirees but otherwise it’s exactly as we left it in November.

It’s a different story in the neighboring village, Xylokastro, the “big city” to our tiny hamlet.  There, the transition from retail to service continues unabated. The gift shops are almost all gone, as are the boutiques, replaced mostly by cafes. Even in Greece, however, there’s a limit to the number of cafes that can be supported, and stretches of the main shopping streets are marred by strings of empty storefronts. The couple of tavernas that closed were quickly replaced by newcomers and all the others are soldiering on but it’s difficult to see how the gutted shopping areas are going to recover.

Undoubtedly, loss of income is the cause of the transition.  Wages have been cut generally, taxes have been increased, new taxes created, and most importantly in these small towns of mostly old folks, pensions have been slashed each year, with yet another cut pending in the next several days.  Kids are graduating and moving to Athens or abroad for work, further raising the average age of the population out here in the sticks. Sykia is too small to have had any actual retail, so it’s been spared the blight, and towns in agricultural areas appear largely unchanged because the income level has been relatively constant but the places that relied on Greek tourists coming into town with a little extra spending money have really suffered.  Absent a dramatic change of some sort, it looks like a long road back for Xylokastro.

On the bright side, the NY Times published an excellent article about Athens the other day (Athens, Rising), in which the locals opine that maybe, just maybe, there’s a possibility that things are beginning to pick up.  It’s the first time I’ve seen any public optimism in the last 9 years.

It’s been summer weather since we arrived, and on Friday school dismissed across the country.  We’re now on the ramp-up to the full summer bedlam that is the August holiday. Kicking off the festivities is the European Day of Music on Thursday.  Sykia is participating for the first time this year by hosting approximately 20 musical acts, ranging from classical to pop (European Day of Music).  Naturally, the “Day of Music” requires 4 days to celebrate.  We’re looking forward seeing how this goes. The schedule makes it sound as if some of the acts will perform on the beach but that’s hard for me to picture.  The first day concludes with a concert of traditional music in the plateia directly in front of us — from 10:30 to midnight. Yes, a concert in the middle of a residential area beginning at 10:30pm.  Kansas, it’s not.

After the madness of moving it’s especially sweet to be back here, watching the wind sweep the water.  We’ve got a few tasks to accomplish but otherwise the plan is to appreciate each moment of these long, sweet days as slowly as possible.

 

Hi, Bye

It’s absurd to write, and it must seem silly to read, but we can’t quite wrap our heads around how quickly 10 weeks have passed.  Two and a half months should be long enough to make one feel as if it’s been a complete trip.  Not quite sure why we’re so surprised to find ourselves trying to figure out what to bring back.

On October 24, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the day we moved in.  Again, it seems as if it could only have been half that long.  Time collapse aside, it’s been a wonderful decade of getting to know this place and these people. And like most decades, it was a mix of the memorable and the forgettable; the happy and the sad; forward steps, backward steps, sideways steps, and even a few dance steps.  But what keeps us yearning to come back even before we’ve left remains undisturbed and pulls at us just as urgently today as it did in 2007. Our family, our friends, the sea, the mountains on the other side, the sky like a dome over all, the dry crystalline air, local ingredients in season at even the simplest eateries, wines like magic, orange blossoms in the spring air, scent of dried thyme wafting up underfoot in the summer, spring wildflowers along the roads, seas of cobalt turquoise and cerulean, mountains marching to the horizon, islands floating on the sea like boats, boats floating as if on air, the chance to walk in the footsteps of Plato, Aristotle, Pericles and Paul, the stones and towers of Mani, the piercing light.  Those things and many more we will miss until next year when we once again catch our first glimpse of this very special place.

P1080859The port of Piraeus, August 30, 2017

 

P1080937It was a great time to be here.  The water was warm, the air temp was pleasant…

P1080879…the water was clear…

P1080914and the crowds were gone.

 

P1080893_editedWe took lots of walks in the pefkias.

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P1090024It seemed to be a good year for pomegranates.

 

P1090052_editedThe wind can really get up in the Fall…

P1080903_editedbut it only makes the place more beautiful. 

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Of course, we went to Mani.

P1090122Ag. Kyprianos at moonrise.

 

IMG_20170919_191200Antares hotel, in the traditional settlement of Omales, at sunset.

 

P1090094The mountaintop village of Profitis Ilias. From ancient times until the 1970’s, the quarries of this village provided the red marble for elaborate decoration in places such as St. Peter’s basilica and the palace at Versailles.  Some of that marble is visible in the church and the tower behind it.

P1090091The ruins of an oven in the same village.

P1090088A threshing circle in Profitis Ilias.

 

P1090100_ed_edited.jpgLooking down at the villages of Dimiristika (left) and Spira.

 

P1090058Abelos, near Ag. Kyprianos.  A beach, a church, three houses.

P1090068Abelos.

P1090069Abelos moonrise.

 

P1090113The village of Nifi, looking up at Ag. Dimitrios church.

P1090119Nifi

 

P1090035Katronas.  Suffered a bad fire this summer.

IMG_20170922_133506Katronas.  The fire came down the mountain so quickly that the villagers had to be evacuated by sea.

 

P1080984_editedThe village of old Kardamyli.

P1080985_editedSame view but from a window of the just-restored war tower.

P1080993A very nice restoration.

P1080998St. Spiridon in old Kardamyli.  I’ve never caught it open.

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P1090009Limeni. 

P1090006_editedRuins of a monastery and its church (Panagia Vreti) at Limeni.  I’ve climbed into that church in years past, and there are still faint frescoes on the dome.  The complex is now surrounded by a fence. 

 

We visited several churches in Mani.

P1090107This church, Ag. Nicholaos, between Lagia and Dimiristika, is said to be the oldest church in Mani.  10th c.  The Maniates were late converts.

P1080956This one, in Ochia, consisted of two separate churches,  Ag. Petros and Panagitsa, presumably built at different times.  

P1080952_editedInside the smaller, older of the two churches. The frescoes awed and humbled us.

P1080955_editedThe larger church. The columns and cut stones were obviously mined from an ancient or Byzantine structure, possibly at Tigani.

P1080973These walls look like terraces but they’re the remains of an ancient city, Kenipolis. We were there looking for the ruins of a church.

P1080974_editedI don’t think this is the church we were looking for but we were happy to find it.

P1080977_editedThe exterior of the church at Kenipolis.  It was a scramble getting inside.

 

P1080980_editedClouds collecting in the mountains near Areopolis.

IMG_20171007_183959Back to Sykia.  The beach stones will be scrubbed and tumbled until next Spring when folks begin to venture out on them again but the skies will not be lovelier than they were this Fall.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Αντίο, Sikya!

Our bags are (almost) packed and we’re counting down the last few hours of our season in Sikya.  Since we returned from Italy on August 22, the weather has been spectacular, beginning with lows in the low 70s and highs in the high 80s.  Now we’re at lows in the mid 60s and highs in the mid 70s.  We’ve enjoyed every minute of it, including early morning walks when it was warmer, and sunset walks the last couple of weeks.  Of course, I take the camera when we walk, and a few of the photos begin the capture the beauty of this place.  They are mostly photos of the mountains across the Gulf from us, Mt. Gerania and Mt. Ellikon, but I never tire of them, and I hope you enjoy these images of a few of their infinite aspects.

Kαλό χειμώνα, Sikya!  Have a good winter. See you next year.

 

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Rain!

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We finally got some rain.  Two weeks ago, on Labor Day, we were treated to light rain for several hours.  It was enough that even the soil under the tree canopy got wet.  It was the first rain we’d seen since May, breaking what for us seemed like a 3-month drought but is actually the normal summer weather for this part of Greece.  We were ecstatic.
As is usual here the arrival of rain meant a change in the weather, and we were treated to a week of rain.  That first day’s rain completely soaked into the parched, powdered soil but by the third day, water was running off into the drainage channels, carrying enormous quantities of mud and trash into the Gulf.  The fourth day saw very heavy rainfall, with tragic consequences in the southern Peloponnese, where 5 people were killed in flooding.

 

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Water running across the pavement did a great job of carrying off lots of heat, too.  When it was over, summer’s back had clearly been broken and since then we’ve enjoyed highs in the mid 80s, lows in the low 70s, and breezes turning to the north/northwest.

 

Last week was near ideal, with the air scrubbed clear, the mountains finally emerging from behind the haze-skrim that had obscured them all of July and August, occasional whitecaps on the Gulf, and slowly (slowly) diminishing indoor temps.  It was 84 inside the last week of August, and now it’s dropped to 80.

 

This morning, I was awakened by thunder and heavy rain, forecast for later in the day.  Sitting on the balcony, we were treated to a spectacular light show, as lightening spiderwebbed across the clouds and a rainbow appeared in the west, opposite the rising sun. During a break in the action I ran out to grab the top photo, of Mt. Gerania down the Gulf.
We joke that there’s no day quite as fine as a rainy day in Greece, and today was no exception.  After running our AM errands, a brilliant blue sky encouraged us to start a load of laundry, and it was 99% dry by lunch time, when light sprinkles had us run for the clotheslines in the back. In between, the mountains were crystal clear and I stopped again for a photo of Mt. Ellikon.

 

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True to form, more rain’s coming this week, maybe even into the weekend.  But it was beautiful for a sunset volta this evening.  I couldn’t resist snapping the last light of day on the clouds over the Sikelianos house.

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The weather cycle is coming back around to where we joined it last spring, and it’s beginning to feel as if our stay is complete.

Clouds!

 

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Yesterday afternoon, for the first time since the end of June, we were treated to full cloud cover.  There was even an interval of rolling thunder but the rain failed except for a few pathetic drops.  This accompanies ever-so-slightly easing temps — we had lows in the high 70s twice this week, and on two afternoons the mercury stopped just short of 90. It’s cloudy again today, with a less-than-even chance of rain but the wind, which came up yesterday, has stalled once more.

Still, the edge is off of the searing heat we were experiencing when I wrote the last post, and we’re breathing sighs of relief.

Holiday-making continues at not-quite full intensity as well. A couple of folks have returned to work but 6 of the 8 units in this building are still full, as well as the rental unit in the next building, and last night was the loudest we’ve experienced this summer.  Apparently a couple of the girls in the complex have discovered they can scream, and they find it hilarious to shriek at the tops of their lungs at any opportunity. Things quieted down about 11 (as opposed to midnight or later a couple of weeks ago) but it was a long 3 or 4 hours.

The considerable mass of this building has stored enough heat that it remains a constant 84 degrees in the apartment.  That felt stifling when it was near 100 outside but being able to move to cooler temps outdoors makes all the difference.

It’s downhill and shady from here, and the tension that results from being constantly stressed is abating.  We’re looking forward to the next month.

Midsummer

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Being here in midsummer always makes me think about Ocean City.  When I was a kid, my friends and I divided ourselves into “beach people” and “mountain people,” eg, people who’d rather spend their summers at the beach v people who’d rather go to the mountains.  I was a mountain person (I haven’t polled her but I suspect Suse would opt for the other team — although not as fervently as before she became BFFs with a dermatologist) but not only did I prefer heading to the hills, I couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to go to the beach…unless it was to check out babes in bikinis.  The beach is hot, sticky, sandy, uncomfortable, loud, crowded.  The roads are jammed way beyond their capacity, there’s a line at every restaurant, pizza place, ice cream stand, and fry joint.  There’s no place to park, and there’s always at least one moron driving back and forth with his car radio so loud it’s obnoxious two blocks away — and of course his taste in music is always execrable.  Sand gets tracked back to the car, back to the room, into the shower. It’s in your hair and in your teeth. Sandwiches are gritty with it, towels and blankets are caked with it. Lather up with sunscreen and in seconds you’re wearing a sand veneer. It makes you (me) itchy at the same time you’re sweaty.  And you’re sweaty.  Because being on the beach is like sitting too close to a sunlamp the size of a bus, and someone’s opened the door of the world’s largest oven.  You can see the heat haze rising from the sand — even if it’s just thin strips of sand between the checkerboard of towels and blankets.  You sweat every moment you’re not in A/C or the water. And then you look over at your pals and say, “It just doesn’t get any better than this.”  And yet maybe the most incomprehensible part of it all is that people sit in 50-mile traffic jams week in and week out to get there and back home.

Obviously, I’m the oddball here.  Zillions of people like that stuff — you can’t find a room anywhere near the beach this time of year.  People not only do this it, they actually spend a lot of the year planning to do it.  It’s a reward for working all year. (Work that apparently involves rolling a boulder uphill.)  So overwhelming is the evidence that I’m forced to conclude maybe even most people are on the beach side of the fence.  But so long as I didn’t have to be there, I’ve never cared why everyone does.  Until I’m brought right up against it, face to face.

Which brings me to Sykia. In midsummer.

When we bought here, we bought in a pretty little village stretched out along a gorgeous body of water.  Population: 231. A park, a church, a few tavernas, and that’s all.  As absurd as it sounds sitting here now, it never occurred to me that this place would be Ocean City for hoards of Athenians, that its population would swell ten-fold (at least), that parking would be impossible, that the idiot with the loud car radio and bad taste would follow me here, that the tavernas would be full to — and beyond — capacity every night, that sentient human beings would sling themselves out under umbrellas on the beach all day every day, that crossing the beach road could ever approximate running across the Capital Beltway, that the park would be full of people from other villages every night until very late at night, and that people would navigate heavy traffic for 90 minutes to get here.  And yet it’s happened again this year, just as it has in each of our previous years.

I haven’t been back to OC in summer since high school but now I’m face to face with this beach thing every year anyway. I still can’t figure it out.  Why do people like doing this?  There are some who apparently take pride in getting the darkest possible tan.  There’s one guy who just likes to fish every daylight hour.  There are young parents letting their kids romp in the shallows.  There are people who come down to cool off, floating around in the water for 30-40 minutes before heading back up the stairs.  But for each of those, there’s one reading a book, drinking an iced coffee, snoozing, jawing with the neighbors, in other words: doing things that would be much more comfortable pretty much anywhere else.  So why do they do it?

I can’t go along with the mystical idea that we love the sea because the progenitors of our species crawled out of the sea millions of years ago.  After all, every mammal species did the same thing, and I don’t see cats or beagles lining up to get in the water.  I’m forced to conclude the drivers of this strange behavior are habit, tradition, and, yes, conformity.  “What should we do for vacation this year? Why don’t we just go back to the beach?”  “I’ve gone to the beach every summer since I was a kid.”  “Everyone’s going to the beach.”  The possibility that anyone might actually enjoy being roasted alive while simultaneously being flayed by the pitiless sun in the close company of hundreds of other roastees is simply unimaginable.

So here I am, an accidental beach person.  A bear who wandered down from the mountains.  My inability to understand goes way beyond language.

My coping method is to focus on the things I love about this place — the clear blue water that’s now at the ideal temperature, the gorgeous mountains across the Gulf, and the amazing light penetrating the landscape to the cellular level.  And the absence of sand!  No sand.  The pebbles can be tough on the feet but I never have to walk on a sandy floor or — shudder — sleep in a sandy bed.  And the wine, a spectrum of spectacular summer whites so nuanced and delicious that they more than make up for car interiors so hot you have to stand back when you first open a door.  Yes, the wine really helps with the coping.

Each year about this time I think back to a two-week beach vacation almost 30 years ago  that straddled the start of school.  The difference between week one and week two could not have been more stark: week one, high stress; week two, no stress.  I thought then about the few permanent residents of little coastal towns like Duck, NC — how they must feel about being invaded and displaced by the mob each summer, and how they must long for the end of summer.  I’ve thought about them again each of the past 10 summers.  I never imagined my empathy would be so complete.

Come on, autumn!

Around and About in Sikya

This is just a photo post — I’ll try to keep the verbiage to a minimum.

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I don’t see many sunrises but the night before I shot this the wind was blowing so hard it kept waking me. When I rolled up the front shutters in the morning and saw the sea and sky, I grabbed the camera and hustled down to the beach.

 

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A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to do a photo hike through the Pefkias (pine forest).  Unfortunately, there was a very thick haze over the water, so conditions were pretty tough for photography.  I was lucky that an almost full moon was rising over the Gulf.

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I wrapped it up taking photos of the Aleppo pines along the beach.

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This is one of the traditional houses of Sikya.  The small, second-floor balcony, the red roof tiles, wooden shutters, and on-the-road siting are very typical of this area.

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The main trail through the Pefkias (forgive me if I’ve posted something like this previously):

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The little church in the Pefkias. A popular site for weddings.

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Trees along the shore in the Pefkias:

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The seaside walk in Xylokastro:

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Finally, a couple of photos of a wild weather day.  Despite the threatening appearance, I don’t think we got a single drop of rain from that system.

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I hope you enjoy these.  The weather continues to be wonderful.  Highs between 68 and 75 most days, and lows are usually about 62.  Twice we’ve had a few drops of rain — not enough to wet the pavement, just enough to make a mess of the windshield.  We’ve had some high winds, though.  The roaring woke us again one night this week.  The snow is virtually gone from the face of Mt. Parnassos that I see from here — the south face.  It seems early for the mountains to be snowfree, and I worry about drought and fire this summer.