Rain!

p1080135

 

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.

 

img_20160907_105540

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.

 

p1080146

 

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.

p1080140

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.

Kalo Kalokairi!

image

Now fully immersed in packing and preparing to leave, we’re casting our thoughts back over the last 3 months and trying to soak in enough of all the things we’ll miss to last us until we return.  It’s been an unusual season in Greece for us: our earliest-ever arrival and our earliest-ever departure.  And, while our neighbors and relatives assure us it was an unusually long and wet winter, it’s not a schedule we’re likely to repeat.

Winter here is nothing either of us can complain about but we saw enough to understand what the locals dislike about it.  Cool, wet, and windy conditions when you’re longing to be outside is annoying.  Leaving the ridiculous weather Washington had this February, we were overjoyed to find the precipitation was liquid rather than frozen.  The temperature in the unheated apartment when we arrived was 62.  With overnight temps dropping only to the low 40s, we were more than willing to put on jackets to down our morning pot of tea on the balcony. But 4 of the 6 weeks before Easter were wet.  We had to postpone our trip to Mani until the third week just because we wanted to explore it without raincoats.  And dining al fresco was problematic because anything hot cooled before even we could wolf it down.

The six weeks since Easter have been almost idyllic, though.  Perfect springtime temps with highs in the 70s, puffy clouds, and mostly gentle breezes.  We’ve had few short showers, a few days of strong winds, and the normal occurrences of Saharan dust blown north by high-altitude winds.  But since Easter we’ve turned off the heat, opened the windows, and most days we ate three meals outside.  Appreciated a few bottles of wine out there, too

P1040453

In my first post this year, when I said nothing had changed in Sykia, I forgot to make note of the significant tree cutting and replanting work that had been done on the Sykia side of the Pefkias (Pine Forest) that is the pride of the neighborhood.  A lot of activity there has helped diversify the forest, reduce fire danger, and improve the health of the established trees.  I also neglected to mention work on the Sykia portion of the new highway.  The bridge over the stream that runs near our apartment has been finished, and the over/underpass where the new highway crosses the railroad has also been completed, although the approaches to it have yet to be started.  We are full of hope for what we might find when we return next year.

It’s been a difficult season for the economy, which has slipped back into recession, and has suffered four months of uncertainty about the future.  We’ve swung between optimism and despair with the winds of the rumor mill but we are currently hopeful that a long-term agreement will be reached this summer, and that that agreement will put the country on the road to a lasting recovery.

P1040084

This year we noticed for the first time that orange trees flower while still  holding ripe fruit.  While great citrus is crazy-abundant here, we also enjoyed excellent strawberries for virtually the entire three months…and they’re not fading yet.  We noted the progress of the tomato crop almost from day-to-day, and are savoring near-perfect flavor and aroma right now from a local crop. Korinthia is famous in Greece for its table grapes and raisins and, while we missed the grape harvest, we took full advantage of the raisins; consequently, we are unlikely to ever open another box of Dole’s.

P1040121

We could put up a catalog of small discoveries and big memories from this year’s trip.  I particularly remember visiting the astonishing church of a long-gone monastery on the mountain high above Mariolota, and realizing that we could see our breath inside.  Outside, the temps were probably in the 60s but the thick stone walls held winter’s freeze tight, and I got a new appreciation for the monks who once rose before dawn to chant and pray in that beautiful ice-box.  We were also shown the lovely Flisvos Marina near Athens, and then amazed by the maritime museum it contains – imagine a full-scale trireme, with oars extended!

P1040099

After years of noting the loss of one shop after another, this year we took particular pleasure in seeing a host of businesses that, rather than shut down, chose to up their game.  New paint, new decor, new tables and chairs, new menus, new spirit, new attitude go a long way to reassuring everyone here that it is possible to make a go of it, even now.  The tourists like the fresh look, and the locals like it even more.

So we leave feeling good about the prospects for our village, and for Greece.  We wish our family and friends here a good summer, Kalo Kalokairi, and look forward to seeing them, and the mountains across the water, when we return again to this magical land.

P1040596

Καλώς ήρθατε!

P1000519

That’s Greek for “Welcome!” and its literal translation is almost exactly that: “Well (good) to come.”  Our friends and relations have been greeting us that way since we arrived Friday, and last night the first full moon of our stay popped out from behind Mt. Gerania as if to add its own Καλώς ήρθατε!  We didn’t get the lunar eclipse that you lucky folks in North America got to see but the moon here certainly had all the color of a blood moon, and we were thrilled — as always — to see it.

 

The moonrise capped a sunset walk on the beach, which is now fringed with the wildflowers we love:

P1000493

 

Mt. Elikonas, the mountain we see from our balcony, capped with clouds  and underlined by an Aleppo pine, whose horizontal growth is a testament to the strong west wind:P1000497

 

Mt. Parnassos, home of the nine muses.  You can just see that it’s still snowy at the top.  There’s a ski resort on the other (northern) side.

P1000500

 

Mt. Gerania, from which the moon would soon emerge:

P1000505

 

The Panagia, freshly painted over the winter, against a backdrop of Melissi village on the left, and our own lovely Sikia on the right:

P1000513

 

Looking east along the beach at Sikia:

P1000514

 

And the rest of the moon dance:

P1000522

P1000526
Being welcomed back each year is one of the things we love about Greece but another of Greece’s charms is its customary leaving-taking, “Sto kalo,” which means “Go to the good.”   It’s a simple wish/command that operates on several levels and is emblematic of the love and respect that underlie this culture. Sto kalo.

 

καλό χειμώνα, Sikya

IMG_6171

Good winter, Sikya.  It’s the standard leave-taking in Greece at summer’s end.  As always, leaving is bittersweet; we’re anxious to see our family and friends in the States but sorry to leave our friends and family in Greece.  The weather this September was spectacular.  From the time we got back to Greece on 26 August until the morning we left (October 3), it was mild and sunny, warm enough for a swim, cool enough to lie on the beach without suffering.  Meals on the balcony have been a delight, and there’s been a very pleasant northwest breeze almost everyday.

The Sikya fleet maintained at least a shadow presence until the last day — a first for us.  And anglers were particularly active this September — both from the beach and in boats in the cove the activity seemed frenetic.  Our peeks at the catch buckets revealed some very nice panfish, a sea-change from the little gavros we usually see reeled ashore.  Adonis was his usual steady self, working out ceaselessly on the beach and in the sea but he, too, is different this year.  With his hair cropped short, and his beard grown out, he’s scarcely recognizable.  Susan said, “It’s like he’s had a head transplant.  I had to look at his body to make sure it was him.” Perhaps he’d take some consolation in that.  And the comedy show we refer to as The Mayor also saw a new act.  When we returned from our trip to Thessaloniki in mid September, the mayor’s boat, know to us as The Scow, was beached in the crook of the cove.  We thought perhaps the mayor had made a desperate miscalculation in attempting to save a few euros on winter docking fees.  Surely the surf would pound that part of the cove all the way to the seawall during winter storms.  But, indeed, The Scow was floating again a couple of days later, albeit a bit lower in the water.  And finally, during the last weekend, we saw a fishing boat giving The Scow a brisk tow in the general direction of the Xylokastro marina.  The mayor’s beach outpost, which grew to gypsy camp splendor this year, took on a decidedly neglected aspect, and the mayor could be spied sitting among the ruins staring disconsolately out to the spot in the cove where The Scow had formerly been moored.

The splendid, dreamy, ideal weather appeared to be coming to an end, however;  the rains had begun.  In the wee hours of 1 October we got a downpour which I estimated at an inch — the most rainfall we’ve witnessed in Greece.  By dawn, however, the sky was cobalt once again and a line of clouds drifted below the top of Mt. Elikonas, across the Gulf.  And the morning we left, in the dark of 4-blinking-30 AM, in a rented Suzuki SX4, I had my first opportunity in 6 months to drive in the rain on our way to the airport.

The last full moon of this year’s trip was while we were visiting Thessaloniki.  It was wonderful seeing it rise over the city but we missed sitting on the beach in Sikya, peering to the east every few seconds, until suddenly, finally, it’s there: larger and closer than we’d expected.

It feels like it’s time to leave.  Our apartment complex is virtually empty, and we’ve wished a good winter to many of our neighbors.  The plateia, so busy on summer evenings, saw only a few kids each night the last 4 weeks, and recently dwindled to none.  The silence, so fervently longed-for, now seems lonely.  We laid in bed this morning, waiting for the 3:00 am alarm, listening to the surf bursting on the beach (a rare treat), thinking of the changing seasons, of time passing irredeemably.  Time to get up and go.  Good winter, Sikia.

addendum to A Trip to the Mani

I know food porn is supposed to be out now and we’re not supposed to be snapping photos of our meals but I still really like to look at food pix and I couldn’t resist grabbing a couple of shots of the breakfast served to us in our room at the B&B in Aeropoli.

Image

We ordered tea, OJ, plain yogurt, and Mani pitas.  Those are the Mani pitas on the right.  They are simply fried dough and they are outrageous.  The two little cups of honey and the cup of marmalade are for spooning over the pitas.  Which I did — both honey and marmalade.  The orange juice had just been squeezed from local oranges.

Image

Oh, and we asked for fruit with our yogurt.

We skipped lunches, spend the 3 days walking around, and I still gained a pound.  Worth it.

A Trip to the Mani

The Mani is the southernmost peninsula in the southernmost part of Greece.  It’s a stark, barren landscape of rock, sea, and sky and it is renowned throughout Greece for its harsh geography and fierce  inhabitants.  It’s also the home of Susan’s forebears, so we have a special affinity for the place.  We particularly like to visit in the early Spring when wildflowers pop from between the rocks and the gray, ashen hills are transformed into a vista one might expect to see in Ireland.  We drove down for a visit at the end of March, and put up at a sweet B&B in Areopoli.

Areopoli is the unofficial capital of the Mani.  Its name, city of Ares (the  god of war), refers to the city’s place as the starting point of the war of independence. On March 17, 1821, independence was declared in the square of the church of the Archangels in the center of Areopoli, and the Maniots immediately marched on the Ottoman garrison in Kalamata.  That garrison fell on March 23, and other parts of Greece joined the fight on March 25, now celebrated as Independence Day.  In the photo below, the view is down the main street of Areopoli, to the bell tower of the church of the Archangels.

IMG_4131

The bell tower:

IMG_4132

Looking back from beside the church to a peak called Arkoutholatsa (815 meters), which guards the city on the east:

IMG_4133

That night the full moon rose over that same peak:

IMG_4152

The next morning we drove north to visit the villages of Stoupa and Kardamyli, and buy some olive oil, sea salt, mountain tea, and other essentials that are just better in the Mani.  We stopped along the road to grab a couple of snaps of the wildflowers:

IMG_4156

IMG_4157

The following morning, we drove south from Areopoli, heading down the eastern side of the peninsula.  Villages in the Mani tend to be sited either deep in valleys or up on ridges or hills.  I suspect the choice had to do with the perception of relative safety at the time the village was founded.   I believe this one is called Olimbies.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

This one is Spira, with the Gulf of Laconia beyond.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Those 2 photos were taken from the village of Dimaristika which was once the center for Sue’s family.  This is the family’s war tower in Dimaristika:

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Looking back on Dimaristika from Lagia:

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

We spent some time walking around Lagia, a pretty village where Sue’s great uncle went to school.  This is a nice example of a war tower, probably an early restoration:

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

The archetypal Mani house, looks to be another older restoration:

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

There was a large house next to the central church, which we took to be the rectory.  The next 3 photos were taken around that house.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Looking back on Lagia:

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

This is Porto Kayio, taken from the Venetian for “Bay of Quails”.  In the before times, quail were present in great numbers and they were netted and packed in salt for export.  It was here that we crossed the Mani peninsula to the western side and turned north for Areopoli.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

This is a church called Episkopi (12th century),  with the Tigani peninsula jutting into the Gulf of Messinia in the background.  We used a nearly identical photo for our Christmas card a few years back.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A closer look at Tigani.  A Venetian or Frankish fortress was built on the raised portion at the end, guarded by 100 ft cliffs.  Foundations are all that’s left.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

While we were driving around looking for the road to Tigani, I grabbed this photo of Susan between two tower houses.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

A bit further up the coast, we stopped at the church of St. Barbara (1150 AD), near Erimos.  We’ve also used a photo – different angle – of this church for our Christmas card.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

This is an obviously ruined, presumably older church, in front of St. Barbara’s.  You can just make out some fresoes in the vault of the apse.  This is not a unique case in the Mani.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Arriving back at the B&B, we took a walk in the fading daylight and I grabbed this snap of Omales, the  little settlement about a half-mile outside of Areopoli where we stayed.

IMG_4174

A lane in the Mani:

IMG_4165

Peeking into an olive groove in the gloaming:

IMG_4167

The light’s about gone but the tree’s still in bud, and the wildflowers run riot:

IMG_4176

We call this type of cactus a Mani Fig because the Maniots peel and eat the prickly fruit they bear.  This photo doesn’t give an adequate idea of the scale of these plants but standing along side them, they tower over me.

IMG_4171

From the patio of our room I grabbed this shot of the ruined house beyond.  The houses in Omales are slowly being restored.

IMG_4160

As I was taking that last photo this little guy flew out of the house and perched on that ruined wall attached to the center of the house.  It’s known as a Little Owl but we call it a Mani Owl because it’s the only place we’ve seen it.  And we’ve seen or heard it each time we’ve stayed at this B&B.  They’re only 9 – 11 inches tall and are indigenous to southern Europe and Asia.  It appears on all Euro coins minted in Greece.

IMG_4161

Aahhh…

IMG_4094

It’s sort of like waking up.  Or falling into a dream.  Or breaking the water’s surface and finding oneself in another world.  Or floating up from the depths and breaking into fresh, clear air.  That’s how it is.  Transiting the birth canal.  Getting in one of those giant cigar tubes with wings and getting out in not just another country but another world.  And here we are.  Aahhh…

It’s not just the flora and fauna, although they are quite different from what I know of the US.  And it’s not just the geography, although it’s the size of Alabama with more coastline than the entire US, 2500 islands, and the majority of the population living within sight of the sea.  And it’s not just the climate, which is extraordinarily temperate 10 months of the year — July and August  are the exceptions.  And it’s not just the food …I shouldn’t get started about the food.

It’s the people who make this a special place, welcoming, warm, generous, easy to be with.  I don’t know what it is exactly but it seems to stem from their deep connection to this place.  It’s as if they’re living in their great, great, great, great, great, great, etc. grandparents’ house.  They’ve always lived here, they know all there is to know about living here, they’re made up of these minerals, these waters, this sunlight, shaped by the climate and geography. They belong to the place. All of their neighbors do, too.  They are comfortable in themselves and in their land to an extent that we, with the possible exception of the indians, don’t know.

I think that easy way of being is a part of what makes it so pleasant to be here. The emphasis is on living life fully, on feeling life’s pains and pleasures completely, on the preeminence of family, on celebrating the good times and mourning the bad times.  Other issues take their place down the list.

Even now, with the country suffering through a deep economic depression from which it looks to be a long, slow slog to recovery, the spirit of Greece is irrepressible and effervescent.  (There’s an interesting comparison of Greece’s current depression and the US Great Depression here: Seen From Greece, Great Depression Looks Good .) Pensions have been cut in half, college graduates work in supermarkets for the equivalent of $7200/year, medicines and medical technology are in short supply, shopping streets are gap-toothed with closed stores, unfinished highways and railroads rust and grow weeds but…but the smiles are still quick and genuine,  families and friends still gather at every opportunity, and the Greeks remain possibly the world’s most welcoming, generous, and cheerful hosts.

Is that why it just feels good to be here?  Maybe it’s watching clouds scythe across the mountains, maybe it’s learning the moods of the sea, maybe it’s finding fields of wildflowers, orchards speckled with lemons,  poppies along the railroad tracks, wine from grapes called assyrtiko and agiorgitiko, produce from farms just over there…maybe, maybe.  But I think it’s because the Greeks have their priorities organized around what really matters, and because the sense of peace that comes from knowing the important stuff is well looked after infuses every aspect of life.  At least that’s what I think… peace, calm, happiness, love.  The world turned upside up.  Aahhh….