Walking around Sikia

When Sue and her sister were galavanting around Greece a few weeks ago, I took a couple of walks around the village with my camera. Nearing sunset, the light is usually great on the mountains but on at least one of these days, we had a heavy load of atmospheric dust, which produced a milky sky. These are the pick of the litter.

Walking around Sikia

This is a building on the beach that previously we had seen used only as a polling place.  Over the winter, it was substantially restored for use as a special needs school.  We passed by during the opening day ceremony and have since seen the class playing outside.  Not a bad place to go to school…

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There was still quite a bit of snow atop Mt. Parnassos (about 8000 ft.) at the end of March.  There’s still snow up there but it’s getting pretty threadbare.

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I love seeing the flowers on the beach.  They’re very fleeting, though.

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Someone put a fantastic coat of paint on this boat over the winter.

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This one and the next one were both shot in the Super Vivid setting of my camera in an effort to capture the hues of the sunset.

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This is a 20x zoom. I love the shape of this peak but it’s my photographic nemesis — it’s so far away that it always appears shrouded in haze.

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I like to take photos of the old, unrestored houses in Sikia because I’m afraid they’ll all be torn down some day.  I think the owner uses the top floor of this one as his beach house.

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This one, however, was nicely restored and it’s next door to the house in the previous photo.

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This ruin belonged to the last Turkish ruler in this area.  It now belongs to the Greek state.

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I’ve shot this one before but I liked the oars propped up in the middle this time.

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These trees are related to the Salt Cedar (tamarisk) tree we have in the States.   They flourish with their roots in salt water.

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That’s Mt. Ellikonas, about 13 miles away.  It had snow on it when we arrived in mid-March.

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Another “Super Vivid” photo.  Mt.  Gerania on the right.

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I shot the sunset from the old railroad bridge in back of the apartment.

I hope you enjoyed these snaps.  I had a good time shooting them.

Suddenly, it’s summer

Suddenly, it's summer

Peter Economides (http://petereconomides.com) posted this image this morning under the heading, “Just because it feels like summer today,” perfectly capturing our joy in the day, the warm breeze, and the glorious sea. Economides got our attention with this talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chhn5oEmITs) about rebranding Greece which resonated with many people thinking about ways to respond to the current crisis .

In the last week, we’ve gone from highs of around 70 to highs of around 80, and the lingering clouds have been banished. Wednesday is May Day, a holiday, and Sunday is Pascha, and the mood here is Opa!

In addition, while we were sitting on the balcony getting our eyes open this morning, Susan spotted a pod of dolphins swimming west in the Gulf. There were 6 of them, beautiful to watch, and we took it as a sure sign of good times ahead.   Good-bye socks, farewell jeans, hello shorts, yiasou sandals!

Moonrise

Moonrise

With sunrise happening at unreasonable hours of the day, we’re really into moonrise. And we pay particular attention to the arrival of the first full moon of our time in Greece, and to the last. It feels almost like a greeting when we arrive, and nearly a leave-taking at the end of our stay.

Sunday at sunset we took a couple of lawn chairs, a bottle of good wine, and a couple of snacks down to the beach at sunset to greet the full moon. It was a still, cloudless day and the mountains went rose and then gray before the moon slid into view behind them. The moon had a harvest-theme thing going on and the smear of orange light reflecting across the water looked like a flame shooting from the sky.

We sat and watched it all until the moon went pale and the sky went dark, and then moved up to our balcony to finish the wine. This week has to do with taking stock, cleaning, storing, closing, covering, and planning for next year. When we finish, we’ll be on a plane.

This year, we were fortunate to have our coming and going marked by a couple of rare dolphin sightings. Until this April, we hadn’t seen a dolphin since the first few days of our first season here. That day, one of the builders drove up in the morning, said hello, and pointed out to sea, where we were dumbfounded to see a line of dolphins making their way across Sikia’s bay.

This year, within a week of arriving, we were sitting out on the balcony drinking a pot of morning tea when we saw a lone dolphin stitching a line east down the Gulf. Peering through binoculars, we watched it out of sight in the distance and judged it a good omen. Last Saturday at sunset, we were headed back to Sikia in the car and Susan spotted a line of dolphins, each jumping in the leader’s puddles, just as we crossed from Melissi into Sikia. We pulled to the curb and watched the show long enough for a swimmer to come near shore and yell to us to see if we needed anything. No thanks, we said, we’re just watching the dolphins.

Rain

Rain

At last, rain. Blessed rain. Quenching rain. Cool Rain. Long awaited, wished-for, dreamt-of, fantasized-about rain. Yesterday, a rotating system departed Italy’s boot heel and ventured across the Ionian Sea to Greece’s west coast. We had intermittent showers and a lightshow in the clouds. Our morning running ended in rain, and we invented excuses to go back outside to experience cool, wet air and cool, cool rain on our skin. Today, it rained all day. Complete cloud cover, rumbles of thunder, occasional gusts from the west, the temps drifting from the low 70s in the morning to mid 60s at sunset.

After the months of unblinking sun and flesh-melting heat, today’s weather seems weird. What would be a perfectly normal, if not mild, rainy day in the Mid-Atlantic is rendered fantastic, a psychedelic side-effect of having had our brains boiled daily from mid-June. The clouds traveling across the mountains before us blend their shades of gray with the sea, raindrops on the canopy leave us thinking of rainy nights in a tent, and we are absolved of having to do anything except enjoy it.

The Greek word for summer translates literally to “Good Weather.” I suspect this term originates back in the days when ships were propelled by ranks of oarsmen, and the unspoken suffix to “Good Weather” was “- for sailing.” Once the autumn winds began, a galley was at the mercy of the sea and could well find itself blown across the Mediterranean, like Odysseus. Wise seamen and admirals knew well that pushing the limits of the summer season was courting disaster. What I find a bit disconcerting is hearing Greeks at the end of August taking leave of each with the words, “Good Winter,” as if there are but two seasons, good weather and winter. Of course, there are Greek words for spring and fall, so I think the distinction is more likely between “Holiday season” and “Work/School season” than between “Summer” and “Winter.” It’s a state of mind, not meteorology. Maybe it’s because we’re wrapping up our fifth summer here but it makes perfect sense to me. Until we meet again at the water’s edge, it’s winter.

Καραγκιόζης

Καραγκιόζης

Karagiozis is the popular name given to the Greek shadow puppet theater.  The protagonist in all of the plays written for this theater is a small, humble Greek peasant called Karagiozis and so the genre is simply known by his name. In this centuries-old type of theatre, the flat, articulated shadow puppets are pressed against the back of the screen by puppeteers hiding below it, and a light shining through from the back provides the magic for the audience out front. The “set” of the plays generally consists of the palatial house of the Turkish overlord on one side of the screen and the small shack of Karagiozis on the other. All of the action takes place between these two set elements, and if you think in terms of Punch and Judy you’ll have a good idea of the sort of action that occurs. There are something like 200 Karagiozis plays but the plot in all of them revolves around Karagiozis’s drive to put something over on the tall, regal Turk. Generally, a ridiculously small sum of money is involved – a fraction of a cent – but for Karagiozis the important point is that he comes out ahead of the Turk. This drives the action through all of its absurd twists and turns, and, of course, Karagiozis always comes out ahead.

Karagiozis is considered a national treasure – an elemental part of Greek cultural heritage – and so the state supports a couple of puppeteers who travel the country each summer, staging shows for holiday-making Greeks. Each year, one of these troupes arrives in Sikya and sets up its theatre-in-a-trailer in the plateia just beyond our balcony. The puppeteers spend the day setting up benches, screening, a popcorn machine, a souvenir booth, and then circulating through the surrounding villages and towns in a loudspeaker-equipped car, drumming up business. The show starts after dark, and it is always SRO, packed to capacity. I thought of going the first year but quickly determined that only kids and the parents of kids too young to be left alone were in attendance. The other parents sit outside in the plateia and dutifully buy snacks for the kids before the show and souvenirs after.  The next morning, its all been packed up and taken away to the next village.

The Karagiozis arrived in Sikya this year on Tuesday, and the howls of laughter and shrieks of delight that erupted from the compound proved that the puppeteers still know their audience and that the audience still appreciates the efforts of Karagiozis to prove himself the better man. In a movie-, TV-, and video game-jaded world, it’s just wonderful to see kids enraptured by shows that have traveled the countryside since long before the arrival of automobiles and electricity, long before independence.

My appreciation for the Karagiozis is due entirely to a wonderful section of Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi. Miller was a true hellenophile, and his ability to communicate the wonder of this land is an inspiration for this blog.

It’s good to be just plain happy; it’s a little better to know that you’re happy; but to understand that you’re happy and to know why and how . . . and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss.

– Henry Miller, The Colossus of Maroussi

Fire

When I went out to the balcony to watch the sunset yesterday there was a plume of smoke in the mountains across the Gulf. I went down to the beach to take a couple of photos. It was obvious a significant west wind was blowing across the fire, pushing the column of smoke sideways toward Athens.  When I got back to the balcony the sun had set and in the shadows I could see flames with the naked eye.  As the sky darkened, the flames advanced and joined, forming what looked from the south to be a wall of fire.   The camera lost its ability to focus in the dark but as midnight approached, the fire seemed to break apart again, presumably having burnt itself out.

In that first thumbnail taken from the balcony, you can see what I think is a fire plane, wheeling away after a water drop.  I think the planes stopped flying at dark — at least I didn’t see any signs of aircraft after that.

The first two balcony shots were taken at 30x, well into the digital zoom range, presumably with the ISO pushed to max, so they’re really grainy and noisy.

This morning, from the water, I could see the area smoldering but it was clear the fire was out.  I saw nothing about it in the news websites.  I don’t think there is a village in the affected area.

As in the American west, wild fires are simply a part of summer in southern Greece.  The hot winds known as Meltimi winds blow down out of the Balkan peninsula, and spring’s wildflowers and greenery, having long since turned to kindling by cloudless, scorching weather, combust with the least encouragement.  The absence of trees here makes the fires relatively less intense; the flames consume the available fuel quickly.  Still, this seems to me very early for the number of fires I’m seeing reported.  This is something I normally associate with August, so I’m afraid we could be in for a bad fire season.