Friday, October 9, 2020

In Greece ~ An Olive Grove Getaway

The air was still in our olive grove this morning, unlike yesterday when gusts were strong enough to send empty flower pots and chair cushions flying. Strong enough to make us wonder if those olives, so close to harvest, would continue to cling to their branches ~ but as always, they withstood the storm.

Our traditional Greek ladder in our grove

Walking among the recently sprouted wild cyclamen the sunlight through the tree branches was soft; an autumn sun, hot, but not with the intensity of summer.

Morning in our olive grove

The quietude of the morning was so intense that the waves slapping the shore in the harbor below echoed across our hillside terraces. It was the only sound to be heard.


Stairs link the terraces in our grove

Our Olive Grove - it is one of my favorite Greek destinations and luckily it is only footsteps away. While savoring my quick getaway, I realized that I often 'talk about' the grove on FB but that I haven't taken you there in quite some time, if ever.  

Stone House on the Hill from our olive grove

Our Stone House on the Hill was built in an olive grove. We have a neighbor's grove to one side of us and our grove stretches several terraces down from our home. In the distance the hillsides are covered with the silver green of olive groves. We live in the land of the Kalamata olive. 

Olive groves carpet the countryside

Technically we are in the land of the 'koroneiki' olive, a smaller fruit with a high ratio of skin to flesh which is said to give our 'Kalamata oil' its aromatic qualities. The larger olive, that you would recognize as 'the Kalamata olive' often served on Greek salad, is simply called 'the salad olive' around here.

Some of our Koroneiki olives just weeks away from harvest

Our grove of 17 trees, somewhat small by industry standards and just the right size by ours, was an unexpected bonus of this house when we bought it. We knew nothing about growing olives back then - had no idea how to tend the trees nor when one would harvest the bitter green fruit they produce. Siga, siga, slowly, slowly, as they say here, we have learned. And have so much more to learn.

'The Scout' at work in the grove - February burn season

In fact our lives, just as most who live in this area, evolve around the olive grove these days. Whether it is time to prune, time to clear, time to burn cuttings, time to spray, time to harvest. . .each task is tied to a season, an ages-old rhythm of life in this rural area of Greece's Peloponnese. So important is the olive here that restaurants and retail businesses gear their operations around 'the seasons of the olive'. Many are beginning to close now in preparation of olive harvest which will begin in mid-October and continue through December.

The summer's drought turned some olives purple

Greece devotes 60 percent of its cultivated land to olive growing. Messinia, the region in which we live, has some 15.863 million trees.  So many olives are grown in our region, that by the end of the 19th century, there were 20 olive presses operating within the city of Kalamata, the big city to our north. These days the processing plants are located outside the metropolitan area in or near the villages sprinkled about the countryside.  We have five such presses within five miles of our home.

A favorite spot in our grove

 Sometimes though the harvest and production of the oil is secondary to the joy we get just being in 
the grove. It is easy to lose track of time when wondering among the trees pondering who might have planted them a century or so ago and the events that have occurred around them during that time. 

Life in the grove continues. . .

Looking at the fruit dragging down youthful branches that have sprouted from old gnarled stumps assures me that even in a year as unsettled as this one, life will continue no matter how upside down the world might feel.

A peace that surpasses all understanding. . .

Often times the early morning or late afternoon sun rays through the trees turn the grove into a peaceful sanctuary - the beams as powerful and reassuring as those coming through any church window. The Biblical phrase, 'a peace that surpasses all understanding' comes to mind. A moment of stillness, a few deep breaths and the inner compass is reset.  

Wild cyclamen at the Stone House on the Hill

Hope you've enjoyed your time in the grove today and hope we will see you back again when I will tell that pirate's tale I promised in the last post.  I've got to admit that I've been researching another article for a publication and just didn't get the pirate story researched and written.  

Where ever you are, we hope that you are coping with the continued COVID prevention measures and that you and yours are well. 

Linking with:

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Thursday, September 17, 2020

Greek fishing ~ Tradition and Tourism

We often hear them before we see them. The sound of the engines calling out the passing of those small wooden boats, each carrying a lone fishermen to a distant place on the sea where he will set or gather his nets.

Alone on the sea - the fisherman sets his nets


Now that it has been a few years, we've come to recognize the distinctive sounds of the engines: a rat-a-tat-tat, or put-put-put, or a chuga -chuga sound alerts us to which of the boats will be sailing past our home overlooking the Messinian Bay each evening just as the sun sets

The same is true of the boat engine's call in the early mornings - sometimes before it is light enough to see them -- we know someone is either starting or ending their day's work. 

'Captain' Adonis has one of my favorite boats in the harbor


The charm of those colorfully painted boats, piled high with nets when in the harbor, may have been one of the things that drew us to Greece. Now that we are expats living just outside a fishing village in the rural Peloponnese, the rhythms of the fishing fleet are a daily part of our lives. 


A solitary life on the sea - Agios Nikolaos

Over the years as we have watched the comings and goings of those boats we've speculated on how lonely a profession it must be. Alone, out at sea and far from anyone else, even though in this day and age internet and mobile devices have eased the isolation a bit.

 

Season begins with the boats returned to the sea

Greek Fishing Traditions

Many fishermen in our village -- like others throughout Greece -- are proud to be carrying on their family's tradition. Often times it was the work of father and grandfather, sometimes going back even further. 

Fishing in Greece goes way back. Some accounts say it dates back to the upper Paleolithic Age, 40,000 years ago. Fishing is depicted in the art of ancient Greece dating back to the 5th Century B.C.

The day's catch arrive in Gerolimenas 


Throughout Greece fishermen continue to use the same traditional methods as have been used for decades before them. With boats ranging in size from six to 12 meters (20- to 40-feet), the Greek fishing fleet is estimated to be around 17,000 boats. Yet, an amazing 30,000 - 33,000 people are employed, directly or indirectly, in the fishing industry here.


The Sunday morning's catch on display


Of the some 476 species of fish in Greece, some 90 marine species are caught and include: sardines, anchovies, cod, mullet, red snapper and plaice (flounder). But every fisherman will tell you the waters -- especially in our area -- are becoming 'fished out'. . .some blame the use of dynamite decades ago and others claim it is irresponsible fishing practices of the present-day. For whatever the cause, the catch is often small.  

 

Agios Nikolaos harbor in September

There is a charm and mystique about those boats and those who operate them. How often has one or the other of us said, 'Wouldn't it be fun to go out with a fisherman sometime?'

Greek Fishing Tourism

Captain Antonis - May 2019


Last year, for an article I was writing about expat life, I took the photo of one of our local fishermen as he returned to the harbor. At the time, we didn't know him but he always seemed to be working in the harbor when we would pass. It wasn't until a few weeks ago that we finally met Captain Antonis' because this year his boat and a sign near it, announced that he is now doing fishing cruises. The boat still has its nets, but it also sports a bench, a chair and a couple of stools.

Fishing boat trips from Agios Nikolaos


It didn't take us long to round up a few friends and set a date to get out on that fishing boat!

Leaving the harbor of Agios Nikolaos


On a bright Sunday morning we pulled out of the harbor just as we had watched so many boats do over the years. It was amazing how quickly we left the land far behind as we headed to the small marker floating out at sea, the marker noting where the fishing net had been placed.


The small marker shows the net location


It was time to gather the net - a most amazing feat to be done by one person. A pole and grip are attached to the boat gear shift knob so that the fisherman can reel in the net in the back of the boat and still manage to shift gears in the cabin. A masterful move to be sure!

Shifting gears and pulling the net

And then up came the net, and more net and more net. . .shift the gear and roll in more net. The wonder of what might come up in the net turned the adults on board into little kids again as our anticipation got away from us.

What would come up in that net?

'Maybe a big one today,' the Captain kept saying as the massive lengths of net began piling up.

Hauling in the net and hopefully a catch or two 


Little did we know at the time that we were experiencing a relatively new form of Greek tourism: fishing tourism. Fishing tourism come into being back in 2015 when legislation was passed that allows professional fishermen such as Captain Antonis - with the appropriate license -to welcome guests on the boats for recreational fishing or as passengers.  

Peloponnese tourism folks have been working in recent years on ways to develop alternative tourism opportunities in our area. Alternative tourism is loosely defined as that which gives experiences that are up close and personal with people and places one visits. This is one example of that: the tourist (as we were that day) getting to interact and participate in a real Greek fishing experience.

Lion fish will make some tasty soup


Now this isn't to be confused with recreational fishing where you rent a boat and go out with a guide and fish - this is strictly fishing tourism as done on a real-life working fishing boat.  

Fishing tourism, endorsed by the World Wildlife Federation, is a means of bolstering the livelihood of the fishermen while taking the pressure off the fish stocks. As of last December only 150 fishermen in the country were licensed to offer fishing tourism excursions.  


Untangling the net

We are most happy Captain Antonis is one of those offering such an incredible experience to folks such as us. As it turned out the catch was only a few small fish -- several of which the Captain returned to the sea. 

Setting off in the wake of pirates


The net was gathered within the first half hour, leaving us another 3.5 hours on the sea. And that I plan to tell you about next time because. . . we set off in the wake of pirates.  And pirates in this area require a whole story in themselves! Thanks for being with us today and we hope to see you back here again - bring some friends with you!

For those wanting more information on Captain Antonis' cruises:
The cost for four hours for up to 6 people including food and beverages was 180 euros. To book a cruise email the captain at: thiresiamast@gmail.com, phone +30 27210 77544.

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Monday, September 7, 2020

In Greece ~ The islet, The egg and Helen of Troy

Just as twilight was turning the sea and sky a dusty rose on a Saturday evening two weeks ago, the blaring of horns on fishing boats broke the stillness that usually accompanies sunset. 

It was such a cacophony that we raced to our front deck to watch the gathering of the silhouetted boats near the small fishing harbor below us. 

At twilight the boats began circling in the harbor

'Has someone drowned?" I asked The Scout, who was scanning the water with the binoculars. 'Did one of the fleet just sink?' We'd never heard such a commotion in our Peloponnese neighborhood even during the height of holiday celebrations. We'd also never seen the boats gathering as they were in our sleepy little village of Agios Dimitrios.

The Egg Dedication - Photo credit: Takis Fileas photo

It wasn't long before the shrill squeal of a microphone being tested joined the honking horns. It was then we turned our attention on the harborside where a stage and plastic chairs had been set up in an area that normally serves as a parking lot. 

'The Egg' on the islet

Must be 'The Egg', we agreed, in answer to my earlier questions, as 'The Egg' is one of the biggest things to happen here in recent years.  And the reason the egg is here can be attributed to another big even that took place here centuries ago. . .or so the story goes.

The Islet and the Egg 


The islet and The Stone House on the Hill (left) - Peter Coroneas photo

As the photo above shows, there's an islet just off the coastline in front of our Stone House on the Hill.  To the casual observer, it seems but a small outcropping of rocks but its size belies its rather enormous history. 

It was this very islet on which Helen of Troy and her brothers, the Dioscuri twins; Castor, the mortal son of the King of Sparta and Pollux, the supernatural son of Zeus were born.   

According to legend, the supreme god Zeus fell in love with Leda, wife of the King of Sparta. So Zeus turned himself into a pale white swan that was fleeing from an eagle and took refuge in Leda's arms. 

From that encounter Leda produced an egg from which Helen and the Dioscuri twins were born.

Pefnos Islet and The Egg


I know. You are probably thinking, oh-no, there she goes again mixing fact and fiction, legend and real life, just like I did a few weeks ago when I wrote about Nestor's Palace.  But to get a feel for our expat life here, you must get a dose of the real and imagined from me every so often because that is the world in which we live. 

As I wrote before, the mixing of the two does start messing with your mind because we find that even  we speak of mythological people and places as if they are real. I tell people that Helen was born on the islet in front of my house as a matter of fact, just as I used to tell people I lived down the street from a Starbucks in Kirkland.   

But writers through history seem to have confirmed some of these claims about this rather unusual birth. In fact Pausanias, the ancient traveler, mentions as early as 150 BC that the Dioscuri were born on this very islet. There was once a pair of  bronze statues of the brothers on the islet - they were mentioned in writings as 'recently' as 1795. 

Only history knows what happened to those statues but I can tell you the island now has a very tangible egg honoring that long-ago love story.

The Islet hatches an Egg Summer 2020

The egg's creation this summer was spearheaded by Greek sculptor Giannis Gouzos and archeologist Petros Themelis. And Dr. Elias Moutzouri is credited with the photographic materials. Funding, in part, was provided by our Municipal Government.

The Egg in the beginning stages - Credit on photo

I have to tell you that in the beginning we paid little attention to the actual creation of the egg. There was activity on the islet but often swimmers use it as a starting or stopping point so we gave it little notice until it seemed to become the talk of the village.  'Have you seen the egg being built!?'


The Egg on the Islet

Work continued for several weeks as the project creators were shuttled back and forth by boat to the islet. And then as if out of nowhere, the egg appeared. 


The Egg being built


So back to that Saturday night. . . the night the Egg was dedicated.  Sitting on our deck we listened to song after song sung by Greek vocalists in honor of Helen and the love story that led to her birth. After night fell, a lone fishing boat's light highlighted the egg. There is something about the ease with which real and imagined can be mixed here and on nights like this the two blended in perfect harmony.





As always thanks for the time you spend with us as we give you a look at our expat world in the Greek Peloponnese. Next time we  are doing a staycation Greek fishing village style! Come back for a different look at this place we call home, Agios Nikolaos!



Linking sometime in the near future with:

Mosaic Monday
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Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday




Monday, August 24, 2020

It's All Greek to Me

 Pote (PO-te, πότε) or when will I be able to count to ten without pausing the count to remember the word for a specific number? I ask myself. . .again . . .and again.

Maybe Pote (po-TE,ποτέ ) or never, I answer. 


At The Stone House on the Hill counting to 10 (deka)


Pronounced POE-tay and poe-TAY the words for when and never are but just two examples of why I may never speak the language of the land on which I live well enough to carry on a conversation with any Greek-speaking person over five years of age. 

But this summer I am at least determined to increase my vocabulary by a few hundred words or so. The Greek language has long been ranked as the world's richest language with five million words and 70 million word types.  So learning a hundred or so should be a snap, I keep telling myself. 


Our Greek village, Agios Nikolaos

Learning a bit of Greek! It is another of the many things I've shuffled around on that 'to do' list of mine since we moved to the Greek Peloponnese as American expats now nearly three years ago.  When the COVID lockdown put a halt to all things planned, I vowed that once I was able, there would be no more putting off until tomorrow these many things on my list.

It really isn't necessary to speak Greek as seldom do we find ourselves here in a situation that we are unable to communicate in English. But still, it would be nice to verbally answer when a friend calls out a greeting in Greek. I usually opt to look like an American bobble-head doll, smiling and nodding my head, with not the slightest idea of how to respond.

Paralia means beach in Greek - good to know around these parts!

Or on the rare occasion of signage only being in Greek, as sometimes happens in the more remote areas of the Peloponnese. Sometimes it occurs even in our village as evidenced by the photo above.  It took some time for us to finally get around to learning the sign in town wasn't pointing to the parking lot. The sign says παραλία or paralia, for beach and was directing visitors to Pantazi Beach.

You Move to Greece, but don't speak Greek

The Stone House on the Hill

A part-time neighbor up the road from us, who speaks only a bit more English than I speak Greek, was trying to converse with me one morning a year or so ago and being unable to make his point, raised his eyebrow, and said somewhat accusatorily, 'You move to Greece but don't speak Greek?!'

'No, pero yo hablo español,' I replied, trying to save face and slam dunk the ball back into his court by adding, 'y usted?' (No, but I speak Spanish . . .and you?)  He wasn't impressed. We've not tried to converse again since that morning. 

The Greek alphabet

But the memory of that raised eyebrow at least challenged me then to start trying to read the letters of  the Greek alphabet. With only 24 letters including seven vowels, I thought I could do it, but that 'alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon stuff. . .pardon the expression, is still a bit Greek to me. I am still calling them 'the little pitchfork' or 'the gate' as I sound out words letter-by-letter.  BUT, I am pleased to report, that I am able to read far more signs along the road and on businesses than when we first moved here.

Greek Speak - The Journey

Street signs are usually - but not always - in two languages

I set a few rules for myself before setting off on this new linguistic journey:

First, none of the verb tenses; those past and present participle perfect kind of words. KISS (keep it simple, stupid) is my mantra. I simply want present, everyday words that may allow me to speak a simple sentence and have the person to whom I am speaking understand what I say. 

For example, If I want some ice with my white wine I will be able to say:  I want (thelo) ice cubes (pagakia), παγάκια and not lamb chops, (paidakia), παϊδάκια  (we have mixed those words in the past much to the amusement of the wait staff). 

Ice cubes not lamb chops in the wine


And I didn't/don't want that packaged program language stuff that teaches you how to say useless phrases in perfect tenses, like: 'Look! There is a pelican on the beach!' "There was a pelican on the beach.' 'There will be a pelican on the beach.'

I want useable Greek as the kind that lets me order meat at the market, get directions to the bathroom when needed, and know what the fruit vendor is calling out when he drives through town announcing the day's offerings.



Our teacher (in the white shirt) Aris gives us homework as class ends

The Scout wasn't eager to learn Greek so I turned to a few expat friends -- all good sports and eager to try something new -- and we became 'the class'. We vary in ability. Some like me are very beginners and others should be considered for advanced placement status. 

Our teacher, Aris, who with his wife, Dora, run one of our favorite tavernas in town promised that over morning coffee once a week he could teach us the basics we were after.

A 'classroom' by the sea - under the blue umbrellas


So sitting and sipping a diplo (double) cappuccino in the postcard perfect setting of his restaurant while learning Greek has been one of the summer's highlights. And it has been serious business since the first session.  Aris arrived at our first class with a notes for that day's lesson and we left with homework! 

In three weeks time we had so many new words and phrases that we've taken a hiatus in order to grasp them all. Old brains seem to take longer to absorb new words - and remember them! While class is on 'August break' though our group is continuing to meet once a week . . . in what we might have called back in our day, 'study hall.' Again, it isn't tough duty as we move from one taverna to another each week for our coffee/Greek chat/study sessions.

Linear B Script - Ancient Greek


Each time I start reviewing my Greek words I laugh thinking back to that first 'wellness exam' I went through after becoming Medicare-age in America. The nurse gave me five words, selected at random that I had to remember and repeat in order at some later point in the appointment (checking the old brain and memory sensors). Let me tell you that test couldn't hold a candle to learning Greek!!

And speaking of Greek, that's it for today - I have homework to do because we meet tomorrow!

Hope where ever you are in the world and whatever your Covid constraints have been, that you have also found some project to keep you busy and entertained.  We also hope that you and yours are safe and well.  Efharisto poli, or thanks much, for the time you spent here today. Hope you'll be back for the next installment and bring some friends with you!

Linking soon with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
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Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Palace of Nestor ~ Both Real and Imagined


The mixing of fact and fiction in Greek history can start messing with your head if you let it. In fact  this piece has been a challenge for this old journalist who wants 'just the facts', yet when it comes to writing about the Palace of Nestor it has to involve a bit of legend as well. . .

A pantry stocked with 2,853 wine cups and a storage room lined with large jars that held the olive oil. Now that was impressive! And tangible; something I could relate to, as we stepped back in time at the site of the Palace of Nestor.

A pantry with 2,853 wine cups - Nestor's Palace

In reality, everything about what remains at this place believed to be The Palace of Nestor, an archeological site a couple hours drive from our home in the Greek Peloponnese, is impressive. Especially when one considers that it was built back in the Bronze Age by those folks known as Mycenaeans. 

But I am the first to admit that some things in history -- especially history so ancient that it dates back to the writings of Homer -- are easier to grasp than others. 

Broken goblets in the pantry floor waiting to be dug up


For me, it was the wine goblets, or kylikes, and the olive oil storage jars, pithoi, as they linked both the ancient history of this area to the present day in a tangible way.  While I have a hard time grasping the concept of Nestor sending 90 ships from Pylos to fight in the Trojan War, I get the importance of wine and olive oil production in this area of the Greek Peloponnese.

The goblets and storage jars are in the palace believed to be that of the legendary Nestor, King of Pylos, who was written about by Homer. Now here's where the mental balancing act comes into play: Nestor was a legendary character, like those in folktales, the kind that include supernatural beings and elements of mythology. Legends are associated with a particular place or person and over the years are told so often they become a matter of history.

So the remains of the Palace of Nestor, whether real or imagined, was a place to behold. . .


Palace of Nestor - Greek Peloponnese

Nestor's Palace 

How it might have looked


Let's begin with the imagined:  the rendition above is how one archaeologist thinks it may have looked based on what is left of it, (shown below).  Prior to our visit I might have thought it was a stretch of her imagination, but having seen it, I too, can envision what a magnificent place this might have been.

We first happened upon Nestor's Palace back in 2014, several years before we became expats living just a couple hours drive from it. Back then, the site was still hidden behind construction fencing and not open to the public. A multi-million dollar project was underway which resulted in the construction of the roof over the palace's excavated footprint and a walkway high above it so tourists like us can get a bird's eye view of the place.

Discovering the remains of Nestor's Palace

We'd filed the memory of it away until a couple of years ago a friend in the United States sent us a Smithsonian Magazine that had a feature article about the place. The article certainly made it sound interesting, but still we didn't go visit. It had been there for centuries; so no need to rush, we'd get there one day.

Nestor had himself view property for sure!

Well that pandemic lockdown last spring changed our somewhat lackadaisical approach to life in general and especially to visiting those bucket-list places. This summer, during our stay at Costa Navarino - that Westin resort to our west - we finally visited Nestor's Palace. It was 15 minutes from the resort! How could we have not visited this jewel sooner?

A Trip to the Palace


Signage explained what we were seeing in the palace as it is and might have been


Our visit on a weekday morning was a self-guided tour. We had the place to ourselves as tourism was just getting going again after the lockdown. We strolled on the elevated walkway reading signage in Greek and English. 

Olive oil was stored in these containers Add caption

Olive oil production and commerce was big back in Nestor's day, just as it remains today in Greece.  It was used in cooking as well as funerary and religious rituals, baths and the processing of cloth.  The storage room was large and so much of it left to excavate. . .but we lucked out and caught an archaeologist at work!

Olive oil storage room being excavated


And the bathtub! According to Homer, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, King of Ithaca (more legendary characters), was a guest of Nestor and in a welcoming ceremony organized by Nestor, the young man was bathed in this tub by Polykaste, Nestor's daughter.   

Now they all were legendary characters, but there was the tub right before our eyes. . .it starts to blur that real and imagined, doesn't it? 

The tub were Telemachus bathed?


Palace Goods on Display 

The palace was destroyed by fire around 1200 BC. It wasn't until the 1930's that excavations began at the site which are continuing today.  Dozens of items discovered during the excavation are on display in a small museum in the nearby village of Chora.

The Scout admires the tax collection jar
 

One of our favorite items at the museum  -- was again something tangible that we could relate to - the tax collection vessel.  Back then taxes were paid in olive oil. When you paid your taxes, the oil was poured into this jar, that stands about six feet tall! Now that would have been lot of olive oil!

Linear B Script - oldest on European soil


However one of  the most important tangible finds from a historical point of view were 800 clay tablets that were accidentally preserved by baking in the fire that destroyed the palace.  The tablets contain writing that is called Linear B Script, it is in an early form of Greek language and is considered to be the oldest script found on European soil that can be read and understood.  

Wine goblets from the Palace of Nestor


For me though, it was the wine goblets again. . .a display of something tangible; that hit home. It was reality of which I could wrap my head around. 

Thanks for joining us on a bit of time travel today into the real and imagined world of Greek history. Should you find yourself in the Greek Peloponnese, we recommend you pay a visit to the Palace of Nestor and the nearby museum. 

We hope this finds you and yours staying safe and well ~ join us next week for more tales from Greece!

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