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
Wordless Wednesday

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!

Linking this week with:

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Greece ~ Beyond the Bougainvillea

 'You are living a charmed life,' commented a friend on a recent Facebook post of mine.

The Stone House on the Hill 

The comment was in response to this photo of bougainvillea on our Stone House on the Hill. It does show the serene side of life here. And I'll admit I prefer to write about and photograph the best parts of life here, often times omitting -- both in this blog and on social media -- the more negative realities of 'living differently' in a foreign country. 

We live above Agios Dimitrios

The last three years we've chosen to make our home in a rural area of the Greek Peloponnese, a place that reminds us of  those vast empty lands of the American Southwest. In the Mani, as our area is known, the sweeping and sparsely-populated wide open spaces are bordered to one side by towering peaks of the Taygetos Mountains and the Messinian Bay on the other. Small villages and isolated churches  are scattered randomly about the rugged landscape as if jigsaw puzzle pieces waiting to be put together. We are among a couple dozen expat Americans and several hundred expats from countries on this side of the Atlantic..

Most of the time our expat life here, while not always 'charmed', is a good one.  But we've learned that life in this Grecian paradise isn't always as perfect as I am guilty of leading you to believe it is.  So this week I'm focusing on the back story - life beyond that bougainvillea.

High and Dry

On the other side of the wall on which the postcard-perfect bougainvillea clings is our master bath. Its shower pan is lined this summer with rather unsightly mismatched plastic buckets - our crude attempt at recycling gray water. 

The Stone House on the Hill

When we bought our Stone House on the Hill and naively asked about its electric, water and sewage we learned that tap water was provided by 'the Municipality', DIMOS as it is called. It didn't occur to us to ask about the source, strength and guarantee of that water supply. 

We did ask those questions the following year when we turned on the taps and no water came out. 

The reserve tank is hidden by bouganvillea and oleander bushes

That was our introduction to water shortages in Greece. One of our first home improvement projects was installation of a 2,000 liter (528 gallon) reserve tank to provide back up to the 1,000 liter tank on the roof.  (Most homes being built now days have one or two reserve tanks, another for rain water and some even have gray water tanks. Fifteen years ago when our home was built that wasn't the practice.) 

Nevertheless, our reserve tank has served us well. It has been drawn down as the water supply diminishes in the summer but seldom did we go completely dry.  Well, that was until this year:

Our plumber and assistant  work on our water tank on the roof

With little or no snowpack in those towering Taygetos and little rain (which did make for a rather 'charmed' winter) we are experiencing one of the most severe water shortages to hit this area in recent years. The standard routine for DIMOS during scarce/low water times is to ration water by turning off the source of off water to one area and providing it to another for alternating periods of time. This year the balancing act of sharing water has been put to the test.  Many times there has been little if no water in many areas.

Adonis, our modern-day Water God

As I write this post we are waiting for the water truck to bring a supply of water. Our taps were dry again this morning. It will be the sixth truckload of water we have purchased from a private vendor in as many weeks. We've severely curtailed our water use this summer - taking dash-in-and-out showers, doing laundry less frequently and setting up a makeshift system of collecting gray water to use on desperately water-starved plants. I've let most of our garden go - tomato plants and sunflowers are withered and dead. Flowering plants are struggling.  The small amount of gray water helps keep the remaining plants alive. 

Water from our reserve tank passes through this filter to the house

Our lives seem focused on water or the lack of it.  I ask The Scout, 'Did you check the tank this morning? Can I do a load of laundry?'  Since learning one toilet flush uses 10 liters of water we flush judiciously. And let me tell you that COVID 20-second handwashing can use a ton of water!!

DIMOS released water 10 days ago for a day allowing our tanks to fill.. Today we again wait for the water delivery.  We've realized how much we taken this precious resource for granted. 

Refilling the water bottles at the drinking water faucet

Our drinking water comes from community fountains, believed to be spring-fed, located throughout the villages. Those community faucets provide water for drinking and cooking. This year as if the water shortage wasn't enough some residents began questioning the quality of the potable water. Water tests showed high levels of bacteria and no levels of chlorine. They've called on DIMOS for answers and help.

We went to fill the drinking water bottles today in the village and found the water taps there were also dry.

A Widespread Problem - No Solutions in Sight

Greece is known for the sea that surrounds it

An article highlighting the water problem in Greece appeared in National Geographic, May 2020. It carried a dire prediction by experts that unless some new sources of water are found (desalination plants are among the suggested solutions) Greece is going to find itself high and dry in the not too distant future.  The article points to a number of Greek islands where water demand is outstripping the supply. Seems like the same is happening on the mainland as well from our point of view.

In Greece, according to this report, households account four 14 percent of water consumption. It is one of the highest water users in the European Union with nearly 40 gallons (177 liters) being used per person, per day.  I can assure you not that much is being used by us this summer!

What A Bunch of Garbage!

Another less-than-charmed side of life is: garbage. Piles and growing piles of garbage.  

Do-it-yourself-garbage hauling is the practice here

We don't have curbside garbage collection in this rural land for several reasons: no curbs, narrow roads and homes scattered in such remote areas that it would take months to complete the pick up.  So we take our garbage to communal bins, usually located on the outskirts of villages and along highways.  We know when 'tourist season' is about to start because bin area is pristine.  But DIMOS seems unable to keep up with tourism's impact on the community's infrastructure and often garbage overflows the bins as it has been doing this summer.

Welcome to Agios Nikolaos - a contrast with my normal photos of town

A visitor to our village, Agios Nikolaos, will pass this garbage collection site on one of the roads leading into our village.  A sharp contrast to the beauty of the village itself, don't you think? We often wonder what tourists think as they drive into the village for the first time. We 'locals' don't like this sure sign of summer but protests and complaints to elected officials continue to fall on deaf ears.   

After the garbage bin welcome you arrive in Agios Nikolaos

We'd given little thought in the past to where the collected garbage was taken. We'd believed it was to a 'landfill' or dumping ground out in a remote area of the region. That was until a cry went up for help a few weeks ago went up from residents living just a few miles/kilometer from us alerting the entire area to a disgusting dumping ground a few hundred meters off  the main road and a residential area. 

Mounds of filth just meters from homes in our area

While nearby residents and other concerned citizens take their pleas for help in cleaning up and removing this dumping ground (alleged to be private property leased to DIMOS) through various levels of bureaucracy the putrid smells it generates are matched only by the thousands of flies that swarm among the piles of rubbish.

'Mounds of filth'

Our local landfill spills out beyond the fenced property on which it located

Again it isn't just our area of Greece, waste disposal seems a major problem throughout this country.
Back in 2013 the BBC News did a story on Greece with the headline being, 'Mounds of Filth'.  I suspect the tourism folks weren't pleased! From that article I learned that Greece buries 80 percent of its rubbish - and back then, that accounted for twice the European Union average.

The article went on to say that in 2005 the European Commission took Greece to court to force closure of 1,100 illegal landfills but eight years later 70 of them remained open.  Brussels launched a second case against Athens threatening a daily fine of 71,000 euros.  I suspect from the size of our local 'dump' that the threat of fine had no impact on behaviors.

Just this week a report appeared in the Greek City Times saying that by 2022 the island of Santorini plans to close 14 landfills and is opening a recycling facility.   Let's hope the idea catches on elsewhere. . .like in The Mani!

Beyond the Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea, oleander and olive trees icons of Greece

So as summer moves into its third and final month, tourism is picking up in our area. Home construction continues to boom with at least a dozen new structures visible from our Stone House on the Hill.  Business is picking up after the COVID lockdown and it appears at least a portion of the tourist season will be saved.   

Our bougainvillea and side deck

Parked cars line the beach access roads now. The temperatures are in the 80's and the sky is blue. Life is good in Greece for tourists and residents alike. . .but it isn't always charmed. I will continue to tell you of the wonders of life (the good does outweigh the bad) here but every so often I plan to provide a touch of the reality as well.  I know a number of you reading this are planning to move to Greece as soon as the world's situation allows.  You've asked our advice and today I offer one more piece of it: look beyond the bougainvillea.

Next week we are back to travel. We've got a palace just a couple hours away and I plan to take you there! Until then, thanks for the time you spent with us and where ever you are in the world: stay safe.  

Linking in the near future with:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...