Showing posts with label The stone house on the hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The stone house on the hill. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Night of the Jackal

They begin just after sunset, those haunting cries that echo across our valley in rural Greece.  Sometimes soft and distant and other times so loud and close that you nearly jump out of your skin. 

Sunset is time for the jackals calls to begin.

Nightfall is the time of the jackals and their blood curdling cries. It is when they begin their search for food and drink; the search and piercing nocturnal cries often continuing intermittently until dawn.

These omnivorous predators, smaller than the North American coyote, are in search of small- to medium-sized animals.  Traveling in pairs, sometimes packs, their mournful cries sound like sound effects for scenes of the untamed frontier in old Western movies.

Night view from The Stone House on the Hill

Their eerie calls used to be a rarity at our home on a hillside outside the small Greek fishing village where we've made our expat life. These days they are almost as much a ritual as the sunset itself. We told a recent visitor that if it sounded like jackals were just outside the window of the ground floor guest room - they probably were!

Golden jackals are found in Greece

Luckily, we've only encountered three of them and each at a bit of a distance - all looking much worse for the wear than the one in the photo above -- however, we find their tracks in our flower beds and olive grove.  

Maggie and Princess on alert

We know why our cats head for the upper decks of our home and keep watch on their property below. Two sets of neighbors, each with a young cat just a few months old, report their cats have disappeared, both believed to be victims of jackals.  

Now we are safe on The Scout's lap!

On only a few occasions have our two cats been outside on ground level when I heard the first of the jackals' cry. As I've hurtled out of the house and into the darkened grove with just my mobile phone flashlight, I've been thankful that the cats have come running at the sound of my voice.  I really didn't want to meet up with one of the scavengers.

Not far from our home in Greece we spotted this 'yard art'


Wanting to live differently, we chose an expat life in rural Greece. A narrow track road leads up the hill to the seven homes that comprise our spread-out neighborhood carved out of olive groves in the Mani region of the Peloponnese.  

On our Greek road home.

Back when we moved, our focus was on culture, cuisine, language and lifestyle of a different country. We were thinking about functioning within a place where English isn't the first language and where you don't order 'French fries with ketchup' when dining out (when you do eat that style of potato here, they are 'chips' and if dipped in anything, it is mayonnaise).

Our slice of Greece - rural and sparsely populated. 

We didn't give that much thought to the new experiences we'd have simply living in an agricultural setting. But roaming jackals and the wild boar who also patrol our hillside in bulldozer-like fashion remind us that we aren't in suburban Seattle any longer.  


Wild boars roam near our home

This summer a neighbor was injured when he encountered the wild boar family - a moving destruction crew - on the road about a mile from our house. He was on his motorcycle and was charged by one of the boars. They've destroyed several terraces in our olive grove and dug up plants but luckily, we've not been any closer than the night we encountered them on our way home and the blurred photo was taken.

Living Differently 

Even as we watch homes and tourist accommodations being built at a breakneck pace around our valley in recent years, we still live in a rural setting where wide open spaces stretch for miles. And for the most part, the rural setting affords us pleasant, even heart-warming, new experiences.

Giving me the once over

When I meet friends for coffee, I usually walk to the kafenion and I pass the guy pictured above grazing in the olive grove just below our house.  Sometimes he calls out a greeting and sometimes prefers just to keep an eye on me.

The cattle being led to graze in olive groves

He and his wife and child - as I like to think of them -- are regularly led to the grove to graze by an older Greek lady who owns them. 

Traffic jams are common on our village roads

If we set off in the opposite direction, towards Platsa, the village at the top of our hill, we often find ourselves caught in a bit of a traffic jam when the herd above us is moving from one grazing spot to another.

Highway slowdowns 

Traffic jams aren't limited to just the local access roads though, they can occur on the highway that cuts through our area as well.  Here 'the highway' is a two-lane road, versus the single lane local roads.

Slow cooking in the fireplace

Critters aren't the only thing different about this rural lifestyle. It inspired me to try my hand at slow cooking the old-fashioned way: in a glazed clay pot over an open fire. Embers, actually, in the fireplace.  We've successfully cooked a number of dishes that way and it is a family affair as The Scout is in charge of preparing the fire and getting the embers 'just right' while I work on the food.

Horta hunting

While on the topic of food, this is the season for 'horta hunting'. Horta is the name for wild greens harvested from along roadsides and olive groves.  A good friend, who runs a local taverna took us and two friends out last year on a horta hunting expedition. She showed us the kind you want to harvest, and which to avoid. It was one of our finest days!

We are living differently, that's for sure! 


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Monday, January 15, 2024

With a Toss of a Cross

With the toss of a cross the holiday season came to an official end last week and winter arrived in the Greek village we call home.

Ready for the Blessing of the Water in Agios Nikolaos

The Blessing of the Water, which involves tossing a cross into the rather frigid waters of the village fishing harbor and having it retrieved by a brave - young - swimmer, is an annual religious tradition in the Greek Orthodox religion. It commemorates Christ's Baptism in the Jordan River.  Throughout the country similar ceremonies and pageants took place on January 6th, the day known as Epiphany or Theophany on religious calendars.

On the way to the harbor ceremony

In our village of Agios Nikolaos in the Mani region of the southwestern Peloponnese, the day dawned picture-perfect, with blue sky and sunshine. Harborside tables at restaurants and cafes were filled long before the bells of the church (also named Agios Nikolaos, the patron saint of sailors) began announcing the mid-morning service. 

Pappas Panayotis in Agios Nikolaos

Villagers and visitors alike were waiting for the colorful procession of officiants and congregants to make its way from the church to the harbor's parking lot.  

The ceremony at harborside

Once there, our village priest, Pappas Panayotis, offered a brief service, blessed the cross and tossed it into the water. Young swimmers stood on the harbor's breakwater, opposite the parking lot and launched themselves into the water to retrieve the cross as soon as the Pappas released it. 

One of two brave swimmers helped from the water

Just like that, the ceremony ended. The swimmer who retrieved the cross was blessed. The crowd shifted toward our small fish market to the side of the parking lot where the counter -- normally used to display the catch of the day -- had been turned into a magnificent banquet table, filled with platters of sweets and savory goodies donated by the local bakery, restaurants and individuals.

Table begins to fill with donated tasty treats.

Then Came Winter

That holiday Saturday was gorgeous, so much so that we stopped on our way home to admire 'our' Pantazi Beach.


Pantazi Beach just like Hawaii

This stunning beach is walking distance from our home at the base of the hill. In tourist season it is jam-packed with tourists and sunbeds but on this day, it was empty and inviting.  The slight breeze, the warmth, and the wave action that day reminded us of similar scenes in Hawaii.

Well, that was Saturday. . .by the next morning, winter in all its stormy glory, had arrived.  We again stopped to admire the beach, this time for the wild fury of the place. The roar of enormous waves, gusting wind and sea mist showers were what greeted us on Sunday morning.

What a difference a day makes in winter here. . .

Weather here could be described as Longfellow once poetically wrote of the little girl with a curl: 'When she was good, she was very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.'  Further down the beach, the giant waves had carried driftwood, rubble and large stones onto the roadway. The skies were leaden, and the rain came - at times - in buckets.  Such is winter in our slice of Greece.

This Saturday night in the village

Winter weather definitely puts our village into hibernation.  Olive harvest is coming to a close. Only a few fishing boats remain in the harbor.  The slash from olive groves is being burned as weather permits. Restaurants close for maintenance. At night streets are deserted.  

However, gardens are flourishing again, revived by the rain and cool temperatures. Roses and geraniums are in bloom, reminding us that spring will soon be on its way.


My rose, a bit wind-beaten, in the garden

Spring seems far distant though while we have a low temperature advisory in our area. It dipped to 37F/2.2C two nights ago and while that is balmy for some of you reading this, I can tell you it is COLD for here. The highest peaks of the Taygetos Mountains are finally iced with snow.  We've had our oil furnace, fireplace and electric wall heaters going in tandem and separately for days.  

A snowy peak of the Taygetos Mountain peeks out

But the storms come and go relatively quickly here compared to our old Washington State weather and we should soon be back in the low 60F's/15C's. Yesterday we had sunshine and by today the rain is again pouring down.

Gray days in Greece



We spend our winter days, snuggled up with our 'gatas' (our cats), catching up on reading those books we've had stacked up, planning future travels, and for me, writing.  We know many of you are having tough, cold winters right now, so we send our wishes for your safety - whether just going outside your door or traveling to some far distant place.

Thanks for being with us on this blustery winter's day in Greece. Hope you'll be back for our next report and bring some friends with you!  Anybody have a good book recommendation for us? Add it to the comments or send us an email - we are always on the lookout for new titles!

Friday, December 8, 2023

Too Old to be Expats?

At almost 101, she is probably the oldest expat in the area.  

She is the expat I want to be 'when I grow up'.

I am not naming her because her name isn't as important to this tale as is her age.  She is simply living proof that quality time lived as an expat need not be age defined. 

Agios Nikolaos, our expat world

Just last week I saw her studiously bent over her latest needle work, chatting away with her longtime friends at a weekly crafter gathering in the village. A couple years ago, while seated next to her at a fundraiser she kept me entertained with her stories, . . . well, until the band started playing and she headed to the dance floor! 

Three birthday cakes, a party and many friends as I hit 70!

Although not as spry as she once was, I think of her as the poster child for the 'aging expat'.  And since becoming a septuagenarian last July, I now qualify as both 'aging' and 'expat'. 

So, finding someone 30 years my senior is gratifying as I ponder the question: Can one be too old to be an expat?

'It's only a number,' chided my just-turned-50 expat friend, as my tongue swelled in July when I attempted to say my age. Saying '70' in Greek (ev-do-MIN-ta) and English (s-s-seventy) continues to be difficult. When I can't wrap my head around something, I usually can't wrap my tongue around it either.

Coming of Age in Greece

Celebrating the purchase of our home with its former owners 

'Are we too old?' we asked ourselves as we debated the pros and cons of buying a home in Greece a decade ago.

Getting those first residency cards!

'Are we too old?' we asked ourselves again, a few years later, when we pondered becoming expats in Greece.

To think, that was back when we were mere 60-somethings!

When we decided to take the plunge, we reasoned that when we were 'too old' for the expat lifestyle, we would likely move back to the States. At the time we didn't think about how to define 'too old'. Instead, we set up 'age gauges'.

Our stairs would be an 'age gauge' we reasoned.

For instance, when we were no longer able to navigate the flight of 30-steps we climb between our Stone House on the Hill and our car, it would be time to pack up and move on. Thankfully, we still climb those stairs regularly, but now we talk about the logistics of a sloped sidewalk through the garden alternative when the 'time comes'.

Olive harvest equipment replaced us!

Olive harvest has been another 'age gauge'. When we couldn't actively participate any longer, we'd say, 'it just might be time to. . .,' never really completing the sentence. Well, thankfully our hired crew is so mechanized, that we no longer play much role in the hard part of harvest, so that gauge is out the window. 

In the blink of an eye, we are 70-somethings

We know that the unconventional lifestyle of an expat doesn't ward off the pesky signs of aging. We are now 70-somethings and despite the claim that 70 is the new 50, our bodies often dispute that after a walk home up the hill on which we live, or a day spent working in the garden or grove! 

We probably do sound like 'old people' when reminding friends who've been saying for a decade that they were coming to visit us in Greece -- that it might be time to schedule that trip. But seriously, time could be running out. Even living a Mediterranean lifestyle, the longevity factor in Greece is 80.2, roughly the same as that of the European Union. (And that is better than the US, where it is only 77.5 years).

The Elderly Expat

Expats of 'a certain age' set off on the sea

The expat and Mediterranean lifestyle combine to keep us far more physically and mentally active in our Greek world than we are in the States. Expats of 'a certain age' here are pursuing any number of activities, among them: gardening, swimming, biking, hiking, trekking, traveling, socializing, and participating in volunteer activities.  

Expat friends of 'a certain age' at lunch in the village

I like that phrase, 'a certain age', possibly inspired from a similar French phrase, that puts a person in a pleasant holding pattern of sorts, 'not still young but not yet old'. It, like Mae West's, 'You are never too old, to become younger', are far more agreeable to me than 'elderly'. The World Health Organization defines elderly persons as 60 or older. 

Spring hike on a kalderimi

If that is the case, then there are a lot of elderly American expats scattered about the world. Of the approximate 10 million American expats, (U.S. State Department statistics) about18 percent, or 1.8 million, of us are 61 years of age or older. 

The ability to live as an expat isn't defined by chronological age alone; we all know that health, mobility, and mental attitude have much to do with the quality and quantity of life regardless of where one lives.

Too Old or Not?

In researching this post, I came across a hodge-podge of thoughts on age, three of which I felt worthy of repeating:

How old is too old?

First, according to a survey by TD Ameritrade 73% of women and 59% of men felt that 70 IS the new 50, based on the fact that we are living healthier and longer lives. (It didn't list the ages of those surveyed though.)

Second, American writer, Anne Lamott, in an opinion piece for the Washington Post titled, "Living on Borrowed Time,' made me laugh: 'Getting older is almost like changing species, from cute middle-aged white-tailed deer, to yak. We are both grass eaters, that that's about the only similarity.'


Short, shorter. . .vanished?

But if was an article on aging by fellow septuagenarian Robert Reich, an American political economist and professor, that provided a new perspective on the question I've been pondering. He cited a study that said: after age 60 one loses a half-inch in height every five years.  And that gave this once-five-foot-tall writer, a whole new perspective on being an aging expat. If I live long enough, I just might vanish. Then I won't need to figure out if I am too old to continue being an expat!

That's it for this week from sunny, but chilly, Greece. 

So how about you?  Have you reached 'a certain age' that now influences travels or expat adventures? Share your thoughts via comments or email.

As always, thanks for the time you spent with us today - hope to see you back again. . .bring a friend with you!






Sunday, October 22, 2023

In Greece ~ The Curse is Lifted!

 Last week we officially lifted the curse that had been cast upon us.  

Back in ancient Greece curses were a real thing. And for a time, I'd started thinking they were a real thing in this 21st century Greece as well.  It seemed as if we had been targeted by the famed and feared 'evil eye' and a curse or spell had been cast upon us.

Mati's to ward off the 'evil eye'

Although our Stone House on the Hill sports any number of 'matis' the Greek icons that are believed to ward off the evil eye, we had fallen victim to our curse sometime during or in the aftermath of 'those Covid years'.  

For that reason, I named it, the Covid Curse.


Amathus archeological site in Cyprus

In comparison to some Greek curses that have been cast over the centuries, ours was a mild one.  It thankfully was nothing at all like the one unearthed in 2008 during excavations of Amathus, the ancient city state in Cyprus. Archeologists there in 2008 discovered a lead tablet, believed to date back for centuries, on which was written, 'may your penis hurt when you make love' and with it the image of a man holding in his hand something described as being the shape of an hourglass.


Covid-cursed castaways?

Our curse was one that didn't inflict pain or hardship on us, just a bit of mental anguish and embarrassment. It seemed to have made us: castaways.


Visitors return to the village in droves.

While expat friends in the village began welcoming houseguests as soon as the Covid travel restrictions lifted, we waited . . . and waited . . .and waited.  No one came to visit. No one even mentioned coming to visit. In the pre-Covid years we had guests both coming to the village and to our home to see us and our world at regular intervals.

A long-haul flight between West Coast USA and Greece

For a time, we reasoned that it was the lingering fears of Covid that kept them away, or perhaps, the distance they would need to travel. The majority of our guests - back when we had them - came from Washington State in the US Pacific Northwest.  

 But then our friend Chuck, who hails from the same Washington town and now lives just down the road, started using a calendar to keep track of his upcoming guests. Then our expat friends from California, now just down the road the other direction in the village, started using a calendar to keep track of their guests. Another couple from Portland, Oregon has also been hosting guests from back home regularly.

Easter dinner with expat friends and their guests

Thankfully those expat friends who had guests let us share them - inviting us to join them for holiday celebrations, dinners, drinks or morning coffees.  Friends quit asking if we had guests coming anytime soon.

Finally, The Curse is Lifted

For a time, I actually thought that maybe what we needed was a 'curse expert', one who in ancient times, specialized in the writing of curses and spells, according to historian/archeologist and author Jessica Lamont. I figured if they could write a curse or spell, they could probably conjure up a removal incantation of some sort as well. 

Lamont, by the way, is an expert on the subject and her most recent book published by Oxford Press is titled, 'In Blood and Ashes, Curse Tablets and Binding Spells in Ancient Greece'. 

Curse was lifting. Dinner with two sets of visitors!!

Before we resorted to some sort of exorcism, we started seeing signs of the curse losing power. A blogger friend visited at the same time as friends returned to finish the visit, they'd cut short in 2020 when Greece closed down for Covid.

48 hours of guests. . .how great it was to see friends!

Then former neighbors of ours in Kirkland, WA, now of California, tacked on a side trip to the Mani to visit us as part of a whirlwind Greek trip.  We had a fabulous 48 hours with them in June.

The curse was officially lifted last week with the arrival of our first houseguest since November 2019.  

Curse was lifted: our first houseguest since Nov. 2019

My friend and writing colleague, Brian Cantwell, (cub reporters together in our 20's and then he became my travel editor at the Seattle Times, during my freelance years) arrived for a long weekend stay as part of his 10-day tour of Greece. Brian lives on a remote San Juan Island, called Center Island, year-round population of 10 households.  He adapted well to our rural Peloponnese expat world. He writes of life on his island at Cantwell's Reef. He also wrote about his time with us if you want his take on the visit!

Exploring our world with our guest

His arrival at the Kalamata bus station on a Friday kicked off a long weekend of eating, touring, drinking, touring, hiking and swimming that continued until his Tuesday departure.  

The curse was lifted!

It was like the olden days of having guests!  But just as he admitted being rusty at travel logistics (his first trip after Covid) we were a bit rusty at being hosts.  It was good to get back into practice again.

More to Come?

Our slice of the Mani


Between January and August 2023, some 18.76 million travelers to Greece transited the Athens Airport. That is 8% more than traveled through it in 2019, before Covid.   We are so thankful for our guests who were among them and who made the effort to get to the Mani to see us.  

We expats agree that folks back home don't understand just how much it means to us all to have friends and family who want to come and experience our slice of Greece.  We hope the trend continues.

Your travel tales:

Travel isn't for sissies!


And speaking of travel, we want to thank those of you who responded to our question last week about your unexpected travel detours and delays after you read of ours. Here's a sampling of your responses:

 Emily from California told us: 

 'Our latest travel nightmare was due to a late arrival and missing our connection on a SFO to Istanbul flight. Although we were whisked all over CDG (Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris), up and down elevators to the tarmac and sent in a van careening around planes, other vans, baggage carts, and meal wagons, we ultimately missed our connection. We then had to wait in CDG for 12 hours for the next flight to Istanbul, arriving in the middle of the night. On the return, we missed our connection from LAX to MRY and sat for 7 hours waiting for our 45-minute flight. Flying these days isn’t for sissies.' 

Tom and Jackie from Washington who traveled to Normandy echoed of her experiences with the Paris airport: 

'We have a history of dissatisfaction with CDG from past trips that was reaffirmed. We deplaned and walked the long hallways to Passport Control. The place was overwhelmed with travelers. We were sent to an Air Priority line to get faster service. Not so, other lines were moving while we stood not moving for over an hour and fifteen minutes. Fortunately, our driver waited, and we were able to get to Saint Lazare railway station in time for our noon departure to Rouen.'  

                                                                            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That's it for this week. Thanks for being with us! Olive harvest season is upon us in the Mani. We'll tell you more about autumn here in our next post. Until then safe travels to you and yours~

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