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

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Losing Touch

It was a copy of People Magazine left by our recent houseguests that brought the point home: 

Living in the laidback Greek countryside, I've lost touch.  

Summer in an olive grove

People Magazine tells all there is to tell about America's celebrities and public figures. Problem was, that aside from 79-year-old Tom Selleck, most recently of television's Blue Bloods, and the recently deceased O.J. Simpson, I didn't recognize many of the names of those famous folks.

People Magazine - who is doing what and where

I've lost touch. It is as simple as that.

 And what I found most amazing about that realization was that I didn't care who these people were, nor did I care what they were doing when the paparazzi photographed them, even if it was while they grocery shopped or frolicked on some exotic holiday. 

Losing touch with the other world

Being an expat and losing touch with the everyday world you left behind, to a certain degree, go hand-in-hand.  

As American expats we've lost touch with the familiarity of doctors, dentists, and hairdressers we had visited for years. We've lost touch with routines of shopping at the corner supermarket, visiting the dry cleaner and filling the car with gas at the regular service station. But with each of those has come the challenge and exhilaration of creating new familiar and favorite routines in the Greek world.

What has been tough is losing touch with friends and family. 

We knew it could happen.  We'd read the articles about expat life and knew that losing connections with friends back home and loneliness can bring down the most enthused expat. Yet, as with all unpleasant possibilities, one reasons that it couldn't possibly happen in your world. 

Losing Touch

'Losing touch' with friends is quite a widespread phenomenon apparently experienced by many of the 230 million expats worldwide.  And with 18 percent of those expats being more than 61 years of age, they likely have a good number of friends and family with whom they want to keep in touch.

Loneliness is often cited as one of the most difficult aspects of expat life. The inability to make new friends and the absence of family and longtime friends are often the reason expats choose to return to their home country. 

Friends at Your Fingertips

So, when you look at the speed and ease of communication afforded by today's technology, there is really no excuse for losing touch, is there? 

With a scroll through Facebook and Instagram postings we are able to celebrate birthdays and holidays, graduations and weddings. We can share in the sorrow of loss and send well-wishes to those who are ill.  

US, Canada and Greece - we talk face-to-face twice a month on WhatsApp

WhatsApp, Facetime, Messenger and other such programs allow us to visit face-to-face with friends no matter where in the world they are living. And doing so is always a day-brightener!

 

Weekly email 'coffee klatches' keep us in touch

Even writing emails - now thought of by young people as a somewhat old-fashioned communications tool-- keeps us up-to-date with the comings and goings of friends.

Luckily, we have a cadre of dear friends who are committed to keeping in touch while we are in Greece. Several of us write emails as if we were visiting regularly together over coffee. We chat face-to-face with others. Skype has made texting together was easy as if we were just across town. 

Emails, photos and Skype keep these childhood friends together

Staying in touch is done both with precision regularity as well as at random out-of-the-blue contacts. Now, despite being thousands of miles apart, we are up to date with each other's lives, everyday activities, travel, health, even weather. 

As the years have passed my definition of 'staying in touch' has become so relaxed that it includes writing a comment on a FB or blog post. 

Poof! Just like that, they are not heard from again

Yet it has been with some incredulity that we've realized there are some -- thankfully, not a lot of --friends with whom we have simply lost touch.  Poof. Gone. No communication from them and no response to attempts to reach them.

Moving On

An article in Expatica.com, a website 'by expats for expats', offered an interesting take on losing touch: 

 'Don't be afraid of losing friends who won't or can't commit to keeping the connection. . .it gives you more time to invest in those who are willing to make the effort,' it offered.  

Reasoned one expat about the topic of lost friendships on Reddit, an American social news website, 'People's lives go on and you've moved a different direction. Many friendships are based on common experience and close proximity.'

'It's hard to stay in touch with all the friends we make through life. Scientific studies show we maintain 150 relationships at any given time in life,' wrote another.

One of the most obvious bits of advice offered to expats is to quit fretting over those who've dropped out of sight and make new friends.

Friends in the expat world

A meet up of multinational expats on Easter afternoon in the village
 
As of last year, according to the World Population Review, there were 23,297 American expats living in Greece.  The number pales in comparison to the 799,248 living in Mexico, but still, it seems like quite a few to those of us who are a part of that statistic.  

Morning coffee at the beach cafe with friends

In our slice of Greece, we have a diverse blend of expats friends including Americans who hail from the Pacific Northwest, California, the Southwest and Northeast.  Those from further afield hail from Canada, Belgium, Turkey, England and elsewhere.

Thankfully our expat life in the rural Peloponnese has been filled with new friends, both expats and Greeks. Although making friends takes time, just like it did back in the old world.  

We find that the lifestyle here probably has us socializing more with friends here than we did back in the States as logistics of getting together are so simple. 


An evening spent with neighbors is always a great evening

Our Stone House on the Hill is set amid eight other homes on a short stretch of road just outside the village. Our neighborhood is an international one with France, Britain, Peru, Germany, Greece, Switzerland and America represented. We are blessed that we are surrounded by kind and caring people and that we have all become friends.

 Silver and Gold

A toast to lasting friendships - old and new

Back in the 1960's Girl Scouts in America had a song they'd sing around a campfire that was a simple ditty with a powerful message:

 'Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver and the other gold.'  

It could be the theme song for expats. 

And with that thought we close for this week and send wishes for safe travels to you and yours.  We are heading off on an adventure. . .one that we said we'd 'never do' and yet here we are doing it! We will tell you about it next time!



Monday, April 1, 2024

Olive Grove Lessons ~Life, Love, Loss

 A stiff breeze rustling the branches of the olive trees and making the terrace grasses sway, was enough to pause our stroll in the grove. Sometimes, it was the raucous cry of birds swooping to nests high atop nearby cedar trees that stopped us mid-step. 

Each new noise or movement, they taught me, was a wonderment. We had to pause, listen and watch.  Every time . . .because it might just signify something new and exciting.  

In the grove at The Stone House on the Hill

In the spring, the grove beckoned for a game of hide and seek at the rosemary bush. Sometimes on hot summer afternoons, it was where we watched ants at labor marching across the soil cracked by the intense Mediterranean sun. In the fall, it was games of chase using olive twigs cut during olive harvest that filled our time in the grove. 

Olive grove games

For several years now, I have spent a portion of nearly every day in our olive grove, simply for the purpose of enjoying it. 

It wasn't easy to do that at first. I thought I needed to be pulling weeds, trimming, doing something. That is, until my two feline mentors, Princess and Maggie Mae, decided it was time that I understood the concept best defined by Italians as, dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. 

Dolce far niente in the olive grove

One can't help but notice the proliferation of self-help tips that fill social media these days. There are mantras, memes, and meditations, all offering ways to improve one's life/outlook/happiness by slowing down, simply calming oneself. Indulging in sweet nothingness. I guess the teachings of my fur girls were much in the same vein - they just taught by example. Peace and happiness could be had just by watching a bug crawl past or a butterfly flutter above.  

The key, I learned from them, is taking time to notice, then allowing oneself the time to enjoy it. 


My grove getaway at the Stone House on the Hill

I honestly can't recall when our trips to the grove became a daily ritual.  I was doing it 'for the cats' in an effort to keep them interested in something far away from the road that passes by the other side of our home, I reasoned.  

Princess, left, and Maggie, right, explore the grove.

In truth, I was getting as much out of those grove hours as were the two felines who accompanied me there.  

Life and Love in Greece

The two - Princess and Maggie Mae -- as we named them after they each had made clear upon arrival -- one year apart and nearly a decade ago -- that they would be making their home with us. While not related to each other, after their initial skepticism at sharing our attention, they were to become inseparable sidekicks.  

Dolce far niente at the Stone House on the Hill

The lessons in the grove took on new intensity back in January as the spread of Maggie's skin cancer was clearly bringing her to the end of her life. During these last three months, our trips to the grove increased and each time we lost ourselves in the sweetness of doing nothing . . .together. 

Savoring those last days. Maggie continued to find wonder in sniffing the air to catch its scents as she sat, watched and listened.  


Maggie Mae Smith

We buried Maggie 10 days ago next to the rosemary where she had spent so many hours enjoying life. Princess and I haven't resumed our trips to the grove. We are both adjusting to Maggie's absence, but we continue to indulge in dolce far niente. 


Maggie was not a fan of our travels!


I've taken a break from the blog in recent weeks to experience that sweetness of doing nothing with my fur girls.  As Maggie's health deteriorated, The Scout and I cancelled all travel we'd planned for the first months of this year. (cat people do those things) With Maggie's recent passing, we have a small window of opportunity to travel in Schengen countries before our residency permits expire the end of April and we are no longer allowed to travel (pending the new permits).  We are ready for some travel adventures again. And he's scouted out a good one - I'll tell you about it in the next post.

Maggie 


Thanks for being with us today - and our wishes for safe travels to you and yours. 
And a big welcome to our new subscribers!!


Wednesday, March 6, 2024

A Winter's Walk on the Wild Side

February's departure and March's arrival made it clear that winter's wild side is still with us in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese where we make our expat home.

Windblown lamp post on the way to the village

When we decided to move from the U.S. Pacific Northwest among the factors that helped drive the decision was getting away from ice, snow, cold and the long dreary winter that seemed to stretch from November until April.  

The highest waves we've seen here. This is Agios Dimitrios below us.

We succeeded in leaving the snow and cold behind. But we still have winter.  And while winter storms in our area don't strike often or stay long, they are wild. 

Our signature storms bring near gale-force howling wind, thunder so loud it reverberates as if bombs were falling in the grove and lightning strikes that turns the sky into an electrified kaleidoscope.  The sea becomes a boiling cauldron of angry waves. And sometimes we even get a blanket of African dust! 

This is dust - from Africa - heading our way

Even though the storms are often short-lived, they are so ferocious that we understand how ancient ones developed beliefs in mythological gods.  Some days we are certain that Poseidon, god of the sea, and Zeus, commonly thought of as, the god of the sky and weather, are having one grand war between their respective worlds.

Our municipal parking lot flooded from waves and weather

The storm that came with February's end hit with such power and force that it left many of us newcomers shaking our heads in wonder at the destruction left in its wake.  In our village, Agios Nikolaos, waves flooded the municipal parking lot - a lot where fishing boats had been moved to from the harbor to keep them safe from the storm.  One boat was washed from its trailer and still sits on its side in the lot.  

Municipal garbage bins scattered by the storm

Municipal garbage bins that normal line the street like soldiers were tossed about by the wind as if they were leaves. Rocks and downed limbs were strewn about the roadway making it impossible to drive on in places.   


Walkway closed in town due to high waves in the harbor

The walkway at harborside (the one we've been using since road construction closed the road above it) was also closed by waves crashing into it.  

The good news about winter storms is that we have pretty accurate weather warning systems in place these days and we know when a storm is coming and approximately what its strength and duration will be.  Advisories are posted on FB by emergency service and government pages.  

The African dust that covered us recently

We also use a weather app called Poseidon, which shows not only wind and rain but dust storms as well.  Our Peloponnese in the map above is under that red circle. And did we have dust!

Garbage crews had bins uprighted the next day

The other good thing about these winter storms is that local folks know how to deal with them. Cleanup was underway as soon as the waves and the wind gusts lessened.

The morning after. . .

Dimos, as our municipality is called, had bulldozers out clearing roads and parking lots. Business owners were also at the ready to clear up storm debris.  Our Pantazi Beach Bar's outdoor terrace - a favorite place of ours for coffee . . .

A February morning before the storm - Pantazi Beach Bar

. . .was hit hard by the storm as show in the photo below. I took it from nearly the same spot.  But within days debris was cleared, and we are again able to sit on the beachside terrace.

Pantazi Beach Bar terrace the morning after the storm.

Road construction has resumed in the village, and we are again using the harborside walkway as a bypass.

Harborside bypass is open again

Winter storm watching is popular on the Pacific Northwest West Coast (United States and Canada). I can tell you that it is much warmer watching storms here than there!  The tourism folks in Greece are missing a bet by not promoting winter storm watching. Maybe those of you who like to storm watch should take advantage of the off-season lower airfares and hotel rates and head to our part of Greece and do some storm watching here next winter! 

We hope that whatever season you are in while reading this that the weather gods have been good to you!  Thanks so much for being with us on this walk on the wild side of winter in Greece.  



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!

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