Our 2015 Adventures

Sep. 8, 2015

While we have been enjoying our vacation in Greece, I am very mindful of what has been happening very close by, in fact, right on these very shores and on islands that are only a stone's throw away.

Lives have been lost and a huge migration is taking place, Syrians escaping a life of suffering and ruin.

There is much debate about where they should go, which countries are being welcoming, and which are not.   

I am heartened to learn that some countries are doing great things, and that it is within their ability to do so.   I don't know what is within my own ability, but I will say this - I have no tolerance for anyone who might breathe a word of "Go back where you came from".  

I received an email the other day, speaking of a country that apparently is revoking their policy of multiculturalism, claiming it has damaged their own country's values to allow others to build on their own culture.   It was suggested that I forward the email to all of my friends.  Instead, it went in the trash.

In Rome, we met someone who spoke of how she was a police officer back home in Canada, and she had asked a Roman Police Officer why they allowed 'such garbage' to be on their streets.   She was not referring to actual garbage, but to PEOPLE, and at first, we were not on track with where she was heading. The conversation soon ended and we went away, shaking our heads.   (The Officer's response to her though, was fantastic:  "It is the Pope's edict that we must show compassion".)

Did you know that a Sailor's Oath requires them to assist and save anyone on the seas that is in peril?   Some fishermen are refusing to get in their boats, because they are afraid they will see  someone that needs to be rescued, and they will be bound to do it.    I cannot believe how our minds have become twisted to such a degree - where is the value that should be placed on all human life?  

I wish the world had no borders and that we could equalize so much more.    I think I am a bleeding heart, as I wish that I could help everyone.    I remember that my own roots once came to a new country, and that it was harder than anything to start over.   

These people are fleeing absolute destruction and devastation.  Yet we don't want them because of our own xenophobia.   I have more compassion for this situation than I would for someone who refuses to work, when they are able bodied, choosing instead to collect welfare.   

Our world is a very complicated place.   While we can celebrate our advancement in so many ways, and appreciate art, beauty, music, engineering, science, and more, we have learned little in the ways of truly seeing the person behind the skin or the religion, because we are afraid. 

Bravo to Germany, for finding a way to bring 500,000 refugees into their country.   I admire the woman who, as Chancellor, can stand up and offer this , amidst criticism from within her own people.  More Leaders are needed, to follow this example.  

What can we really do?  WE can act kindly even with only a smile, to those that we encounter.  

Sep. 6, 2015

Sunrise was half an hour ago and my coffee is on the stove, everyone else still asleep.  Back in Greece now for over a week, we are fixing to get home, but still with three days to go, there might be another jaunt to somewhere new.  For now, I have time to reflect on the majesty of Rome.

Day two in Rome and our plans were to see the Vatican City for the day.  We had heard that the lineups would be atrocious but off we went and we are glad we did.   We printed our tickets to see the Museum and the Sistine Chapel and grabbed a bus from our hotel, flying past the centre of Rome and then across the river.  From where the bus dropped us off, we were to walk around to the right of the massive wall, to find the entrance to the Museum.  Right at the corner, were a bunch of people telling us that we needed to 'upgrade' our ticket to see inside the Basilica, but the Basilica is free!   Then they said that it was actually to bypass the long line.   I tugged on Aris's sleeve and said "Let's go" and we ignored the sales pitches and went into the museum.   We would decide once we got to the Basilica, whether the lineup would be too crazy.
Upon stepping into the Museum we were surprised that no one asked us for ID, nor for a Passport, and there was a minimal security checkpoint.   You can choose escalators to go up to the starting point, or the spiral ramp...and we picked the ramp thinking we needed the exercise after last night's dinner.  We didn't need it, because what lay ahead was an unforeseen amount of ambling and walking aplenty. 
The first chamber took us into a room filled with beautiful statues and frescoes, so much to take in!  We are not meticulous museum viewers, stopping at each and every display to read everything about what's there, but rather, we seem to pick what attracts us and make a beeline to that monument or display.  I lose Aris often because he meanders to another spot, and I have to start looking for his hat.   Thankfully he stands a cool 6'-0" and I can usually spot him fast.  I quite liked the statue of a woman holding a mask and she was the Muse of Tragedy.   We also noted with much interest, the statues of Hercules,   Aris now has some new poses to strike, hahaha!  
What befuddles me is the business of painting on a ceiling.   It is one thing to paint on a canvas in front of you, tilted so that it is easy to work on, and so that you can step away to review it, check your perspective, etc.   But a ceiling??  You are stuck up there,   on a scaffold (or likely something much more rustic at the time), and even if one is lying down to do the work, I imagine having to remain within a paintbrush's length of your surface, with not much chance to step away, not to mention getting dust, plaster, and paint in one's eyes, or being stuck in one position for long periods of time.   How then, did they manage to build in such realism, shadow & depth, and stunning 3D effects, in muscle tone, colour and shadow...an artist's dream.   Not only the people are painted this way, but a huge amount of Tromp L'Oeil is in use, to add perfectly proportioned Architectural detail that is not really there!  This is what separates the Renaissance from earlier times, when paintings were very one dimensional.
It's easy to think that Michelangelo was the only one who painted on ceilings but good lord, the number of churches and spaces that have incredible frescoes could not all only have been done by him.  There were countless others, in the Vatican alone, each one not only a painter, but a sculptor, an engineer, and sometimes a poet.  [We learned that DaVinci did not paint ceilings, but that his Last Supper was on a wall, and using a technique that he thought would last, and finding it did not, meant that he had to spend much longer doing the work, and, that a massive restoration took place, many years later.   The use of perspective in this painting was not just to make it look real, but also to bring attention to important details, Jesus perfectly at the centre and other elements aligning exactly, and with a purpose.]   At least 12 to 14 other artists contributed to the Sistine Chapel, painting the side walls, but Michelangelo did the entire ceiling and also the full end wall, depicting the Last Judgment.  
I was disappointed to see so many people who did not respect the guidelines of entering this space.   First of all, Silenzio is requested.  Secondly, one must be covered appropriately.  Thirdly, no devices are permitted, such as the Audio Guides, and finally, people are not permitted to take any photos at all.  I am sure you can guess that in various modes, each and every one of these rules was broken.  What I would give, to go back, and to be the only one in the room, able to gaze at each and every scene, in absolute silence.  Even with the crowds, I fought back tears and feel so very blessed that I was able to stand there at all.
After this space, there were more galleries, now of more modern art, included in which we saw Rodin's "Thinker" and this was a sight to behold in itself.    Also a few works by Salvador Dali which were interesting, one painting of Jesus in which his face is actually not visible at all, but every other part of him is.   We don't often see Jesus' privates, do we?!  
On we went, and by now I was a bit worn out, complaining to Aris that all I wanted was to sit down and have an Espresso.  But there were still hallways upon hallways of incredible exhibits and paintings and tapestries and frescoes to see.  (Who pays that much attention to decorating their hallway?  Gives me a few design ideas!)  We stumbled through and finally found a spot to sit and breathe for a bit.  (The writing was on the wall, for the next day being almost a complete write-off, but thankfully, I got up and at 'em by about noon.)
After our espresso it was time to seek out the Basilica and so we exited the museum, walked all around front bit of the exterior wall again, and found St Peter's Square.   The line was about 3/4 of the way around, so Aris lined up while I found a shady spot to sit. I would have passed out, standing in the sun the whole time, but as it was, after about half an hour of missing him, I managed to find him and joined him in line, this time, my white gauze wrap shielding me from a burn, but still feeling far too hot.   It was after 45 minutes of total wait time, that we stepped inside the Basilica.   
At first it is dark, adjusting from the brightness outdoors, you really can't see much of anything.  Then, after a minute or two, the eyes become aware of the unbridled glory that awaits inside.  Since we are allowed to take photos, (without a flash), I took many.   What struck me with the most awe, stupidly enough, was how the sun was streaming through the windows from the huge dome, and hitting a particular statue.   This to me was the ultimate in 'the second coming', and I think I get more out of a looming thundercloud with the sun's rays streaming past it, than most any other divine illustration could provide.   But inside this space, columns reaching to the sky, we were feasting our eyes on the most opulent church of all.  It is more modern than Florence and Siena, and bigger by far.   Barrel vaulted ceilings and multiple domes, columns adorned with Cherubim and Seraphim, the fat little baby angels...  the statues of Saints and of Popes past, seem fierce and demanding, and in contrast, the Mary is demure, as she should be.   At the far end, the light sends your line of sight to a stained glass window where it focuses on a single dove, with radiant beams emanating from it, overlooking the whole Nave.   
In a side wing, we were able to go a few steps before we found closed doors and no entry, but not before we found a carved piece of marble that denoted every Pope that has served since the beginning.   And then, a gift store, where I bought (of all things) a lovely bar of soap.   Why is there soap in the Vatican, as a souvenir?   
We finished our visit by finding a restaurant nearby and sadly, it was one of the worst meals we had while in Italy.   They count on the crowds and worry not about quality.   
Yes, we took the bus back to the hotel, much to my chagrin, because by now I was ready to collapse.   And collapse I did, until the next day.   But my head was filled with grandeur and awe.
Sep. 2, 2015

I promised to describe to you what the Panagieri event was like on August 15th and haven't done that yet.   I'm sitting quietly at the house right now, while Aris has taken his Mom and Dad again to another village (a bit of a bigger one, where there is the Municipal office) and after having cleaned up a few things, (scrubbed the shower and washed the kitchen mat, organized the cutlery drawer..) I now have some time to myself to type a bit.    It does take some time to charge up all of our devices and the converters are a bit dicey, in that they heat up quite a lot and in turn, charging is slow.  I don't think they derive quite the right amperage to do the job, but when I woke up this morning, my iPad was at 100%.

I kind of wish I had gone along for the ride, as today, Aris will be applying for his Greek Citizenship.   I'm not sure how it all works, but it means that next, he will be able to apply for an EU Passport.  I have been wondering if this is possible for me as well, and plan to look into it when I return to Canada.
The village has two sections to it, a very old, dilapidated, and therefore unoccupied section, where Aris's Dad was born in 1933, and where the houses are all built of field stones.   The newer part, however, was started in the 1930's and has many white and beige buildings, some with flat roofs and some with peaked roofs that have the typical red ceramic tile on them.  The house where we are now, is on a piece of property that once belonged to one of the Diamandakos Great Uncles, and is now divided up amongst the remaining siblings and cousins, so there is a chunk of an area that is all Diamandakos (Diamandas) homes.   
Many of the newer houses puzzle me, in that the bottom appears empty and unoccupied, and the living quarters are upstairs, seemingly so that farm equipment and even animals could be kept below, right on the property.   Up through the flat roofs, re-bar pokes toward the sky, with no real purpose except to possibly be something for the future.   Over the years, as the farming has decreased and the occupants have become more modern, the lower levels have been converted to proper living quarters.  My favourite features of the peaked roofs are the corner details of the tiles, usually with a nice shell design on them and a little face, and also, the vent covers which look like large storks as they sway around and around in the breeze.
A wealthier home will have a couple of solar panels and a water tank on the roof and this is where the hot water comes from.  Older ones simply rely on the tank itself heating up, and since they are black, this works well too, but it is not there as easily 'on demand'.  
There is a difference between being a long time villager here and being someone who left for North America, coming back only once a year or so, but we are still welcomed with open arms and big smiles.   On our first visit here, I was told in no uncertain terms that it would not be acceptable for Aris and I to be seen holding hands in the street, much less a kiss - any display of public affection is frowned upon.  This was very painful for me at first, because since did I not understand any Greek, I was looking to Aris for reassurance and really wanted to have the connection, at least to hold hands while walking to the Platia.   Now that we are married, and have been here several times, we are more relaxed about it.  
The 15th of August is the highlight of the summer and almost everyone plans their visit in order to coincide with it.  We made sure that we didn't take off for anywhere else until this event was completed.   This festival happens throughout Greece.  The morning of the event, there is a Church Service to attend, but we had been away at Marmari the night before, and wouldn't arrive back in the village until around 4pm.   I think Aris's Mom was a bit disappointed that I was not there to go to Church with her.  
The Platia is filled with tables and chairs and it is a bit of a challenge to organize where you will be sitting.  Some said that we could arrive fairly early and put a makeshift sign with the family name on it, to reserve a spot together.   We asked someone to do this on our behalf, as we would not be returning in time, but when we got there, in typical fashion, there was nothing with our name on it and a bit of chaos ensued while we all figured out where to sit.  I think I was asked to change my seat at least four times before we could settle in for the evening!   Then, of course, there is no room for anyone to get past the seats and tables at the front.  We had to disturb the people in front of us several times during the course of the evening!
In the past, there have been a few speeches but this time it was straight to the line-up to wait for food, which is packed up take-out style and brought back to the table.   It's actually really good, roasted chicken and pork that we can divvy up and then eat with our hands.  (Yes we have the tiny plastic knives and forks but really, who wants to use them?!)   The salad was so/so.   It's pretty difficult to make a nice salad for 500 people.
Aris brought back a bunch of stuff and it was shared with those at our table.  I remember one time, someone putting food on my plate for me... I didn't like this, since I wanted to choose my own morsels of meat ;0 
The best part is the music and this year they had a live band, with two bouzoukis, an electric violin, a keyboard, drums, and a female vocalist, all of whom I enjoyed very much!   Let the dancing begin!    
I love Greek dancing and I try my damnedest to follow the steps, focusing really hard on a person's feet who is a few ahead of me in the line!   Even then, I mix up when I should step behind or step in front...give me a simple grapevine or a 3 step with a kick, and I can do it!   I still remember Aris's Mom just crushing my hand that first year, she held on to me so tightly!   Now that I'm older, the dances where we all have our arms on the next person's shoulder is pretty tough, after having had a bit of a rotator cuff issue...eek, I avoid this one!    
The best dance for me is what they call Σηρτακι (Sirtaki) which is a freestyle dance, done by oneself.   Even the men do this, and others will kneel down on one knee and watch, clapping to encourage the dancers.   In contrast to the line dances, I am able to do this, easily!  It feels like a mix of Anatolian, Persian and East Indian style, a bit of hips, a bit of hands, suggestive and slow.
For a non-Greek, this whole thing is quite a spectacle, and one can feel lost in the shuffle, but it is an experience second to none.
As the sun goes down past the mountain range that looms up just beyond the village, I see the silver leaves of the olive trees, their ancient, twisted trunks rooted firmly in the red earth, from which the olives derive their value in iron.   Some of these trees are over 400 years old, according to Patera.  He recalls a field being cleaned of brush, to find baby olive trees growing, and remembers also that in 1935, many new trees were planted.
After visiting the Magistrate, Aris and his father went to see one of the fields so that his dad could show him where some of the family's trees actually were.  The oil is made in the town's Co-Op, where all of the farmers deposit their olives, and by weight or some sort of quota, the resulting oil is measured back out and the yield is calculated.   Much of the Διαμαντεοι / Diamanteoi (This is plural for Diamantakos!) oil is shipped back home to Canada, where it is shared with family members, or given away to friends with much pride, a true gift from the land.   (Generally, 5 kilos of olives will yield 1 kilo of oil)
This trip has been very special, as we have traveled with Aris's parents.  We have seen them light up, upon meeting old friends, and also, this morning I got a surprise when Aris's dad began to sing quietly to himself.  This was a first!!   It was a song about how a cloudy Sunday was like a cloud across his heart, "Synafyiasmene Kyriaki" is the tune and it is by a beloved Greek singer, Stelios Kazantzidis (a Greek Frank Sinatra) who was able to capture the feelings of everyone in post-war Greece.  There is definitely more Greek music that I'd like to learn to sing, ultimately this time, choosing some pieces that will resonate more with Aris's family.    <3  Any suggestions?   
Sep. 2, 2015

In Gytheio at "To Limani" you can be treated to an authentic Greek Papoutsakia. This is small eggplant filled with ground meats (mixed veal and beef), tomato, bechamel, and topped with Gouda cheese, they tell me. A perfect lunch!