“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus
It is Winter Solstice today in the Southern hemisphere and suitably the day has been grey and gloomy, wet and cold. The shortest day of the year has been and gone and now for the longest night. From tomorrow, the days begin to lengthen although most of winter is still ahead of us.
For Song Saturday, a piano piece by Michele McLaughlin called Winter Solstice. Here is what the composer has to say about the piece:
“From my concert with Jennifer Thomas on November 24, 2007. The song, Winter Solstice l, is from my holiday album, Christmas - Plain & Simple. Learn more about me and my music at http://www.michelemclaughlin.com. Thank you!”
“Work is either fun or drudgery. It depends on your attitude. I like fun.” - Colleen C. Barrett
No sooner am I back home and I have to travel to Brisbane for work – so it was very much a case of out of one plane and into another. Fortunately, I did get a very good night’s sleep the night before and had no jet lag, so that made the trip much easier to cope with.
Several pressing matters had waited for my return and urgent attention, which could wait no longer so I spent two days away, working quite literally without respite, from early in the day until late in the evening. However, the up side of this was that a lot got done some minor crises were resolved and the feeling of a job well done accompanied me on my return to Melbourne.
Needless to say, I shall be spending a very quiet weekend at home, relaxing and only travelling that I shall be doing will be from the bedroom to the kitchen, from the kitchen to the living room and then the same trips in reverse! Word Thursday is once again suitably apt:
aeroplane |ˈe(ə)rəˌplān| noun British term for airplane . ORIGIN late 19th century: From French aéroplane, from Greek aér ‘air’ + Greek -planos ‘wandering.’
“The secret of joy in work is contained in one word - excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” - Pearl S. Buck
Today was my first day back at work, after getting a very good night’s sleep at home after our trip abroad. The day absolutely flew by as I was catching up with 3 weeks of accumulated backlog. The parcels of books that we had sent from Greece had already arrived and it was good to see them waiting for me in my office.
Seeing it is poetry Wednesday, I am sharing with you a suitably reflective and apt poem for a homecoming after a trip. This comes out of “The Lord of the Rings” and is quite lovely:
I Sit Beside the Fire
I sit beside the fire and think of all that I have seen, of meadow-flowers and butterflies in summers that have been;
Of yellow leaves and gossamer in autumns that there were, with morning mist and silver sun and wind upon my hair.
I sit beside the fire and think of how the world will be when winter comes without a spring that I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things that I have never seen: in every wood in every spring there is a different green.
I sit beside the fire and think of people long ago, and people who shall see a world that I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think of times there were before, I listen for returning feet and voices at the door.
“Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.” - Victor Hugo
We got up rather early on our last day in Athens, wishing to pack our luggage carefully, ensuring of distributing the weight evenly between our two suitcases and hand-luggage. Although we had sent back about 100 kilos of books, we managed to accumulate another 15-20 kilos more of them (with my Bible alone contributing to about 4 kilos of that!). That done, we decided to go to the airport early and left the hotel at about 11:00 am for our 1:30 pm flight. Once again, the traffic was light given that this was Whitmonday, and hence a public holiday.
Our flight to Singapore was uneventful and we managed to get some sleep on the plane. The downside of not stopping over in Singapore for a day and night was having to spend 5 hours in the airport waiting for our connecting flight. Admittedly, this is not too bad in Singapore airport, which in my opinion is the best airport in the world. The tremendous variety of indoor plants in the terminal alone are worth the visit and when adds to that top class facilities and services for the traveller, one cannot but admire the Singaporeans for their enterprise and genuine concern for the comfort and enjoyment of the passengers travelling through their country.
The flight back to Melbourne seemed long, even though we managed to get a little sleep through it, but our fatigue must have elongated the relatively shorter flight (seven hours compared to the eleven hours of the previous leg). One of the best things about travelling is the homecoming at the end. No matter how enjoyable a trip is, it always pleasant to come back home.
Sunday in Athens was an extremely quiet and peaceful affair this weekend as many people had left the city for the long weekend. Nevertheless, the people remaining behind were out and about and early in the morning were doing the regulation buying of the Sunday newspapers. This is an amazing experience in Greece as there are enormous numbers of newspapers, magazines, periodicals and books that are offered for sale daily, but on Sunday there is the added bonus of the “free” offers that are included with the publication. These range from CDs and DVDs, to magazines, to books, cosmetics, sunglasses, clothing, bags, and whatever else you may imagine. It is interesting to note that many newspapers come in two forms, the “no-frills” cheaper version (newspaper alone or with a basic TV guide magazine included) for about one euro or so and the same newspaper with the added goodies (for example, I bought a newspaper with a CD, a DVD and a special interest holiday magazine) for 4.50 euros. Both the CD and DVD were commercial quality and relatively recent (i.e. not new releases, but certainly within the last 10 years).
One can have great fun in newsstands and kiosks that sell these publications and it is mind-boggling to work one’s way through the various offers and finally decide on one’s purchase. Some are not worth it, but others are a great way of getting some great music or films relatively cheaply. We made our way to Monastiraki and had a last forage in the second-hand bookstores. On Sunday, there is a trash and treasure market held here and this is a good place to wander in and there is no predicting what one may find here and one may pick up a great bargain, as we did! My discovery was a wonderful edition of the Bible in Greek, in large format and copiously illustrated with Gustave Doré’s full page etchings on every second page, in remarkably good condition for the paltry sum of 2.50 euros! The down side was it weighed about 4 kilos, but I was not leaving this treasure behind.
After walking around for several hours, making a few more purchases, we finally flopped down on the seats of a café and had much needed refreshment. It was interesting to watch the people (mainly tourists) going back and forth and to enjoy the glorious weather, knowing that in 48 hours we would be braving the elements of a Melbourne winter once again. We walked back to our hotel to deposit our treasures, freshen up and rest a little before heading off to our friends’ house in Aigaleo, where we had been invited for the afternoon and to dinner.
The afternoon was very pleasant and we spent it chatting and then playing cards. The highlight of the afternoon was me excusing myself to go to the bathroom and locking myself there because the key snapped the lock. This was an interesting state of affairs as the only exit from the windowless room was a small (50 cm x 35 cm) skylight that led to an attic above the bathroom through a light well that went up to the roof almost two metres above. We firstly tried to get the door open on both sides by unscrewing the door handle (unsuccessfully). Then by using a similar key from the outside (to no avail). And finally, me climbing up (very athletic!) through the skylight (a tight squeeze) onto the attic through the light well. When I climbed down from the attic and outside the bathroom, I was able to use the key that George had tried to open the door with and successfully unlock the door.
With that excitement over and the keys being banished from the bathroom door forever (a simple latch on the inside would ensure privacy) we had a delightful dinner on their terrace overlooking their lush back garden. It was soon time to make our goodbyes and such times are always sad, but we did promise to try and return to visit them soon. We took a taxi to our hotel and were surprised at the low fare (about 3.50 euros), but this was due to light traffic and a very direct route taken by the taxi driver. We had a good night’s sleep knowing that tomorrow was going to be a long and busy day of unrelenting travel.
We took the bus from Pireos St, near Omonoia Square in the centre of Athens and for the very cheap fare of 0.80 cents we got to Perama, a port to the West of Piraeus. It is from here that ferries leave fro Salamis. We got on a little passenger ferry and for another reasonable fare of one euro were transported 15 minutes later to Paloukia, the main Northern port of Salamis. This is an unprepossessing little town, with a very provincial feel to it. Apparently many people live here and work on the mainland, with daily commuting trips on the passenger ferries.
A bus station close to the ferry terminals connects Paloukia with all other town and settlements on the island. We took the bus and visited Ambelakia and Selinia. Selinia is a small holiday township on the coast, popular with Athenians as a summer holiday destination. Many have their holiday houses here, but it does not have a resort town feel about it and it looks fairly sleepy and innocuous, with the exception of a few tavernas and restaurants it could well be any other provincial town.
We wandered around and were surprised at how dry the island is with not much tree-covering or vegetation. Water must be a real problem and I am sure the inhabitants must be used to restrictions every summer. However, as far sheltered beaches go, this is a fairly good destination, although as is the case with most Greek beaches fine pebbles rather than sand will greet your bare feet when venturing into the sea.
In our promenade we searched for some postcards of Salamina, but were unsuccessful. Instead, we found an author who was looking after the book and stationery shop of her daughter. We started to chat with Ms Hara ….. after she told us that she had no Salamina postcards and we found out that she is a staunch defender of the Greek language, abhorring the way it is being abused nowadays and having written several books on the topic. Although she was very conservative linguistically (an adherent of the polytonic system and using much formal katharevousa idiom in her speech), she was very nice and hospitable and we chatted with her for about 30-40 minutes. We expressed the desire to buy one of her books, but she very generously made us a gift of it. We exchanged contact details and we left.
Salamina is the main town on the island and is very close to Paloukia (only about 2.5 km to the West of it, in fact), but on the other side of the island. It has a population of about 25,000, out of the 31,000 population for the whole island. It is an unprepossessing little town with a no-nonsense feel about it and much effort is being expended in order for it to be beautified and for resident services to be improved. An amphitheatre has been built on a hillside and has been grandly named the “Euripideion” after Salamis’ famous ancient playwright son. The landmark of the town is the rather severe-looking late 19th century town hall.
We got rather hot and tired at this stage and decided we had had enough of Salamis sight-seeing and decided to go back to Athens. It was fairly simple to take the bus and ferry back and shortly we were back in our hotel.
“No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” Euripides
This is a long weekend in Greece with the holidays of Soul Saturday today, the Orthodox Pentecost on Sunday (Whitsunday) and the Holy Spirit Day on Monday (Whitmonday). “Psychosavvato” literally means “Saturday of Souls” and it is essentially a memorial day set aside by the church to remember and bless those in one’s family who are departed. Special masses in church are offered for the repose of their souls and it is customary to make “kolyva” on this day. The offering of kolyva as a memorial for dead relatives has its roots in ancient Greece but has been syncretised with the Christian teaching and incorporated fully with the religious traditions of Greece. Kolyva is a tray of sweetened boiled wheat which is a symbolic way of praying for the “blessed resurrection” of the deceased. It is based on Jesus’ teaching that compares the sowing of wheat grains with the Resurrection of all the dead in the second coming. In the context of the resurrection of Lazarus, St. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).
Kolyva is primarily made of boiled barley or wheat grains. It is then lightly dried and mixed with sweet tasting raisins, pomegranate seeds, chopped nuts and chopped glace fruits. The mixture is placed on a tray in a low mound that resembles a grave. Powdered sugar is used to cover it, with silver coloured dragées and sugared almonds used to inscribe a cross and the initials of the deceased.
The Kolyva is a symbol of our prayer that the deceased be blessed with a happy and sweet resurrection, since there is also the resurrection of judgment and eternal damnation. When one goes to a Memorial Service one should pray for the deceased during the mass. Afterwards, the kolyva will be distributed to all in attendance. As one eats it, one says “Theós schoréston” (“May God forgive him”) The “kollyva” gives substance to prayer and honours the deceased.
KOLYVA RECIPE Ingredients 2 cups of wheat berries 2 cups of sugar 1/2 cup of ground roasted yellow chick peas 1 cup of ground walnut meal 1/2 cup blanched, roasted almonds, chopped 1 cup of pomegranate grains 1/2 cup of sultanas 1/2 cup of glace, chopped citrus peel 1/2 cup chopped crystallised cherries 1/2 teaspoonful ground cinnamon 1/2 teaspoonful ground cloves 1/2 teaspoonful ground mace 1/2 cup chopped continental parsley Icing sugar to decorate Silver dragées to decorate Sugar almonds to decorate
Method Rinse the wheat and place in a large saucepan. Add enough water to cover by 5 cm, along with a few pinches of salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the wheat is tender and beginning to split but not mushy, about 1 and 3/4 hours. (Add more water to the pot when the liquid reduces to the level that the wheat no longer floats, and stir from time to time so the it doesn’t stick to the bottom.) Drain well and spread on a clean, linen, tea-towel and leave to dry for a couple of hours. Mix the wheat with the sugar and chick pea meal. Add the nuts, fruit, spices, parsley and mix well.
Pack well into a cling filled lined baking tray and refrigerate for a few hours. Remove from the refrigerator, and drain off any liquid. Invert on an oblong platter and decorate with packed icing sugar all around, pressing well with a spatula. Outline the shape of a cross with the dragées and use the sugared almonds to decorate. The kolyva are blessed in church and distributed to the congregation.
We spent the day in Piraeus today. Using public transport is very convenient, and especially so the metro. For 0.80 cents one can buy a ticket for any means of public transport and is able to use this ticket for 90 minutes. An extremely good alternative to car or taxi travel and much cheaper and faster, of course!
Piraeus has been the Port of Athens for more than 2500 years, feeding the capital city with ships filled with traders, goods, pilgrims, and now, tourists. If you arrive in Athens via water, your journey will take you through Piraeus. For most visitors, it’s a dimly-perceived backdrop after a lovely cruise, or a quick stop while waiting for a hydrofoil or ferry. It can seem threatening, overcrowded and for some people even dirty and menacing.
However, if one explores Piraeus one discovers that this bustling port has charms of its own and much to offer the tourist or casual visitor. The Academy Award-winning Melina Mercouri 1960 film “Never on Sunday” was shot in Piraeus. The port is the site of the University of Piraeus which features studies in maritime history among other subjects. The Archaeological Museum of Piraeus offers a fascinating collection of artifacts from the area. It's open daily (except Mondays, remember!), and makes for a pleasant, informative stop. The huge bronze statues of Athena and Artemis are particularly worth seeing. If you're just passing through Piraeus on your way to the hydrofoil, allow some extra time to enjoy this museum.
The Municipal Gallery of Piraeus features an extensive collection of modern sculpture by Georage Kastriotis and a collection of theatrical memorabilia donated by Manos Katrakis. It's all located at the Piraeus Municipal Theatre, on Korai Square. Piraeus is also the home of the Yacht Club of Greece, a long-established organization sponsoring a number of yachting events at Piraeus and elsewhere each year.
There many shops, shopping centres, malls and markets in Piraeus, some of them offering bargains not available in Athens. A lovely cathedral church is to be found here and it is consecrated to the Holy Trinity. One cannot miss it as it centrally located, close to the main port and the terminus of the metro. Many other churches are in Piraeus, including the church of St Spyridon, the patron saint of the port.
Piraeus offers hotels, though these are generally filled with those whose business takes them to the port and, to a lesser degree, tourist overflow from Athens itself. As to be expected from a busy, working port, Piraeus restaurants are renowned for their seafood, especially those in the small harbour of Mikrolimano.
For some Piraeus Trivia: What ancient holiday was held on March 5th? If you answered, "Ploiaphesia" or Navigium Isidis, you get a hundred points and a pat on the back for knowing navigational history. Like many ports in the Aegean, for hundreds of years Piraeus celebrated the "Launching of the Ships" honouring the goddess of navigation, Isis. At this time, the stormy winter sea is calming and trade and travel can begin again. While modern shipping doesn't follow as strict a schedule, Mediterranean captains still must breathe a sigh of relief as spring begins and the high seas of winter depart.
Piraeus had a reputation in Athens as a “poor relative” in the past. Living here was cheaper than the in the capital itself and many poor people were able to make a living amidst the life of the port. Nowadays this reputation is not justified as Piraeus has nothing to envy Athens for and living in many parts of the Port is very chic and “in” (with prices to match). We always like visiting the port as it has a special atmosphere of its own and watching the sea craft going in and out of the ports (the main harbour as well as Mikrolimano) is always an enjoyable experience.
“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” - Salvor Hardin
A very full day today all around Athens, finishing a few jobs, tying up some loose ends and going to the post office for the umpteenth time. The neighbourhood of Exarcheia was one of those lovely ones in the past that was immediately adjacent to Omonoia Square and was full of life, university students, bars, cheap but good restaurants, intellectuals, antique shops, bookshops, full of character and with a bit of a left-bank-of-Paris feel to it. Walking through it today makes one very sad.
The Exarcheia of 2008 has been taken over by anarchists and the so-called “koukoulofóroi” (hooded men) who go out on rampages, destroy property, loot and burn, clash with police, besmirch every available wall with graffiti, and make the residents and shopkeepers live an existence full of fear and apprehension. While on most days it is fairly safe to walk through here, when there is a “demonstration” in progress one should avoid this place like the plague. One is likely to be involved in street clashes, breathe in tear gas and even be arrested, while the “hooded men” remarkably never are. This is a disgraceful state and talking to the locals in the area one is overwhelmed with stories of frustration, anger, rage and disempowerment. It seems that the police is unable to put a stop to these demonstrations, more and more destruction goes on and on and may locals have been forced to abandon their property and move away.
When one walks through the are on a good day, it is surprising as it appears like any other neighbourhood (with the exception of the graffiti and visible signs of the clashes, here and there as far damage to property is concerned). Still there appear to be some semblance of normality as there are many bookshops and publishing houses in the area, some bars, some other shops. It is a great pity and I deplore these acts of vandalism and destruction. I would quite happily send such people to gaol with hard labour included so as to teach them social skills and how it is much harder to build something up than to destroy it.
One of the bookshops in the area that gets targeted and damaged every now and then belongs to a member of parliament by the name of Adonis Georgiades, who also has a publishing house. A couple of days ago his shop was once again attacked and torched with enormous damage to the books and fittings. It is the tenth or eleventh time one of his bookshops has been destroyed. I may not agree with the politics or ideas (extreme right and nationalist) of Mr Georgiades, however, I deplore these attacks against his property. As Heinrich Heine once said, "Where one burns books, one will soon burn people." This was already proven true, one only has to remember the Nazi book burnings as one example…
This afternoon we met our friends and played some cards, having a coffee, chatting and generally catching up. Then, dinner out in Monastiraki. We went to a very famous taverna called Bairaktaris, right on Monastiraki Square. It was very crowded and with the fencing up for the renovation work on the square it was rather claustrophobic. The food was disappointingly average to bad, the service indifferent and the atmosphere very much geared to towards the tourist trade. However, we enjoyed ourselves as the company was compatible and we chatted merrily on, despite the adverse circumstances. We were truly epicurean in our meal tonight because as Epicurus said: “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink...”
The trip is drawing to its end, slowly yet inexorably. We shall be catching the plane to go back home on Monday and then back to work on Wednesday. On Thursday morning I am flying to Brisbane for work.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
I sometimes get the impression that I am on a soapbox delivering a monologue, so your comments are welcome.