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Friday, August 14, 2009

ANAFIOTIKA and MY FAREWELL TO ATHENS


My Friend Giorgos' house in Anafiotika
JUNE 23, 2009
It's my last day here. I leave at 5 a.m the next morning. So I spent the day wandering around some of the places I'd missed. One of my most favorite places, hidden on the south slope of the Acropolis and often missed by tourists, is the little 'village' of Anafiotika.

This collection of typical white-washed cubic houses was built on the slope of the Acropolis by folks from the Cycladic island of Anafi whose village had been destroyed in an earthquake. They came to Athens and worked as cheap labor during the rebuilding of the city after the War of Independance.

You get the feeling you are really in a village, isolated from the bustle of the metropolis. The streets are barely an arm's width, paved with cobblestonoes. The tiny houses are shuttered and have bright bougainvillea spilling over their walls or pots of geraniums and marigolds.


I had a friend, Giorgos, who lived in Anafiotika, and when I first started visiting Greece in 1978, he often invited me to stay with him. Later on, in the '80's, a friend of mine from the States lived there with him for a year. Unfortunately, Giorgos, who was an Australian Greek, died several years ago. So now the house sits empty. But each time I'm in Athens I have to walk by and look, and remember all the times I spent there.



You walk the twisted streets of Anafiotika, and eventually come to a slanting road that leads up to my most favorite viewpoint. I used to go up there often just to sit and meditate. It's quite up there and you can hear the distant sounds of the city. You can hear Athen's 'voice' and feel her pulse. Yes, Athens is a very alive city. And it's that life that has made me love Her so much.

So, on my last day, I went to my meditation place to sit and contemplate the time I'd spent there that summer, reminisce about times gone by, dream about my return.


The view looks down over the red roofs of Plaka, the old city
and out over the sweeping view of the new.
That's Lykavittos Mt. in the background.



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MY LAST DAYS IN ATHENS: Retracing Old Footsteps


TOUR BUS

JUNE 22/09
This was Anna-Britt's last day in Athens and I only had one day left myself. So we set off to retrace old, familiar footsteps around our favorite city. Of course we walked around Plaka, and I always have to stop and peek through the fence of #14 Vironos St where I used to live (and sometimes wish I still did!). Then we went to one of our favorite tavernas for lunch, Kouklis (which we always call "The place of the flaming sausages) on Tripodon St.


ME, AT KOUKLIS TAVERNA

After lunch we went and walked around the new Acropolis Museum and then we decided to do something very touristic. We took the little "Sunshine Express" touris train on a tour around Athen's historical center. This was more fun than we'd expected and worth the 5 Euro we paid for the trip which took about an hour.

We got on the train atAilolou St. by Hadrian's library. The train circles around up to Syntagma Square, along Mitropoleos St. to Monastiraki and past there to Thissiou passing by all the major archaeological sites. It was fun. We felt like a couple of kids. So it was a great way to spend our last day together in Athens.

As always, I was sad to see my friend leave (for Norway) but we'll get together again next year as we always do. We have promises to fulfil to each other: When she finishes her doctorate and I get my novel accepted for publication, we plan to treat ourselves to a trip to Egypt (from Athens.) A dream or a reality? We'll see. But it's certainly a great motivator.


THE PARTHENON



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THE NEW ACROPOLIS MUSEUM


MUSEUM ENTRANCE
(walking over the 'glass' above ancient Athens)
JUNE 22/09
We've waited years for the new Acropolis Museum to open. It seemed as if they've never get it finished as each time they excavated they'd find new ruins below the ground. In the block around the museum site they had torn down some familiar buildings including one of my favorite tavernas, Socrates Prison, and the whole block of apartments where a couple of friends including our friend Graham used to live (right across from the To Kati Allo on Hatzichristou St.)

But finally, this weekend, the Museum officially opened. There's been a lot of grumbling by everyone about the structure which looks very 'industrial', however when they showed the holograms on the east wall, and when you saw it from the helicopter view as I did when watching the ceremonies on TV, you see that the building is designed to compliment the shape of the Acropolis (which is right across the road from the museum). After seeing the opening ceremonies I was anxious to have a look inside.


LOOKING DOWN ON A MOSIAC FROM THE ROMAN ERA

My friend Anna Britt was lucky enough to get inside on Sunday with her museum pass. Unfortunately I didn't have mine with me and need to have it updated. (It's a special pass for scholars and researchers allowing you access into all archaeological sites in Greece). The first couple of days were by reservation only (internet) and the after that, from Wednesday on, there was general admission for only 1 Euro. But the disapointing thing was, I was leaving early Wednesday morning so I'd miss the chance.

We did walk all around the outside, over the 'glass' roofs that they have placed over the three layers of ancient Athens: Byzantine, Roman and Classical. It gives you the feeling of 'flying' as you pass over the ruins. Quite a spectacular experience. I understand they will also be opening up a 'street' where you can actually walk right through on ground level. So by the next time I'm in Greece I'll be able to see what I missed this time.


ANCIENT WELL
The museum is an angualr structure of glass, steel, concrete and marble housing some 4,000 artifacts some of which had once been housed in a museum right on the Acropolis. The main feature of this museum is the Parthenon Marbles, and the famous "Elgin Marbles" now housed in the British Museum. At the opening ceremonies the focus was on these missing pieces that belong with the pediment of the Parthenon. It is hoped that now there is a safe place to keep them, the Brits will return them to Athens. (It was noted that the British representatives did not attend the opening ceremonies.)


REFLECTION IN THE WINDOWS OF THE MUSEUM

So, I've only viewed the museum from the outside. At night you can see the statues lined up on the top floor, bathed in golden light. On the east wall, across from the tavernas on Makgrianni St. there is a display of holograms every evening -- quite a spectacular show to watch while eating dinner or enjoying a glass of wine. I will wait with great anticipation next time I visit Greece for a chance to look inside. As I've seen it from the time the first bulldozers started to clear the land, the museum has been a part of my visits to Greece for a long, long time.



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A LOVELY WEEKEND WITH MY FRIENDS


DINAZ

SUNDAY, June 21
Dinaz and I have been friends since 1994. I called her "The Persian Princess" because she is the embodiment of one of the Persian Princesses in my novel. The name has stuck. In fact, she is Parsi from Bombay but has lived in Greece for many years as she was married to a Greek/Italian man from Bombay. She is now married to another lovely Greek man named Andreas. When I go to Athens I always enjoy spending some time with them, and I'm always welcomed into their home.

The day after our journey to Euboeia we spent a lot of time together just talking, catching up on news, and reminiscing about our times together in Athens as well as our dear friends Roberto and Graham who have passed away. In the afternoon we went to the seaside and had some delicious gelato at an icecream parlour.


SUNSET FROM DINAZ'S HOUSE
That day we also watched the opening ceremonies of the new Acropolis Museum on TV. It was a lot like watching the Academy Awards with all the red-carpet guests arriving and being interviewed. Of course it was all in Greek so I didn't understand much of what was said.


HIBISCUS, in Dinaz balcony garden.

I spent the night there, a very relaxing time with good friends and great camaraderie.
I can hardly wait to see them again and think of them all the time. These are friends who will remain forever. Our lives are entwined and we have so much history to share.


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SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY TO EUBOEIA: Part 2 LALA


View of LALA
On Saturday June 20, we drove down to the south of Euboeia from Stira to visit the little mountain village where I spent several years. It turned out to be the strangest experience. Instead of the village people coming out to greet me like they always have in the past, the village seemed deserted. A lot of the older houses were shuttered up and looked as if the occupants had gone for good (probably died). And those that were occupied were also shuttered up with not one person around. It's a very tiny village, no more than 100 houses built up the side of the scoop of a mountain. Mainly shepherds live there and perhaps they were up on the mountain with their flocks. Or perhaps, like my dear friend Mitso who died a few years ago, they are gone too. I had hoped to at least see my friend Erasmia. Her flower pots were all in bloom but there wasn't a soul stirring around her property.

I wanted to look at my old spitaki but the gate was locked and my Greek/Canadian friends who had let me use the little house, were no longer at their own place. It looked as though it was falling into ruin.

Sadly, we walked through the quiet, deserted village and went to another of the once-magical places where I loved to rest in the afternoons by the waterfall, under the big plane trees.


THE MILL HOUSE

The mill house still looked the same and I wonder if someone is living in it. My little spitaki was very similar but had two doors, one for each of the two rooms. They are very old houses, built with stone and have thick walls. My spitaki was originally built in 1457 and probably so was this mill house.

I stopped to take a drink of the fresh cold mountain water and to wash under the waterfall. It was always a favorite place to go on a hot day like this was. I used to sit there for hours writing in my journal.


THE WATERFALL
The Dinaz and I walked along the road toward the cemetary because I wanted to put flowers on Mitso's grave. When we eventually got there, we discovered that the little graveyard was very unkempt, some of the graves smashed and I couldn't find Mitso's grave. Eventually I saw one that said "Sophie Kousoukos 2006" and I recognized it as his last name, perhaps his sister's grave. Then we remembered that the custom is to remove the bones of the dead after two years and put them in an ossiary. So Mitso had been removed from his grave and his sister, who had died after him, was now resting there. I left the pomegrante flower anyway. I'm sure his spirit was lurking around the village that day and he's know I had come.


MITSO'S HOUSE, the white one at the top
my spitaki was lower down behind the trees
And so we left Lala. I don't know if I'll ever return there. The magic was gone after Mitso died, and now it seems almost as if the village itself has died. I wonder where everyone was?
It was the oddest and eeriest experience and left me feeling very sad. But it was a closure, I guess. My heart has always been there, up on that mountainside. I almost made a decision to marry Mitso before he so suddenly passed away of lung cancer. And now I wonder if there is any reason why I should ever return there again. My Vancouver Greek friends are elderly, and Antonio has Parkinsons, her husband Jimmy has a heart condition. It didn't look as though any family member was taking care of the property up there. No doubt the little spitaki which I loved so much is falling to ruin like the rest of their property. It's a tragedy, really.



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A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY TO EUBOEIA: Part 1


STIRA, Euboea
JUNE 20, 2009
On Saturday I went with my friends Andreas and Dinaz on the ferry to Stira, one of the towns on the west coast of Euboeia, the large island right off the coast of Attica. A few years ago our very good friend Graham Peacock had bought himself a retirement home there. Graham had lived right across from the new acropolis and the city had expropriated all the apartment buildings on the block (across the street from To Kati Allo). So he was very much looking forward to moving over to the island.

Unfortunately, Graham didn't make it. He had barely begun to move in and settle when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died very shortly afterwards. His properly was willed to his cousin and that weekend, since the cousin was visiting from England, we went over for the morning to see the apartment and so I could be introduced to the cousin.


A PAINTING OF GRAHAM by our friend Mike Cornford.

Graham was a music aficionado -- mainly jazz -- and had a huge collection of CD's as well as a meticulously kept ledger of all the jazz musicians and every piece of music they'd recorded or written. Graham was a retired accountant and very good at keeping track of things. He also had a large collection of books and I was allowed to choose one. I took the one about Lord Byron as I've always intended to write a story about Byron in Greece.

I was so amazed to see Graham's house and it made it even more tragic that he had died so soon. It's a lovely, huge apartment overlooking the fields and sea. I know he'd have lived a very happy life there. Unfortunately the relatives won't be spending much time there, which is a shame. I know if Graham had lived he would have invited his close friends to come and share his place with him. It's such a big apartment -- more like a complete house -- with several bedrooms and a huge salon with fireplace as well as a very big deck with this magnificent view.

MANGAS, a painting by our friend Robert Hallberg
We had a very close group in Athens. Dinaz and I were very good friends of Graham and she was with him right up til he died. We had thought perhaps some of his possessions such as some CDs and paintings by our friend Roberto would be passed on to his close friends, but they weren't. However the day we visited a couple of paintings by our friend Roberto (who died several years earlier) were offered to Dinaz and I. She took this Mangas painting. (The Mangas was one of Roberto's favorite subjects) but the other one was not one that I wanted so I only took a photo of it.

In all, this was a very sentimental journey day. Because after we left Graham's house in Stira, we drove down the island on the winding, cliff-hanging roads, to my little village of Lala.



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Sunday, August 09, 2009

AROUND ATHENS


Anna Britt and I at the To Kati Allo Taverna
JUNE 18/19, 2009

I love hanging out in Athens with my friend Anna Britt. She had come all the way from Norway to help me celebrate my birthday and when I went off to the islands with my sister and niece, she was undecided about where to go. She usually goes to Santorini but I wasn't sure. So when we ended up unexpectedly on Santorini I was thinking about her, and keeping watch in case we ran into her. She always stays at a 'monastery' there and for some reason I didn't stop to think it would be a Catholic monastary.

We were on the ferry preparing to return to Athens from Santorini, just stowing our luggage when I heard this familiar voice say "What are you doing here?" It was Anna Britt. She had been in Santorini all that time and in fact was staying only a few blocks from our hotel. What a co-incidence that we met up on the ferry!

So when we got back into town, after Jean and Debra had left for Canada, AB and I set off on some adventures of our own. We always like cruising around town, checking out various shops and tavernas...always looking for new places to hang out in preparations for our next visit. The To Kati Allo Taverna in Magkrianni is a sort of 'base camp' for all of us, but we also like venturing farther afield to the Plaka and Monastiraki areas.

Somehow I never get tired of wandering those same old streets, looking in the shops, retracing my steps from all the years I've been going to Greece since 1979, and all the years I lived there from 1983 - 1987. It's all so familiar to me. I could walk around blindfolded.

That evening we went and sat at a sidewalk taverna on Makgrianni st. and watched the hologram show that is projected on the wall of the new Acropolis Museum each night. I tried taking photos of it but they didn't turn out. It's quite a show and a great way to spend the evening being entertained.

On the weekend I'm going to stay with Dinaz and Andreas and we are going to Euboeia for the day, a trip I am very much looking forward to. I haven't been back to Lala for 4 years, not since my shepherd, Mitso, died. So it will definitely be a sentimental journey.


Here are some scenes from the Monastiraki district. (Above) nut sell- sellers.
Below, a busy street of tavernas where you can buy delicious souvlakia for real cheap!




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BACK IN ATHENS: The Icon Painter

Dimitris Zazanis, the icon painter
JUNE 18,2009

A couple of years ago my friend Anna Britt introduced me to this talented icon painter who she has been friends with for several years. I got interested in Dimitris Zazanis' icons after she had bought me one for a gift. So for the past couple of trips to Greece going for a visit to his workshop has been part of my visits to Athens.

Dimitris has a tiny shop on a ramshackle narrow street off the square of Monastiraki near the flea market and bazaar. He wasn't always located there. Anna Britt tells me that when she first met him, he had a much better shop on one of the more tourist-popular streets in Plaka. But, due to the hot real estate market in Athens some years ago he had to give up his shop and move to a more humble abode. Dimitris isn't into the posh touristic boutique style of shop. He works alone, a dedicate artist in a real workshop. His tiny space is crammed with the fruits of his labours: Icons of every size and religious subject, all hand-painted with loving care.

When Anna Britt and I visited him this trip, we sat and chatted awhile as we usually do. Dimitris speaks English and is in fact adept at several languages. He's an interesting, intelligent man. Despite health set-backs he runs his business on this shabby backwater street where few tourists would ever venture. Anna Britt and I encouraged him to get a website and advertise. He doesn't know about these things so we are thinking of setting one up for him, because he certainly does deserve publicity. His icons are beautiful works of art, not the mass-produced icons you see in tourist shops. I have two of them now and have bought icons for my children and my friends.

If you go to Athens, look for his humble little shop on this street, just off the main street that runs by Monastiraki. Aghias Theklas St. 13. The name of the shop is Zazanis Icon Shop.

After our visit to buy some icons, Anna Britt and I meandered around the old haunts. This street (below) is Vironos St. where I used to live at #14 Vironos all during the '80's. I always like to pass by and stop outside the gate. There are so many memories on this street!

Then we went over to Makgrianni to our favorite taverna and had something to eat and a cold Mythos beer (our favorite drink). It was good to be back in Athens and to have some days to spend with my girlfriends, wandering about all the old familiar places. On the weekend I'm going to Euboeia with my friends Dinaz and Andreas to visit the little village, Lala, where I used to live part-time and also to pay a visit to the cousins of our dear friend Graham who inherited his house in Stira after he unfortunately died. Five more days to catch up on news, memories and enjoy this city that I love so much!





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TASTING SANTORINI WINE: Visiting the Boutari Winery

The Boutari Winery

JUNE 15 (part of the ill-fated 'tour' we took around Santorini.)
The one good part of our supposed 'tour' was the first request we made, to visit the Boutari Winery. There are several wineries on Santorini but because I favor Boutari wine, I wanted to see how it is made and what products they have that are not exported. As I expected, their best wines are not exported, but we got to taste them and learn a lot about Greek wine, especially the wines of Santorini.



The wine steward explains the wines.

The wines of Santorini are special because of the way they grow the grapes. The vines are coiled close to the ground to protect the fruit from the heat and winds. The wind in Santorini is very strong so this provents the vines from being damaged or blown over. We were invited for a tour of the winery and intrudiced to the art of wine tasting by the wine steward.

We tasted six different varieties both white and red. Selladia Boutari is a dry white wine, with the fresh and aromatic scents of green banana, white peach and citrus bossoms.; Santorini Boutari, another dry white with a subtle citrus aroma, full bodied and a long after-taste. Kallisti Reserve Boutari, a brilliant yellow dry white had a complex aroma of wood, hazelnuts, smoke and vanilla (the result of aging). It's excellent with shellfish and grilled fish.
Nykteri Boutari, another dry white with a golden color and high alcohol content, was aged 20 years. It's a rich tasting wine, good with spiced dishes, sea food and grilled fish.

In the red catagory, Experiemental Madilaria Boutari is a semi-sweet, fruit wine. I enjoyed the rich taste. It can be enjoyed as an apertif. Vinsanto Boutari is another naturally sweet wine with a characteristic orange-yellow colour acquired from the grape's exposure to the sun and the length of time the wine is kept in the barrel. It's a slight amber/red color with a dark, syrupy texture. Best served as an apertif or to accompany desserts. I brought a bottle of Vinsato home to save for the wrap party when I finish my novel.

The somalier told us that Bourtari is trying to break into the cartels and export more of these fine wines which are not available in Canada. Besides the bottle of Boutari wine I brought home for sentimental reasons I got a bottle of "Lava" rose, from the Vulcan Wineries. That's the first kind of Santorini wine I tasted on my first visit to the island in 1979.

A Santorini vineyard

If you want more information on the Boutari Winery in Santorini: www.boutari.gr

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