Saturday, July 24, 2010

It's boiling in Athens. The last two days have been relentless, keeping me awake at night, the two fans situated around my bed blowing hot air. Nightmares have plagued the few hours of sleep I've been getting. Now, being called for work is not just an opportunity for industry, it's a climate-controlled refuge.

Waited intentionally until the early hours of the morning after, rather than spoiling the "final" 100 day post with something that was tired, off-the cuff, or just plain uninspired. The unfortunate thing is that I don't have any photographs to accompany this with. I had hoped that my Greek-American clients, having returned to the states a week ago, would have sent me a few supplementary photos so that I could share the amazing road adventure we had with them, but they must still be recovering, something my little camera doesn't seem to want to do. I'm putting it into the universe now that I need a spy camera that takes amazing photographs and can fit in the sleeve of my shirt. I need it to appear roughly in the next 48 hours. :) I don't know what I did to insult the technology gods but it seems a sacrifice is in order to stop this streak of bad luck.

We left off with the Greek Revolution because I was researching it intensely in preparation for this trip, which started in the coastal town of Preveza, in the region of Epirus. This kind, intelligent, boisterous family all branched from a patriarch that we'll call Spiros, and Spiros, in turn, had branched from a kind family from Preveza. Each year he returns home to spend a month or so with his sisters and cousins. It has been twenty years since his sons had been able to join him. This was the first time that their wives and the two punkin' head boys got to go.

When I first wrote about KalAHvryta, (mispronounced Kala VREE ta by most people, especially -and I say it with endearment- ours) it was on the return of scouting out every stone, signmarker, and roadside stand that we would be stopping at with our family. It's how I saw the ruined, red walls of the city of "Nikipolis" or the city of victory, built by Augustus to celebrate his victory over Mark Antony and Cleopatra, who did you know, was Greek? He was so intent on this city being "celebratory" that he forced people out of their homes in the surrounding villages to populate it.

When we picked up our passengers and brought them to this first stop just outisde of Preveza, they knew it.

"Oh," I said with disappointment. I hate when my clients know more than me.

"Spiros's family came out here and hid from the Nazis during World War II."


This changed everything.

Imagine being in a small village, invaded by Aryans with the swastika, a Greek symbol from ancient times, turned into a symbol of aggression and cruelty and turned ON to the Greeks, themselves. The only advantage they had was knowledge of the land. The stones, the caves, the hills became their guardian spirits, just as they had in ancient times. It's not a stretch to understand why they believed into the nineteenth century that natural spirits existed and were to be given their due fear and respect. Nature wasn't their only saving grace, however, They had (have) a rebellious spirit. A "who are you to tell me..." kind of attitude toward each other, and the world. It inspired Churchill who famously said, 'Hence you will not say that Greeks fight like heroes but that heroes fight like Greeks'

What it must have been like! All of my nightmares are about being pursued by faceless men, hiding in places where I don't know if I'm concealed well enough, my heart beating so loud I'm sure it will be heard. Imagine if it was reality?

We took some meaningful photographs of the family behind the walls and moved on.

Crossed the Bridge of Arta, where legend has it, the construction was cursed. Each night the bridge would fall down. A bird with a human voice announced to the freemason that he would have to seal the mortar with the blood of his wife. Only then would the bridge stay up. Grievously he tricked her into coming, telling her to go and look for his wedding ring on the partially built bridge, and while she was innocently searching the other men lay a heavy stone on top of her, then another, and another, and she was left only enough breath to curse all those who crossed the damned thing.

 The telling of this story didn't inspire courage in the littlest passenger.

On our way to Messolonghi we passed through a gorge where a church has been built in the cliffs.

Second littlest passenger looked up the daunting set of steps.
"We going up there?"
"Do you want to?"

And up we went. Imagine my surprise when I looked behind us, halfway up in the blazing 2pm heat and saw the entire crew trailing behind us.

That's how this family was the entire time. Maybe they were on good behavior but I don't think so. It was solidarity from the beginning to the end.

Once up, they were in awe. I was in awe. Guiltily, or boastingly (is that a word?) I confess that I'm starting to get used to this whole "awe" thing. There's a lot of cliffs in Greece, a lot of views that remind you how small, pink and fleshy we are.

Onto Messolonghi.

 The scouting trip beforehand is also how I learned that Lord Byron, whose heart is buried in the sleepy, sacred town of Messolonghi, was grieved for 21 days after dying of a fever. He had been the bridge between the Greek revolutionaries who, true to Greeks today as it likely was even in ancient times, just could not get along. Not even with a stirring cause like unification and independence from the oppressive Ottoman empire was able to keep their suspicious minds and jealous hearts focused on the ball. It was his death, however, along with the grievous incident at Messolonghi that I wrote about which got the rest of Europe swept up in the romance of throwing out the Turks.

The merciless sun was beating down but the "Garden of Heroes," cemetery of the Revolutionaries and victims of the massacre, was at least ten degrees cooler.

I, on the other hand, here in the present, am getting hotter and hotter, as is my computer. We'll finish this up a bit later today.