Saturday, July 24, 2010

Road Trip Ctd

The Garden of Heroes
 Everyone was moved walking around the cemetery. I fed off of the meaningfulness that the Greek Americans were experiencing from learning so much about their ancestory. Always been a bit green when someone has close ties to a rich culture. My family's been living in the burbs of Texas and Florida for four generations with a few exceptions given to Southern Baptist missionaries who branched out.

I let George take over as he gets starry eyed, talking about the Revolutionary fighters, rebels and politics in general. Just followed closely behind and let the quietness sink in.

After Messolonghi our aim was Kalavryta where we would stop for the night. We stopped first at a roadside taverna that, aside from being Greek, could have easily been ripped up, stuck into the side of Highway 290 somewhere between Centerville and Austin, and none would be the wiser. Red checkered tablecloths, check. Dead animals on the wall, check. Boiled rabbit with pasta.. well... maybe in East Texas. The food was delicious. Everyone ate more than they'd intended and the bill was, I'm happy to report, dirt cheap. It was all part of the plan.

The trip into the mountains takes upward from an hour. We passed fruit, wine, and honey stands, cliff-dangled coffee shops, and herds of goats with clanging metal bells on their collars. 

On the research trip the few days prior, George and I had discovered countless things to impress the people with. There is a great monument waaaay on top of the mountain, overlooking Agia Lavra and symbolizing that day when the heroes (now laid in the garden) stood with Father Germano of Patra and declared their revolt on the Ottomans.

The littlest boy didn't want to get out of his seat. He was so comfortable playing his Nintendo, but when I told him he would be able to hear the bells of the goats from all the way up here, he jumped immediately. The goats had made a big impression on him.


This was just the first of many things we'd planned for their evening. There was the church to visit, a walk to the monument to the 1000 men and boys that were shot, dinner at a traditional tsipero place with mezze (tsipero is to Greece as fine tequilla is to Mexico) but when we descended from Agia Lavra, arrived at the Ski Cabin-esque hotel and got all of the suitcases at, we took one long look at our road-weary travelers and changed everything.

Pizza and beer in the main square and an 11pm bedtime was the night's itinerary.

But we'd obviously gotten through to them, because I learned the next morning that some of them had gotten up early and taken photographs of the old church with the clock stopped on the hour of the tragedy. Coffee and eggs in the hotel's dining room and we posed our final adventure to them: the ododontos railway descending down the mountain and across the Vouraikos Gorge, into a charming little village called Diakofto. 

The gorge was reputedly formed by Herakles, (Hercules) to get closer to a girl he was in love with named Voura. 

Based on the Arta Bridge experience with the small one, and knowing that one man was afraid of heights and his wife prone to motion sickness, and knowing that this pack was doweled together with Gorilla glue, I was already preparing myself for not getting to go. I say it like this because I've read about this little rail adventure in guides and magazine articles for the last year and a half, and have had it high on my list. But what do you know? They all said yes! 

That one hour trip down the mountain on a non-air conditioned, screeching train was the best part of the whole adventure. The men were all standing on their tip toes looking down the mountainside where the Vouraikos river rushed along, slapping the rocks on her way down. 

(said the grown ups.)

I was imagining what it would be like if those fearsome klephts still lined the mountain ridge above us, these men who inspired both fear and admiration. coincidentally one of the wives was detailing a story about one of the Prevezans who had been held up by Albanian train robbers. They got everyone off of the train and took everything. He was held hostage for six hours.

Comparing what it would be like to be held up by Klephts in their fustanellas with their broad sashes and handlebar moustaches to Albanians in acid wash denim, their heads shaved except for their rat tails... I got melancholy. I'm not saying it wouldn't have been terrifying to have been held up by Klephts. There are written accounts of them behaving VERY badly, but there was a certain romance to their brigandage that is lost forever. The noble thief. The robber's code. It's gone. 

We curled, curved, and squeezed through a few more narrow tunnels until finally we slowed and arrived at the sort of railway station you see in epic films, one long platform and a line of people, George included. Our chariot had beat us to the bottom and was ready for us to reload.
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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TWO (to be continued)

Here it is bedtime, and this took me all night. I know you would have rather heard my rambling on about the number two (it's a sensitive number. see how when you put one together with another one flipped around it makes a heart?)

But I'll have to catch you up later.


(Ps, click HERE and scroll down for a most interesting look at the number two.)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


On this third day before the technical end of my 100 days, I'm devoting my post to the number three.

First, in numerology, (don't roll your eyes, Dad, it was spread by the same guy behind the Pythagorean theorum!) the number three is the number of creativity.

Copied and pasted directly from a woo-woo site:

It's roots stem from the meaning of multiplicity. Creative power; growth. Three is a moving forward of energy, overcoming duality, expression, manifestation and synthesis. Three is the first number to which the meaning "all" was given. It is The Triad, being the number of the whole as it contains the beginning, a middle and an end.
The power of three is universal and is the tripartide nature of the world as heaven, earth, and waters. It is human as body, soul and spirit. Notice the distinction that soul and spirit are not the same. They are not. Three is birth, life, death. It is the beginning, middle and end. Three is a complete cycle unto itself. It is past, present, future.
The symbol of three is the triangle. Three interwoven circles or triangles can represent the indissoluble unity of the three persons of the trinity. Others symbols using three are: trident, fleur-de-lis, trefoil, trisula, thunderbolt, and trigrams.
The astral or emotional body stays connected to the physically body for three days after death. There is scientific evidence that the brain, even when all other systems are failing takes three days to register complete shutdown.
There are 3 phases to the moon. Lunar animals are often depcited as 3 legged. 

Speaking of 3 legged lunar animals, my favorite dog in the creative universe.

He's probably more incensed that I didn't draw him prettier than he is about the ultramarine blue oil paint on his head.

And to my handsome three legged totem animal, I want to express to you my undying love. There are days that I miss you so much I think I would exchange my right arm... bad joke?

Fairy tales love the number three.

And so does the bible.

And of course, Greek Mythology...

Three is the magic number for wishes. I'm making mine now. You should make yours too.

Got them? Good.

I spent all day in bed today thanks to the air conditioner critter I mentioned yesterday. Tomorrow is another city tour. I'm going to bet there are three children.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mexican food in Greece

Dear Mr. OHD,

Tonight my "gang" stumbled onto a Mexican restaurant on an off street and we had mole. I thought of you.

I'm not sure it is exactly South Austin quality but it was that unfamiliar familiar that made me feel all chocolate and peanuty inside... and I'm dying to know what brought a Mexican to Greece. Do you know she knew Greek perfectly? Maybe Greek is easier than English for a Mexican, not that a million or three Mexicans haven't mastered English in our own state of Texas.

Opted out of of a Delphi trip so I could stay and work on homework. Now I've got that crabby throat syndrome that lets me know I've got some kind of critter... the kind that dwells in Air Conditioners and sprays out straight into your olfactory system. Slowly you get weak...

Today I learned some rules for life, thanks to Plaka eccentric, Tom:

And another one from an anonymous source:

Monday, July 19, 2010

City tour with Stavros

Last night I got a message from one of the drivers in our team.
"Paige, you're going to do a full day city tour with a driver named Stavros tomorrow. Be at the port before 8am. Clients name: ***"

So the next morning, like a little soldier, I was standing on Syngrou Avenue at 6:55 because I had called my driver named "Stavros" and told him I would be needing a ride. Up swings a silver bus with an accordian door.

"GOOOOD MORNING, BEAUTIFUL!" said a smile from beneath a large pair of sunglasses.

"Kalimera!" said I, getting in, being careful not to tip over the pink can of basil in the cup holder.

Surveying Stavros, the pink can of basil, blood red chairs and the snow white plush tiger guarding the rear of the bus, my inner smile lined parallel to the outer one.

We did some back and forth banalities on our way to the port. Once wedged in the queue of trip-crazy taxis and elephantine buses he excused himself for a little pitstop.

I took advantage of the moment to explore my surroundings.

Stavros returned.

"My sweetheart! Do you want a coffee?"
He held two packs of cigarettes and two cans of iced espresso beverages in his hands.

"Oh no, Stavros, I don't think so, but thank you."

He shrugged and put the spare in the cooler before getting to his first pack of the day.

7:50 I assumed ranks with the other drivers picking up tourists from the cruise ships.

They're a happy bunch, the tourists.

8:10, I had mine and we made our way back to the Basil Bus. I had a sharp dressed crew that seemed intelligent and polite, two sets of parents and their varied-aged children + one girlfriend. They took their seats, I took mine, "This is our driver, Stavros!" smiling, smiling, all the time smiling, when I look over and see Stavros frantically pulling at his door.

"Den doulevi!" (it doesn't work) he reported, all traces of his "smiling" vanished.

Slam, slam, slam... and one of the clients leaned up and said, "Eh, Stavros, maybe if you pull the seatbelt through the handle and click it into the fastener it will hold.

Stavros followed the first part but improvised on the second by relooping the seatbelt into a magnificent bow. His eyes were raised like McDonalds arches. Sweat beaded down his magnificent forehead. He held the door closed until we reached the first stop, ten minutes down the road.

You'll be happy to hear it magically got repaired.

9:00 my people were at the Acropolis and Stavros invited me for another coffee.

We sat with two other drivers and the three men spoke in rapid Greek. Shop talk from everything I picked up. You can't go that direction anymore, that road is closed, and then, if I'm not mistaken, some idle gossip about who knows who.

(The man in blue is not Stavros.)

(The sandwich next to the styrafoam cup was also offered by Stavros. He was quite the gentleman.)

10:30, to the Marble Stadium where the 1896 Olympic Games took place. 11:00 the Temple of Zeus. I dutifully waited for my peeps, who I have to say, were awfully quiet after the door incident.

Next the stretching of the Evzones on the half hour and the grand trilogy of architecture on Panepistimiou Ave. "And what next, Paige?" "And where are we going now, Paige?" "And what will we do then, Paige?" and I was going a little bit crazy.

Time to drop them off at a museum where they can explore without my yabbering. The two men had me intimidated with their almost undetectable tone of condescencion. I lead them to the left; the enterance was on my right. I'd barely sat down with Stavros along the fencing outside of the Archaeological museum (where he bought me a sugar free ice cream) when they came like a little choo choo right back to us.

"It doesn't open until 1:30."

Think think think! Faster faster faster!!

"Okay! Plan B, let's go for lunch!"


And we zipped over to Paradosiako where the sun came out and the world looked rosey again.

My intimidating men were even impressed at the quality of the food. Somehow I got credit for it. The moods began to improve.
 "Why don't you eat with us, Paige?"

Well because I'd already had a sandwich and an ice cream but work is work. Sometimes you suffer.

Then THREE HOURS of shopping ensued. I entertained the kids with Greek myths.

"You tell good stories!!"

Where have I heard that...

And after a little bit of kitten-herding I told Stavros we would meet him at the Melina Mercouri statue.

"I'm already here!"

So I tried to hurry them a little, knowing that the po-po aren't kind to drivers idling in this area but two were missing.

"Quickly, quickly.." but it was too late. We came upon Stavros shouting with some extra policey policemen and he looked at me, eyebrows raised wildly over the rim of his sunglasses.


(well, it means get your ass over here, PLEASE, but that's not a direct translation.)

The last two had seen us from far and we jumped in the Basil Bus like bank robbers.

My people were so happy. They had a fantastic day. I was so pleased...

and I was exhausted.

5:00 drop off at the port.

5:30 I was walking down my street.

6:00 I was not.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

the brainy catchall.

I was going to write the next installment of my research on the revolution of Greece, but the "research" part is throwing me. You see I started it in preparation for a road trip we'd planned for our fantastic Greek American family and their counterparts and quarter parts... (two of the cutest, puddin-faced, eat-you-up little boys I've ever met) and it included SO many of the areas important to the history of Greece's revolution that I had to find a way to make it stick. Writing is just the way.

But now the road trip was over, it was a smash, and my motivation is dwindling on continuing the effort. (That's sort of the theme of my summer. Dwindling motivation, that is.) To be fair with myself, I've been working really hard. The eighty year old version of myself would tell the thirty year old version of myself to lighten up and enjoy. So that's what this post is going to be about.

-On the road trip there was a spontaneous poem made:

The lady in Green
is the Pastitsio Queen.

-Today while walking to the bus stop I bumped my head on a green orange. It took me by such surprise that I didn't start thinking of how it was funny that it was a green orange, and my favorite ice cream place is the orange and green.... and it made me giggle.

-I think I must have pressed some big red button on accident that grabbed hold of every email address I've ever used and sent them all a facebook friend invite. I say it because today I got seventeen "confirm friend" emails from people I've never met. The most interesting of the bunch is a boy named Shadik. I think maybe it is a tour guide from Israel that I decided wasn't good enough for my high maintnance family which, incidentally, is no longer going to Israel.

-We took tourists to Despina's little one's baptism in the Byzantine church of St. Katherine's. I would like to know what other cruise ship tourist had THAT on their itinerary?

-I believe I've mentioned my Pakistani friend in the underpass who sells various accessories of a designerish quality. I'll call him my "kalimera" friend. Well the other day I finally bought something. A pair of red sunglasses with silver snakes on the side. He chose them for me. Teresa, a*k*a lady in purple, would be proud, but I can't find her card so I'm going to have to go searching for the door with the snake on it and tell her in person.

 "I know now that most people are so closely concerned with themselves that they are not aware of their own individuality, I can see myself, and it has helped me to say what I want to paint."
Georgia O Keefe

Walking home I got this song stuck in my head. Where did it come from? I just don't know. I tried to explain it to the French Greek accompanying me... of which there was a lot. Of explaining, I mean.

And lastly, I had the most incredible dream. I don't know how to describe it other than that someone had a lasso around me that they were controlling with such grace I was floating through the air as if there was no gravity. He just kept spinning me effortlessly around the atmosphere and I was so relaxed that I fell fast asleep.

But you see I was asleep. What does that mean, when you sleep in your sleep? Does it just mean you're very very tired?

If I still have your attention at this point, I'm amazed. I don't know if I, as a reader, would put up with such disconnectedness. I learned that the inability to make relevance between irrelevent things is considered a lack of imagination, but then, it's a national epidemic. Maybe I've been afflicted.