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.