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Wednesday, November 17, 2010
When autumn arrives, the oppressive heat of summer departs and takes with it the tourists. And every living thing on the island seems to breathe a collective sigh of relief. It looks like Spring here - the rains have nourished the parched land and it's green again. The flowers and fruits are lush and abundant, the newborn lambs are frisky and there is a heightened sense of activity as the locals prepare for grape and olive harvesting.
Even though this is technically our second autumn here, we are seeing it through the new eyes of "normalcy". Last year we had just arrived on the island (September 18th to be exact) and were still adjusting to our new home. Everything was so wildly different; exciting and bewildering at the same time. Now we are able to relax and take it all in as part of our lives here. As I write this, the grapes are fermenting in their casks, the chestnuts are gathered and now the countryside is humming with the sound of olive harvester rods.
The process of gathering olives is tremendously hard work that involves everyone in the family as well as many immigrants from Bulgaria and northern parts. The olive trees are dripping with the "fruit of the gods" and there is something about these olives that bring out a a sense of Cretan national pride. After all, the best olive oil in the world is claimed to come from Crete and certainly the Cretans have had plenty of centuries to perfect the industry. Even the ancient Minoans (2000 BC) appreciated the olive for its divine properties.
And that is perhaps the most interesting and sometimes astounding revelation we've experienced here in this past year - the generous mix of history, myth and religion all blended into centuries of superstition, devotion and traditions that make Crete, uniquely Crete. It is truly "the quintessential land of such fusions." (Barry Unsworth, Crete) Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in the little villages tucked into the hills and hanging off the mountain slopes of inland Crete. When passing through these villages preferably by foot or bike, it's often surprising to my foreign eyes, to see the startling blend of neglect and nurture. The animals are skinny and mangy-looking, the roads are wrought with potholes, the houses are crumbling and the infrastrucure is make-shift but the patios are freshly washed, the laundry is done, the vegetable gardens and orchards are carefully tended and the chapels are pristine.
Barry Unsworth describes in his travel chronicle, Crete, a typical sight. "These village churches have an air of complete and utter tranquility. They are swept and clean, the beveled red roof tiles are repaired or replaced, the walls are white-washed, there are well-tended gardens all around. Often enough you see no one, but the care of some hand is everywhere evident, a blend of the devotional and the domestic, cats and fig trees and icons all mixed in together. Never a formal garden, no sense of elaboration, no concept of dignifying the space around, but a gardener's care for plants for their own sake, and for what they might yield, the lemon, the fig, and the almond growing among trees planted only for their flowers or the beauty of their shape." In other words, the only things under constant repair and close management seem to be the kitchens and the chapels, each a testimony to the importance of family and church in this culture.
We are often asked the question, "How has living in Crete changed you?" Patience, tolerance and wonderful friendships are all gifts we've been given. But to put it in a nutshell, we'd have to respond that we've learned to depend on God more and on things less. We all live in a world of constant, and sometimes frantic, change and Crete adds the element of unpredictability so it can be exasperating at times. We survive those days by remembering two words - BREATHE and PRAY! And then reframe and look at things differently. We've learned to not look too closly at the surroundings. It's a much prettier sight when your gaze is focused on larger vistas rather than the trash beneath your feet.
|Afternoon sun on cliffs of Stavros|
|Falasarna Beach in November|
|Wild thyme in bloom|
So, at this moment I sit and absorb all the things going on around me and I realize it's the simple things in God's creation that I enjoy the most. The autumn sky is defined by an array of clouds that are absent all summer, the pink-blossomed wild thyme bushes decorate the hillsides, the dry brown earth under the olive trees has been replaced by a carpet of bright green clover, the sea is a deeper shade of blue, the beaches are empty, the afternoon sun paints the cliffs of Stavros a brilliant shade of copper and a herd of sheep follows its shepherd down from the hills. And as I close my eyes, the soft tinkling of their bells lulls me to sleep.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
In September 2010, we rounded our first year of living in Hania, Crete. This adventure has truly been a once in a lifetime experience packed full of surprises. Emersing ourselves into the local culture has given us the opportunity to enjoy many beautiful moments as well as a few frustrating trials. Such is life anywhere. Now we look forward to maximizing our last year here by living each day to its fullest. And what better way to do that than enjoy the company of each other and good friends.
This autumn we had a full schedule of dear friends from the States that blessed us with their visits. First off the plane was the Nelson family from Kentucky. Lindsey and his wife, Anne and three kids (Brianna, Tessa and Rowan) were great fun!
We had some memorable times together (see previous grape-stomping blog) including a day wandering around the old port of Hania.
Richard especially enjoyed seeing his "old" buddy "Nelson". They go a loooong way back and Lindsey was in our wedding.
Another outing with the Nelsons included a boat ride to Gramvousa Island and Balos Bay.
The Nelsons wasted no time getting settled in to the local beach and taverna scene. Thanks for coming, you guys. It was really great to see you!
Next off the boat (literally - off the ferry from Santorini) were Mel's girlfriend Gil (AKA Gertie) and her sister Leslee (AKA Lola). First stop, dinner and a visit to a local wine cellar where they sampled their first taste of raki. (This photo must have been taken BEFORE their first sip because they're still smiling and their eyes aren't watering!)
The three girls spent a relaxing day in Hania's old city shopping and visiting Mel's (Mabel) friend's art studio.
By far, the highlight of the girls' visit was a road trip to Paleohora on the south coast where we stayed a couple of days doing some serious beach time, tiki hut meditation (OK that's really just fancy wording for hanging out on the beach and doing nothing).....
....and raising our glasses to every sunset and every memory we made together that day.
After leaving Paleohora behind, we drove along the beautiful west coast road and leaded north to to Falasarna.
We pulled into the Panorama Taverna just in time to toast yet another grand display of God's creation.
Lola, Mabel and Gertie made a vow to keep laughing ("who are you and why is your arm around my shoulder?"), loving (in spite of wrinkles and cellulite) and learning (thongs used to be something you wore on your FEET to the beach).
"Stini yiasas" and skinny bottoms to you, girls!
Thankfully, Mel didn't have much time to feel sad about Leslee and Gil's departure because a little over a week later the Lafata's from Colorado arrived. We had a blast together doing all kinds of couples activities including dinners out, sightseeing and traveling.
We spent a couple of days and nights in Paleohora where we had lots of laughs and great fun. One memory included renting four P.O.S. bikes from a chauvanistic Greek ("Sorry, ladies, this is Greece so the men get served first.") and riding up a steep gorge to the little village of Amidri where our labors were rewarded with phenomenal views and food at a charming taverna. The trip DOWN was hugely popular with the girls.
We also rode the bikes to the Venetian fortress and took photos of the village and the pebble beach of Paleohora from the top.
Our last day there warmed up enough to jump in the water at Gialiskari Beach where laying on the black pebbles warmed by the sun felt like a spa treatment. Tony and Kristi were wonderful friends to share some of this island with and we wish they could have stayed longer!
Positively, the best part about having visitors was that they each brought a taste of special friendships from home. It was such a pleasure to share our piece of paradise with them reminding us that once again, it's not what you do or where you go but who you're with that counts. And if you happen to be with some amazing people doing amazing things in amazing places that's a real bonus! Love you all!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Autumn time brings more festivals to the island (the Greeks throw parties for nearly everything imaginable!) and this one celebrating the grape harvest took place at Katerina's grandmother's home in a village not far from us. A few friends and neighbors were invited for an old-fashioned traditional grape stomping!
When we arrived the table was laid out with the beginnings of a feast to share. Grapes, Greek cookies, wine and raki were the starters (mezedhes) with more delicious aromas coming from the kitchen inside.
The women were in the kitchen preparing copious amounts of food while the men were outside preparing the grapes and imbibing in some fruit of the vine. Katerina's mom (Katerina) refused any help in the kitchen but she promised me a Greek cooking lesson later.
Richard has a love-hate relationship with these Cretan critters. Loves the eggs, HATES the roosters. Unfortuately, you can't have one without the other.
Wine-making involves crushing the grapes in special stone constructions called "patitiria", or wine presses. This can be done by feet or with small machinery. In this case, many feet! We happened to have some guests visiting us from the States (the Nelson family) so they were thrilled to be able to participate.
The grapes were prepared.....
...and then we jumped in and started working!
The more the merrier!
Is that Lucille Ball?
The grape juice runs out through a pipe from the floor of the patitiria, through a strainer and into the wine barrel. It will be aged in wine casts in the cellar.
Nothing is wasted. After the vines are pruned, the vineyard provides wood for the fireplace, grape leaves for cooking (the famous Greek "dolmades" – stuffed grape leaves), grapes as a fruit or as a pastry and, of course, wine. The remains in the patitiria, seeds, stems and grape-peels, aren't thrown away, rather they are distilled to produce tsikoudia, spirits consumed for centuries in this part of the Mediterranean and commonly known as raki - a.k.a. Cretan moonshine, mastika, ouzo (anise seed flavor) and sometimes even "jet fuel".
There are many theories as to how this drink got its name but my favorite has Turkish roots.
(A close-up photo would reveal beads of sweat on Richard's forehead and Lindsey's tongue.)
After lots of laughter, numerous toasts, and an abundance of good fellowship we finished the evening off with a grand feast. (This photo was taken after we polished most of it off!)
Kali oreksi! (Bon appetit!)