Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Bare Bones of Winter

The Bare Bones of Winter

There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you.... In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.
~Ruth Stout

Houses now appear that were before half hidden

The sunbeams are welcome now. They seem like pure electricity—like friendly and recuperating lightning. Are we led to think electricity abounds only in summer, when we see in the storm-clouds as it were, the veins and ore-beds of it? I imagine it is equally abundant in winter, and more equable and better tempered. Who ever breasted a snowstorm without being excited and exhilarated, as if this meteor had come charged with latent auroræ of the North, as doubtless it has? It is like being pelted with sparks from a battery.

~John Burroughs, "Winter Sunshine"

An article by Michael McCoy in the ABC gardening magazine Gardening Australia discusses a different kind of ‘tree beauty‘ in the wintering of trees. He talks about their ‘skeletal twigginess, offering no resistance to the chilly wind, and matching perfectly the grey of the sky. ‘

He goes on to write,

The praises sung of deciduous trees pertain to their autumn foliage, their lime-green spring fuzz, the dynamic of summer-shade/winter-sun they provide and even their convenient dumping of leaves in on definite period, rather than all year round as do evergreens. But right now I’m celebrating their highly distinctive bone structure…’

‘Consider the supreme dignity of a leafless English oak… The silhouette of this tree is so lovely that I’m always a bit sorry when the leaves appear.’

The shed of leaves became a cascade of red and gold and after a time the trees stood skeletal against a sky of weathered tin. The land lay bled of its colors. The nights lengthened, went darker, brightened in their clustered stars. The chilled air smelled of woodsmoke, of distances and passing time. Frost glimmered on the morning fields. Crows called across the pewter afternoons.

~James Carlos Blake, Wildwood Boys

Leaves hang on a few trees right into spring

'Bare Trees' was the title track from Fleetwood Mac's 1972 album. Though the song was never released as a single, the album peaked at #70 on the US Billboard 200 Album chart. The song was inspired by a poem written by an older woman who lived near the gand’s home in Southern England. ‘God bless our perfect, perfect grey day with trees so bare – so bare.’


Fracture lines cut in a bleak sky, Stripped bare across the countryside, Shadows of what they used to be, Silhouetted so beautifully, No more a haven to make a home, Fragile looking veins are exposed, Sun bleeds through while blindingly low, Wood spirits are compelled to go, A sight rooted in these cold months, Crafted by a cruel lack of warmth, Weather the sky gods issue forth, Sent to the front line from the north, But trees fear not old man winter, His firm grip can't last forever, Soon things will be back as they were, Till the changes again occur. 
Christian Lacdael

Emerald Village street cherry trees in winter

Another winter thought, especially noticeable in a house where lives a Mediterranean guy, and an English woman!!!!

Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat.
~Author Unknown


Saturday, 25 July 2015

Greek Politics 2015

Greek Politics 2015
 I find it is so very good to be at a distance from the Greek political drama, even though everyone still asks me what I think about it all.  

And because of these questions I’ve had to ask myself what I do think about what was happening. I know I still get very cross at the way it has been and still is being reported; with a selective group of people being interviewed and then the reporter putting their spin on their selection.

Newspapers being another lot of drama queens (beside the Greeks) they only want to portray ‘poor Greeks’ and ‘wicked Germans’ as that makes a better story.

The situation is much more complicated than that. But there are a few articles that go deeper if you search, and then you’ll catch a hint of a more complex situation. Unfortunately tourists and newcomers to Greece seem to expect that, as it is part of the EU, they’ll find similar conditions to those in other EU countries. When they read the papers they then may also feel the need to put the blame elsewhere.

For me it seems to me that Greece is not ‘European’, even though one of its myths has named that continent – named after one of Zeus' (as a bull) attempted conquests, that of Europa. Takis disagrees with me violently about this statement (that Greece is not European), but we do agree that Greece does not have easy solutions, and that many of its problems stem from its geography and history.

Because Greece is placed midway between that Europe and Asia, and it is largely composed of mountains and narrow valleys with hundreds of islands scattered in three seas, and while these formations of rock and sea are very beautiful this geographical structure has meant that groups of people have been separated, and though speaking the same language they have had to look after themselves – often with very limited natural resources.


And then, beside this, ‘Modern Greek’ society was shaped within the Byzantine Empire rather than within the Roman Empire, and today’s structures still reveal that history. Many Greek organizations are antiquated and overly complicated, having missed out on Rome’s organization ability.

What did Rome offer Europe?

Pax Romana (Latin for "Roman Peace") was the long period of relative peace and minimal expansion by the Roman military force experienced by the Roman Empire after the end of the Final War of the Roman Republic and before the beginning of the Crisis of the Third Century.

While some others summarize this to mean that ‘In other words, imperial peace becomes civil peace insofar as the memory of the previously independent political units are effaced, insofar as individuals within a pacified zone feel themselves less united to the traditional or local community and more to the conquering state.’ 

And this might be what many Greeks felt about the EU! that they were being ‘pacified’ and ‘conquered’! However, Rome did give Europe a good foundation for later development. It gave Europe a network of roads, which in turn meant a means of communication, and along with that it provided a very efficient administration that ensured relative peace for hundreds of years. 


But the newspapers love the drama of the present situation in Greece, and rarely look at the present impasse in terms of Geography and History. 

While, in Greece, there is reluctance to make real change, because that would require a dramatic life-style reorganization.

Greeks in Australia

Nick Xenophon, a well respected Greek Australian who is an independent MP

From Wikipedia: 
Australia is home to one of the largest Greek communities in the world. Greeks are the seventh largest ethnic group in Australia, after those who declared their ancestry simply as "Australian". In the 2006 census, 365,147 people reported to have Greek ancestry, either exclusively or in combination with another ethnic group. The largest concentration of Greeks in Australia is in the state of Victoria, which is often regarded as the heartland of the Greek Australian community. The latest Census in 2011 recorded 99 939 Greece-born people in Australia, a fall of 9.1 per cent from the 2006 Census. 


Lemnos Politics: 2015

These are people who are calm and stoic, less driven to Greek dramatic outbursts. I can’t say if this is typical of most of the island peoples, or of folk who do not live in the major cities. I do know that there are many who are socialists and many communists in Lemnos, and Syriza had a large following on the island. And I also know they are tired of the long drawn out disputes, and the uncertainty about banks, about ferries. 

In the referendum their vote was counted with that of the island of Lesvos, 38% Yes, and 61% No , a result that largely mirrors the final outcome for the whole of Greece. But many voters were confused as to what they were actually voting for as both the EU and their government told them that it was also about staying in or leaving the EU, something most did not want to do.

And with what has happened since, confusion all round!


Two articles in the Melbourne newspaper The Age

These are typical of the coverage of Lemnos in the Australian press this year. 

John Pandazopoulos wrote this article. He is President of the World Hellenic InterParliamentary Association and a former Victorian Minister for Tourism, Employment and Major Projects and was member of the Victorian Parliament for 22 years. He writes, ‘You won't get a receipt for most things you buy in Greece and that is why no Greek politician will talk about something that will fix the budget – tax collection.’

The other articles that mention Lemnos are mostly about the 100th anniversary of the landing of the Allies in Gallipoli. For example,

A collection of letters that gives amazing insight into the lives of nurses who tended wounded soldiers evacuated from Gallipoli.

And my answer to folk who ask about the Greek Dilemma

I feel that any modern advance towards the ‘European ideal’ (while desired by well over half of the population) has long been held back by these constraints, it is a situation that requires different and complex answers to those of other European countries. For instance, there needs to be better access to the 400 or so islands and organizations less tied to Byzantine and religious formulas.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Back 'Home' in Australia

Back ‘Home’ in Australia
 A Warm Winter House

We are back in the Dandenong Ranges and I’m loving it, even Takis is tolerating the cold. It is difficult to please us both! I wilt when the temperatures go over 25, and he complains of a cold nose and ears when it drops to 20. One thing we have discovered over the years is that it is impossible to live with a perfect outdoor temperature all year round, even with our peripatetic lifestyle.

We arrived in Australia to find that there were morning frosts in the open, though under the trees in this part of the ranges it only gets down to 3 at night, rising to about 13 in the daytime. However our house is toasty warm with its gas heating system. I would love to add a potbelly stove to warm up the kitchen a little more sometime for there is nothing like a real wood fire to cheer one in winter.

In winter we can sit in front of the gas 'log' fire

At Christmas time there is no need for fire, so the tree stand there

Winter Warmth in Lemnos?

At the moment we don’t have the means to warm up the Greek house in winter. It has always been a summer holiday house since the days of Takis grandfather. To survive the island weather in our large three-story house on Lemnos which is (surprisingly for people who think of Greece as always sunny) very cold and windy for half of the year, you would need a central heating system, and or a couple of wood stoves. Perhaps one on the middle floor and another in the kitchen.

Lemnos? Perhaps a stove in the kitchen?

Lemnos? Or a real fire in the lounge?

Takis and Anestis at work we discovered an old fireplace behind the plasterwork

Family Celebrations in Aus.

What has been lovely for me, beside being able to enjoy a winter this year, is that we were only away for three months and I’ve arrived back before the grand children grow too tall, as it is one grand daughter is now taller than me (or have I shrunk?).

This past weekend I had a wonderful time with two of the grand children; it was my 75th birthday and they were here with their mother for lunch along with friends from Adelaide who were holidaying in the state came. Takis cooked Youvetzi, that Greek lamb and pasta dish (wonderful for the cold weather) and I made the sponge, cream and strawberry cake, mostly without sugar, so I could have a small slice.  My grand daughter was looking forward to ‘Grandma’s party’ (parties being a great thing for her, her last one was a roller blade party!) so I did my best without putting 75 candles on the cake. A neighbour had lent me a candelabra (very Liberace) that we put on the top, a great over-the-top celebratory candleholder for a 75 year old!

Then also I had so many emails wishing me well. It was all a bit of a dream, in fact I was just getting over jet lag, with only two good night’s sleep this week and only three hours sleep before ’the party', so I just drifted through the day on a happiness cloud. And to top my pleasure one or two of my daffodils are opening and the sun was shining all day.

Getting Older and Wiser!

I just read an article by David Brooks in our local paper, The Age: Why Your Elders are Smiling.

In this article he quotes an essay by Ezekiel Emanuel saying that all things considered he’d prefer to die around the age of 75! His argument was that he wanted to go with all his faculties rather than have a sad decline. But I absolutely agree with David Brooks on this one, (and I don’t always agree with Brooks), that you would likely miss out on some of your happiest years.

It seems psychologists also agree. Reasons? When you are older on average you are more relaxed, you don’t have to worry about the future as you did when younger, you get more pleasure out of present, ordinary activities. Brooks also adds that as you get older you more likely to be able to see things from different perspectives and learn to balance tensions, plus, you have the ability to deal better with the downsides of life and realizing that things will eventually change in the flow of life. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

A Journey Back to Winter

A Melbourne Tram

A Journey Back to Winter

My husband and I are now back in Australia. In Melbourne tonight the temperature is  2 with frosts predicted, followed by a sunny day and 13 degrees.

Back in Lemnos it is 23 rising to 31 by the end of the week. My husband is not so pleased with this news, and is sad to leave the warm weather for heaters and doonas.  But I don’t mind the cold, and I am really looking forward to seeing my Australian garden move through winter into early spring. Something I’ve not done for many years. But before I look at the garden and think again about what we left behind in Greece I have to digest and recover from that long journey – 20+ hours – from Lemnos to Melbourne.  19 hours in the air and 7 hours in airports.

We did the journey business class twice – very pleasant. It’s the extra space that is so good, but I don’t think it is worth all that extra money!

This time we flew economy, and sat in a space the size of a small refrigerator for all those hours (occasionally squeezing past each other, when there was not trolley in the aisle, to get out to the toilet). There is no getting away from the fact you are herded like sheep, and then confined to your ‘pen’. But, we all put up with the discomfort, aware that we are privileged to be able to journey from one end of the world to the other in 20+ hours, and be given the choice of chicken or fish at meal times!


But then, as we both needed and got special attention this time (me a diabetic diet, Takis a wheel chair at airports) I should not complain.

I have been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s final book of a journey he took as a young man of 18 years across Europe in the 1930’s; through Rumanian, Bulgaria, around the Black Sea to Mount Athos in Greece. And I’ve been struck at how different these countries are today. He was walking past villages where people still lived an isolated peasant life, and his descriptions of their lives (their clothes, the food he ate, the country he walked through) makes that era come alive.

How different though to us nearly 90 year later, flying over these countries a mile high, and eating our chicken and fish with ice cold knives and forks!

The Broken Road: from the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

By Patrick Leigh Fermor

He arrives in Bucharest and makes his way to the central shopping area finding himself bewildered by the richness and busyness of the city after his long hikes through peasant villages. He writes,

‘I wandered about the lanes and dived into bars and taverns, almost rejecting the evidence of y eyes and ears. Beautiful Turkey carpets in the massive and spotless churches reminded me of the important position of the town through which the eastern trade to northern and eastern Europe used to flow. But after the market place it was the bars and the back streets that drew one most. How I wishes, as I hobnobbed with two cowherds in a pub in the outskirts of the town and listened to their curious dialect, that I had arrived on foot, dumped my kit, and was now deep in one of those unhurried, grouping, temperature-taking gazing and eavesdropping private surveys which always began my solitary sojourns in a new town!’ p 195

In the chapter To Varna he is leaving Bucharest, and has decided to briefly leave the roads and lanes and take a train ride.

Varna today, Bulgarian Seaside City

‘There were only a few peasants on board, all with that bewildered refugee look that overcomes country people in trains: women with coloured kerchiefs and Anna Karenina bundles on their laps, and men with their hands – blunt instruments temporarily idle – hanging sadly between their knees, with the looseness of turtles’ fins. They didn’t know what to do with themselves, and I felt rather the same, fumbling my stick, so long abandoned, with the rucksack squatting on the seat beside me like toad companion.’ p 201


A View of Mount Athos from the Island of Lemnos