On The Path To Harakopio ~ Peroulia Dreaming 13

We had been promised rain, and rain it did, pounding off the pantile roofs, turning the veranda steps into cascades. By lunchtime the shining Gulf that had been our view all morning was sunk in steely gloom while the Taygetos had dissolved completely. (How can mountain ranges disappear like that?)

It was not a good start to the holiday. But the six of us gathered together in one little house,  and some of us prepared bruschetta using up the solid Greek bread together with the more delicious tomatoes and garlic from Maria’s garden, which we tucked into to the sound of tumbling rain.

But at last the storm bursts eased, and across the valley the cockerel began to crow, and among the garden olive trees the crickets sang, and the grasses steamed. A consensus of smart phone forecasts also suggested that the rain had passed – well, more or less, and that it might now be timely to set off to Harakopio and discover what its supermarket offered in the way of supper supplies.

We set off under cloudy skies, following directions on Maria’s hand-drawn map, which Bob had snapped with his cell phone. It was a one and half mile walk, we were told, mostly on level paths, and with our backs to the sea. Hopefully we would not lose ourselves on the network of byways between Harakopio and Kombi. We were also told that if we bought too much stuff to carry back to tell the girls at the supermarket and they would keep it until Michael was next passing in his car. Our hosts at the Iconpainter’s Villas left no stone unturned to ensure our every comfort and happiness.

And so here are some of the sights and vistas on our path as it wound through olive groves and vineyards, by ramshackle farmsteads and deluxe villas, our passing marked by proprietorial, but good-natured barking from farmyard dogs. Otherwise, all was quietness. No cars. No distant traffic drone. Only our soft chatter. There were wild cyclamen growing along the verges, fennel and rosemary, shrubby Kermes oaks with their spiny acorn cups and leaves like holly, prickly pears, morning glory.  And as I went, I fell in love with olive trees, their stillness, their gnarly boles and contorted branches, the muted tones, the changes in light beneath and between the trees as the sun came out once more.

 

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And on our return trip, well laden with good Greek produce, we again looked to the sea where the storm clouds were finally clearing, and beneath all was ethereal blue with the Taygetos doing their mirage impression. It would be a fine evening.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Travel theme: branches

Jo’s Monday Walk

The Changing Seasons ~ Peroulia Dreaming 10

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October comes and we fly out of Kalamata International – one of the smallest airports I  have passed through outside upcountry Zambia.  It has been too brief a trip, and every day for seven days I have spent much time watching the mountains of the Mani peninsula across the Gulf. They are the southern spine of the Taygetos Massif, a range some 100 kilometres long that runs the length of the third, and easterly finger of the Peloponnese.

With all the looking, I have tried to  penetrate this fortress-land of faulted scarps and scattered habitation – at least in some sense. And in hopes of admission to the interior, the provision of a path that I might follow, I’ve been reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1950s book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. It was written before the road was built down the peninsula, and much of the excursion involved hard hiking and catching boats from cape to cape.

But sad to say, despite high hopes, the book is not really helping. I am still ploughing through it a good three weeks later in windblown Shropshire, the leaves of ash trees dashing by the windows like fleets of unleashed arrows. Yet it is true the narrative sets off with an actual journey into the far-flung quarters of the Deep Mani. It is true, too, that  along the way Leigh Fermor conjures  scenes of ravishing detail. And conjures is the only word for it. But the problem is his accounts of meetings with the Maniates in remote  and rocky fastnesses – often preternatural in the beauty of their evocation – are too brief and too soon abandoned for lengthy meanders  into arcane matters relating to quite other parts of Greece and its history. There is too much mention of obscure tribes, too many catalogues of unfamiliar names detached from context in time or space.

The book, then, rather than admitting me, mostly keeps me at bay. I’m not in the mood for ponderings on how the pantheon of Greek deities, serially dealt with one by one, have been repackaged as Christian saints. This reconfiguration is not an especially Greek phenomenon anyway.  Tell me more of the journey through this iron-hard land, Leigh Fermor. Give me more of your magic.

To be fair, near the start of the book there is the extraordinary history of the Mani village blood feuds – a pathological phase wherein the breeding of sons, referred to as ‘guns’, to wield long-barrelled rifles against neighbour-enemies, was a community fixation; this along with the building of ever taller stone towers from which to lay siege across small village squares.  Settlements bristled with these structures many storeys high. Rocks and cannon balls were hurled from their parapets on to the roofs of opposing families’ homes, causing the usual activities of village life to be suspended during daylight hours for fear of being shot or flattened.

Sometimes the feuds went on for generations. Even the local priests were involved, and mid-worship kept their rifles to hand. Meanwhile the womenfolk, the breeders of guns, extemporized long poetic dirges for the dead.  And if this were not enough, in between the feuding there was piracy and slave trading, and  oh yes, some farming, fishing and salt panning.

Then it seems the Maniates got a grip, stopped stoking local enmities and became prime movers in the 1821 Revolution so ending 350 years of Turkish domination of Greece and thereby setting the scene for a unified nation state. But then, having done this, it appears they reverted to bloody-minded type and became a troublesome thorn in the side of the new political entity.

If ever a people were bred of their terrain, then it must surely be the Maniates – tough, unyielding, unforgiving and, in their own particular way, magnificent. They inhabit territory that Homer knew, a land where gods and heroes walked, a place of resort for besieged ancient Mycenaeans, a place of disposal for the classical Spartans who took wrong-doers there to throw them down chasms and left sickly babes to die on hillsides.

And then the Mani boasts not one, but two entrances to the Underworld: in the labyrinthine caves of Diros in the north-west and at the southernmost tip of its tailbone at Cape Matapan where, guided by Athena and Hermes, Heracles descended to capture Cerberus, the monstrous ‘hound of Hades’.

Now that I am on the last lap with Leigh Fermor, I know I should not be too cross with him. In his stride he is a wonderful writer, and I treasure those transient episodes that let me meet the girl Vasilio, dine and sleep atop an old Mani village tower, quaff ouzo all but frozen from a mountain stream, walk into a desolate village and encounter astonishing hospitality. Such moments are breath-taking. Dream-like. But as for the rest…I read recently that the writer admitted to a friend that he did not know much about the Mani, and used the trip and the book as a peg on which to hang several unrelated topics that had long interested him. There is no doubting his deep regard for Greece and its peoples.

But now I am left in rainy, autumnal Shropshire with my outsider views of the western Taygetos. I have learned from other reading that this side of the peninsula is known as the Shadowy or Dark Mani because it receives little of the morning sun.

My photo at the head of this post suggests  other singular effects of locality. I was standing in the sea when I took it. Later when I looked at the result on screen I found that the only way to reveal any detail of the mountains was to darken the foreground. The more I did that, the more they emerged. It is a very odd photograph: as if two separate views have been spliced together. It is also hard to fathom the perspective. The mountains are two-dimensional, near and distant views almost occupying a single plane. In the midday light the scene looks like a mirage. Or there again like the film in a soap bubble just before it bursts; a negative not quite developed.

At other times of the day – at dawn and dusk, the peninsula solidifies flatly; a woodcut; or a paper chain of tumbled rhomboids; cardboard cut-outs.  Often there is a train of frothy cloud overhead. It looks like whipped meringue.

Another thought then. In my larder cupboard I have a jar of capers bathed in Mani olive oil, yet bought in my sister’s shop in Shropshire. I also have a jar of Mani honey, said to be the best in the region, created by bees who have foraged among the mountain flowers, and bought by G. in a shop on Koroni’s opposing Peloponnesian peninsula. As yet  I have opened neither – because another thought is brewing: to go to the Mani. Perhaps in springtime. Find out for myself what lies within.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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The Changing Seasons: Please visit Max to see this month’s fabulous photo gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peroulia Dreaming 4 ~ Walking Through Olive Groves To And From The Sea

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It was the quickest way to Peroulia Beach – left down the hill from the Iconpainter’s  gateway, with a quick wave and a kalimera to the old lady in the farmhouse opposite, then following the rough track beside the olive grove with the decomposing Volvo, then on through the trees to the pretty house with green shutters, whose owner we met several times out on the lane, clearing the drains in advance of the forecast storm; on into another olive grove, following the overhead power lines, then a dogleg round some more recently planted trees, a scramble down dirt steps in the cliff bottom (minding the little cyclamen) and finally picking our way through mature olive trees, pony droppings, the mish-mash of phragmites canes and onto the shore.

Phew! It really isn’t far, but it has the feeling of uncharted territory, and at least three of us admitted to losing our way on the return trip.

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There is anyway something so momentful about olive groves. For one thing there is the complete and utter stillness; the depth of leaf litter that absorbs one’s footfalls and very probably one’s soul if you do not watch out. For then there is the existential sense of earth and weather elements and human hands, conspiring over generations to train and sculpt the trees to encourage the best possible yield; hands whose deftness is doubtless informed by Athena herself, that wise deity whose spear long ago struck the barren scarp of the Attic acropolis and so brought forth the first Greek olive tree.

From fruit and seed, empires were grown and in many Mediterranean lands beyond mainland Greece. Among the earliest, back in the Bronze Age, were the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations of Crete. The olive tree was an all-provider. The timber served for tools and shelter, the fruits made good eating, their oil gave food, light, unguents, medicine and formed the basis of extensive trade networks. It is not surprising, then, that the trees were seen as sacred, to be protected on pain of death for those who would dare to destroy them. Athletes used the oil on the bodies to invoke its intrinsic power, and the victors at the Olympian games were crowned with olive leaves.

And so as you walk through a grove, the response is natural reverence. Every tree is its own self; its individual biography wrought in knotty bark and bough. There is more though. I would call it immanence. For if trees have spirits, then they are here. And if I had an olive grove, then I would worship it and none other.

Respect for the sheer potency of these trees is  also requisite. For I have read* that you should never fall asleep beneath an olive tree. Its shadow is said to be too heavy, and so may later induce bad dreams and vertigo. I can believe it. With all my heart I can.

 

* Patrick Leigh Fermor Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese

Related:

Peroulia Dreaming 1

Peroulia Dreaming 2

 

Daily Post

Daily Prompt: Believe

Shore, Reef, Ocean, Sky: Edge On Edge

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Some of you will have already read the essay below. It won first prize in a Quartos Magazine competition years ago. The magazine is no more, but I’m posting the piece again for those of you in need of  a long, soothing wallow beside an African beach. Enjoy!

 Going to the Dogs on Mombasa’s Southern Shore

It’s a dog’s life on Tiwi Beach, the white strand where ocean roars on coral and trade winds waft the coconut palms; and where, best of all, as far as the local canines are concerned, there are quiet coves sparse in holidaymakers. It means they may do as they please. After all, it is their own resort, and every morning they set off there from the beach villages along the headland, nose up, ears blown back in the breeze, ready for the day’s adventures.

But the dogs are not churlish. They can take or leave the odd pale human wrestling to right his windsurfer on the still lagoon; ignore the sentinel heron that marks the reef edge beyond; pay no heed to the etched black figures of the Digo fishermen who search the shallows for prawns, parrot fish, or perhaps a mottled lobster or two.

But in this last respect at least, the dogs are smug. For the fishermen come down to the beach only to make a living. And when they are done hunting, they must toil along the headland from beach village to beach village, then haggle over the price of their catch with the rich wazungu who come there to lotus eat. Hard work in the dogs’ opinion.

The dogs know better of course; know it in every hair and pore. And each morning after breakfast, when they take the sandy track down to the beach, they begin with a toss of the head, a sniff of the salt air, a gentle ruffling of the ear feathers in soft finger breezes. Only then do they begin the day’s immersion, the sybaritic sea savouring: first the leather pads, sandpaper dry from pounding coral beaches, then the hot underbelly. Bliss. The water is warm. Still. Azure. And there can be nothing better in the world than to wade here, hour on hour, alongside a like‑minded fellow.

There’s not much to it; sometimes a gentle prancing. But more likely the long absorbing watch, nose just above the water, ears pricked, gaze fixed on the dazzling glass. And if you should come by and ask what they think they’re at, they will scan you blankly, the earlier joy drained away like swell off a pitching dhow. And, after a moment’s condescending consideration, they will return again to the sea search, every fibre assuming once more that sense of delighted expectation which you so crassly interrupted. You are dismissed.

For what else should they be doing but dog dreaming, ocean gazing, coursing the ripples of sunlight across the lagoon and more than these, glimpsing the electric blue of a darting minnow? And do they try to catch it? Of course they don’t. And when the day’s watch is done, there is the happy retreat to shore ‑ the roll roll roll in hot sand, working the grains into every hair root.

And if as a stranger you think these beach dogs a disreputable looking crew, the undesirable issue of lax couplings between colonial thoroughbreds gone native: dobermanns and rough‑haired pointers, vizslas and ridge‑backs, labradors and terriers, then think again. For just because they have no time for idle chit-chat, this doesn’t make them bad fellows: it’s merely that when they are on the beach, they’re on their own time. But later, after sunset, well that’s a different matter. Then they have responsibilities: they become guardians of the your designer swimwear, keepers of your M & S beach towel, enticing items that you have carelessly left out on your cottage veranda.

By night they patrol the ill‑lit byways of your beach village, dogging the heels of a human guard who has his bow and arrow always at the ready. And when in the black hours the banshee cry of a bush baby all but stops your heart, you may be forgiven for supposing that this bristling team has got its man, impaled a hapless thief to the compound baobab. It is an unnerving thought. You keep your head down. Try to go with the flow, as all good travellers should.

But with the day the disturbing image fades. There is no bloody corpse to sully paradise, only the bulbuls calling from a flame tree, the heady scent of frangipani, delicious with its sifting of brine. You cannot help yourself now. It’s time to take a leaf out of the dogs’ book, go for a day of all‑embracing sensation ‑ cast off in an azure pool.

And in the late afternoon when the sun slips red behind the tall palms and the tide comes boiling up the beach, the dogs take to the gathering shade of the hinterland and lie about in companionable couples. Now and then they cast a benign eye on you humankind, for at last you are utterly abandoned, surrendering with whoops and yells to the sun‑baked spume. They seem to register the smallest flicker of approval: you seem to be getting the hang of things.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

Edge

Copper elephants, copper land

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It’s a case of red elephants, then, in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park. These red Tsavo soils are famous for their brilliance. They smell of red pepper too. But for the elephants it’s more about keeping their skins in good condition. Talk about glowing complexions.

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For more of my Africa stories and more copper landscapes please see the backlist at:  https://tishfarrell.com/category/africa/

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: copper

Elephants at Dawn

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There is nothing more imposingly serene than a large herd of unruffled elephants on the move. We humans, on the other hand, may become thoroughly over-excited by such an encounter. The elephants are not impressed though. They note our existence, weighing us up with scant regard. We are quickly aware of being mentally ‘put in our place’. And as we watch, and watch the herd’s slow and steady progress through the Mara thorn trees, we find ourselves succumbing to the collective elephant will. There is the urge to follow, to step out, placing each foot with quiet intention on the surface of the earth, moving at one within ourselves instead of forever rushing about, seeking fresh excitement. As they disappear from view, we are left with a sense that something has changed. Have we been changed? In any event, it seems there is much to be learned from an early morning meeting with elephants.

Later that day, as dusk is descending, we meet the herd again. They are crossing the trail that leads back to our camp. The guide stops the truck, and we stand up, leaning out of the roof hatches as the herd moves all around us. It is breath-taking. This time they are close enough to touch. We can smell their musky hides. They move around the truck as if it is not there, then fade into the darkness as quiet as ghosts.

© 2015 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

 

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Serenity

Indian Ocean Bliss

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Dawn over the reef on Tiwi Beach, South Kenya Coast

It’s a dog’s life on Tiwi Beach, the white strand where ocean roars on coral and trade winds waft the coconut palms; and where, best of all, as far as the local canines are concerned, there are quiet coves sparse in holidaymakers. It means they may do as they please. For after all, it is their own resort, and every morning they set off there from the beach villages along the headland, nose up, ears blown back in the breeze, ready for the day’s adventures.

But the dogs are not churlish. They can take or leave the odd pale human wrestling to right his windsurfer on the still lagoon; ignore the sentinel heron that marks the reef edge beyond; pay no heed to the etched black figures of the Digo fishermen who search the shallows for prawns, parrot fish, or perhaps a mottled lobster or two.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

From Going to the dogs on Mombasa’s Southern Shore

Continues HERE

Post prompted by Paula at Lost in Translation where you will find more blissful images.

Oloololo Escarpment: Maasai Dreaming

 

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Night on the Mara River – darkness wraps round, close as a Maasai’s blanket.  It is cold, too, on the river’s bend. We press closer the campfire, our white faces soon roasting red. No one speaks. There’s too much to listen for. A hyena whoops across the water?  It sounds close. It sounds unearthly, sending shock waves through vulnerable bones – mine, conjuring packs of predators, out there, circling our ring of light. And even as I think it the Maasai are on us.  Six warriors, spears in hand and naked to the waist.  Their leader tosses his ostrich-feather head-dress that looks like a lion’s mane.  He is fearless.  He is lion.

Then the singing starts, a nasal falsetto that resonates through time and space – the winds’ whine through Mara grasses.  The Maasai girls trip lightly into the firelight, their wraps like flames – yellow, red; close-cropped heads hung with beads; chins jutting forward as the crescent necklets – tiny beads so patiently strung – rise and fall on skinny chests.  The moran start to leap – higher, faster.

excerpt from Dances With Warriors © 2014 Tish Farrell

Continues HERE

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DP Weekly Photo Challenge

strait edge

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This awe-striking effect of cloud and sunlight seems to be a feature of Menai Strait, the narrow stretch of tidal water between the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn) and the North Wales mainland. This photo (looking towards the mainland) was taken around midday in December last year. The cloud had banked so thickly it seemed we were heading into night. Over the previous days there had been horrendous winds that had torn across the island, ripping up trees and closing roads. And then quite suddenly the sun broke through – a moment of luminous tranquillity after all the storms.

Anglesey has a long and dramatic history extending back to at least the Neolithic. At the start of the Common Era it was also the stronghold of the Celtic peoples’ priestly caste, the Druids. These warrior mystics were slaughtered in a terrible battle by the army of the Roman Governor of Britain, Suetonius, which in 61/62 AD bore down on them across this Strait. You can read more about it in Island of Old Ghosts.

copyright 2014 Tish Farrell

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge: Edge for more edgy photo stories