Thoughts Of Sailing A Candyfloss Sea

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The weather in Shropshire has taken a frigid turn – flurries of sleet and bone-chilling winds, the need to wear too many vests and socks and feeling that I’m far too nesh to venture out in it. For any reason whatsoever. (Allotment? What allotment?) Which also has me thinking of a warm sea and Peroulia Beach and the rosy displays laid on there each dawn and dusk, and walking through silent olive groves that come down to the shore, the days’ warmth stored in the many seasons’ leaf layers beneath our feet. At sunset we find we have the beach to ourselves. The sea barely lapping the sand, and somewhere across the Gulf, above the Mani’s fortress scarps, a raptor mews. There are no other sounds.

copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

Silence

The Hardware Shop In Harakopio

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I’m very fond of hardware shops, though I’m old enough to say they mostly aren’t what they used to be – those ill-lit aisles of childhood with their mysterious bins containing every size of nut, screw, hinge and widget. The cocktail whiffs of twine, Jeyes Fluid, paraffin and polish, and a little man in a brown cotton coat behind a high, gloss painted counter, he the unassuming master of this multi-component repository.

The shop in Harakopio looked promising on the authenticity front, and I was only sorry not to have the chance of a good mooch inside. But still, it was good to capture its jolly exterior, and nice of some local to park their blue motorcycle outside.

The Last Turtle Of Summer ~ Peroulia Dreaming 11

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After wandering around Koroni Castle we descended down the stepped streets to the harbour front in search of ice creams and coffee. Greek ice cream is delicious and ours came in many astonishing flavours. We wolfed it down like five year olds. Next we settled ourselves at a seaside cafe and ordered coffee, but we had not been there long when the waiter came dashing to tell us there was a big turtle to be seen just off the quayside. ‘It is the last turtle of summer,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow it will be gone.’

A little crowd had gathered and was peering into the stormy looking water. The weather had changed, and there was a cool wind blowing off the Messenian Gulf. It was hard to spot the turtle between the dark ripples, and I missed a couple of chances to take a photo as it popped its snout above water. Then a silly young Frenchman decided he wanted to swim with it, jumped in and scared it away. ‘Merde’, said his girlfriend. Merde, indeed.

So here is my best shot. Little more than a peek. But then it is good to know that there are still loggerhead turtles around the Peloponnese. One of their breeding beaches is at Koroni on the far side of the castle. Every year between June and mid-September the turtles make some 46 nests there. These are monitored throughout the summer by ARCHELON, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece, along with a host of volunteers from around the world. Good on them, I say, and bon voyage last loggerhead of summer.

You can find out more about Archelon, The Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece HERE.

 

Daily Post: Peek

Related: The Castle At Koroni

The Castle At Koroni

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Over the past three thousand years the Messenian Peloponnese has suffered so many phases of foreign invasion it is hard to know where to start unravelling its history.  Best stick with the built remains then. This massive medieval bastion belongs to Koroni Castle, built in the early 1200s CE by the Venetians, and one of a string of Messenian coastal forts controlled by the Republic until 1500.

The Turks invaded next. After summary slaughter in neighbouring Methoni, so spurring Koroni to a quick surrender, they set about strengthening the  castle’s eastern defences, which perhaps included this tower. It is hard to track down details. One Greek writer, whose identity I am yet to discover, described Koroni Castle as ‘the architecture of hate.’ He had a point. Venice anyway regained control in 1685, and of course the Turks came back again later, staying until the Revolution of 1821, which finally ousted them.

Koroni’s historic heyday, though, was the thirteenth century. Under the first round of Venetian rule it was referred to as ‘the chief eyes of the Republic’, and as such, was one of the main ports of call for the ships and galleys of Venice’s Levantine trade. Its must-have product was cochineal, much desired by Venetians for the lustrous dye it yielded.  So now you know where that gorgeous Venetian red came from – this small corner of the Peloponnese.

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Today, you can spend many hours wandering around the castle’s 40 hectare interior. It is then you begin to grasp that before the Venetians occupied Koroni there were invader Franks on site – they of the French-Italian Crusader States. And before them, in the era of the Eastern Roman Empire of Constantinople, there was a Byzantine fort. This had apparently been built atop an ancient acropolis. And long before the Byzantine presence – that is from around 700 BCE and for a few hundred years, the Spartans were in occupation, so muddying the archaeological remains of the very much earlier Bronze Age Mycenaean period (1400-1100 BCE) and the ancient settlement of Assini.

And these are just the barest bones of Koroni’s history.

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There are also astonishing present-day aspects. The first that strikes you is that people actually live inside the castle. As you walk up from the towering seaward gateway, you find yourself on an ancient cobbled street, and next there are cottages with pretty gardens, and later we come on an olive grove and a small holding. As ever, there are many cats about. There is also a cemetery which is in current use, several churches, ancient and modern, used and disused, and a monastery that is now only inhabited by nuns. The latter has a tranquil garden and a gift shop and picturesque cottages where the nuns live, and you are free to wander around.

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This next and final shot is was taken just outside the monastery entrance, one of the several sacred buildings built cheek by jowl in this part of the castle interior. It is dedicated to Saint Sophia and, dating from the 11th century Byzantine period, overlies the ancient temple precincts of Apollo. At which point you lose all grasp of time, since there is simply too much of it to fathom, and decide that a swift downhill return to a harbour taverna and an enlivening cappuccino is definitely called for.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

castle 1688

Koroni Castle CORONELLI, Vincenzo 1688  Aikaterini Laskaridis Foundation Library

 

Cee’s Black & White Challenge: Bricks or Stones

#PerouliaDreaming

Peroulia Dreaming 2 ~ The Promise Of Rain

It was a family celebration that brought the six of us to the Peloponnese in late September. Thoughts of Greek sunshine lured us too – after a lacklustre English summer. But as the departure date drew near, and the scanning of world weather forecasts stepped up in the hopes of better news, it was clear that the weather in Messenia was set to change.  With the equinox, daily temperatures were to drop by several degrees. Now there would be cloud, rain and storm along with the sunshine. Ah, well. Better pack the waterproofs.

Yet when we came into land at Kalamata airport  on Sunday lunchtime all was blue. The plane banked over the Gulf of Messenia heading out to the Mediterranean before flying back up the Mani peninsula, following the Taygetos Mountains into the airport. Blue sea. Blue mountains. Blue sky.

We stepped off the plane into high-summer warmth to be met by Dimitri, who whisked us  off in his smart Mercedes people carrier. You have chosen a good time to visit, he said; not too hot.

And so it proved.

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Hinterland Messenia is not pretty. It is a rugged, crumpled upland with deep valleys and winding roads, the vegetation parched from summer heat. Grass burned brown, bare earth between the trees and vines; wherever you look, the grey-green haze of olive groves spreading up and down hillsides and gullies, the dun colour palette spiked here and there: white-walled farmhouses, red tiled roofs, the odd designer villa, black spires of cypress  and, at the roadside, soaring clumps of phragmites grasses with their parchment coloured plumes. There is stuff and clutter among the trees – old tyres, beach loungers, broken down farm machinery, dead cars and stranded boats. Ramshackle stalls offer pumpkins and oranges. And then the road bends towards the Gulf and you glimpse the sea, glinting like jewels, the woodcut frieze of the Mani mountains beyond.

The road south from the airport to Koroni follows the coast – we pass by Messini, Velika, Petalidi, Hrani, Nea Koroni, Vounaria – more work-a-day farming communities than high-profile tourist territory. We know that when we reach Harakopio we must leave the main road and wend up the hillside above Peroulia Beach.  Michael and Maria, our hosts at the Iconpainter’s Villas, have provided a map, but in real life nothing looks straightforward. I’m relieved when it turns out that Dimitri mostly knows where he’s going.

The turn is not obvious despite the clutch of signs on the fence, and almost at once we are ‘off the beaten track’ and seemingly in someone’s front yard. The road narrows so quickly I breathe in, and next we’re zigzagging round house ends, nudging round blind corners, Dimitri tooting the horn (not too loudly), then climbing up beside a whitewashed church, then on through olive groves.

The road is single track, mostly concrete, but in places broken down to rubble. It undulates with bold intention.There are small ravines and gullies. At one point there’s a frisson of alarm from Dimitri as he fears for his Mercedes. This is no game, he says, and we agree. But he is a game lad, and he presses on. IMG_2925

And suddenly we are turning into a smart gateway, pulling up the drive to a tall white house, and there is Michael to greet us and show us to three lovely little houses that will be home for the next seven days.

The bright turquoise doors are a good start. In our respective kitchens we find welcome boxes for lunch and the following day’s breakfast – tomatoes, oranges and figs from the garden, Maria’s home-made lemonade and bottled baby oranges, fig jam and chutney. In the fridge there are mini bottles of Ouzo, the Iconpainter’s own white wine, local yogurt, feta cheese and honey. There is also bread, milk, butter, ground coffee and tea, iced water, brown eggs, little fruit pastries, sesame biscuits, plums and bunches of grapes. It seems we have flown straight to heaven.P1020274We put out of our minds the fact that on Thursday there will be a big storm, and side line Michael’s apologies that the likelihood of rain is high. We have been longing for it, he tells us. All the olive farmers  are waiting. I know it’s not what you want.

We shrug. For now the sun is shining and it is time to eat our picnic lunch under the terrace awning hung with grapes. And then…And then it is time to throw off our travelling clothes, put on something looser and cooler and so take the path to Peroulia Beach…IMG_2919copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

PS I know I said I’d take you walking to Koroni. But that little trek will have to wait till the weather is cooler.

 Peroulia Dreaming Part 1

Peroulia Dreaming Part 1

It was hard to leave, yet if we had stayed longer we might never have come home. We drank light, red wine pressed this summer from the ancient Greek Agiorgitiko grapes grown at our door, ate olives picked last autumn from the garden trees, laced our food with fragrant oil, drizzled honey over little clay pots of fresh yogurt, bit into sun-warmed figs, breathed in lavender, rosemary, oregano, rose geranium, then gazed, quite mesmerised, over the olive groves to the sea and the blue spine of the Taygetus Range. And then forgot. Everything.

We were here for seven days. On the Peloponnese (Πελοπόννησος) – the place where legend has geographical existence and the gods once roamed and made mischief. One of the gateways to the underworld is at the foot of the Mani penisula, another is at Lerne (Λέρνη) in the Argolis, where Heracles also slew the multi-headed serpent Hydra. Before that he had been in Nemea, slaying the Nemean lion. This is also the area from which Agiorgitiko vines are said to originate, and so the wine is also dubbed Blood of Hercules since it is believed to have fortified the hero before he vanquished the big cat.

Later he travelled across the northern Peloponnese in pursuit of the Ceryneian Hind and the Erymanthian Boar, while in the west he diverted the rivers Alfeois and Pineois to clean out the monumentally filthy Augean Stables. (Don’t you find it pleasing to know these fantastical events occurred in real places).

This is also the land of the Bronze Age Mycenaeans – they who were the builders of palaces, cities and tholos tombs – their centre the city of Mycenae in the north-east – until their mysterious disappearance in 1100 BCE. Homer’s tales in the Iliad have their beginnings here too, in Sparta, whence Paris eloped with Helen, and set off the whole bloody conflict that was the Trojan War.

In the Common Era, and especially from the early Middle Ages, the shores of the Peloponnese suffered serial conquests, falling under Byzantine rule twice, invaded by Slavs, Franks, Ottoman Turks (twice), Venetians (twice) – all of whom, one way and another, have left traces of their passing. And yet for all this and the many following upheavals, including the War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire in 1821 -1832, and the Civil War of 1946-49, one has the sense, at the very heart of things, that the Greeks have, and always will, remain true to their authentic selves. They live for, and of, and by land. For many, that living may be tough, and especially by cosy 21st century standards, but still they live well. You sense this as you wander the lanes past the ramshackle farms with their litter of tractor parts and decomposing cars. And here we come to the crux of the matter – the smiles and exchanges of kalimera (good morning) as we pass: for if the true measure of a civilised people is their capacity to welcome strangers, then the Greeks continue to show us the way. Indeed, many of us could learn a great deal from them.

Samuel Butler (1774-1839) - The Atlas of Ancient and Classical Geography  Project Gutenberg

Samuel ButlerThe Atlas of Ancient and Classical Greece, Project Gutenberg

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But in case you are wondering where exactly was the location of our collective forgetting – we were staying above Peroulia Beach, among the olive groves between Kombi and Harakopio villages, 6 km north of Koroni (Κορώνη) on the easterly tip of the westernmost peninsula. Our little house at the Iconpainter’s Villas had a veranda that looked east on the Gulf of Messinia and the mountains of the Mani across the water, and south to Koroni – a hillside fishing village hugged around its harbour, the promontory behind dominated by the monolithic bastion of a huge fortress built by the Venetians in the 13th century and added to by the Ottomans in the 16th. Perhaps I’ll take you there in the next post. But be warned: it is a fair hike through the olive groves.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

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