Sunday, 2 October 2011

Vathi, Gythio...

Sitting in Gythio, looking at the island where Paris spent his honeymoon night with Helen...
Drinking a fresh orange juice, posting the blog for the last couple of days....

Not much to report from Friday. We spent most of the day by the beach at Kardamyli, waiting for our hosts' car to be repaired. We had a marvellous lunch at Elie's Taverna, swam in crystal clear water (no sign of life anywhere under the waves), went for a walk along the strand, had a relaxing day. Somewhere along the way, Andrew lost a lens from his glasses, but luckily has brought a spare pair.
We sat on the highest terrace watching the spectacular silent sunset across the Messenian Bay. Above us and the mountains behind us, clouds gathered – looking quite black in places, a change from the weather and maybe the start of autumn.
This evening we joined a party of mostly German friends who have – as a group – been coming here for forty years or so on holiday. Mostly retired of course, they all spoke impeccable English and were delightful company, being familiar (it seems) with English literature, politics, drama, tv, etc. Some own their own houses here, some stay in apartments. We ate at the roadside taverna which we'd been to a couple of nights ago. Excellent food. The main instigator of the party was a retired doctor, Elisabeth, who has provided some sort of medication for Frank's torn cartilage, and effected a miraculous change in all our lives as the pain and distress has hugely diminished. Once again during the evening a strong wind blew up, and people put on sweaters, wraps,
Tomorrow we are off to explore more deeply into the Mani, with M&F as our guides.
During the night, the wind started banging and crashing round the tower house, rattling shutters, making dead leaves swirl round in the square outside, so that they scraped and clattered. The temperature dropped quite noticeably, but Margaret says once the sun gets up everything will warm up nicely, and the wind will become a helpful breeze. This our last day in the Mani, as tomorrow we head back north towards Athens, staying there for the last two nights. I am eyeing the contents of the suitcase with a cool eye – will we have enough clean clothes, will we need cool or hot clothing.... I wish I was not such a messy eater. I always manage to spill stuff down my front, and here the food is often oily, so it makes marks which are hard to remove.
Frank is nervous about travelling into the Mani with his bad leg, so they will come with us as far as Areopoli and then we will go on alone.
Just back from our day exploring the cape. I wondered if it was going to worth the effort, being tired and facing a long day in the car, but I am so glad we went. Our first port of call was the stone-mason shop outside Areopoli, where a couple are creating a wide range of modern Maniot stone carvings. We bought a little oil lamp, as simple as could be, something which could have been made in the real stone ages.... a shallow dip in a lump of marbly limestone, where you drip in some oil and use a tiny roll of cotton as a wick. Very simple, very nice. They are on Facebook, and are worrying about the recession and possible collapse of modern life in Greece, so he is building a sturdy chicken shed with a goat-house, so they can have some sort of self-sufficiency. Then we went on to have a coffee and buy some honey (after careful tasting sessions) at Areopoli, where M&F turned back for home, and we went on south.
The power of the landscape to show you how the layers of history unfolded and why is very compelling. We drove down the west coast past the extraordinary little peninsular of Tigani, where there are various sacred sites and (Margaret says) a horrible walking surface made of large, razor-like stones on edge.
We passed a wandering herd of cows, half-hobbled, ambling down the road, beautful and slow.
The mountains ruffle and fill, their dry flanks lined here and there with terraces which must have been created with the utmost toil and labour – how old are they? Some are bone dry and empty, abandoned generations ago or burned in recent fires. Some still have olives growing in regular reassuring lines, or with thorn bushes filling in.
We passed Kitta, one of the extraordinary tower-villages of the region, named perhaps after the Italian word citta...? The influence of Romans, Italians and Venetians over the millennia cannot be overstated. The very towers themselves are perhaps of Italian origin.
We trickled down the gorgeous little port of Geroleminas, and then up again towards Vathi, most famous of the tower villages, and what a place that is. I had not expected to be so desolate. Clustered together on the peak of a high and remote rock, about a kilometre from the sea, and more like Gormenghast than anything else, is this tiny empty village with barely a single resident, but crammed with castle-towers, arches, alleys, dungeons, stone steps, twists and turns. It would make a marvellous film set. One guide book says the National Trust bought it and tried to make it into a resort, but had problems with the lease (in other words, the owners are still fghting). In the space of forty years or so, a hundred local people (men) were murdered .... or was it 40 men over 100 years, can't remember, will have to look it up again, but the place is tiny and to think of so much blood spilled, in a feud between just two families. You cannot get so much as a cup of coffee there, but you are free to wander where you will, and very memorable it is, too.
On down towards the southern cape of Matapa – passing a tiny narrow isthmus or pinch where the final heave of mountains swells out from the mainland, and you get a stupendous view over two bays – one to the west with a calm misty sea, and one to the east with racing white waves over deep clear blue water. Quite different sky, light, appearance, landscape on each side.
A tiny beach with sand (!) looks inviting on the west side, but all access is via another taverna, so we go on. At last we reach the end of the road, on a sunny south-facing slope with beautiful tiny inlets near at hand filled with rapturously blue water. An expensive resto guards the outlook and we duly buy a coffee... and decide to lunch further on. Stupidly I did not keep on reading the little pile of books we had, because if I had we would have gone on by foot to find the cave with bits of temple in it, and other wonders. This place was sacred to Poseidon (not surprisingly, being surrounded by the sea), and was a place of psychopomps, where death could be negotiated in various ways... The is Tenaron, or Taineron, and nearby around the headland there is the main entrance to Hades itself which can only be approached now by boat... where Heracles dragged Cerberus out of Hades as his Twelfth Labour, where Orpheus brought Eurydice up from below the ground, where so many of the really ancient legends are set. We will have to come back and explore it properly.
It has been a bit frustrating trying to locate the old gods, the old history in Mani – so much is overlain by more recent events: the ferocious wars between Turks, Maniots, Venetians, pirates, families, patriots, etc. which are very colourful and have lots of architectural remnants to see. In fact the old temples and sacred placecs were freely plundered for their stone – not for use as carved marble, but to be burnt for lime, so there are only fragments and foundations left, and not enough done to make access easy. Even the signposting is more likely to point you to churches or monasteries than to the Gods I was hoping to find.
However, after a simple lunch at Porto Kaglia (Italian – port of quails), a place described as the most beautiful bay in the whole of Greece, and who am I to argue? - we set off north again up the east coast of the Mani.
Here I found slightly more of the ancient gods in evidence... a temple to Aphrodite here, or to Artemis there. One pass was where the Amazons advanced (described as single-breasted Saggitarians). There are Doric columns on some of the headlands. And it also struck me that the constant repetition of places called Profitis Elias (Prophet Elijah) are in fact 'new' names for places sacred to Apollo, as the man of the fiery chariot would be near-enough for the locals to identify with Phaeton's chariot. So, my original thoughts about all this sunshine being wasted or in some way unacknowledged were quite unfounded and wrong. Sun-worship survived, and in fact, of course, once I started to look, I also found quite few new installations of solar panels, set in the olive groves, all over the place. Not a lot, but some.
Back over the mountains we came, to the west, and riccochetted with shock in the car when a huge (private?) explosion went off behind a wall not far from home. Someone playing with dynamite, presumably. Various villagers in the place rushed out to see what had happened, but we recovered our dignity and drove on. We went back into the stone-carving shop to buy a present for Margaret... a stone oil lamp which we presented to her when we got home. It is burning now, a steady little flame in its beautiful whitish marbley-bowl. She says she'll keep it alight all the time they are here.
We had a text from Lulu in London (how far away that seems), saying the long-expected heatwave has arrived there, and she is sweltering in the park near her flat, while a Christmas cake is baking in her oven.
Now, after a shower in the garden, and Andrew helping to replace a defunct light fitting on the landing, we will go for a drink on the terrace and then out to supper with the friends we met up with at the bouzouki night. Our last night in the Mani. Tomorrow we head back up through the Peloponnese to Athens and eventually on Tuesday, home.

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