Monthly Archives: June 2012

To Spiti Mou (My House)

To be absolutely correct — my apartment.  My 47 square meters of Greekness.  That’s roughly 505 square feet, I think.

Thursday I arrived in the domestic terminal at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport in Athens.  I picked up my bag, changed some money, and got to the taxi stand.  Not knowing what to expect in terms of costs, I was pleased to see an announcement about a flat rate of 35 euros to the center of Athens, and to my surprise that was accurate.  Before I’d been in Athens an hour, I was getting into my apartment.

Everything looked good — clean, in place.  Once I rolled the suitcase into the bedroom and the carry-on stayed in the living room, I gathered my money and keys and headed down the street to the supermarket.  Three plastic bags and a filled backpack later, I was back in the kitchen unloading things.  Except garbage bags.  Of course I’d forget that.

I unzipped the big suitcase and began throwing clothes into two piles, whites and others.  The whites got piled into the washer and soon that first load was filling.  I got a big glass of cold sparkling water, sat down and tried to get onto the Internet.  Since I’d gotten a new provider in December before I left, I hadn’t actually used the new service.  I had a piece of paper with what appeared to be the password.  Wrong.

After a while, I simply gave up.  Maybe I was too tired, I figured, to get it right.  Maybe I needed a nap.

So I lay down about 2.  When I finally woke up it was 7.  So much for not being tired!  Unloading the washer, I took the whites out to the balcony to hang on my wire clothes dryer.  Then the second load went into wash.  I read for a while, watched some TV, and cooked some spaghetti.

By 9, I was back in bed, reading again.  Sleep came quickly after about 10 p.m.

No alarm woke me — and unless that’s necessary, I won’t be using one for a while.  I simply woke up, checked the clock, and began to sort through the other suitcase items.  I simply created like piles on the floor.  Laundry in, laundry out.  Puttered around a while, trying internet.  Finally got an answer I’d emailed to the Athens Centre about the password, and I was online again with no trouble.  Turns out that on the bottom of the modem there’s a key listed there.  Who knew?

Anyway, I was connected to cyberspace again, and so I logged on for a while.  Then it was back to reading, watching television, and reading.

About 4, I left to meet friends at my favorite hangout, Cafe Libre.  First I stopped at the corner Jumbo store (a department store) for a few items, then picked up a bottle of cold water and some trolley/tram/bus tickets.  I walked a couple of blocks to the trolley stop and sat down, waiting for the #4.  Once it came, I climbed on, sat down, and waited for my stop.  Three stops later, I got off across the street from the cafe, walked over, and sat down with my friends.

We chatted for several hours, catching up about everything.  Elections, especially, came into the conversation.  We compared notes about what we’d seen and observed.  Phil and George and I agreed that this time around, people seemed more resigned to a hard time ahead, no matter which party “won.” No one knows what will happen — but everyone speculates about the first step, forming a coalition government.  What will it do?  Will it have any chance of success?  The winning party, New Democracy, followed by Syriza and then Pasok, are the top winners and only Pasok agreed to cooperate.  Yet Pasok didn’t provide many key figures.  So here we are, watching Samaras (the new Prime Minister) and wondering what will happen.

The elections were on Sunday, the day after the wedding, and that meant lots of people traveled to their home precincts to vote.  That’s one reason we rented the Jeeps — the buses were going to be packed.  But the Jeeps were frankly more convenient anyway.  I only turned the television on in my room once, that Sunday night, to see the outcome of the election.  It was over earlier and quicker than I had anticipated.

Which post office did I use, Phil asked?  The one down on Immitou near the supermarket.  Not anymore, George said. It closed.  It’s been consolidated with one farther away.  And who did I use as an electrician?  Sotiris, I answered. Once again — not anymore.  It turns out he’s gone back to his village, with his family.  I’ve read a number of articles in The Athens News and E-Kathimerini that this is the case with a growing number of young people.  In Athens, even with work, it is increasingly hard to stretch their money.  Without work, it is impossible.  So returning to their villages means they have a safety net, a support system.  They at least can eat and live with family.  So Sotiris, the young electrician I’ve used in the ten years or so I’ve had my apartment, has joined that exodus.

So the three Americans, the only people in the cafe for a long time, sat and talked Greek politics.  We also discussed the upcoming tour to Jordan that Phil and George are leading, the one I’m going on.  Everything sounds so amazing and I’m looking forward to the trip.

After I left, I took the #4 trolley back toward my place.  It is a circuitous route, but I wanted to see things, to look at stores.  Every block showed me a store (at least one) that had closed since I was last here in December.  More places are up for rent. I know that rental prices are down, because I used to get 650 euros a month for my place, and the last renter paid 500 euros a month.  This is how everyone is adapting.

I’m sure real estate values are down as well, and even so, places go unsold.  Who has the money to buy?

My ride on the trolley showed me lots of stores closed — big ones, too, not just small ones.  I was happy enough that my supermarket at the bottom of the street is still open, and that my favorite hangout, Cafe Libre, is still open.

What will things be like in the center?  I’ll go down to Syntagma on Monday, I think, because I need to go to the large electronics store there, Public.  Things are quiet enough, and no demonstrations have been announced, so I’ll be okay.

But before that, I’ve got a new problem to solve:  my key for the front door to our building doesn’t work.  Apparently, they’ve changed that lock.  That’ll be easy to take care of, IF I can figure out who collects the monthly koinochrista (sort of like HOA fees).  It’s changed, of course, and I don’t know who to contact.  I’ll have to bother the Athens Centre once more, on Monday morning, to find out.

It’ll be a quiet weekend.  And that’s fine with me.  I will enjoy my balcony later in the day when it’s cooler.  I’ll finish unpacking.

I’m home again.  To spiti mou.

 

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Peripetia: Part Two

Well, Wednesday was certainly an adventure — in driving.  We loaded up the Jeep with baggage and 5 people and left Afitos about 10:30 a.m.  The drive to Thessaloniki was easy and smooth.  We talked and laughed and talked.

Then we noticed that we were in what was, we guessed, Thessaloniki itself.  Either we’d talked so much that we’d missed the signs to the airport or there’d been one but we’d simply missed it.

Regardless, there we were in Thessaloniki.  Before we knew it, we were in the center, to kendro, and I managed to get into a right-hand lane, find a street going the right way, and take a right.  A few turns later and we were back on that same central road, but headed away from the center.  Dodging open(ing) car doors, people, and motorcycles, I finally found a space to pull over near a periptero, a little kiosk shop, and Gini and Calvin got out to ask directions.  A few minutes later, they were back in the car with clear directions.

More dodging, more open doors and motorcycles, and before too long we saw it — one clearly marked turn.  We took it.  We followed directions.

Before we knew it, we were back in territory we recognized — near the airport.

I dropped everyone else off at the airport with all their bags. Calvin and Jeannie were headed to Istanbul, and they (I’m hoping) made their flight with no problem.

After I returned the Jeep and paid the balance for three days’ use, I rode back to the airport and as I exited the van I noticed that Carolyn and Gini were sitting outside.  I sat next to them and we talked for a while, trying to figure out what to do.

They were to be back at the airport about 1 a.m. on Thursday morning for their flight.  What to do till then?  We took turns sitting with luggage, looked for places to eat inside, and returned.  I tried to get an earlier flight to Athens, but would have had to pay 210 euros for that.  It was cheaper in the end for me to get online, go onto Expedia, and book a room at the Hilton near the airport.  I left for it just as Carolyn and Gini headed to their hotel to meet the rest of their group.

Within an hour, I was settled into a plush room.  I took a long hot shower, piled into bed with a book, and later ordered room service.

I didn’t need to go back to Thessaloniki — my adventure for the day had been navigating the crowded main street to the center and back without any incident.  No dings, no crashes, no problems.  Just nerves.

I’d always wondered whether I could survive driving in larger areas.  That was answered on Wednesday.  I’d already managed to get us into and out of tiny windy streets in the little village of Afitos.

Next adventure:  will I drive in Athens?

Stay tuned.

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Dream Days

I’ve been in Greece for almost a week now, and twice I’ve simply slept all day.  I think my system is telling me rest is long overdue.

Of course, I managed to get away without finishing thank-you notes, so Kay will finish mine for me.  I don’t know why I didn’t – but every time I had “time” I fell asleep or found something to do.  I kept rushing around like a crazy person, and the stress was taking its toll.  Every day my ability to focus diminished radically.  By the time I left, I could barely focus on one thing to get it done.

Maybe for me those thank-you notes were another level of reality.  I was able to handle everything else – including being in the room with Dad after his death, with no trouble at all.  This, though, threatened to tip me over for some reason.

I have some to write, and I will, to friends who did other things.  When I’m in Athens I plan to write people.

Odd, though, how the dreams have started, dreams in which Dad is here, or with Phil and Mother.  And we’re all together.  Not bad dreams at all.  I just hadn’t dreamed much about him at all in the last weeks.

Maybe it’s that I’ve stopped, that I’m removed – or that it’s time.

After all, this week I’d normally be giving him cards and presents – for Father’s Day and for his birthday.  Those two days always fell within two days of each other, so I always “doubled up” and sent two cards, two presents.  This is the first year I won’t be able to do that, to find books he’d enjoy.

Of course, June is a month of birthdays – or was.  My grandmother Ella’s birthday: June 11, the day before I left for Greece; I spent it at my cousin Carolyn’s house, and we talked about her.  I think my Grampa Charlie’s birthday is this week too – June 21, if I remember correctly.  Then Dad’s on June 22.  It’s also my cousin Barbara’s birthday – she always told Dad she was the best birthday present he ever got.  And her grandson Colton is one year old this week too.  Not a sad month at all, though — how can it be?  To celebrate the first birthday of the newest member of the Ware/Kaatz Clan?  The month simply presents another example of how life’s cycles continue.

I am a bit sad today, as I write this.  But just a bit.  Mainly I am grateful, grateful for so much.

For a father who gave me such a role model, who gave me strength and good sense (I hope).  For parents who loved me and let me find my own career, not forcing me into anything just because I would make money.  For a family that remains linked and close and supportive.  We may live in several states and spread out, but we’re in touch.  And there for each other.

Today, I sit here by the pool in a small town in Xalkidiki in Greece, enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze, watching youngsters play in the pool.  I am grateful to a grandmother who loved traveling and brought me to Europe in 1974 for the first time – and paid for my 6-week summer school in England.  She was  66 at the time, and widowed – she took Kay and me to Italy and Germany and England.  Phil didn’t want to go.  She’d enjoy this place.

The Greeks have a wonderful word:  iliotherapia, or sun therapy.  I think that’s the gift I am enjoying right now – the healing power of the sun.  After the busy days leading up to and including the wedding I came here to Northern Greece for, now I can start to wind down, to relax, and to find my way again.

Because that is really what my time here this summer will offer me – time not only to heal, but to begin to find my way again in this post-retirement, post-Dad world.

There’s a lot to do when I get back to Louisiana. My house has things to repair, to improve.  I need to clean out and purge books and boxes from it.  And then there’s always Dad’s house that Kay and I have to work on clearing out and deciding what to do with. And the Blazer.  And the boat.  A huge garage sale to organize and execute.  But I don’t have to worry with those things now.  Not for a couple of months.

And when I return?  When all of that business is concluded? What will I do?  Find a routine, a rhythm.  Things I’d hoped to do but that got interrupted or never really started – yoga, painting, exercise – these will emerge as I find that routine.  Being able to bounce between Lake Charles and Crystal Beach, visiting family in Austin and other places in Texas — or indeed visiting friends anywhere I want to go – will be fun.  I won’t really have to make arrangements other than making sure the dogs and cats are okay while I’m gone.

But for now – iliotherapia.  Sleep.  Music.  Friends.

Dreams, too, and memories.

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Peripetia (Adventures)

Sunday afternoon, June 18

Yesterday was the wedding – and the day was lovely.  It was hot, but clear and not rainy (which some feared).  At 6:30 p.m. or so, we processed from the hotel to the church and sat down after taking photographs.  Eventually the bride arrived, and the wedding began.

 

Controlled chaos might be a better way to describe the wedding.  An Orthodox ceremony is beautiful to watch and the men’s religious chanting was an extra bonus.  The bridal party stood for the entire wedding.

 

There wasn’t a procession in the way Americans might be used to:  the party sort of entered, not to any musical accompaniment.  The music was the religious chanting that accompanied the priests reading/chanting/singing of the liturgy.

 

Instead of the kind of hushed quiet of an American wedding, here you could hear whispers of entire conversations taking place during the ceremony.  We also watched as one of the little flower girls dragged her stuffed lamb with her up and down the steps, at one point even wandering behind the priest.  Even the photographer moved to capture her travels, but eventually someone (a mother, an aunt?) corralled her and got her to stay put.

The bride’s aunts were a bit taken aback at just how informal a formal wedding can be here.  There were people in jeans, and people dressed up.  People sat, but others just walked around and kind of jostled for a good location.

The best man and maid of honor were there in part to help with the stephania, the wedding crowns, that symbolize the union of bride and groom.  Separate, the two are linked by ribbon, tied together in a bow.   After the bride and groom are crowned, they are led around in what is known as the wedding dance, or the priest leading them in several circles.  The maid of honor holds the ribbons of the stephania during this, following them in their slow circling.

Once the wedding was over, there was a kind of receiving line right there at the church in front of us.  Then we all moved outside and many more photographs were taken.  Then it was time to head to the reception, held outside on the patio of a restaurant in the city park.  The view beyond us was sloping hillsides, green trees, and a sky that soon began to fade into twilight.

As we entered, we were given a table number and went to our table.  Almost immediately servers started their jobs.  Soon we had bread, water, wine and appetizers.  Our feast continued through a salad course and a huge selection of beef, pork, and lamb.  All this was washed down by more water and wine.

The music at first was provided by a band – and before too long, many of us were up and dancing.  Eventually, the band was replaced by mix music.  Dancing continued throughout the night.  I think some of us left about 2 and walked back to the hotel.  I slept till about 8:30 a.m., and then got up and packed my suitcases.  Some of the group got in about 4, I think.

Today we left Naoussa and took a charter bus to the airport in Thessaloniki.  There I rented one car and the mother of the bride rented another.  A third car for another part of the group joined us.  By the time we got our cars and got out of the airport, we had a caravan of three.  Within a few minutes of hitting the road down to Chalkidiki, our caravan had dropped to two.  We persevered! We had a map.  We had a destination.

I have rented  a Jeep Compass, stick shift.  Loaded with so much luggage that the view out the back window was blocked, it was easy to drive—on flat land. However, going uphill with four people and a ton of luggage meant that we had a bit more difficulty accelerating.  Once more, though, we persevered.

Getting to the area where our hotel was didn’t take terribly long.  It was 45 kilometers from Thessaloniki airport to Nea  Moudani.  Another 15 or 20 kilometers and we were in the resort town of Afitos.  Finding the hotel, though, was another story.

We drove past it.  Didn’t see the sign.  Couldn’t see the sign.  Not clearly marked.  But the other problem, once we actually located the place (after a phone call) was the parking.  One thing the hotel failed to tell us:  there was an all-day party.  My first thought was that it was a wedding reception:  lots of bunting, flowers, music.  At checking in, though, we found out that it was not a wedding reception but a child’s birthday party.  A very elaborate child’s birthday party.

Finally checked in, I am now sitting on my small patio right outside my room.  I am not going with the crew – I am ready to sit and relax.  Someone else has taken the keys and all I want is some ice, a diet Coke, and time by the pool.  Later, I’d like an adult beverage and food.  I may have to drive to the LIDL grocery store just a couple hundred meters away.

Back here, not far from the pool, it is relatively quiet.  The birthday party is over.  Instead of being bombarded by the bass of pop music, I am instead surrounded by nature: a cypress tree, some pine trees, an olive tree, orange tree, and roses and geraniums right around me.  Just behind my two-story room suite (living room/bath downstairs, loft sleeping area up) is the stone wall of the back of this property.  Behind it, fields stretch out.  Apparently the beach is about two kilometers away, and because I know just how crazy it will be there, I think I’ll skip it.

I’ll sit here, listen to the crickets and the birds, and feel my blood pressure drop.  Not bad.  And it’s just now 4:30 p.m.

 

Tuesday June 19

It’s just almost 11 a.m., and I’m sitting by the pool, waiting for others to return.

We’ll spend another day here and then head back to Thessaloniki.  Not sure what we’ll do after we drop the car off, but we’ll figure it out.

It’s been a very lazy time here for me – I slept, read, and enjoyed my small patio.

Yesterday we went to the little town near our hotel, returned after a little while, and then ate dinner at the tavern here at the hotel.  It was a lovely, lazy day.  I’m looking forward to more of them.

There were only a couple of minor problems, and one involved sea urchins — a kind of nasty discovery without benefit of water shoes.  But the local doctor even came to the hotel and picked people up, drove them to his office, and returned them.  What a switch from the U.S.!

From this point on, the various parts of the group go different ways.  The bride and groom and some of their friends will go on to Skiathos.  The mother of the bride and some aunts and an uncle will head to Thessaloniki.  Two aunts and I stay here a day more. The groom’s parents will return to Naoussa.  Two of the friends of the bride and groom are heading to Istanbul from here.

On Thursday, my friend and her sisters and relations will fly back to Houston via Zurich.  I’ll catch a slightly later flight on Thursday morning to Athens, and by noon I hope to be in my own apartment for the first time since early December.

I’m ready to wash clothes and stock up the refrigerator. I will meet friends for drinks.  I will be home.  And in my own bed.  Or at least one of them.

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The Wine Roads of Macedonia

On Wednesday I arrived with friends, landing in Thessaloniki, after an overnight flight from Houston to Frankfurt (delayed by thunderstorms in Houston).  Once I stepped off the plane, I felt immediately at home and relaxed.

Even though I’ve never been to the north of Greece before, the landscape looks so familiar – Thessaloniki is on the water, yet within a few miles, you’re in the mountains.  The scenery is very mixed, with some agricultural development and small towns.

There are eight of us here for a wedding, for the niece of a friend of mine.  She’s marrying a young man from the town of Naoussa, in the area of Ematha, not to be confused with the Naoussa on the island of Paros.  This is a small mountainous town of about 20,000 people.  Nikos and Sara met us at the airport and we rode to Naoussa on a spacious bus, with lots of room to spread out.  Some fell asleep.  Some of us sat up and talked.  I enjoyed the ride, looking out at the countryside, green and flowering.  Nikos said it had rained a lot recently, and the lush green growth certainly was evidence of that.

The bus couldn’t negotiate the small street to our hotel, though, so someone loaded the heavy bags in a car and drove those to the hotel.  We walked with our small bags, and as we walked, at least one person stopped Nikos to say hello.  It is his hometown, after all, and he lives in the San Francisco area now.

We settled into our rooms in a lovely small hotel, The Palia Poli (.  My room overlooks the patio.  I turned on the air conditioning and unpacked, discovering along the way that I had somehow not packed my new camera.  One of many small problems that, I am sure, I will deal with.  I have a camera on my iPhone, so that will do for now.

After drinks, we walked to a tavern by the city park, sat and had a great evening.  Nikos’s parents and sister joined us, and we ate lots of mezedes.  By the time we walked back to the hotel, we were full and ready for bed.

I slept Thursday away, I must confess.  I was exhausted after weeks of dealing with business, and I guess my body just decided it needed the rest.

After I awoke, though, I found a local guidebook and read about the area.  Naoussa has an interesting history, and I look forward to seeing more of it.  I’ve been so indulgent about laziness today, and sitting here writing this is making me sharpen and really wake up.

The internet password didn’t seem to work for me, so I just began typing a word document and asked later about the problem when I went downstairs.  I got the message that “the server has timed out” or  something like that.  Oh well.  There is an internet café that Carolyn and I saw last night when we wandered down to find our diet Cokes for this morning.  (Later I discovered that because my room is a corner room and because the walls are such thick stone, I can get reception for the internet by sitting on the loveseat near the window. Problem solved.)

We all took taxis up to Agios Nicholaos Park, about 2 kilometers from town.  What a change – in such a brief time we were up in a mountainous area, walking under enormous plane trees, and headed to the Arapitsa River, which runs through the park.  The river was clear, inviting, and icy cold – it’s fed by springs and by snow melt.  Even now in June the icy water was a shock.

There was plenty of time for walking and taking in the scenery.  Birds chirped around us, the sound of the water rippling over stones in the river soothed us, and we wandered around.  First we stopped at the small church in the park, and then continued on.  I stopped and went back to write; others kept walking a bit more.

Such a refreshing and peaceful area was just perfect – so much so that we decided to come back on Friday night for dinner and eat on the veranda of the hotel at the entrance to the park.

Then it was time to go back to our rooms, change, and take off for the rehearsal dinner.  This was held at a local vineyard, Damaras Winery. The family have owned it for six generations now, and are friends of the groom’s family.  We were treated to a tour of the winery and the distillery, listening as the young vintner whose great-grandfather started this place explained to us that now the wine was organic and that they used no additives other than a little bit of sulfite.  Everything else – from manure to leftovers – went into a compost heap that in turn went to the vineyards, where chickens help to distribute it.

The setting outside, where the tables rested, overlooked the vineyards but also offered a view of the mountains and of the town.  That unbelievable light which is peculiar to Greece once more performed its magic on everyone, newcomers and seasoned travelers alike.  The sunset colors melted into evening as we took our places at the simple but elegant tables.

We ate as the Greeks eat, with many plates of lots of things, with wine and water.  And tsipouro, another product of this family business.  Powerful, even more so than ouzo, it is to be sipped slowly, not slammed back like a shot of tequila.

Eggplants in several different recipes, taramasalata, Florina peppers, bread, feta cheese, tiny fried fish, fried eggplant known locally as “blind fish,” a local type of fried cheese called boutsa”– and just when we all thought it was over, plates of grilled seafood and then a heaping plate of pasta (one for each of us) left us speechless.  And incredibly full.  A true feast.  Cool breezes, clear skies, and music in the background.  The voices of Greek and English speakers mingled as non-speakers (of Greek) managed to communicate with non-speakers (of English).  Laughter rang out often, denoting the kefi  (good feelings, rather embracing all) so important to Greeks.

Then it was time for taxis back to our hotel, where we all sank into our beds, fully sated and feeling happy.  Of course, the young bridal party contingent didn’t make it back home until several hours later, as we older ones found out this morning at breakfast.

Today, Friday, began with a leisurely breakfast on the patio.  Cheese pies, croissants and bread, butter and jam, fresh peaches from the owner’s father’s trees, eggs and sausages, fresh yogurt and honey, freshly squeezed orange juice, cheese and cold cuts – again, facing a Greek table is like facing a mini-cafeteria.  We just kept passing around food, grazing, and drinking water and juice.  Coffee and tea (a mountain herbal tea) also were available.

By 10:30 or so, we were off in three cars, headed toward Vergina.  The discovery of royal tombs there in the 1970s has led to a new, beautifully organized museum situated under the tumulus of the tombs themselves.  There we saw the finds from the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great.

I  expected to see the bronze tools and implements of war, but not quite such magnificent examples of greaves and helmets and so on.  Silverwork surprised me:  the delicate, masterful decorative creations of cups and plates, serving dishes of all kinds – so beautiful even now that I wouldn’t hesitate to use them.

We could see the remnants of the couches and chairs that were placed in the tomb – even the still-sharply colored designs of the cloth that the royal bones were wrapped in.  Delicate fronds of gold leaves and flowers were braided and wound into diadems and crowns.

Everywhere the signs offered us clear explanations both in Greek and English.  I was most taken with the small replica of Philip II’s tomb – complete with miniature shields and greaves and cups and saucers, placed as they were when the tomb was first discovered.  This was a work of art in itself, I think.

And at the beginning (or the end, as I managed it), was a film about the tombs and the site, in Greek with English subtitles.  Dedicated to the Greek archaeologist who discovered and excavated the site and who has since died, the film included photography of the site and of the tombs and its contents as well as information about Philip II and his death at the Theatre of Vergina, near the tomb itself.

After a short break for cold water and time to hit the museum store, we were back in the cars headed away from Vergina and toward Naoussa.  We took a left rather than a right at one point and headed upwards again, past the river, into the Pierian mountains to the monastery of Timios Prodromos.  A simple monastery, it offers its visitors a glimpse into the workings of a monastery whose exact beginnings are, as its guidebook says, “lost in time.”  Evidence of monks living in caves goes back many centuries, and history recounts a number of saints who visited the area.  All the local monasteries were burned by the Pasha about 1822 after the Naoussa revolution in the 19th century (the occupation of Greeks by the Turks ended only with the War of Independence, 1821-1828).

Pots of flowers and herbs bordered the steps and looked useful as well as decorative.  A young priest was working as we entered the doorway into a kind of open area.  At first I thought he was watering plants or planting, but I later found out his task was quite different – he was carefully washing the bones of earlier monks.  His head bowed reverently as he worked slowly and with great attention, he obviously saw his work as sacred.  Again, I had an insight into the life inside such a place.

One small chapel held our interest simply because it was inside the hollowed area of an enormous petrified tree.  Surely, I thought at first, this was not true.  However, as I looked carefully around me, I could clearly see that this was, indeed, wood.  Hollows and twists and bands of striated wood curled overhead.  Such an amazing use of nature, a practical use of what one has at hand.

The modern church is not much larger, but it is decorated from floor to ceiling – indeed all the ceiling itself it decorated – with scenes from Biblical stories as well as pictures of various saints.  Here is the story of the monastery, of Orthodoxy, of Christianity – played out in paint.  A simple row of chairs lined the back wall.

As we entered that small church, one of the many cats followed us in, obviously at home.

After our stop there, it was back to the hotel here in Naoussa.  Once back, we hit the local supermarket and ate a simple picnic lunch in the patio.  Cheeses, olives, crackers/toast, tzatziki, lettuce and tomatoes – a perfect light lunch.

I came back to my room about 5.  It’s almost 7 now.  In a few minutes, we will meet downstairs on the patio to head back to the park and the hotel by the river.  It’s almost time to eat again.

Maybe I’d better get ready.

10:17 p.m.

We just returned from dinner – early Americans that we are, we managed to eat early tonight.  After all, tomorrow morning some of us are planning a little shopping and some wandering around town.  Personally, I plan to sit and observe from cafes.  And get some rest in the afternoon.  Tomorrow night is the big night – the wedding we’ve all come here to celebrate.

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Dizzy Days

There are days when my head swims, even now, about 6 weeks after Dad’s death.  And I’ve stopped traveling so much on the road to take care of things — though I am calling and following through with some matters.  That’s what does it — the business, the phone calls, the frustration of lack of contact, of responses that are prompt.

I’ve not contacted his former employer regarding his life insurance in over a week now, but I will probably call today since I know they’ve received what I overnighted to them last week.  Maybe I can at least find out something regarding the amount of insurance, or at least get some actual confirmation that he DOES have this benefit.  I have the paperwork to support that.  But their records (from Dad and others who retired from Oryx, as Sun Oil had become by 1982) are on microfilm.  The company is now Anadarko.  It’s interesting that they immediately halted his pension checks, but can’t get the records for the same individual for insurance/benefits.  Isn’t a pension a benefit?  You can tell I am tired.  I no longer call as often.  Maybe that is what they want?

And then there’s this tiny matter of mineral rights that my mother owned — she’d sold the bit of family property while retaining the mineral rights.  At one time, she had nearly $100/month from this, but now the income has been barely $115.  A year, not a month.  Dad has had usufruct of this income since she died in 1993.  I called and called and called the company that disburses these payments.  No real person ever answered.  No phone message could actually be left, even with the so-called phone message service, since it simply looped back to the message itself and never led the caller TO an actual voice mail box.  I told my attorney about it while I was seeing him about other matters, and he suggested a letter, and also gave me copies of the successions I’d need.  He knows me well and said he felt sure I could write “a nice letter.” That phrase was said with a grin, implying he knew what “nice” would be.

Nice and sharp.  The letter, so acidic it bites, lies on my desk.  I’ll mail it today with the papers he gave me.  We’ll see what response THIS gets.

I’ve cancelled the telephone.  I’ve cancelled the television service (dish required).  Though I mentioned that the television cancellation was because of his death, the service person to whom I spoke failed to tell me that there would be an early termination fee.  Nor was it mentioned that this fee could be waived with a copy of the death certificate.  My sister just found that out when talking to a co-worker today.

Waiting for paperwork is, I think, like Waiting for Godot:  an exercise in existentialism.

The payment for the funeral — from an annuity — hasn’t been received yet by the funeral home, which means that Kay and I haven’t received that money either.

Yet his investment annuity account was dealt with quickly and easily, and we had our money deposited within a week.

It’s frustrating, and I am tired.  And dizzy.  My mind can’t seem to focus anymore, and I laugh about it at times, saying I clearly have two syndromes (related, I’m sure): CRS (can’t remember shit) and SFB (shit for brains).  At other times, I am sharp and bitchy, especially with Kay.  I apologize to her, but no one else is in our situation with us, and she manages to be the target simply because she asks questions and because I have no real outlet.  So I lash out.  And am sorry.  And apologize.

It’s time to get away, clearly.

Taking care of Dad’s business has pulled me up sharply about my own business affairs.  I now have a list for Kay of what I have, where it can be found.  I had a new will drafted last week.  Yet probably I’ve forgotten something, even with all the attention I’ve brought to bear on everything.  Everything I can remember, that is. I’ve tried to simplify my financial life nevertheless.

Just at the times when the family needs downtime, this hasn’t been possible, at least for me.  I know I’ve been pushing myself because I’m leaving tomorrow for Greece.  Despite everything, despite all the problems, I’m actually pretty satisfied with what Kay and I have managed to accomplish.  It’s just frustrating and tiring.

We’re edgy now.  With ourselves. With each other.  Even with love and tact, that edginess comes out.  Even with our focus on the future, on our new beach house in Crystal Beach near Galveston a reality (contract signed, dirt work done), we get mired down in the grind of post-death details.

I’ve got no real reserves left, of energy or tact, or anything.  I find myself exhausted by the thoughts of what needs to be done.  Exhausted and brought to tears.

Perhaps I’ve expected to get too much done too quickly.  And just when I manage to get myself to expect less, Kay innocently wants something done I can’t manage, and I go ballistic all over again.

So yes, it is time for me to leave.  To escape.  To breathe, to let go, to rediscover myself and recover my reserves.

My own house needs so much work — and part of my frustration stems from that failure.  My front porch has a soft place, from some support failure.  In The-House-That-Jack-Built pattern of my life, that problem has led to the brick column (non-supportive) separating from the porch, in turn pulling the decorative brick wall apart with a clear fissure that reminds me of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.”  Will a thunderstorm (a reality likely to occur often) pull down my house?  No, of course not.  But in dark times, I see that.

When I look at my house, I see what isn’t done.  The living room needs sheet rocking.  The kitchen does too, and it needs new flooring.  My bedroom still has a small area of the ceiling sheetrock that needs to be repaired.  The bathroom needs a new ceiling too.  And I need new flooring in the sunroom and maybe the laundry room.  Oh,  and a window sill needs replacing.  I need new ceiling fans in my bedroom, the front bedroom/office, and the kitchen. The house still hasn’t been painted either.

But that will all be awaiting me in September, when I return.  Kay very generously volunteered to follow through with porch repair, which is most worrisome to me now.  The repairman I’ve been in contact with hasn’t called back.  The story of my life lately?

Yet I dream of my house repaired, in order, clean and organized — for me, anyway.  And filled with laughter and friends again.

Dizzy days indeed.  Yet my frazzled state hasn’t really contained any emotional breakdowns over grieving Dad’s death.  Not directly.  Or maybe it has actually been my grieving mechanism?  I know there have been a few moments when I break into tears over Dad.  Frankly, though, I’ve been more relieved about it than anything — relieved that he is out of pain, no longer suffering. In many ways I felt as though I saw him disappearing for a long time.  Perhaps I grieved every day and by the last days, was too tired for meltdowns or tear storms.

Maybe those will come but I truly don’t think so.

I am almost packed.  My major suitcase is really done.  I just need to straighten it out, put a few more toiletries in, and my jewelry tools and some supplies.

Because I will be in Greece until September 10, I want to take time for my jewelry.  I’ve got time again to play, to create.  So I’m bringing some beads and jewels and wire.

I will have time to write, too, which is really wonderful.  The blog’s been perfect, and brought me joy and expression.  And back to life, really.  But I have other manuscripts which have languished in draft form, and I can now get back to them.

Mainly, I will breathe.  And be.

Time for dizziness.  For stillness.  For mornings on my balcony with a cup of tea and a book.  For coffee with friends.

For breathing.  For life.

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Hurricane Season 2012

June 1 is a date any Gulf Coast resident marks — it is always the official beginning of hurricane Season. We also know the date of November 30, the official end of the season.  But –as with this year — we have had years with hurricanes that form earlier than June 1.  And as with Hurricane Rita, we know that hurricanes can come right at the end of the season even though everyone pretty much breathes easier after October 1.

Growing up on the Gulf Coast means, therefore, that any sensible person has the following:  a laminated hurricane chart (paper ones are often provided free by area newspapers, but laminated ones are easily available), water, food, batteries, essential medicines and items, and an evacuation plan.  An additional item to include:  a generator, which in turn means you’ll need some gasoline.  Oh, and don’t forget money, as in cash.  We know from experience that if power goes out and cell phone towers are disabled, ATM systems also go out.  That means you need cash before you evacuate.

For the last 3 days, we’ve been flooded with reminders about the season, about having our plans ready, and about evacuating.

My plan is simple:  I’m leaving the country.  For almost 3 months.  Starting Tuesday June 12, cwareintheworld will be out in the world beyond Louisiana and Texas.

But until then, I think about the fact that our natural disaster here, the hurricane, has prepared us for life.  I have grown up in various places on the Gulf Coast (or, as I’m now seeing some places refer to it, the South Coast) and as with so many others I remember hurricanes — the big ones, even the ones that didn’t hit but were supposed to — by names.  Hurricane Audrey is the first I remember — 1957, the summer we moved to Egan.  We weren’t there for it, but returned shortly afterwards.  I have specific memories:  the bookcase in the back room was overturned (my doll got broken), the ceiling had exploded with water, the dog house had been ripped off the concrete and thrown a few houses away, and one of the movie theatres in Crowley (the Chief) was gone.  The next one I remember was, I think, Hurricane Carla, which hit on 10 September 1961.  That’s the one that we sat through.  We moved from our company house to Dad’s office, a metal building on a slab.  There was one room with no windows, and we spent a lot of time in it.  What do I remember?  The sound of the wind, the way the metal building breathed in and out, and the lull when the eye passed over us.  A few years later, in September 1971, I was in a dorm room when we were told to moved into the hall with our mattresses.  That was Hurricane Edith.  While I lived in Baton Rouge in 1973 and 1974, I carefully followed the movements of Hurricane Carmen in September 1974. .

By the time I lived in Texas for a few years, the only named hurricanes I tracked were

After I returned to Louisiana to teach in August 1981, I was right back in action alley.  Hurricane Danny in 1985 didn’t come near us.  Hurricane Juan in late October 1985 left us lots of rain.  In June 1986, Bonnie came in near us (near Sabine Pass, in Texas) and we got some rain.  Florence (September 1988) hit east of us.  The first category 5 hurricane to make landfall since 1969 hit in September 1988 — Gilbert caused lots of rains and some coastal flooding.  In August 1992, Andrew slammed through Florida and then plowed through southern Louisiana, mostly missing us in Lake Charles.  Opal (1995), Josephine (1996), and Danny (1997)  really didn’t come near us.  Frances (1998) left lots of rain and.  Georges (1998 also) avoided us.

But in October 2002, Hurricane Lili was predicted to be a level 5 and to come right over us in Lake Charles.  That’s the first time I left — I packed my car, my pets, and what I thought I couldn’t live without, and headed away.  Lili turned east and made landfall in Vermilion Bay as a Category 2.

Then came the year of the Twisted Sisters, as I call them:  Hurricanes Katrina (29 August 2005) and Rita (September 17-24, 2005).  Katrina devastated the New Orleans area and Mississippi.  I remember thinking it was safe from major damage — until the levee broke.  Our university took in a few students, opened parts of campus as a triage center, and the area absorbed lots of people fleeing the storm.  Soon it was our turn to evacuate, and we did.  I once more packed my car with what I described as necessary to life, and hit the road for central Texas — 13 1/2 hours for a 6 hour trip.  I watched everything unfold on CNN, unable to sleep much.  When I returned to Louisiana, I wasn’t allowed to exit Interstate 10 for Lake Charles — those exits were barricaded with Army tanks and police cars.  I stayed at Dad’s in Egan, and eventually could return to “look and leave.”  Once power was restored, I returned to my house.  There was roof damage and had been some leaking, but the house was basically okay, unlike other homes on my street that had trees through the roof or in the yard.  The university was sort of up and running, basically on the internet, and in available classrooms.  My graduate class met for the rest of that semester in a local coffeeshop.

In 2008, we evacuated on August 31 for Gustav, which was a strong Category 2 when it made landfall.  But a couple of weeks later Ike did much more damage to our area.  We were encouraged (but not required) to evacuate.  I did.  I went to Dad’s; I made him buy a generator.  That came in handy when Ike knocked our power out for a few days.  With it, we could run a window unit in one room, keep the refrigerator going, and I could even watch tv and use my laptop.  Lake Charles had more flood damage for Ike than it did for Rita.  While my house in LC was fine, my beach house near Galveston wasn’t.  I had nothing left except a few pilings that had been twisted and ripped like green branches — and a broken slab. That’s it.  And one Christmas ornament — a blue Christmas angel, which survived with one chipped wing.  I still have that survivor.

So yes, I pay attention to hurricanes.  I have my gear ready.  I have a plan.  Actually, I have several plans.  Yes, I leave for much of the summer; before I do, I make my sister promise to get my pets if there’s a threat.  I pack art in waterproof storage bags.  I put valuables in a safety deposit box.  By the time I return (this year on September 10) we aren’t through with the season yet.  In fact, most of the hurricanes of late that have affected us have actually hit in September.

But the most important lessons I’ve learned:  houses are just houses.  As long as your family and friends are safe, that’s the main thing.  I want my pets too.  I will pack my laptop and desktop, my camera, and as many photographs as I can cram in the Mini.  I throw some clothes together — there’s always a Walmart somewhere.  I put food in the car too (peanut butter, especially) and water, because I don’t know how long I’ll be ON the road IN the car.

Over the years I’ve decided that I’d stay put for a Category 1 or 2.  I’m not sure about a 3.  But 4 or 5?  I’m out of here, believe me.  I have a small generator ready, one that I can handle.  I will have food and water ready, along with batteries and a radio and a battery-powered television to follow the weather.

So as we head into the 2012 hurricane season, I wonder what’s ahead.  I think I’ll get my hurricane chart today while I’m out running around.

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A New Month

It’s June 1 today, and the end of a whirlwind couple of weeks.  I’ve put more miles on the truck and car than I can recall right offhand.

Weekend before last I came to Lake Charles, put a truckload of tools into storage, went back to Egan, and left on Sunday for the farm, carrying another truckload of wood and tools.  The wood and some tools were for my friend Adam, who is using the wood to make my sister and me some computer tables.  It’s rough-sawn black walnut, cut on the farm in the 1950s.  Dad had one gun cabinet made and never used the rest.  I’d been planning to have a new bed made for him, but somehow that never happened, so now Kay and I will each have some of the wood.  Adam is a former student, and he and his wife have become dear friends.  He is also a talented craftsman, so he got to pick some tools out.  Then it was on to the farm that evening.  By Tuesday I was headed back to Lake Charles with yet another truckload of stuff for storage, after Kay and I got Affadavits of Heirship for the truck and Blazer.

Last Friday, Kay and I drove to Beaumont to get a duplicate title for the truck.  Then it was on to Crystal Beach to clear out my camper trailer/beach shack on the lovely slab (left by Hurricane Ike after Ike decided he needed the house — and many others).  We signed the contract to rebuild a beach house.  I drove us there and back to Lake Charles.  On Saturday we both drove to Egan, packed up some more things, and came back to Lake Charles on Sunday to unload stuff.

This week I clocked a lot of miles as well.  By Tuesday I’d located a CD that I thought Dad had.  The original issuing bank had gone under and been acquired by another bank.  Thanks to Google and the ‘net, I located the bank’s center of operations, made a phone call, and knew what to do.  I only had to visit a local branch.  The catch?  Yes, you know there’s one.  That branch is in Orange, Texas.  I drove over on Tuesday, but missed the bank hours.  Lesson: call first.  On Wednesday, I drove over, and an hour and half later had completed the paperwork.  I drove back to LC in time to meet my friend Charles at the movies for a noon show.  We got out of the movie and I had a message that the transaction had been approved.  We drove back to Orange and I completed the paperwork necessary; I drove home with a check in my purse.

On Thursday — yesterday– I drove to Crowley (in a summer thunderstorm) to the bank to deposit the check.  I left a bit after 1 and got there into the bank about 2:15.  After an hour and a half, and lots of phone calls and yet more paperwork, I managed to deposit that check.  I also managed to stop payment on a bill for Medicare gap insurance.  I went to Egan for a bit, visited with Charles, and packed my Mini to the roof with more of my own stuff.

Today — Friday — I have only driven around town.  The truck is being detailed.  I went to an eye exam.  I came home and have spent the afternoon on follow-up phone calls and business.  It’s been a productive day, and I’m pleased, mostly.  I’m going to pick up the pickup soon.  Sorry — I’m Southern.  Trucks are pickups.  Be glad I didn’t say pickup truck, which I know is definitely redundant.  I’ll drive it back to my house and park it.  By then, I think Kay will be here.

Tonight we’ll meet friends at the movies for a 7:30 feature of  “Snow White and The Huntsman.”  I’m ready for mindless entertainment.

Tomorrow?  More road time.  We’ll both drive to Galveston (appointment regarding the kitchen countertops at the new (beach) Warehouse.  Then we’ll drive to Houston to a Carmax.  We have an appointment there for an assessment of the Silverado.  Unless the price assessed is ridiculous, we will sell the truck and I will drive us back to LC tomorrow night in Kay’s car.

Sunday?  I’ll have coffee in the morning with one friend.  Then I’ll be on the road to DeRidder to visit Adam and Carol.

Next week, at least, I think I only have to go to Egan one day to the bank and maybe once to get the gas re-connected.  Kay and I will spend Thursday night in Egan, go to Baton Rouge for an appointment on Friday, and return to Egan.  I will come back to Lake Charles on Saturday for dinner with friends.

If I’m lucky, I don’t have to drive out of town anywhere until Tuesday June 12, when I get on a plane with friends.  We’re going to a wedding in Greece.  They’ll return on June 21.  I’m staying in Greece.

But there’s a lot of packing to do, and lots of phone calls to make.  There is still estate business to take care of.

And it’s only June 1.

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