Z is for…

ZZeus at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens

I studied him in art history classes in college. He is an original bronze Greek statue that was pulled from a shipwreck. Most surviving Greek statuary is marble even though they worked extensively with the cast bronze methods of sculpture. The reason so few remain is most of them were melted down for ammunition at one point in time or another. A travesty for sure, so when one is found buried it is a huge deal.

Striding Zeus

Striding Zeus

But it goes beyond that with this particular figure. The symmetry and grace of the lines of his form are truly god-like. And amazingly, he looks like he is about to chuck a thunderbolt (now long gone) and step off his plinth, a living, breathing thing. This was a huge achievement that was lost in art until Donatello and Bernini thousands of years later. When I walked into the room where he stands I got chills running down my back and I could have stood and stared at him for hours he is so magnificent.

Ready to launch a thunderbolt

Ready to launch a thunderbolt

X is for…

XXanthi’s house

Kosta’s aunt Froso has a good friend named Xanthi, and bless her that her name starts with an X! When we were staying with Froso in Nafplio we spent an afternoon at Xanthi’s house having lunch. She used to own a restaurant with her husband and is an amazing cook. Although I have yet to meet a Greek woman who wasn’t an amazing cook. We had roasted lamb, potatoes and greens in an avgolemino sauce. When my husband took his first bite he burst into tears because it reminded him of his mother’s cooking. That of course, endeared him to them even more. He was pronounced a “good boy.”

A "good boy."

A “good boy.”

Xanthi was so sweet. Even though she didn’t speak a word of English and we only had a handful of Greek words, we had a wonderful time at her house. She each gave us gifts too– a set of komboloi (Greek worry beads) even though she doesn’t have a great deal of money. What a lovely, lovely, woman.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Froso on the left, Xanthi on the right.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

Roasted lamb and greens in avgolemino sauce.

T is for…

TThermopylae

Everyone who has seen the movie 300 knows about the last stand of the Spartans against the massive Persian army. My husband, being Greek and constantly reading books on Ancient Greek history. By proxy, I learned quite a bit about the Persian wars fought between the united Greeks and the invading hordes.

Where the last of the 300 Spartans died.

Where the last of the 300 Spartans died.

Thermopylae is the place where the 300 died fighting, losing the Spartan king, Leonidas. It’s not much to look at today, but there is a lovely little memorial at the top of the small hill where the last of them lost their lives. But they fought like motherfuckers and held off the Persians long enough so the Athenians could regroup and defend the city of Athens. It was a turning point in history, for sure. If the Spartans hadn’t given their all I believe the world would have been a much different place today. They saved the western world and preserved their culture. Which is the foundation of our democracy, philosophy, art, mathematics, drama, and so many other things we still appreciate today.

Leonidas, King of the Spartans

Leonidas, King of the Spartans

Leonidas, King of the Spartans was told by the Persians to surrender his weapons. He replied, “Come and take them,” knowing it would mean certain death. Our action heroes of the silver screen have nothing on him. He was the real deal.

K is for…

KKarnezaika

My husband is 100% Greek extraction. His mother’s maiden name is Karnegis, and there is actually a town on the Peloponnese named for that family. His aunt Froso (see Irea post from April 11) has a house there and we got to stay for a few days 2011. There are perhaps 10-12 houses, but they have their own church and it is painted beautifully inside over every surface with icons of saints and angels. It really took my breath away and I wish I could show you but it is not polite to take pictures inside churches in Greece.

Karnezaika--the road in town.

Karnezaika–the road in town.

The town has one shop, used to have a gas station, and just about everyone is related.  The cemetery that clings to the side of the church at the top of the hill is filled with my husband’s relatives and ancestors. The house where Froso grew up now houses her niece and family. In fact, the Germans occupied that very house during World War II. Karnezaika is quiet, dusty, hot, and completely wonderful.

Kosta and Froso.

Kosta and Froso.

The cemetery next to the church--full of Kosta's ancestors.

The cemetery next to the church–full of Kosta’s ancestors.

Beauty everywhere you look.

Beauty everywhere you look.

I is for…

IIrea

Irea is a small village on the Peloponnese of Greece. When Kosta and I were there in 2011, Kosta’s relative (we call her an aunt–close enough) Froso took us to a local festival there for the Assumption of the Virgin. The whole town was strung with lights and we went up the hill to the church. The icon of the Virgin Mary was bought out and paraded around the town with everyone following behind with candles.

The church in Irea, all lit up.

The church in Irea, all lit up.

After the service we went down the hill and feasted on roast pig, fresh bread, and lots of ice-cold beer. There was music and dancing and we were the only two tourists in the whole place. It was amazing.

Roast pork--so delicious.

Roast pork–so delicious.

D is for…

DDelphi

One of the most sacred ancient sites in Greece, the ruins at Delphi are incredible. Clinging to the side of Mt. Parnassus, the Pythian Way switches back and forth, leading one through treasury houses, the great Temple of Apollo, a grand theater, and a stadium at the top.  Further down the slope is a round temple dedicated to Athena.

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo

The ruins of the Temple of Apollo

Delphi was also famous for its Oracle. Priestesses would go into the Temple of Apollo, fall into a trance, and come back with a cryptic answer to a question posed by a supplicant. It seems to me that the answers given never really made sense until it was too late. Even so, I wish I had been able to pose a question so that I too might receive a mysterious answer.

Temple of Athena

Temple of Athena

One myth of Delphi has Zeus releasing two eagles, flying in opposite directions. They flew around the world and crossed at a spot at Delphi, which Zeus considered the center of the world. An “omphalos”, or navel, was erected at the spot. It looks like a stylized egg but is really the belly button of the world.

The "omphalos" or navel of the world in the archaeological museum.

The “omphalos” or navel of the world in the archaeological museum.

A is for…

AAgios Nikolaus

There are many towns in Greece named Agios Nikolaus. He was the patron saint of fishermen so many coastal villages bear his name. This particular village is just south of Kardimyli on the Peloponnese in Greece. In 2014 we stayed there overnight with our friends at a lovely place called the Pension Anna. It was so wonderful I wish we could have stayed several nights instead of just one. The rooms were new and clean and each one had a small terrace with a table and chairs to sit and enjoy the gardens that surrounded the pension house.

Pension Anna

Pension Anna

But the village itself was the most breathtaking. In the warm light of the morning sun we breakfasted right on the water. How could one be anything but blissful in surroundings such as this with a cappuccino as big as your head? Lovely, beautiful, Agios Nikolaus. I long to spend a month or two writing, eating seafood, and watching the water.

Our view at breakfast.

Our view at breakfast.

Burial Bucket List

I love cemeteries. There is something so peaceful and lovely about them. And then there is the reading of headstones. As a writer, I wonder about the stories of the individuals that lie below the earth. Each human has a different story to tell, some were extraordinary, others quiet and mundane. But each one is a story and the possibilities send me into storyland.

My husband has a bucket list of graves he would like to visit. Some of them have already been achieved. For instance, when we were in England in 2012 we sought out the birthplace and final resting place of Edward Elgar, the famous English composer.

Famous composer Edward Elgar.

Famous composer Edward Elgar.

Last summer on our way to Franklin, NC, we made a side trip to Gotha, Florida where another hero of my husband’s was laid to rest: Bob Ross.

2015-08-18 13.18.03

Bob Ross is buried under a happy little tree.

We’ve seen other graves too: there was a man named John Pendelbury who was instrumental in organizing the Greek resistance during WWII. He had a glass eye and used to leave it on his work table as a clue he was going to talk to the rebels in the hills. He was in a lovely military cemetery on Crete that we visited in 2014. Poor man was captured and shot by the Germans when he was just in his 30’s.

Then of course, we have new graves to look at this summer. Vienna will be chock-a-block with famous composers: Beethoven, Haydn, and my husband’s all-time favorite Brahms.

The funny thing is, I can’t think of a burial bucket list myself. It makes me wonder why I don’t have heroes to whom I would pay homage. I guess I’d like to see Audrey Hepburn’s grave in Switzerland, and perhaps Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. My husband’s passion for music is so huge that seeing these graves is a big thing.

I’ve seen the graves of Michelangelo, Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. That was really neat. But to me, there is something much more fascinating in the unknown rabble of people buried beneath the stones of church floors and in crypts.  Their stories, while not known to me, have endless possibilities of stories.

Perhaps the grave I would like to visit most would be that of my grandmother, buried on a hill overlooking the town of Carver, Minnesota. I haven’t been back since she passed in 2010. She’s the hero of my life, and I can’t think of any other famous person who measures up to her.

Challenge on Photography Day 7

Nature Photography Challenge Day 7Wild Cyclamen

Another photo from Greece–this one from Ancient Mycenae. In the ruins of a 2500 year old fortress perched on a mountain peak are these sweet little cyclamen growing up between the stones. They were so unlike the rest of the place–fresh, light, and verdant, and not at all what one would expect to grow in the scorching heat. They felt like a promise to me–that while humans will build up and tear down, nature will always be there to renew and refresh what has been destroyed.

Challenge on Photography Day 6

Nature Photograpy Challenge Day 6Olive tree

One of our favorite places in the world to go is Greece. Kosta and I have been twice as a couple and are looking forward to our next trip. This close up of a cluster of olives is indicative of how I remember the place: bright, hot, and beautiful. There is a quality to the light there like I have never experienced anywhere else in the world.  This particular tree is in the tiny town of Kardimyli on the Aegean of the Peloponnese. Looking at this photo I can feel the hot sun, smell the wild rosemary growing at my feet and hear the rustle of the breeze through the silvery leaves.