Saturday, December 6, 2014

"The Times They are a-changing"

Nanny, me, Jim and Tom
A great woman, my grandmother, Giovanna Boeri Fagioli, aka Nanny, once said to me: Everything changes but nothing is ever different. At the time, I was about 7 or 8 years old staying with my aunt and uncle for a few weeks in the summer. My grandmother lived with them.

She had come over from Italy as a young woman and met my grandfather, Chelso, in New York City. She said she'd left her village because she didn't like the hard work of the farm but I suspect after her husband died of a brain aneurism in his 40s, leaving her alone in the Bronx with my father and his two sisters, she worked as hard as any farmhand ever had.

What Giovanna was telling me as we sat in the living room of my uncle's house, both of us pretending not to listen to my uncle admonish my older cousin for running up the bill on the Amex card, was that the struggles are always the same.  To be human, to be a parent or a child, to be a friend or a coworker--those human experiences remained the same, though the surroundings and time frame might change. That so-called gap between generations has always existed, but with patience and time, it always closes. Or a rift between cultures might look enormous but with a closer look, it is but a hairline fracture, barely noticeable.

Nanny Giovanna's comment about change or lack there of has always stayed with me and it found its way into the novel, Your Own Kind.

Below is an excerpt.

Then there were the hippies. The ones who thought they had it all figured out when they ventured through the mountains and stopped at the general store, but all they every brought with them was life--the same life that existed in Owl's Head. Grandma Anne would recall her own youth whenever one  of those young women came into the store. She'd look down at her great-granddaughter and say something like: "every thing changes my dear, but nothing is ever different," to which Sarah, just a small child at the old woman's side, would agree to with a nod. But Sarah didn't really believe it as she looked in awe at the flowers in the young woman's hair or the smooth string of beads that disappeared into the neckline of her flowing dress, a dress that ended at the wooden slats of the floor with dirty toes peeking from under the ragged hemline. To Sarah, this was different--very different. 

Bob Dylan's song, The times they are a-changing, from 1964, speaks of a generational, political and cultural divide.  It could have been written about the world today or much of history before Dylan's time. It's a timeless philosophy.

Instead of staring down at any gaps that might exist between us, let's build as many bridges as we can for as long as we are able. Let's embrace the passage of time and celebrate our life!

Bob Dylan's song is a classic.  Yes, the times, they are a-changing, but nothing is ever different.
You can enjoy the song on:  YOUTUBE

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Be thankful

He wanted to take that old lantern and smash it up against the thief's head.   It didn't matter that it was one of those old oil lanterns, not worth much of anything; the whole situation irritated him beyond relief. Stealing is wrong and thieves should be punished. It was logical reasoning for an eight-year-old and as an adult, Nick recalled the events, remembering a sense of grave injustice every time the lantern was returned.

The neighbor, we'll call her Yitonia, would bring the lantern back to Nick's mother, Chevi, a few times a week and apologize for her son who had taken it.  Chevi would invite the neighbor in. "Oh, kids are that way," she'd say in her light manner, as if it were nothing, but young Nick fumed with anger.

And then Chevi would give Yitonia some of her bean soup she'd made or some olive oil that was stored in the back room.  Yitonia knew Chevi didn't have much, barely enough to feed her own family.

"Oh, no, no, really.  I can't," Yiotonia would say, but Chevi would insist and the other woman would leave with her loot.

One day, as Chevi was getting ready to go to the farm with the kids, Little Nick came into the house with the oil lantern.

"What are you doing?" his mother asked him.

"Hiding this from Yitonia's son," he said wondering for the first time why his mother had never thought of that easy remedy.

"Niko," she said, "Don't you think if the boy were actually stealing it, it would stay gone.  We'd never see it again."

Nick listened and, yes--it did seem logical, what his mother was saying. He nodded.

"Yitonia sends her son to get that lantern whenever they run out of food.  Go put it back in the store room."

Young Nick walked slowly back to the store room feeling more at ease, knowing his family's possessions were safe.  He did not climb up on the carving stump to hang the lantern on the peg where it usually hung. Instead, he placed it carefully on the floor, just inside the door and then he joined his mother as she made her way to the farm with the children.

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” 
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Talking to the Dead

Get ready for a trip to the Underworld, the River Stix, Hades, The land of the Dead.

It is the 12th century B.C.  You have paid the  boatman to take a deceased person to the underworld where you believe he will live out eternity.  But after some time, you realize you need to speak to that person, so you make a pilgrimage to The Oracle of the Dead.

You might remember reading about it in Odysseus's travels in Homer's The Iliad.  Or you might have heard reference to the underworld in the video that claims Margariti people as descendants of Odysseus (you can see that video by clicking --> HERE)  In any event, the story that was once thought to be fantasy, has much basis in truth. So, let us continue on our quest to talk to that deceased person.

Imagine this valley as the lake it was, before being drained in the 1940s to make farmland. In the black of night, you will begin your journey from the far mountains in the distance.  If you are lucky enough to have a boat, you will sail to a landing, dock your boat and begin the hike to the oracle.  Without a boat, you will have to make the long pilgrimage by foot around the lake until you get to the path that leads to the gates. Once there, you will not gain access unless you have an offering for the gods, which could be anything from a live goat to gold coins. But do not arrive empty-handed or you will be turned away.

And remember the rule. You can only go to the oracle one time in your life so you must choose carefully when deciding with whom you want to speak and the question you'll ask that particular dead person.   That rule was most likely created so people wouldn't figure out the scam, which might have happened if they were allowed to keep returning.

Just below those rocks in the photo above, scientists have discovered an area where the water of the lake would hit against some shallow cave-like openings in the rock and make a low moaning sound, so that is most likely what you hear as you approach the gates.

If you still have the courage, you proceed and tell the gate keeper your intentions: Who you are there to visit and the question you wish to ask.

Have you noticed that church on top?  The Oracle of the Dead was part of the 12 Gods religion, before Christianity had become established.  So what's up with that church? You can google exact dates and circumstances, but somewhere around the 300s, Christianity took over and orders came to destroy the temples used for worshipping the 12 Gods.  All over Greece and Italy there are churches built on hills. They most likely cover some ancient religion and the same is true for this site: Necromanteion-The Oracle of the Dead.

When ordered to destroy it, those in charge simply covered it up, built a church and waited for Christianity to die out, thinking they could come back to it someday.  So the church has nothing to do with the oracle.  It was simply hiding the ruins until archeologists and historians started poking around Epirus looking for evidence of Homer's Iliad.

You can see the ancient stones in contrast to the later-built church.

So, let's continue on our journey to communicate with our deceased person.  After entering the oracle, you are brought to a room where you will "cleanse" yourself to prepare for the underworld visit.  That probably consisted of fasting which tends to make a person a bit listless. Part of the ritual also requires you to drink a special elixir.  The poppy plant is prevalent in this area.  My mother-in-law, Chevi, used to talk about how they would collect the black seeds and put it in tea as a treatment for serious illness.

Time goes by while you are being "cleansed." In this dark cavern-like structure, it is impossible to know whether it is day or night. Finally it is time to journey further down so you can communicate with that deceased person.  You walk and walk and walk.  The maze below shows how a person, stoned on opium, listless from lack of food, might be further disoriented, believing himself to be transported far below the earth.

Next, you're brought to a lower chamber.
Archeologists have never been able to find a passageway to  that lower area but they know it exists because in more modern times  a floor-stone was dislodged and pulled off and the chamber was discovered. This metal stairway was constructed for the archeologists, but tourists are welcome to descend down its steep steps.

The chamber below, was constructed in such a way that the acoustics, when someone speaks, give off an eerie dull sound.

There is no echo and it is deadly silent all around. The lighting you see is a modern addition for the safety of archeologists and tourist.

So, it is not clear how you, the visiting person waiting to talk to the deceased, would get to that chamber, but once you are there, you are instructed to stay at one end while you talk to your deceased at the other end.  Archeologists found a structure that they believe was an apparatus for lowering something into the room, so perhaps your  deceased person would descend from the ceiling.

When you see that person, you ask the question, which you had told the gatekeeper about when you arrived.  Your deceased person answers you.  Then you make your long ascent back to the world of the living. As you depart from the gates of the underworld, you are required to throw a black stone behind you and promise never to return.

Necromanteion, the ancient site in Epirus, is a great place to visit.  It pulls together some of the information your teachers told you in sixth grade about Greek mythology, while giving you a greater insight into religion: how strongly we want to believe, and the charlatans who have been taking advantage of that faith since as long as religion itself.

As you exit the site, the town of Mesopotamo offers you some quaint little cafes.  The bakery is one of the good ones and the woman behind the counter is the most cheerful person I've ever met. I encourage you to sit and soak up the atmosphere.

But in addition to their hospitality, this little village has its own more modern relics which are fun to photograph.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Food and the Beach

Food, Epirus, The Ionian Sea:

Antipaxos Island



Agianaki Beach 


The River Stix (Gliki)

Loutsa Beach


Iced Cappuccino at Preveza Port

With good food and beautiful scenery it's always nice to have a good book!

                     THE NIFI     AND    YOUR OWN KIND

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Walking through Margariti's Old Village

If you ever have a chance, I highly recommend you take a walk up the mountain of Margariti and visit the old village which is where the original village used to be. A long time ago, living next to the low-lying roads or close to the sea would be near suicide in an area that was invaded often. It was just safer to be up higher so the residents could see who was approaching long before that person reached the village.

This picture shows some of the old houses that dot the mountainside. 

As the political climate became more stable, the houses were abandoned by their owners for newer structures close to the road at the bottom of the mountain.  The photo also shows the result of a gigantic shift in culture because the houses are hidden by vegetation, a fairly new addition to that landscape. The cultural change is that of collecting wood to burn. Thirty years ago there were no trees. Absolutely none. The women scoured the mountainside to collect every piece of wood available, every branch, every twig, so they could cook and heat the homes.  That meant the mountain was brown and naked and the houses were completely exposed. Also, the weather was hot and dry. Today, because of the modern convenience of indoor stoves, ovens and heating, these green trees have been able to grow freely, so now they hide many of the houses.  But they also throw moisture into the air so that the weather has a hint of humidity at times and every afternoon a blanket of clouds forms over the mountaintops.

Clouds in the summer! This was unheard of only a few years ago. Sometimes they shower down a bit of rain, but rarely in Margariti.

The old village roads are worn dirt paths. You can see how narrow they are as they were meant to be traveled by foot or by animals but certainly not cars. Their narrowness gives a sense of a society where its inhabitants lived closely together and were dependent on each other.

The houses were made of stone.

The floor was built with wood and the tiled roof was put on wooden beams.

This photo shows a typical 3-floor home. You can see the ridges where the floor used to be.   The ground floor was always the store room and the main living quarters were always on the top floor.

Naturally, wood is not as durable as stone. As soon as it decayed, the roof and floor fell inward.

The roof tiles that weren't collected and used as materials for the newer homes are mostly lying broken with other debris inside the stone structures.

The main floor at the top of the house had large rectangular windows.

These beautifully constructed arches, if  you can imagine them in a well-maintained lived-in house, gave the homes a look of elegance.

Many of the houses are surrounded by a gated wall. There would have been a giant wooden gate in the arch, most likely with an ornate door knocker. But today these yards are often used to house animals, like goats or sheep, so the current gates are usually made with whatever material is available and with those functional purposes in mind.

It's very interesting to walk among these houses in the old village.  There is a sense of strolling back in history while a clear view of Modern Margariti just below, gives you a delicious sense of being in both worlds simultaneously.

However, the old village continues to disappear at a gradual pace as nature slowly reclaims her stone. So, I recommend you visit those grand homes, sooner rather than later.

The house that Chevi raised her children in was one of those from the old style.  It was refurbished over several years, piece by piece as her children became adults and were able to make those improvements. You can see it if you ever visit Margariti but if you can't make it,  just look on the cover of THE NIFI.

I'd love to hear from you!