Monday, October 1, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

Leonidas and Ianna invited us to spend the weekend with them in their country house in Stavros. (Okay, so a man’s name is “STAV-ros”; the town, however, is “Stav-ROS”. Both pronunciations refer to the Holy Cross.) So at about 5:00 in the evening, we met them at the corner below our apartment.

Leonidas has a new car, red-orange. Demetrios expressed a desire to get a red car, too, but added, “Anastasia scorns the idea, saying it's a stereotypical thing that all old men want red cars.” It’s okay, I told him, he can get one if he likes. His current one is too old, with far too much mileage, to last much longer in any case.

Our route took us first to Panorama (“Pahn-OR-ah-mah”), a suburb in the northeastern heights above Thessaloniki with views that more than justify the town’s name. Demetrios and Leonidas used to attend a summer camp there when they were teenagers, so there were a lot of shared memories.

Then we passed the village of Choriatis, where the Germans burned 350 people alive in the bakers’ ovens. Only one girl of the intended victims managed to escape, a nine-year-old girl. She still lives in the village. We always feel a sense of awe, passing it.

Next our road skirted the southern edge of one of those lakes Deb asked about. Its proper name turns out to be Lake Coronia. It was an appalling sight, only about two-thirds of its former size. There were large mud flats where the rest of the lake used to be. Leonidas has a theory that there is a crack under the lake, through which water is constantly being lost. Ianna says no, the water loss is from a combination of draught and people taking water out of the lake for irrigation and other uses.

“Oh, look!” exclaimed Ianna just after we had passed Lake Coronia. “There is a gypsy camp!”

I had never seen one before. Not that there was much to see. There were maybe five families in pick-ups and small campers, parked together in an open field. They reminded me of Mexican migrant workers.

We drove along the southern side of Lake Volvi and caught glimpses, through the foliage, of Castle Rentina (see picture) just before we cut off the main road and entered Stavros.

Leonidas and Ianna’s property probably has four acres, but they are end to end, so the lot is long and narrow. Their house is at the far end of it from the street. The rest is lawn, boxed in by Leonidas’ gardens. He spends all his time, while in Stavros, gardening, and the result is really spectacular. “Not many flowers right now,” he apologized. “First because of the great heat this summer, and also because these are the last of the season.” But in fact there were plenty of flowers, from asters to zinnias, with dahlias and daisies and even a few roses. There was one species of daisies three feet taller than we were, and so many of them that when the sun came streaming through them, they looked like a yellow stained-glass window.

We carried our suitcases inside, and then the first order of business was to bring out the patio chairs and hang up Leonidas’ new favorite picture. Ianna won’t allow it to hang indoors. It’s an autumn scene with a mirror for a frame. It’s a mill beside a stream. It lights up in the dark. It also has a gadget of some sort that makes the water in the millstream seem to flow. You can also turn on the sound, which consists of some static that is supposed to sound like running water, plus some birdsong. Leonidas, an insomniac, likes to sit out on the balcony at night and watch his picture – and listen to it.

Next came the assembling of the fountain. It’s a small electrical gadget that sits on a pedestal in the garden. It’s worked in copper and plastic. There is a well, in which sits a crystal ball. The water flows out from the well while the crystal ball changes colors. An Eighteenth-century shepherd and shepherdess are on either side of the well.

With the water splashing, the colors changing, the millstream water “flowing,” the static and birdsong playing, we sat down on the balcony to have a small treat and drink and enjoy the evening.

A family of cats wandered by, a calico mother with three nearly-grown kittens. The mother is Leonidas’ particular favorite. “When her kittens were small,” he says, “she was extremely thin, but she would still take whatever I gave her and give it to her kittens and not eat it herself.” She is pregnant again now, and Leonidas, whenever he is here, makes sure she gets plenty of food. So, out from my purse came my little baggie, full of cat kibble, and the kitties enjoyed a good helping of it and begged for more. (But I am saving the rest for tomorrow and Sunday.)

Later we went downtown to eat in an outdoor restaurant. Our behinds had barely settled on the chairs when the waiter came and Leonidas ordered all our food. Food in these places, you are to understand, is served family style, on platters from which everyone helps himself. Leonidas ordered mussels, squid, and octopus, along with salad and French fries and mussel soup.

The trick is to close your eyes and just enjoy how delicious it all tastes.

We were still eating when Leonidas waved to someone behind me. The waiter/proprietor hurried to our table. “It’s alright, “Leonidas told him, “I was just waving at your grandmother.”

The waiter’s grandmother turned out to be Leonidas’ sister, Chrysoula. She lives adjacent to the restaurant. So she stopped to greet us. I remembered aloud the glorious cherry liqueur she gave us last year, whereupon she said, “There’s more this year. I will give you another bottle.” We agreed on Sunday as the time for our visit to her.

After supper we walked along the wharf. The moon was just past full, so all the fishing vessels were in. The method these fishermen use is to cruise out to some dark spot, shine a bright light on the water, and trap the fish that are attracted to the light. Of course that method doesn’t work well in the moonlight; hence, there will be no fishing tonight. Their nets were spread out on the quay.

The freighter Alteya was in port, as well, with a cargo of milled lumber. We walked along the length of her and back again.

The wharf is right next to the swimming beach, which makes things unpleasant for tourists. In the last few years, therefore, ships have been banned from this port during the months of July and August.

There were still a number of tourists in town, mostly from Czechoslovakia and the former Yugoslavia. It’s a town they can afford. So far it is, anyway.

We walked along the main street past a new water fountain that does all sorts of fancy formations, with changing colors of lights. The tourists like to have their pictures taken there. All the shops were open, most of them selling tacky sorts of things and/or beach items, such as beach attire, beach balls, post cards, tee shirts that say, “STAVROS”, blue plastic dolphins, and such. But of course those kinds of things are the most fun to look at! So we enjoyed it all.

Back “home,” we sat on the balcony and talked until around midnight. I was determined not to be the first person to suggest going to bed! And I succeeded. Ianna said it first. I seconded the motion.

Of course that meant she and I turned in, while Leonidas and Demetrios got their time to reminisce about their youth. However, they weren’t up more than half an hour later than we were;
I hadn’t even had time to finish a Sudoku puzzle before Demetrios came in.


Emily H. said...

Gypsies... Ah, that brings back memories of seeing them in the open markets in Italy, and of Mom threatening my brother and I to stay close and pay attention or else the gypsies would take us (unfortunately it was a threat grounded in truth - most especially since we were blond-haired, a novelty among dark-haired Italians).