Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Greece, 1959-1961 (b)

Sometimes there was no time, sometimes it was already dark (or pouring rain), sometimes there was no place to purchase another roll of film. So I have no photos of Dodona, for example, or of Ioannina or even of Corfu. Some negatives I haven't yet found but may add to the Picasa Album. I never had a separate wide-angle or telephoto or zoom lens for the little Contaflex "Alpha", 45mm only.
No one can travel in Mediterranean lands without being impressed by the number of standing aqueducts, even when, like this one near Louris in Epiros, they are no longer functioning. From the road, where we had stopped briefly, I took two exposures, which, far better than usual, matched well. The images all can be clicked on, to zoom, and I have tried to choose for posting those that readers may not have seen, at least not in late autumn.
Metsovo, whose population had suffered terribly during World War II and the struggles in Greece following it, had been assisted by the Basiliki Pronoia, a foundation fostering traditional crafts, inter alia, sponsored by Queen Frederika. Starting with replenished herds of sheep, Metsovo sold a lot of hand weaving for a while, though it is a long time since I've seen any of the real thing. In Metsovo itself it was sold at the Averoff house, which had been made a museum, too. The Tositsa house also was restored. These houses had a winter room in the heart of the house; high in the Pindos it not only snows but is freezing cold in the winter. The traditional art of spinning and weaving, rugs, blankets, garments, was essential. Even for an aphendiko family, like the Averoffs and Tositsas, winters must have been hard in times when they had to stay year round.
Half a century ago, late in autumn, even if the ski resort had existed then, there was no visible commerce; a little tourism must have been very seasonal. Braziers were used for heat since timber was not at all plentiful and for long after the wars non-existent. Today, as one can see on line, the town has grown a lot. It has hotels. The new buildings have tile roofs. Therefore, several rainy photos of the grey-stone village are worth posting.

On what was then the new national highway to this part of Greece, however, I saw and photographed some of the most striking views that I remember from any of my visits to Greece. One was reminded of Chinese landscapes, or at any rate of what one thought of as Chinese. We had stopped briefly at the top of the pass through the Pindos, at 1705m (marked at the side of the road).

I don't recall how many nights we stayed at Ionnania, but that city was a real eye-opener, both for its history and for its mundane details, such as wine unlike all other Greek wines and beef steak, not merely mature moschari, on restaurant menus, range fed, tasty. I'd never heard of Ali Pasha. Indeed, Greek Independence in the World History I'd been given was rather an item in the ideology of modern national independence, taught more as by Delacroix than by Greek thinkers and movements, than part of the web of modern history, and I knew nothing of Ioannina before visiting it; excepting Corfu, Dodona, and Missolonghi, for Byron, my Greece had no northwest. Some of my fellow students did know it better, but my actual recollection of Ioannina in 1959 is of admiring bewilderment. I wish I could think that Greece is taught better today. I think it was simply the ignorance of teachers, fed on the parochial traditions of early American universities, rather than deliberate policy that had failed even to arouse curiosity.
But we also had an overnight at the Meteora. I think it was the Great Meteora, the largest of the monasteries, that already supported itself as a bed and breakfast. It had, of course, even a half century ago, much more dormitory space than it needed. It may not have changed much since then, but, as at Metsovo, in November it had no casual tourists. Waking in the morning literally in the clouds, with no land in sight except that at one's feet, is unforgettable, and it is precisely that effect of their being in the clouds that make my old black-and-white photographs worthwhile, to me at least. Meteora for me made up for having never been to Crater Lake or Yosemite, and I never look at North American glacier-carved pinnacles without thinking of the Meteora. By the way, to search them on line, be sure to enter Meteora monasteries, since Meteora alone is not productive.

In the autumn of 1960 northeastern Greece was studied. I shall announce the shift with the lion at Amphipolis, found in pieces and restored. Of course, it is the Chaeronea lion that is famous, because of Alexander.

Kavala is a wonderful town, and a larger city now, half a century later. It is ancient Neapolis ("new city", so hardly a unique name for a town), which issued the beautiful staters with a gorgoneion type in the sixth and fifth centuries BCE. In the Imperial period it was provided with mountain water delivered by a magnificent aqueduct, which still works, just as the Pont du Gard (for example) does in France. I haven't been back recently, but I trust that those buses have been replaced; they were second-hand even when Greece got them. Being part of the European Union has been important for northern Greece, since it produces wonderful fruits and vegetables, just to name one category of exports.

I do not have so many general-interest images from Northeastern Greece, and the best are from Greek Thrace. Philippi is not just a letter-address for Paul of Tarsus, but a beautiful place. The first picture is taken from its acropolis and the second is of one of its Early Christian basilicas, important ones architecturally.

At this point, on that trip, I was very tired and, as a second-year member, had the option of remaining in Kavala and Thasos rather than continuing farther east (so that, to my great regret today, I have never been to Hadrianopolis and Samothrace). I enjoyed the island of Thasos greatly, just taking local buses to different villages and talking to high school, gymnasion, students. I was impressed by their doing easily the same curricula as in Athens and with more math than most Americans did (myself, I had never done trigonometry, but they did, some, in the smallest places, without electricity, but storm lanterns, for their homework in the evening). I wonder how the fishing fleet mends plastic filament nets today.

Perhaps I'll come back to Greece, non-archaeologically considered, later. Right now it makes me wish I were younger or that I'd been wiser when I was young. Yet by 1960-1961 my spoken Greek was quite good, and being alone in and around Kavala and Thasos I also could mix and learn and enjoy Greek Thrace in a way quite different from Lawrence Durrell, who stayed longer and was an adult professional writer (or his brother Gerald, who wrote of a child's family member). Yes, I was nominally adult, but quite different; I knew less and I had less money to travel on, apart from all the other differences.