The second chapter of Amalia’s Greek odyssey, after Mykonos, was a visit to the Greek village of Lia on the Albanian border, where her grandfather, Nicholas Gage, was born. As he wrote in the book “Eleni”, the village was occupied by Communist guerrillas during the Greek civil war, and in June of 1948, when the guerrillas prepared to collect the children and send them behind the Iron Curtain to re-education camps, Nick’s mother, Eleni Gatzoyiannis, organized the escape of her 8-year-old son and three of his four sisters, in the hope that they could eventually join their father in Worcester, MA.
After the escape, Eleni Gatzoyiannis was arrested, imprisoned in the basement of her own house along with 30 other prisoners, tortured and eventually executed by a firing squad. Many prisoners were buried in the yard of the house, which the guerrillas had taken over for their headquarters. After the war ended and the Communists were driven back over the border, the empty house fell into ruin. In 2002 Eleni Gage, Nick’s daughter, spent a year in the village rebuilding her grandmother’s house, a saga she recorded in her travel memoir “North of Ithaka.”
The photos above show three generations: Nick, daughter Eleni Gage Baltodano, and granddaughter Amalia Baltodano, posing on the terrace of the Eleni Gatzoyiannis house, which has been decorated and furnished just as it was during Amalia’s great grandmother’s lifetime, including traditional clothes of the period.
The plaque over the door lists three dates: 1856 when the original two-room house was built by an ancestor of Nick’s father, Christos Gatzoyiannis, (a coin with that date was buried under the cornerstone), 1924, when Christos expanded the house by adding on a large room and hallway, and 2002, when Eleni Gage rebuilt her grandmother’s house with the help of Albanian workers, using the same stones that had fallen into the foundation.
Inside the house, over one fireplace, is a photograph of Nick’s mother and father, when they were first married in 1926. In this main room there are also an iron bed, a wooden cradle and a carved and painted casella (dowry chest).
A guest book records the names and comments of people who have come from all over the world to see the place where Eleni lived and died.
On a low table called a soufra, Amalia found a giant spoon,
Which she discovered would also work as a hat.
After visiting the house, everyone went to see who was sitting in the square outside Lia’s Inn, where last summer Amalia had so much fun sailing flowers in the spring.
She practiced walking on the ledge around the plane tree.
And she showed Vangeli, one of the elders of the village, how to play “Endless Alphabet” on her I-Pad.
Vangeli likes to call himself the “psychiatrist of the sidewalk” because he’s usually sitting in the square watching the world go by, but he was not experienced in the use of the I-pad that Amalia was carrying.
He caught on fast to “Endless Alphabet.”
Dinner at the house of next-door neighbors Dina and Andreas Petsis is always the highlight of a visit to the village, because Dina is a world-class cook, incorporating into her dishes wild greens including nettles, seasonal treats from her garden like stuffed squash blossoms, and her own chickens and eggs.
This is just part of Dina and Andreas’s collection of antique hammered copper and brass, the traditional craft of this area of Epiros.
Amalia used some of it to make a tea party for herself and their little dog Rudy.
When it was time to leave the village and move on to Corfu, Amalia stopped by the courtyard of the Inn to tell everyone good-bye and to promise that she’d be back next summer.