Monday, July 22, 2013

Amalia Discovers Her Greek Village with Fountains, a Manhunt and Ice Cream

On July 19, Amalia went with her Mommy, her Yiayia Joanie, her Papou Nick and her honorary Yiayia, Eleni Nikolaides, to the village of Lia in Northern Greece, which her grandfather Nick Gage wrote about in the book and film  "Eleni" and her Mommy wrote about in the travel memoir "North of Ithaka."
This is the house where Nick was born and, after his mother was imprisoned and then murdered by Communist guerrillas, it fell into ruins and Nick's daughter, Eleni Gage, (now Baltodano) returned to the village for a year in 2002 to oversee the rebuilding of the house, just as her grandmother Eleni had known it.

Nick introduces granddaughter Amalia to the house.

Amalia was more interested in the outdoor fountain.

Where she played with her sand toys.

That night everyone gathered at the Church of the Holy Trinity for the beginning of the annual festival of the Prophet Elias--the village saint.

Papou Nick, Mommy Eleni and Amalia waited outside the church.

After the church service, the icon of the Prophet Elias was paraded through the village, with people joining the parade as it passed their houses. Father Prokopi carried the Bible.

That night everyone gathered in the open space called the Goura to eat lamb and dance and sing. The clarinetist and singer and the rest of the live orchestra came from Albania but sang in Greek--Epirote music.

The next day Papou Nick introduced Amalia to the courtyard of the Inn of Lia.

The courtyard was abuzz with news: two Albanian convicts, who had broken out of a Greek jail months ago, and were presumed to be heading toward Albania where they could not be extradited, had encountered the Greek police at 4:30 this morning in a gun battle in the small town of Vrosina, just at the foot of the mountain road that leads to Lia, (where we stopped yesterday to get provisions)  and one of the two was killed, while wounding a soldier, but the other one escaped.  Now our village was crawling with police, stopping every car to look for the fugitive.  The road over the Kalamas River that divided our mountains from the rest of Greece was being periodically closed and opened.

Amalia distracted herself from the excitement by discovering the spring in the Inn's courtyard.

Where she spent the afternoon floating flower "boats" over the edge into the deep blue sea, with the help of "Yiayia Eleni".

 Nick chose to keep calm and carry on by playing tavli.

While Yiayia Joanie and Amalia put on our sunglasses and drew pictures on the tablecloth.

Later, when Mommy Eleni took Amalia to the nearby playground, it was full of police holding rifles and stopping every car up the road into the village.

As of today, there's no news of the last escaped Albanian, who may be hiding in the famous hollow tree below our village which has sheltered fugitives in the past, including a saint, but while the village waits with bated breath and is both terrified and thrilled to be featured in every news broadcast, Amalia has much more earth-shaking news:  here at the Inn she discovered the Ice Cream Cone.

P.S. If you want to read a much funnier version of these events, check out daughter Eleni's latest blog post at

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Greece is Going to the Cats

Five years ago I published a book called "The Secret Life of Greek Cats" based on feline photographs I'd taken over the years, which told about Greek history, myths, traditions and superstitions from the point of view of the cats who are so much a part of the Greek landscape.  As I wrote in the book: "Everywhere you go in Greece you will find a cat...Cats are the punctuation in Greek life...During their catnaps they dream of the days when they were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians and didn't have to rely on the kindness of strangers for food." (The book is still available--for $10-- on Amazon or  by clicking on the book cover to the right.)

Many of the cats in the book were photographed on the island of Hydra, including Vasili, the cat on the cover, who dreamed of jumping on one of the boats in the harbor of Hydra and sailing away to see the world.

On a recent trip back to the island of Hydra, I was curious to see if the economic crisis in Greece had affected the island's feline population.  The harbor cats were there, as numerous as always.  They were gathered to greet the tourists, patiently waiting under the taverna tables for handouts, and agilely avoiding being trampled by the donkeys in the harbor, who are the only form of transportation on the island.

Every time I'd comment that the Hydra cats seemed thinner than before, daughter Eleni would point out a fat cat who clearly enjoyed a regular meal schedule.  (Some of the Greek islands, including Crete, have  organizations which collect contributions to help with the spaying and care of the island's feral cat population.  As far as I know, Hydra does not.)

On many Greek islands the cats have become so numerous and so popular that they are now featured on touristic items like carrier bags.

The  best fed and happiest cats on the island are, of course,  house pets and store cats.

The harbor cats have a harder life, but they regularly greet the fishing boats as they come in in the morning, hoping for scraps when fish are cleaned.  They also keep an eye on the private boats anchored in the harbor-- to the point of mastering tightrope walking, if it will win a tasty bite.

Even the wildest of the feral cats, when the sun begins to set, have to stop a moment and wonder at the beauty of their island, and take a moment to wish for good hunting and a full stomach tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Amalia Does Hydra, Greece

When you return to places where you were happy in the past, you want them to be unchanged.  I've been visiting and photographing the island of Hydra, Greece, for 45 years, and love that it remains the same, with its patient donkeys (no vehicles on the winding, stair-step streets) and dozens of cats waiting for handouts in the tavernas

Visiting it now with granddaughter Amalia, only 22 months old,  made it all better--seeing her delight in everything.

The donkeys were still waiting to take our bags up the hill.

and to deliver them to our hotel, the Bratsera, which used to be a  sponge factory.

The cobbled streets were still filled with art and cats.

This taverna window with its ship and beautiful curtains has never changed over the years.

We had lunch in a nearby taverna, the "Dry Olive Tree" (Xsera Elia) where Amalia  discovered the joy of Greek tomatoes

As well as the only-in-Greece fish the Barbounia (red mullet)

In the Bratsera pool she played with her Nemo characters

Walking along the harbor, some shops had closed but Loulaki was still there.

Amalia got an ice cream on the harbor.

And passed the old sailors watching the ships come in.

The next day we took a boat to a beach called the Four Seasons, where the changing booth said it all.

We chose lunch from the taverna's menu.

Amalia took a nap after lunch.

That night we walked to our favorite sunset bar, the Hydronetta, 
where we saw several tourists leap from the wall to the sea far, far, below.

Then we continued along the water to the next little town, Kameni, where 
we had a wonderful meal of seafood before Amalia fell asleep.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Scenes from a Greek Wedding.

We came to Greece for the wedding of our niece (more like daughter) Efrosini Eleftheria Nikolaides (Efro for short) to Sy Anthony Suire, who is more Cajun than Greek, although he learned the Greek dances overnight.  The service, on June 30, overlooked the ocean at the tiny church of Agios Aimilianos and then the reception was at the Hinitsa Bay Hotel in Porto Heli.

It was a fairy tale wedding--think "Mama Mia" only better (and not quite so many steps to get up to the church.)  Here are some scenes from a very Greek wedding.
   At the Hinitsa Bay they started setting up the tables in the afternoon.

Guests walk up to the church.

There were 35 decorated steps to the church.
Here comes the bride.

The priest leads the bride and groom to the altar...

...which was outside because the church is so small.

The service begins.

Everyone's smiling, including the mother of the bride, Eleni Nikolaides, (in royal blue.)

When the sponsor has put on their crowns and the priest leads the couple around the altar in the Dance of Isaiah, everyone throws rice, because then they're really married.

Beauties posing after the ceremony.

while two guys wait outside the church.

Back at the hotel the buffet awaited, complete with ice sculptures.

The tables were decorated in blue and white, with starfishes, beads and flowers.

The newlyweds admire the cake.

Their first dance set off fireworks.

The bride leads the Greek line dance.

The groom shows off his new Greek dance steps.

Even the littlest guests danced.

And a very good time was had by all!

Congratulations, Fro and Sy!