live blog: burning up the sky

Sailing around the Dodecanese islands all this time I’ve yet to see a less than impressive sunset. However, tonight in Olympos - from my vantage point outside a windmill worthy of Cervantes – the performance was especially spectacular. Burning the color of hot lava as it approached the horizon, the sun appeared to cleave the Aegean before quickly sinking out of view, leaving a flare of vermilion phosphorescence in its wake.

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live blog: back away from the baker

All during dinner tonight I watched an elderly Greek woman drag tree branches up the hill to stoke her brick oven. At one point another woman arrived, looking even more ancient. Outfitted in head to toe black, with a hooked nose – I swear there might even have been a wart at the end – and a staff, she looked like an archetype out of the Brother’s Grimm. The two of them began to quarrel, accompanied by hand waving, spitting on the ground and, I assume, oaths of damnation and threatening hexes. I was riveted. Then just as quickly as it had erupted, it evaporated: the older crone left, shuffling up the hill and the woman pictured above returned to her oven. I cautiously approached and asked if I might take a photo. Yes, she said, breaking into a sort of smile. What are you baking, I inquired. Rusks.

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live blog: eating at windmills

What is there to do after church but eat?! Wandering downhill I noticed a few scattered cafe tables outside a windmill overlooking the sea. Thinking it might be the perfect spot to while away the sunset with a snack and a Metaxa – the savory Greek brandy that has quickly become a part of my evening routine – I was surprised to discover a makeshift restaurant behind the crumbling facade. The menu looked inviting, peppered with a handful of distinctive regional dishes, so I ordered a pitcher of wine and settled down for a somewhat breezy early evening dinner: fresh seagreen salad, briny and crisp and unlike anything I have ever tasted; dolmades and zucchini blossoms stuffed with rice; pan-fried lamb meatballs, or keftedes, with a healthy sprinkle of lemon juice; makarounes, the local pasta, served simply with fried onions and a few grates of a hard ewe’s milk cheese, was a minor miracle; and for dessert, loukamades, Greece’s answer to the beignet, drizzled in aromatic wildflower honey. Maybe it was all the sea air, maybe it was the atmosphere, or maybe there was some unexplained emotional connection I was having with eating food so basic and so closely connected to this island, this village even, but I devoured absolutely everything, as if I was consuming a culture and not just a meal. What else does it say that I left the taverna not feeling remotely full?

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live blog: saint’s day

As luck would have it, I arrived in Olympos a week after the name day of Mary. (In the Greek Orthodox church each day of the year is dedicated to a saint. As most children are named for one of their grandparents, who in turn have been named after a saint, name days are cause for a multi-generational celebration in a way that birthdays are not.)  At the highest point of the village the small 16th century church of Panagia –  literally the “All Holy;” meaning Mary, mother of Jesus – was still bedecked with Greek and Byzantine flags from the recent festivities surrounding the Virgin. Doors open, I poked inside and found a small chapel saturated with centuries of rich iconography – along with the village papas, or priest, who more than happily took time out for a photo.

 

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live blog: tradition

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live blog: this way to olympos

Named after the mainland mountain home of the gods of ancient Greece, Olympos is the most well-known village on Karpathos. A splash of white against an austere background, the rustic beauty of the place and its unique traditions have remained intact, turning the village into a defacto folklore museum. Despite the vagaries of progress and technology, its architecture has not changed much in decades and the people still dress in the traditional island style. (even the local dialect retains many archaic phrases and forms) How do they keep this balance? That I can tell you in one word.

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live blog: nothing doing in diafani

There isn’t much to see in the small port of Diafani (pop. 250) on the island of Karpathos: three streets, a few small shops and cafes, and the incongruous site of half-dressed beachgoers enjoying themselves along the stony strand cheek by jowl with little old Greek ladies dressed in head to toe black. Perhaps that’s what makes the town so appealing; few people visit Diafani, lending it an air of the undiscovered. In fact, a proper road connecting it to the more-populous southern end of the island was still only half-finished less than a generation ago. At that time the journey south through the mountains would have been made on a donkey, or via boat. (Can you imagine a trip to the hospital strapped to the back of a braying burrow?) The upside: such seclusion has allowed the people to keep their customs and traditions, more of which I’ll be sharing in later posts.

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