Our next few weeks will have us visiting harvests in olive groves in Greece, Italy, Spain and of course, throughout Turkey. This week we visited Lesvos, Greece and Assos, Turkey. Olive lovers can read about our olive themed experiences by checking out our Olive Oil Times (link to follow). We have decided to use this blog to capture some of the supporting experiences and reflections that need not involve olives. Rich has taken some beautiful photos we can share with you on DROPBOX for the towns of Lesvos and Assos.
Part I: Some things shared…………
Moms – It really does seem that there is a universality to mothering that transcends language, continents, and cultures. These days I see it in the response of older women we have encountered who react to Rich’s not wearing a winter coat. Only the women seem to notice, and they will utter a “Tsk, Tsk!” remark, and follow it by pointing to Rich and making the “cold” gesture (arms crossed in front, hands to opposite elbows, giving a little shake) and then looking at me. I raise my shoulders to suggest there is little I can do. This is the same response to Rich’s warm bloodedness that I have seen in Turkey, Greece, France, and the US. I wonder if the same response would be had in Greenland or Alaska.
That’s My Mt Olympus! – Early in the week, we visited Lesvos, Greece home of the Greek Lyric Poet Sappho from 600 BCE and modern day Nobel Laureate, Poet Odysseus Elytis. It was the start of their olive harvest and of course, we also visited some lovely non-olive related sites along the way. One such stop this was in the beautiful town of Agiosos (pronounced like “Ayosose”), at the foot of Mt. Olympus. At 900 meters, this Mt. Olympus was indeed the highest elevation on the mountainous island. Like other Mt. Olympus’ it had its own microclimate and colored clouds swirling around it at dawn and dusk. While the gods came and went on the mountain, the humans in its shadow built beautiful towns like Agiosos with cobbled roads and altars and later churches to honor the immortals. The beautiful church in the center of town was originally built in 1176 AD but what stood today was a 200 year old reconstructed church that stood on the original footprint. It has an arched dome, candlelight, paintings, and its own famous Madonna, the Panayia with a history that goes back to 4th Century AD.
Later in the week, back in Turkey, in the small town of Assos, we realized our hotel sat along the sea below a cliff on which sat an ancient temple of Athena from 1000 BC. Many other philosophers lived here in the heyday of the city in 345 BCE, some, like Aristotle, making it his home and marrying the ruler’s niece. Aristotle later fled to Macedonia when the city fell to the Romans. In about 35 AD, Saint Paul visited Assos, now a Roman city, and probably spoke to the townspeople from the great amphitheater overlooking the Aegean. Still later, a Medieval church was built on this spot, but now it too is in ruins. Each of these sites enjoyed the same breathtaking view of the Aegean, and looked back onto Lesvos and, yes, the same Mt Olympus back on Lesvos. The remnants of all this history were just beginning to be excavated. Which stories would be told by the archeologists? We followed a Roman Road back down to the seaside as the sun set.
Returning home to Istanbul, we stopped at a lovely roadside restaurant, Güntepe, to enjoy juicy lamb, tomato and pepper dish, homemade Ayran, and some unique jams and cheese-semolina desserts. The meal was truly locally sourced–a herd of sheep gamboled in the field just outside the window. The owner told us that we were close to the ancient town of Troy, today one could find Trojan horse replicas used to attract tourists into roadside shops. Here, he said, was yet another Mt. Olympus that was the “real” Mt. Olympus.
Once Again, Hospitality – We have spent much time talking in this blog about the hospitality of the Turks. This week, we experienced the Greek version of this hospitality. It was in Agiosos that we met Demetrius Viglattis, a retired actor and father to Vincent, owner of the famous taverna in this beautiful village. Demetrius (Jimmy) insisted upon our visiting his son’s restaurant and kept telling us how happy he was to see us and how glad he was that we had come from America to visit his town. He spoke quite good English and brought us to his son-in-laws tavern for a Greek coffee and a chat. After sitting us down, he went home to retrieve two photo albums to share with us – both old black and white photos from the 20s and 30s – one of ancient Greek sites, the other tiny 2 x 3 cm photos of naked French women. No town could compare to Agiosos in his opinion. He loved George Washington, Harold Truman, John Kennedy, and Obama he said.
Part II Somethings are just not the same….
Preparations for Christmas: When we landed in the airport in Athens, we passed a beautiful white-lit Christmas tree. Near our lodging in the small Greek town of Perama, the owners of the local taverna were decorating for Christmas. In Istanbul, not surprisingly, we have seen no outward signs of preparations for Christmas (besides a red cup at Starbucks), and the Greek exposure took us by surprise. We felt briefly homesick.
As we post this, we have just returned from a trip that took us through so many miles and centuries that we find it impossible to fully convey our impressions. We are still processing thoughts, memories and photos, cataloging Greek road hazards, counting olive trees in our sleep (11 million on Lesvos…) and trying to corral the dozens of themes that came to us as blog subjects. What stood out to us immediately, and what we tried to convey is the wonderful, perilous, generous, maddening and utterly necessary human connectedness that we felt every step of the way. We remember that you, if you are reading this blog, are a vital part of that connection, and we thank you.