Saturday, August 16, 2014

Home, Sweet Home

There is a scene in Dances with Wolves in which Kevin Costner's character is being driven west to his new post by a wagoner. Along the way, they come across a broken down wagon and a skeleton. As Costner examines the skeleton, the wagoner approaches and laughs, "Somebody back East is saying, "Now why don't he write?" I have a demented sense of humor, so this is the only scene I remember, but I imagine you've all been thinking similar thoughts about me.

For the record, I am alive and well. Over the the last two weeks, we've been visiting my husband's relatives in Greece, and I've simply lacked an Internet connection. So instead of churning out blog entries, I've been working very hard at other things. I've been forced to hang with friends and family, dance, sing, eat way too much, drink some fantastic ouzo and various types of not-so-fantastic homemade rotgut (though the rotgut gets better with each glass), play tourist, and learn Greek. (Perhaps, "learning Greek" is too optimistic a way of describing my newly acquired communication skills. Mostly, I intertwined a few Greek words with a lot of monkey hand-signals. However, my DH's cousins and I communicated just fine that way.) All in all, it was a tough two weeks, I assure you.

Normally, all the decor is blue/white or teal/white. The splashes of yellow,
red and green in this street really caught my fancy.

Morning view from our rooftop patio in the islands.

Originally, we had planned to be away for three weeks, but some developments back home forced him (and consequently me) to cut our plans (including an excursion to Santorini) short. As much as I was enjoying myself, in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to say that I'm not entirely sad about shortening our trip. Greece is a fascinating country, and I was having a lovely time with family. However, if you ever plan a trip there, I highly recommend going earlier in the summer. I've been to Greece twice in August, and this is just not the month for a visit. Even in the islands, it's brutally hot this time of year (which, unfortunately, is the only time during the summer I'm willing to leave my hives). Every day, I'd wake up at 7am to draw our daily water from the village well and steal some alone time on the roof, and it would already be 85 deg. F (that's 29 deg. C for my European friends). Seriously, the nighttime temps were hotter than my daytime highs in New England. Beaches and frozen mojitos were the only things keeping me sane. The day after we left, they got a heat wave (really? what had we been experiencing?), and temperatures soared into the 100's, forcing even the Greeks inside. It seems we got out just in time.

Apollonas, Naxos. The water really is that blue over there.

One thing I regret about coming home early is that I never got to tour a Greek apiary. While we were in the islands, I spied a large apiary and asked our friends, Stavros and Anda, who know everyone and everything about Naxos, about island apiculture. Stavros promised to talk to one of his friends and arrange a visit for me. Alas, we left on short notice, and I missed my opportunity.

Even though one can still see villagers on donkey,
I like how shepherding has been modernized.
Freshwater spring on Mt. Zas. According to myth, Rhea hid baby Zeus in a cave
on this mountain  so that Cronus wouldn't find him. She placed bleating goats
at the entrance to mask her baby's cries, and bees guarded the entrance
from intruders.
Even though I suffered honeybee withdrawal while were were away, I got my fixes here and there by observing other members of the order Hymenoptera.

John's cousin ordered a lot of seafood appetizers one day.
Turns out that's a sure-fire way to attract wasps. Dozens of them swarmed the table.
Half of our time there was spent on Naxos. Naxos is unusual in that it is the only island in the Cyclades with freshwater springs. In fact, it also has a huge freshwater reservoir (which was three-quarters empty when we were there) and supplies other islands with water. Because it has plenty of this precious resource, Naxos is a huge agricultural center. Of course, this description is probably misleading. When I think of farms, I think of the lush green acres here in New England or in the Midwest where I spent so much time as a child. Even on Naxos, the climate is so arid that patches of green fields and heavily-watered soccer fields never failed to surprise and delight me. However, it's quite wonderful how life has a way of bursting through the cracks and hanging on. Here and there, I'd spy a few poppies, wild thyme and oregano, mountain tea, etc. Wherever these hardy plants found a bit of water, they'd bloom, and wasps and bumblebees flocked to them.

My favorites were the huge black bumblebees (like carpenter bees, but bigger) that looked like flying olives. Sadly, I don't know what they are called or their exact species name, and nobody could tell me. They were so pretty, though -- huge and fuzzy with iridescent purplish-bluish wings. I must have taken a jillion photos of them, but I just couldn't get a good one.

Sorry, this was the best I could do.
One of the awesome things about having a hobby is that everyone becomes an enabler. Over the last two years, I've received lots of bee-related presents from people -- bumper stickers, books, mugs, etc. To tell the truth, I love it! It was no different in Greece where my lovely newly-found family (the newly found part is a another story for another day) welcomed me with gifts of thyme honey and sweets like sesame seeds and honey. They also introduced me to an island spirit called rakomelo (stress on the first "o"). Essentially, it is a honey-sweetened raki, a drink made by distilling the skins & seeds that are leftover from pressing grapes for wine. Plain raki has very little flavor, but it's strong enough to wake the dead. Often, though, raki is flavored with something like anise, spices, or honey. These jazzed up rakis go down much more smoothly.

A view of Stavros and Anda's windmill.
Stavros and Anda are the delightful couple who introduced me to rakomelo.
Anyway, in case you were wondering, I haven't perished over the Atlantic somewhere. However, it's 6 am, and I'm so jet-lagged that I can't decide whether to say "Καλημέρα" (Kalimera -- good morning) or "Καληνύχτα" (kalinykhta -- good night). I am home, though, and there will definitely be an inspection report coming soon.

I think Psipsina here has the right idea.

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