Friday, 2 March 2012

February 28 – Archipelagos

(Molyvos at the Aegean)

Every day I walk along the sea, even when it rains or storms. One day I walked even while snowflakes were whirling down.

After a few days of spring – it was such beautiful weather we had lunch outside – winter started a new offensive and now the Siberian wind is back and blows without mercy over the island. It has spoiled lots of fun; yesterday this attack came with rain and in the mountains even with snow and a few of the carnival parades were cancelled. In Molyvos the festivity was removed indoors, but the schoolchildren, who had been preparing for weeks, were unable to show their dances.

The last days of the carnival before Lent and Clean Monday (Kathara Deftera) were, as I said, warm and for several days lots of people were able to put aside their sorrows over the crisis and have been celebrating. And, even on that icy cold Kathara Deftera, restaurants for once were booming.

The highest mountain here in the North of Lesvos, Lepetimnos, still had some white snowy spots but now has been redecorated with a new white blanket. In Turkey too some mountain tops are snow white, glistening against a fresh blue sky, just like the sea, which is coloured blue and white, its white crests, like fiery horses, rushing towards the coast.

One of the twelve Titans in Greek mythology was Oceanus, master over all the oceans and seas. When the Greeks began to understand more about where the world oceans were, he became the master of all faraway oceans and Poseidon got to rule over the Mediterranean sea, of which the Aegean Sea is part.

This part of the Mediteranean used to be called Master sea or
archipelagos (arkhi in old Greek means Chief and pelagos sea). The modern word for a group of islands, archipelago, comes probably from archipelagos, because the Aegean Sea has plenty of islands.

They are hundreds and the Greeks islands (Turkey has only three islands left in the Aegean) are divided in seven groups: the North Aegean islands to which Lesbos belongs, the Sporades, Euboea (Evvia), the Saronic islands, the Cyclades, the Dodecanesos and Crete.

There are different stories about how the Aegean Sea finally got its name: the sea might be named after the ancient Greek town of Aegea (nowadays Aigio which is in the north of the Peleponessus), it could have been named after Aegea, a queen of the Amazones who drowned in the Aegean sea, or it could have been named after king Aegeus. This Greek ruler was told by an oracle that his son would cause his death. That is why he had a son in secret, Theseus. The boy was brought up far away from Athens. Theseus would only be allowed to come to Athens when he was able to lift a heavy rock, beneath which were hidden a pair of sandals and a sword. This happened when Theseus was 16 years old and so he went to Athens where his father recognized him. Like a real Greek hero this young man had many adventures and he also wanted to defeat the Minotaurus on Crete. There he met Adriadne, the daughter of king Minos. She helped him with a wire to escape the labyrinth where he killed the monster. He then set back to Athens taking his love with him. At Naxos they stopped to have a party, where Dionysos kidnapped Ariadne. This confounded Theseus so much that he completely forgot what he had agreed with his father: that should he survive his adventure – he would return to Athens with white sails. Aegeus saw his son’s ships arriving with black sails, and thinking Theseus was dead, he threw himself into the sea. And that is why this sea was called the Aegean.

The Aegean Sea is still full of history. Whole towns have disappeared into its waves and the extended bottom still hides plenty of treasures and ship wrecks. The Aegean Sea is still said not to be trusted because of sudden storms that can make problems for seafarers or can mean a watery grave for unstable ships. The sister ship of the Titanic, the Brittanic perished on November 21, 1916 in the Aegean, as did the SS Heraklion on December 8 in 1966, the MS Express Samina on September 26 in 2000, the Sea Diamond on April 5 in 2007. And even two weeks ago a large luxurious yacht disappeared in its waves: bye bye Yogi!

The various sea creatures that are fished out of the Aegean and end up on our plates are a gift from this turbulent world that gives and takes. Lent has started and the fishermen are out because, according the Orthodox Church, for the coming six weeks you are not allowed to eat products from animals with red blood, nor from fish with bones. So its not the favourite time for molluscs and shellfish: for they are, along with vegetables, the chosen food these days,

Some days ago it was so warm and the sea so invitingly calm and transparent blue that, for a split second, I thought I would have a swim. But now during these icy cold and stormy days its not even funny to walk along the shore. The water gets stowed into high waves and the horses of Poseidon blow their foam over your head. You cannot believe that in just six weeks the summer season will start: it will then be Easter and not long after that the first bathers will arrive to stick their toes into the now wild and cold water – that on a hot summer day would be such a blessing.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

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