Tuesday, 22 November 2016

November 17 – Lesvos under the moon and stars

(Full Moon over Eftalou)

The media has been full of news of the biggest super moon in ages. I get a little confused about all the phenomena in the sky. For example, you have a blue moon when there are two full moons in one calendar month. Or a red moon, although I have forgotten when this occurs. And there are different lunar eclipses. And sun eclipses, and star showers. It's one big paradise of events in the heavens.

As Lesvos is having so many days with sun shine, it offers a perfect possibility to see all those natural events. No teasing clouds stopping the show. Except on the day (November 14) that that huge moon was expected. I was quite busy that day, so it suited me that a thick layer of cotton-like moisture was filling the sky: even a super deluxe moon could not shine through it. I also had no idea what time that moon would appear above the mountains. I didn't lay down on a comfortable stretcher, like I do when the stars shoot through the sky. But I was wrong: friends watching from the castle of Molyvos did see this bright orange ball appearing and when I finally decided to take a look, all I saw was a blue shiny light from behind the clouds.

It wasn't sensationally big. And there was a negative effect: the night the moon was supposed to rise like an opera star in the sky, temperatures quickly dropped. So it's really so long to a beautiful summer. We have to wait for another weather event: the Alcionides Days in January, which will bring back some summer warmth.

So the moon tricked me. Just like the time when I decided to organize a romantic dinner in her dreamlike blue full beams. It was in the middle of the summer and there was no cloud to be seen. The table was set in the middle of a field and my guests took their seats, giggling because of the strange light. But soon enough you couldn't even find a saltshaker and the diners were slowly disappearing in darkness. The Moonlight was fading fast, and a nasty black shadow drove across the moon: a lunar eclipse!

The sun also knows how to fool you. Once on a bright sunny day I was driving through the mountains, towards Tsonia. The view through my sun glasses got more and more obscured. So time for a thorough cleaning session, and then another one, but it didn't help: even without glasses the view disappeared slowly. I panicked a bit, thinking that I would be blind any minute! The sky in the east took on an ominous darkness, the mountains disappeared in dark purple shadows and I saw less and less. Then a friend phoned me and asked: “Are you outside? Are you seeing it?”. I stared at my phone in disbelief and, totally upset, screamed back: “I'm practically blind”. “Great”, my friend answered, “enjoy the eclipse of the sun!” It did not become totally dark that afternoon, but all the birds, normally so loud on the island, kept their beaks shut. And I parked along the road, waiting for the comforting sunshine to come back.

Years ago whole tribes panicked when the sun or the moon performed these tricks, and many prediction for the end of the world coincided with days when darkness fell too early. But sometimes those eclipses did some good. In the time of Sappho, the Lydian empire stretched as far as the coasts opposite Lesvos (nowadays Turkey). In her poems she praised the Lydian soldiers, stout fighters who for years had been at war with the Medes. On a sunny day (on May 28, 585 BC) when the two armies faced each other, what happened to me happened to them: the light dimmed slowly and the battle field disappeared slowly into darkness. Although there was a scientist (Thales) who predicted the eclipse, the darkness was thought to be a punishment of the gods: terrified, swords and maces were thrown down and soon peace was signed.

So ignorance can also be good. Imagine if all fighting parties in the Middle East were to drop their rifles and UZI's because Allah makes the sun disappear. I then would immediately become a muslim to thank Allah for this humane gesture.

Now half a moon, upside down, laughs in the sky, but on December 14 she will again take on the guise of a super moon, although a bit smaller than the one of November. This show however might spoil the fun of star gazers, who will also be ready on December 13 & 14 for the super star show of the Geminids, the biggest of the year with 120 meteors a minute shooting through the sky.
But next year the events in heaven will be poor, with only one extraordinary show: a partial lunar eclipse on February 11. I hope I will not forget that date, so that I won't take fright and drop all my ladles and pans, but instead will think of times when a sun or lunar eclipse could bring peace on earth.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2016

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

November 1 – The Empire of Stones goes China

(Lesvos; photo: Tzeli Hadjidimitriou)

The latest Chinese National Geographic published a big article about the Petrified Forest of Lesvos. Woaw, are we going to have a Chinese run on Lesvos now?! I’m sure that the Chinese will also love the rest of the island. Even though Lesvos doesn’t have dangerous walking paths, like those on the Chinese mountain of Huashan, it does have kilometers of old footpaths through the mountains, with views as stunning as in China. The small donkey paths meandering through the olive groves, the pine and chestnut forests are also a challenge for hikers.

When you walk from the chestnut wood above Agiasos to the Cristal mountain in the direction of Karionas, you might just get such a Huashan feeling, because it leads over a narrow mountain ridge with steep slopes on both sides: one side looking over a Chinese like panorama with capricious silhouettes of mountain ridges descending to the sparkling sea and in the background the floating landmass of Chios. At the other side the view is over the Bay of Gera, nibbling at the mountains where Mytilini tries to hide and beyond the mountains is the light blue sea, with Turkey beyond. It is a dream spot for photographers.

However, the petrified trees of Lesvos are not alone in getting notice in the Chinese papers. In August the beauty of the island was spotted in Bejing during an exhibition of the Lesvorian photographer Tzeli Hadjidimitriou, the first Greek woman to have a solo exhibition in China.

Many tourists may know Tzeli because of her books about cafenions (39 coffee houses & a barber's shop) and the hot springs of the island (Το άγιο νερό, The sacred water). Those beautiful Greek traditional cafes, where bright neon lights shine over treasures of faded glory, will eventually die out, because young Greeks do not want to spend time in the interiors of their grandparents. The same is true for the hot springs. Tzeli’s photos catch particularly well the lightfall in these springs, all carefully calculated long ago by Ottoman architects.

My favourite book of Tzeli is the one about stones: In communion with stone, a symphony of old stone houses, walls and enormous boulders which are so characteristic for the Lesvorian landscape. Volcanoes long ago distributed them profusely all over the place and the inhabitants were very happy with this wealth: everywhere on the island, you will spot a stone wall, used as a barrier or a support for an olive tree. There are places so crowded with old walls that you are bewildered and wonder how anyone found the time to build them. Coming across ‘kula's’, old sheds or little houses, on mountain slopes is not unusual, and you wonder how the old inhabitants managed to live there. And of course, even in the most remote and impossible spots, like on top of mountains or hidden in caves with difficult access, you will find churches built with old stones. Some regions, like near Kalochori, are studded with Stonehenge-like boulders, making you glad that you were not there when the volcanoes spewed them out. In the area of Plati, above Michou, you will find plenty of tower-like heaps of stones scattered over the olive groves, as if generations of farmers had too much free time and built them.

When you watch out over this Empire of Stones, you also ask yourself why most tourists only come for the summer sun. Lesvos is so much more than beaches, sea, Molyvos and Petra.
Tzeli's work is as varied as is Lesvos. Besides her travel guides like a Greek guide of car tours on Lesvos (Ανεχερεύνητη Λέσβος) and A girl's guide to Lesbos, her photographs catch the amazing fall of light on the apparently never-changing landscapes. These are the colourful works that were on exhibition in Istanbul in summer 2015 and this year travelled to faraway China. In Bejing a new piquant detail was added: from her series of naked women in the sea, some images were printed on very thin and large silk clothes, hung in the space in front of sunsets, olive trees, flamingo's and mountains, bringing alive these ‘floating Sappho's’.

Before the refugee deluge of last year, Lesvos (the third biggest island of Greece) was still fairly unknown and had small tourism. Now everybody knows of the island with the nickname ‘refugee island’. However, the wealth of natural treasures, the magnificent varied landscapes and the still traditional lifestyle remain one of the best kept secrets of the Aegean. Let's see if the Chinese – who received a taste of Lesvos in Bejing and who can read now about what nature has created on Lesvos – will appreciate the island as it is.

Books of Tzeli Hadjidimitriou:
39 coffee houses & a barber shop, Crete University Press
In communion with stone, Crete University Press
Ανεχερευνητη Λεσωοσ (travel guide Lesvos), Road Εκδοσεισ
A girl's guide to Lesbos, Tzeli Hadjidimitriou