This series started on Oct. 15 and will continue every other Saturday. I’m taking a trip back in time to my 4-month backpacking rambles around Greece in the early 1980s, which planted the seed for my recent novel The Ariadne Connection. Again, I apologize for the sketchiness of the few photos I’ve been able to recover from storage; some of these below are borrowed.
After camping on rocky ground for several days, even the sagging bed of the only hotel in Ano (Upper) Rodakino felt like luxury. Jim and I were enjoying sleeping in, waking slowly to sunlight sifting through the wooden-slatted shutters. Then we heard a loud clatter and voices raised in the courtyard below, cackling of chickens and heavy foosteps pounding up the outside stairs. The rickety door to our room burst open and a hen flew in with a frantic beating of wings and flying loose feathers. The landlord followed, diving under the bed after the hen as we clutched the sheet higher over us. As the landlord emerged clutching the hen, we all broke out into laughter.
There was no restaurant in the village, so we set up our camp stove and cooked the eggs Stelios Mamalakis had given us the night before. Then we set out to meet him for a hike and guided tour of this patch of coastline, which turned into a Socratic stroll as he delighted in educating us about local history and Greek culture. He was very proud of his father, who was a Resistance fighter against the brutal German invasion of World War II, and he echoed the irony of the Greek economy now relying heavily on tourism—a large percentage of visitors being Germans. As we scrambled down a steep, rocky goat trail, he chuckled and agreed with Josef that Sara Kri-Kri was a good name for me. (Kri Kri are the wild Cretan goats.) I asked him for a translation of Jim’s Homeric epithet we’d earlier invented, “Dmitri the Hard,” but he told us that Greek wouldn’t preserve the multiple meanings of “hard.” Jim settled happily for “Demetrios Thenatos” (the “Powerful”) and Stelios noted, “He likes the sound of that, I think.”
Our guide showed us many hidden beauties in the rugged landscape: The tiny shoots of wild blue iris among the grass, clover, and poppies supported by a plentitude of year-round springs that kept this stretch of coast greener than we had seen farther to the west. Wild greens and herbs gathered by the local women, among them wild mustard, parsley, and turnips, and the wild asparagus, a particular delicacy. The velvety leaves would be dried for a curative drink. We picked the fat, soft tips of the pre-flowered vinelike plant and ate them raw. Stelios was so eager to gather enough for dinner that he crawled under thorn bushes to gather a “perfect” bunch, tearing his trousers in the process. “These are the most absolutely beautiful ones I have ever seen—I simply can’t resist them.” A scene from my novel The Ariadne Connection gives her Uncle Demetrios this same eagerness:
Wild asparagus. Ariadne touched the slender soft buds Uncle Demetrios had always favored.
She could still see him, all those years ago, climbing ahead of her up a narrow ravine beside a rain-swollen stream, pushing through thorn thickets to find the new asparagus shoots and tearing his trousers to get the last one: “But I can’t resist it! This one is the best, Kri-Kri, just look at it. Tender youthful perfection, the most sublime Platonic ideal of a sprout. Now this is beauty. We will eat it tonight and be strong and beautiful, too.” His white teeth flashed beneath the pirate mustache.
Next, Stelios led us over rocky bluffs and along goat tracks through the wicked, spiked bushes to his special beaches. One lava-rocked cove featured a blowhole that the 30-foot winter waves would power to shoot up 50 feet with a deafening roar. Farther along a pebbled beach we found large shingles of sandstone with embedded pebbles that were traditionally used as millstones to grind the wheat grown here until recently. Continuing our hike along the shores of the crystal-clear blue sea, we reached the deserted stretch of beach at Agia Marina, the ancient harbor of Apollonia dedicated by the Hellenic Greeks to the god Apollo, but almost certainly earlier one of the fabled 99 cities of the Minoans. Remnants of a sea wall, ancient stone foundations, and a small chapel remained. (Most of my own photos have been lost, but this one courtesy of Cretediver.com shows the sort of remnants common along the coast.)
The chapel had been built on at least 3 levels: ancient Hellenic, Byzantine, and “modern.” Inside the moldering structure we found icons and a lit olive-oil lamp. (In our earlier rambles, beside the most remote trails we would find small metal shrine boxes sheltering icons and lit lamps, ubiquitous signs of the devotion of the inhabitants.) On one wall of the chapel we could barely make out the remains of a Byzantine fresco, and one corner of the ceiling revealed remnants of a tiled mosaic. Outside, pieces of carved marble columns lay scattered, a common sight in this land steeped in history.
Stelios gestured at the steep hills where giant boulders were strewn as if flung by a giant hand. Echoing my thoughts, he said, “Here I feel the rocks come alive. One day, my friend, this cliff will awake and stir, and we will see it is Apollo come back to visit the earth.”
We headed back to Ano Rodakino, encountering again the pile of brush, branches, and scrap wood blocking the dirt roadway. When I asked Stelios why it was there, he winked and told us, “Good Friday is tomorrow. You will find out then.”
Tune in next time for the Easter celebrations at Rodakino, and the mystery solved of the bonfire in the middle of the road….
You will find The Rambling Writer’s blog posts here on alternate Saturdays. Sara’s newest novel from Book View Cafe was recently released in print and ebook: The Ariadne Connection. It’s a near-future thriller set in the Greek islands. “Technology triggers a deadly new plague. Can a healer find the cure?” The novel has received the Cygnus Award for Speculative Fiction. DECEMBER SPECIAL: the ebook is priced at only 99 cents if purchased here at Book View Café.