Thursday, January 13, 2011
I went out yesterday hoping to find a direct path leading north from the southern tip of the peninsular on which I live. I failed, finding only myriad wild animal tracks that led my companion and me through a maze of rocks and dense Arbutus, Gorse and Lavender scrub which eventually became so thick and tall to be quite impenetrable; impenetrable to mature bipeds that is, the tracks that ran into and under it suggested that it was no barrier to resident quadrupeds. Failing, on this first recce, was only a mild disappointment which was more than compensated for by the joy of being out and alive in such a beautiful wilderness. The beach far below us, in the centre of this photograph, is at Zapi where on Sundays from May until October I enjoy simple fresh food peppered with good conversation and a sufficiency at least of local plonk at Maria's Taverna. If you happen by there this summer, do please join me at my infinitely expandable table.
A circle described by a radius, centered on my house, of no more than about fifteen kilometres describes the limits of how far I am likely to stroll within one day. The area is not so large but large enough to yet provide me with surprises that are not only a delight in themselves but also give promise of further interesting discoveries to come. On a recent stroll curiosity led me to turn onto a hitherto unexplored path along which I stumbled upon one such unexpected novelty.
New houses here, as elsewhere, are built to satisfy the maximum-for-minimum demands of a mean, acquisitive society. Moderated only by the ephemeral and invariably tasteless demands of fashion, many indeed most new buildings hereabouts are reinforced concrete boxes remarkable only for their homoiousia. It was a joy for me therefore to find, hidden along a track to nowhere, a building that was a so obviously amateur builder’s singularly delightful creative dream. My joy at finding this place was conditioned to some extent by the sadness of the place. Work on the unfinished house had been abandoned, apparently quite suddenly and some years previously. High on the side of a hill, the site has stunning views beyond Zapi and Finicounda to the Ionian sea. On this magnificent site the unknown builder had had built a conventional reinforced concrete frame. Thereafter, perhaps alone, perhaps with others, the builder painstakingly transformed the bare frame into a beautiful shelter and repository for much of his soul. As generally with houses here, other than those of the majority of Western European immigrants who bring with them fears exaggerated by mass-hysteria, the house was unlocked so I was able to enter this little Bower of Bliss and look with delight on the wealth of personal touches that had been built into it.
The house has but two small living rooms, one inside one outside. The inside room has a kitchen leading down from it, above which is a mezzanine sleeping space. The house has something of the feel of a boat; no space is wasted; benches double as lockers. A door from the inside living room lads onto a short outside corridor, off which there is a simple basic lavatory, beyond which the corridor leads into what appears to be an unfinished hammam. The house had been designed to be self-sufficient, PV panels are fitted to the roof and there are three water cisterns, each of which are the size of a small room.
Outside nature has begun to reclaim her own; plants have established in cracks in the concrete and a small garden has established on top of a metre square bag of sand which is presumably, as there are bricks and other building materials nearby, part of the last delivery to the site.
What, I wonder, is the story behind the sudden abandonment of this now silent site which must not so long ago have been an industrious hive of creative activity?
Monday, January 10, 2011
Living moderately high up and towards the middle of a peninsular, as I have been for the past thirteen years, I am able to watch and feel the earth turning on its axis. On clear mornings, the majority of mornings here are clear, looking east from the house I can see the ridge of the Taygetos Mountains moving down against the ‘rising’ sun. Witnessing this daily miracle I experience a similar sensation to that of being in a stationary train when a train on an adjacent track begins to move. So attached have I become to watching each day’s sunrise that should cloud or late waking cause me me to miss the event I feel rather cheated. In the evening I do not have far to walk to watch the sea beyond Methoni moving upwards to swallow the ‘setting’ sun. The movement of the earth in relation to the cosmos, so obvious to me since being here, was something of which I was previously quite unaware. Of course I had enjoyed seeing many beautiful sunrises and sunsets but had never experienced any feeling of actual movement. The awareness of cosmic motion does not end at sunset. There is practically no light pollution here, the night sky, especially on moonless nights, is inky black; movement, of constellations against it as the months pass, so obvious.
The annual migration of the sun from south to north and back is another timeless cosmic movement of which I became aware only when, for the first time in my life, I could witness from my home both the change of position of sunrise and the movement of shadows and images cast within the house. At the winter solstice the sun rises over the most southerly tip of the Mani that is visible from here. At the summer solstice it rises but a little south of Kalamata; a distance on the ground of about a hundred kilometres. Within the house, from December to June the changing position of images of windows through which stream the sun’s first rays of the morning move, in the opposite direction of the movement of the sun's rising, around three of the room’s four walls.