Jane's Journal

Giannou, Crete, Greece

Greek Gifts

Greek gifts have enriched the world for several thousand years, most recently last week.

Fira, Santorini

Fira, Santorini

Greece’s myths show us how different kinds of human energy play out. Zeus, king of gods, is a rapist and wielder of thunderbolts who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. His power must be tempered by his brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, wife and lovers.

Today, as Cretan jewelry designer Carola Poppinga reminds us on Facebook, Zeus has taken the form of a bank. But delinquent Greece, in trying to stand up to the European Central Bank and to Germany, its major backer, has brought several glimmers of soul into fiscal equations that lack any humanity.

Carol's Workshop, Mirthios, Crete

Carol’s Workshop, Mirthios, Crete

French Socialist Party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis wrote a letter to Germany this week asking how it can insist on such crippling austerity in Greece after the help Germany received following World War II.

“Has your country forgotten the support France gave right after all the atrocious crimes committed in your name?” he wrote.

When I was researching my novel, Cally’s Way, which is set in Crete, I learned about Germany’s deceitful World War II propaganda, the Nazi atrocities perpetrated in Greece, and the brave ingenuity of the Crete’s threadbare Resistance. Sixty years later, as German tourists flocked to the island, an aged Cretan Resistance fighter told me:

“Those (WWII) Germans were not these Germans.”

A BBC video filmed this week on German streets confirms this. Every citizen canvassed says Europe is a community now and “we must all help each other.”

Meanwhile Denmark, not a Eurozone member, is offering money to help the Greeks through this crisis: an act of unparalleled generosity.

Greece is in the fiscal doghouse because of corruption and tax evasion. A reason — not an excuse — for this might be that this nation has spent the last several hundred years under the rule of foreign tyrants: Venetians, Turks, Germans. Corruption and underground economies probably flourished.

Fiscal irresponsibility exists everywhere. International banking made this clear after the markets crashed in 2008. Multinational corporations move their operations and accounts all over the world to avoid paying taxes.

Greece, Crete, coast

Skinaria, Crete

On the up side of the ledger, what do the Greek people give us?

* Passion and animation born on ancient, sun bleached coasts.
* Fellowship and generosity unequaled anywhere else in the world.
* A long history of strength, endurance and resourcefulness in the face of hardship.
Also:
* The Mediterranean diet’s appreciation of healthy, delicious home-harvested foods.
* Wine and Cretan raki, a liqueur offered anywhere anytime to passing visitors.

Bank, corporate and parliamentary boardrooms all over Europe could benefit from these qualities.

Efcharistó Greece, (thank you) for stirring some of them to life!

Sheep in the Cretan mountains

Sheep in the Cretan mountains

Coloured Moser crystal glasses wildlife etchings Prague Czech Republic

Prague Diary (2) – Creative Beauty & the Beast

Beauty

This Prague diary is about my trip to research my new historical novel. I am looking for the Communism Museum. Mild multiple sclerosis requires me to use walking poles and I am concentrating on planting my feet squarely on the cobblestones when suddenly a sense of familiarity envelops me.

‘Moser,’ says my brain. I look up and there it is: Moser’s crystal gallery, a place where stunning beauty has a practical purpose.

Moser crystal gallery Prague history

Table in Moser crystal gallery Prague Czech Republic

When I lived here, during a gap year between high school and university one of my jobs, as daughter of the Canadian ambassador, was to take visiting Canadian dignitaries to see Prague’s sights. Moser was a favorite stop.

Forty-six years later, in the same ornately paneled rooms, white plaster Cupids still look down from the ceiling at sculptures and vases, at eggshell thin goblets embossed with gold. Tumblers are luminous yellow, amber, rust, mauve, aquamarine, black. Scenes — a pheasant taking flight, a quail ruffing its feathers, an antlered deer in the forest — are etched into some of them.

Mosesr tumbler PRzgue Czech Republic

Duck etched on Moser tumbler Prague Czech Republic

And look, here is Moser’s signature collection of stemware, each glass with its own distinctive shape and personality: one with a round bowl and short stem, another tall and thin, another shallow, open, each one designed to best deliver a different kind of aperitif or wine or liqueur.

Here is the table where seventeen-year old me was taught to hold stemmed goblets at the base, with thumb and forefinger at a 45-degree angle, so the heat of my hand would not disturb the glass’ contents.

 

Moser stemware Prague Czech Republic

Miniature Moser stemware collection

The Beast

Observing my limp and walking poles, a saleslady approaches. She introduces me to a portrait of Ludwig Moser that I do not remember. A

Moser crystal gallery Prague history

Table in Moser crystal gallery Prague Czech Republic

19th Century engraver, he created his unique lead-free crystal, then set up a factory in Karlovy Vary, not far from Prague. When the Austro-Hungarian emperor and England’s King Edward VII bought his crystal ware, it became famous across Europe. Ludwig’s son Leo took over the business but, because they were Jewish, the family was forced to sell the company and leave the country in 1934.

The Beauty And The Beast fairytale comes in a variety of forms, but in this true story, the Nazi beast was annihilated by a second beast. Czechoslovakia’s Communist government was trading on Moser’s name when I lived in Prague, using his creations to bring badly needed hard currency into the country. At the Karlovy Vary factory I saw artists in uniform brown aprons etching the beautiful scenes.

Now, home from my trip, I park my poles and think about beasts, how they can be political, economic, social or physical. Always they force us into futures we would not have chosen. But always, too, beauty endures, and nurtures us.

Today, Moser’s creative beauty is alive and well all over the world. In Canada, lights in my dining room corner cabinet shine through the coloured crystal glasses I have inherited. Their beauty and their message thrill me every time I look at them.

Moser colored crystal Prague Czech republic

Colored Moser crystal glasses in my cabinet

Moser fish sculpture crystal Prague Czech Republic

Moser fish sculpture

historical Prague Cold War novel adventure

Prague Diary (1) – A Historical Adventure

Sleeping Beauty Has Wakened!

We haven’t even left the tarmac in London when a horrible feeling sucks the air out of my stomach. Which is ludicrous. I have been excited for months about this historical adventure, returning to Prague after 46 years to research my new novel, and my son and daughter-in-law will be waiting for me at the other end. I close my eyes, let the feeling reveal itself.

Prague, Cold War, travel

Prague then

Memory stores itself physically, apparently. Fifty years ago I made this same trip three times a year. My parents had been appointed Canada’s ambassadors to Czechoslovakia and, because there were no English-language high schools behind the Iron Curtain in Prague, I was incarcerated in England’s Roedean School for Girls. Each time I buckled my seatbelt at the beginning of school holidays, I wondered what would be waiting at the other end.

Tensions were often high in a house full of state appointed servants and Cold War microphones, and I was not allowed to make friends with Czechs. To be seen with a Westerner meant ruin. Just before I left Prague for the last time, in August, 1968, one of the Russian tanks that would crush President Dubcek’s Prague Spring ten days later rolled down the street outside our house.

Forty-six years later my plane lands in darkness. A taxi whisks me down wide new roads into a city that appears to have awakened from a long, long sleep. I see the medieval towers at either end of the Charles Bridge, and the Rudolfinium, and the National Theatre, and palaces that fifty years ago were bleak, soot-stained monuments to a past that was deemed not to matter. Now their beautiful carved stone exteriors are lit up, the gold highlights on their statues polished.

“Come on, Mom,” says my son, “you need to eat.”

Prague now, Cold War, history, love, adventure

Prague now

And now I’m walking through 700-year old streets I remember, but only the cobblestones are familiar. Buildings once silent and grey now gleam with brightly-lit shops. People flowing past me are speaking Italian, French, German, Russian. A fairy tale church spire just past the Estates Theatre, where Mozart conducted the premiere of his opera Don Giovanni in 1787, chimes the hour.

In a restaurant up an alley that has been here since before Columbus discovered America (and features in my new novel) we feast on roast goose, pickled red cabbage and dumplings, washed down with wine and then slivovice, a Czech specialty.

Maybe somewhere along the way I died, I think, and have been lucky enough to be admitted to the unlikeliest of Heavens.

Good Morning Canada, Who Are You?

A Trip West

 

When three invitations to present my new novel, Cally’s Way, arrived from Edmonton, my husband and I packed the trunk of our second-hand Volvo with books and hit the road.

IMG_0724

Canada today is very different from the country I knew growing up as the daughter of diplomats. Then, we were respected across the world as a thriving democracy and an international peacekeeper.

Last month our prime minister did not attend the U.N.’s summit meeting on climate change. Today’s Canada muzzles its scientists, harasses PEN Canada, which champions freedom of speech, does not even try to meet carbon reduction targets. Toronto, our biggest city, is run by a confessed drug addict.

What happened? How did that Canada become this Canada? Maybe driving across the country would yield some answers.

 

Days 1 & 2 – Behind the Pines

Fall is touching central Ontario’s sugar maples with red, orange, yellow, gold. Further north, pines that inspired Canada’s Group of Seven painters find purchase among the Canadian Shield’s granite crags and cliffs.

Chi-chi bakeries populate Muskoka Lakes towns where some of the country’s wealthiest families own summer homes, but drive north for a couple of hours and the scene changes.

Motels, gas stations, small businesses along the highway have been abandoned. Those that remain are suffering, their grocery shelves as bare as some I have seen in the third world. But, noticing my walking sticks, a store owner stops mopping the floor to help me.

No gas today. Sorry for the inconvenience.
Trees, trees and more trees line the highway. Cold, wind-whipped rain makes clear how powerful are the forces of Nature up here. Slide off the road or hit a moose and without help you will surely perish.

Billboards and signs offer clues to what goes on behind the trees:

Fishing and hunting lodges will fly in their clientele
When I was a junior reporter in Thunder Bay, I spent a weekend at one of these wilderness lodges, helping in the kitchen, exploring the river, playing penny card games late into the night. Forty-two years later the smell of frying bacon still takes me back into that wild peace.

You are now entering a First Nations reserve
A few years ago, while working in a Moose Factory school, I visited a Cree fishing camp on the mighty Moose River just south of James Bay. Hidden by brush, the camp was invisible until our canoes landed. We feasted on grilled, freshly caught fish, learned how to make a duck blind and mud decoys, then sat, silently waiting for the sound of wings. Knowing that each of us was one tiny breathing participant in the great dance of Nature. What a gift!

Violence against women must stop
Testimony during a murder trial I covered for the Chronicle-Journal in 1972 took me into a wilderness hunting camp near Long Lac. The accused was a slight, shy eighteen-year old boy. Waking in the night, hearing one of the older women crying for help in another tent, he found her struggling under a large, very drunk man — his uncle. He yelled, tried to wrestle the attacker. Could not pull him off. Finally, in desperation, he picked up the closest object, an axe, and buried in his uncle’s head. A court full of white men sent the boy to prison for life. Where, I wonder, is he now?

Impossibly blue Lake Superior, stretching as far as the horizon, is framed by red granite cliffs polished by the rain.

Barrick Mine
Just for a moment, the wall of trees breaks. A building and  pond are dwarfed by a pile of gravel as high as a hill.

Further west, more trees — deciduous, cedar, pine — all vying for every square inch of earth remind me of other parts of the world, where people of different races and faiths are battling each other for control of land they call home. When the rain lets up, blackened skeletal trunks appear where recent forest fires destroyed everything. Under them, light new-green growth has already begun.

Highways up here are new and beautiful. Cities we are passing through — Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Dryden, Kenora — all have fast food joints and big box stores.  Is this where the money up here has gone?

 

Day 3 – Flatlands

Manitoba’s highway signs, in French as well as English, remind us that Francophone Canada does not live only in Quebec.

Fields here are huge, seas of yellow sunflowers. Rolled up hay bales advance like extra-terrestrial creatures from a humanless horizon. Platoons of silver silos wait for the grain and seed trucks throwing up dust along the side roads.

Welcome to big agro, farms owned by companies. You don’t need to be a farmer to feel the enormity of the change this has brought. Wooden homesteads nestled into little groves of planted trees lie empty now.

Above it all the prairie sky is the most magnificent living canvas I have ever seen.

Everything here is big. Trains so long you never see the last car carry cylindrical black tanker cars, and goods containers piled one on top of the other. A man I meet later in Edmonton, whose company is involved with the oil industry, tells me some of the chemicals being transported are lethal. I thank God the land is flat, the rail lines straight.

(Two weeks later, while writing this, I read that a train, derailed and on fire near a rural Saskatchewan village, is belching toxic smoke. Heaven help the people and flora and fawna there. Heaven help us all.)

Prairie villages and towns each have their own character. How did Mozart get its name? Langeburg’s central park is decorated with a painted Volkswagen. A hand-painted sign at the entrance to Churchbridge, Saskatchewan boasts of the two NHL hockey players it has produced.

Langenburg’s park
We can’t find an affordable place to stay in Saskatoon so we keep driving, arriving late at North Battleford’s lovely Gold Eagle Lodge. Next door, in the casino, people are shoving money into one-armed bandits, sitting around dimly-lit poker tables. It’s 10 pm and the restaurant is nearly empty, but the Gold Eagle’s “pig’s wings” are among the finest restaurant ribs I have eaten.

 

Day 4 & The last Crossing

Winding through low, tawny hills, the North Saskatchewan River valley has been an awesome passageway as long as humans have travelled between the Rocky Mountains and Saskatchewan. As we follow it, heading for Alberta, gigantic farming and construction machines and filthy oil tanker trucks rule the road. We are glad when Edmonton’s skyline appears.

The North Saskatchewan River cuts right through Edmonton. We walk along its banks. Readers welcome me and Cally’s Way. By the end of the festivities I am number two on the Journal’s fiction bestseller list, and it is time to head home.

Alberta’s southeastern cattle ranges come alive, thanks to Guy Vanderhaeghe’s historical novels, particularly The Last Crossing. Then, at Wild Horse, we find a lone guard defending Canada’s border.

Highways are under construction all across Canada and the United States. City exit ramps are clogged with cars, pick-up and transport trucks. At the Ambassador Bridge border crossing in Detroit trucks are lined up for more than a kilometer, engines idling.

Driving the last stretch, through acres and acres of new windmills in south-western Ontario, I try to make sense of what we have seen:

  • People we met everywhere on our trip were kind, generous-hearted, very different from each other. I feel grateful to live among them.
  • More and more stuff, some of it dangerous, is moving across our awesome landscape of lakes and forest, prairies and mountains. This is not healthy. Neither are our politics.
  • But how, I wonder, can Canadians struggling through windswept, six-month winters in isolated places, and working dawn to dusk in the growing season, find the strength or the time to relate to the lives of other Canadians thousands of kilometres away? How can an Albertan from Vermilion know what concerns someone trying to make a living in Windsor Ontario?

Canada became a country because the British needed to defend against incursions from the south. We forced the aboriginal peoples onto reserves, forged a federation of provinces and territories, built railways, and have been making it up as we go along ever since.

Today the Canada we cherish — clean air and water, freedom of speech and open debate, consumer choices — needs our protection. So please, wherever you live, get out and vote, but for people and parties that stand for a free, environmentally responsible Canada.

Peterborough City Council plans to build a bridge here.

Thanks for taking time to read this,
Jane

Decisions Are Rocks

Once we make major life decisions, they become solid, like the ground, or a mountain, creating the contours, peaks and valleys of our lives. When I chose the man with whom I am spending my life, I gave my future a unique and distinct shape.  A different choice would have made a different life.

I’m thinking about decisions and rock because my new novel, Cally’s Way, is about how both shaped so many lives seventy years ago in Crete, during World War II. The Cretan people had a harsh choice to make: to use courage, strength and guile to resist the German occupation, or to collaborate. Click here to sample their landscape in the Kourtaliotis Gorge.

Monument to Cretan Resistance.

  
Meanwhile we have just returned to Canada from Crete, driving from Toronto’s airport to Peterborough, Ontario on a concrete highway, eight lanes congested with cars and trucks, the air tinged pink by smog.

“I know,” a bright light in the highway department must once have decided, “let’s buy prime farmland along Lake Ontario, chop down the woods, reroute streams, and cover it all with concrete.”

A highway department decision-maker

Concrete high rises, some new, others shabby with age, line the route.

Decisions like these are the bedrock of seedy, soul destroying landscapes all across America. But, wanting to move more and more stuff, to endlessly grow our economies, we keep on making them. Here in Peterborough (a place that has not grown since we came here in 1979,) City Council has just decided to build a bridge right through one of Canada’s most beautiful city parks, in the name of hoped-for progress. 

Rights to rip open the ground for mines, to destroy virgin forests for wood, to pollute whole watersheds and  ecosystems to get oil out of Alberta’s tar sands and move it to markets are being granted all across Canada. Decisions that render us uglier, sicker and poorer. Different choices would make a different future.

Once made, changing big decisions leaves scars. Divorcees hurt, their children suffer. Landscapes cry. Look at Detroit, riddled with crumbling freeways, boarded up houses, decaying high rises full of broken windows.

And yet. In Detroit homies cruise outside a corner liquor store while inside the proprietor is full of humor, toughness, generosity. Down at the bus station, outside the locked gate in the wee hours, the old boys at the taxi stand are trading jokes, the air full of laughter. Hurt people are resilient, capable of new decisions, strong growth. Nature can recover.

Bird of Paradise in Myrthios, Crete


Could it be then that hope can only come from the decisions we individuals make, moment to moment? 

Take the hours I spend on Facebook, Twitter and other electronic devices. These disconnect me from the life flowing around me, while making me so intense! And disconnected, distracted or fractured attention spans are easily manipulated. 

I can, however, also make choices during my day to restore balance, create harmony and connection. All I need is to do it. Because in the end my father, who fought in World War II to preserve our rights to freedom of choice in thought, expression and action, had it right:

“Make your own decisions,” he said, “because if you don’t, life will make them for you.” 

Sometimes, like Cally in my novel, we need history to slap us into wakefulness, snap us out of the complacency that can lose us everything, before it’s too late.

Available in print & ebook at Iguana Books, Amazon, Chapters & all other retailers

Mothers And Daughters

Mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, is there a bond more powerful? More influential? Full of hitches and glitches, joy, pain and confusion, a mother’s love gives shape to her child’s life. Protecting, nourishing, nurturing a new little human, is there a greater challenge, or gift? 

Every mother is her mother’s child, however, and Mother Mary is the only saint I know of who had a kid. Action and reaction, the messy, muddled motherhood continuum goes on and on, creating through its tapestry of trial and error the flawed, unique beauty that is every living soul. 

New life in the Cretan countryside

Cally’s Way, my new novel set in Crete, is all about the mother-daughter bond, and the fact that, through it, historical horrors create our identities whether we know about them or not. When the novel opens, 25-year old Cally knows very little about her mother, who has just died. Here is her first encounter with the enduring power of motherhood:

“Apparently no one in Crete wore motorcycle helmets. She hugged Oliver’s back, watching over his shoulder as he gunned the engine up the mountain road, twisting around hairpin bends, the bike’s headlight cutting a swath through the darkness, higher and higher… the sea now thousands of feet below… They crested a steep hillock on the edge of the village of Sellia. There was a church at the top.


A great palm tree stood guard over a wrought iron gate. Inside, waist-high marble tombs decorated with crosses, angels, doves were lit by oil lamps in glassed-in shrines at their heads: rows and rows of tiny lights flickering under the moon and stars. Cypress trees at the top of each row, sculpted nearly horizontal by the mountain winds, looked like Japanese ink drawings against the sky. She had never seen anything like it.


“Cretans like to build their graveyards as close as possible to God,” said Oliver.


Beside the oil lamps inside the shrines, people had placed a few flowers, some fresh, others plastic, and a crucifix or a prized medal or a candlestick or a toy. Always a photograph, several in ornate silver frames… 

Something squeaked in the darkness above her… There it was again, a single squeak in the trees. A bat? Strangely, she felt no fear. Death, all around her, was beautiful in this nighttime world of flickering souls and answering stars. Removed from light, bright day life, the departed connected with eternity, and were free to come alive. To be with you.”
 

A Cretan grave


On Mothers’ Day this Sunday I would like to celebrate every mother because, no matter who or where she is, she is doing the best she can with what she’s got in every moment. 

Also, this year please help me send loving energy to the 234 mothers and daughters caught up in Nigeria’s latest kidnapping horror. 

A summary & reviews are here; you can buy it here or here.  


Social Media Savvy

Have none. Need some,
says my publisher. 

(iguanabooks.com)

Facebook Goodreads LinkedIn Tweets,
pages linked by clicks that eat

our time, our focus, our minds made ghosts 
that cease to host
attention even for those we love.
Or so I thought, 

watching drivers texting, 
parents neglecting 
toddlers attached to the end of their hands.

I like nature, the woods, where life is connected,   
plants, animals and trees, birds, beetles and bees 
thriving and dying together.

And people. I like watching faces sag and lift, 
shifting, sifting
expressions ephemeral as the passing breeze.
Disability, forcing me to measure each walking step,
has taught me to see 

cracks in the pavement and the tiny flowers growing there.
Resting, I read the strut and slouch of passersby,
admire youth’s fluid grace, feel the arthritic’s aching gait.
But my working world, books, is online now.
I must go there.

So I screw up my courage and hire a twenty-year old.
He looks at my Facebook LinkedIn Goodreads profiles,
my one Twitter follower, and laughs.
“You have some work to do.”

An hour later I understand:

  • how to make a page interesting to someone who has no reason to care,
  • how to link my pages, and why,
  • how to Tweet usefully,
  • how social media take you into the heart of your field, adding colour and depth and breadth to what you know.

The next day my national newspaper reports that here in North America more people than ever suffer from loneliness. Just about everybody has access to a computer, but even as we ‘tweet’ and ‘like’ and ‘friend,’ an unprecedented percentage of us is sinking into a trough of disconnected despond. I live in a city suburb but do I ever see my neighbours? 

Feeding, growing, killing, dying doesn’t only happen in the woods, but do I know how the kids across the street are doing, or who is sick, who has something to celebrate? No. Comfortably cocooned, isolated, we never lack for clean water or a soft bed, but we barely know each others’ names. 

Our planet is a mess, yes, 

here and everywhere, 
but now I see that the social media are nature in action.
Nonsense and laughter, rants and support,
sometimes horror,
Twitter and Facebook and the others are 
human consciousness unfolding
ideas, theories and knowledge growing across the world,
each social media presence dancing to its own rhythms, 
full of possibilities,
every bit as connected as the inhabitants of the wild woods.

So I log in. I can do this.
I want to do this, want to reach
across national, racial, religious, political, economic divides.

Want to help show and tell and build and sell
whatever comes next in the mystery that is Earth.
For one designated hour a day.
Then I hope I’ll log out, 
bundle myself into my overcoat, mitts and boots
and take a walk 

Alan’s Garden

Cretan roses are tough. Blooming yellow, pink, crimson and fiery orange here in Alan’s garden, they do not lose a single petal when the meltemi wind howls in from the north. While I am here a Saharan sirocco whips their heads, a thunderstorm pelts them with hailstones and still, when I come out on the patio to drink my tea the next day, there are the roses, nodding in the morning.  

Alan’s roses

 They remind me of this island’s language. Bending, whipping, caressing, Cretan Greek is flexible, intense, and  full of colour. A single word’s meaning changes according to the pitch, tone and inflection with which it is delivered. Carol Poppinga, a trilingual jewellery artist who has training in both archeology and Greek, sits with me in her Myrthios workshop explaining a concept foreign to English.

An example is the word ‘tora.’ Spoken in a normal voice, it means ‘now.’ “Tora!” with force behind it means ‘immediately.’ “Tora?” as a question translates as “Are you sure?”or “couldn’t it wait?”  “To-o-o-ora,” the elongated ‘o’ sound half sung, pitch descending, sounds like the wind. Spoken with one hand raised and waving cylindrically, it means “too late.”

Carol outside her Myrthios workshop 
(https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carols-Workshop/165498226881343?ref=ts&fref=ts)

Beyond the roses in Alan’s garden, herbs grow around the spiky spines of a yucca tree. Here, and all over mountainsides that hum with bees in spring, you can smell sage, lavender, oregano and spicy savory.

Words too, in Cretan Greek, carry a punch that changes with the way they are are pronounced. The word ‘geros,’ if pronounced GEros, means old man. GerOS means strong. Then there is the word ‘malaka.’ MaLAka means asshole. MalaKA means soft. Imagine the fun you can have playing with this kind of language.

Down at the other end of his garden, Alan’s blooming geraniums, interspersed with a variety of flowers, each with its own distinct personality are a riot of colour against the mountains, sea and sky. 


Carefully planned and beautifully cultivated, the garden does, however, have wild elements. Birds and the winds bring and sew surprises that cannot be denied. Stubborn papyrus, from which the Egyptians just across the sea made paper 4,000 years ago, has seeded itself in a concrete crack on the garden steps. Beside it a pretty snapdragon has taken root in the middle of the stairs.

Papyrus on the stairs

 The soil in Alan’s garden is predominantly clay, the same clay the Minoans used more than 3,000 years ago to make models of heads wearing all kinds of different expressions. (See them in the Heraklion Archeological Museum.)  They also used clay to archive the world’s first linear script on clay covered stones, at their Phaestos palace.

Stone and clay archives at Phaestos

  A peaceful, stunningly creative society, the Minoans traded with the Egyptians to the south and with the ancient Mesopotamians (Greek word) to the east until volcanoes and earthquakes twice destroyed everything they had built here. After that came the invasions, one after another after another, many of them followed by brutal occupations. 

Mountain villages on this part of the south coast nestle under rock cliffs and outcroppings, the stone dwellings built one against the next hundreds of years ago. If invaders came into the bays below, the inhabitants could escape unseen, through the network of their houses into the mountains behind. 
 

Cenotaph at Karimes

 

Invaders’ legacies still exist in the Greek myths set on Crete, in the Roman baths being excavated in the mountains, in graceful  Venetian arches, in cenotaphs to Cretans who resisted the Turks and the Nazis. And in Greek words that have migrated into all the Western cultures: psychology, archeology, apology — and so many other –ologies! 

Alan’s garden: a symbol of the tough, flexible, colourful and resistant Cretan beauty from which it all began.

Words’ Worth

Words are dynamite. They torture, poison, blow apart relationships, incite riots, create hope, compassion, great love. Wow. Little collections of sound, or written squiggles bunched together, how do they do all that? Fifty years of fooling around with words (I started Very young) leave me marveling at this most powerful gift/tool/weapon.

Sound is power. “In the beginning was the Word… and the Word was God,” said John in the Old Testament. Once I took a self defense course. Our homework was to practise shouting “FUCK OFF” at the top of our lungs (to shock a would-be attacker.) Even in an empty house it was hard, jarring the system, shattering conditioning. Try it. Raw sound — especially at the top of your lungs — splashes inside your cells, affects your heart, blood, nerves, skin, feelings, thoughts.

Vowel sounds, variations of ‘a,’ ‘e,’ ‘i,’ ‘o,’ or ‘u,’ are the breath of life. Ancient Hebrew words, written, included no vowels. These sounds were added in the speaking. (Deepak Chopra: Journey to the Boundless) The breath of life: in the beginning I picture humans standing up, grunting or barking to show what we wanted, murmuring our pleasure. And once we get an idea it doesn’t take us humans long to run with it. Soon we were shaping the sounds, adding syllables, prefixes, suffixes to communicate feelings, plans, ideas. Making stories, changing our world.

Some sounds are the same no matter what the language. ‘Ma,’ denoting mother, is there in ancient Sanskrit (matr), and the Romantic languages (madre in Spanish, mere in French) and German (mutter) and English. Every word carries history, sometimes thousands of years old, and that is so totally rad, man. Once I finish this blog, I’ll upload it and then? Omigod who knows? LOL.

Make up a word, something wriggly or obtuse or just plain obfuscatious. Now use it, I dare you. Have some fun watching people’s reactions. Shakespeare coined thousands of words, and look what a good time he had. 
Thanks for your visit,
Jane