by Jane Bow
Shortlisted for its Ken Klonsky novella award, Homeless was published by Quattro Books in 2018.
Now an ebook, free during the pandemic! Click on link below.
Shortlisted for its Ken Klonsky novella award, Homeless was published by Quattro Books in 2018.
Now an ebook, free during the pandemic! Click on link below.
Greek gifts have enriched the world for several thousand years, most recently last week.
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.
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.
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.
* 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!
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.
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.
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.
Observing my limp and walking poles, a saleslady approaches. She introduces me to a portrait of Ludwig Moser that I do not remember. A
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.
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.
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.”
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.
“Accomplished and lyrical… romantic but tough-minded in a beautiful setting…” Kirkus
5 stars at Amazon U.S., U.K. & Canada
(see purchase details below; news, reviews & interviews on Media page)
Cally’s Way is an adventure about love and loss, mothers and daughters, and the way historical horrors shape our identities whether we know about them or not.
(see purchase details below)
The Oak Island Affair takes readers into the history of an international, multi-million dollar treasure hunt on a little island off Canada’s east coast. Vanessa a freelance writer, is fleeing the pain of an unraveling relationship when she goes to her grandmother’s house on Canada’s east coast, near Oak Island.
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.
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.
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.|
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.
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?
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.
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:
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,
One morning, while I was writing Cally’s Way on my mountainside terrace, an old woman wearing a kerchief stopped by on her way to the steep vacant lot next door, where herbs and artichokes grow in profusion. Pulling a sprig of fennel out of a cloth pouch attached to her apron, she smiled.
“Very good with potatoes.”
I watched her spend the next half hour climbing, bending, squatting, reaching and twisting as she filled her bag with fresh greenery before walking back up the mountainside to prepare dinner. She is well into her eighties, a typical Cretan grandma.
Artichokes merit their own trip to the vacant lot. Cretans put them in casseroles but I can’t wait that long. Boil, then strip and dip is my method. The impossibly lush heart of this tough and prickly mountain plant needs only lemon juice or salted and peppered olive oil.
|An artichoke from next door|
At the bottom of the mountain fishermen bring their daily catches to the Plakias fish shop. You can eat fresh sea bream, sardines and other lovely fish, or squid, sometimes cuttlefish. Or, why not buy a newspaper cornet of shrimps? Poached for a couple of minutes, they still hold the flavour of the sea.
Local lettuce, tomatoes, onions, or a bag of horta (a mixture of greens) and a bottle of local Cretan olive oil are available anywhere. Add a $6-bottle of wine from Sitia, on Crete’s north coast, and Presto, you have one of the tastiest, healthiest, most economical dinners in the world!
|Cuttlefish stew – Yum!|
Then there is the meat. Lambs gambol about on the mountainsides, and a few days before Easter shotgun blasts make clear the connection between raising and eating animals. Roasting lamb on an outdoor spit is a Greek tradition that goes back thousands of years.
Why is lamb on a spit so good, I asked my friend Nikos, who ran Nikos Souvlaki in Plakias for many years.
“Because, where was this lamb three weeks ago? Out on the mountainside eating oregano, thyme, rosemary!” (Those who have read my new novel, Cally’s Way, will recognise this interchange.)
One of the best places to find this meal is at Le Vieux Moulin Taverna in the inland town of Agyroupoli.
If you want a gastronomic treat and have a few extra Euros, drive up to Milia, high in the western White Mountains. A 16th Century village, Milia was built as a summer pasturing place and then abandoned until World War II, when it served as a hiding place for its families during the Germans’ brutal occupation of Crete. After the war it was abandoned again until two of its owner families rebuilt the village as a totally organic, locally sustainable mountain resort. A two-minute video here will give you a tour.
|Milia in spring, from a hiking trail|
Milia features in my novel Cally’s Way. How could it not, when the book intertwines the story of Cally, a young woman trying to find a way to make a life in a world that promises very little security, with that of her grandmother Callisto, a runner in the Cretan Resistance, who lived in a high mountain village? A story summary and reviews are here. Read a sample chapter here (click on cover.)
And happy eating, wherever you are!
Why not share your experiences by commenting below?
Thanks for visiting,
Crete’s World War II story interests readers of Cally’s Way because it is told from the point of view of women.
|Buy HERE or HERE|
On May 20, 1941, when hundreds of German paratroopers floated down out of Crete’s blue morning sky in the Second World War’s first airborne invasion, most of the island’s men were away fighting with the Greek army on the mainland. Only a few thousand Allied troops from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, and the local people were there to defend Crete. Grandfathers fought with ancient swords left over from the Turkish wars, grandmothers with pitchforks. Women hoisted rifles, manned machine guns.
|Knives and dishes used in WWII. Plates have swastika on bottom.|
Twelve days later the swastika was flying in Crete but, situated in the eastern Mediterranean, south of Europe, north of Africa, just west of the Middle East, this island has been invaded again and again for more than two thousand years. Even its monks were militant resistance fighters.
Callisto in Cally’s Way is fictitious, but the hair raising submarine rescues at Limni Beach, just below Preveli Monastery, really happened. And so did so much else in the book. Teenaged boys and girls became messengers, nurses, hiding and helping Allied soldiers who were trapped on the island. When they were caught, whole villages suffered gruesome reprisals.
|Limni Beach from cliff top.|
Unsung Cretan WWII heroes must include the girl who carried food past German patrols to two Australians hiding in the Koutaliotis Gorge, and the girl who rowed a British soldier fifty miles out to Gavdos, an uninhabited island off the coast. Machine gun fire, strafing the boat from the air, opened the soldier’s side. The girl made him lie in the sea water flooding into the boat, to stop the bleeding and keep the wound clean.
Seventy three years later, travelling in Crete, you’ll find old ladies dressed in black out on the mountainsides, filling pouches attached to their aprons with horta, edible greens. They were there; they remember.
You’ll also find busloads of German tourists hiking, swimming, frequenting the tavernas, bringing badly needed Euros into the Cretan economy. How do the Cretans feel about this?
The elderly curator of Sougia’s war museum, who fought as a teenager, smiled when I asked him:
“Those Germans are not these Germans.”
Pragmatic #forgiveness: what an example for so many parts of the world right now!
Tell me what you think. Comment below, or on FB at Jane Bow’s Novels, or on Twitter @JaneBow2
Thanks for visiting me here,
One of the reasons it takes 12 years to write a novel (Cally’s Way) is that you fall in love with the place where it is set, in my case Crete. If you travel there this summer, go off the beaten track. And prepare to come back changed.
|Crete’s south coast, a land of myth and history|
The first time I went to Crete, in 2001, I knew nothing, except that:
a) it is the southern–most Greek island and therefore, hopefully, was warm in March, and
b) it was home to the peaceful pre-Greek Minoan culture that worshipped the Great Goddess and produced world renown statues of her, alabaster pottery and gold jewellery.
My teenaged daughter and I rented a mountainside apartment overlooking the sea in Myrthios, away from tourist resorts along the main, north coast highway. In the mornings I holed up in the kitchen, meditating then making notes on what I was reading, thinking, seeing, feeling, with no idea why.
My daughter sat on the balcony working on her correspondence courses or reading The Cretan Runner, a page-turner of a war memoir by George Psychoundakis, who was a shepherd until World War II, when hundreds of German paratroopers floated down out of the sky. During their brutal occupation of the island, the Cretans mounted a powerful, imaginative Resistance, working with British commandos hiding in the mountains.
In the afternoons we drove our tiny Fiat up hair-raising, unguard-railed mountain roads, looking for the villages Psychoundakis described, imagining the stories he told of unnamed, unknown heroes, some of them boys and girls.
Sometimes we explored ruined Minoan palaces. King Minos (who owned the mythical Minotaur) built his famous palace at Knossos, but it‘s always clogged with tourist buses. I much prefer Phaistos, near the south coast, where the first linear writing was discovered on the Phaistos disk. It is so easy to imagine the famous bull jumping spectacles there, in a stone courtyard still clearly preserved 4,000 years later.
|The ancient stone block archive at Phaistos|
If the day was hot, we explored beaches along the south coast, swimming in the Libyan Sea beside the 14th Century Venetian fort at Frangocostello, or at Skinaria, a beach tucked away behind the headlands that nudists (now prohibited) favoured, or at fabulous, palm studded Preveli, once known as Limni Beach, where two daring submarine rescues of Allied troops took place. (See Cally’s Way.)
|Preveli beach from the headland above.|
I spoke no Greek but for some reason, smelling the sea air and the herbs on the mountainsides, watching the clouds over Plakias Bay, listening to the staccato rise and fall of the language in the villages, nodding hello to black-clad women of my age with whom I had nothing in common, I felt utterly, viscerally at home.
Why? Was it because my formative years were spent in Spain, at the other end of the Mediterranean?
Too thin a reason, by itself.
Was it because the Greek myths, many of which were born on this island, and the Greek language lie at the root of our Western civilization? Psychology, archeology, logic, democracy — so many of our fundamental social concepts are defined by Greek words.
No. If this was the reason, why doesn’t every English speaking Western tourist feel at home here?
|An ancient olive tree lives on the mountainside|
Was it something less nameable then? Something to do with genetic predisposition or re-incarnation?
Hard to conjure that, but when I was a child in Spain my father used to take me to look at the paintings in Madrid’s Prado. My favourite artist, at age nine, was El Greco. Not until I went to Crete did I find out that El Greco was Cretan.
Life itself is a miracle, so who knows what the full answer is. What I do know is that:
a) the great power of love features in all my novels,
b) I love this island, its people, its rock, its air, its sea, and
c) love and creativity are two faces of the same force.
|Flowers in a Cretan ditch|
One morning, that first year in Crete, the World War II part of Cally’s Way dropped into my head fully formed. I have been returning to the island to write every year since then.
And now, published this spring, the book’s characters have come to life in the very place where they were born! Tourists from all over Europe can find Cally’s Way at Carol’s Workshop in Myrthios. Happy me!
|Cally’s Way now on sale at Carol’s Workshop.|
Thanks for visiting me here,