Archive for February, 2011

Millions Against Monsanto

February 23, 2011

Never before in human history have so few people had such control over the food supply of all humanity.  What they are doing with that control is extraordinarily dangerous, in my opinion.  Our biological heritage represents 3.5 billion years of research and on-the-job training for genes, biology, and the metabolic cycle of exchange.  Biology in general and food in particular are part of the ‘commons’ – what we partake in collectively – and should not be ‘owned’ or liable for alteration without representation.  GMO crops have shown themselves to spread easily into non-GMO areas, which could lead to a massive and uncontrollable experiment with all of our lives.  Be informed, and take action if you feel the same way:

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Eis

February 13, 2011

One of the many better aspects of being at home is being able to change my footwear often.  I often call shoes ‘leather coffins’, and Gary Ward wags that they are ‘sensory deprivation chambers’.  Whatever you think of putting your sets of 26 bones, 40 joints, and 70,000 nerve endings into a stiffish box for hours on end, or or go ahead and sing the praises of tropical barefoot existence, I can tell you that I am not going out into a Maine winter in Vibrams or reef runners.  The compromise is to swap footgear regularly, so that my feet get to adapt to something different and maintain their inner movement.

On the road, shoes of any kind take up a lot of room, and for this trip to dreary winter England and crispy winter Oslo, I took only a sturdy pair of Merrill’s that would serve for the wet informality of a KMI class and the colder formality of a convention address to 300 chiropractic doctors – but in any case only one pair, to which my feet have been adapting all week.  I cannot wait to get home to something else – my feet simply get tired of any given shoe, however comfy they are on the first day.

But these turned out to be a bad choice: I only ever get to see Oslo in the winter, as you could not raise a class here in the summer, when everyone is out playing in the stretched-out days.  This time, it is as cold as Maine and even slower to light up in the morning at 60 degrees N latitude.

For some unaccountable reason in this efficient, cheery, and snow-accustomed city, the sidewalks were not shoveled and are now all glare ice.  Everyone is stepping carefully, and my shoes, despite their diamond tread, went right out from under me as I tried to negotiate a little slope down to the skating rink in the median strip of the main drag.

I landed hard on my trochanter, just as my father did when he broke the neck of his femur in a similar fall on ice at 78.  I suffered a mere bruise to my pride and a sore bursa, and my bones feel solid – but it made me aware how I am just 15 years away from when such a fall might stop my in my tracks too.

Curiously, I was relating this story in my lecture that very day: how the neck of his femur broke cleanly, how at his age they had to surgically pin it, and how when I came home from whatever trip I was on, there he was, coming out of the garage with a terrible one-sided limp.

“Does it hurt that much?” I asked.

“No, it doesn’t hurt,” he said, and my eyebrows lifted.

So while he had his cigarette, we walked up and down the driveway: “Can you feel how your weight is traveling over your left foot?  Can you let the weight travel over the right foot in the same way?”  In this way, I kept transferring the successful sensations from the walking his ‘good’ leg was doing to the injured leg.

Bonnie Bainbridge points out that ‘there are no genes for surgery’: he went to sleep with a broken leg and woke up with s sturdy one.  The operation was a success, but that is not the completion of the healing process – his bodymind needed to integrate this sudden and unexpected (by his genes) recovery.  Within five minutes of tracking through the various joints and movements, Dad was walking normally, and did so for the rest of his life.  It was not because I am so skilled, but because no one had bothered to re-educate his movement after the surgery.

I use the story to illustrate the point that in the future, there should be a competent bodyworker attached to every surgical rehab unit, every school and sports facility – both the potential and the need for ‘Spatial Medicine’ are quite large.

Dimitris on Santorini – last Greek blog

February 5, 2011

Up at 6:30 to head out for the airport with the morning commuters to catch our plane for Thira.  I had been here a couple of years ago as a teaching-guest of George Kousaleos, but then it was thronged with people; now it is dead, dead, dead – many of the stores closed and shuttered, hard to find lunch (but what we did find was good – our first gyros).  The views from the village atop the caldera are just stupendous and ever-changing as we traverse the little alleyway paths on this windswept January day.  Cat’s paws claw along the bay below, which is devoid of cruise boats, whereas when we were here before there were always several steaming in and out of the passages at the open end of the island’s C-shape.

Sunset from our hotel room

A maze of paths up the cliff

Amazing rockwork in a patio

How many churches can one island support? It's the sailors made good who build them.

After lunch we read our way into a nap, which lasts in Misty’s case until 8 pm, while I quietly read the copy of the Iliad she had picked up. Letting her sleep is an uncharacteristic act for me – it has taken three marriages for me to achieve this allowing.  In my first, the timing was all mine, and it was all hurry.  In my second, to Misty’s mum, in my 30’s, came the struggle to admit of another’s time; she won, but the marriage lost.  Now, in my third, with me in my 60’s and Misty in her 20’s, I can allow another’s timing to take over my own.

I am glad I did, as she had an important dream – hers to relate if she wants to – which we discussed while cracking the pistachios we picked up yesterday on Poros. We went out for a drink about ten, to a bar with assorted lost locals with bare midriffs revealing tramp stamps (those ubiquitous lower back tribal tattoos).  Techno music (techno? 2011?) blaring made it hard to understand each other, at least with my dimming ears, so after one drink we plunged back into the cold night, with the stars blaring silently above.

It is hard to credit just how shut up this place is – the German girl we met on the roof terrace is the only other guest in our whole hotel, and feels like the only other tourist on the island.  She speaks perfect English, having worked in rural Georgia for a couple of years, but now she is an engineer in mainland China.  We meet her again in our way out to the bar, and find out she has been called back to China suddenly on a work problem.  She feels relieved – it is so cold and dead here; Misty and I have each other as company, but I wouldn’t want to be here alone.

A tree growing out of a wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beware of Dog - but it's a little poodle!

 

 

 

"Underbite" - our attached dog

Mostly we are meeting animals – Else has brought a street dog up with her from the bar. Only a few cats will come for cuddles or even food; they are alley cats, mostly, and skitter to shelter when a human comes near. Dogs, when I lived in Greek countryside in the 80’s, had a hard life.  They were not pets, but simply guarded the house or the goats, barking incessantly when anything showed up, but mostly fending for themselves.  Now, they seem to have a better life.

This dog abandons Else for us, and follows us back down the hill to the bar, waits for us patiently circled up on the sidewalk, and then follows us back up again.  He has the most amazing underbite; he looks like a canine Churchill.  He seems cheerful and well-fed, if a bit scruffy.  As we say goodbye at the hotel door, she has a very hard time leaving him to the cold night, rubbing his belly until he sneezes.

I am so glad to see Misty naturally has the compassion it took me so long and so many failed relationships to win.  Her boyfriend has it too, so it is not just a guy thing to be hard-ass, though whether you are a classic feminist or a difference feminist, we men are bred to battle, and cannot afford not to steel our hearts somewhat.  In my case, I way overdid it.  In Julian’s case, I wonder how his compassion will survive the rigours of military training.

On every trip, I forget something.  This time it was razors, which was easily remedied when we fpund a store (although: what’s Greek for ‘razor’?), but the unforgivable was to buy new shoes before setting out. I have three Bandaids on each heel, but they still throb with every step.  I am old enough to know better, but I was not going to come to Greece with running shoes like every other American.  Now I am wearing my reef runners everywhere (looking just like the American I am), still hurting in my heels, and with no support for running around these rocky climes.

Going morning shopping in a foreign land is an unsung joy.  In America, this might involve a store huger than you’ve ever seen (that still doesn’t have decent bread), with a bewildering variety of ways to make your clothes smell like a perfume factory rather than your clothes when they come out of the wash.  Or maybe a greasy spoon with bad coffee and white toast and eggs over easy.  In France or Italy, this involves finding a cafe with hand-shaking coffee and a fresh pastry.  In Germany, you might get perfect fruit from a surly vendor, while in the Arabian countries, you must pick among the carts of fruit to find the edible, and hopefully peelable (a banana or an orange comes in it’s own container, automatically germ-free).

This morning it runs to local cheese, some decent salami, and then follow the smell to the bakery for bread hot from the oven and a couple of fresh squares of spanikopeta – cheese and spinach baked in layers of fine and buttery filo – irresistible even though hard to carry in a backpack.  Thus armed, Misty and I took off along the ridge of the caldera, around the island in a large arc, perhaps 8 miles, to the little town of Oia (ee’-ya) at the northern end of the island.  The path wound up and down, with cobbled cement to cinders to loose gravel underfoot, as we moved along the layers of black pumice and red lava, alternating cliff views of the calderic bay on one side with the windswept Aegean with whitecaps furrowing off to other mountainous islands on the other.

Path in the red pumice

At the first hilltop church, we stopped for a snack, and Misty chatted musically with a French woman walking her dog, while I listened and mostly understood, but am tongue-tied in front of my daughter’s proficiency.

 

 

 

 

My daughter and Oia - proud much?

Finally we had a largely sunny day.  Though the air started cold, by the time we had climbed our third hill to the tiny church at the top (there’s always a church at the top, but often unmanned and locked, as this one was), we were sweaty with effort, and pulled off our shoes and socks and enjoyed the 360 degree view while we ate our simple lunch washed down with fresh little satsumas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From here it was an easy downhill run into Oia, a melange of the Cycladean architecture jumbled together with paths, and more Orthodox churches than would seem possible in such a small town – maybe a thousand people left in the wintertime.  In the summer, when I was here before, it was choked with cars and buses, and these little pedestrian pathways were so solid with tourists that moving through them was a slow, gelatinous, and polyglot process.

The villages cling to the cliff

But now our unimpeded footsteps echoed from the close walls and closed doors of an off-season tourist town.  While we had taken the walk on its own terms, planning sunset in Oia and a taxi-ride home in the dark with maybe a stop at the taverna where I had traded songs with an old Greek sailor, I had an unspoken agenda of seeking out Dimitris, an iconoclastic icon painter from whom Quan and I had bought a few lithographs that now have pride of place in our home.

Everyone's Santorini postcard

But if Phira was shut up tight, Oia was even more deserted – we saw four or five other tourists brandishing cameras (one cannot resist, it is so picturesque) on our way through town – so I had little hope.  Surely he would be seeking inspiration in the churches of Russia or the plains of Africa. Though he started poor and lives simply, his work has enjoyed such success that he cannot by now be other than a wealthy man, but you’d never know it.

Though Oia is a maze, I was pretty sure I could find his place again. As we approached my best guess, we heard gentle jazz emanating from below, so we ducked our heads and entered the gentle world of this atheistic but most spiritual painter – the kind of contradictory determination that is the essence of the Greek character.

Dimitris is a Gorgon with a severe mien capable of turning tourists to stone at the door and sending them away, but I paid no attention.  Once we were in, he recognised me, a smile lit his face, and soon we were seated on makeshift chairs, drinking a Greek coffee he brewed over a piece of alcohol-soaked cotton set alight upon a stone.

First, his atelier: a small tunnel of an off-white room, maybe 10′ x 20′, with paintings lined up against the walls.  The majority, and the most arresting at first, are the angels painted on old wooden doors studded with bolts.  Michael, Gabriel, George, and assorted angels of abundance stare gently and sadly out at you, with the traditional halo and iconography associated with each of these heavenly archetypes. Over the ceiling are pinned or taped bits of drawings he has done over the years, portraits of family members, renditions of bits of the Sistine or something, all covered with the matte patina of his paint dust and the curling smoke of his Karelis cigarette ever in the ashtray.

An old glass-fronted bookcase contains large art books of icons and other world art, but it serves more as a table than a resource nowadays, judging by the dust. At the end of the tunnel is one small window, and under this window his huge easel, a rumbling and rickety affair on wheels, so that he can change the angle as the earth spins his window under the sun.  Beside the easel is a long stick with a boffin of cloth tied over the end, which he grasps with his left hand to steady the right for the delicate tracery required in the icons he paints.  Besides the large and heavy doors, he works on canvas, but a lot on paper, the multiple brushes laid out on a table that also holds the ashtray and the rock for making coffee.

Now to the man: tall and thin to the point of being gaunt, Dimitris’ hair is a nicotine-softened white and hangs down to the pockets of his shirt.  Take away this dramatic hair and he is not a handsome man, kind of goofy-looking with an overbite and pocked skin, but the overall effect transcends any element – here is an artist, one so dedicated that his steady hand moves on through the winter, even when the throngs are gone, perhaps the more so because of it.

His delight to welcome real guests is immediate and genuine, “Let me make you a coffee” and out comes the stone, the wodge of cotton, and the blue alcohol flame. His 28-yr-old son, Apollon, lanky also but as handsome and cheerful as Dimitris is plain and taciturn, has just started apprenticing with him a few days before, and they are still working out the intricacies of their new relationship. “He is my boss now,” complains Dimitris, kindly, “Any other employee, I would have no trouble telling them to go out for water or to wash these brushes, but with him…”. Apollon is married with a little daughter, and lives in Megalohori (big village) near his wife’s family.  So it goes, he shrugs, the children move away.

We spend about an hour there in companionable conversation, ranging over his art and technique, how to emboss the gold or silver leaf that forms the basis of some of the icons, Bush vs Obama, the current Greek economic crisis, the history of the island.  He plays his Cretan lute, and I play his old and nicely toned six-string.  He likes The Glory of Love and writes down the chords. We like his Kelly Joe Phelps album and write it down to pick up when we are back in connected-land.

All sunsets look the same

But where you're standing doesn't

Misty and I walk down to the end of Oia for the famous sunset, which does not disappoint.  When I was here before, you crowded into whatever spot you could find; this time there are maybe ten tourists dotting the pathways on the end of the island. The moon hangs it’s crescent over the dying sun, turning on it’s brightness as sun as the shadow of the earth obscures the sun.

There is nothing for it but to go to dinner.  As he speaks to his wife Athena, I sense the care, almost fear, he has for her.  We close up his shop – such as it is, nothing much gets locked around her in the winter – and ride down with her to their house on the wide apron of farmland that is Santorini on the side away from the volcano.  Athena, half-German, half-Greek (but more Greek by far in spirit), has raised their three children, and is a Quan-like figure in opposing the Codex Alimentarius and basing so much on instinct.  We all get along like a house afire, and the food – who bothers ordering? They just bring whatever’s best.

After a long meal, we take our leave and walk to the hotel – and I am satisfied to have taken Misty in the oikos, the household of Greece.  There is much to see and hear and taste, but the feeling of the heart inside the Greek people – we needed an experience like this to really feel it.

Aside from the incredibly noisy group of kids from Athens who arrive just as we are going to sleep, our hotel has been a boon, and we welcome sleep when the kids calm down.

ArcheoThira

The chapel and cave in the cliff

The last day, we take a taxi to Archeothira, e ancient city at the top of the hill.  The taxi driver asks us what time we want to be picked up, and we agree on a place down by the water.  He doesn’t even want any money – “You pay me at the end,” he says, and good as his word he shows up, and good as our word we pay him as he drops us in Phira.  On our walk down to the sea I take Misty off-road along precarious cliffside paths to my little church in the rock, perched beside a spring in a cave, which must have been there since ancient times.  We light a candle for those we love at the shrine, drink the water dripping through the rock onto the formations, and rest for a bit under the soaring cliffs above us. It’s rough climb – who carted all the cement up here to build the little church? – but Misty has been game for it all. Time to go home.

The spring in the cave - bathe in the waters and become a virgin again - so goes the legend

We were able to stay on the edge of the caldera for the final sunset, and then we enter the ‘travel tunnel’ – first to the tiny Santorini airport, then to the Athens airport hotel for a few hours (‘Fantastic Four’ with subtitles), and then to Rome, and finally to Boston – grateful to be home – that’s the great thing about travel, but it is hard to re-enter the usual world.  What a great ‘time-out-of-mind’ this was!

We love this country!

Limits

February 5, 2011

More snow.  Although that’s a likely forecast for Maine anytime through April, in the here and now it is a reality, another foot dumping down in snowball-sized hunks, alternating with drifting snow mist, and, at the end, crystals like Ivory Snow flakes, leaving the whole field twinkling in sequins this fine sunny morning.

As nice (and frigid) as the day is, limits have been imposed.  Those living through a real Maine winter (we got off lightly last year) are circumscribed.  We have run out of places to store this water in its solid form, so our lives get limited into small lanes of passage.  I start making a path from the deck to the rabbits – only one shovel width.  So many snows, the trench is hip deep, and that’s not down to the ground, just down to better footing of the hard snow.  Filling the bird feeders is a matter of bending down, not tippy-toes, but the birds are safe because the cats can’t make it through the fluffy medium to get at them.

The world is almost unrecognizable, fences between the rabbit pens obliterated, and the stockade designed to keep the foxes out could be easily leapt by the bunnies, let alone a predator.  But no fox is out hunting in this world of white – it’s too hard going.  Bobbie plowed around six, as light came, and I dig from the deck the other way to the cleared drive, and walk out to free up the barn between two banks higher than my head.

I can dig out the barn doors, and of course they get their grain and hay, but the poor horses have to trample down the paddocks themselves.  It’s slow work, and heavy on the legs.  I tried skiing, but the snow was so deep that within a half-mile I was sweating like a pig and turned for home.  The wharf is completely covered, and I have not bothered to shovel it off, as our attention moves away from the sea in the winter; there’s not much to do there, and the wind goes right through you.

The cats are fighting because there’s nowhere to go even if they do go out.  The rabbits have stopped fighting and just run around their front doors (they love each snow like it was the first, but they still can’t get far either).  In a couple of months, the world will open up, but right now it has closed in on us until we get a thaw. “As the days get longer, the cold gets stronger” is an old saying around here.  In the old days, before Netflix and easy travel, folks had the intestinal fortitude to withstand not only the winter, but the limits on human interaction it imposed.  If some national disaster cut off our power for a long while, we would not only have babies being born nine months later and people dying of cold, but I think we’d be killing each other as well out of sheer circumscription.

We have lost twelve cats to cars, predators, illness and old age since we’ve been here.  Each departure is hard, but this one especially: this morning Gandhi dove out the door and stayed under the deck – as far as we know, it is completely snowed in and we cannot see a thing in there – to leave his body behind.  We feel terribly, because he must have had a kidney infection or some such for a bit, but we took it as winter blues, pickiness on his food, cabin fever with the other cats, and sheer cussedness, in which he had a long trump suit.  Cats go to earth to die alone – it will be my favored way too, if I get the chance – and that’s what he did.  When we realized he had been out too long, and tried to find him, we could not.  By last night, when he hadn’t shown up, we were sure, and let go into grieving.  Ah, Gandhi, we could have been more attentive!

I wrote this at home, but am posting it from UK, where it is 50 degrees (10C) and raining.  Hope they’re doing ok in Maine, as the storms roll over like waves.