Monday, July 18, 2016

Postcards from the Underworld: Sign of the Times

Peace sign riddled with bullet holes
Lago Maggiore
Stresa, Italy

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: Kandylakia

Chapter 99: Roadside Shrines and the Goddesses Who Tend Them

As you wend your way along the often steep and cliff hanging roads that hug the Greek coastline, you will surely notice myriad tiny shrines, known as kandylakia, that dot the way. These shrines are usually erected at the site where someone died in a car or motorcycle accident, a chilling reminder to drive carefully. 

They can be dedicated to saints, such as Saint Theodosios,

or Saint Ephraim, among many others.

I've always been fascinated by what people leave inside these mini chapels and wondered who - if anyone - tends to them. In the past, I've found packs of cigarettes and bottles of ouzo - for what reason I'm not sure! But usually you will find a lit candle, along with a bottle of oil, icons and portraits of favorite saints

such as Nicholas, Constantine and Helen.

Most of all, I marvel at the beauty these kandylakia overlook, 

and once was fortunate enough to - finally - capture

a woman lovingly tending to her personal roadside shrine.

Monday, June 20, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: A Church that Grows Trees

Chapter 52: Saint Theodora's Chapel - The Miracle of the Rooftop Trees

Deep in the heart of Greece's Peloponnese lies a tiny church that sprouts trees. It seems hard to believe, but seventeen mature trees literally grow from the roof of this eleventh-century structure, something that scientists have been unable to explain, and that others call a miracle.

The story of the church dates back to the 10th century. In a lush mountain gully near the village of Vastas, lived a girl named Theodora. At the time a law stated that every family needed to send at least one male to fight as a soldier or be forced to pay a tax. Theodora's family was very poor, and to avoid her father having to serve duty, she volunteered. When bandits raided the region, Theodora disguised herself as male, calling herself Theodore. She not only managed to keep her identity a secret, her valient fighting won her many admirers. Among those included a young woman from the region who became infatuated with 'Theodore' and spread a rumor that she had become pregnant by him. Theodora's commander gave her two options: either marry the girl or face execution. Theodora could have saved  her own life by revealing her identity, but this would have caused her father to face punishment, so she did what saints do: took the retribution herself. Upon her death she was heard to cry out: "Let my body become a church, my blood a river and my hair the forest."

Moved by the bravery of this young woman, the locals erected a church at the site of her grave. Legend has it that a river rerouted itself to run beneath the chapel, and that its holy waters nourish the miraculous trees that sprout from its roof. Some say the entire site feels like a living, breathing relic, and there are those who believe Theodora's deathbed wish came true: that her body became the church, her blood the river, and that her hair became the magical forest of seventeen trees sprouting from the chapel's roof. 

Monday, May 30, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: Athena Drops a Rock

Chapter 3: Lykavittos Hill

Legend has it that the goddess Athena, flying on her way to install a rock on the Acropolis hill, accidentally dropped the boulder in the middle of the city that bears her name. This 'boulder' dropped by the goddess is known today as the hill of Lykavittos. At a height of over nine hundred feet, this natural rock formation is the highest point in Athens, and, considering the relative flatness of the surrounding landscape, the comparison to a woman's breast isn't too far from the mind. Lykavittos, along with the Parthenon, located atop the Acropolis hill, dominate the Athenian skyline, and are the first things to capture your eye as your arrive in the ancient city from the airport or by sea. Although the name Lykavittos means hill of the wolves, never fear, for you won't encounter any while climbing up the slopes of this natural wonder, only breathtaking views of the city that just get better the higher you go. 

Whether you hike to the summit or ride the funicular, take a moment to gaze out at the magnificent panorama of Athens...

...then make a stop at the Church of St. George, light a candle, and be sure to thank the goddess for dropping that rock.

Monday, May 23, 2016

100 Places in Greece Every Woman Should Go: Greek Shadow Puppetry

Chapter 66: Greek Shadow Puppetry and Karaghiozis

Ever since I saw The Year of Living Dangerously, a movie starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver which features Javanese shadow puppets, I've been mesmerized by these storytelling figures. Java has characters known as Gareng and Semar, but Greece has one of the most famous puppet character of all: Karaghiozis, which means "dark-eyed." Portrayed as a poor hunchback, Karaghiozis's right hand is always depicted as longer than his left. 

With bare feet and scruffy clothes, he lives with his wife and three sons in a shack across from the Ottoman Palace. His character represents the common everyman with his human faults, and his escapades depict the social and political struggles of life in 19th century Greece. Shadow puppetry is prevalent all over Greece, and Karaghiozis appears in village squares across the country in summer months, but tourists can see this ancient art form at the quaint theater known as Figoures and Koukles, located at 30 Tripondon Street in the trendy Plaka neighborhood of Athens.