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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Last day of June. A June watered with rain and dried by sunshine.

Just about one year ago, I was in the wet and warm Japanese south feeling most grateful for the rain and cloudiness that came as a relieving contrast to the constant tropical humid heat of Malaysia.

I do not know if it is a coincidence, but this June I have been reading Japanese literature, letting Murakami and Yamada guide me around the streets of Tokyo.

MurakamiflowI have thought dearly of my friends in the land of the rising sun, sprinkled my food with flavoured sesame seeds and seasoned my sunset meals with tamari soy sauce.

And for days and days I have been craving tempura, this batter-covered deep-fried  assortment of goodies. I love the word. Tem-pu-ra. A sequence of sounds inevitably associating to time and purity.

The prevalent etymology of the word indeed points to the latin word for time, tempora, referring to the  period of Lent, when Portuguese missionaries opted for meat-free fried bites. Two remote cultures stranded on an island found a point of contact and the rest is history…TempuraSo my gutt feeling was right. Tempura is both pure and temporal, just like comfort food should be.

On a sunny June evening in two thousand and thirteen, my crisp vegetables tasted like ingesting a culinary cloud filled with delight and fond memories.

It was ages ago I and my sister wore handmade pastel-colour dresses and flower wreaths on our heads to go dancing around the maypole with our mother and grand-parents.

This June, my lucky star had it that I would be invited to a Midsummer birthday party at our extended family’s.

The red wooden lakeside cabin with its white window panes, the fluffy lawn, dark blue nylon party tent and  promises of sunshine acted as the best of welcoming committees.

wild strawberries

Family and friends slowly gathered around the buffet set with numerous variations of herring. Pickled, soused, stuffed into a savoury cake and so on.

soused herring saladThe breeze was gentle, the sun was kind, people were happy and food was delicious.

IMG_0613

Despite the unavoidable food coma, we found the courage to dress the maypole with birch-tree branches and deck it with wild-flowers. The pole was ceremoniously raised and placed in a proud spot of the yard.

maypole

The flower arrangement session was followed by a sample of Swedish gymnastics as coffee craving adults danced with the children around the pagan symbol of resurrected mother nature.

flower power

Coffee and cake were served just on time before the rain dropped in as an uninvited guest.  My share of strawberry cake tasted even more scrumptious as I watched a toddler devouring two pieces of cake using  his bare hands.  Can’t understand why grown-ups insist on using spoons…

strawberry cake

Swedish summer is all about expecting the unexpected and being open to enjoy goodness when it comes to you.

lake view

The evening rain did not deter us from celebrating our energetic and youthful sixty year-old hostess as we ought to. The dinner lasted several hours. I always find it interesting to get to discover a person through the thoughts and perceptions of other people. Alongside making new acquaintances, that is the definite added value of such social gatherings.

The party lasted until the small hours. The longest day of the year certainly felt long, albeit not that bright…

It is 07.25  am. I am running a lap around the park. I see a smartly dressed elderly lady walking her dog. We smile at each other.  She says: “Oh, that looks tiring..” “But fun!” I reassure her.

I meet her again on my next lap. “We’ve only been walking 200 meters and you’ve already ran a lap around the park” she says smilingly. I stop for a chat. “I don’t have a dog to mind, though” I smile back to her.

“Are you trying to loose weight?” she asks. “No, I am just opting for a healthy heart. But you must be walking your dog  at least twice a day, right?” “I would say  three times a day…” she replies.

I observe her. Her dark brown haircut and discrete make-up. The milk chocolate-coloured cardigan and the pristine white shirt decorated with a golden brooch at the neck. 

“That is why you look so young and beautiful” I tell her.

“I am past eighty” she says.

“You should thank your dog for your good shape!” I reply before we wish each other a happy midsummer.

When I am over eighty, I want to look like the lady in the park.

While I acknowledge the potentially sad undertones of greyish and dark blue, I find that blue can be a colour bursting with joy. Don’t you feel joyful when looking up on a blue sky, or  letting your gaze wander over shimmering  waters?

I love the seaside, but visiting some of the lakes of northern Greece has been a recent revelation and the source of sincere enjoyment.

We visited lake Kerkini’s bird sanctuary with its hundreds of nesting birds on a guided boat-tour. The best moment came  when the engine was turned off amidst a small forest of half-submerged water willows. Human silence and incessant bird-talk.

CourseAfter the boatride on the calm lake waters enclosed by green mountain tops, the captain put on a short and  spontaneous bag-pipe music concert. With a closer look at the produce on sale at the lake shore, I decided not to  resist tasting my  first  scoop of vanilla buffalo milk ice-cream. 

I am fascinated by buffaloes ever since I realised that the milk commonly used in India is buffalo milk. Fatter than cow’s milk, but so much tastier and digest.


Water-buffaloes originate in India and have been roaming this water abundant part of Greece for ages. After a decline due to the preference shown to high-performing milk-cows, farmers are now reigniting the tradition as consumers are becoming increasingly interested in traditional and healthy food alternatives.

With more than half of the Greek buffalo population grazing the area of Kerkini, it is no wonder how buffalo products end up on your plate here, one way or the other.

buffaloiceIf I loved Kerkini, the Prespes lakes left me filled with awe.

Walking on the wooden bridge leading to  the St Achileos islet, taking in all the beauty is a shortcut to elevated spirits. PrespaThe small island with the temple ruins looked like  taken out of the pages of a fairy-tale. Lush greenery and hundreds of white butterflies fluttering their tiny wings.

temple with a view

butterflybush

At the small fishing village of Psarades, we had one of  the tastiest meals outside the boundaries of our  kitchen:

Fishing villageBean soup made of locally cultivated pulses and sweet red-peppers and

Beansoup…grilled fresh trout.

TroutOur afternoon stroll around the streets of nearby Florina took us to cafe Diethnes, a frequent setting in the films of  late director Theodore Angelopoulos who must have loved the mysterious beauty and subtle melancholic tinge of this corner of the world.

Cafe Diethnes

My generation was raised with a fabulous selection of children’s shows aired on state television. In those days, the programme of the day would kick off with a bucolic song followed by the Greek national anthem…

I remember watching the Duke’s and being allowed to follow the adventures of Michael Knight and his car cum companion. I cuddled up on our eighties’ sofa to watch the first season of Dallas in the company of my parents, until we all realised the bumpy road ahead and decided to wish JR and Sue-Ellen good luck and good riddance.

My early interest in languages made me a big fan of the educational programmes where one could learn English, French, German and Russian without even leaving the house. I remember my embarrassment once, when my mother caught me, to her amusement, pretending to be the Russian language teacher in front of a virtual audience.

Monday  evenings hosted televised theatre plays and on Thursday nights the big screen would enter our living rooms with a selection of movies from every corner of the world introduced  by a grey-haired cult cinema critic.

Then of course  came the days of private television with all the glam and bling. Series after series and peroxide blonds in the spotlight. New perspectives and fashionable pluralism as monopoly caved in to competition.

In the mediatic frenzy that mirrors the crisis of our days, state television has been something of a relief. I am not a television fan. I don’t even own a television, but  I see the value in quality entertainment and standards that do not merely abide by commercial laws.

No media is in reality totally unbiased and objective. However, I think that the sudden flick of the switch on the state broadcaster, ERT, by the Greek government left many people angry and disappointed.

In a public announcement, ERT was called a non-transparent, poorly  performing organisation basically eating up  taxpayers’ money. By pulling out the plug, the Greek government decided to finally do Greek people a favour and relieve them from yet another financial burden.

Somehow I cannot believe that  state television is  the answer to the big holes in the Greek budget. In any case, it was ritually sacrificed like a good old scape-goat.

I do not condone any kind of lack of transparency or mis-use of public money. However, the Greek people have endured severe salary cuts, high unemployment rates and all kinds of exceptional taxes and there is more to come. On the other hand, Greek politicians have unfortunately not proven to be a lot more virtuous than the organisations or actions that they condemn.

Whatever the critics say, I must admit that to me, ERT has to an important extent been the carrier of a modern Greek identity, a virtual space confined by certain  standards and  ethos.

I hope that the public outcry will make decision-makers stop and think. The reform of an organisation must be the result of concerted efforts and actions involving a multitude of stakeholders. Change must come from within and not as a consequence of governmental hi-jacking.

One of the best things this time around has been going on Sunday outings with my father. Organised bus-trips to be precise.

Apparently, a survey has it that looking at trees for nine minutes a day is particularly beneficial for the human psyche. No need to convince me…

While the arid urban landscape gradually transforms into undulated sceneries with soft slopes well tucked under  lush green covers, my mind and spirit enter their zone of comfort.

meteoraMeteora, our first destination, makes every visitor look up in admiration.

The high, vertical Meteora rocks stand in contrast to the Thessaly plain just below.

They were born some sixty million years ago and a lot later, around 900 AD, they became the home of ascetic groups of hermit monks. Six monasteries remain active to this day and are open to visitors.

kalambakaKalambaka, the nearest little town is a cosy place, dominated by the rocks.

Clouds were gathering  thick in the sky when we were visiting and the downpour was inevitable. We had lunch under a tent trembling in the wind, but a bit later the sun cracked a golden hole in the greyness above us.

TrikalaI found Kalambaka nice and cosy, but Trikala was the surprise of the day. I didn’t expect it to be such a pleasant place to visit. I would even dare calling it romantic.

Trikala is the birthplace of one of the greatest composers of rebetiko music, also described as the Greek blues, Tsitsanis. It made sense. I could picture him sitting on a wooden chair of a traditional cafe, playing his bouzouki and singing one of his best known songs, cloudy Sunday.

spatulaI rounded up my visit to Trikala with some spoonfuls of lemon-flavoured pudding, laid as a thick layer over a syrupy walnut pie, aka spatula.

It was indeed a cloudy Sunday – but sweet all the same.

Yesterday morning. My tandem friend picks me up at 8.30. She has a surprise for me.

You will need sunglasses, a cap, something to protect your shoes, water and sunscreen, she had warned me. Code name Marianna.

I put on long sleeves, smother my face in sunscreen, put on sunglasses, pour cold water in a bottle and take rubber boots with me in a bag.

When we park the car I see a buffalo herd crossing the road. Hey, look, buffaloes, I say. My friend gives me a conspiratory look and I understand that the buffaloes are the surprise.

buffaloesWe walk up to them and meet their shepherd. He is an acquaintance and our guide for the morning. We watch the animals as they graze along the road taking it easy. Bypassing trucks have to zigzag or merely stop and wait for the animals to move.

Then we walk to the wetland of Gallikos river and wait for our big friends to join. And they do. Some of them graze their way to the water. Some others are eager to drink and pee and prefer to take a shortcut. Liquid goes in one way, comes out the other and then they are ready for pastures new.

straygoatIt is almost noon when we pass a stray goat on our way towards the dusty dirt track that leads to the  oasis of the Western-like Cantine.

We sit down for a drink and finally I am introduced to  three month-old Marianna,  the sheepish fluffy mascot of our guide.

marianna

sofiawise

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

The Chick on a Pea

Clockwise, otherwise & likewise

Buttercupgoeswest

Buttercup is a newborn and we are taking her on a 5000 KM journey from Ahmedabad to Kanyakumari

Sadness Theory

Music with passion for the environment

zee pause café

taking a moment, having a coffee, writing down some thoughts