Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Burning of the Morea

Never in the world did I think that I’d be writing about wildfires more than once in a summer. But I’m preoccupied by the Peloponnesian fires, and the implications of the government’s lack of insight (as well as the possibility of duplicity—scapegoating in order to deflect criticism). I ache when I think the tragic irony implicit in the deaths of a mother and her four children who fled the fire—but whose house survived intact—and those of the couple who refused to leave their only donkey. I’m cheered by the successful efforts of the man who doused his neighborhood with his homemade wine, using a hand-cranked crop sprayer, and saved several homes. But I’m also reminded that, for all our civilized veneer, we are, at times, at the complete mercy of natural processes (whether or not they occur naturally).

I had already begun to regret my mention of the fires yesterday, only in passing, on the way to a different rant, when I read today’s article in the Times, “In Greece, Wine Saves Life; a Mother’s Arms Do Not,” and saw the vivid pictures of the fires in progress, and the aftermath. The situation deserved more consideration than I gave it, because I have loved this particular part of Greece since I first read Nikos Kazantzakis’s description of it, Journey to the Morea, during the summer after I my first year in college. I checked it out of the Hickam Air Force Base library soon after I arrived in Honolulu to spend the summer with my parents, and to be reunited with my brother, whom I hadn’t seen in five years. I spent much of my time pumping gas at the base service station, arriving home exhausted, and retiring to my room to read another chapter. I renewed the book several times (mostly because I was also reading John Fowles’s The Magus, which was a bit more riveting), and am not sure I ever actually finished it. But the double dose of Greece I soaked up over that summer left me with a persistant affection. I stood many times on the beach, gazing out over the Pacific, imagining that I was standing on the verge of the Mediterranean instead.

Five years later, at the Greek town of Pylos, I stood on the ramparts of the old fort, overlooking Navarino Bay, thinking of Kazantzakis, and of that summer, as I entered the third year of my first marriage (which would last only four years altogether). Nearby stood the site of the ancient Palace of Nestor, where Telemachos had gone looking for his absent father. I had begun to study archaeology by then, and had embarked on a three-month trip to ancient sites with my husband, a budding classicist. Pylos was our second stop in the Morea, after Olympia—a site saved from the fires by enormous effort, and only just. That summer we had taken the train from Patras down the coast, through much of the territory that would be almost unrecognizable after this summer’s devastation.

And although I carried the Blue Guide to Greece and a copy of Pausanius as references, the manuscript that truly illuminated the journey was that of Kazantzakis.

My trip through the Morea and the rest of Greece amounted to a rite of passage. I learned firsthand about Greek food (which I would come to love above all other) by choosing from fragrant pans in taverna kitchens, about train and bus travel, about incredibly friendly people, and about staying in tiny unrated hotels. I got to use my fledgling modern Greek (even phoning for reservations in Athens), caught a nasty throat infection on the way to Crete (which led me to “the best otorhinolaryngologos” on the island), and took photographs that would stand me in fine stead decades later in my humanities and art history classes. I still have the painstaking notes I took at each site: Olympia, Pylos, Sparta, Mycenae, Tiryns, Delphi, Knossos, Mallia. And now I go in search of the book that led me there, driven to revisit Kazantzakis by news of wildfires that have nearly obliterated an entire landscape.


duep said...

Wow Mrs. Uhlmeyer! I like your blog, and the fact that you have a blog! Now if only I could understand what you're talking about. I suppose it would be easier if my attention span was longer than a nanosecond. haha.
Oh, and you probably don't know, but this is Christina Gardner; a student in your Art History 1 class.
While "blogger" is an awesome blog site, and far more professional than any livejournal; My one complaint is that I can't figure out how to subscribe to your entries. That is unless I subscribe to the feed, and I'm simply uninformed about such technical computer-related things.

It was very insightful ( and most likely borderline stalker ) to see this side of you! I'll see you in class then!

-That Follower of Christ, girl

Owlfarmer said...

Christina: thanks for the kind remarks. I'll check into the feed question (remember, I'm new to this, too)--or check with Chad or Wayne to get their insight. When I started the web page, I knew little about what I was doing, and now (nearly nine years later) I know slightly more. So it'll take me a while to get the hang. I'm going to start including a blog roll, too, so you guys can see the nifty blogs I've been finding.

duep said...

I need to learn how to create blogrolls as well! I love looking at animation blogs and sometimes I find really great ones. However when I want to revisit, I cannot remember how I got there. I go through so many animation blogrolls that I become blundered!

I discovered an animation blog once called the "blackwing sketchbook." I was reading the author's entry in which she stated the meaning of the blog's name. She had named them after these extremely hard to find pencils called "Blackwing #2". Unfortunately they don't make them anymore. It was really strange because about a week later my mom sent me some of her old supplies from art school, and viola! There were about 5 blackwing pencils included! I proceeded to look them up on ebay, and saw a set of 12 pencils on sale for about $400!

Anyway, the whole reason that I said all of that is because I have discovered that I learn a lot of interesting (and many times unusable) knowledge from blogs! haha. I'm quite sure that seeing what links you have to offer would be enlightening. If not, perhaps they can at least be entertaining. (like those awesome blogs about dust)

I hope that you enjoy your break! I am officially starting mine with a large stuffed-crust pinneaple pizza!
Sincerly, That follower of Christ girl.

Owlfarmer said...

Well, Christina, I certainly agree about the interesting things that can happen when one's simply surfing blogs. Sometimes I just use the "next blog" feature on this one, and end up who knows where--some very interesting, some just dumb. The serendipity of the whole enterprise is what fascinates me. You can now check my blogroll (blogs of reason and/or beauty) for what I find that fits into a fairly wide-ranging category, and which I just added using the layout feature of blogger. I also have a "blogs of note" bookmark folder, which comes in handy for keeping track of things. That might help you out.

Ah, I remember Blackwings! As I'm fond of telling you guys, old is not necessarily boring!