"The early bird gets the worm," goes the old saying, and my day begins with my red-breasted sparrow, whom I have nicknamed Chookey (a cutesy name for a very cute customer) who comes to visit me every morning in Aegina, looking for the crumbs of cake I scatter his way. So, it's more like the early bird gets cake, and today it's also my turn for a major treat: my neighbour Ilia Buzo has borrowed a car and offers me a tour of the island, down to Perdika the little port on the southern tip (talk of cute) with a stop at the Temple of Aphaia on the way back.
I jump at the chance and, once I've fed Chookey his cake, we take off. It's a beautiful day with warm sun and blue sky, just perfect for a car-ride. On the way to Perdika Ilia asks me to announce to the world-wide-web that he would love to move to Canada or the States. He is a jack of all trades (builder/auto mechanic/driver) and will consider any legitimate offer (you can contact him through me at Open Salon).
Perdika is delighful, with tourquoise seas and a lovely waterfront where we enjoy an expensive, not all-that-well-made cappuccino, and head for a cliffside on which sits a round building with camera osscura slits. It is dark inside, but as I persevere images of Perdika and the open sea develop on the silver screens. Impressive, but not as spectacular as the coastline along the cliff with its natural perpendicular islands reminiscent of the Andaman Sea in Thailand.
With some heavy-lifting help from Ilia, I get to build a stone sculpture of my own a little ways up the coast at a beach called Marathon (not that Marathon) facing a seductive cove with icy water, making me wish it were summer so that I could jump in.
On the way home we ride through the interior that alternates between pine forests and pistachio farms traveling through time to an era that was more innocent, yes, but full of its own problems, as we climb the hill to Aphaia. As we get nearer, I notice in amazement a row of men dressed in 1820's Greek revolutionary skirts, vests and skull-caps lining the frontage of the ancient limestone columns.
It is no hallucination. The venerable temple that has survived two and a half millennia of turbulent history is today tamed by a film crew. Director Yiannis Smaragdis, who gave us El Greco some years back, is now filming God Loves Caviar, the tale of Ioannis Varvakis, a rogue Greek caviar dealer who made fortunes in Catherine the Great's Russia and invested his money in the Greek Independence War against the Ottoman Empire in 1821. This uprising, made famous also by the participation of Lord Byron (in a separate story), gave rise to Modern Greece and a republic that lives to this day to challenge yet another empire (Europe) with its massive debt.
It's always about money, and in those heady days of the early nineteenth century it was the caviar monger's cash more than anyone else's that won the day. The war was fought in the mountains and (apparently) the ancient temples of the Grecian countryside, including the holy Sanctuary of the island of Aegina. The film stars Catherine Deneuve, John Cleese and Sebastian Koch, but today the thespians on hand are all Greeks playing their brave forefathers who fought the might and the cannons of the Ottomans in skirts and hunting rifles.
I make friends with one of them, Fannis Malamos, who takes me around and invites me to take pictures. I take advantage of the offer, shooting as fast as I can before they break for lunch and move on to another location for their next session. I feel privileged to have caught them in action, since it happened only because we arrived in Aphaia earlier than we had planned and we would have missed them totally if we had come here for the sunset as I had originally wanted.
On my return home, the red-breasted sparrow is waiting patiently for his afternoon snack. I have nothing to give him but stories of my day to which he listens as intently as only birds can, though I know he'd rather be having cake. Ilia and I sit down in the sunset colours and have a tea to celebrate our trip and its precious memories.
Photos by Algis Kemezys (c) 2011