The gods, history, art, food and agriculture of the Isle of Naxos, Greece

There are a lot of pages and references  dedicated to the Greek donkey as of late. A sturdy animal used often for the purpose of agriculture by farmers or by villagers without cars to carry heavy weight in incredibly hot temperatures. This is what they were built for as they are similar to the desert camel.  So, please people, unless the donkey owners are untrained or ruthless “meanies” most of these animals are beloved in Greece. I should know, we owned several in our family in years past.

Greece is considered the “hottest” country in Europe with summer temperatures  exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). The last “hydration” post is most important to review as one can even get sunburnt if they don’t wear a hat often — it happened to me! Health literacy indeed should include the “donkey” holistic model described on this site if we are to look at the bigger picture.

Greece has over 6,000 islands but only 227 are inhabited. So this post will be one of several where I will be sharing some extraordinary experiences with the hope that you will visit there too!

4783E0CD-5D4B-4609-9D92-23BDA16D81FALast year, during this summer period,  we were privileged to stay at the “Princess of Naxos” on the isle of Naxos main town, and interview the owner and island hotel association rep. who was very proud about his island and more recent tourism developments. It’s an island for “all tastes” for families, couples, or individual adventurers. We had the chance to walk and drive around various parts of the island enjoying the pristine blue waters of the sea (Agios Prokopios, Agia Anna, Agios Georgios were personal favorites) visiting museums with remnants from ancient, medieval, to modern times. An island of antithesis yet complementary sites, smells, sounds and tastes. Also a geological marvel with stones and minerals, including Naxos marble, would make anyone want to “dig” for more!

The marble Sphinx is proof of the Hellenistic and Egyptian relationships while the marble “portal” door welcomes visitors to the island. 8110DEED-9A7E-41EE-AC52-469304D7F4F1.jpegAs if a sleeping pharaoh, the gigantic statue of Apollo is carved on the mountain side for worshipers and the majestic pillars of the temples of Artemis and Demeter (female goddesses of fertility and earth’s bounty), or the site of Dionysus (merriment and “wine god”) remind one of how important fertile land and the bounty of food is for human survival.  The gods of pagan times likely affected the mentality of Christianity as various saints are important to Orthodox Christians. We remain with elements of various personality types and the cosmos: earth, air, fire, and water — ancient philosophy, astrology, and later psychologist Carl Jung aspired personality experts Myers & Briggs to better understand ourselves and others.

One can take a side trip to neighboring islands of Paros or Mykonos, and the small (uninhabited) isle of Delos dedicated to the sun god Apollo with a fabulous “terrace of the lions” built around 600 B.C. with infamous Naxos marble showcasing the strength of dominance of the island as biggest sea trades happened here of all the Cyclade islands, the name of the island “group”—  see fellow blogger’s site here.

 

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Following Artemis’ path, I became a “huntress” of sorts to try and understand the island “identity” and driving towards semi-mountainous Filoti (Φιλώτι), we stopped right before at at a local pottery maker whose family art goes back three generations. We still admire his work today in our home and they deliver goods almost anywhere globally. The impressive “wine glass of equality” was fascinating as all drinkers could only have equal amounts — if you went over the ‘line’ wine would be lost pouring to the floor (one would not be happy).

A small shop owner told us stories of agriculture and dedications to the ancient gods as people aspired to live off the land and how Naxos became the main trading isle of the region. Some of the popular trades of the island continue to be their cheeses like my favorite graviera (γραβιέρα), Naxos potatoes (something similar to the U.S. Idaho potato), or their famous citron (κίτρο) green colored liqueur.

His shop was full with handwoven baskets, and anything from mountain oregano to sheep’s bells or khoudounia (there is a site on their origins in Greece here) in smaller animals the smaller bell is called a “trokani” (τροκάνι). Noteworthy is the fact that there are similar herbs and medicinal plants shared among other islands and mainland Greece (Alan Touwaide’s research work is highlighted in a past post on ancient and medicinal plants). This shop is a cultural treasure that will hopefully make it through the ongoing financial crisis of the country.

 

Find out more about this “must visit” Greek island via the website Naxos.gr — from museums to gastronomy, or simply a relaxing seaside vacation, that will leave everyone wanting to return.

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Pomegranates, bittersweet moments

Demeter, goddess of agriculture,harvest and fertility, is a reminder of seasonal changes, human bounty, and potential loss. As the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece mirrored human nature, one may say as a mother she surely felt a great emptiness when her daughter Persephone was lured by Hades into the underworld disappearing from beloved earth grounds. Hades, a dark figure (may be something like a modern Darth Vader) convinces the kind-hearted Persephone to fall for him offering her a pomegranate. By eating a few seeds she consummates this relationship so that even the great leader-god Zeus could not intervene, thus Persephone travels to Hades part of the year, and as she re-emerges her mother, Demeter brings flowers and the budding of Spring —  a beautiful myth! Writers talk about the necessity of change, darkness being a necessary part of our healing (Thomas Moore “Dark Nights of the Soul”).

The continued pagan tradition of the pomegranate, a bittersweet food of seeds or squeezed into juice, rich in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties, is added with barley / bulgar wheat, to commemorate death of loved ones as part of the memorial services of several Eastern Orthodox traditions (called “kolyva” κόλλυβα). There’s a great list of benefits including helping weight loss indicated in a popular fitness magazine, Shape (pomegranate info).

Late this past August through September we experienced several losses — mainly through accidents —filling us with shock, sadness and grief. Perhaps due to fate, some incidents may have been preventable. One great loss was of a couple, namely Dr. Chris and Ms. Claudia Lolas, also promoters of Greek Culture and history in bridging cultures (Ancient Persia – Iran & Ancient Greece … book written in Greek and edition in Farsi and in English forthcoming). These were great friends or family to some as their losses were amidst many other tragedies happening around the globe during those weeks. Prevention is key and such an intricate part of building health literacy.

As all good researchers do, and after an “unfair” speeding ticket I realized that we CAN do something to helping individuals and communities learn about safer driving and advocacy for better roads. In a small but winding distance from one town to another town in Southern Peloponnese (Greece) we counted 39 small memorial “churches” (10 were in straight others on curved road) clearly speeding, two-way traffic, bad weather conditions, malfunction of vehicle or motorbike, inadequate visual cues doesn’t help. GIS mapping can help track possible driving areas that need more attention.

Schools need to promote health literacy via health education, promotion of community health goals. Police can offer special trainings in conjunction with municipalities on good driving, but they must also be consistent in ticketing (speed traps, alcohol testing) and their police cars manned with appropriate equipment.

As individuals we should model good driver behavior for our younger citizens soon-to-be drivers! Here are some ways:

  • Mind our speeding (great articles such as prevent speeding or one by mechanics).
  • Wear seatbelts and ensure passengers are secure (children with safety car seats, etc,).
  • Follow Road Rules and demand clearer road signs as well as some helpful solar powered signs that “show” our speed.
  • Mind the drinking  cup !
  • Remember even if it’s not obvious, pedestrians DO and should have the right of way.

After my speeding fine and finally getting my license back (rules are very strict in this part of the world) I’m definitely checking my speedometer more often. Last night an expensive car went whizzing past me, only to be caught in a police speed trap further down and this time it was justified…as for me, a safe and guilt free ride home, in thinking of my lost friends, truly a bittersweet moment.