Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Voyaging Through The Puzzle of Civilization

Cruising is sort of like being in a life-size puzzle. You sail from piece to piece and the game is to figure out each one and how it fits in a larger context.

Histories of one place are related to another. One region’s dialect originates from a nearby or long-gone neighbor’s language. Monuments are erected and stand longer than memories of those to whom they were dedicated.

I enjoy voyaging for this very aspect: the learning, the exploring. Often, however, I am left with more pieces I can’t place than those which fit neatly.

Here is a sample of my collection of unplaced pieces. I know there are answers to each one. It’s just that, while cruising, you don’t have time (or inclination) to follow up on every last piece.

How did the Knidos sundial work? We came upon it among the ancient Greek ruins on the Turkish peninsula of Datca.

The sundial of ancient Knidos.
How were the rock-cut tombs of Lycia in Turkey created? With scaffolding? By guys hanging from ropes?

Rock-cut tombs of Lycia just outside Dalyan, Turkey.
What is the story behind this lone bell, rescued apparently from the rubble in Monemvasia and unceremoniously hung in a tree in a corner of the town? The nearby plaque which details the history of that particular part of town makes no mention of the bell.

The unexplained bell of Monemvasia, Greece.
What story is being told by this relief we saw on a house inside Kastro, the fortified village on Sifnos?

A relief found in Kastro on the island of Sifnos, Greece.
Is the story of the lamp in Melissani Cave true? We visited this underground lake on the island of Cephalonia. It was exposed in 1953 when its "roof" collapsed during an earthquake. A boatman giving us a tour of it said an ancient lamp was found in the cave, but gave no further explanation. Is this a myth? If true, how did it get there?

Melissani Cave on Cephalonia, Greece.
Why are the Turkish markets sprawling with nuts, beans, and spices (just to name a sampling) while the Greek markets have none of these for sale in bulk?

The weekly market in Bodrum, Turkey.
What does this stone say? It was set into a wall in Rethymno. There are lots of these Ottoman (Turkish?) reliefs in Greek cities.


Here's another from Rethymno:

Why didn’t the Christians eliminate Muslim devotional manifestations when they took over the mosques? Instead, they installed Christian icons right next to the Muslim ones. Was it out of respect? If so, respect for what? The beauty or the meaning. If because of beauty, can it really be separated from meaning? And if they left it standing because of the meaning, then what does that say about any differences between the god of the Muslim and the god of the Christians?

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul: Note the two images of saints toward the rim of the top rotunda and, barely visible, the Mother Mary in the center all the way back. In Alhambra, Spain, a relief says: "God is great" right next to one saying, "Allah is great."  
How did the dovecotes come into being? And why just on a few Cycladian islands? I saw a book about them on one of the islands. Now I regret I didn’t buy it. A Greek told us they were barns with built-in pigeon roosts, and that later this became a style for homes.

A dovecote barn on Sifnos.
Puzzle pieces.

Or maybe, another way of looking at it is that voyaging is a bit like standing in the middle of a huge museum. You see a grand collection of artifacts. Each one is fascinating in itself. But each also is an element within a context we are unable to perceive standing in halls that echo only our own wild guesses. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What Zoe Means

Zoe, my daughter, stayed with us on Phoenix for about a week.

It was a delightful visit. She is such a charming young woman.

It was a trip of many firsts. It was her first time in Greece and Corfu is such a scenic town for that kind of trip.

Our first venture into town brought us by a Greek sandal shop and Zoe, well, as you can see:

What surprised us most is how adventurous Zoe has become in tasting new things. Here is evidence of how well she liked a frappe.

A frappe is a classic Greek coffee drink that is served at all times of day and is more frequently served than anything else. (Well, up until about ten o'clock at night at which point it holds its own with alcohol.) A frappe is comprised of Nescafe, water, condensed milk, a pinch of sugar (if you so choose) and the whole thing is blended into a frothy smooth drink and served on the rocks.

Zoe also tried vinegar-marinated octopus. And taramosalata pictured below.

Taramosalata is a fish roe dip, often made with a base of potato and a bit of blended onions and lemon or vinegar. Verdict: "Not bad." But there were no repeat dips.

She also ate saganaki. Saganaki, I think, means simply fried, but on many menus it refers to a slice of cheese that is lightly breaded and flash-fried. The cheese is a type of harder, aged mozzarella. Verdict: Do you have to ask? What teenager doesn't like fried cheese?

Consolation for enduring the afternoon heat (in the 90s) was pistachio gelato.

On her last evening, we were treated to a stunning, blood-orange moon rising across the bay over the hills of Albania.

Full (ish) moon over Albania. (Disclaimer: I used modern technology to make this photo a more real representation of the reality.)
Having spent until two or three o'clock in the morning skyping and texting with friends, Zoe usually slept till noonish.

In the mornings, we would find her asleep in her bunk. Arm wrapped around the teddy her boyfriend gave her and fingers finally allowed to rest from the incessant texting with friends. Note Oreo cookies on her shelf.

"I've never actually walked to an airport," Zoe said on our 20-minute walk from dinghy to airport in the incapacitating heat.

Come to think of it, neither had we.

"It's funny when I tell Greek people my name," she told me while we walked. "Some people look at me and say, 'You know that's a word in Greek, right?' Yeah, I tell them, I know."

I will miss the "life" of my life. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mandraki Harbor, Corfu, Greece - A Ridiculously Romantic Harbor

Mandraki harbor, Corfu, Greece.

This week, we are snuggled into one of the most scenic harbors we have yet enjoyed. We are in Mandraki harbor, at the base of the town's fort.

To get to this harbor, it almost seems you have to be on the royal list of guests.

After entering a gate, we cross the moat.
Inside the complex, we wander by ancient and restored structures.
Then between the outer and inner walls, where once barracks stood.
Down a ramp to begin our descent to sea level.
At ramp's end, a left leads down stairs and arches.
And through the outer wall ...
onto a small community swimming area. A path to the left leads to ...
a sweet little marina.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Best Boat Fan

When we re-started our voyage about a year ago with our new boat Phoenix, we had spent four months sweltering in Baltimore fitting her out for cruising.

Then we called it. Time to get back to cruising. There will always be time for projects.

Project time has rolled around every few months and this past week was one of them.

We were motivated because we have a series of guests who will be joining Phoenix over the next few months. Starting with my daughter, Zoe, today! I am so damn excited.

Most importantly we had to install 12-volt fans because the heat here is so incapacitating that all you can do between 2 and 6 in the afternoon is place your prone body under a fan, prop up a crossword puzzle and then let is slowly glide out of your hands while you fall asleep.

Any project on a boat is challenging. It might seem like exaggerating, but it doesn't feel like it when I say that doing something like wiring four DC fans into your boat is like re-tiling your bathroom floors and walls. While you are and your partner are living in it.

Every boater knows this song, but allow me to sing it. You pull everything out of one half of the boat and shove it in the back half. This grants you access to some of your tools and some of the areas you need to be working in. Then you shove half of what you just moved back to front, but re-stack it to leave room for the project areas. That opens up the other tools and work areas. And now, since we are wiring, which requires access to all the recessed areas, you empty out the spaces in the middle of the boat, squishing some into the head, some into the anchor chain locker, some into the cockpit and, by this time, you would really like to shove some choice pieces into various orifices of your partner.

The chaos of projects. One small project was finally hanging that green Byzantine-style mirror we bought months ago in Crete.
The settee had to be emptied, the shelves are cleared.
The hanging closet had to be emptied to get at the electrical panel.
The mattress in the masterberth was folded back to get more tools and to get better access to the secondary electrical terminal blocks which you just barely see.
You perform acrobatics to get by each other, stub your toe, swear, pretzel yourself into corners only ever meant to stow an empty duffel bag, and then ask for a screw driver. "Not that one!" 

You're finally in position and you realize it's too damn dark. You ask for a headlamp. You wait in your claustrophobic dark trap and wonder what's taking so long. It's because five boxes were stacked onto the cubby with the flashlights. You put it on and the batteries are waning. Swear again. To hell with it, at least it's better than before.

But now you realize you can't see a thing because the wire bundle you are working on is so close to your face and you've grown more nearsighted than you have admitted so you didn't prepare yourself with reading glasses for projects like these. Swear again.

You ask for reading glasses and wait again. Breathing and wondering what it is like to be buried alive in a coffin.

Ahh, the glasses. You set up the screw through the ziptie against the wood and start to screw. The screw slips. Of course. And drops. Somewhere behind your head. Swear again. You fumble, feel the screw, lose it, get it, fidget it into the ziptie and this time you put a lot of pressure on that screwdriver.

The screwdriver end slips out of the screw and into your finger. Loud swearing. Uncreative swearing. Repetitious swearing.

"Be careful," comes from somewhere in the world where there is air, light and good vision.

You wait to be handed another screw, breathing, now seeing the wooden bulkhead clearly with your glasses, if a bit dimly with the weak headlamp.

If you've ever worked on boats, you've had this exact experience. And I bet you used those exact, uncreative swear words.

Actually, I must say that Jennifer and I worked tremendously well together. This is not just back-peddling, it is an acknowledgement of how hard it is to work together, and yet how easily Jennifer and I can leave that behind us as soon as I crawl out of the coffin, breath fresh air and we look at our neatly tied and labeled wires and compliment ourselves on what great shipwrights we are.

We worked for two days on miscellaneous projects and spent three days installing the fans.

The rewards were "fan"-tastic? Now we have fans in both berths, one in the galley and another to cool whoever is napping on the settee.

A fan for the fans who spend a night on Phoenix.
The geeks might like to know that we installed two-prong sockets and plugs for the fans, so they are easily removed in case of future damage or for any other potential DC device.

The best boat fan. A Bora by the company Caframo.
I rarely recommend a particular product, but the Bora fans by Caframo are truly great. I did a lot of online research and in-store comparisons among various fans. These are the quietest, most elegant, and they move a lot of air. They have three speeds and use 0.25 amps. Caveat emptor: I bought five of these fans in 2010 and three of them were inoperative. This time I bought four and all four of them worked.

But before I pass up another bad pun; sorry I just can't help myself ... What I really want to say is that the very best boat fans are the ones who come to visit you.

Exit, stage left. (Dodging the rotten eggs and tomatoes.)