Sunday, March 31, 2013

How the Minoans Buried Their Loved Ones

A few weeks ago, we joined friends in a tour to the south side of Crete.

It was a beautiful day.

About five miles south of Rethymnon, we pulled off onto a side road and walked into a stand of trees where we saw this branch.

The mossy trees almost glow green. The hill is called Prinokephalo, which means “the hill of the wild oaks.”

It is such a serene place. Appropriate for a cemetary.

This place is the necropolis of Armenoi. It is where the Minoans buried their loved ones from about 1400 to 1200 BC.

The following is a description written by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism:

"Systematic excavations started in 1969 and 231 tombs, including one tholos tomb, have been uncovered up to the present time. The main characteristic of the Armenoi necropolis is that initially there was an overall plan for the cemetery which included special areas designated for the wealthy tombs and the poor ones.

"However this plan was abandoned during the Late Minoan III B period (c. 1300- 1200 BL) and resulted in a mixture of large and small tombs throughout the cemetery.

Some medium-sized graves cut into the bedrock.
"All the tombs, with the exception of the unique built tholos tomb no. 200, were dug into the rock, and each consists of a corridor and a chamber (rock-cut chamber tomb with dromos). The corridor is composed either of a staircase or a ramp. The wealthier tombs possessed tombstones of different sizes.

The chambers and the entraces were quite small. You can see the stone used as the closure to the opening.
"Each tomb would probably represent a family group, containing multiple burials, either placed directly on the floor or inside larnakes. The grave offerings - pottery, weapons, tools and jewellery - provide us with useful information on art, religion and social organization of the period.

A series of small graves.
"According to the osteological analysis the average age at death for the adult males and females was approximately 31 and 28 years, respectively Most of the female deaths occurred between the ages of 20 and 25, probably a result of the dangers associated with childbirth. The chemical analysis of bones showed that the people buried at Armenoi had no marine food in their diets, but in general they ate a fair amount of animal protein and plants. They suffered from a range of infectious and nutritional/metabolic diseases, as well as from dental caries.

Graves are still being excavated.
"The main finds in the tombs were clay larnakes, fine decorated pottery bronze arms, utensils and ornaments, as well as seal stones and necklaces from semi- precious stones. Among the most important finds are a boars' tusk helmet, a basket made of reeds and decorated with small bronze pins, a steatite pendant with a Linear A and a stirrup jar with a Linear B inscription."

A plaque shows examples of the finds in the tombs.
A helmut made of boar tusks.

Among the most important of the tombs of the cemetery is this one.

King's grave.
Again, the Ministry of Culture: "Tomb 159. It is the most impressive chamber tomb of the cemetery. The dromos is 15.50 m. long and its outer section is occupied by 25 steps, starting at ground level. A stone bench runs along the four sides of the rectangular chamber and a pillar stands opposite the entrance. Inside the burial chamber an impressive find was uncovered, the remains of a wooden "coffin". The tomb is dated to 1420/1400-1200 B.C."

Inside the chamber.
As we walked around the necropolis, we knew we were walking over many more graves. It is one mindset to visit this place as a tourist of antiquity. It is another to imagine the tears shed on this small patch of Earth.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Ocean Garbage Patches

We have to clean up our act.

Living on a sailboat you are more exposed to nature. And more exposed to how we treat it.

During an early morning walk along the beach here in Rethymno, I took some photos.

Now that the tourist season has started, all the trash all the beach has been cleaned up. This is just a smidgen of what washed up from the ocean or down from the town during the winter.
I’ve been to some beautiful, remote shores. The Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Bermuda, Azores, Puerto Rico, Vieques, to name a few. Every one of them suffered from the same pollution.

Many in America think we don’t have this problem but that’s because our beaches are constantly cleaned. The east coast of America is also spared a fair amount of garbage because the Gulf Stream washes it out into the Atlantic.

You may have heard of the floating garbage patch in the Pacific. Here’s an article about it in The New York Times. It’s not just happening in the Pacific. Google “Atlantic garbage patch” and you will find similar stories. Garbage is floating all over the oceans and it congregates in the eddies and gyres.

The problem is not simply a visual one. After all, out of sight, out of mind. Who cares if some garbage is floating in the middle of the ocean? We’ll clean it up if it lands on the beach.

The problem is that the plastic decays out there. It breaks up into small enough pieces that it is eaten by fish. Recent news articles report that a third of the fish caught in the English channel have plastic in their bellies. Similar reports are coming in from the Pacific. If it is so in those places, we know it is the same everywhere.

In a report on the Smithsonian website, there is a report of the plastic accumulation in Antartica.

Here’s a quote from that report:

“On a smaller level, UV light and the salt in seawater cause microscopic particles of plastic to emit toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDT. (...) The chemicals tend to bioaccumulate in organisms as they move up the food chain, and can eventually lead to tainted populations of fish that humans regularly consume.”

So we are eating the very plastic bag we brought home from the grocery store. Or the candy wrapper. Or, morbidly, the rest of that Barbie doll I found on a beach in the Bahamas. Not only that, we are eating the released chemicals of those plastics.

We cannot stop buying plastic toothbrushes, but we can stop accepting plastic bags. Even in the produce section of the supermarket, we can avoid the plastic bag and ask management to please make paper bags available.

We can recycle more. We can compost and thereby only need paper bags for our kitchen garbage. Even if the kitchen garbage bag doesn’t end up in the ocean, it kills me to think that we are putting food scraps into a plastic bags and burying it all in a landfill. We can drink from water flasks instead of buying bottled water. We can vote and support legislative change on municiple and national levels.

No one is exempt from contributing plastic into the oceans. Not even I. One of my plastic bags blew out of my hands the other day and landed in the harbor beyond my reach. Our boat mat blew away in high winds. And those who live further inland and have their garbage picked up in trucks from which bits and pieces fall off and are washed into storm water drains and swept into local watersheds. If everyone, along shores as well as those inland, favor recyclable materials over plastic then the industries will respond and make those kinds of things.

Of course the best solution is get along with less things. But that’s a whole different story.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Sirocco and Saharan Sands

Phoenix is covered in Saharan sand.

A sirocco blew for three, four days last week. A southern wind which sweeps across the Sahara, picking up the desert sands and blanketing the northern Mediterranean countries. 

The African storm wails at speeds around 40 knots, darkens the day and tints the sky an eerie shade of pinkish beige.

Ominous sky in Crete stained by the sands of a sirocco. 
While walking through the town, our eyes blink more often to wash away the itch. Phoenix yearns for a thorough washing.

Saharan sands settle in the deckway of Phoenix.
Little bits of the desert in every nook and cranny.
As I write, we are having another windstorm out of the south. Today it's predicted to blow 9 beaufort with gusts to 11. That's  45 knots (50 mph) with gusts to "Oh Shit!" Being inside the boat feels like being out to sea in a storm. She yanks back and forth at the dock lines and heels over suddenly in strong gusts. We don't get much sleep when it blows like that.

The sand seeps in everywhere and settles inside as well.

All this sand reminds of the line from your favorite movie, "Raising Arizona." One cell mate is passing time by talking about his impoverished childhood.

"When there was no meat, we ate fowl and when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Carnival in Greece

Of all the cities in Greece that celebrate carnival, our host city Rethymnon is said to have one of the grandest. It is an affair that stretches out over two weeks, with mini-parades, parties, and seranading in the streets.

About 15,000 people come visit this town for the final festivities on Sunday. Why this late in the year, you might ask? Because the Greek Orthodox Easter is later than the Catholic one. This week's "Clean Monday" was the start of this year's lent. And the day before was the climax of carnival.

We found a tiny spot on the lip of a wall to watch the parade.

The purple ballerinas. 
Our spot was a good vantage point for the parade, but we were directly across from the speakers which blasted disco music at an ear-splitting volume. I resorted to chewing up paper to a soft mush and stuffing the buds in my ears.

A grouse of Angry Birds?
The groups ranged from the small-town, like the local dance group above to the modernally-inspired Angry Birds, to the political.

The European Union float with an Andrea Merkel impersonator, who wagged her finger at the crowd and tapped her watch, warning Greeks that time is running out.
There were a few customes and floats reminiscent of New Orlean's Mardi Gras or Basil's fastnacht.

The sun god's chariott.
Another bird of a sort? Just a beautiful costume?
In the evening an effigy is burned on the beach by the harbor. Someone told us that the best sculpture or float or creation is awarded by being burned. We didn't get to the burning in time to see what was burned. But we were able to watch from our dock across the harbor.

Burning of the best.
Afterward, fireworks.

Jennifer and I saw many a young couple holding hands and a few young ladies guiding their stumbling boyfriends. Along the beach was a group of young women consoling one of their own. We walked and thought out loud how hearts would be broken on this day, but that this carnival would also ignite spectacular loves.