2021 HIDDEN LINES

Some family fun was possible before we went sailing.I suppose they all laughed because they think my phone is going to fall off the car roof. Nearly all of my family lined up by the river for a birthday in Llanberis so I could celebrate being 75. Camping in a circle round a firepit I asked them how far they have travelled. And was surprised to hear about the hidden lines all over the world which connect their experience. Hence the theme of this letter, as usual, is my enjoyment of discovering things outside the home – not forgetting that some of those things are right on my doorstep. I gave everyone a compass, inscribed to remind them to stay curious….We knew about the Blue Project which as been developed on some of the islands we have sailed in the past years. It reveals that people who live a very long time owe this blessing to having friends and family. (And red wine). To my surprise they had banded together to give me a Lumix digital camera – mirrorless to be exact. It came with 70 pages of instructions – so I have been on a course to get my head round some of it. On being sent out to do excercises I used St Georges hall  opposite my window in Bristol – photographing the Neo Greek façade. My ulterior motive was to show how the 19th century architect, Smirke, got the shape of the columns wrong. Now, I am no classical scholar, but I know how entasis should look – and had a special afternoon in Athens at the museum of classical technology. https://kotsanasmuseum.com/ekthemata/  Here is a picture of their model which explains now the columns of the Parthenon were made with big lifting lugs, and a template for the cutting.

 

We made time to spend in Athens on our way back from this summer’s voyage of over 400 miles in Shearwater. A thread of legends connected the capes and ruins. Starting from near Achilles tower where perhaps his mother Thetis dipped him in the river Styx but held him by the ankle. She was a nereid, a sea nymph goddess, who’s temple front is in the British Museum. On your right jest before the Elgin marbles.

As we anchored the first night the sky over the straits on Evia glowed red, which was due to the terrible fire. Thousands of villagers got rescued on the beaches escaping from the inferno sweeping down through the  pine forests.

On Skopelos we stayed at our favourite bay and I had one last search for the temple which should have been facing us on the shore. I had written to Michael Carrol who built a house there to ask where he hid a column described in his book, but found out that he died last year. So another unanswered question was about an early Christian Bishop Rhiginos who slayed a dragon near there by chanting long prayers. This turned out to be a true story.  I found his shrine on the island at the old river crossing by Skopelos port in which a candle is lit daily. He is remembered for being beheaded at the bridge by the Romans in the 3rd century AD. So the dragon was a metaphor for the roman persecution of Christians….

We made a libation to Poseidon in the hope of favourable winds, and this must have worked when we climbed to see his temple at cape Sounion.  It is also memorable because King Aegeus threw himself into the sea off that rock when his son’s ship was seen to be sailing back from Crete with the wrong coloured sail – the colour that meant Theseus had died….Hence the sea is called the Aegean.

Knowing that a Meltemi was coming we had anchored safely in the bay of Porto Rafti. The wind blew in at a steady 30 knots, plus screaming gusts of gale force, and we were relieved that with ten times the depth out of chain we did not move.

So later Poseidon smiled on us and the winds round the formidable southern point of cape Malia were favourable. We rounded it with some anxiety, for this was where Odysseus tried to head west and got blown off course for more years of adventures in Homer’s stories. Our yacht made the turn and took us upwind through the severe squalls again of gale force, but thankfully short in duration.  It was not a difficulty for the moody was already fully reefed under reduced sail.

By this stage halfway round the Peloponese, we had encircled Laconia, the country of the Spartans. Their history is inescapable in our culture, even though they did not build much. We stayed at the port of Leonidios, and his head appears on this year’s Greek postage stamps. On his monument is a quotation of his reply to Xerxes when invited to give up his arms where the 300 made their last stand at Thermopylae …  “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕmolṑn labé (“Come and take them”), This is known as a Laconic reply – short and simple. It’s still handy after 2,500 years perhaps in in a Liverpool bar where I was a student….”is your mate looking at my mates….”

The yacht is now in the yard at Kalamata for the winter. It’s a working city with all the er, repair trades that yachts need on hand. The locals seem to be all related as one extended family, and anything is possible to be fixed. We left work with the sailmaker who arrived five minutes after being phoned. On the way round we explored more ancient cities. Sometimes travelling by car up the winding canyons of a dramatic landscape above the olive groves. The byzantine citadels of  Monemvasia and of Ancient Mistra were laid out with narrow mule sized paths. The guide notes said the corners of the alleyways were curved “to as to be easier to go along….”  Wrong mate, they are curved so you don’t get jumped on after dark as you go round, like some back alley in St Pauls here. Years ago we triained police in helping others to design out the fear of crime. It takes three steps to jump on someone and sharp corners are bad places..

The most stunning city was from an era of a thousand years earlier – ancient Messine. (above) It was  serene walking at sunrise along their forum built over 300 bc. It felt open and friendly and was to the design of Hippodamus some centuries earlier. I have never seen so many standing columns together in one site and they looked fabulous in the low sun. Sarah is in blue, skipping along round the huge theatre The plots were laid out to make houses of equal size, the central square had over a hundred statues. Some of these survive in the site museum, such as Poladiliros with his long curly hair on his shoulders. (I’ve never seen that before). He was one of the Greeks who hid in the Trojan horse – and did survive the battle of the sack of Troy. Such a peaceful city was possible because of a vast 14km wall and the protection of the cliffs behind it. The famous arcadian gate is still there. Which is in a circle of more huge defences and had the biggest stelae (big posts of stone) I have ever seen, some 10m tall. How on earth did they cut them and raise them – and how vast were the gates??

In the Autumn we returned by jet from Kalamata. Tested negative for covid before departure and two days after arrival, at £50 each time.

This summer Bristol saw the toppling of the statue of the 18th century slave trader Colston. Buildings and schools are being re-named. We have learned to be “Woke” and sometimes hear the latest demonstration march going through the city centre. One day there were three marches – all different protests!

It has also been a year of joining clubs. For example, gig rowing, tennis and swimming. And when I “unjoined” from Rotary they made me a life member, so I guess I will sometimes contribute to fundraising again there too, after the era of zoom.

Sarah has become chair of governors of a special needs school. She somehow finds time to go running a lot and work at coaching too. I am part time, still working on listed buildings, and Jamie runs the practice. With Sarah and he also goes running or wild swimming. Louisa joins them taking time off from Allen and Overy corporate law, and me? I am just the backup team usually warming in a corner bar.

On the harbour forum I have been pushing for water bottle re-filling points. I have written about the need to ban single use water bottles – especially on boats.

At the Underfall boatyard I did a boat frame bending course – learning how to copy a rowing boat by riveting the ribs together after they were steamed. It was all about hidden lines – and bending oak. Two great naval battles of oared galleys were near our voyage this summer one at Salamis Island, where the Greeks defeated Xerxes Persian forces in 480 bc.. Some say this changed the politics of the western world forever – and if you have time I’ll draw it for you on a napkin…. ( Sarah says no thanks. ) Next summer we sail again to Messolonghi over the site of  the battle of Lepanto- In the 16th century the last of the great oar powered sea battles. Parrot says I can tell you all about that one next year.

Travel writing won another award this year – two nights in a five star hotel, Tilney Hall in Hampshire. It had tennis, swimming, and the longest avenue of redwoods I have seen. I collected tree seeds, but yet again I am not green fingered so they did not germinate.

However, some of my other stuff grows and using only salvaged materials I have made a big cold frame. ( started it, below before painting ) Perhaps it will allow some of my Mediterranean plants to survive the frost. I found the glass windows were coming out of a house near here. “Yes mate, you take them away if you want them,” said a man on site. Just like the Elgin Marbles then ?

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