Kefalonia

A week on this aromatic island off the Ionian coast, where every morning we woke up to this view of Ithaka:

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View from the hills outside Evreti

“Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.”

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The recent theory is that our view did not take in Ithaka, Homer’s Ithaka, after all (it’s now supposed to have been the Paliki peninsula on the western side of Kefalonia itself). No worries; we were in no hurry to actually get to Ithaka. Not when there were limestone shingle beaches like this one to explore:

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Or tavernas like this one, in Agia Efimia:

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Grilled sardines, stewed octopus and rabbit for lunch

Or cave lakes like Melissani to circumnavigate: ‘Visitors can tour the lake on a boat and admire the wonderful colours in the water, which constantly change as the sunlight falls on it through the aperture in the roof above.’

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Roadside beach north of Sami

One thing a picture can’t convey is the island’s soundscape: a ceaseless rasp of cicadas in the noon heat, together with the tinkle of bells from goats grazing on the hillsides. No wonder some of us drowsed off while chilling on the veranda.

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From the town of Assos we climbed to the Venetian castle on the peninsula above (once used as a prison – but with views to die for).

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Kefalonia’s recent history is marked by two traumas: the massacre of 3,000 Italian soldiers of the Aqui Division by invading Germans in 1943 (inspiring a novel and the inevitable Hollywood treatment), and an earthquake a decade later, which leveled most of the island’s Venetian buildings. Today it builds its economy on the export of Med staples: olive oil, wine (Robola is the native grape) and tourism.

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Khoi pond in Fiskardo

The most intriguing historical angle on the island may be its hosting of an early Christian gnostic sect, the Carpocratians. Who they, you ask? Groupies of Carpocrates, who made Kefalonia his base in the 2nd century CE. Irenaeus wrote disapprovingly that Carpocratians claimed themselves to be above Mosaic law, believing differences of class and property ownership to be unnatural, and also that in order to leave the earthly realm behind one had license to do ‘all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of.’ Early Ionian hippie commies, in other words.

In the end, though, it’s the sea we’ll remember: turquoise and acquamarine, translucent to a depth of over twenty feet, saltier than the Atlantic and warm as bathwater.

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Beach looking north to Lefkada’s mountains

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Return of the blog

It’s been a while. Seeing as how we’re in the late stage of one of those rare, near-perfect summers in the middle of middle England, though, it’s time to re-boot and take stock. First a look back at the interim since September 2013, beginning with a sample from last year’s harvest:

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Boltardy, Crimson King, Golden

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Borlotti beans

An October chestnut gathering expedition to Crackley Wood, with transatlantic help:

IMG_4485Isobel with chestnut

Putting the allotment to bed in November:

Putting allotment to bed

Seasonal cheer in the dark days:

Community hut Xmas tree

Inauguration of the new community hut, an idea of Volutina’s carried to completion with the help of many hands

N & K at Saxon Mill

Sláinte!

The ritual New Year’s hail to the light from a hilltop in Ilmington:

Ilmington shadows

Spring visitors:

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Late January, Aston Cantlow. Thanks for visiting, Aunt Gretchen!

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Glad too that Erika and John could visit. Herewith the album cover for our new band, Vichy Douche Slab (name inspired by object in the spa museum, Leamington). We will literally rock you.

The allotment in mid-April:

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New fruit trees, apple and pear

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A lichtsome Easter voyage up to Glasgow, the isle of Mull and Iona, to see our friends before the oil wars break out at Gretna Green after this September’s referendum:

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Bird? Plane? Independence?

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Sketching en plein air

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This may be the solution for our shed roof

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Hebrides or the Med?

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Front garden in Iona

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Fragment of the abbey on Iona

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Our column outside the Iona PO

An early May gathering at the new community hut:

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Constructing an insect house with Bonnie’s help

Later in the month we stayed in London courtesy of visiting grandparents, checking out this year’s borders at Kew Gardens:

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In June an al fresco supper of peas, beans and strawberries:

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And harvesting sweet peas in July.

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A few more from Venice

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A poster in the Ghetto Nuovo

There are five synagogues in the Cannaregio – two of them in active use – and, according to current figures, 30 Jews still living in the Ghetto itself. The medieval density of the area – really a tiny island within the island of Venice, subject to nightly curfews – meant that the houses were built several stories taller than elsewhere. Early skyscrapers.

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Carnevale is (never) over

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And neither is the spritz

Stones of Venice: According to Ruskin, this head on the facade of the church of Santa Maria Formosa, “leering in bestial degradation,” summed up what he called the ‘Grotesque Renaissance’ – or what we’d call the early Baroque. Madly moralistic as JR’s aesthetics were, it’s hard not to feel a sneaking admiration for his OTT vision of the Way Things Ought to Be. His one-man war on the Baroque was a little baroque in itself.

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The ‘Ignoble Grotesque’ outside Santa Maria Formosa – as Snoopy would say: “Bleah!”

More stones of Venice – sombre rather than bestial.

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Presumably Ruskin would have liked this better.

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A living face outshines all stone ones.

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A pensive face.

There is always room for kitsch in a place like Venice, especially surrounded with spring flowers.

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‘Waiting for Peace’ on Burano

And sometimes kitsch goes all the way through Baroque and out the other side, and becomes art.

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Glasscraft on Murano

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Burano, channeling the house colors of our old neighborhood, Buffalo’s Allentown

Also works of art in their own way are Venetian pastries.

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A sampling at Pasticcere Nobile

Venice famously has its dark side, but I got just this one reminder of its most gothic (non-Ruskin sense) movie representation.

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Don’t look now

Notwithstanding, we looked to the bright side, especially after torrential rain.

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Sunlight on the Zattere

As do Italians generally – despite austerity, unemployment and oligarchic corruption.

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Bye bye Berlusconi

Venezia

Spring break in Venice, ‘half fairy-tale and half tourist trap’ according to Thomas Mann – but fortunately we found a spot in the third half, working Venice, in the remote northwest of the Cannaregio district. A low-key but atmospheric neighborhood, near the Ghetto and the Sant’Alvise vaporetto stop, it’s a place where there are hardware stores and supermarkets as well as canalside trattorias, where kids ply their scooters home from school, and where – we suspect – allotments are tended by the locals, just up from the park adjoining Calle della Rotonda where we were staying.

Looking along the Fondamenta Riformati

Looking along the Fondamenta Riformati

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A bit of calcio practice outside Sant’Alvise

But it’s still Venice. Water, water everywhere – especially our first two days, when it rained like Genesis, and Andrew, Kate, Naomi and Jacob had to ford alta aqua levels of rising lagoon on the way back from dinner one night. Someone – maybe the Rough Guide? – has pointed out that no city is both so closely involved with the rhythms of nature and at the same time so completely an artifact of human ingenuity and construction.

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Where brick meets water

Steps into greeny depths

Steps into greeny depths

You can easily forget Manhattan’s an island, but in Venice you never do. The great fish market at Rialto is another reminder – we wended our way down there on our second morning and had a hard time choosing dinner. The produce was overwhelming too – pyramids of purple artichokes (carciofi), blood oranges, salate, and herby bunches of what turned out to be young hop shoots (bruscandoli), which we used to make risotto.

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A corner on the Rialto market

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Didn’t get to try these, alas

Crates of chokes

Unloading crates of chokes

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Fruits of the sea – orate (bream)

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It’s what’s for dinner

Venice is improbable because it’s built on sticks, stones on top of silt and sticks, but what’s also improbable is the crazy profusion of styles and structures and artworks, sacred and secular, that rise on top of its rickety foundations. East meets West, dark meets light, stone meets sea, and everything curves like a mermaid’s tail. No wonder Ruskin was knocked for six when he first encountered the city. A few of the standout places for us on this trip were the Madonna dell’Orto, Tintoretto’s own parish church, the jewel-box that is Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the collections at the Accademia and Peggy Guggenheim museums, the canvas-packed Scuola Grande di San Rocco – a kind of orgone box for aesthetic stimulation – and the Palazzo Grimani, where ceiling art is raised to the level of, well, art.

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Madonna dell’Orto – in our ‘hood

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The creamy gorgonzola marblework of Miracoli

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Puh-lease – sculpture at the Peggy Guggenheim

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Zeus’s eagle abducts Ganymede through the ceiling of the Grimani Palace

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Mirrored hallway at Grimani

The most haunting of the places we visited was Torcello, both for the mosaics in the basilica and the island’s air of being abandoned long ago.

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Vineyard and statuary on Torcello

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Outside the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta (founded 639 AD)

Venice is also an intensely social city – home of such excellent traditions as the giro d’ombra and cicchetteria – and we were lucky to be able to socialize with the Vienna wing of the family.

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Outside the Accademia

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Inside the Guggenheim

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Cousins by the wellhead

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Abbracio from a nephew

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Enjoying a spritz con bitter by San Trovase

“It is held by some that this word VENETIA signifies VENI ETIAM, that is, come again, and again, for however oft you come, you will always see new things, and new beauties.” So says Jacopo Sansovino, and he ought to know.

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Arrivederci

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Ciao bella

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One could get used to this spritz ritual

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Pollici in su, Venezia

One last dash to the sea

Returned from the US, but loathe to leave summer behind, we capped off the school holidays with a brief, three-day excursion down to the Dorset coast.

Heading out

Swanage offers stunning ocean views, exhilarating walks, and fresh seafood. But also Punch and Judy shows and a steam train that takes you to the impressive ruins of Corfe Castle. So seaside English-style. It’s a place we’ve been meaning to get to for some time since moving to the UK, as it holds many happy childhood memories for Nick who loved visiting his grandparents there.

Above Swanage

We walked over Ballard Down to Old Harry Rocks – columns of white limestone that the sea has sculpted from the headlands – and from there to Studland and our last “beach day” of the season.

Pathways

Full tilt to Old Harry

Happy hikers

Studland Bay

Last of the summer cones

Taking in the view from Corfe Castle

Vienna: family

Our week in Vienna presented us with an invigorating mix of art, history, culture, architecture, and, of course, food. Here are some things Zoe and Isobel loved:
• Seeing Breugel’s Hunters in the Snow, Ruben’s Head of the Medusa, and Klimt’s mural paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
•Listening to the Marriage of Figaro and interesting facts about the composer’s life while touring Mozart’s house.
• Watching the animals, including bats, birds, and bears, at the Tiergarten Zoo in the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace (as well as eating the ice creams and fried dough).
• Jumping off the 4 metre high diving board and swimming outdoors in the toasty pools at the Therm Wien spa.
• Thrilling to the sight of beautiful Lipizzaner stallions cantering and performing lavades at the elegant Spanish Riding School. (Isobel)
• Eating weiner schnitzel, Kate’s matzo ball soup, and cakes: zwetschgen strudel, apfelstrudel, Sacher torte – all “mit slag.”

The highlights are many, but no list is complete without mentioning that we had the great good fortune to be visiting family. So before we leave Vienna behind for more localized reports of germinating peas, here are some photos of the cousins, having fun creating Easter eggs:

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the finished product

Vienna: memory

After we got back, I came across a capsule review of a new book by Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present. It turns out to be a followup of sorts to Kandel’s earlier In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, here focused on the links between science and art in Vienna’s golden era: Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka. If you’re into memory studies, Kandel’s work is fundamental, but this book includes a return to educational origins for him, since he was a History and Literature major at Harvard in 1950 before deciding to take up neurology, and did his undergrad thesis on the response to National Socialism in the work of three German writers, Carl Zuckmayer, Hans Carossa, and Ernst Jünger.

An interview with Kandel reminds me of a conversation Andrew and I had on the tram out to Oberlaa about the continuing relevance of Freud. I was questioning how psychoanalysis could stick with its self-conception as an ongoing field of research in the scientific sense, limited as it was to explication of the master’s theories. It turns out Kandel saw his project early on as the establishment of Freud’s insights on a proper neurological basis. You can take the boy out of Vienna (born in 1929, Kandel left with his family after Kristallnacht) but not Vienna out of the boy. After he won the Nobel for Medicine, a film on his life and work appeared, from which this still (recreation of a Viennese childhood episode) is taken: