Did you know…

…Some animal are immortal?

Theoretically, that is—or, at least, they do not age. Obviously, they can die from other causes: accidents, predators etc. I found this bit of arcana fascinating and thought I’d share.

One species that has been called ‘biologically immortal’ is the jellyfish Turritopsis dohrnii. These small, transparent animals hang out in oceans around the world and can turn back time by reverting to an earlier stage of their life cycle.

Then there is the Hydra: a tubular body with a tentacle-ringed mouth at one end and an adhesive foot at the other. They’re very simple animals that spend their days mostly staying in one place in freshwater ponds or rivers and using their stinging tentacles to grab any prey that happens to swim past. Their claim to immortality? They don’t go through senescence (biological aging) at all. Instead of gradually deteriorating over time, a Hydra’s stem cells have the capacity for infinite self-renewal. Cool, right? However, who’d want to be a Hydra…

Hydra. Photo:Google

Lobsters also do not experience senescence. Unlike Hydra’s reliance on particular genes, however, their longevity is thanks to them being able to endlessly repair their DNA. Unfortunately there’s a catch: they literally grow too big for their own shells. Lobsters continually grow larger and larger, but their shells can’t change size, meaning a lifetime of ditching too-small shells and growing a brand-new exoskeleton each time. That takes a fair amount of energy. Eventually, this becomes too much, and they die of exhaustion—unless they have managed to end up in a lobster roll before that happens.

Many other species offer tantalising glimpses into an ageless existence: such as naked mole rats, whose risk of dying does not increase as they get older; the Ming quahod clam; some bristlecone pines—there is a colony of quaking aspens considered to be about 80,000 years old. Also the enormous bowhead whale, which can live up to 200 years, since they can repair damaged DNA, hence are prevented from developing cancer. Scientists also suggested that these whales can survive the absence of oxygen even for a long time.

These animal can perhaps provide information which will benefit human longevity. But to the question, asked by a young relative, ‘Would you like to live forever?’ my answer is, ‘No, thank you.’ Especially if I had to live attached to a rock, like a Hydra.

A lovely Greek Easter

Greeks love Easter—even the agnostics and atheists. The rites surrounding it are lovely, at a time of the year when nature is at its best.

The culmination of a week of special church services is the mass celebrating the resurrection, at midnight on the saturday. Unfortunately, at most churches celebrations are riotous, with fireworks and crackers going off even during the service—and cars going past sounding their horns.

Thus we were delighted to discover a completely different atmosphere at a nearby church where we’d never been before. Families and friends had gathered and small children ran about despite the late hour. Everyone sang together.

The holy light passes from one candle to another, and each family carries one lit candle home, to bless their house.

And of course, Easter involves lots of food: lamb cooked in a variety of ways, red eggs to be cracked against each other, a special sweet bread called tsoureki. (I had wriiten about Easter customs in a previous post:


To all Greek friends, Χριστός Ανέστη.

Mystras, a Byzantine city

A silver lining of the pandemic has been the lack of visitors in historic sites, and May is a perfect month for exploring Greece, since it’s not too hot yet.

The view of the fortified town from the road

A recent road trip to the Byzantine city of Mystras involved a hike up to the fortress during which we only met a handful of other visitors.


Mystras is a fortified town in the Peloponnese, built in 1248 by Guillaume II de Villehardouin, ruler of the Frankish Principality of Achaea. In 1259, William of Villehardouin was defeated and captured, along with many of his nobles, at the Battle of Pelagonia, by the forces of the Nicaean Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. Two years later, the Nicaeans recaptured Constantinople, putting an end to the Roman Empire and establishing the Byzantine Empire. At this point, the emperor concluded an agreement with the captive prince: William and his men would be set free in exchange for an oath of fealty, and for the cession of Monemvasia, Grand Magne, and Mystras. Thus henceforth Mystras served as the capital of the Byzantine Despotate of the Morea in the 14th and 15th centuries, during which period the city prospered, culturally as well as practically, producing silk, citrus fruit and olive oil which were exported to Western Europe.


The view of the church of Pantanassa  from above

Wild flowers and butterflies were abundant, and the only sounds  were the chirping of birds and the buzzing of bees.


The view of the Palace complex from the top

It is a magical site, like so many others in Greece.


The Palace complex is being restored

The city contains a number of beautiful churches, in different states of preservation.

Icons in the small but beautiful church of Aghia Sofia

Looking out

And a view of the lovely Monastery of Pantanassa

Photo: Wiki commons

An old map of the city

Photo: Wiki commons

The hike made us hot and thirsty, so we descended to the village. After ice cold drinks under the shade of mulberry trees in the village square, we repaired for lunch to the village of Kastori. A small taverna with a garden full of roses at the back provided us with an excellent Greek salad and a simple meal followed by a bowl of cherries from their tree. This fortified us for another, this time shady, hike by a stream in the forest at the feet of the majestic Taygetos mountain.


The 12 days of Christmas

It being TBT today, I thought I’d repost a seasonal article I wrote in 2015, for newer readers—old hands just avert your eyes. I remember I had lots of fun making all the drawings for this post. Here goes:


Christmas can be a tiring and frustrating time. We expect too much, we want everything to be perfect. Some run themselves into the ground, feeling it’s their job to provide that perfection for family and friends. Some expect to be surrounded by luxury and glamour, to be enchanted and entertained. Some just get depressed.

The image of the beautiful family, dressed to kill, with brushed hair and dazzling smiles in front of a tree dotted with tasteful baubles, or sitting around a table laden with a delicious feast is hardly likely to materialize. The gingerbread house will refuse to stay up, and will have to be propped up with cans of tuna. The kids will squabble over their gifts and make faces at the camera, having refused to wear the velvet ruffled garments bought for the occasion. The turkey will be overcooked, and uncle John will get drunk and insult his mother-in-law. Nobody will get the gifts they’d hoped for, and the glamorous party will turn out to be totally devoid of hot babes/dudes. And then the bills will start coming in. (Just an imaginary scenario!)

Perhaps the solution is to aim for less materialistic pleasures. Trying to think what those could be, I came up with the following, somewhat fanciful, list:  of tips for the days to come.



On the first day of Christmas – Do something for yourself. A little treat: have a massage, go for a ride or a walk in the park. Take an hour off work for coffee with a friend.




On the second day of Christmas – Spend some quality one-on-one time with someone special: spouse, lover, sibling, offspring, grandchild, friend. Or even your dog.




On the third day of Christmas – Resolve to think three positive thoughts per day, every day. Or, to note three good things that happened. Or, to find three things to be thankful for.




On the fourth day of Christmas – Get four old friends together for a pizza and cards evening. Laughs guaranteed.





On the fifth day of Christmas – For the last full working week before Christmas, be cheerful at work. Smile and people will smile in return. Five days – it should be possible.





On the sixth day of Christmas – Find six good books to read. Browse in a bookshop, or go through the pile on the bedside table. Books take you away from your problems – they’re a door into another world.




On the seventh day of Christmas – Resolve to spend ten minutes each Sunday making a menu for the week. The cooking and shopping will become so much easier.




On the eighth day of Christmas – Make a list of eight fun things to do in the coming months. Book a show, visit places you haven’t seen, explore the neighbourhood. Almost as good as a vacation (but one of them could be a weekend break).



On the ninth day of Christmas – Bake or buy cupcakes or cookies and distribute them. Food makes people happy.




On the tenth day of Christmas – Get ten people together and have a party. Don’t spend a fortune, or ages cooking – everyone can bring something.




On the eleventh day of Christmas – De-clutter. Find 11 things to donate, recycle or bin. You’ll feel so much lighter.




On the twelfth day of Christmas – Call twelve people and ask how they are. Listen to what they have to say. Not your buddies to whom you talk every day: the old friend you haven’t seen for a while, the elderly aunt who bores you, the acquaintance you heard has not been well. It will make everyone feel better.

I hope this list has amused you, if nothing else. Do I hear hollow laughs? Any other suggestions?




A May wreath

Gathering wild flowers? Chopping the last of the lilac blossoms off the bush, or picking the first roses? Stealing from the neighbor’s garden or buying bunches of tulips from the roadside stand?

Everything goes when it comes to making the May wreath, a tradition dear to Greeks. Some add olive or laurel branches, and a head of garlic, to ward off the evil eye. The wreaths will adorn front doors and balcony railings, slowly drying up until the time comes to burn them on bonfires on Saint John’s day (June 23rd). Family and friends will jump over the embers for good luck.


Continue reading “A May wreath”

Fall colors

We don’t celebrate Halloween in Greece – apart from some themed kiddy parties – but how could I resist painting these awesome pumpkins?




I love fall colors, all those burnished oranges and reds.



How could you ever hope to reproduce those brilliant colors in paint?
How could you ever hope to reproduce those brilliant colors in paint?

In strong light the colors are almost fluorescent. Or almost fake!



And an irrelevant photo. But I do love ducks!



And a swan.



As for Halloween, the commercial aspect is hard to avoid. I even chanced upon a Simpsons spoof version of Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven on television.

‘…and the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain…’

Was a spookier verse ever written?

Photos by Peter (follow him on Instagram @Alma_Peter)

One year on…

I started this blog a year ago, in June 2015: a place to rant against my pet peeves, but also to share the good moments of life in this troubled land, and to showcase its diversity and many beauties. And some of its amazing people.
To date I’ve notched up 105 posts, and accumulated over 10,000 views. I only post once or twice a week, when I actually have something to say.  (Or I think I do). And that works out fine for me.

Those numbers would probably be sneered at by Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian, but who cares? To me, the biggest reward has been meeting you guys. I never imagined the blogosphere would be such a fun place. I love discovering new blogs, following my favorites, hosting guest bloggers, and writing guest posts. I enjoy sharing my photos and drawings.  I love your comments and likes. Keep it up!
To thank you all, I’ve made a cake.




And drinks! Enjoy!










Geckos on the walls and ceilings

Last night I found the first gecko of this summer in my bathroom. I was so happy to see him (her? it?) that I took a picture on my phone – but he was so small, it did not come out well under electric light. So I decided to make a drawing – in this case, a lot larger that life-size, as he was only 3cm long. The ones we get here are very small, and a lot more elegant than in my drawing. The babies are translucent!


House geckos are considered good luck by most people, and they’re useful to have around, since they feed on mosquitos and other insects. In the winter they hibernate, and when summer comes, they show up on the walls or on the ceiling, sometimes emitting a high-pitched squeak, almost like the faint chirping of a bird.
Geckos have adhesive toe pads enabling them to scurry with ease along walls and ceilings. Looking at this little fella’s toes reminded me of Gollum – Tolkien must have been inspired by some similar creature.

Fishy tastes

Now that the meat-eating revel of Easter is over, people’s thoughts are turning towards showing up on the beach in a swimsuit. New season tomatoes are making their appearance, so what better than a traditional horiatiki salad, made with tomatoes, cucumber, thinly sliced onions and peppers, and cubes of feta cheese. A bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of oregano, and you’ve got a light, nutritious lunch.
And for something more substantial, many turn to fish.
Fried white bait or little red mullet are delicious, but not particularly slimming – the best is a whole fish, simply grilled and accompanied by olive oil beaten with plenty of aromatic lemon juice.
When fish is fresh, sauces disguise its flavor, so unless you are in some fancy restaurant, you will usually get your fish plain. And yes, cooked with the head on, seeing as the best bits are the cheeks and the nape of the neck. A lot of non-Greeks find this gross, but it’s not as gross as another delicacy, the head of the Easter spit-roasted lamb! (from which I, personally, refrain.)




Having said that Greeks mostly eat their fish without sauce, I discovered that the ancients had invented a concoction called garum, a fermented fish sauce used as a condiment in the cuisines of Ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium. It probably originated in Carthage, and Plato was the first to describe its disagreeable ‘rotten’ smell.

The preparation of garum is described in Roman and Byzantine texts. Small fish, left whole with their intestines, were mashed with salt and set to ferment in the sun. The mixture was occasionally stirred with a stick and finally filtered through layers of fine cloth, to make a condiment used to flavor meat and game, as well as fish and seafood.
Archaeological digs have brought to light garum production plants on the coast of North Africa, Portugal and elsewhere on the Mediterranean. These were placed far from inhabited areas because the smell was horrendous! The finished product, however, was supposed to have a pleasant, spicy odor. Garum was also known as liquamen, or hallex, and prices varied according to quality.
Apparently the nearest equivalent we have nowadays is Worcestershire sauce.
How’s that for the irrelevant information of the day?

The first signs of spring

We haven’t had much of a winter this year – it’s been mostly mild. A little snow on the mountains. Central and Northern Greece had a few bad days, with lots of snow, and roads shut.
I hope we get more rain before the hot summer months set in, but the first signs of spring are here, and they are hard to resist.


imageThe almond trees are in bloom.


imageAnemones come in all shades of pink and mauve, from almost white to fuschia, from palest lavender to purple. They can even be bright red, like poppies. They’re lovely in bowls around the house.






imageDaisies and other wild flowers are popping up.


imageThe first kumquat. It’s in a pot outside the kitchen door.



imageAnd buds on the camellia!