Nancy K Sandars


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Date By   Place Notes
1955-08 NKS   Athens "Skammeli chronicle"


ATHENS – August 1955

I continue my Skammeli chronicle, discovered there would be a bus down on Sunday evening, so I should stay for the wedding. Friday morning up on to the fantastic rocky cliff that overhangs the village on one side. It is several hundred feet of perpendicular and serrated rock with scree below and on top runs a fairly steep angle towards the mountain shoulder where we walked before, but the top 6 to 12 feet is riddled with eroded passages, so you walk as in a maze and trees growing too from the crack, walnut, cornel and limes., or jump along the tops which again are like being in a glacier and jumping the crevices, these are all of silvery rock. Some are fantastically sculptured shapes too.

We ate our lunch on the edge where we could look down directly onto the roofs of the village, like a toy model at our feet and even  see the dark group of women behind  the hut where Sundays bride Machula lives, putting out in great piles the brilliantly coloured ''valanzas'' the wool  rugs which they put on their saddles and cover themselves with at night and sometimes sit on in the day; and then behind us, leaning away the grey rocky slopes of the high mountain Tchouka and Goura and the other way across the wide forest valley to lower but very lovely velvety forested  mountains, dark green and blues. The rock near us was full of very sweet smelling plants, one I think a tiny verbena with the same harsh leaves and sticky sweet smell, but minute and tiny sweet lavender too.

A vulture flew out from under us and a smaller hawk. Then coming down the winding path that kept to the very brink of the precipice except where it plunged in and out of rock crevasses, sometimes quite arched over.

We went to visit the bridal hut 'Kounake' and found preparations more or less complete and everyone rather tired. Sheila and I helped pick over a tray of grain which they put in.One of those terribly slow tedious jobs which must compose so much of their lives, but are rather like the tasks of a fairy story.

Then we saw an old granny 'Yaya' roasting grains over a fire outside. We paid some more calls, one of them to the beautiful new round Kounake.

They are always built by the woman and this had been by two quite young girls, the father was there making his own shoes and watering the white trousers that only the older men still do wear, the younger sister was outside in the shelter they build over their looms. There is a shelter over the loom and another over the fire and sometimes an oven as well, or the fire may be in the middle of the hut.

A lot of time was just spent in our own hut eating meals cooked by Sheila and talking long talks and sleeping a little. It was a bit of a crowd at times with 3 of us living in one room, apart from a sort of landing where Sheila cooked and says much for their kindness and unselfishness, they made it so easy; but the crowd was greater still that evening when 3 not altogether welcome English females turned up having walked and muled through the mountains, but they had rooms for themselves in the caphenion but supped and breakfasted with us. Thy were horrified at being told of the bears in the forest where they had been sleeping out the night before.

40 lambs had been killed  by the bears quite near.

Saturday night was to be the big one when we sat up singing with the woman before the wedding, so after a forced early breakfast because of our guests we slept and idled most of the day. It was still grey and very cold and intermittently wet. In the evening began to rain in earnest. I had developed a cold by this time from not taking up thick knickers or stockings. In the evening when it had got dark we started down to the kounaki, slithering and sliding on the wet stones of the path. The woman were all in Machulas Kounaki and the men because of the wet, not able to be in the temporary hut that had been built for them, but in the house of a  kinsmen next door, in an upstairs room. Theodorus, a descendant of one of the big Sarachsatanea families.
They have such tremendous personalities, these people. Theodorus and Machula`s brother Pericls, her brother-in-law Costa, her old father and then the men of other big families who come, Lambris with whom we had lunch on the Panaghia, Tellos a closer kinsmen of Machula. It was one of the most dramatic exciting things I have known and beautiful in a dark and dramatic way.
The most extraordinary thing was the contrast between the women's way and the men's. First one had to realise that Machula did not know the man she was to marry – marriages are arranged usually by brothers or cousins.
And that tomorrow she would be going away alone from all her family and what she could or could not do was rigidly laid down; that the life of a 'Nifi' or bride is the hardest as they all have the worst work in the new house. Fortunately she is a very strong girl, but none the less harrowing.

Well then there was all the men in Theodora's house upstairs, (though quite a big solid house it has no furniture of course, but one sits on blankets as in the huts) One could hear the music and singing as we came down the hills to them through the dark, but the crowd in the room was so packed that we could not even see the players of the `organ` - that is, a fiddle, a bouzouki, a clarinet, a sort of mandolin and a tambourine drum, it is wildly exciting music, particularly the things the clarinet is made to do – that and the drum whose thudding one hears far away when nothing else carries at all.

There was only room in the circle for 2 men to dance at a time and the heat and sweat and the ouzo and wine were flowing already at 7pm and they had to keep it up until well on into the next morning, till 10. oclock or so. We saw Theodoros, very proud, very black and Tellos came in wet and combed his red-gold black hair which was so many of them have.


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