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  • Shelley Dark

#11 it's all amygdalota to me

Thankfully the weather held this morning for my visit to the archives and my tour with Maria. This afternoon it rained properly with the occasional a clap of thunder. Not quite the tropical storm, but Hydra's gentle version of it! Every now and then, just to show there was no malice, the sun peeked through before the next rain shower arrived.

I wanted to be at the archives at 10am to see Mrs Adamopoulou before she became busy. I passed Eileen's where two men were arguing about where to put the tables. Striding, pointing, measuring, indicating. 'We have this event every year,' she said, laughing, 'and every year there's a fight.' She has her arms crossed, looking on. It was worth watching, like a sitcom.

More cats were waiting at the dock today for their morning tea.

At 10am I went through the door of the archives. 'Yassas Stam,' I said, thinking myself very Greek. "Yassas,' he replied in his usual quite loud voice.

He jumped in before I could say anything else. 'I'm sorry about yesterday afternoon. We didn't know that Mrs Adamopolou was going to Athens. And she is not back. Maybe she will be back tomorrow. Maybe.' He shrugged. The thought flitted across my mind that they didn't want me to speak with Mrs. Adamopolou. I dismissed it as ridiculous.

'Is Eleni in yet please Stam?' I asked. 'She told me to come back this morning.' 'No, not yet, but she should only be a few minutes. We'll turn on the lights for you.'

'I'll wander a little while I wait, Stam, thank you.' As I turned to climb the stairs, my friend of yesterday came out of the office smiling warmly at me to show Stam she had known me and liked me forever. I must smell better on the second day. She went into the control room to turn on the lights.

Upstairs I looked at models of old boats. Isn't this exquisite? I cannot imagine how long it took to make. I thought I could risk a photo. Almost immediately I heard the door to the archives being unlocked. I followed the sound.

Eleni came around the corner smiling. 'Good morning,' she said. 'It's so nice to see you today!'

Yesterday I had suggested that perhaps our hero had named some of his children after his mother or father and perhaps we could trace him that way. I gave her the names of the children. Eleni checked the catalogue and opened book after book. While she was doing it, I asked if I may look on the bookshelves. 'Perhaps a picture book?' I said, feeling a little silly. Who asks for picture books in an historical archive?

Eleni went almost straight to a biggish book and handed it to me. 'This one has pictures!'

She went back to work. I asked if I might take photos of the book. 'I didn't say so,' she said. And smiled at me, making a motion of raising her index finger to her lips. So please don't mention it to a soul.

I'm guessing here because Eleni was too busy for me to ask her. This photo represents the bucolic life of the Greeks before the war.

And this gory scene would be during the war: the Greeks fighting the Turks.

It was nearly eleven, so I had to leave. 'No,' said Eleni, 'Maria will wait.' Let me print this for you.' I texted Maria to say I'd be a couple of minutes late. Eleni finally handed me a sheet of paper with a Greek version of my story on it. The narrative was the same as mine, but interestingly a couple of the details were slightly different. More for me to cross-check. I thanked Eleni and hugged her. She really is a darling. Like Cinderella I bolted down the stairs as the clock struck the hour. Thankfully my shoes stayed on.

As I ran out of the archives, I could see the tiny figure of Maria under the clock tower. I waved. She waved back.

We walked together out along the first little rock groyne. Maria indicated that I should sit down on a bench while she remained standing. She began a little nervously but gave a very interesting and well-rehearsed talk. I was just as mesmerised by her manner as by the facts.

She told me about the history of settlement on this barren rocky island. How it was under Venetian rule, then the Ottoman Turks. How the Hydriots became very wealthy in the early 1800's and why. The war of independence and some of the heros. She pointed out some of the mansions, one belonging to the family of our hero which was pulled down early in the 20th century to sell the stone for a cash-strapped family. But there were other mansions belonging to the family. Like the one my apartment is in.

We visited the church of the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - the one under the clock tower I visited the other day. Doesn't this Mary have a sad face?

And isn't this one a happy one?

Some say this silver chandelier was given by Napoleon to Hydra for their services in running the British blockade during the Napoleonic War. Others say the Hydriots stole it. -:)

The original church was destroyed in a huge earthquake in 1750, and it was rebuilt by the Venetians who owned Hydra at the time. Hydriots were Roman Catholic then because the church gave them protection. ‘Do you still have earthquakes?’ I asked. ‘No.’ Thank goodness.

They later converted back to Orthodox Christianity and so did their church. Unusual! I still haven't found out the significance of the two-headed eagle. I keep forgetting to ask- this cushion was in the church.

Isn't this beautiful marble carving? The whole background to the altar is made of marble. Did I tell you that the cloisters used to be the island's prison? And part of it now is the island's town administration centre? It really has always been the centre of the town.

We walked around to the other side of the harbour and Maria described how the Hydriots gave all to the war effort, expecting to be rewarded with political appointments at independence. How it didn't happen, and how the admiral of their navy destroyed three Greek ships as revenge.

The sweetest revenge though, is that five prime ministers since then have been Hydriots. One of them was Maria's forebear and a relative of our hero - that's him above. 'See his big nose?' she said. 'Like my father.' When she was a little girl, and was speaking back to her father, he would twirl his big moustache with his fingers, and say, pretending to be stern, 'Do not speak back to me, young lady. I am the great-great grandson of a prime minister.'

We passed the naval academy, training sea captains since 1749. 'My sister is a sea captain!' said Maria proudly. 'And so is her husband.' Isn't that wonderful? They live on another island. This plaque on the wall of the academy says that a sea captain must be brave and virtuous.

We came to this plaque for a man called Nikolaos Georgios Kolmaniatis. 'Oh this is a great story,' said Maria. Nikolaos was a Hydriot ship's captain conscripted into the Turkish navy in the early 1800's. While he was away, he heard that his wife was dallying with another man. He sailed home and shot the man dead. He was sentenced to death himself for the murder, but made a run for it in the family ship, ending up in Argentina where he became a rear-admiral and a hero of the Argentinian war of independence against Spain. Evita Péron sent this plaque to Hydra in recognition of his place in Argentinian history.

Maria's brother is a trained sommelier at Castello resort along the coast. 'My boyfriend was a sea captain too, but I'm still alive!' She has a delightful laugh. 'Do you have a boyfriend now?' I asked. 'No, I'm free!'

At the end of the tour, Maria gave me a box containing something which tasted of heaven. It came from her aunt's bakery. She said it was made from almonds.

To me it tasted of the Elysian fields where souls live in immortal bliss for eternity. Do you know it?

I didn't before I came here. It's amygdalota Hydreika (from Hydra). I don't much like marzipan, and I did eat a very different looking version of amygdalota the other day and found it bland in texture and tasteless. So I didn't eat any when Maria gave it to me in case I didn't like it. This version didn't seem to be cooked, although I read on the internet that some are. So the icing sugar turns hard on the outside, inside is soft and slightly chewy.

It's traditionally made with blanched almonds, rose water and semolina. These were flavoured with I think orange blossom water. The most heavenly delicate flavour.

By the way, I asked Maria about the price of houses here. 'Out of reach,' Maria said, 'The most expensive real estate in Greece.' 'How much would a wreck of a house be?' I asked. 'Millions,' she said, 'maybe billions!' I looked online tonight. Not quite as bad as Maria thought, and quite a number available. Mental note: Maria exaggerates. I must be related to her.

She rents her apartment next to the chemist. Do you remember the dog with his paws over the parapet wall at the festival? That was hers. Her father's villa, the family home, is at Kamini.

I wrote a little this afternoon. It fined up totally with big fluffy clouds in a blue sky. I went for a walk to see if Spoiled was open. No. I bought some supplies at Pete's. My watch told me that I could complete my activity for today if I took a 15 minute walk. It's such a smart alec that watch.

It was almost sunset, so I walked around the headland. The closed cafés make some nice abstracts.

There wasn't a sunset to speak of. But it was very pretty. That big island in the background is the island where Hydriots quarried their stone. The little one closest looks to have a white tent on it. It's actually a church, and it's very popular for weddings.

I'll leave you with a photo I took today that says everything about Hydra. Don't you think?

Until tomorrow buddies, I wait you.

shelley dark, writer 

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