Greece again (five years later)

My love for Greece started during my first visit there in 1985. Since then I have returned a few times and enjoyed it every single minute. It is easy for me to remember the last time I went to Greece because it was the Summer right before my father died, 2015. This time was a bit different.

My love for Greece is very much in the Romantic vein, like Lord Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats or Shelley. Maybe even in a philosophical vein like Socrates and Plato, like the Stoics. In Greece you are transported to the origins of our Western civilization, our education, our way of thinking, dare I say, we haven’t even improved that much the concept of Democracy… other than the obvious -although we might even be regressing on that front since it looks like the state of Florida will not allow convicted felons to vote, as if they were not citizens.

The special aspect to this visit was that I arrived by boat! (see previous post). Our first stop was Methoni. This village sits on the farthest South Western corner of the Peloponnese (the mainland) and is therefore a strategic location for anybody passing by. Because of this strategic location, there has been a castle there since Medieval times. During the Venetian expansion they took over the Ionian sea, up to and including Methoni, building or re-building the tower which manages to be strong yet elegant at the same time. Later, the Ottoman Empire took over, and they added their characteristic Byzantine “touch”. Eventually the town and the castle passed hands a few more times as it saw action during the Turkish invasion and World War II. In this fortress in Ottoman times Cervantes was held captive after his participation in the Battle of Lepanto.

Right between the castle walls with its Venetian coat of arms -The winged lion of St. Mark’s- and the beach is the lovely Methoni Beach Hotel, where Efi served us a couple of delicious Gin and Tonics! Since we had swam ashore, we were lucky to find a generous fisherman that gave us a lift to the boat. Even though he was a Barça fan and that he did not like Real Madrid, I am grateful for the lift.

Our next stop was a couple of “fingers” over, the quiet little island of Elafonisos, with a great wild beach at Simos. Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore the shore.

The next day we sailed by the amazing Monemvasia, a massive island plateau with a fortified village. It is reminiscent of the Israeli Masada fortress! But our destination was the island of Spetses. We arrived at the lovely cove of Zogeria, with its obligatory chapel and beach restaurant (what in Spain is called a chiringuito). A short motorboat jump away is the main town of Dapia with its old and new harbor. The village sits -like most Greek island villages- on the slope of the hill. Fortunately, only residents can have cars on the island, but still everybody moves around on dusty old scooters and quads with the occasional golf cart or electric runabouts.

Due to the relative proximity to Athens (there are a few high-speed passenger ferries from Piraeus), Spetses is one of the popular getaway islands for Athenians to weekend. Think Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket for Bostonians. This influx of well to do Athenians leads to nice restaurants and shops, with the downside being higher prices and some crowding.

The village is well distributed and has all the requirements of a nice Greek town -and then some:

  • A cute shopping street
  • A grand, old-school hotel: the Poseidonion
  • Great fish restaurants on the harbor
  • Coffee shops
  • Old churches
  • A fantastic bar with the biggest collection of Scotch I have ever seen, and old Rock and Roll!
  • It even has a couple of museums, the Spetses museum which chronicles the history of the town and the small but rich Bouboulina museum. This museum in housed in Bouboulina’s grand 19th C house downtown. She was the first woman ever to have been named Admiral for her continued fight for the independence of Greece. If you are in Spetses it is worth the short visit.

On my last day, my dear friend Matthieu came to lunch on his lovely Boston Whaler motorboat and we went to his house on the mainland village of Tolo. The next day, after a nice dinner by the sea, it was time for me to return to Madrid. Just like that, my short visit was over. But I cannot wait to return to my spiritual home.

Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach

My only music post on this blog was published in 2014 about Van Morrison. Well, it is time to add to that. Basically the only thing I listen to nowadays is Bach, as in Johann Sebastian Bach.

Of course we are all familiar more or less with his oeuvre, but I must confess that my first conscious contact with Bach was quite late. After college I got a job in Boston’s Financial District. I moved into an tiny attic apartment on Commonwealth Ave.  in the Back Bay. Walking around I found out that Emmanuel Church on Newbury st. performed the Bach Cantatas on Sundays’ mass, so I started going religiously (sorry, bad pun). I missed the Catholic ritual, but the music more than made up for it!

Fast forward to 2013 in North Carolina when I saw András Schiff  perform the Goldberg Variations and it all came flooding back, and I was hooked. As soon as I could I went to the used record store and got Glenn Gould’s original 1955 recording -yes, the one where you can hear Gould humming the tune in the background! I stuck it in my car’s CD player and it stayed there until the car was sold in 2018. That’s five years of listening to the record over and over. Call me obsessive if you want.

The next step for me was the Cello suites. The progression was simple, although it involved a step back. A step back because I had been surrounded by these pieces when I worked at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, eventually observing and participating in Über-conductor Benjamin Zander’s Master Classes at the school. Now I have Yo-Yo Ma’s 2015 Royal Albert Hall performance of the complete Cello Suites on a loop (see video below).

Occasionally, if I want to mix it up a bit I might listen to some of his organ music or, the Passions, or some of his other orchestral and chamber pieces (sonatas and partitas). There are many of these because back in the day (1685 – 1750) the only serious musicians worked for the king or the church. Bach falls in the latter, so he had to produce music basically for every Sunday! In case you had not noticed, I am not a musician -much to my regret- but this music has everything I need musically and spiritually speaking.

You are welcome.

Van “the man” Morrison

Even if you do not realize it, if you have ever listened to the radio, you have heard Van Morrison. This was my case until one winter afternoon in the early nineties, relaxing on the patio of a slope-side coffee shop in Sugarloaf Maine, where the Boston Gourmet Society had a ski chalet, that I paid attention and realized I was listening to Van Morrison, Moondance, of course. I bought that CD and listened to it endlessly. One summer I was alone in the country house at La Navata (see previous posts) it was all I listened to.

Fast forward to the mid-nineties. Right after breaking up with my first wife, I was on a business trip to a convention in Las Vegas. Bored at the thought of spending a whole weekend alone in the city of sin, I called a friend in San Francisco and I was on a plane. The weekend was fantastic as I had not seen my friend in years and had not been to San Francisco in even more years. She had Van’s Wavelength CD in her little BMW, and that was all we listened to all week-end long as we tooled around the city.

As soon as I got back to Madrid I bought that CD and listened to it over and over again. Then I bought another and another until I had the whole Van Morrison discography – over 40 CDs. In fact I listened exclusively to Van Morrison for eight full months straight. I did not realize it at the time, but it was therapeutic for me. One summer morning when I woke up and played a Rolling Stones CD, I knew I was on the mend!

Van Morrison, The lion of Belfast, has been in the business since he was 17. He plays a bunch of instruments, and more importantly he is credited with being the first to bring jazz influences like the double bass, brass sections, etc. to pop. His Astral Weeks is considered one of most influential records in contemporary music. He plays and tours around the world constantly and is not  afraid to work with top, top talent like Brian Kennedy, Georgie Fame or Saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis.

Personally I love Van’s intimate personal meaning, on some songs deep spirituality that connects with my soul in a way no other music does. Four of the six CDs in my car are Van (the other two are baroque and opera if you must know). I have had the privilege of seeing Van play a few times and they were very moving experiences.

It would be silly to try to say what songs are my favorites as they change with my moods and where I am in my life. A song I might have listened to hundreds of times without paying much attention might all of a sudden catch me. Songs that I had obsessed about in the past might come back to me. I might re-visit certain songs, or even certain parts of certain songs.

This clip is a song I have been listening to over and over recently. One of Van’s recurring themes is that of healing and this song pretty much sums it all up. I hope you like it.