Bretea Streiouli orphanage, Deva Romania

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Our holiday in Greece went very well. We went to Zakynthos, and then to Eli harbour with Rino and Giovanni. The journey was hard as usual, we took the ferryboat in Brindisi (we bought a deck fare because it is cheaper) and we got to Patras in the afternoon the following day. Then we drove from Patras to Kyllini, we took another ferryboat and after a couple of hours we got to Zakynthos. Our final destination was Keri, a small village on the West coast of Zakynthos.

Rino carefully selected the place which was perfect for our diving. The village was on the hillside at 200 m. above sea level and about 3-4 km from a small harbour. Outside the village on a plain there was a restaurant and a B&B ran by Kostaky, (Constantine), who became Rino’s friend. An olive tree was at the B&b entrance, its trunk was so large that Rino and I could not fully hug, although Rino was huge and fit. We called him ‘big Jim’, he was tall and slim, 1.88 m. of trained and slender muscles

That night for dinner I had my first musaka with a Greek salad accompanied with a lot of Rezina, the typical white wine which seems to be produced in a carpenter’s workshop, rather than in a cellar. I was told that resins are added to it, to store it properly, so it does not turn sour. It is very aromatic, but it tastes more like a newly cut pine wood.

I think I over drank, in fact the next day my head felt heavy and I could barely get ready to go diving.

We went down to the harbour, a small bay is sheltered from the North West wind, and Turtle island faces the harbour, half a mile from the shore. It has very fine sand beaches where there turtles lay eggs.

We took the rubber dinghy into the water, got to the island and placed the parasols for our ladies. Despite the place was truly spectacular, with our mind we were already under water. First we swam a little, just to make our ladies happy, then half an hour later, without any delays, we went diving.

Zakynthos has breathtaking scenery: dramatic cliffs higher than 100 m. and small pebble bays are interspersed along the West coastline, there are hills and plains along the North coast towards the seashore, where a shipwreck was stranded in the sand.

As divers we were spoilt for choice. We anchored the rubber dinghy near big rocks where typically there is a very interesting sea bottom, with lots of caves and dens.

Getting ready and wearing the gear was a very peculiar moment, it was not easy to wear wetsuits, because they are generally very tight and while the equipment was prepared everybody went quiet.

Everybody was concentrated.

It seemed to go back in time, as a renewal of conflict between preys and predators. The latter can become preys in a hostile environment in which mistakes cannot be forgiven. The predator has a spear gun, but he also knows that his time is limited and if he makes a mistakes he cannot stop to think. Nobody is there to help, he has to be fast and do the right thing. Preys are in their environment, they can trick predators until they have no more time to act, just like red snappers which stop out of the spear gun hunting range, then they stare at predators, watching every movement, they get a little closer, but still out of the spear gun shooting range, it is a nerve-racking battle. Sometimes a prey dares approaching a little closer and then it is captured, but often divers leave the sea bed otherwise they would faint and slip upwards to the water surface that seems so far.

After we got ready we dived in, the seascape was amazing: blue damsel fish, picarels and tiny fish, shoal of curious garfish swam just under the water surface, they got close to us up to half a metre. whirling and ready to dart about in case of any sudden movement.

Giovanni went South.

He has a long experience as free diver and he can also interpret little signs which can appear insignificant to others, but they can tell him things about the preys he wants to catch.

Rino and I went North, I followed him even if I knew his performance was much better than mine. The sea bottom was 15 m. deep, and after a brief ventilation we started descending to warm up. Rino removed the snorkel to avoid the bubbling noise that could alarm the fish and, just like in slow fluid motion, he slipped below, towards the sea bottom, carefully inspecting caves within the rocks. After one minute he went up again, he almost looked like a fish, completely at ease, I could not see any bubbles coming from his mask. He explained to me that he pumped air into the mask to balance the pressure increase, then he used the air left in the mask as a reserve to reach back the water surface, without letting air bubbles out of the mask as they could alarm the fish. The sea bottom was far too deep for me, Rino found a big slab at about 20 m. with spottail sea breams, corvina fish and groupers. While he was getting ready to catch some fish I fluttered upwards, along the coastline to capture some sharp snout sea bream. One hour later, I waited in ambush but I missed my chances, but eventually I captured two sharp snout sea breams . I was looking at them with a great deal of satisfaction when something big caught my attention. It was something that swam almost touching the rocks on the bottom. I could not believe it, it was a turtle, its shell was over 1 m in diameter, I did not let it get out of sight, I was nervous and thrilled, after a brief ventilation I descended hoping not to frighten it. I fluttered along, being almost 3 m from the turtle, it looked at me and peacefully it continued along her route. We swam together for about 20 m and then it slipped up towards the water surface and let me touch it. I was tired after the chase and I slowly swam towards the rubber dinghy enjoying the thought of lying down in the sun, waiting for Rino and Giovanni to come back. I almost dozed off when I spotted the two signalling buoys approaching the rubber dinghy.

How was it?

“Fairly well”

Rino handed over his spear gun and the fish bag lead line. I starting pulling the fish bag, there were about 10 good sized spottail sea breams and corvina fish.

“As I told you there were also two young groupers in the den, but we just let them grow bigger for next year”.

Tonight we are going to eat…. And there will be also some fish left for tomorrow! It may be too much.

“Don’t worry, nothing will be wasted, we have a tacit agreement with Kostaky: we bring some fish and we get to eat free of charge”.

Giovanni arrived a bit later, he generally never let us down and in fact when we pulled up the fish bag a big brown snout with yellow spots appeared. It was a 15 kilo grouper. He got on the rubber dinghy and said with a smile: “we’ll put this one in the ‘refrigtor’ to rest and macerate as a reserve for a few days.

Good idea, also because in the next few days there won’t be any fish around, and do you know why?

“Because there may be a perturbation…!

It was an expression we often used recalling some nice anecdotes occurred when we went fishing to Gaeta. The prison overlooking the rocky coast on the upper part of the town – was closed down and the area below became accessible for fishing. When we could we left on Saturday morning from Latina and we took the rubber dinghy to the Gaeta Port. Near the boat slide, we met a nice lively old man who welcomed us and gave advice on fishing and the weather.

What’s up Pasquale? What’s the weather like?

“Captain today you will not see much fish, a perturbation is on the way and it is going to be very windy.

Anyway if you get to see mullets or some little octopus, just catch them, don’t do like last time, I can put two or three or four in the refrigtor.

After rinsing our wetsuits (for those who do not do any diving I have to say that water pressure stimulates the bladder to the point that even people with prostate bladder urinate a lot losing about 2 l of fluids in three or four hours diving, you can only image the smell of our wetsuits, but it is all right….. it is natural) we slowly walked to the beach.

When we arrived our wives were not particularly thrilled, they gazed upon our fish without much enthusiasm. They think we are free diving addicted, they are used to seeing fish….oh please do not misunderstand, I hope they’ll only see our fish8 but in life…you never know.

Actually they were right not to be thrilled, we often left them on deserted beaches, which could only be reached by boat. They were lovely places, but we left our ladies there to bake in the sun for three or four hours, waiting for us to return.

Unfortunately only free diving enthusiasts can understand me when I am diving I can only spot sea bass, red snapper and groupers as straight as candles gazing at me from the sea bottom, even if Monica Bellucci passed by I would not notice her!

Kostaky was instead happy to see all that fish and asked his wife and daughter to arrange things for dinners.

In Greece, at least on the islands, there is still the figure of the head of the family who arrange things.

Kostaky (Constantine) was a very nice and calm man, he gave the impression of a very hard working man. In the morning he calmly got a wheel barrow and filled up with wood, then he possibly went to the food store, but the hard work was carried out by his wife and daughter, despite he often repeated “I am very tired”.

Sometimes I thought of moving to Greece as, by comparison, where I come from relationships are completely reversed. For older people, (including myself) there are not many problems, because somehow, in a subtle way, we still enjoy the fact that anthropologically males are the leaders. However in the last decades changes have caused distressed in couple relationships and therefore leadership granted by the law of nature has to be conquered.

Hard times for the disoriented young boys of the new generations, they instinctively feel to be the boss, but they are challenged every day. Couples’ relationships are changing, leadership is held alternately, objectively, on a case by case basis, and charisma is not an emanation from above, but the result of two people who confront with each other with equal dignity. In every day life there’s often a swing, the leadership is held either by one or the other, and this reversal of roles becomes even pleasant, as it happens naturally, without constraints.

A dictator of any kind can win but he cannot persuade, being his victory only a Pyrrhic victory. In fact totalitarian regimes systematically collapse. Only churches of any kind and orientation, heavily homocentric can last for centuries, because their leaders’ charisma is divine and inscrutable, cardinals or mullah do not have peers but only followers and believers. What surprises is that women, in particular in the Western world, conquered equality rights, taming boys, yet they are the most regular church goers, even if priests and preachers heavily discriminate them, only relegating them to marginal and secondary roles. In other words they are willing to be faithful (in the sense of authority acceptance) to cardinals, but not to their partner or husband. I would like to see Mrs Bonetti dressed as a cardinal in a conclave about to elect a lady Pope, but I fear I will not live long enough to see this dream come true.

With the sounds of cicadas I was sitting under the branches of the several-century old olive tree, which was probably surprised of my random thoughts. The olive tree, being 500 years old must have been witnessed all sorts of things probably it looked down on me tenderly. Its sturdy well rooted and knotty trunk with irregular fibres all spiralled upwards, suggested me that the truth has a winding path, with lots of difficulties. The tree knew that nature does not proceed in a hurry, but it is slow and inexorable, like a wise old man it advised me not to be rash and impulsive but rely on perseverance and on being consistent , only that last through time.

The table was already set for dinner, my friends were joking with Kostaky. That night we drank resina and clumsily danced sirtaky, and the corvine fish I hate acquired a peculiar taste: life is birth and death and an idea may be worth a life.

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