Friday, August 17, 2012

The house, the garden and the people

One of the reasons we come to Limnos is to spend time with family and to enjoy the Limnian lifestyle in the beautiful family house known as the "Mavrellis House", located in Androni, a 20-minute walk from Myrina. Marvrellis is my father's mother's maiden name. Her first name was Artemis and her father's name was George. George Mavrellis was the original owner of the house and a marble bust of him (originally from his gravesite) now sits proudly in the Mavrellis House garden.

Takis (my dad) and his wife Julia live here for 8 months each year, working on the house, tending to the garden and relaxing with their Limnian friends. For the remainder of the year they come back to Melbourne for the Australian summer months. For almost ten years now they've been experiencing an endless summer thanks to Greece's consistently warm temperatures for most of the time they are here.

Takis' brother George and his wife Koula also spend the summer here in Limnos. They live on the Dodecanese island of Rhodes in the far south where it is very hot in the summer, reaching the low 40s every day. Coming to Limnos gives them some relief, and the opportunity to spend time with Takis and Julia.

Tony and I are here in Limnos for four weeks this year and the six of us are all together during this time, staying in the three-storey house that has been in my dad's family for over 150 years. The personalities here are all very different, but somehow the dynamic works.

A typical day might begin with a gathering around the marble and iron table setting for breakfast, outside on the terrace under the pergola of grapevines. The mornings here in Limnos are perfect for outdoor breakfasts, it's about 25 degrees with light winds, the sun is still low and there are many birds about. Takis will have already taken a trip down to "Krysafi's", the local bakery, to collect a loaf of fresh crusty bread and a couple of rings of the sweet "Koulourakia" bread covered in sesame seeds. We sit and we eat and we talk about what we will do for the day.

After breakfast Julia will spend the next hour or so watering the expansive quarter-acre garden with water sourced from the original well in the centre of the garden. Four or five months can go by in Greece without a drop of rain so having a source of water is essential if you want to maintain a garden. Less than ten years ago the garden at the Mavrellis House was just a large plot of weeds with a couple of ancient almond trees rearing their gnarly heads through the jungle and a struggling olive tree in desperate need of some TLC. After a few years of hard labour, Julia has transformed it into a garden now abundant with mediterranean vegetation as well as some native Australian plantings, fruit trees and of course rows and rows of vegetables such as tomatoes, aubergines, capsicums, potatoes, onions and herbs. The garden supplies us with plenty of fresh produce to inspire many cooking feasts, and the old almond and olive trees are still bearing fruit.

In the meantime Takis is usually working with Anesti on some project around the house. At the moment they are installing a second bathroom on the top floor of the house. Our bedroom is also located on the top floor and we were hoping to have this bathroom finished in the final week that we would be here however it's not looking likely. There have been a couple of setbacks with the plumbing being delayed and Takis falling ill last week, but things are moving again now, slowly, but that's how things are done in Greece.

The renovation of the entire house has been a work in progress for eight years now. In the beginning there were major structural repairs needed just to keep the house from falling down. The roof was sagging, walls were deeply cracked and floors were sloped. All of these components had to be removed and rebuilt. In recent years the house has undergone many cosmetic improvements, including a brand new kitchen, the restoration of the external wood oven and outhouses, extensive rebuilding of stone walls and paving around the property and the discovery of a beautiful old stone fireplace behind a plaster wall on the second floor.

George enjoys spending his days relaxing under the shade of the pergolas tossing his comboloi (worry beads). When Koula is not cooking up a storm in the kitchen, she sits with George with her own set of comboloi, and will often be joined by Tony who delights in having Greek conversations with both of them.

Unfortunately this week George has been in the hospital with liver problems, however he's recovering very well and will be back at the Mavrellis House tomorrow to join the family for a belated celebration of the most important Name Day of the year in Greece, St Mary's. Traditionally celebrated on August 15th, St Mary's Name Day honours the names of Mary, Maria, Panayotis, Peter, Despina and Takis. In Greece Name Days are even more important than birthdays, and here at the Mavrellis House we are hosting a big party tomorrow night for the neighbours.

For the last few days I have been spending a lot of time in the kitchen documenting Koula's dishes that she is preparing for tomorrow night, in between trying to catch up with the blog entries, while Tony has been helping Takis with some of the work around the house. On other days we might take a trip on the motor scooter, walk down to the beach for a swim, enjoy dinner at a taverna by the sea or take a boat or bus tour to one place or another.

As I summarise our days here in Limnos I realise just how much there still is to write about on the blog. We are only in Limnos for six more days and the weather has been so glorious that staying inside to update the blog hasn't exactly been a priority. This Saturday Tony's mum, Sandie, will be arriving in Limnos to spend the last few days with us here, then together we will all fly to Scotland for three days. After that, Tony and I have one more night in Athens, then another night in Singapore before we arrive back in Melbourne on 29 August.

I imagine the opportunities to update the blog will diminish significantly during that time as we will most likely be without internet access. So I will try and update as much as I can between now and leaving for Scotland, but anything I haven't been able to write about by that time, I will post here on the blog upon my return to Melbourne.

Once again, it's now time to head down to the beach. It's 7pm right now and the best time to be wading in those beautiful warm waters. The sea is flat, the sun is beginning to lower into the orangey-red haze of the horizon, and there's nothing more meditative than floating in the shallows of our Riha Nera beach.


Anonymous said...

very exciting journey! thank you for sharing it. The house and garden look amazing. x x Mum.

StuartB said...

Wow. Fantastic house and garden.


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