Monday, April 13, 2015

Now, knitting.

After the Archaeological Museum on Thursday, we went shopping. I had been struggling all week to get Google to tell me where to go for yarn. I found a rather unsatisfactory blog in which the writer complained of an Athenian shop which sold “a lot of acrylic and rough local wool”.

I had a sleeveless vest all mentally mapped out, in a heavy grey-and-white (=sheep-coloured) handspun of "rough, local wool". But where? The blogger didn't say. Eventually I found Knitmap – Google seemed uncharacteristically slow at getting me there. Recommended, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. And from Knitmap, I found four shops, close together, in central Athens.

We visited three of them. At the second, the poshest, we were told that there was no such thing as Greek wool. At the third, we found some, dark brown, handspun-looking, unplyed, perhaps fingering weight. I bought a couple of skeins, thinking a hat or two. No shaggy vest, alas.

At one of the shops, women were sitting around a table knitting in the familiar way. One of them had the yarn tensioned around the back of her neck and then wrapped around the little finger of her left hand. I was hard at work in the evenings, you will remember, on that Craftsy class in continental knitting. The whole problem comes down to the tensioning of the yarn – the hand movements are not all that difficult.

So that woman and I for a while discussed her interesting arrangement of the yarn – without much of anything in the way of a common spoken language.

Then C. wanted to shop for a leather bag. She and Greek Helen got to work on that, while I poked around in an olivewood shop next door. During our subsequent pleasant cafe lunch in a nearby square, I decided to go back and buy an olivewood bowl.

“What will you use it for?” Helen asked – her father's daughter, and it's a good question.

Inspiration came to me – I'll keep stitch markers and safety pins in it, on the table in front of me as I knit. Here it is. It has already given me a week of considerable pleasure.

I believe (I'm not going to look this up) that the gods competed for the right to give a name to the new city. Poseidon came up with a horse, indeed a useful animal. But Athene invented the olive tree and she won, because of its multiple uses. That is why it is so nice to see them growing on the battlefield of Marathon – symbol of Athens, symbol of peace. (Sparta was asked to contribute forces to fight the Persians, but couldn't, or wouldn't.)

So that's about it. You've already heard about Friday, Osios Loukos and Distomo. There, again, I wanted to take something home but I thought it would just wind up in a drawer. Mungo said to buy a fridge magnet – you can never have too many of those. So here is Osios Loukos himself, securing my husband's poll card for the forthcoming general election. Not the well-known Evangelist, but the holy monk who founded that splendid monastery.

On Saturday we went to the Byzantine Museum and saw a great many icons. On Sunday we flew home. The Greek girl at the end of our three-seat row on EasytJet had a classical profile such as I had never before seen in life, straight off an ancient vase. Not beautiful, by 21st century standards. That strong nose, those big eyes. She was on her first visit to Edinburgh, and we gave her the window seat for landing.


  1. As a graduate of Winnie the Pooh, and especially Eeyore, I am all for "useful things for putting things in" and admire your olivewood bowl. My markers, etc live in a little hexagonal Japanese lacquered box with a cockerel on the lid, that used to live in Mum's cabinet, and was never regarded as useful. It is now!
    It is all too easy to have a system of plastic bags, but how depressing!

  2. Anonymous12:59 PM

    Jean, your myth is slightly off: Poseidon offered the city now known as Athens not a horse but a spring of water. The citizens chose Athene’s olive tree, became Athens, and you can still see olive trees growing on the Acropolis (possibly descendants of those earlier trees, or at least sharing rootstock.) - cheers, CKP

  3. What a lovely souvenir - useful and beautiful. I was deeply enamoured of Greek mythology as a child. When I got to the top of the Acropolis and saw the olive tree there, I wept with emotion.

  4. Anonymous3:16 PM

    What a beauitful bowl! Olivewood items are truly lovely, aren't they? Always many uses for small beautiful bowls - my markers, etc., live in one of those small colourful bowls South Africa women make out of tightly spaced wire, to raise some money from tourists - a gift from one of my sisters after her visit there. Such a good souvenir purchase - nonbreakable, and I'll bet your bowl wasn't very heavy to pack and slid neatly in among your suitcase contents. Loved your account of your "conversation" with the Greek knitter.
    - Beth in Ontario

  5. The bowl is beautiful and indeed, it is almost impossible to have too many refrigerator magnets!

  6. =Tamar11:56 PM

    I've tried the around-the-neck system (also used in South America), but had some difficulty with the neck pressure. I think my next move will be to try the "ring pinned to the shoulder" version I've read about. I've found a pin made to hold a changeable pendant, so the yarn won't be trapped if I change my mind. I like using the left thumb to position the yarn for the right needle to pick up, though it virtually forces purling, since that way purls are much easier than knits.

  7. I know a knitter who is a Portugese knitter, her wool wraps around her neck and she uses a special pin on her left shoulder to tension her yarn. She knits like the wind and her tension is good. I have also put it on my list to learn. I don't like purling Contintental , seems so awkward and my tension is loose. I should probably just practice more! Your bowl is lovely and it is useful and functional . It's not tucked away gathering dust somewhere. Same with your fridge magnet! I am really enjoying hearing about your trip, so interesting!

  8. Anonymous5:27 AM

    I laughed when I saw the photo of your fridge, as the magnet below Osios Loukos is the same design as my favorite tea mug, "winter woollies." Tea always tastes better in a special mug! So mugs are my favorite souvenir......always useful, easy (unfortunately!) to break, and I use my own nice new mug in hotels rather than the paper cups supplied.

    Barbara M. In NH