Exploring Zovigli

Akrotiri Spada is the northernmost point of Crete and the very end of Rodopou Penninsula. It’s marked by Zovigli, a conical hill that rises 70 meters above the surrounding terrain, which is 300 meters above the sea. Evenly spaced around the northern half of Zovigli’s base, oval shadows belie cave openings, the objective of our present expedition.

Zovilgli hilltop at Akrotiri Spada
Zovigli hilltop (upper right), elevation 370 meters

Lightly clothed against unseasonal April heat, wearing a hat and sunscreen against the rays, I carried in pockets a camera, a small flashlight, a pocket knife, and the dumbphone. I drank two liters of water during the drive to the start point, a lone farmhouse near the end of Rodopou.

Peninsulas Gramvousa (left) and Rodopou define Kissamos Bay

Peninsulas Gramvousa (left) and Rodopou define Kissamos Bay

Akrotiri Spada is named after its shape on a map. In Latin characters, the Modern Greek spelling is Spatha, which means “broad blade” or “sword,” and akrotiri means “cape.” Exploring is more fun in a place called Sword Cape.

A dirt track, impassable by car, leads two kilometers to the peninsula’s point. There, the hill is surrounded by several structures, including an empty concrete building, the remains of two stone-built towers, and a goat pen, the inhabitants of which roam free across the rocky landscape. The concrete building is certainly a wartime construction, built by German soldiers during the WWII occupation of Crete. The two round towers, both on the cliff’s edge overlooking the sea, were used by the Germans, but they may have been built earlier, possibly by the Venetians.

Ruined stone tower overlooking the Sea of Crete

Looking west from the point of Akrotiri Spada, a ruined stone tower overlooks the Sea of Crete; beyond is the point of Gramvousa Peninsula

Thorny cushion

A shrub called thorny cushion attacks exposed flesh below the knee

On approach to the hill, I surprised a goat kid, who put out a call to its mother. The nanny, on the hillside some distance away, returned the call and started down, while their herd-mates expressed displeasure at the unexpected visit. So, to a chorus of bleating goats, I picked my way over uneven terrain, up the hill toward a shadowy opening, avoiding sharp stones, holes, and thorny-cushion shrubs.

Beyond the cave openings are tunnels, blasted out of the stone hill by the Germans. The tunnels extend up to 50 feet straight into the hill. Inside, green moss grows in thin film on the walls near the entrances; a layer of goat droppings covers the floors. Bore holes in the rear of each tunnel give away the digging method: drill a hole a couple feet deep and the diameter of a dynamite stick, insert explosives, stand back and hold your ears, then clear out the rubble.

In front of the tunnels are gun emplacements and various structures I guessed were once headquarters and mess hall. Each emplacement is connected to the next by a man-height trench, also blasted out of solid rock.

Gun emplacement at 3

Gun emplacement at 3., tunnel behind

In all, I counted five tunnels. The trench leading east from the easternmost tunnel, which I refer to as the first or 1., leads to a large hole. Its purpose I could not guess.

In the opposite direction from the first tunnel, the trench leads to a rock slide. Pacing my steps, I counted—roughly, due to difficult footing—forty to fifty paces between each of the other tunnels. However, moving west from the first through the rock slide to the next tunnel, I measured twice the distance. Therefore, I presume the rock slide must cover another tunnel or some such emplacement.

Field sketch

Field sketch showing emplacements around Zovigli’s base

Emplacements from east to west:

0. Hole, trench begins
1. Gun emplacement and tunnel
2. Rock slide (buried emplacement?)
3. Gun emplacement and tunnel
4. Headquarters, tunnels on either side
5. Mess hall and forked tunnel
6. Depot, trench ends, road begins

What I call the “depot” (6.) is the foundation of a small rectangular building. An old track, now grassed over, starts there and goes a hundred feet or so before becoming lost in stones and thorny cushions.

Looking up the west face, it didn’t seem so very far to the top. I was ill equipped for climbing, shod in flat sandals. However, I knew from earlier satellite reconnaissance there was a rectangular structure up there, and this might be my only chance to explore it. So, I screwed on my hat, stuck the Arizonas to my feet, and scrambled to the top.

From Zovigli hilltop

From Zovigli hilltop, 370 meters above, a tour boat rounds the cape

I was alone, but there were witnesses. I reached the pinnacle and looked down. Passengers aboard a tour boat, likely on its way back from the remote beach at Diktynna, must have been saying, “Look, there’s a guy climbing up there!” and “Oh my God, he must be crazy.” I posed for photos.

The rectangular structure may be another wartime construction. Two by three paces in area, five feet high, the four stone block walls and a similar floor are in better shape than the ruins below. In one corner, a two-foot square opening in the floor captures one’s attention. Four rusty rungs set into the stone lead down a few feet. Below that, only a flat rock floats in cool darkness.

Stone block ruins atop Zovigli

Stone block ruins atop Zovigli from above

A debate raged in my head. There was much swearing. I really wanted to see what was down there. I could have descended the rungs and hung a leg down to test the distance to the rock, but if I so much as lost a sandal in that hole, the return hike would be grueling. And much worse than that was well within the realm of possibility. After more minutes than sanity should have allowed, prudence won out.

On the highest rock, there is a cement column, which serves as a geological marker, beside a cairn. The latter indicates the place has been visited by at least a score of other climbers since the Germans left. I found a suitable example to add to its height.

Up there, it was just me and the wind, with the rocks and the sea and the whole world below.

Tell me again, Jonathan Livingston, what is the perfect speed…?

A Bonelli’s eagle

A Bonelli’s eagle, common in Crete

Choose your own path...


Benjamin Franklin Potts Registers for the Draft

June 5, 1917, the Great War thundered across the fields of northern France. Earlier in the spring, a large-scale attack, called the Nivelle Offensive, failed with heavy casualties, resulting in a series of mutinies and mass desertions in the French army. In the Argonne Forest, a battle of mine-and-countermine, now two years in, was riddling the Butte of Vauquois with tunnels and craters.

In the United States, ten million American men, ages 21 to 30, signed their names to register to be drafted into military service. One of these was my great grandfather, Benjamin Franklin Potts.

In April, following the discovery that Germany was negotiating with Mexico to join the war against its northern neighbor, the United States declared war on the German Empire. The Selective Service Act of 1917 was enacted in May. It authorized the conscription of men to raise an army, allowing certain exclusions. Among them, having a dependent parent, or a dependent sibling or child under 12 years old, were considered good reasons to be exempt from the draft.

In addition to this date, three other national registration days were held. One, on the same date a year later, to register men turned 21 during the year, followed by a second, August 24, for the same reason, then a third, on September 12, which broadened the eligibility age, from 18 to 45.

All four sons of Jack and Ellen Potts were of eligible ages. Benjamin Franklin, who was called “Bennie”* by his family, was accompanied that day by his brothers: William “Roofy”* Rufus, Roy Albert, and Clyde Brake.

*The nicknames are recorded in the 1910 census (image) when Benjamin was 16 years old and Rufus, 20.

According to his draft registration card, B. F. Potts was 22 years old, short in height, medium in build. He had gray eyes and dark brown hair. Born September 18, 1894, in Slayden, Tennessee, by 1917 he resided in nearby Tennessee Ridge. He laid and repaired track for the Lincoln & Nashville Railroad. He was Caucasian, unmarried, with no prior military experience and no good reasons not to get some.

Draft registration card  Benjamin Franklin Potts  June 5  1917Draft registration card, Benjamin Franklin Potts, June 5, 1917

Choose your own path...


The Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery

Photo_240809 063At the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery,
east of the village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France

On September 26 this year, we’ll mark the 100th anniversary of the assault on the Butte of Vauquois by the 35th Infantry Division of the American Expeditionary Forces.

My great grandfather, Private Benjamin Franklin Potts, fought there. Thankfully for me and my Potts family kin who came after, he survived. Many of his comrades in arms did not.

Choose your own path...


The Hadrianic Road to Diktynna

P1000594

“Let me out here, Richard. Just around the next bend, the valley opens up. You’ll see an expansive view of the end of the peninsula. Stop there. You and Jean can take some pictures, and I’ll be along in two minutes.”

I was taking friends to Diktynna*, in the Menies Valley on the east coast of Rodopou Peninsula, Crete. I hopped out of the car at the spot I’d located earlier on a satellite image. On the screen, a blurry line ran down a ravine along side the gravel road that leads up the peninsula. I was doubtful, but I had to see what it looked like on the ground.

Two steps took me to the border between road and ravine. I saw it in an instant. I turned back toward the car and motioned Richard to halt. He and Jean dismounted to examine the discovery:

A few dozen meters of a road built by the Roman emperor Hadrian in the second century. 

P1000595

* For more information about Diktynna and the temple ruins there, I recommend this article, The Hadrianic Temple of Diktynna in Crete, by Carole Raddato on her blog Following Hadrian.

Choose your own path...


Retreat in Crete

“Hey Neil, I’m looking for a quiet place, beautiful surroundings, warm, with lots of sunshine to write for a couple weeks. Do you know of any place like that there in Crete?”

“My neighbors are looking for someone to cat-sit.”

I threw some T-shirts and the Arizonas in a bag. Brought the laptop connection to the Machine, as well. Staying at the home of new friends David and Juliet, a lovely English couple, hospitable, free spirits, big hearts, and 30-year residents of the Kissamos region on the Isle of Myth.

Between furry feline feedings, I visit old friends on the island, explore new-to-me ruins, and translate my recent French title to English.

The photo is from a hill above Potamida, showing the mountains around Topolia Gorge.

View of Topolia Gorge

Choose your own path...


Print-On-Demand at the Librairie des Presses Universitaires de France

Daydreaming on the way to the secret hideout this morning, I missed the train stop. I got off at the next one, thinking to walk to the metro connection. A small bookstore caught my eye on rue Monsieur le Prince.

La librairie de Presses Universitaires de France“La librairie des puf” sells books from Les éditions PUF (Presses Universitaires de France), Belin, and Les éditions de l’Observatoire.

The thing is this: the books are printed in the shop.

When you order a book from their website, it’s printed on what looks like a photocopier attached to transparent box with various screens poking out, an Espresso Book Machine.

Espresso Book Machine
Espresso Book Machine

Fiona, the young lady keeping the shop, launched a print to show me how it worked. From an off-site server, she downloaded l’Antiquité orientale by Pierre Amiet, a reference in archaeology. The paper block is produced on a Xerox printer on one side, while the cover is printed on an Epson color printer attached to the opposite end. The two come together in a glass-encased binder with a shot of glue.

Printing cover
Printing cover
Gluing paperblock
Gluing paperblock
Trimming
Trimming

The machine grips the near-finished book to rotate and trim the sides, and drops it in the delivery slot. The whole process takes about 5 minutes. They’ll ship the product to you, or you can pick it up at the shop.

Voilà - a book
Voilà —a book!

They also have working space with wifi for free and coffee for a couple euros. I didn’t make it to the secret hideout today…

Choose your own path...


Etika Mondo’s Ecological Tree House Village

The Cévennes
The Cévennes

Last week I ventured to the Cévennes in southern France to visit Boris Aubligine and learn about an ambitious project. Boris recently acquired a farm house on six hectares (15 acres) of forest land. During my stay, he shared with me his vision for the place:

Imagine a cabin, designed to minimize energy consumption and made with local lumber, cut using renewable energy. Put the cabin on wooden pillars in a forest. Now imagine a whole village of these cabins, and the inhabitants cultivate the surrounding land for their daily needs.

In-the-trees house
In-the-trees house prototype

Respecting their ecosystem, the trees are left alone. The “tree houses” are built on wooden pillars.

The Etika Mondo eco-site will be a self-sufficient, tree house village, integrated into the local ecology. To make a dream come true, first think of it as only an ambitious project.

On the web: Etika Mondo
Facebook: @etikamondo

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” — Christopher Reeve

A fantastic view
View from the prototype tree house

Choose your own path...


Petit Lot at LM Opticien

Cette article existe en version française“Where can I get the book?”
“At LM Opticien, of course!”

I’ve said before that we never know what’s going to happen on an adventure. On a quest for glasses, we stumble upon a book…

Laëtitia has been my optician for the last 15 years. One day she said to me, “I’d like to sell your book in the shop.”

I asked how she got the idea to sell books in an eyeglass boutique.

“I like virtuous circles,” Laëtitia said. “Each one of us has to add our link to the chain, to bring everyone together.

Until Christmas at lm opticien, Petit Lot et le Grand Cor de la licorne
Until Christmas
at lm opticien

“Selling a book alongside a pair of glasses allows me to offer my clients another experience, to surprise them. It’s an opportunity to create an encounter. And an encounter can change everything.”

If, like the simpleton looking for his soul in the depths of colors, you see things upside down, you don’t need the loupe and the ring — a simple pair of glasses will do! Laëtitia and her team will be happy to welcome you into the boutique for your new glasses.

At the same time, you can flip through a book and read a few pages to test your vision.

Thanks to the glasses I got from Laëtitia, I see things right-side up!

 


Until Christmas, you’ll discover Petit Lot et le Grand Cor de la licorne on sale at LM Opticien: 18 avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, Paris 8è.

Don’t need glasses but looking for a good book to read in French? Continue your quest here: Petit Lot et le Grand Cor de la licorne.

Choose your own path...