creative ramblings & reverie

Friday, December 3, 2010


      The agora was shaped like a cross.  The fish- and meat-vendors clustered along one of the sideways arms, sporting chunks of meat hung on strings for handling, heavily salted fillets of cod in flat boxes.  Elsewhere were the ubiquitous cans of olive oil in a bevy of sizes.  Scant winter fruits and vegetables.  Very thin-skinned Cretan mandarins.  A few wild—or tame, this time of year, sometimes completely cowed—greens to sauté.  African tomatoes for pasta sauce, dry-cured Thassos olives, a slice of graviera cheese made from ewe’s milk. 
      But pleasures enough even in January— Kayyam’s pleasure dome, god wot.  Various teas:  sage tea, lemon tea, chamomile tea.  And the herbs that seduced Anna with their olfactory palette— thyme, oregano (whose name meant “it rejoices in the mountains”), marjoram (dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite), all the different colored peppercorns, Greek saffron (like in the Minoan crocus paintings with the blue monkeys gathering it, she pointed out to Mar, who looked surprised at that too), paprikas, chili peppers, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves.  Crete was close, after all, to Africa.  Mixed spices variously for fish, chicken, kebobs, tzatziki, salads, rabbit, though she’d want to play with her own mixtures.  And then of course dittany, that uniquely Cretan herb, which (named for Mount Dikti) grows in mountain crevices and in its high treacherous places is dangerous to pick.  But well worth it—said to be good for stomach and headache and any number of ills, not to mention more important things like immortality and sexual prowess.  Aristotle himself famously immortalized Cretan dictamus.
      “You remember?” she asked Mar.
      “No, I don’t think so . . . .”
      “He wrote that wild goats on Crete, wounded by hunters, healed themselves by grazing on the herb.  It made arrows eject themselves from the body.  And so when Aeneas was gravely wounded by an arrow in the Trojan War, Aphrodite plucked dittany from Mount Ida to cure him.  A stalk ‘clothed with downy leaves and purple flower.’”

—Christie, from Reading the Stones

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