Photo: Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, Arcadia, Peloponnese, girl with distaff and spindle, date unknown (I’d say 1950s), my grandmother’s kilimia, my mother’s house

11 Jan

If you don’t know what a distaff and spindle are see links, also hand-spinning with some beautiful photos.

A still popular Greek folk song says: “…θέλει καλή γυναίκα, να ξέρει ρόκα κι αργαλειό, να ξέρει να υφαίνει.” — “[He] needs a good wife, who knows her distaff and loom, who knows how to weave.”

You could still see older woman with distaff and spindle, strolling on country roads in Greece, in a kind of spinning-induced trance — it must be very soothing — till the 1990s.

We have a literal trunk-load of my maternal grandmother’s weaving, and that’s just what survived the burning of my mother’s ancestral home by Communist guerillas during WWII in 1943. They had been using the house as headquarters, and a place to rape or torture women for, like, hiding a bag of rice to feed her children during the famine caused by the German occupation; she should have shared the rice with the collective, theoretically, but in reality it just would’ve been eaten by the Communists themselves. When the Nationalists started closing in on them, they abandoned the village and set fire to the house.

It’s so like my mother to lug these pounds and pounds of wool with her from Greece when they emigrated to New York; her whole family has always described themselves as “pathologically sentimental” (“μια αρρωστημένη συναισθηματικότητα”), which is a gene I guess I inherited. They only come out on holidays and make the house stink of mothballs, which is a smell I kinna like.

The front gate of my mother’s house/compound. We tried to rebuild it all a while ago but ran out of money. The square hole you see on the left side of the inside of the gate was for sticking a rifle into, so that bullets would come out through an even smaller hole on the front of the gate, in case unwanted guests came knocking. Wild times (or rather, wilder) in the Balkans back then.



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