Monday, July 17, 2006
Greece – Family Reunion and Reunion with the Gods - June 9-27,2006
Greece – Family Reunion and Reunion with the Gods
Coming to Greece is the demarcation point of our sacred journey. It’s almost halfway complete and now we change from traveling through Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Europe now, from lifestyles and customs very foreign to ours and at times challenging, to a continent where the way of life is very similar to ours. It’s also a relief to leave behind the heat of Egypt and be in Athens where it is still cool before the heat of their summer comes. In most of the other countries we’d been in, I had gotten in the habit of carrying toilet paper all the time in one of my pockets, because most of the bathrooms did not have toilet paper, let alone toilet seats. Now what will I do with my pockets?
The first thing we do after we get settled in our motel in Athens is to go see my family at their hotel. My mother, aunt and sister have traveled overnight to get to Athens from New York, of course they want to see all of us, but we know they want to first see baby Elijah. It’s been almost six months since we’ve been together and he’s grown so much. The reunion is sweet, but we know this visit will need to be short because an all-night flight and jet lag will be exhausting for them. Our plans are made to meet the next day to visit the Parthenon which is literally a short walk from their hotel. We can see the lights shining upon it as we leave their hotel.
The next day we visit the venerated Parthenon, recognized as one of the finest architectural buildings of the world. Many of the public buildings in the United States are modeled after it. It’s nice to see the original although it is just a shell of what it was and much is now left to the imagination. The site that the Parthenon is built upon is reputed to be a special place, where ley lines of the earth meet, and I would have to agree, the place is charged.
Searching for Family Roots in Jannina
After 2 days in Athens, we will go to the mountains of Jannina, the birthplace of both of my mother’s parents. This will be very special for my whole family to see. We are hoping to find the area where they lived, the old Jewish quarters, and also the old synagogue where they would have gone for Services and prayers. My uncle and aunt had visited a few years ago, and being part of a tour group did not have enough time to find these places. This search is also for my Uncle Elliott who looks so much like my grandfather.
On the drive up we drive further than expected and as it gets late it is difficult to find a place to stay. We end up staying in our rental van, although it really isn’t equipped for sleeping. A poor night’s sleep is had by all, although we did save the night’s motel charges. We camped out in a certain town that had the most stunning rock formations. We can’t even remember the name of the town though unfortunately. As we drove up to the town, we saw this surreal image of something lit up in the distance that we could not tell what it was. When we got closer we realized it was the huge rock formations lit up by spotlights, it was an amazing sight they had created. That night I also got sick again, let me simply say it was a poor night to not be by a bathroom, thankfully I still had not thrown away that toilet paper in my pockets yet, and I’ll leave it at that.
We met my mother, aunt and sister in Jannina as they had flown there, and we began our search for the lineage of our ancestors. We went for lunch and asked the waitress where the old Jewish Quarters were and she let us know that it was about 20 meters from where we were, right inside the stone wall that encircled the old city. We had come right to it without even knowing it. So we walked through the old city, reflecting on the realization that this is where my grandparents had lived when they were young, and they had walked through these same streets almost 100 years ago. We had no idea where they had lived, but we hoped to find the synagogue/temple. A few questions to locals brought no answers. Hmmmm. Then we went to the museum inside the walls and asked there. After some gesturing and prancing we were taken to a spot overlooking the city and shown the roof of the synagogue below. Now we were getting excited as we saw the old red tiled roof of the 350 year old building. We proceeded to walk there and then we were standing in front of it. It was very emotional for all of us to be there and feel the connection with our ancestors. We really don’t know how far back our grandparent’s families lived in this town, but they had left by the beginning of the 20th century.
Our next goal was to find a way to get into the temple. We had been told that it was closed and only opened on rare occasions. Almost all of the Jews of Jannina had been taken away by the Germans in World War II and killed in the extermination camps. 97% of all the Jews of Jannina never returned. At this time only a few Jews still remained in the city, not enough to keep the temple running. We would find out that this would be a repeating theme in Greece. For example, when we visited Thessalonica later we visited the Jewish museum and learned about the town being a center of Jewish culture. Half the city had been inhabited by Jews who were a vital part of the city, economically and culturally, but again, nearly all of them (97%) had been taken away and killed by the Nazis. I believe the numbers of Jews living there had been 55,000 men, women and children taken, and more than 53,000 were killed.
We had the name of someone who had a store in Jannina who we hoped would be able to get us into the synagogue, but first we had to find the store. We eventually did find the store but she was not there. Her assistant did tell us that she would return later. After waiting a whole day for her to return from Athens, we met with Allegra and explained to her our family roots in her town of Jannina. Magically for us, it had been pre-arranged for the temple to be opened tomorrow morning for a man who would be visiting from Athens.
The temple would be open and we would be able to get into it on our last scheduled day in Jannina. We were very excited and thankful that spirit had orchestrated this synchronicity for us.
Cousin Nina Found
Before we left her shop I happened to ask Allegra if there were any more Jewish shops in the area. She pointed me in the direction of Nina’s dress shop just down the street. When we went in and explained to Nina who we were, she started asking us questions that traced back our lineage. Before long she was hugging us and letting us know that we were cousins. What an amazing and joyful shock that was. We were soon to discover that we were also related to her husband through marriage, but he had recently passed away. We had hoped to visit with her daughter when we returned to Athens, but sadly we did not manage to make that happen.
The next day we all went to the temple and for me and my mother, aunt, and sister it was very emotional to be in the holy place that our ancestors had worshipped in with their families and community such a long time ago. I know my wife Icasiana was very sympathetic to what we were going through. I felt as if my grandparents were watching over us and felt very close to them. As part of my family’s Shabbat ritual on Friday evenings, I also call in my ancestors, and this made it even more special for me to be in the place that they celebrated their holy days. I also thought of my uncle Elliot who had come here with his wife, my Aunt Phyllis, a few years ago and had not been able to find this temple, let alone get in like we had. So I felt we were also doing this for them too. We left the temple feeling very satisfied that a major goal of my family’s trip had come to fruition.
Kastoria - Finding my Father’s Father’s Hometown
After Jannina we went to the town of Kastoria which was about a 3 hour drive away. The funny thing about Kastoria is that it is the town that my father’s father grew up in, the Russo side of the family. I had always thought that he was from Turkey. The fact of the matter is that he had grown up in Kastoria; which at the time was under Turkish rule and part of the Ottoman Empire which dissolved after World War I. Today Kastoria is a town in Greece.
We were blessed in Kastoria to stay at a hotel by the name of the Chloe Hotel. The proprietors of the hotel, Mimi and Andreas, were such gracious and generous people; they befriended us and did something very special for us. Mimi took us to see the city, a very beautiful city by a gorgeous lake, and she showed us where the Jewish section of the city had been. This was the area where my grandfather probably would have lived. We were so grateful to Mimi for this gift she gave us. My grandfather never talked to me about his life here, only that his family was very poor when he lived here. That must certainly have been an impetus for him to prosper financially when he immigrated to America, and he did, he became very wealthy. Once he came to the United States though, he never returned to his homeland.
In exploring the roots of our ancestry we confront a number of mysteries about what our elders were really like, how they lived and what they thought about and dreamed of. Here I am at 49 years old and for the first time tracing these roots. Of course now I wish that I had asked a lot more questions of my grandparents when they were living. I did pester my grandmother from Jannina enough to have her write her memoirs which is now a family treasure. I realize how important it is to tell the family folklore as a way of passing down the history and transmitting the dreams of the lineage. There were many times that I felt alienated within my own family as a youngster, and now I know that my time will come to pass on the dreams of my life.
On to Crete
After this time of tracing our family roots in Jannina, Kastoria, and then Thessalonica, my sister returned to her family in the States and the rest of us flew to the resort island of Crete. There we relaxed, went swimming in the pools and ocean, and visited the ancient ruins of Knossos (another very charged place - full of quartz crystals in the ground). There was much in Crete to see that we didn’t, exhaustion had begun to overtake us, so we just stayed close to where we were lodging and spent time with the family. Kate was in heaven because she got to go shopping everyday with my mother and Aunt Joan.
It was especially joyful for my family to be able to spend time with Elijah as he continues to grow in such a wonderful way. Every morning we wake up we look at him and say, “God, he’s so cute.” We literally look at him in awe. Elijah was able to go in the ocean, and in the pool he came alive with his “kick kick, paddle paddle, swim swim” mantra as he is learning to swim and is just now getting comfortable going under water, and he could show all this to Nana and the family.
It was of course sad to say goodbye to my mother and aunt as we will not see them for another six months until we return to the United States when our journey is finished.
For us, we went from Crete back to Athens and rented another car and drove to the town of Delphi, west of Athens about 2 ½ hours. Wow, what an experience to visit Delphi.
A little History and Mythology of Delphi
Ancient Delphi, the most important sacred site in ancient Greece, was best known as the supreme oracle site of the world. According to mythology, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth and they met in the sky above Delphi. That spot became known as the very center of the world, the place where heaven and earth met, and the place on earth where man was closest to the gods.
Delphi attracted pilgrims from all across the ancient world; generals, kings, and individuals of all ranks came to ask the oracle of Apollo’s advice on the best course to take in war, politics, love and family. Even Alexander the Great made use of the oracle. In those days there were no roads like today, and getting to Delphi, which sits up high in the holy mountains of Parnassus, must have been a difficult journey.
It is said that questions were given to a priestess (called Pythia) who 'channeled' the spirit of Apollo. She would go into trance and like a possessed medium would speak in an altered voice and chant her responses. Her messages were then translated by a priest. It is also said she practiced sexual abstinence and fasted before giving oracles. One other interesting thing to mention is the chemical vapors that are part of the lore of helping the channel go into trance and/or receiving messages as it was recorded by Strabo who lived in 64 BC-25 AD):
“They say that the seat of the oracle is a cavern hollowed deep down in the earth, with a rather narrow mouth, from which rises a vapor that produces divine possession. A tripod is set above this cleft, mounting which, the Pythia inhales the vapor and prophesies.”
There is a fault line in this exact area of the Temple of Apollo (which is where it is believed this happened) that could allow vapor gases to have been emitted here. Analysis of the water from the Kerna spring in the sanctuary itself revealed the presence of methane, ethane and ethylene. It has been found that a less than 20% mixture of ethylene induces a trance state
We also visited the ancient spring, called the Castalian Spring that is located between the Temple of Apollo and Tholous. For a long time it has been reputed to have healing properties, we drank the water and it was very special indeed. In classical times, all pilgrims to Delphi stopped here to ritually bathe before entering the sacred precinct.
After visiting the temple of Apollo, Gabriel, Elijah and I trek down to the Tholous site and the temple of Athena. I hadn’t read as much as I would have liked in the guide books so I was unsure whether the oracle of Delphi spoke at the Tholous or the temple of Apollo. As I stood in front of the Tholous, a beautiful edifice of carved stone in a circular arrangement of columns, a gentleman came up and spoke to me. I had noticed him meditating quietly sitting on the large stones as we came into this holy space. I had nodded hello to him and kept on walking by. As he approached me, he said “you know we can communicate with them if we attune ourselves to their frequency.” I nodded and smiled as I wondered if he was speaking of the Oracle or some other entity. I asked if this is where the Oracle spoke through the priestess. He nodded and we both just stared at the wonder of this. I was pleased as Gabriel returned so he would be able to share in the conversation. I introduced Gabriel to this kind man who was from Toronto; his name is Santo.
Santo was so open and caring and took us back to the tree he had been sitting under and worked with us on reading people’s energy fields. We did a brief meditation and then a couple of exercises to read the energy and colors of a person’s aura. We were fascinated with his knowledge and his desire to work with us and his special connection to Delphi and some of the other sacred sites of the world such as Egypt that we too had traveled to. As we were leaving, I noticed a book he was carrying. I asked if he wrote the book and he said yes, and then gave it to me. We said our goodbyes and we went off to meet back up with Kate and Matt. That afternoon while Elijah and Gabriel napped, I read the book from cover to cover. The book was the story, I believed, of Santo’s life. It told of his powers of his childhood being aware of the energy and unspoken words of adults. It was a fascinating book of both real life and fantasy. We found out later that Santo is dyslexic and it is challenging for him to write and to read, and yes, basically the book is about his life. We were blessed to have met Santo. He is a journeyer on the spiritual path and he came to this site as a part of his life’s work to help the world be a better place, in his own way.
Gabriel’s Work with Santo
Over the next couple of days, we spent some very special time with Santo. One evening he and I (Gabriel) sat in meditation and with his assistance I was able to feel the energy of the earth and heavens coursing through my body and filling me up with the light of spirit. It was a very ecstatic experience and something I want to learn how to do on my own. It has never been easy for me to sit and meditate, I usually will do something physical, running or hiking and that opens the creative channel for me; but just sitting and meditating – no.
The last day we were in Delphi before returning to Athens and then getting a flight to England, we took a little trip to the Cave of Dionysius with Santo. It was a pretty comical situation because we were driving on these far away mountain roads not knowing how to get there. Just by trusting we were helped in a very remote area by someone who escorted us to the unmarked road. As we drove up the road I was starting to wonder how wise it was to drive up a road suitable for a 4 wheel jeep or truck and not a little suburban car. There were boulders and ditches and sharp stones in the road ready to pierce our tires, while my mind shouted at me. It even called me names like idiot and stupid, and asked me how I could get myself and my family in such a silly situation where we were so vulnerable. Can you imagine that? Well I know my mother would not have approved – luckily for me my wife loves a good adventure!
Anyway, we arrived safely and the cave was a very special place to go. Elijah loved it too; he loves all the special places in nature we go to. He just lights up and shimmies his arms and legs in glee. We were able to say au revoir to Santo beside that cave up on that mountainside and be very happy for a new friend we can connect with heart to heart, hone our mission with, and share this amazing journey of life with.
In Retrospect Overall, this part of the journey, visiting with family and searching for our family roots has been so rewarding for me and I believe for the kids as well. They were inspired to ask more questions of their grandparents and it sparked discussions of nationalities and family lineage. We continue to find this sacred journey a blessing in truly living each day in a state of awe and adventure. We believe this attentiveness and presence weaves a tighter bond and inspires a life-long desire to learn and live through experience for the kids and us.
On to England and Europe
While in Delphi we decided to fly to London instead of going to Italy as originally planned. We will end up purchasing a VW camper van and continue our journey throughout Europe for the next 5 months on the ground.
You can check our web site to see pictures and read our updates at www.gabriel-icasiana.com . For the most up to date writings check our blog site at:
We love you and appreciate your support,
Gabriel and Icasiana, Kate, Matt, and Elijah