Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tavli: This game is a part of the Cretan way of life!

In every Greek kafeneio you can see men playing the beloved Greek game of 'Tavli'. It looks a bit like the 'western' game of backgammon. Sometimes they play this very quietly, contemplatively, sometimes the situation is very hectic and noisy. It's played for fun and sometimes also for money or a gamble, another favorite sport of many Greeks.

The object of the game is for a player to move all of his checkers into his own home board and then bear them off. The first player to bear off all of his checkers wins the game. The starting positions are the master positions, called 'mana' in Greek.
To start the game, each player throws a single dice. This determines the player to go first. If equal numbers come up, then both players roll again until they roll different numbers. The player throwing the higher number now moves his checkers according to the numbers showing on both dice. After the first roll, the players throw two dice and alternate turns. The roll of the dice indicates how many points, or pips, the player is to move his checkers. The checkers are always moved forward. Please see the links at the bottom of this page for more details.

This game is one of the oldest games in existence, dating back almost 5000 years, and is believed to have been developed by the ancient Egyptians. Using 15 stones, two dice, one board and a winner's attitude, try to move your stones off the table before your opponent does.
The ancient Greeks played it. So did the Romans. The game we know today was refined in England in the seventeenth century, which is also when it acquired the name backgammon. One significant innovation of the twentieth century was the addition of the doubling cube in the 1920s. This is not introduced in Tavli.

Gaming boards of 3 x 10 squares have been found extensively in ancient Egyptian archaeological sites. The game was known to the ancient Egyptians as the Game of Thirty Squares or Senet (sometimes Senat). The exact rules are not known. Similar boards have also been found consisting of 3 x 12 squares, 3 x 6 squares and other patterns - it's not clear if these are different games or mere variants. A number of boards have been found which feature Senet on one side and another popular Egyptian game, the Game of Twenty Squares, on the other.

Backgammon-type games have been played for thousands of years in all parts of the world and certainly during the Egyptian, Greek and Roman eras. The Romans left a great deal of evidence of a game they called Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, the game of the twelve lines. The game is possibly derived from the Egyptian Senat having a topological set of 3 x 12 points and being played with 3 x 6 sided dice but, again, the rules have never been fully ascertained. In the first century AD, Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum seems to have been replaced by a variant with only 2 rows of 12 points, a game which by the 6th century was called 'Alea'. Both these games and others were also referred to as 'Tabula', which was a generic game for 'boardgame' and in early mediaeval times was usually used to mean the most popular boardgame, Duodecim Scriptorum/Alea/Backgammon, in the same way that the generic term 'football' normally means 'soccer' in England today.

In Asia, the game of Nard appeared sometime prior to 800 AD, in South West Asia or in Persia depending upon which version of history one believes, and variants are played today throughout the continent. Chinese history gives that t'shu-p'u, the Chinese name for Nard was invented in Western India, arrived in China during the Wei dynasty (220 - 265 AD) and became popular from 479 to 1000 AD. In Japan the game was called Sugoroko and was declared illegal during the reign of Empress Jito (690 - 697 AD). Nard, in turn, seems to have been introduced into Europe via Italy or Spain following the Arab occupation of Sicily (902 AD).

The first mention of the game in English print was in The Codex Exoniensis published in 1025: "These two shall sit at Tables...". Tables was probably brought to England by men returning from the Crusades. Many of them stayed for a long time on Crete and Malta. Nard or Tables was played throughout Europe during the middle ages and became very popular in English Taverns, although Chess overtook it as the more popular game in the fifteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century, Tables had, for some reason, become a generic term for any game played on a flat surface or table. Like many games played for money, it became unpopular with the authorities in England and, until the reign of Elizabeth I, laws prohibiting the playing of Tables in licensed establishments were in force. In the early seventeenth century, however, following some modifications to the rules, the game underwent a revival and it swept across Europe again under a variety of different names which have mostly stayed the same until today. Tavli and Tables are almost synonyms.

It is a subject of debate as to whether the term Backgammon is derived from the Welsh 'back' (little) and 'gammon' (battle) or from the Saxon 'bac' (back) 'gamen' (game).

Backgammon underwent another revival before the first World War but waned during the middle of the twentieth century only to recover again in the 1970s to become the popular game it is today. It is still widely played in the Middle East as Tric-trac.

There are a whole family of variants: Chouette (3 or 4 player version), Partnership backgammon, Sixey-Acey, Dutch Backgammon, Turkish Backgammon (Moultezim), Greek Backgammon (Tavli, Portes, Plakoto, Fevga), Gioul (from the Middle East), Acey Deucey (US Forces version of Dutch Backgammon), European Acey Deucey, Russian Backgammon, Tabard Backgammon and Icelandic Backgammon (Kotra).

TAVLI is a game consisting of three other individual games, called 'Portes' (means 'doors', two checkers together form a 'door'), 'Plakoto' (comes from the Greek verb 'plakono', which means to put something on top of something else ,in the game to put a checker on top of an opponent's checker) and 'Fevga' (pronounce: 'figa', means 'to run', and in the game reflects a fast and well positioned play in order to get to your home quarter).

Portes is the equivalent of Backgammon, with the exception of the doubling and winning with 3 points; usually this is 5 or 7 points. In Greece the exact equivalent of backgammon is called 'Vidos'. The Greeks use to play matches by alternating between the games Portes , Plakoto and Fevga.

The general differences between Greek and 'western style' Backgammon:

* No doubling cube is used
* Gammons and Backgammons count the same (2 points)
* Only one pair of dice is being used and it can be thrown in either side of the board. If a dice lands on a checker or does not lay correctly, both dice must be thrown again
* In the first game the beginner is the one, who throws the highest number. Then he rolls again and starts with these numbers (so it is possible to start with doubles). In all the following games the winner of the last game starts the new game
*A move is done when the opponent rolls the dice: This needs some further explanation I think (X against O, X on roll): Normally O picks up the dice while X makes his move. As long as X has a checker in his hand (or his finger on it), X may change the complete move. If X has finished his move, O may throw the dice and the move is over. If O throws the dice to early, it does not count and he has to throw them again. This way of making the moves allows fast and uncomplicated games

Sfakian Dialect

Much fanciful nonsense has been written suggesting that the distinctiveness of the Sfakian dialect of Greek is due to the preservation in the region of 'pure' Dorian Greek as this was brought to Crete 3000 years ago. It is certainly true that the dialect of the Sfakia region is in a number of ways different from the other dialects of Crete. But the reality is that its distinctiveness is due to the relative isolation of the area in much more recent times.

The best known of all Cretan dialect features is that the consonants k, g, x (ch) and gh are pronounced like English ch, j, sh and zh before the vowels i and e. For example, ke 'and' is che, anagi 'need' is anaji, maxeri 'knife' is masheri, and Giorgho is Zhorgho. You may well hear these pronunciations in Chora Sfakion, but it is a feature which is absent from many of the villages of the Sfakia region.

The most recognisable Sfakian feature, however, concerns the pronunciation of L. Before the vowels i and e this is pronounced more or less as in other varieties of Greek. Before the vowels a, o, and u, however, a very different sound occurs which is very similar indeed to the pronunciation of r in American English, so that kalá 'well' sounds like 'kará'. Interestingly, in the village of Chora Sfakion, this feature is now almost entirely confined to the speech of men.

Visitors to Sfakia who know some Greek may notice a number of words which are typical of the southern islands generally, or of Crete, or of western Crete, or of Sfakia itself. These include:
Sfakian English Greek
inda? = what? = ti?
jada? = why? = jatí?
etsá = thus = étsi
edhá = now = tóra
epá = here = edhó
ekiá = over there = ekí péra
práma = nothing = típota
kopéli = boy = aghóri
kopélia = boys
kopeliá = girl = korítsi
kopeliés = girls
trozós = crazy = trellós
opsés = yesterday = xtes
ghlakó = I run = tréxo
katéo = I know = kséro
thoró = I see = vlépo

A number of words have a rather different pronunciation from those you might have learned in phrase books:
oi = no = óxi
áne = if = án
oúla = everything = óla
ókso = outside = ékso
mikiós = small = mikrós
pothéno = I die = pethéno
símero = today = símera

There are some grammatical differences also. Past tense verb forms tend to have the e- prefix in all forms:
edhoúlepsa = I worked = dhoúlepsa

And it is possible to place a pronoun object after the verb rather than before it:
thoró se = I see you = se vlépo

All the Sfakia people who come into contact with tourists can switch very easily between Sfakian dialect and Standard Greek, as well as English and maybe German and French too. They remain, however, very proud of their local dialect.

An article written exclusively for
Prof. Peter Trudgill
Chair of English Linguistics
University of Fribourg

Winds of Crete

In winter there were the hard northern gales, when the sea turned grey, more like the North Atlantic than the Aegean, and the bitter chill came in through the cracks under the doors; and on the coldest days in the unheated room with the stone floor there was nothing to do but put on all your clothes at once -long underwear, sweaters and jackets and scarves- and then go to bed and pile on the blankets. Came spring, and Africa had its voice in our affairs: 'the Big Tongue' as the old women of Crete call the hot, dust-laden sorokos that comes howling up from Libya. We would see it coming through the gap in the mountains to the south -a distant finger of haze drifting into the still blue gulf of Merabello. Innocent it looked, but the fishermen knew it for the devil it was, and when they saw it coming they made for port at once. It arrived all in a rush, churning the sea to angry foam, blowing the salt spray right up on to our terrace, raising little tornadoes of dust all over town. The first day of a sorokos was bad enough; the second was even worse; and by the third you were ready to commit murder or suicide. The air became clogged with yellow dust, you felt restless and often had a headache, couldn't work, couldn't read, couldn't do anything. Tempers wore thin, quarrels flared, domestic peace was threatened. There are archaeologists who say that a south wind was blowing when Knossos burned about 1400 B.C; and to anyone who has lived in Crete there is nothing surprising about this, for it is easy to believe that all bad things happen during the southerly storms.

But the essence of the Cretan climate is the imminence of sudden change; and so the south wind would leave as quickly as it had come. and then for a few days peace and calm seas and blue skies were ours. But never for long -always another wind would come, and some of them, like the cool meltemia breezes that blew steadily from the northwest for forty days in summer, were most welcome.

First page of Winds of Crete, by David MacNeil Doren, 1974.

Let's look to the backgrounds of the Cretan winds. Where do they come from, how are they called and what are their characteristics?

The wind was not always in Greece. Here's how come:

Aeolus was king of the Aeolian Islands, and was appointed by Zeus to be the Ruler of the Winds, both to calm them and to arouse them. Having entertained Odysseus, who had come to him during his wanderings, Aeolus gave him a bag in which he had bound fast the winds. But when Odysseus' fleet, having left the Aeolian Islands was near Ithaca, his comrades, thinking that Odysseus carried gold in the bag, loosed it and let the winds go free, and they were driven back again to Aeolus's floating kingdom. But this time the Ruler of the Winds refused to granted them a fair breeze, driving them from the island.

The following winds can be distinguished in Crete. Looking at the many names it points out that winds play a significant role in daily Cretan life!

Vorias, Boreas, Tramontana: NORTH winds

Boreas is the Greek god of the North Wind who lived in Thrace. He is depicted as being winged, extremely strong, bearded and normally clad in a short pleated tunic. He is the son of Eos and Astraeus, and the brother of Zephyrus, Eurus and Notus. Boreas has two sons, two daughters and twelve mares which can race over the ground without destroying the grain. When the Persian navy of Xerxes threatened the city of Athens, the Athenians begged his assistance. The Great Wind of the Wintery North blew his anger at the Persians and 400 Persian ships sank immediately. Among other violent acts he abducted Oreithyia, the daughter of the king of Athens, when she was playing on the banks of the Ilissus. In Latin, he is called Aquilo.

The Vorias (northerly wind) is very fierce and may last many days on end. Locals say the Vorias in its most fierce of days whistles furiously day and night, tormenting the shepherds on the uplands and the farmers in the fields and ruining the gardens in the villages. Vorias also leaves a most noticeable mark on the trees of the villages, all of which grow slanting away from the wind.

Vorias is called Meltemi in summer.

Vorias Anatoliko, Gregorio, Grego: NORTHEAST winds

Vorias means The North, Anatoliko means The East. 'Gregorio' is Italian for Wind.

Anatolia may be defined in geographic terms as the area bounded to the north by the Black Sea, to the east and south by the Southeastern Taurus Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, and to the west by the Aegean Sea and Sea of Marmara; culturally the area also includes the islands of the eastern Aegean Sea.

Anatolikna, Levante, Ageliotes: EAST winds

Ageliotes means Eastern. Associated with beautiful weather in Crete.

Notios Anatolikos, Sirocco, Souroko, Euros: SOUTHEAST winds

Eurus was the child of Eos and Astraeus. Eurus is the Greek god of the East Wind, and his siblings, the other winds. The Greeks were not sure whether the winds were male or female, but they knew that they had wings. Eurus was the wind who brought warmth and rain from the east. A symbol showing this was a vase inverted, pouring out rain. Eurus was the unfavorable one. His Roman equivalent is Vulturnus.

Southeasterly winds commonly occur during the April to October period, but are more frequent during April/May and September/October. Strong episodes occur 3 to 4 times per year and last 1 to 2 days. The winds can be caused by different synoptic situations: low pressure areas south or north from Crete. North African lows develop over the desert region south of the Atlas Mountains.

The associated Sirocco conditions will spread progressively eastward along the northeast African coast. Sirocco conditions vary by season, with the most bothersome effects occurring during spring. Wintertime Sirocco conditions include relatively warm temperatures and stable conditions (low stratus, fog, and drizzle with reduced visibility) in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

An indicator of southeasterly winds is an east-west line of altostratus clouds parallel to the coasts west of Cape Drapanon, near Kokkino Horio and Kalives, and the city of Rethimnon. This indicator is considered to be very reliable and is highly regarded by local fishermen.

Increasing southeasterly winds at Souda Bay are an indication that a North African cyclone is moving toward Crete.

Notios Ostra: SOUTH winds

Notus is the god of the South Wind, which is a very warm and moist wind. He is the son of Eos and Astraeus. The Romans called him Auster.

Hot southern winds are called 'Kadhafi Wind' by some locals in Chora Sfakion. Everybody stays inside, since the normal temperature can already be near 40° C and the wind is even warmer, feeling like a hair dryer on your body.

Gale force winds are likely along the south coast of Crete during an Etesian (see below). Orographic wave clouds along the mountains of Crete are an indication of strong winds to the south.

Cold fronts that move southward through the Aegean Sea usually stall on reaching the latitude of Crete. On the north side of the island, winds are northerly and weather poor with low clouds and drizzle. On the south side of the island, however, winds are southerly with clear skies and warm temperatures. The occurrence of the stationary front along the mountains of Crete can persist up to a week.

Notios Ditikos, Garbis: SOUTHWEST winds

'Ditikos' means West in Greek. 'Garbis' means westerly or southerly wind in Greek. 'Pounento Garbis' is WSW wind.

Pounente, Ditikos, Zephyros: WEST winds

Zephyrus is the Greek god of the West Wind, believed to live in a cave on Thrace. He is the son of Eos and Astraeus, the brother of Boreas, Eurus and Notus. He abducted the goddess Chloris and gave her dominion over flowers. In Roman myth, he is Favonius, the protector of flowers and plants.

Any soft and gentle breeze nowadays is referred to as a zephyr. Theophrastus, a 4th century BC scholar who left us with a complete accounting of the winds of Greece, wrote: "Zephyros, the west wind, is the most gentle of all the winds and it blows in the afternoon and towards the land, and is cold".

'Pounento' and "Ditikos' mean West in Greek.

Vorias Ditikos, Maistro, Schiron: NORTHWEST winds

'Pounento Maistros' is WNW wind in Greek. Maistro is a NW 'beautiful weather wind', prevails in summer,like the Etesians, see below.

Etesians, Meltemi: NORTHERLY winds

The Meltemi (= Turkish word for Etesian) wind was known by the old Greek as the Etesian (etos = annual) northern winds.

Etesians are at their maximum strength during July and August. The pressure gradients necessary to drive the Etesian winds result from a combination of:

The monsoonal effect during the summer leads to a low pressure trough over Turkey. Etesian winds flow from a high pressure ridge over the Balkans toward the trough. During a strong Etesian, the trough may extend relatively far to the west and beyond Rhodes. It may also form a closed low, resulting in almost calm winds at Rhodes.

A jet-effect wind increase caused by channelling of the wind between islands and mountain valleys. These effects tend to render wind reports from certain locations unrepresentative. In the lee of Crete, katabatic flow off the mountains generates gusty winds similar to the Foehn of the Alps. The mountain valleys tend to channel the flow which increases the wind velocity. Strong or gale force winds are frequent along the southern coast of Crete during the Etesian season in areas where they are channelled.

At Souda Bay, Etesian winds are from the northwest quadrant. The northwest winds would likely reach the port area as west-northwesterly due to the higher terrain north and south of the bay, and the valley to the west. An occasional westerly gale may occur during the summer.

The surface flow is generally divergent in an Etesian situation, and the weather is generally thought to be dry with clear skies. However, this is mostly true only during July and August. During this peak Etesian period, scattered altocumulus appear a day before an Etesian, and the only other clouds are orographic types that may form on the lee side of islands in stronger Etesians. During the early and late months of the Etesian season, thunderstorms frequently occur both ahead of and behind the front over the Balkans, often in northern Greece, and sometimes as far south as Athens. The thunderstorms frequently precede the Etesian by one day and generally continue for an additional 24 hours.