Small Acts of Nationhood

On this 151st Canada Day I have just arrived back to Saskatoon from a week in Puerto Rico with my NAMF colleagues. The Puerto Rican hospitality and food was outstanding and we had a fabulous conference. You are a remarkable people. On the way there and back I had to deal with US security, which (thanks to a breast prosthesis) now means that I get groped and harassed for something that might more reasonably be treated with some degree of discretion and respect. I look on with envy at those (fortunate?) folks with a knee replacement who have a simple protocol to follow…

It is quite a remarkable feeling to stand barefoot and lopsided watching the security guard aggressively squeezing what you are repeatedly and calmly explaining is a breast prosthesis that you would please like to put back in place when he is done.

Of course, this takes place at the same time as everyone is undressing and emptying our bags for the questionable offenses of wearing a belt and shoes and carrying a computer, a water bottle, and some toiletries and sunscreen. My daughter Jessica – at the age of 13 – had a tube of peppermint toothpaste confiscated – half full – because the capacity of the tube was 120 ml. We were going to visit her grandparents for the weekend. The experience was memorable in all of the worst ways. The whole thing is bizarre if you pause for a moment and think of the cost in time, personal dignity, and money vs. the impact on actual risk.

We may all complain about the ponderousness of policy making and changing, but US driven airport security measures are a great example of a decision that was made in haste with little or no balance of consequences – of technical advice clearly taken far out of context, or ignored – and of the whole world being complicit under pressure to a single insistent voice. How many millions of moments of personal suffering – great and small – have come out of a single week of decisions made in haste and under pressure…and how many countless millions of dollars have been invested in technology to support those poor decisions and try to mitigate and depersonalize their fundamental principles which violate personal privacy and dignity?

To my American friends – I am sad for your country and for you. Your ways were never kind and gentle, but I remember a time when civil rights mattered and defending those rights, thinking independently, and respecting others were sources of pride within your borders. Greatness grows out of acts of courage and kindness – not out of fear – and George Bush’s post 9-11 decisions left a legacy of fear rather than greatness. Every step through US airspace – whether for work or vacation – now reinforces this fear-based-behavior in a process that is far less respectful and dignified than my experience of passing through the iron curtain in 1986.

To our Puerto Rican hosts – my great admiration for your kindness and courtesy – I am holding your island high in my thoughts, knowing that you will persevere in the face of many challenges and that your big hearts will win out. I am proud of NAMF for persisting and coming to visit your island in spite of our collective nervousness. Thank you for graciously rewarding our small act of courage with your generous hospitality.


On this Canada Day, may all of our governments and leaders find dignity, grace, wisdom, insight, discipline, courage, and great strength – and may we continue to hold each other to these high standards. Decisions and policies that are well considered, fact based, balanced, respectful – and respected once they are made – are the foundation for a strong country. Open dialogue that leads to solutions rather than accusations may not always provide high drama – but it does provide peace and prosperity.

To my country built on “Peace, Order and Good Government” – may we ALL find ways to keep those foundations strong.


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Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia RIP

I got the news that Carrie Fisher died two days after seeing Rogue 1. As always, Princess Leia’s appearance on the screen made my heart leap with hope and excitement in a way that no male hero ever will. She gave my generation of women exactly what her character held up with her final line – “This is hope.”

Princess Leia was the first – and for a long time the only – female role model who got to command the rebel forces and win. She was the precursor for changes to the James Bond woman – smart became sexy, and power now frequently comes with the prize of the best looking guy. Princess Leia had what my daughters now call Sass. We adored her. Those of us who jumped into this fantasy of George Lucas’ creation went after the evil empire and organizational models of domination and control with a great sense that the Force was with us and somehow light would prevail over darkness. I am forever grateful to Carrie Fisher and George Lucas for this vision. It has changed and enriched my life.

We also learned some hard lessons from this single model of female leadership. Too much sass to the leader really does get you blown up – in ways that are often painful and destructive. Leaders are often secretly and surprisingly vulnerable, and it takes an extraordinary leader to respond well to defiance, to demands for immediate action, or even to well intentioned but uninvited feedback which would require fundamental shifts in an organization. In Star Wars, Han Solo, Luke, and Leia often rescue each other at the critical moment of the battle, or after a moment of sass and daring gone wrong – like those rare but precious managers, colleagues, and mentors who will get us out of a tight spot when a job needs to get done. Han Solo reluctantly leverages his resources to drive the team to victory – he has the fastest ship and the biggest furry friend and when he agrees to help out – yet again – we all breathe a sigh of relief. These are the exciting moments of drama and victory – but we do well to remember that Princess Leia and Luke win because they also seek out and listen to the older, wiser, deliberate, and disciplined Obi-wan and Yoda advisors who redirect sass and outrage to savvy action and extensive networks of support. Real human mentors pick their confidants carefully, and must demand trust and respect in return for their advice and protection.

George Lucas populated his movies with a rich diversity of characters, contrasting them sharply with the white bread same-same of the imperial storm troopers. Star Wars’ rebel leaders and Jedi knights all move through their diverse constellation of humanity amazingly effortlessly, in surrealistic contrast to the rigid command, control, and compliance culture of the empire. It took a long time to reveal the human behind the mask, the traumatic life experiences which turned good people to the dark side – and the strong call of humanity that brought them back. The struggle to work with diversity – to take the time to understand the other – is still hidden from view. We never see the sense of feeling threatened, the choice to become curious about and respectful of the other, and the time invested to build understanding across the Rebel Alliance and across Han Solo’s band of rogues.

The Force is strong with Luke and Leia. In real life, I think the Force is closest to unflinching integrity to strong values – and the light sabre is a set of workplace skills that leverages the unwritten and implicit power structure of organizations to fuel the vision and trust of good leaders, while containing the damage done by those who – at least for the moment – have moved to the Dark Side.

The Dark Side of leadership has much in common with the many, many evil empires in the movies, and those of us who only had Princess Leia for a role model perhaps felt the terror of human manifestations of Darth Vader a bit too keenly. It takes a special breed of human to stick with the rebel cause for decades. This is an essential role to play in moving the world to a better place, but it is not the only solution and it is not always necessary. There are rich, warm, planetary systems to move to that do not require us to hide alone in caves, on desert planets, or in a swamp on the jungle planet of Tatooine. Savvy people often move early in their careers – “for a better opportunity” – and as many times as is needed to find a hospitable environment for their dreams and values. As they leave, the strategic ones do not give in to the impulse of the Dark Side, which would have them burn everything in their wake. Instead, they continue to build relationships which may reopen in a more positive light sometime in the future.

The fully grown Carrie Fischer gave a piece of advice to her protégés that is a new one for women but is becoming louder and more insistent – “Never let them make you a slave.” She was referring to the gold bikini scene with Jaba the Hut – which I suspect fuelled a number of unsavoury male sex fantasies that followed Carrie Fischer in the flesh for the rest of her life. Healthy boundaries are new for many women – and for many people. We are still clumsy in expressing them consistently, but this skill is fundamental and powerful. Diversity is not always easy, but bullying, racism, misogyny, and religious intolerance are no longer OK. The women of my generation, who were advised to not take risks with their personal safety (which essentially meant giving up one’s power and freedom), to dress modestly (rather than expressively and beautifully), and to never risk expressing anger or ambition (which reflect an expectation that our basic personal needs should be treated with respect and dignity). My daughters’ generation has words and ideas like slut-shaming (reframed to self-esteem and positive body image), rape culture (shifting to a growing expectation of explicit consent), and structural violence (previously known as the concrete ceiling – now replaced with inclusive design that removes obstacles and works better for everyone).

We must learn to use these boundaries respectfully and constructively, in ways that are firm, calm, and clear rather than violent and angry, but this next step is an important part of the puzzle and the power of the Force. The fact that many leaders are making public statements that organizations will continue to embrace diversity and protect the vulnerable – in the face of a Trump Presidency – is evidence of a collective tipping point in this journey.

Thank you Carrie Fischer. You got a lot of us to the table, and while some of my generation got ourselves fired for spitting in Darth Vader’s face, we had a great ride and the next generation has learned from our mistakes. May the Force carry you to a universe which is filled with love and light. May you find a place where everyone has the opportunity to bring their best to the table and be heard – in the middle of the grandest creative adventures you can imagine.

From a Sea of Suits to a Rainbow of Humans


Removing structural barriers is better for everyone.

A friend of mine just shared an acceptance speech by Madonna, whose comment, “I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around.” struck a chord with me, along with Shonda Rimes’ acceptance speech earlier this year, “How many women had to hit that glass (ceiling) before the first (hairline) crack appeared?…when I finally hit that ceiling, it just exploded into dust. Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it.”

I write this post on December 6, 2016, 25 years after my PhD defence, a few weeks before I’ve been a professor at the UofA for 25 years, a few days after the US election which has hit those who believe in decision making based on mutual respect and thoughtful consideration hard. The rejection of human dignity, equality and education as core values is even harder to absorb. Another quote sticks out for me – “Explain to me again how a man who is accused of sexual harassment can have his career ruined.”  I’ve always been skeptical of this particular “monster under the bed” fear as more of a way to silence and marginalize victims than as credible concern for any honorable man.

On the up side, professional women (and thoughtful people of all kinds) have finally had it, and are finding voices that are clearer, calmer, and stronger than I have ever heard before. Somehow it is a relief to have the silent elephant in the room finally outed.

I have been grappling with finding some meaning to shine light in the midst of all of this important chaos. I can offer one simple model, and one hopeful story. The model occurred to me after watching Michelle Obama’s rather remarkable speech, and it goes like this. Imagine you have 100 men and 100 women. Among the men, there are two predators, and each of them misbehaves 3 times a year. Over 10 years, this means that 60 women have a bad experience, some of them repeats, so say 50. OK. Stay with me for a second. This means that 98 of the guys are honorable, decent guys who avoid the jerks. 50 of the women managed to avoid the bad experiences, and they want to believe it won’t happen to them…so when any of the 50 women speak up, there are 150 people who would really really viscerally like to not believe them. Playing with those numbers made me feel a lot clearer about the 2% – and this unbelievable practice we have had – for decades – of not believing the victims. Thankfully, that practice of shaming and silencing is ending – even if the predators remain.

So after 25 years…or 50 years…it seems that the 2% is not likely to go away. Maybe we should just lighten up. After all, it’s only 2%.  What happens if we let that slip to 10% of men and they misbehave 5 times a year? OH. That’s where we used to be. 50% of women had a bad experience at work every single year. Shit. We have to stay vigilant. What a drag. What else could we possibly do? OH. The 50% of women who have a bad experience are actually a in better position to get leverage than the 148 who weren’t in the room! The reality is that we can never perfectly protect the people we love – even though we’ve made a LOT of progress – but we can give them strong voices and big, brave, hearts and teach them how to protect themselves when the predators come calling.

Finding voices that are firm, calm and clear and sharing those with our children and young adults is now a possibility. Models of conflict resolution and ways of teaching respectful behavior are expanding (check out the books Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations) – and I spent last Monday in a workshop about how we could expand these practices at our university so that students can learn and facilitate conversations that heal. I love the visionary leaders who give us the latitude to explore these possibilities and build an environment where students can grow as leaders and humans as well as scholars.

Part two of the story comes from the AIChE. The Institute sent me a fancy certificate of old age (25 years of membership) last summer. I was startled and bemused. I was much more pleased to be elected a Fellow shortly after that. Two of my good friends convinced me that I should and could go to my first Fellows Breakfast – in San Francisco, one week after the US election. I sat at a table with several friends that I have known for 25 years – and several new ones who are fantastic and I look forward to seeing again.

When I first met this tiny collection of women (and men), we were at a grand old hotel called The Palmer House in Chicago. It was 1990 and Barack Obama was in his second year of law school – the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. There were about 20 women at the AIChE meeting – and about 2000 men in dark suits. All of us women wore a red blazer at some point during the week – visible trail blazers by instinctive and collective agreement. We met each other on a balcony above the lobby where we all laughed and marveled at the sea of dark suits below – with an occasional splash of red – and the terrifying tables of 100% fried food at the evening receptions.

After 25 years the meeting has transformed – but more importantly the leadership has transformed. Our breakfast table had 5 women, 2 white guys, two past presidents and an incoming president – and none of the Presidential population were the white guys. Fresh fruit was a welcome part of the meal. The hallways are now filled with animated discussion and a whole rainbow of humanity – including a few children – and a number of folks who wear blue jeans with their blazers. This arrival into a diverse rainbow of recognized leaders emerging from a sea of dark suits was a really joyful event for all of us.

Please God, and Father Christmas, if you love us at all, give us the strength to continue to build a world where there are fewer walls and more chain link fences in 2017 and beyond. Let us seek solutions that allow everyone to enjoy the game in ways that we haven’t yet dreamed of, and that create a world that works better for everyone.

A Pound of Flesh – A Post of Gratitude

The first Shakespearean play I studied in school was the Merchant of Venice, and I always found the about “a pound of flesh” particularly unsettling. This is a post of gratitude for a missing pound of flesh – but also a post that may be unsettling for some. The reader is warned!

When I was going through the early stages of breast cancer treatment last June, I found a number of blogs or posts or even short books from people who had already traveled the path I was on, and it was a great relief to hear their stories of moving to the other side. There is very little written about embracing what I call “lopsidedness” – having a mastectomy – so I hope this story will find its way into the hands and hearts of those who need to hear it.

I have been awed by peoples’ grace and kindness in the face of my missing bit of flesh. The journey began with many tears of grief and a feeling of devastation that I my life as a woman was over – this was a day which required a venti caramel machiatto with whipped cream and double syrup on top. The many pictures on the internet of unattractive endpoints did not really help. My surgeon did a fantastic job, and I worked hard on the scar tissue and recovering the suppleness of my muscles and range of motion after radiation and the burns that come with it, so 15 months later I often find myself smiling in the mirror at a clean and tidy bit of work. I am delighted by my body’s resilience.

There are a few moments along the path that stand out. P1010046 (2)The day after surgery I came home and was filled with relief and energy. We dressed me up and went out for dinner and sent photos to everyone to reassure them that I was doing well. It was a moment of hope and relief and great gratitude.

Three weeks after the surgery, Rebecca and I went on a hiking trip – as planned many months before – and hiked all day – which was great. I was tired, and we stayed in a hostel because “there was no room at the inn – but the next morning I woke up to find a strange man in the bunk next to mine and discovered that I now had a problem. This was really beyond what I was ready to cope with. We changed in the woods behind the bunkhouse and snuck away to eat breakfast in town, giggling at our alarming misadventure.

That weekend I went mostly lopsided, knowing that mountain people value being healthy and active much much more than any other physical aesthetic – so I would be accepted, welcomed, and supported. This turned out to be true, and as Rebecca said, “Seriously Mom, did you really think someone would stop you on the street to tell you you were missing part of your body?”

I have been and continue to be deeply, deeply touched by the men in my life who went out of their way to make me feel loved and whole – and indeed beautiful – in small and large ways – and this continues to be a point of great gratitude. Men are many things, but they are mostly graceful and loving and we do not always give them enough credit for this.

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There was a very very dark day after radiation when I realized I would have third degree burns and not be able to wear my extra boob for a major set of meetings at work. I went and cried in the strong arms of a close friend, then picked myself up and put on a lovely knit black dress and a beautiful scarf and my best smile. My magnificent female colleagues in the Dean’s office looked at me in disbelief and made the simple statement, “You can’t tell!  Really. You can’t tell.” This is a true statement, and another important reality. At the end of that week I had a huge party for my 50th birthday and had to play the same trick. It was all about the smiles and laughter and friends, and I completely forgot my lost accessory.

At some point I realized that this missing pound of flesh – a missing that allows me to be alive and active today for another birthday – is a bit like that new engagement ring. It can be monstrously visible to the owner, but to the rest of the world, it is not the size of a bill board. It is not the size of a house. It is a part of the whole human. It turns out that a vibrant smile and a warm hug are much more interesting bits to the average friend and colleague, and it turns out that a piece of foam does quite well for smoothing out the lines of a beautifully tailored dress or suit.
We all gathered at my Mom’s house on PEI this summer, with many nieces and nephews and days on the beach and outings. I had been lopsided and double sided all week, but always lopsided on the beach. On the very last day, I took my little 4-year-old niece to the bathroom, and of course I needed a turn, and we had a magic moment when she frowned at me and pronounced, “Auntie Sue! You only have one boob! My Mommy has two. But yours is bigger than hers” That’s right Rosie…and then she added tenderly, “Auntie Sue….you have a boob boo boo.” …and indeed, I do.
Once in a while, someone asks me about breast reconstruction. For some women, this is a thing – an important thing. For me, the fact that the nerves in my chest wall are finally healing, the fact that I can do yoga with ease again, and the fact that I am drug free and mostly pain free and healthy as a horse are such great blessings that a missing pound of flesh executed skillfully and cleanly is just another thing to be grateful for.

I joke that I am now the double-fantasy girl – you can have me flat chested and full figured, all at the same time!

In closing this off, I want to celebrate the women who have started to celebrate mastectomies – swim suit designers and photographers who are opening new doors of possibility. I hope that by the time my daughters’ generation is celebrating another birthday with more than the usual amount of gratitude, mastectomies will have moved into a place of gratitude – in the same way we now celebrate pregnancies and baby bumps instead of trying to hide them.

Blessings on all of you, and a very very Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

Turkish Feasts

The Turkish people are wonderful hosts who take pride in their food and produce. Any dinner with friends or for celebration seems to involve at least 10 dishes – 6 mezes, or starters, and about 4 mains. The mezes usually involve some kind of yogurt based dip, sometimes with eggplant, sometimes with dill, some kind of tomato based dip, sometimes with walnuts (this is still our favourite), 2 or three dishes made with legumes or beans, and the other two from whatever vegetable is fresh and available, plus pide (great bread!). It took us several days to figure out that this beginning feast is only the beginning, so we would set our plates for a lovely light salad dinner in keeping with the heat.   

Mezes on the Seahorse


Then the main course would be announced: two kinds of kebabs, or eggplant with ground beef and sauce, or chicken and rice pilaf, or tiny Turkish raviolis, served in a broth with tomato on top, or cheese stuffed pasta with cream sauce and walnuts, AND accompanying vegetables and treats to appreciate. Luckily for us, the conversation was also lively and the meals often carried on over several hours…
We think of Turkish desserts as honey saturated baclava and other delights, but these are reserved for special occasions. Usually, dessert is fresh fruit and tea. The formal tea sets come without handles, forcing you to slow down and appreciate the beginnings of a new relationship as you gingerly touch the rim of the glass, waiting for the tea to cool.
Turkish feasts happily reflect the rest of what we have discovered in Turkey: there are so many things to enjoy in life – let’s just pick ALL of them!

You Wanna Buy a Rug?

One of the great Robin Williams lines in Aladdin is delivered with a cigar and a shoulder nudge…and gave us lots of laughter as we travelled through Turkey and its many bazaars.

In fact, before we left, Rebecca asked what I wanted to bring home, and I definitively DID want to buy a rug. We accidentally bought beautiful rugs at an auction in graduate school – squeezing several months of groceries out of the sky in the process – but they are wonderful things to live with, and after almost 30 years of love, they are really done…so I was in the mood to buy a rug.

Rebecca has a love of exploring bazaars and markets and we both enjoy the banter and conversation with vendors who build relationships as well as deals. Markets are a great place to practice a new language and to learn about a new country, so we wandered willingly and happily through the chaos and hawking – looking for the people we thought we could trust to have quality goods and find us exactly what we wanted. Ali – our rug man – and Omar – our scarf man – did not disappoint – but I am getting ahead of the story!


Omar and me


An enjoyable visit to the bazaar requires several skills. The first is the looking-not-looking saunter along the aisles. This is a way to evaluate what is on offer and what quality is available today. Once you pause, it is a sign that you have identified something you might wish to buy, and the vendors are now free to approach you to offer their wares, “Lady, you want to see my shirts? Best quality shirts! Good prices. I help you,” and this signals to the next 6 vendors that you are now shopping, so you are assailed with their offers of tea, spices, and scarves. We enjoy sharing a smile and a brief good morning, or “Thank you, they are lovely!” with the first vendor, and perhaps the second, but ignore the third and fourth – which is a signal that we are – sadly – moving on.


The Grand Bazaar – go early. The first sale of the day is always good luck!


You rarely get to see the cobblestones at the Grand Bazaar – but during Bayram it was us and the cats! We were at Gate 13 trying to return to our Turkish Delight man…a noble quest!

Sometimes, we stop longer to fondle a leather pouch, or consider a tea set. The vendor may ask where we are from, guessing English as a first language, but sometimes quickly changing to German or French – or even Russian. We discuss the merits of the bag, the quality of the leather (See lady – I hold a flame up to it to show you – real leather!). I ask if there is one without a zipper – I really wanted one without a zipper. Now we are both sad because this is the only bag this lovely gentleman has – he shakes his head – “Not today lady. I only have zippers today.” Again, I thank him for speaking with us and we move on. Another time, we dig through a whole stack of tea sets, looking for the blue one I wanted. No luck. This same vendor shows us 15 different towel designs – I am looking for the perfect one for my brother – “Perhaps this one” I say. “We will come back.” He is so pleased when we return 20 minutes later. We found a blue tea set around the corner, but this is the right towel. In France, we looked for the perfect cheese, in Africa, Rebecca found the perfect black blazer, in China, I needed the perfect black purse – and in Turkey, I am searching for towels and tea sets – but everywhere we go the vendors spend time finding us the perfect thing so that we will all be happy when the deal is closed.


My blue tea cups on my own towel from Antalya

Our hostess in Turkey is a fierce and beautiful professor and a former student. She is determined that I be treated well, and negotiates my first cab fare and several purchases in the old port of Antalya. She insists on “Turkish prices – not tourist prices!” for her friends. I laughingly explain to her that tourist prices are completely fair. First, we require people to work in a foreign language, second, we ask a lot of stupid questions, and third, we don’t always understand the rules of doing business! It is hard work to serve tourists! I know this because I grew up in a tourist destination. Hospitality is an art form which guests and visitors always appreciate. Tourists often run rough-shod over the grace and dignity and care which go into making their stay magical. They openly explain how they are shocked by the price of fruit (in a remote northern city) – or leave garbage on the beach – or want to visit a mosque in their shorts or kill a turtle for sport. These things make us sad in a very specific way – the french have a verb for it – gené – I am sad and ashamed which makes me hang my head and become quiet and shy. Tourist prices are a tax on these indignities. We try to be visitors wherever we go, and when we are tourists, we accept the protection of our hosts with gratitude.

Turkish rug merchants take hospitality to the next level. A rug is a serious deal. It is an investment, and will be an intimate room mate for many years – embracing your feet in the warmest rooms of your home. We select our rug men carefully, refusing to speak with the ones whose body language is less than open and honest, or whose shops and windows are not composed thoughtfully. The rugs have to be protected from the sun, but need to be touched as well so they do not feel sterile. Ali has just such a shop. We stop at his window on the first day, and he stops to chat and eventually invites us inside so that we can see. He might have a rug we would like. The lights and air conditioning are switched on and he offers us some apple tea. We are thirsty and jet lagged and gratefully accept. We discuss rugs and colors and I ask to see one of the tiny ones in the corner. These are Hereke rugs – hand knotted silk – and have 300+ knots to the square centimeter. It is a privilege to see them. They take over a year to make. Ali lets me sit with the rug beside me and I touch it gently. We don’t make a deal with Ali on the first day, but we have had a serious conversation. I tell him the first day of the trip is not an auspicious time to buy a rug. I must look and consider, but we will be back. He counters that we will not have to worry and think about it if we settle the deal now – he wants us to have a relaxing holiday and the rug I have picked will be difficult to find elsewhere! We are both right. When we return at the end of our trip, we tell him he has the best apple tea in all of Turkey, and we settle down to make a deal.


A Hereke rug in an Ottoman design – not the one I bought….

Ali and his assistants empty three shops and have buried his showroom floor several times with rugs by the end of our three visits to his shop. Almost all of them are beautiful. Many are completely unsuited to my house, or turn out to be slightly too big. When we tire of trying to pick out my rugs, I ask him about the designs and where they come from – some are tribal, some from Mesopotamia, some are Ottoman. In the end, Ali finds me the one perfect rug for my living room, and I bring home samples of all of the designs that I love. We close the deal on our last day in Istanbul, the third day of Bayram (the sweet festival, celebrating the end of Ramadan – the 30 days of fasting). We agree that this is a very auspicious day to buy a rug, and celebrate the deal with his boss over some chilled white wine.  

Two of the beautiful tribal rugs that were too wide for my hallway…


Tourists are so Funny!

There is this small village in Turkey called Olympus. Up the hill from the village of Olympus is a hill with burning rock – where methane slowly seeps out from underground and burns at the surface. The hill is called Caldiera.

Naturally, in our open touristic state of mind – we put 1+1 together and conclude that this must be the home of the Olympic flame – which is a great story. The site posts a billboard telling the story of a race run from the hill to the sea with flaming torches – signed by the Santa Claus Society. Our hosts remain tactfully quiet, which provokes comments from me about the Greeks, who probably made up some lame story to claim that they own the flame. 

They laugh.

According to the internet, the modern Olympic flame is lit from the sun at the temple of Olympus at the Acropolis to symbolize purity.
I still like the story of the burning hill…
PS There were also ruins of a Byzantine church – with the remains of friezes – at the site. Free to touch. Cool. Old. Very old.