Saturday, 28 July 2018

An Athenian tragedy

The web abounds with bucket lists of to-do's in Athens: see the Acropolis, visit the museums, have a kebab at Monastiraki, coffe and cake at Little Kook, and don't forget to visit Anafiotika (which happens to be the first illegally built settlement that was legalized in Greece in the year 1855). But there is no bucket-list of not-to-do's, one of which might be to move there. Daily life in Athens is rarely about the Acropolis for most residents: when searching for sustainable city living, Athens will probably be at the bottom of most people's lists - factors such as the lack of green spaces, congested roads, badly insulated homes, inadequate commuter services and the psychological damage that strikes and protests do to the local residents turn people away from the city.
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Agriculturl land eventually turns into settlements and trees for shade...
Above: Aerial photos of Mati in 1945 and 2007. (photo from
Below: Mati in June 2018 and after the fire.
But the city beckons and this is true for all of us. The pull-push factors involved in large city life all over the western world show how bipolar we all are when it comes to our feelings for city life. We may either love it or hate it - but we all need it at some point in our life. And some of us jsut cant do without it. On the one hand, you can find anything you want and not just need in a city; on the other however, large western cities can sometimes feel overwhelming: concrete jungles, urban sprawl, a polluted atmosphere all create a stifling environment. We all feel the need to get away from that whenever we can, no matter how much we love city life. 

From the great upheaval of WW2 in Greece, which left sustainable well functioning rural communities completely destroyed from the atrocities of the Nazis, came the need to leave the countryside and venture to the city to find one's luck. Domestic migration to Athens consisted of the farming class coming to the city to find better luck. Once you come to the city, you dont go back to the countryside, except perhaps to retire, when another member of the family needs the family home. In this way you have sealed your fate, and there's no turning back. 

But the rural instinct of the Greek always gnaws away at his/her conscience. A place to plant a garden, some trees for shade, the cool breeze of the sea - and all of this preferably close to the city. Very close. Find some land, grab it, build on it, plant trees around it, use a generator if you have to! dig up a well! and legalise it later (if ever)! Illegal construction has been a facet of Greek life for a century or so. And all within easy reach of the city: love it or leave it, we have to be near it. 
«Είμαστε καλά»
Formerly rural land gave way to forested settlements. They sprung out of the need for city people - whatever their class, income and occupation - to get away from the concrete jungle without being far away from it. In the words of a famous Greek composer, Yanis Markopoulos, "Greeks want a computer by their side for their daily needs, but at the same time, they want to plough their land". Indeed! We all want a place in the sun with trees for shade and a view of the beach. 

The weekend country house becomes the permanent dwelling in retirement. Eventually, the houses are passed on to their children/grandchildren. Such settlements are not built on the lines of a class society: there is a mix of wealthy and low-income earners. Whoever got there first secured their future - and in turn sealed their fate. What bound everyone was their close connection with with the city, the Big City. Musicians, film directors and actors neighboured civil servants, electricians and lawyers. Democratic equality on the face of it all... but dig deeper down and you will find the clearly more privileged set. The owners of the 'fillets' are more likely to be the leaders of these little communities. Nepotism secures similar positions for their family members too. Some of us are more equal than others.
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Due to the low visibility, the 26 people who died on this 'fillet' of land couldn't see the gate that led down the cliff to the beach. The land is owned by local politicians in the area. (photo from 
But the essence is the same: everyone wants a place to get away from the city, at the same time as being close to it. Weekends at the country house, a home to retire to, a place to drop off the children in the summer... As parents frantically searched for their children in the fire, most of them already knew where to look: the grandparents were found hugging their grandchildren, locked in embrace. It took three generations to for their choices to seal the family's fate.

Amid fear and suspicions,
with agitated mind and frightened eyes,
we melt and plan how to act
to avoid the certain
danger that so horribly threatens us.
And yet we err, this was not in our paths;
the messages were false
(or we did not hear, or fully understand them).
Another catastrophe, one we never imagined,
sudden, precipitous, falls upon us,
and unprepared -- there is no more time -- carries us off.

Lest we forget!
Never again!
Cry the beloved country!

We were lucky to survive a fire in our neighbourhood five years ago.
On pulling the plug on something unsustainable, you might like this book: Little Infamies by Panos Karnezis,

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

QUIZ! So you want to live here...

First things first: Greece's tourist numbers here have crashed through the ceiling. People are dying to come here for a holiday. Among those, there is now a growing number who want to stay longer than their planned holiday. Greece is now looking like the last bastion of paradise on earth. Many people are now looking into retiring here - and they aren't even Greek. If you are one of those people, can you hack the pace?

The Venetian port in Chania, earlier this month

This all sounds quite paradoxical since we are still hearing/reading stories in the mainstream media that many Greeks are still trying to find a way to leave the country due to unemployment and lack of opportunities. Just last week, it was predicted by the Greek statistics office that Greece's population is projected to fall by 30% by 2080. Sounds about right - if one presumes that absolutely nothing will change. Yet, we should all know by now that nothing remains stable these days and everything does actually change so quickly. Add to this the extremely negative reporting on the part of the global mass media about the end of the Greek memoranda - few want to believe it (such misery poos that most people are these days), even though Alexis Tsipras wore a tie, as he promised he would when this happened, after his party grabbed power in January 2015.

The conclusion: Greece remains an enigma at best. Such an outcome will not be very helpful for those non-residents who are trying to find a way to make a decision on how and when - and if - they can live here on a more permanent basis.

I've devised a little FUN quiz to assist you in your decision-making. The quiz is intended to give you a Greek idea about wanting to spend a long period of time in a country you do not know very well but have obviously been attracted to. I stressed the word FUN: remember that I am not a life coach; I'm just having a bit of fun. Keep in mind that I am living live in  a place where many people dream of retiring.

The quiz is not intended for young people looking to take an extended holiday here, or wondering if they can start their career here. If you have money, you can take all the holidays you want; otherwise, Greek employment opportunities are all about low paid contract work or government positions which only Greeks can apply for, generally speaking, or you work for yourself and you take what you can get. Nor is this post intended for people who have are greek or have a Greek spouse, and/or have inherited property here. If you have money and family in Greece - an added bonus is to have Greek heritage - then everything is possible.

SO: Are you (really) one of those people who can hack the Greek pace of life? How (really) likely would you be able to live here long-term?

1. What are you most looking forward to when you retire? What do you think you will be doing in Greece most of all?
A. spending time with the family
B. experiencing the good life at retirement age
C. living a low-key lifestyle (cooking, gardening, hobbies, staycationing)
D. socialising, eating out, joining clubs, etc to keep active

2. Where do you want to live in Greece when you retire?
A. in a villa-style large purpose-built house with a pool and landscaped garden
B. in a comfortable apartment with all the basic amenities and a good sized balcony
C. in an old home in a mountain village (I will be renovating the house)
D. in rental accommodation - I don't want to buy property

3. How long do you want to be in Greece continuously throughout the year?
A. all year round - this will be my permanent home
B. most of the year - I will travel in and out of the country for various reasons (work, family, holiday, etc)
C. 6 months here and 6 months there (where I used to live)
D. less than 6 months here, and more time elsewhere

4. How well do you know the Greek language?
A. I'm Greek heritage and I speak it with family
B. I don't speak or read Greek at all
C. I can understand signs and some headlines, I can order food and do my shopping, but I can't read a formal document and I don't always catch what people are saying around me
D. I don't really understand spoken or written Greek but I studied Ancient Greek at school

5. What kind of people do you get along best with?
A. I get along with everyone
B. I'm a bit of a loner
C. I like to be around friends
D. I like to be close to family

6. How worried are you about getting ill while living in Greece?
A. I'm quite healthy so I don't think I'll need to use the local healthcare services.
B. I'm quite healthy but if I need medical care, I'll go back home for healthcare services.
C. I prefer private healthcare services.
D. I will use public healthcare services wherever I find myself.
E. other: ..................................................................................................................................

7. What is your preferred mode of transport?
A. I always use public bus services
B. I always own a car
C. I prefer to be driven
D. I like to walk

8. How important is weather to you?
A. Very important - I don't like the cold.
B. Not so important - I'm used to cold weather.
C. Insignificant - I'm not migrating for better weather conditions.
D. Extreme temperatures make me very uncomfortable

9. How much money do you believe you will be able to spend per YEAR and per PERSON while you are living in Greece?
A. €8,000-€10,000 at the most
B. no more than €15,000
C. at least €20,000
D. more than €20,000

10. Where do you want to be buried if you die?
A. Knock on wood!
B. I don't care - I'm dead.
C. I have taken care of that aspect.
D. I expect my family to take care of that.

How would you feel if:
11. you saw a limping cat on the road?
A. I would feel sorry for it but I wouldn't do anything else.
B. I would report it to the local authorities.
C. I would take it home and look after it and then I'd ask someone to foster it.
D. I would try to locate the closest SPCA.

12. a gypsy woman asked you to buy a rose while you are dining at a taverna?
A. I would check that my purse isn't missing.
B. I would ask her to leave.
C. I would buy the rose.
D. I would ignore her.

13. you see your neighbour hosing down her balcony if every day?
A. I would suppose this is a sign of cleanliness for him/her.
B. I would be shocked that s/he is wasting so much water.
C. I would worry that s/he thinks I'm not as clean as her/him.
D. I don't see what the problem is.

14. you suddenly feel you're having breathing difficulties/you broke your leg and you are alone?
A. I'd start screaming and call for help.
B. I'd wait until help arrived to explain that I need help.
C. I'd try to find my phone to call someone.
D. I'd be very worried.

15. you are at someone's house and they ask you to dine with them - and they present you with a dish of snails?
A. I'd try them.
B. I'd place the dish as far away form me as possible.
C. I'd tell them I don't eat snails.
D. I'd leave the plate in front of me but I won't eat them.

16. you are driving along in the countryside and you come across a pile of trash on the roadside?
A. I would suppose this is a local dumpster.
B. I would be shocked that rubbish is being left on public spaces..
C. I would go and check out what has been dumped: one person's rubbish is another's treasure.
D. I don't see what the problem is.

17. you bought an ice cream from the canteen at the beach and you can't find a recycling bin to throw the wrapper into it (there is only an 'all-purpose' trash bin)?
A. I'd chuck it in the all-purpose trash bin.
B. I'd be shocked that the council/business did not think of placing a recycling bin in the vicinity.
C. I would ask the canteen where the nearest recycling bin is.
D. I don't see what the problem is.

18. you saw a neighbour pulling up a flower bed that you had planted on the roadside just to brighten up the area?
A. I'd ask her why s/he did that.
B. I'd plant some more at a later time.
C. I'd be horrified that someone could be so callous.
D. I'd ignore him/her.

19. you've run out of gingernut biscuits?
A. I'd order some more off ebay.
B. I'd buy some cinnamon biscuits.
C. I'd ask other people where I could buy some.
D. I'd ask someone to bring me some when they next came to visit me from abroad.

20. it's a 40-degree-Celsius day and you've got friends visiting from abroad who had planned to walk from Souyia to Loutro that day because they are leaving Greece the next day (they live in Alaska)?
A. Wish them luck and wait for them to return.
B. Warn them about heatstroke/fatigue in overly hot temperatures, and let them decide what to do.
C. Tell them to come back next year to do the walk and suggest something else to do instead.
D. Tell them to stay at home in the aircon or go to a beach or visit a pool.

How important to life quality are these things to you?
31. noise levels?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

32. a holiday once a year away from home?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

33. seeing family regularly?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

34. drinking alcohol?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

35. fast removal of unwanted graffiti?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

36. following health and safety regulations?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

37. road safety?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

38. paying taxes?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

39. maintaining a flower garden?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

40. swimming pools?
A. Extremely important
B. Quite important
C. Not very important
D. Insignificant

Finally, what would you do if:
41. a war involving Greece broke out?
A. get on  the next plane out of the country before the airports close.
B. stay where I am.

42. your partner died?
A. I'd feel very lost and lonely in a foreign country.
B. stay where I am

(Hope you had FUN doing the quiz; my analysis in my next post.)

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.