Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Refugee crisis

Humans of New York (HONY) is presently doing a series on the refugee crisis in Europe, showing photos of refugees who have passed through Greece:
“My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the journey. We worked 15 hours a day in Turkey until we had enough money to leave. The smuggler put 152 of us on a boat. Once we saw the boat, many of us wanted to go back, but he told us that anyone who turned back would not get a refund. We had no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck were filled with people. Waves began to come into the boat so the captain told everyone to throw their baggage into the sea. In the ocean we hit a rock, but the captain told us not to worry. Water began to come into the boat, but again he told us not to worry. We were in the lower compartment and it began to fill with water. It was too tight to move. Everyone began to scream. We were the last ones to get out alive. My husband pulled me out of the window. In the ocean, he took off his life jacket and gave it to a woman. We swam for as long as possible. After several hours he told me he that he was too tired to swim and that he was going to float on his back and rest. It was so dark we could not see. The waves were high. I could hear him calling me but he got further and further away. Eventually a boat found me. They never found my husband.” (Kos, Greece).

Greek people also have stories to tell; they don't just take pictures, they take action. Here is one such story, told by a Cretan reporter who lives in Athens. He lived through a rainy evening in Plateia Victorias (Victoria Square) in Athens, trying to help refugees who had parked themselves at the entrance of his apartment block during the rain (the original write up appeared yesterday and refers to this past weekend):
Last night we returned home from a Saturday night out for a drink at about 1 a.m. It was pouring with rain. you could hardly see in front of you. Below the microscopic canvas awning of the open-air greengrocer's, about 50 refugees had gathered, among them many mothers with babies in their arms.The front door to the apartment was opened, a quick nod was made, and the refugees came inside. 50 people on the stairs, from the door to the mezzanine floor. Outside our door, a family with babies: the little one had a temperature of 37.4. We gave her depon syrup [paracetemol for children] and bananas, Demetra made toasted sandwiches and Peggy from next door washed some grapes, we gave them blankets and pillows.We went to bed, but we didn't sleep. 
Around 2:30am we saw the lump that was a police squad car illuminating the road and we went to see what was going on. A hipster, not more than 30 years old, from the 4th floor had called the police to get them out. We were surprised to hear police officers requesting him to show some understanding and to let them sleep through the night at the entrance telling him "There are mothers with children, they aren't here to rob you, we ask you to withdraw your complaint and if you're afraid, just lock your door twice ''. He insisted: it wasn't his problem. I came down, and we argued. He left when the refugees left. Just two or three families remained on our doorstep. 
The night had not ended: at the square there arrived an EΘΕΛ bus to pick up the refugees and take them somewhere safe, but without permission from the administration. Apostolis was driving it: "The head of the administration is a fascist, he never gave me permission to move the bus. I took it myself and I came. He issued an arrest order. First I'll take the refugees somewhere to sleep and then let them arrest me". More negotiations. A couple of cops insisted that there's an arrest order and they had to arrest him, the rest tried to find a compromise. The refugees who were persecuted by the apartment entrance scattered their sleeping-bags in the rain or resorted to using chairs from the cafes. 
From phone calls, the transport minister suddenly appears. There isn't a bad thing to say: he asked us what we propose, he made calls and he got Victoria station [the underground] opened for the refugees to enter. He stays there until they get the refugees in. We took Apostoli and left. The 'rambo' who wanted to arrest him left looking pissed off, another cop approached us apologetically: '' We're not MATWe want to help, the good thing is that the orders are to see this in a humanitarian way and to force others to adjust to it''.<br />We stay at home with Apostoli and have coffee until 6am. He tells us how the Autonomous Nationalists got postings in the Association and ΕΘΕΛ and how they face them. What happens with the headhunters coming to prowl for fines and tickets. That the bus depot is at Elliniko [suburb] and is up for privatisation. He leaves and we sleep. 
When we wake up, it is almost noon. We open the door. The refugees who slept outside our door are gone. Before they left they took care of everything: glasses, pillows, blankets, whatever we gave them was outside our door, folded away. 
When this great story with the refugees at Victoria Square finishes, I want to write something about everyone. I want to write about the disabled man from Galatsi [suburb of Athens] who came with his son and his friends to deliver pizzas, who were then rammed by Kaklamanis' thugs [Kaklamanis is a centre-right politician] by the ' Commission'' of Saint Panteleimon [an area known for Golden Dawn support]. I want to write about the girl, who was no more than 1.60m tall, who rushed at the head thug and screamed at the top of her voice "Get out of here, get away from Greece, let us give them food". I want to write about the baker that came every other day and leaves behind dozens of loaves of bread. About the Assembly of Victoria which arranges the soup kitchens and brings the doctors. About the doctors who searched me out because I wrote something here and they asked me where they could go and help. About the people who bring what they can. About Rousa, Stelios and Panos who bring their toys. About the woman who recognized me and asked me to announce on the radio to get the municipality to bring in chemical toilets. About Demetra who made toasted sandwiches and shouted "let the people stay, shame on you" to the rat who called the police. About Peggy who opened her door to let the refugees have access to the bathroom. About Efi, who went to the far-right greengrocer at Victoria Square and demanded that she only wants good quality fruit and at a lower price because it's for the refugees. About Apostoli that took the bus by force from the depot and came to pick up refugees who were sitting in the rain and "allowed" himself to be arrested. 
But most of all, I want to write about the woman from Afghanistan, with the child who had a fever in the rain, as I watched her holding her child outside my door, and when she woke up this morning, she still felt it necessary to put the blankets and pillows in order and to leave them behind for us to take them back. 
I wonder what kind of cretin the hipster of the 4th floor must be to think that society is in danger from this woman and not from the man himself. 
But I don't wonder too much. Because throughout these days it has been confirmed that our world is full of great people, who will eventually change it.
It take all sorts to make the world. We're not all the same. Most of us are actually good people. It's just those few that stuff it up for the majority.

Bonus storyIf you want to read more stories like this, you can see Adriani's picture post: she took some refugees from Victoria Square to her home last week: 
and Poly Ioannidou's picture post about the refugees at Eidomeni on the Greek border:
There are many others, too numerous to list.

©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.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Greek Collection: Agia Marina Donkey Rescue mug rugs

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is run purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:

In my fabric work, I don't let anything go to waste. I find a use for all my fabric scraps. Having recently tried out the log cabin patchwork design, I found myself with a bunch of log cabin blocks which I had no use for, as I had no project in mind when I started making them.

Then I came across the mug rug through a pinterest search. The mug rug is becoming increasingly popular in patchwork circles. It's a kind of nano-quilt, perfect for using as a large coaster which can also fit a biscuit, spoon or other culinary tool/comestible in its space. The mug rug could also be used as a pot holder.

My mug rugs, like practically all my creations, are made with reused, repurposed, recycled fabric and old spools of thread, which have all been upcycled. Nothing has been bought specifically for making them. Such creations are a sustainable way of reusing resources, creating something out of nothing, and ensuring that nothing goes to waste. It's not just the environmentally conscious that get satisfaction out of this. In these kinds of times that we are living in, I feel a sense of relief that I don't need to spend money that doesn't come so easily on my hobby work.

A lovely way to distribute this kind of creation is to make them for charity. I recently made some donkey purses for the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue, a charity I really believe in. Greece is full of abandoned abused donkeys, who are utterly helpless, crisis or no crisis. Thanks to the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue, some of those donkeys are being looked after, spending the remainder of their lives in loving care and comfort. I visited the donkey sanctuary last April and was overwhelmed by their presence:
"What do you do with a donkey you no longer want or need? You can give it away, or sell it, but this is difficult in our times, when the traditional use for donkeys is no longer needed. Some people set them free to roam, which sounds kind, but this is not really the case. A donkey that is set free by its owners will wander away and run into trouble. While it may find enough food to eat, it will probably not find enough water, so in the summer, it will die of thirst. They may also be run over by cars on the road: if they were used to being led by their owner, they will not sense the danger of passing vehicles. Other owners just tie them up to a pole and leave them to their own fate, which is certain death."
In the mug rug, I have overlaid the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue emblem - a black silhouette of a donkey - on a patchwork block. The mug rugs are being sold at Agia Marina Donkey Rescue's Donk-E shop.

Our Donk-E-Shop is filling up with lot's of very colourful & exciting new stock !!...Everything sold in our shop goes to...
Posted by Agia Marina Donkey Rescue on Monday, 14 September 2015

All proceeds go to the donkey sanctuary. To buy an Agia Marina Donkey Rescue mug rug, please contact Barbara at donkeyrescue at hotmail dot com. 

Please support the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue through my charity venture and the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue Donk-E shop. You will be helping the truly helpless of Greece, animals that are unable to fend for themselves.
Please share this article so that the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue may benefit in any way. 

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page:
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage:

©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.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sfakia (Σφακιά)

The last time I visited Sfakia, an area of southern Crete, was sixteen or so years ago at the invitation of a friend whose mother lived in the village of Rodakino. It was summertime and my friend's brother had gone fishing. He had bought back a 'smerna' (sea eel), which his mother cooked for lunch. I can still remember how delicious that meal was. I had never tried eel before, but anything cooked within an hour of being caught would have tasted delicious. I hadn't been back since then. Last Sunday, we visited Sfakia as a family, having talked a lot about it for a long time. It's a long and winding road to get there, even though it seems so close by: the area known as Sfakia is basically right on the other side of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) that we see from our house.

Lefka Ori last Easter during a long winter, as seen from my home. What's on the other side of those white mountains?
Sfakia consists of a collection of villages starting from the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) located on rocky mountain slopes, reaching right down to the Libyan sea on the south coast.

This area was regarded as a fort in its own right. It is said that Sfakia was never conquered: not by the Arabs who came to Crete in 824, nor by the Ottomans. The Venetians kept a garrison in the coastal village of Hora but did not venture further into craggy hills. Sfakia played an important role in the evacuation of allied troops during WW2. But the terrain proved formidable; it could only be crossed by people who knew the paths and had developed the appropriate walking skills needed to traverse its very difficult terrain.

Olive trees growing in rocks
Sfakia is full of steep bare hills and many narrow gorges. The landscape changes abruptly once you leave the village of Vrysses in Apokoronas. Lush foliage and plentiful water gives way to desert-like hills and rocky terrain. It is hard to see the soil that roots the trees. The gorges of Sfakia are now famous hiking routes, including the Samaria Gorge. Less well known is the Aradena gorge, the Imbros gorge and the Sfakianolaggo gorge. In the winter, these places fill up dangerously with water and may close to the public suddenly due to potential flooding which could prove fatal. This happens even in spring when the nature reserve is open to tourists; locals helped in a rescue effort just last May to track all the visitors in the are and get them out safely.

Krapi basin
Such remoteness has an effect on the people living there. The population of the area live in the pockets of plains that are dispersed across the territory. They are said to be proud and belligerent, and not easily approachable. Times have changed this of course, as the road to Sfakia is now one of the most modern and cleanest roads in Crete, and people are now able to connect with others much more easily than before. The latter has perhaps tamed the locals to a certain extent. But the connection that Cretans feel with their land is what keeps the people of Sfakia in the area. The terrain is now less difficult to traverse through modern means of transportation, and agriculture in the area has also benefited from machinery and more direct sources of water. But winters can be torturous: snow hampers driving conditions and can cover the ground for months, depending on how heavy the winter is, while electricity supply is not always guaranteed. There are times that the locals will see more sheep and goats than they do people. They live in very steep elevations of up to 650m altitude with a direct view of the sea and the lower ground which, on a snowy winter's day, will not be within their reach due to climatic conditions So for many reasons, Sfakia still remains remote.

A very informative local - she enjoyed talking to all the people that passed by her cafe.
"Don't ask too many questions to anyone", my husband had warned me before we entered the area.  As we drove towards Sfakia on election day, we decided to stop off for a coffee at the Krapi basin midway between the picturesque village of Vrysses with its fountains and the Askifou plain. The area was very rocky and desolate, with sparse vegetation. But still, there were olive trees growing directly out of the rock. The female owner of the cafe, who looked as though she were in her 50s, was very talkative; she had learnt how to flag down passersby to what looked like the garden of her private home. "Going for a ride after voting, are you?" the woman asked us. She herself had steered the discussion towards politics, as is only natural for the day. She wore leggings and her blouse had seen better days. She knew we were not from the area: she would have known us if we were. We explained that we were from Hania and felt like a snack - souvlaki, as the sign on her establishment suggested - before we carried on to the Aradena bridge. "Shall I bring you a menu?" she asked us. It was obvious that souvlaki was not on the menu.

Sfakiani pita: This is a seamless cheese pie topped wth honey. Take a ball of plain flour and water pastry (with a spot of olive oil in it), open it into a round and place a ball of strained goats cheese (mizithra) onto it. Roll up the pastry into a pouch and flatten it without breaking the pastry. Then fry it lightly in a lightly greased pan, on both sides, and serve it topped with honey. It's very popular in various forms, all over Crete.
Her grave-looking daughter came to take our order. I suggested we have a Sfakiani pita, which I often make at home too, but we wanted to see how different it would be if we had one in its county of origin. "Do you still need me?" the girl (who also wore leggings) asked us while we were debating how hungry we were and how many pitas we would order. We made up our mind quickly after that. While we waited for the pitas to be cooked, we watched a young boy dressed in camouflage kicking a can around the garden. It sounded cacophonous to say the least; he showed no awareness of the din he was making. His mother was obviously the girl that had taken our order. Marrying your daughter off at a young age will ensure that she will stay in the area. Allowing her the freedom of choosing her own course in life means that the village will eventually be deserted, as if it weren't already. She will be tied to her children, and eventually to the land.

Ruins of an old fortress, Askifou Plateau
"I was wondering if you could give me some information", my husband asked the girl when the pitas finally arrived. He wanted to ask the girl if she knew a friend of his in the area. "If I know it," the girl answered quite abruptly without looking at him. She did in fact know the answer to his question but it was difficult to understand if she was not lucky enough to inherit her mother's genes, or if she was simply tired of the remote Sfakiot way of life, or if she was simply living up to the Sfakiot image:
"Sfakiá is notorious for the harshness of the environment and the warlike people. Sfakians themselves are still considered somewhat beyond the reach of the lawmakers and tax collectors of Athens, with vendettas over stolen sheep and women's honour still fought late into the 20th century, with a whole village abandoned. Stealing and banditry had been considered a way of life in the mountains..." (Wikipedia - Sfakia)
I was not surprised that no receipt came with our order. As it was election day, and I had decided not to vote, I no longer have the right to complain about what happens in my country.

Enclosures housing wild game in captivity, Askifou
We continued our drive, where we passed by the Askifou plain where you come across a paradoxical sight: In the middle of nowhere, in an environment full of goats and sheep which move around freely, an 'outdoor sports resort' suddenly comes into view. Wild game is kept in cages, and released on payment for hunters. If the game is not caught, it remains in the wild, and therefore continues to breed - if it doesn't run into other trouble after being reared in captivity for so long. The resort is associated with the Valirakis family, a well known name in the area - and in politics too: the conspiracy theory is that you need to be both rich and well connected to develop this kind of thing quickly without being hampered by authorities.

Signs of gun-loving locals - the Imbros gorge is shorter and more manageable than the Samaria Gorge.
As we passed a sign pointing in the direction of a village in the area, my husband remembered what happened to him three decades ago when he bought a fare here. "Can you take me to Goni?" a woman asked him while he was waiting in the rank in Hania. "Of course," he replied, while at the same time watching the faces of some of his colleagues. Taxi drivers have a way of communicating to each other without words, and the faces of his colleagues were signalling that this fare was not the best one. Nevertheless, the woman entered the taxi and sat in the back seat, and he set off. She told him that her mother was ill and she needed to see if she was OK. What she didn't tell him was that she was fleeing from her husband who thought she was cheating on him. Even though mobile phones had not been invented back then, it didn't take long for him to find out where his wife was going and who she went with. As my husband entered the road for Goni, he suddenly heard gunshots flying over the cab, which made him stop driving abruptly. Before the woman got out of the car, she threw some drachmas at him. "Get OUT of here as fast as you can!" she said to him, "and don't stop driving whatever you do!" Guns are thought to be part of the Cretan culture, but we northern Cretans like to say that it's the Sfakiots that give us a bad name.

Excellent road conditions in the Sfakia region
After driving past the entrance to Imvros gorge and going through three recently built tunnels on a very clean stretch of road, the fertile coastal plain of Fragkokastello came into view. Thanks to the arrival of better water supply, which is the drilled from the seabed and pumped way up to the mountain villages, it is now possible to grow pretty much anything in the area. It is not the tastiest water to be had, but it is clean and potable. Some of the locals prefer to drink bottled water. Before this system of water supply, the locals collected rainwater. It is due to the water supply that tomato plants can now be cultivated in the rocky terrain of Sfakia. The traditional cuisine of Sfakia is known for its sparse use of vegetables (mainly wild greens) and high protein content.
Hora Sfakion

We were now approaching Hora Sfakion by the coast. This was not the end of the road for us. We were still 600m short of altitude to reach our final destination. To get to Anopolis (and then on to Aradena), we had to drive down near to the coast before we start to drive up again in the mountains. Hora Sfakion is basically a tourist town now, with a mess of buildings - homes, cafes, restaurants, hotels and homes-turned-into-hotels - piled one on top of the other. Hora is naturally the largest town in the area, since it is by the coast. Mountain living is tiring and trying - you only live there if you are in danger or if you have nowhere else to go. 

Typical driving conditions in Sfakia
Trying to keep an area 'traditional' in a modern connected world is like fighting a losing battle. Hora is where the ferry boat takes you after you finish walking down the Samaria Gorge at Ayia Roumeli. From there, you take a bus back to Hania. Thus, Hora handles a lot of people during the summer. At the start of the season in April, about 2,000 people walk through the gorge. By June, this figure grows to more than 20,000; in August, 30,000 cross it. Therefore, Sfakia is not as remote as it is made out to be. There is even a nudist hotel in the area, and most of the craggy beaches serve nudists. But all is not sweet as the name of one of those beaches suggests - a tourist died at the beach of Glyka Nera (literally: 'sweet waters') when a rock fell off the cliff and landed on her in May of this year. Sometimes I like to remember that God did not make these places for humans, which is why there is no road leading to them: you can only reach them via a narrow gorge-like walking path, or by ferry along the coast. But Glyka Nera beach is now so popular among the select bunch of naturists that are willing to make the walk that they park their cars on the side of the road and then hike the rest of the way. We also saw quite a few tourists with their backpacks and hiking sticks walking along the motorway back and forth from Glyka Nera to Hora. Other than that, our only companions on the journey were the eagles and goats. 

We think they're crazy - they parked here, to walk down to the beach that you see in this photo.
The road to the village of Anopolis is nothing less than daunting: a series of winding roads that take you higher and higher up the barest hills I've ever seen in Crete. The village is not visible from the road, making you wonder why and how on earth anyone would want to live up there. Nowadays, the first sign of habitation in the greater area is always a cafe/restaurant. Since the arrival of tourism, where once there was nothing, there is now a homely building perched on a cliff with an eye-catching sign hinting at its vantage point and the smells of something cook coming from within. And almost side by side with the ruins of what clearly looked like a rich person's 'arhontiko' (villa) in older times, there are also signs showing just knowledgeable the once remote Sfakiots are in modern times: signs in English are commonplace, and it is not an exaggeration to say that nearly everyone in the whole of Crete can speak enough English to direct a tourist or have a brief conversation covering basic topics such as food and politics.

A pertinent site for election day - just before we arrived in Anopolis
We had reached the main square of Anopolis where we saw a large crowd of people gathered. The local schoolhouse - it is doubtful whether it actually operates during the year: Hora's primary school has just 7 pupils, and it did not open this year due to staff shortages (due to the crisis) - was being used as a polling booth. While we were there, we saw a steady stream of people coming in and out of the schoolhouse, identification documents in hand. They had obviously gone there to vote. Not all people who vote in Anopoli live there - they are mainly registered there for demographic purposes (to retain their farmer status perhaps, or simply for nostalgic reasons). So for some of the 'locals', this was a moment to get back to their roots and perhaps to make a show of their comeuppance: some of them arrived more stylishly than others. A New York licence plate was hammered into a Mercedes parked outside the school. The Kriaras name has an connection to Sfakia, as well as the island of Milos. Many vendettas ended with a Sfakiot family moving to Milos to avoid more fighting. Milos was a safe haven for many Cretans in this way.

Primary school, Anopolis
My husband remembered a story that a past girlfriend related to him about the school. She had the position of primary school teacher/principal in Anopolis. "Every Monday, I have to sweep the yard", she told my husband. "Of what?" he asked. "Rifle cartridges," she replied. Education of a different sort took place during the weekends. The schoolhouse of Anopolis also reminded me of a Greek friend who was a kindergarten teacher. After working in a number of private nurseries, she finally landed her first state teaching position - on the tiny island of Gavdos, which is visible from Sfakia (and so is the even tinier island of Gavdopoula), although it is not part of its administration (it belongs to the country of Selino, whose largest municipality is Paleohora). According to Wikipedia, in 2011 Gavdos had a total population of 152 people. But in reality, fewer than 50 people live permanently on the island. My friend had just three enrolled students at the school. She spent two years there in order to get preferential treatment when she asked for a transfer back to her hometown, which she was given because she had spent time working in an isolated area, as the state allows. The kindergarten was fully equipped as a school: it had a television, a computer and a printer in the school. But there was no internet connection, and most of the time, the telephone and electricity lines did not work. It is doubtful whether that school is still open now.

Old arhontiko (nobleman's villa) showing signs of abandonment
Quite a bit of sensationalist journalism has been used on the subject of these 'closed' schools. Of course we need teachers for all school-aged children in Greece. But there are other models that can be copied, instead of having to physically send teachers to remote sparsely populated areas: the Correspondence School of NZ comes to mind. In the internet age, there is really no excuse for not having such a model in remote areas, nor is there any excuse for parents not taking an active role in their children's education. Greeks are no longer illiterate, and wifi is available everywhere - even the restaurant at Anopolis (where we later sat down for a meal on our return journey back to Hania) had wifi. You really can't expect the state to do everything for your children.

The beginning of the Aradena gorge, leading down to the sea
Just a few kilometres away from Anopolis was the final stage of our journey. Aradena forms of a cluster of abandoned villages in the area, named after an archaeological site in the vicinity. Nowadays, Aradena is visited mainly for its wooden bridge, which you can stand on and stare down into the gorge from the comfort of 138m altitude. Aradena was not connected to coastal Sfakia until only very recently, via a Bailey bridge, in 1986. The building of the bridge led to the opening of a cafe - of course! - at the site, and during the summer months, it is used for bungee jumping - what else! The trappings of modern life are now an everyday part of mountain life, even in places like Sfakia which are often labelled 'traditional' - that has now become a synonym for 'touristy'.

Abandoned house, Ai-Yianni
There was an asphalt road continuing out of Aradena which we decided to take, since we had come so far, keeping in mind that we would probably not be making this journey again for quite some time. The road led to the last village in the area, Ai-Yianni (Agios Ioannis), where my husband had once gone hunting with a friend whose family was from the area. They had parked their car on the outskirts of the village and walked along some tracks where his beekeeper friend kept his hives. They were hoping to see a hare, or perhaps something bigger but it turned out that this was not a good day for hunting. When they returned tot he car, they found hand-written sign on it: "Don't bother coming back unless you don't mind all your tyres slashed." At least they warned him. This family trip was the first time he returned to the area. He wanted to find the old couple who had invited them to their table for dinner that evening after their walk through the area. But all we found were abandoned houses. The village was now a ghost town.

Disease-ridden pine tree
The road from Aradena to Ai-Yanni is worth driving through. Alpine territory starts at this point, with the emergence of a pine forest which seems to have undergone some recent destruction, a victim of the crisis, when people began using more wood for heating, and whatever could be chopped down was chopped, to be used for heating or for making a quick buck. It is quite a hike to get to this area, and since locals continue to guard it like a fortress (see above paragraph), one can only assume that locals are involved in this unscrupulous trade. But the pine trees also face other dangers - they have obviously been afflicted by a pine tree disease and are slowly dying. Nature takes revenge on man's folly in various ways.
Olive trees, Ai-Yianni

You will also come across the most unusually shaped olive trees, of the likes that you will never have seen in northern Crete. Apart from the trees sprouting directly from what looks like rocks, they have also undergone a transformation in appearance due to the climatic conditions. The trees receive only natural irrigation (rain) and snow covers them in the winter. Many of the trees show signs of damage (their branches have broken) and their trunks have adapted to the climate by becoming thickset. They look nothing like the classic gnarled olive tree of a more temperate climate. You can tell where the snow has reached these trees by looking at where they begin to form their leafy branches. The combination of terrain and climate is difficult not just for the people. Animals are always moved to lower ground in the winter.

Platanos, aka Popi's taverna
We wanted to continue driving in the Ai-Yianni region, but had second thoughts because the road started to deteriorate. Our journey had finally reached its end, and it was time to make the return trip back home. We stopped off for lunch at Platanos taverna at Anopoli. Just ask where Popi's taverna is - make sure you ask for the Sfakiot specialty: tsigariasto, goat meat braised in olive oil and wine, and staka, a creamy buttery dip that goes well with friend potatoes, bread, meat, you name it. Popi speaks excellent English so you can have the menu explained to you if you don't speak Greek or you don't know the local delicacies.

German motorbike, WW2 period - Askifou War Museum
On our way home, we stopped off at the self-styled War Museum of Askifou. It was started by a young man after WW2, by collecting the remains of machinery, equipment and other artefacts left behind by British and German troops. It was then continued by his son, and there seems to be hope of the grandson continuing this venture, although he was present only in a photograph. It was the womenfolk who explained to us (the only visitors at the time) the history of the collection. Some of the explanations didn't seem to concur with my knowledge of history, but I could see that the two women who gave us the tour (they were mother and daughter, but could easily have been mistaken for sisters) had their speeches well-rehearsed, so we let them do their spiel. Entry is by donation according to the sign, but the ladies don't forget to remind you to leave something 'for the maintenance of the museum', and they also state the amount you should leave: "10 euro for all of you," the mother said, quickly followed by "but only if you've got it", in view of the times we are living in. All in all, an interesting collection of bric-a-brac, some of which we'd seen before in places like the IWM London and Les Invalides. "Look at the tyres," she said, pointing to a German motorbike. "They look new, and the motorbike still works." She then asked us if we were in the area for voting purposes, and proceeded to denounce the memorandum, grieving over the loss of our traditions in favour of western norms. Both mother and daughter were dressed in shorts and t-shirts. They seemed well accustomed to western norms themselves.

The rest of the family preferred ice cream; I ordered kalitsounia, another form of fried cheesy pastry topped with honey.
It was still quite warm when we got back on the road, so we stopped off at the big cafe/snack bar in Kalami for a refreshing ice-cream.  I asked the children if they enjoyed this trip into a relatively remote part of Crete. "If you marry a local boy," I joked with my daughter, "we'll  visit often and you can cook up a goat for us." She wasn't impressed. My son said that he wouldn't mind coming to the area again on an annual basis, "for the history," he added.

More lovely photos on facebook.

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Friday, 18 September 2015

Hope for the future

The focus of Greece's upcoming elections this Sunday is the economy and very little else. Civil liberties rarely get mentioned in the campaigns of the parties battling to get a share of the vote. (You can see all the TV spots for each political party in the following two Greek-language links: and .) What economists and analysts don't tell you about Greece's economy is that it has already bounced back:
"Official announcement of the Finance Ministry:... Not only was a shortfall not recorded in revenues in August, but instead there was a significant excess of the target...: 
- Excess of Internal Revenue and Audit Centres in 617 mil. Euro compared to August 2014, ie 28.17% increase.
- Excess of revenues generally in relation to the budget target by 1.6%. The budget provided for 3.991 million while revenues reached 4.055 million.
- Strong growth was recorded during the tourist season.
- VAT corresponding to the period is expected to be particularly high and will appear in revenues in September but MAINLY in October." (see also earlier growth recorded after the referendum in one of my earlier posts: )
The Greek economy was never really in crisis; Greeks were just very good at hiding their wealth.

Eating out like this, dining on freshly cooked food made with very fresh seasonal and local ingredients, costs not much more than €12 euro a head in Hania. You won't do it every day, but when you need to, you will be able to afford it, even in a low-income country like Greece.

But I've never believed that the Greek crisis was ever really an economic crisis - it was always a crisis of privileges, values and identity. Throughout her 200-odd years of life, the modern Greek state has been a poor country with many rich people. I think Greece is set to remain this way for a number of reasons, mainly that people are still being held back from progress by misguiding forces:
"Something keeps holding us back: resistance to change, suspicion of our EU partners and of each other, a sense of victimhood... Seeing ourselves as part of a world that is larger than Greece and larger than the EU, setting aside past grievances and delusions of grandeur, choosing the best people to implement the best ideas that other countries have tried would not only be a good start, it would be a great achievement."
The only thing that has changed in this country is that no one is feeding her with money anymore. Tat's why Brussels is coming out as the clear winner from this election. Left or right, an MoU (read: debt agreement) is in place and babies are born in this country with a debt burden as large as that of the US per capita. For Greece to be a truly global country, we cannot look just at her economy. Things like gay marriage, separation of church and state, recognition of minorities and other civil liberties must be passed into law. People need to learn to travel for the experience, and not just for work; this kind of mindset is evidenced among developing nations, not progressive countries. We still have the 'backward' mentality of the migrant worker, who dreams of making a lot of money while reminiscing about the homeland without ever fitting into any country.

Mama's kouzina: Lightly fried whitebait in olive oil (€5/kg) and φακές (lentil soup) made with garden grown tomatoes. 

Greeks haven't yet learnt how to be global citizens. As a global citizen, you move about from one country to the other without fear. You are not embarrassed about your origins, and you are proud of your open-mindedness when you face challenges like living in a country that doesn't speak your language and doesn't eat your food. Greeks do not leave their country due to war or hunger. They leave mainly for ideological reasons, and they are often the first to criticise their country once they have left, believing - wrongly in my opinion - that they are living a better life by comparing what they now have with what they once lost. At this stage, I am glad Greeks abroad cannot vote in the Greek elections - this should only be allowed to happen when Greeks come to terms with their identity crisis.

And for this to happen, there must be a Syriza majority in government, because Syriza is ideologically leftist. But Syriza's idea of economics has been proven to be unrealistic. At least with NeaDimokratia, we went up two steps and down one. With Syriza, we went up one step and two down. These are the main reasons I will not be voting in this election, and I am surprised to hear the same thing from people I am surrounded by. It's not just me that feels this way. Syriza is still getting to grips with basic economic tenets, while ND is still far too conservative for my liking. We don't need to create new laws - we just need to find an existing model that we will adopt and stick to, which is why a unity government sounds more plausible. But Greeks don't have the patience to stick it out. They still expect instant results - that's very selfish, especially considering that it took two generations to create the present shambles.If you read a complete list of what has to change (see here: for a summary of Greek extremes), you will understand how difficult it will be to force such changes on people who have learnt to live with such privileges for such a long time.

To appreciate the architecture of a city as old as Hania, you mustn't focus on the graffiti - graffiti is everywhere, we take it for granted and people just paint over it periodically.

Greek politics is so transparent these days; there is no need to make up conspiracy theories, like the one I heard recently, apparently from a prominent politics/economics analyst:, eg: "that Meimarakis [the NeaDimokratia party chief] is very light on substance and is just a puppet of Costas Karamanlis, who is the real power behind the throne." ???!!!??? The person who made up this story is not Greek, does not speak Greek and is not based in Greece. Clearly, this person could not understand what was happening in the leaders' recent debates: Meimarakis was very convincing and he stated right from the start that he wants some kind of unity government, while Tsipras (who does not want to work with Meimarakis) smiled a lot when he was criticised by Meimarakis or when he was asked a curly question by the journalists. This is a sign of embarrassment, a wish to avoid the question in some way; he did not have Meimarakis' forthright answers. Meimarakis is known as a 'tsambouka' (macho-man) because he has a lot of confidence, and he doesn't stall:
"There are those who despair at the new chief because they find his manner inappropriate for a party of the middle classes. They are mistaken because good manners do not necessarily mean that someone can get the job done, whether it be in politics or finance. In fact, many a layabout has excellent manners. The fact is that the Greek middle classes today do not have time for such niceties; they are more concerned with survival than party loyalties."
In my opinion, Meimarakis won both leaders' debates, hands down.

First day of school for my kids, and they get their books: Aristophanes' Ornithes (Birds) is included in his reading list. Aristophanes must have been quite some 'tsambouka' in his days, satirising all and sundry.

Syriza will have to get a majority if it wants to rule. ND has it much easier: it will simply ask a couple of smaller parties to be its coalition partners. At the end of the day, not much will change. If someone can steer Greeks towards the changes needed to make the country a global member of this planet, then something can change. We need a strong leader to do that. I'd be surprised to see it come from someone like Tsipras who highlighted that he didn't believe in what he was signing, or Meimarakis with his 'take it or leave it' attitude.

A short video explaining the possible post-election scenarios: Greek politics is so transparent these days, there is no need to make up conspiracy theories . Disregard the title about why you need to care about Greece's elections - you do not really need to; Brussels has already done that.

Choppy waters at the Venetian harbour, 14-09-2015

The political games being played these days in Greece feel a bit like the ending in Animal Farm by George Orwell, at least for me:
"... An uproar of voices was coming from the farmhouse. They rushed back and looked through the window again. Yes, a violent quarrel was in progress. There were shoutings, bangings on the table, sharp suspicious glances, furious denials. The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously. Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Autumn is coming to Crete: Persephone's presence gets too much for us to bear, and we can't wait for her to leave her mother Demetra. When she leaves, cooler weather arrives, we wind down from a long hot dry summer, and we shut our doors to the cold weather seeking warmth in the hearth.

I am also reminded of things my mother used to say about people who acted like best of buddies (κώλος και βρακί  as the Greek saying goes), then they had a fight and broke up. She would say something like: "ασ' αυτούς που τα χαλάσανε να τα ξαναφτιάξουν μόνοι τους", which means something like: "Let those who quarrel among themselves make up and be friends again by themselves." In the meantime, you have to continue like you always have. You'll say hello to them, and if they stop you to talk, you will politely have a conversation with them. But at the end of the day, you will go to your own home while they go home to theirs. You won't need them as much as they need you, so you need to learn to keep your calm in the storm:

"Crete’s seats are up for grabs to an unusual extent, political analysts say, and if voters there retreat from Syriza that could give the conservatives an in. In a move allowed by Greek election law, many top leadership contenders—including Mr. Tsipras, who ran the country as prime minister until August—are running for parliamentary seats from there, a sign of just how important they perceive its support to be. [Tsipras (Syriza), Meimarakis (NeaDimokratia) and Kammenos (ANEL) are running for Iraklio, while Theodorakis (ToPotami) is running for Hania where he was born - see ]

What the future holds for Greece is unknown. But if I could predict the future, here is my reckoning: as a peace-loving nation, Greece will remain a pillar of stability in her corner of the world, despite her unstable politics. She will always be a beautiful place to visit. Following the examples of my ancestors, I know I can have a quiet frugal happy life here. I won't become very rich money-wise; but I will continue to have a lot of hidden non-monetary wealth which cannot be lost. I think I'll always be able to survive in my beautiful country. My oldest relatives here are in 90s, and they have lived in difficult terrain, during the war and with no comforts until relatively recently in their lives. I don't see why I can't emulate their lives for the good of my own survival here.

Bonus photo: The old lady is Damaskini Petraki, and she lives in Paelohora. She claims to be 84 (she could be hiding some years), and she made the crochet apron herself. I took the photo while on our mini-break last week.

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Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Greek Collection: The Greek lady's wardrobe (Άρωμα Ελληνίδας)

After work one hot sunny afternoon - we call that hour μεσιμέρι (mesiMEri) - midday - in Greek, and not afternoon (that starts after 5pm in summer) - just when capital controls had been slightly relaxed and we could make weekly withdrawals of 420 euro (instead of the daily limit of 60 euro), I parked my car on the outskirts of town just above the law courts, which is how the area got its name: Δικαστήρια (dikaSTIria), so I could go to the bank to make my first withdrawal since capital controls were enforced. I had been procrastinating about this cash business, trying to convince myself that I did not need any. That theory was blown out the window when I met up with some friends for a coffee. Asking to pay a total amount of less than ten euro by plastic money at a cafe is still a cause for embarrassment in Greece, despite the greater use being made of debit/credit cards since capital controls were introduced.

I parked the car right in front of the now defunct incarceration unit where prisoners were held until their trial took place. I recall in days of old young handcuffed men being walked down the slope to the courts, flanked by police officers, The building was showing signs of its vacant state, with graffiti scrawled over various parts. But I did not see the graffiti - something else caught my eye: two fashion brand-label carrier bags that had been placed carefully, propped upright so that they did not tip over, against the wall of the former holding cells. Although there was a blue recycling bin on the pavement, the person who had left those bags on the street clearly did not have the heart to throw the contents of those bags straight into the bin. Luckily for me, she did not.

Bags full of used clothing left on the street are a relatively common sight in my town (along with toys and furniture, and other stuff associated with babies and children). I admit I used to do it too, before the second hand clothing stores owned by foreigners opened in the town. It made me feel that I was doing my bit for poverty, I have now changed tact; when my children grow out of clothes, I take them to the second hand shop where my profit is passed onto a local children's cancer charity. Whatever clothes do not end up being sold (very cheaply) in this way are passed on to other charities that look after refugees stranded in Hania, various church-related organisations that pass on clothing to the needy, and even to the local animal care centres for strays to keep warm during the winter. 

I always rifle through bags of clothing that I come across on the street, in the hope that I will find some useful fabric for my patchwork projects. My children say it feels embarrassing to do this, even though they know that the clothes I pick up are used in my fabric art. (I'm particularly fond of old jeans - they make great quilting material as well as nifty looking fashion bags.) It may seem somewhat unethical to take used clothing which was obviously destined for reuse as clothing for a poorer person, and tear it all up to use as patchwork. But I do not believe that the clothing would all have been re-used in this way had I left it. For a start, the recycling rubbish collectors would have trashed it themselves if it hadn't been picked up before their rounds, so it might not have been used after all. Hania is a rather well off town, so a lot of clothes are dumped. People are generally aware of the way they can be reused, but dumping them on the street is a sign of laziness. If they really wanted to help the needy, they'd make the effort to take them to the right place. Leaving clothes on the street is a slovenly way to help the needy. You need to seek them out to help them more appropriately.

Even so, I knew I had got lucky today. The bags contained a lot of light summer cotton and denim clothing, perfect for reusing in patchwork. There were also quite a few T-shirts which I don't re-use myself (although they can be cut up into strips and used as knitting/crochet yarn). The items were in such good condition that I decided to take the bags home and sort the items out in my peace and quiet, taking those clothes that could not be used to the second hand store to sell on behalf of charities.

The clothes

The clothes were well used. Some had yellow age stains under the armpits. They smelled musty, as if they had been sitting in a basement for a long time, and had not been aired. They had clearly not been in use for a while. The owner of the clothes was obviously well off - it isn't a coincidence that these clothes were found at Dikastiria, generally known as the inner city neighbourhood where the wealthy/upper-class live. Nearly all the clothes had branded labels; she particularly liked the Greek Bill Cost. She was a stylish woman judging by the cuts: she must have been slim and wore specific styles and colours. I was quite surprised to find so many whites: 2 white denim style skirts and 2 white jean style trousers, as well as some white T-shirts. You can only really wear white successfully if you are slim. There was also a beige pair of pinstripe trousers, which shows how old the clothes were: pinstripes are no longer in fashion. She must have been tall, judging by the trouser leg length. Her shirts were mainly in single earthy colours: cream, white, ecru, brown, brick red(compare that to Varoufakis' last - ? - appearance in the Greek Parliament), things that don't go out of fashion too quickly.  There was only one mainly blue item, a blouse with large blue spots. Blue is a difficult colour in the fashion world, and this particular Greek lady knew that well. Most of the t-shirts had some 'straz' stuck onto it. Greek women love straz. The former owner of these clothes was probably not a smoker - cigarette smoke lingers in a house, especially an apartment, affecting everything in it, and these clothes did not smell of smoke.

Because the items she was throwing away all seemed quite stylish, I believe she had problems giving them away. It must have been a difficult decision to take: the truth must have dawned on her when she realised that there was no other option but to get rid of those bags which were cluttering her apartment (most homes in the Dikastiria area are mainly apartment blocks). Maybe she had put on enough weight to know that she would never fit into these clothes again; maybe she had updated her wardrobe umpteen times and the old stuff had to go to make way for the new. There were no children's clothes in the bags, nor were there any men's clothes, suggesting perhaps that she lived alone. Therefore, she was able to afford to dress well. The clothes suggest that her income probably included inheritance as well as a well-paid position in the public service: the clothes remind me of what mature female office workers would wear.

Some items consisted of clothing that all self-respecting fashion-conscious women would own. A pair of jeans were included in her throwaways and there were also quite a few black items - you can't do without black in Greece, it's the colour of choice for a church memorial service.  The only multi-coloured clothes were a dress in a red, green and white print, a sheer blouse in various shades of orange and yellow, and a blouse in various shades of green. There were also a couple of items that clearly did not fit in with the lady's dress style, the kinds of things we ladies would label as bad purchases, wardrobe mistakes: in her case, it was a pair of brown cotton trousers from a 'kineziko' store, which had been cut off to be used as shorts, but whose elastic band had loosened, and a satin blouse that looked as though it may have been bought at the laiki - a sign of the crisis finally hitting home, perhaps...


The Greek lady's wardrobe, like the wardrobe of many stylish women, must also include a bit of Burberry somewhere. There was no Burberry in the throwaways, which was to be expected: if you buy Burberry as an accessory, it should last you forever. You don't wear Burberry all over, although I have seen this too: the woman who committed this crime failed miserably in her attempt to be a fashion icon, instead becoming the epitome of bad taste, pretentiousness and ostentatious elegance. (She was boarding a budget flight with me for London.) Burberry needn't be expensive, either - you can buy a scarf, or bag, or hat in the classic beige Burberry tartan for just a few euro at the laiki from the fake designer clothes sellers. (Plenty of them in Greece, too. Fake designer fashion is called 'maiMOU' in Greek, which means 'monkey'. It describes the everywhere-Burberry woman I bumped into to a tee.)

*** *** *** 

I decided to reuse the fabrics in an artistic way, which is how my project took on the name 'The Greek lady's wardrobe'. Even though there was no Burberry item included in the bags, no doubt there would be a Burberry-something in this particular Greek lady's wardrobe. I decided to add a Burberry-something to the collection of fabrics. I also needed to add some blue and some yellow-orange-red fabrics to substitute for the blue and white t-shirt, and the yellow-ish sheer blouse whose fabrics were not suitable for patchwork projects. I bought these items at the laiki (a Burberry print mini skirt - 50 cents; a blue and white mini apres-swim skirt - 1 euro; a blue satin pair of pants - 2 euro; and a summer dress in bright colours - 2 euro). The Burberry was not used much in my design - I tired to use it in the same way that a stylish woman would wear Burberry (just a dash of it, mainly as an accessory).

The chosen pattern looks quite attractive in the photos. Up close, I can see all the imperfections of my patchwork. The work is not quite finished - I have quite a few pieces to put together. To be continued...

Bonus photo: the top part of the jeans were turned into a bag which I now use. I made it during an evening when my next-door to the next-door neighbour had an outdoor party. The musicians arrived at 9pm and tested the sound system. They began playing at midnight and stopped at 5.30am. I sta outdoors, using my sewing machine on the balcony until the wee small hours, knowing that no one would notice.

UPDATE: "Economics is like coca-cola," a friend once said to me, "it goes with everything." So does denim - old jeans, upcycled together with the remaining pieces of the The Greek Lady's Wardrobe.

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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Early retirement (Πρόωρη σύνταξη)

One of the greatest sticking points in Greek reforms was the overturning of the laws on early retirement. Greece has a ratio of one retired person for every working person, when in Europe this ratio is 1 retiree for every 4 workers. So it is truly incredible that anyone would put it in their head that this is a sustainable situation.

Let's take for example a woman with children under the age of 18: she could work for just 15 years in the public service, and then retire on a full state pension. The same person working in the private sector could complete 25 years of full employment before the age of 50 and then semi-retire, on a half-pension. So it was not just a case of retiring early: state employees were given unwarranted special attention, and people were categorised in such a way that almost anyone could seek early retirement of some sort through some loophole in some law. The working mother was seen as the holiest order in those early retirement laws, while state employment topped the ranks. 

Mothers must be with their children, as the old adage tells us. Well, most of the time, those children would often be left in the care of a grandmother while the young retiree enjoyed life. In the days when women did not work, they would look after the house. The year 1981 gave women a chance to work outside the home with the increased possibilities for employment that EU entry gave. Office jobs were created t the same time that laws were promised to allow women to retire early. While young women were working, their mothers were cooking the main meal of the day, and looking after their children. The family was and still is the most important of Greek institutions, as the crisis has shown. Greeks also live healthier and longer lives than they did in 1981, and women are more likely to start a family at a later age than in the past, something that was not taken into account when the laws for early retirement were drawn up.

My analysis above may sound judgmental; it may sound like I am suffering pangs of jealousy because I was never one of those lucky bitches who had an unpaid maid looking after her young family while she took cruises to Greek islands in the summer and visited Eastern Europe by bus in the winter, together with her youthful husband who had also found a way to retire early with a state pension. But few people realise that I too belonged to the category that could seek early retirement as a mother of underaged children. So at the grand age of 50, which I would turn in 2016, I would be a retiree, having completed 25 years of gainful employment in the Greek private sector!

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how one sees things, with the new laws, I will not be able to retire until I am 56.7 years of age: 
"Mothers insured with IKA (the state healthcare system) until 1992, who would once have been able to draw a partial pension with 5,500 working days, completed by 2012 if they had not completed their 50th birthday, will now, instead of 50 years have to wait to retire at 55; thus, they will be forced to wait a further five years. If they turn 50 in 2016, they will be forced to wait until 56.7 years, and if they turn 50 in 2017, they will wait until they are 58.4 years old."
In my situation, I would not have taken the option of early retirement, because my salary is not very high, and a partial pension would have yielded just over half my current salary, a rather low monthly sum that would not cover my family's need in the way that my salary does now. It would have resulted in financial difficulties for my family, and my husband would have felt the need to work more than he does now, at a time when he has slowed down due to age (he hasn't worked the taxi at night since the beginning of the crisis). 

But I still feel very lucky to be able to dream of early retirement on a semi-pension at 56.7 years of age. In my husband's line of work, he can only draw a state pension at the age of 67. I have a 10-year age difference with my husband. Therefore, we will be able to retire together. We can still make plans together to visit places we have never been to before we both get too decrepit. It sounds like much more fun to ride off into the Santorini sunset together than to leave one's other half waiting at home. 

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