Wednesday, 31 December 2008

New Year's Eve: Ayios Vasilis

A Cretan mantinada to usher in the New Year, 2009:
Λίγα λεπτά απέμειναν (Very few minutes remain)
το φως του οκτώ να σβήσει (of 8's light to fade away)
και το εννια που έρχεται (and of the 9 that's coming)
χαρές να σε γεμίσει (may it fill you with joy)

But the more I know about the world, the more difficult I find it I can believe this, especially in the over-commercialised Christmas times that we live among. While many children around the world are waiting for their presents, there will be many children that won't be getting any, because of the troubled times we live in. The economic crisis has put hard-working people out of a job, so many parents won't have money to spare for the toys their children see advertised on TV. Some countries are living through war times, so their children may not have any parents, while the children themselves may be having trouble staying alive. And some people are grieving for the loss of a loved one - Greece has lived through this tragedy so well just this past month. There will be no celebration in those houses.

Luckily, for us in Crete, Christmastime is a family-centred celebration which doesn't involve ham and turkey. Many people do cook turkey on Christmas Day and/or New Year's Day, but it is a tradition imported from other cultures. Santa Claus doesn't come to Greece on Christmas Day, either. Saint Nick is celebrated early in December (the 6th), while Christmas comes at the end of December. The task of distributing presents to children rests on one of the three most significant religious teachers in the Greek Orthodox Church, 'Αϊ Βασίλη (Ai-Vasili), St Basil, who is celebrated on the 1st of January, the first day of the new year, as he is believed to be closer to Christmas Day than Saint Nicholas. So children in Greece wake up on New Year's Day to find their presents under the tree. Even the Greek Christmas carols reflect this. St Basil was bishop of Kaisarea, and all Greek children know the Greek Christmas carol that goes "Agios Vasilis is coming... from Caesarea."

christmas tree
Most Greeks put up their Christmas tree some time in December, and take it down the day after Epiphany, the 6th of January, as that is the date when the Christmas holidays are considered officially over.

St Basil instead of St Nicholas dressed as Santa Claus in Greece may also have to do with the fact that the Greek Orthodox church used to follow the Julian calendar to work out the dates for Easter, but when it started to follow the Georgian calendar, some dates for some festivals (Christmas being among them) changed course slightly. There is a difference of fourteen days between the Julian and the Georgian Calendar, the latter celebrating Christmas on the 25th of December. In the present-day Eastern Orthodox church, a group of people still follow the Julian calendar to work out festival dates, which dictates that Christmas falls on the 6th of January, making St Basil a likely candidate as the bearer of Christmas gifts for children. So the Greek Orthodox Christians meet the Old Calendarists (as the followers of the 6th-of-January Christmas are known) half-way on Santa Claus. Yet, even though it uses the Georgian calendar throughout the year, it is the Julian calendar that is used in all Christian Orthodox churches to work out the date for Easter, which is considered the most important festival in the Greek world (Christian Orthodox Easter always falls in April or May, never March).

christmas gifts
Thanks to Antigoni and Marina for their Christmas gifts: a Christmas tree decoration and a 2009 New Year's lucky charm.

I wish you all a Happy New Year
with peace, love and happiness all around...
Season's Greetings!

vasilopita 2009
New Year's Cake: the Greek Vasilopita welcoming the New Year with good wishes

Happy New Year to all!
Here's hoping it's a better one for all of us!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Pillion passenger

shopping centre hania chania

A rare sight, becoming scarcer by the day: a motorbike with a pillion passenger's seat.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Post-weekend story: A lifetime

My father was born in the hills behind the seaside village of Platanias, near the village of Agia Marina on the west coast of Hania, in a neighbourhood called Drakiana. All that remains of it are the ruins of his first home, a 14th-century church dedicated to St George and a zillion fields full of orange and olive trees.

(the house Dad was born in - Drakiana, Hania)

He lived there as a young boy, until his brothers and sisters started moving away due to marriage. He always remembered his early years in the village as the best he had ever lived; his brother would play klarino at night, while during the day, he would take his dog hunting. The house began showing sign of ruin, and so, the family moved to the main village behind the hills, Platanias, now known as the boogie capital of Hania, with its trendy clubs and bars. He was involved in mainly agricultural and building work.

keratas taverna
(Dad - left - as a teenager at Keratas taverna)

In the mid-50s, as a young raunchy lad, he was talked into going to Athens and working at the docks in Pireas harbour. The work he found instead was as a drudge, carrying heavy loads on and off ships, while the pay was extremely low. He hated every single minute of his working life in Athens. All he liked about his time in the big Greek smoke was the yard of the house where he lived with his family, when neighbours and friends would come to spend the evening together in Agia Sofia, a working class neighbourhood of Pireaus.

One of his acqauintances, also from Crete, informed him that he was migrating to New Zealand with his young family. Emigration was nothing new in hard times; my father told his friend not to forget him and his family. He carried on working in slave-like conditions in the Greek capital, until one day, he received a letter from his friend who had settled in New Zealand, informing him of the chance to marry a 'good Greek girl' who had also recently emigrated.

(all the letters my Dad wrote to my Mum)

He decided to take up this offer to marry this lady (he had never seen her before in his life). They had been corresponding for a year before his departure from Greece; my mother wrote the first letter, then he replied, then she wrote back, and so on, until the 13th letter, when he didn’t write back. My mother never wrote another letter, thinking that maybe he had ditched her. He turned up on her doorstep instead, on a beautiful summer’s day in Wellington on the 31st of January, 1965:

(Dad's first few months in New Zealand, with Mum - left - and Mum's sister)

and married her a week later, on Waitangi Day, the 6th of February, 1965, as he had promised he would do in his last letter. There was no doubt about what was to be done when they met for the first time: they would marry, as had been planned. A trial period, what-if questions, divorce, none of these entered their heads at the time. No one made demands of a personal nature. Both sides wanted to improve their lives, which they did to the best of their ability, forfeiting their own interests and looking only to serve each other.


They spent nearly three decades together, until the death of my mother in Wellington, after which Dad came back to Crete and lived the last decade of his life in his beloved hometown.


Sometimes the romance in a marriage starts well after the wedding.

©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, 28 December 2008

A Subaltern's Love Song

tennis girl

John Betjeman was an English poet who lived in the first half of the 20th century. He was known for some good poetry, as well as some silly poetry. This would have to be one of his best 'silly verses', a poem about a delightful young woman (Joan Hunter Dunn was her real name) who was a member of the elite English class. This poem was written some time after the second world war. When I watch my daughter playing tennis, I think about this poem, and the same symbolism tennis still retains in the modern world; it's something all good girls should play.

The bold words represent the tennis references in the poem.

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament - you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing's the light on your hair.

By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Gas cookers

gas burners hania chania
Mobile gas cookers

Gas cookers were once the main form of cooking element in villages. Although Crete is not connected to gas via pipes, it is still standard practice to use a gas cooker (for reasons of economy) connected to a gas bottle. Once the bottle empties (you will notice the flame not burning brightly, or the bottle is simply empty and gas won't light up), you take it to your nearest gas station (it could be a petrol station) to fill it up, or phone someone to come and replace it for you (if you're not very mobile).

curing green olives for brine
The gas bottle sits in a corner of our balcony. It's connected to the kitchen via a small hole in the wall.

These mobile gas elements are still used by a lot of people such as economic migrants, people on very low wages, owners of country houses in remote villages and others who can't afford the money or the space for a whole cooker. This shop must be doing good business in these difficult times when gas is cheaper as a fuel and the cost of living is rising.

Notice the electric elements next to the gas elements, all of which are fitted into the kitchen unit

We use gas for most of our cooking needs, but, as part of the trend in modern house construction and design, the elements are fixed in the kitchen wall unit, rather than being a separate item, as these gas cookers are. I love my gas cooker; chips always fry better on a gas cooker than an electric cooker. The big bonus is that when we have a power cut, I can still cook or warm something up.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Cafe culture

koukouvayia cafe hania chania
No, I'm not at Starbucks, but Greeks love to copy brands, labels and names. This one is done more stylishly; I picked up the paper coffee mat at Koukouvayia cafe in Akrotiri, Hania. 'Koukouvayia' is the Greek word for 'owl'.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Christmas symbol of Greece

Christmas is associated with the decoration of a tree all over the world, thanks to Queen Victoria and her prosperous England. This tradition has been imported into the culture of most countries, possibly replacing the more meaningful customs of the country that are associated with this time of year. Greece has a vry different Christmas symbol of its own.

christmas tree hania chania
The Christmas tree in Hania, in front of the Agora

One of the most meaningful traditional Christmas symbols of Greece is the ship. Greece has been a seafaring nation since ancient times, still boasting one of the largest fleets in present day maritime economics. The history of shipping is filled with unpleasant stories of ships being lost at sea due to adverse weather conditions, especially in the wintertime. Perhaps the Greek Christmas symbol has remained relatively unknown to the rest of the world because Greece is a summer tourism destination. If you came to Greece int he winter, you may think a boat has been decorated with Christmas lights as a kinky alternative to the globalised tree symbol...

christmas boat rethimno christmas boat
The Christmas boat symbol in Rethimno, another town located on coastal Western Crete, one hour away from Hania

At Christmastime, Greek people used to (and still do) decorate a toy-sized boat, lit up by an oil lamp burning away throughout the Christmas period (the Christmas holidays officially end in Greece on Epiphany, the 6th of January), as a shrine to the sailors in the family during the cold dark stormy days. Children carried a decorated ship as they went around the village singing the traditional Greek Christmas carols (which sadly have also been replaced by the majority with the Greek translation of Jingle Bells).

christmas boat hania chania
The ship, a symbol of Greek Christmastime

The ship is still used throughout Greece as a Christmastime symbol. It appears in the main squares of most towns, as well as shop windows and private homes and gardens. Hania maintains this tradition with an electrically-lit up boat in the main town square close to the taxi stand. Of all the Christmas decorations in the town (we're just as light-polluting as any other small town in the world), for me, this is the most beautiful.

*** *** ***

While we lived in New Zealand, my mother used to make kourambiedes, those shortcrust half-moon biscuits covered in icing sugar; we ate them all year round. I only discovered that they were traditionally served in Greece during the Christmas period (you can't even purchase them at any other time of the year), along with melomakarona (a honey dipped log biscuit topped with chopped nuts), when I ended up living here. She made at least 100 pieces per batch and we were instructed not to eat them, as they were to be served to any guest that came to our house, for whatever reason. When we had visitors, out popped the silver serving tray with a demi-tasse of Greek coffee, a dessert plate containing a melomakarono and a kourambie, along with a glass of water.

There are many recipes on the internet for kourambiedes. I make mine according to Anne Yiannoulis, as she describes in her Greek Calendar Cookbook, a book I've enjoyed using so much, that I was thrilled to hear that it is going to be re-issued some time in the near future by Lycabettus Press.

kourambiedes kourambiedes kourambiedes

Another traditional sweet of Greece at Christmastime, apart from melomakarona (mine are from Spitiko in Hania), is the Christmas tsoureki (mine is made by the Xiotakis pastry company).

melomakarona christmas tsoureki hristopsomo

During these severely troubled times in my country and around the world,
I can only hope that the Christmas Season will bring some peace in everyone's lives.

Last year's poinsettia survived its second Christmas

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas
with all the joy and happiness
associated with this time of year

©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.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Little old lady

little old lady in black at iconostasis

While I was weeding the garden, I heard a woman talking on the street. Our street is not exactly the kind you stroll around in; it has no footpath and our house is situated on a dangerous bend. I paid no attention until I realised that the voice was that of a woman who I knew.

She's about a hundred years old, walks with her back bent, and her walking frame is never far away from her. She lives down the road from our house. Every Saturday without fail, come rain or shine, she insists on coming to the iconostasis right across the road from our house and lighting an oil-burning lamp.

Today there was one problem: she lost her way. She's a little blind - aren't all old people?

I decided to help her.

"Come, Kiria Marika, the iconostasis is to your right."

""Who are you?" she asked me while she was in the middle of the road, so that the next car to come speeding up the hill would send her (and myself) flying into the air to another world.

"I'm Maria, now walk to the right."

"Are you new here?"

"Kiria Marika, WALK to the RIGHT!" Where was this woman's daughter, I was asking myself, knowing full well that her daughter could be in the house, and still not notice her mother sneaking out to light the lamp at the iconostasis.

"Are you the cleaning lady? Which house are you cleaning today?"

"Kiria Marika, I'm MARIA from THIS HOUSE!" At this stage, I was getting ready to call for reinforcements.

"Your name's Maria? Do you live here?"

"Kiria Marika, you're now at the iconostasis!" I put her hands on the roof just under the cross. Kiria Marika started making the sign of the cross, praising the lord for getting her to the iconostasis in one piece.

"Oh, it's you, Maria, from the house across the road. I think I almost lost my way, the sun was so bright and I couldn't see where I was going."

You're telling me...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Rainy weather

The view from my kitchen window on a very wet day in Hania.

rainy day hania chania

This photo was taken in mid-November, but it is very representative of the weather since Sunday. We've had all our annual rainfall in the last two days, after a rare, extremely dry winter this year. The rain started on Sunday afternoon, and didn't stop until this Monday noon. The thunderstorms were so loud, that they woke most people up in the early hours of Monday morning. After the heavy rain, light intermittent showers continued, with high gale force winds that stopped all ship transport throughout the country. Consequently, the roads were a mess; apart from the flooding, there was the rubbish, rubble and debris to contend with, as the sewers overflowed. Those of us who had no urgent business to attend to stayed at home...

I love a good rain shower when I can get it. It reminds me of where I was born, WWW (wet and windy Wellington).

Monday, 22 December 2008

Post-weekend story: Urban garden

(I originally published this post on my other blog - Organically Cooked - on the 5th of December, one day before Greece was plunged into chaos after the death of Alexis.)

There's a serious economic crisis reigning in Greece, invisibly infiltrating the town of hania, visible only the those who read between the lines. People want to work, but are either denied the right to do so, or can't find enough of it. The state has always made a show of their provision of free health care to their protegees, the privileged public servants of Greece. But it has recently been revealed that this free care was at the expense of private businesses and promises that the owners would be paid; the chemists' union has stopped providing drugs to state-insured citizens, and doctors have stopped treating state-insured patients for free. Boutiques and specialised stores are void of customers. The only businesses doing well in Greece are the banks - they're always full of people, people paying off their debts, people withdrawing cash, people taking out loans, people transferring their debts from one bank to another; in general, people needing money.

The economic crisis has hit food sales. In Hania, stamnagathi is a prized green, usually selling for at least 7 euro a kilo; in the heart of winter, I've paid more than 8 euro a kilo, which in some cases is more than the price of meat per kilo. Stamnagathi is a fortnightly staple in our house, alternating with other more conventional greens such as cabbage and brocolli. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to find it selling at less than 5 euro a kilo last week. At that price, I should have bought the whole crate and washed, boiled and frozen it to last me until the end of winter.


As with any cheap product, I was worried about buying low quality: price is nearly always associated with quality, even if this supposition is only in the mind. I decided to ask the shopkeeper why the price of stamnagathi had dropped dramatically. The price of petrol has fallen dramatically, but here's what the shopkeeper had to say:

"This year, stamnagathi has had a slow start because it hasn't rained so much. There has been a sterady supply of it, but it hasn't had that lush green look it used to have at this time of year last year. (I had bought some at this time, and it was rather tasteless and dry.) Now that it's been raining more, it has started to grow more profusely. I was selling it last week at just under 7 euro a kilo, but it wasn't selling. Stamnagathi has always sold at constant levels right throughout the winter. I think it's got to do with the economic crisis. Now stamnagathi is being brought in to us sorted into two types (that's never happened before): the large thick glossy type which sells at a higher price, and the small thin type which sells at a lower price. It gives people a choice price-wise, but it's really the same thing."

This discussion made me feel very guilty about spending my hard-earned income on a bag of spinach, since the garden is full of nettles, and nettles really do taste like spinach in a spanakopita. I was too lazy to bother harvesting them.

nettles cabbage cauliflower broccoli

The economic crisis was made more obvious to me recently by an amazing discovery I made while getting some chores done in the town centre. I was to meet up with someone while I was there, and we arranged a meeting place. I was the first to arrive at the shopping mall - the only one in Hania - so I wandered around it until my friend arrived.

shopping centre hania chania
The shopping centre reminds me of other shopping precincts around the world, the kind I used to go to in New Zealand, where the shops were always crammed with colourful wares, while the street kids hung around on the benches in the middle of the squares, sniffing glue to while away the time; all that glitters is not gold.

The shopping complex on Boniali street in Hania was modelled around typical shopping malls in large cities, in the hope that it will attract an atmosphere of shoppers that come to view the place as an events arena. People could window shop, try out new things, have a bite to eat from one of the eateries, maybe even food-court style, and entertain their kids. One look at the mall now, and you will think that the economic crisis has had a serious impact in Hania; most of the shop windows are dusty and the units empty. The ones that are being used are divided into two categories: the street-facing units are used as shops selling consumer items (they are all being used), while the offices tucked away in the large marble corridors of the complex, invisible at street level, are being used as offices for private businesses such as engineering and graphics firms. There are many unused compartments, turning the wide corridors into unattractive alleyways that look unsafe. There is underground parking available, but it is expensive; the suers of the car park are usually people who run businesses in the shopping mall and its environs rather than shoppers.

The shopping centre has not been affected by the economic crisis; it was simply never a success. The local community does not do their shopping according to the laws of a shopping mall culture. People use stores referred to them by contacts, or on their own judgment; they love walking down the main shopping streets checking out the windows. If it isn't at street level, then it's invisible. Even food shopping is specialised: if it isn't general supplies which you can pick up from your one-stop shop, the supermarket, it's mizithra, xinohondro, and hand-made filo pastry, sold in stores that have a long established tradition of selling the same product in the same location. Why would anyone want to buy their mizithra from a specialty store located in a modern building with no history? The shops in the mall that opened up and shut down, one after the other, represented markets that were affected by recessions and booms in the economy, as well as seasonal differences, mainly knick-knack articles which made suitable Christmas gifts or interesting artistic additions to the household furnishings - when one could afford it.

Life in Hania does not centre around a shopping mall. Events in a small Mediteranean town have never centred on a commercial enterprise. People have their own private circle of friends; either that, or they organise a get-together with their families, entertaining in their own homes, or going out to cafes where they would be seen, as well as being able to people-watch themselves. This plush clean modern complex, comprised of three different buildings with offices located at the higher levels, became a lunar wasteground with a clinically clean white appearance. Its flower boxes, surrounded by benches for visitors' comfort, are void of colour, filled mainly with weeded earth, save a few sturdy yucca shrubs, planted at a time when there was some hope that the shopping centre would be more successful. But if someone cared to look more closely, they would also have found something else growing in the flower boxes, which would probably seem preposterous in another town:

some spring onions, ...
shopping centre hania chania spring onion lower bed

... a few lettuce plants with a climbing pumpkin creeper and grapevine in the background...
shopping centre hania chania lettuce flower bed

... and some coriander.
shopping centre hania chania coriander flower bed

Someone's using these useless flower boxes as their garden. Maybe it's one of the more organically-minded store owners in the mall, maybe it's someone who lives in one of the boxy little apartments in the inner-city, maybe it's someone who simply doesn't have a garden, but wants to eat fresh greens that they have planted themselves. Could it be someone who's feeling the economic pinch, trying to feed a family? It was the coriander that got me wondering: maybe it's an economic migrant that wants a taste of his (or her) homeland. Coriander is never sold at the fresh produce section of our supermarkets. Although I've started growing coriander at home, this herb is too pungent for my family's tastebuds; it's already starting to seed before I had the chance to use it.

Behind the facade of the big flash cars that don't fit onto our narrow roads, the flashy Christmas decorations in the shop windows and the expensive price tags in the high fashion boutiques, a cloud of insecurity hangs over Hania, a fair distance away from our senses so as to seem intangible.

(And the next evening, that cloud of insecurity burst into a violent thunderstorm, drenching us with riots, demonstrations and strikes.)

©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, 21 December 2008


knife shop hania chania

Knives inscribed with a Cretan mantinada are a specialty in Crete.
As you can see, this is all that this shop sells.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Street market

laiki street market

Fresh produce stall at one of the daily street markets in Hania.

This photo was taken six weeks ago, so the peppers may now be hothouse varieties.

Friday, 19 December 2008


Here's a view of how a typical school sit-in is staged.

The children (in this case, the largest inner-city junior high school of the area, with students aged 13-15) lock up the school gates with chains and a padlock (which they've bought themselves; they are always gleaming their newness). They hang around the school gates, allowing students in, but keeping teachers out, even in the evening. When teachers are allowed in, it is for a purpose, like for instance, to pick up a document. The teachers hang around in the area, watching from the gates. Most often, they act as if there is nothing unusual about the situation, with laidback smiles on their faces. When the students eventually 'agree' to open up the school for lessons (hey, it's almost time for the school Christmas party, and who wants to be at school over the two-week holiday period?!), it is usually because they got bored. Despite not having lessons, children are expected to 'catch up' on whatever they weren't 'taught', as stipulated in the free Ministry of Education school textbooks that every Greek student receives at the beginning of each school year.

junior high school hania chania junior high school hania chania
(inner-city junior high school inHania; note the teacher who has just been 'allowed' to depart from the school, and the crowd of students guarding the main school entrance)
junior high school hania chania junior high school hania chania

Hania is a small picturesque town with mild winter weather. This newly renovated school is situated right next to the Agora, the central market, in a very historic area (you can see the minaret used to call out Moslem praying times during the Ottoman occupation of Hania - pre-1890 - in the background). The school does not reflect the miserable conditions found in most Greek schools as seen in larger centres, nor the misgivings of the Greek education system.

agora next to junior high school hania chania

And now, the $64 million question: what are the students staging sit-ins for? Sit-ins are a standard winter feature of Greek schools. There is never a reason; it's simply become a tradition. This year's started off with the shooting of Alexis, as if that was a good reason.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Apartment with a view

Imagine living in an apartment like this one. My father spent the last eight years of his life in the apartment exactly above the entrance of the white building in the photo, with the beige canvas shade. As you look at the photo, on the left there is a car park, on the right, there is another large apartment block (it houses a Presbyterian church on the ground floor), and in the middle of this, there is a dull-looking narrow one-way street....

... which faces this view at the end of the road:

view of erotokritos street hania chania looks directly onto the town's municipal park. Having suffered from claustrophobia most of his life, my father who lived in this apartment for the last eight years of his life was so thankful he didn't have to stare into other people's apartments from his living room balcony. He had a view of the trees in the park, a view that will never be obscured, no matter what building projects take place left and right of the apartment.

When all his neighbours were staring at each other from their balconies, he was lucky to have a view of the biggest garden in the town.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Winter garden


It's not all doom and gloom: our garden is looking rather prosperous.
We harvested our first broccoli last Sunday, and now the cauliflower is also ready.
But the cabbages still need some more growing time.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Fashion boutique

Skirt: 68 euro
Shirt: 65 euro
Coat: 189 euro

Jacket: 187 euro
Skirt: 99 euro
Shirt: 67 euro

Jacket: 127 euro
Skirt: 62 euro

Dress: 150 euro

If these clothes are actually selling at these prices, then the economic crisis must be a myth...

PS: Life is still not back to normal in this country, not even in my teeny-weeny itty-bitty summer resort town, and I don't think it will get back to normal until the weather turns nasty, as Greeks are very attached to their creature comforts, rain being on the list of don't-likes, despite also ranking high on the do-need list. High school students (yes, kids) have closed down their schools (the chains and padlock I saw on the gates of the local high school in my neighbourhood are brand new), staged sit-ins and gathered outside the central market (the Agora) in the middle of the town today for a peaceful demonstration. Better than being at school, I suppose, where, admittedly, they learn very little of value.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Post-weekend story: Dimitra's story

I finally got round to visiting them on my way to pick some olives from Fournes, a short detour from my route. They would appreciate my dropping off the photos of their granddaughter's wedding. They will not be expecting to see the bride and groom so soon, so this will be seem such a treat. Long-distance journeys are never easy; the telephone makes one feel that they are never far away. In any case, a photograph is bound to be on its snail-mail way soon.


"Why, hello there! Look who remembered us, Mihali!" my aunt greeted me as I entered the house. The front door is never locked, I simply pushed it and it swung open.

"Happy nameday, Thia!" I replied. I saw her standing in her usual position, over the sink, slicing courgettes. Even though there are no children or grandchildren living in her vicinity, she's still cooking up a storm in her kitchen, a whole tin of food, enough for a family of six. I wondered how many vegetables that woman must have cleaned, pared and chopped in her lifetime of 79 years.

"Na hairese ton andra sou!" she replied. She always remembers my husband's nameday, but can never get round to calling us on the day, as she is too busy accepting phone calls for her nameday on St Demetrius'.

Thio was nowhere to be seen; he had probably wandered off to the kafeneio to pass the morning, away from his wife's space. "The same to you and Thio!" I reciprocated, only just remembering the correct wish for the occasion of a nameday. My brain never seemed to be able to cope with categorising the appropriate expressions for each occassion. Most of the time, I keep my mouth shut just in case I make a faux pas, and say something unlikely, such as 'Hronia polla' at a funeral, or some other highly inappropriate occassion for such a wish.

"You know how much I love it when you come over!" Yes, I did know, feeling guilty that I did not visit more often. Whenever I pass the sign pointing in the direction of the village, I tell myself that I must remember to turn onto their road on my return journey from the olive grove, by which time it always seems too late to spend time in another person's kitchen when I could be in my own.

(Ayia Lake is now a protected area; pouraki is a similar sweet to baklava, made locally.)

"Shall I make you a cup of coffee, sweetie? What about a pouraki?" Even when I'm not hungry, I know that the food I will be eating in this house will not be available to me again until my next visit. Eat what you can now, Thia's said to me on many an occasion, because you don't know when you'll be able to find it again.

"Yes, please," I replied, awaiting with eagerness that little sweet roll filled with nuts from the surrounding trees, seeped in aromatic honey syrup. "That's a big tin of boureki you're making, isn't it, Thia?" I can't see any potato in the tin; she didn't add any potato to her moussaka, either. Once Thio was diagnosed as diabetic, Thia had to adjust her recipes to accomodate him. Not that potato would make much of a difference to Thio's sugar levels; it's all in the mind.

"This'll be enough for two days. But it's not just for us, you know," she explained. "I'm going to your uncle's house and we'll have our lunch there." More guilty feelings; another person I hadn't seen in a long long time. Thio Perikli is her older brother. What am I waiting for?

"How's he doing?" I asked, a question I prefer to avoid, because the answer is never very good.

"Life's a chore for them, they've aged, we've all aged, but they haven't aged well. Athina's practically blind, and all she does is sit around the house now, she never gets out. And her husband's not any better, thinks he can feel death knocking on the door." They both had recently voicedtheir concerns of losing each other.

She rummaged around the bowl of courgette slices as though she was searching for something. "Ah, here it is," she said, pulling out a huge pristine white potato from under the mint-dotted courgettes. "I had to hide it until Thio left the house. What the eye don't see, the mind don't know." The oldest trick in the book. "He's just gone to the kafeneio to pick up some bread. The baker's coming round today. Not that we eat much ourselves - it's not too good for Thio's diabetes - but we buy some out of habit, like we did in the old days," she sighed, still standing at the sink with her hands full of vegetables.


She began layering the vegetables and mizithra into the baking tin. "We used to make our own bread in the village, me, Marika - may the Lord forgive her - and your yiayia," she continued. "We would buy flour with yiayia's pension, after pappou was killed in the war, and if we didn't have enough money we would trade some eggs, or whatever else we grew in excess. In those days, we used ten okades of flour, which isn't ten kilos, but much much more, and we always made ten huge loaves of bread to last a whole week for the six of us."

She opened the oven door. "Don't you top your boureki with filo pastry?" I asked her.

"Oh, I'm past rolling out pastry, dear, that's for the young like you to do." Not that I could be bothered doing it myself; I just throw my boureki into the oven as it is, bare; the cheese burns slightly as the pie cooks, creating the illusion that there is a sheet of pastry topping it. "Besides, if you thio sees it, he'll start another rant about his diabetes levels."

It was a heroic gesture for her to visit her brother and his wife daily. "I don't really want to go to your uncle's house. They always seem so depressed, you know, and this reverberates onto me. It lowers my morale and raises my blood pressure, so I always leave their house feeling ill. They don't realise how much this takes a toll on me; I've still got your thio to look after." She had that worried look on her face, the fear of the unknown, mixed with the knowledge that, whatever it was that she would discover, it would not be something good.

(the original family home in the village of Drakiana)

"Sometimes I feel as if I've gone back in time, and we're eating altogether in the house with your yiayia." Her blue eyes always twinkle when she recalls the past. Her father was killed on the first day of the Battle of Crete, but her stories never seem to recall those days of misery. "When the midday meal was cooked, your yiayia would tell us to come to the table so that we could eat together. We never ever started eating until all of us were home. It was a rule that she enforced strictly. She never wanted anyone to feel that he'd missed out on the first pick. It was usually Manoli who was missing from the house, so Marika or Niko would go out and look for him. He was the youngest, so he was always out playing with the other orphans in the neighbourhood." I had never thought of my father as a young boy, carelessly playing in the mud streets, being called home by his older siblings. What games did he play in those post-war days?

(a toy fashioned from wire, called a tsouri; from John Donat's KPHTH - CRETE 1960)

Thia now sat on a chair and began cutting up all the vegetable scraps into tiny cubes for the chickens and rabbits Thio kept in the sohoro near their house. "We may have been orphans, but we weren't like the other orphaned children in the village. We always ate off plates. I usually helped my mother in the kitchen, and Marika would lay the table, and we each had our own plate," she continued, "not like in Elenara's house. She was widowed too, but there were ten of them in the family, eleven counting herself, so there was never enough food in her house. She'd plonk a hot cauldron full of food in the middle of the table, and all the children would rush to it, like they'd never seen food before, and fish whatever they could out of the pot with their hands. We were much more civilised, we ate like royalty compared to them." She smiled with a satisfied look on her face.

kirtomado hania chania

"I was lucky, because when I got married, I came into another good family, and we all lived well there too. I was only seventeen, but everyone loved me, and I loved them too, you know. I would go with my mother-in-law to the fields and we would gather horta together. If I was given a taliro (five drachmas) for each bag of horta that I gathered, I'd be the richest woman in the world." She had finished chopping the vegetables, and now sat with the palms of her hands on her knees, tucked away under an enormous blue apron.

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"There was never a sad moment in those days, not like now, when all you hear about is doom and gloom..."

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