Sunday, 31 August 2008

Camera critters: the brooch

When I saw this bug near the bank of the river in Fournes village, I was confounded as to how something so shiny and beautifully coloured could turn out to be a creepy crawler living in the dirt. It reminds me of something which I read in my all-time favorite novel: Small Island, by Andrea Levy, one of the few books I have taken the time to read twice.

Here is the excerpt from the book, narrating a similar find to my glistening creepy crawler, in the voice of one of the main characters, Gilbert, of Jamaican origin:

"But this old RAF volunteer had seen it all before, during the war. I was looking down, unlike them big-eyed newcomer boys. I just arrive back in England and there on the pavement before me I spy a brooch. What a piece of good fortune, what a little bit of luck. Lying lost, this precious oval jewel shimmered the radiant iridescent green of a humming-bird caught by the sun. My aunt Corinne would have raised her hands to the heavens to call it a sign.

Now these were the thoughts that passed through my head in the three steps it took me to reach that brooch. One: perhaps it fall from a young woman's coat. Cha, so my blessing was another's misfortune. Two: it was an old woman that lost it from her purse; maybe the police station was the proper place to take it. And three: Hortense - this deep-green brooch would look so pretty on her. I conjured up an image in me mind. See me take the sparkling brooch to pin it to her dress, near her neck, against her smooth nut-brown skin. And look, see her touch the pin then tilt her head to charm a smile on me.

So all this rumination is taking place as I move closer. I was about to bend my knee so I could reach the brooch when hear this ... it flew away. Black flecks suddenly pitting the air. That jewel was no more than a cluster of flies caught by the light, the radiant iridescent green the movement of their squabbling backs. My eyes no longer believed what they saw. For after the host of flies flew they left me with just the small piece of brown dog's shit they had all gathered on. Was this a sign? Maybe. For one of the big-eyed newcomer boys walk straight along and step right in the muck."

Saturday, 30 August 2008

From Kentucky to Kolimbari

The dietary habits of an American family of French Huguenot descent living in a village in Hania, Crete

People's dietary habits differ all over the world, with the result that when they leave their home territory, their dietary choices may not be available in their new place of residence. This invariably results in replacing food items that cannot be sourced in certain parts of the world with a foreign equivalent, or in extreme cases, doing without.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is well known all over the world, but not in Hania, Crete. What happens when an American family from Louisville, Kentucky (don't pronounce the 's'), the headquarters of KFC, comes to live in Kolimbari, Chania (don't pronounce the 'C'), where KFC does not (yet) exist?

How will their dietary habits change? What substitutions and replacements will have to be enlisted in order that their daily dietary KFC doses will not suffer adversely? Is it possible for a Kentuckian to survive on the Mediterranean diet?

The rates of obesity in the USA are constantly under discussion. The situation is being treated as an epidemic by many specialists: unhealthy diet coupled with lack of exercise and an addiction to sedentary activities, notably the internet, have led to a decline in the health of the average Americans.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006), Michael Pollan points out that the average American's diet consists of corn-based food products, most of which are prepared in industrial kitchens (hence the term "industrial eater"), the kind usually served in fast-food outlets and store-bought ready meals, and eaten mainly by sitting on a couch watching television or in a fast moving car. Houses are even designed with a non-functional kitchen and just a microwave oven to heat up ready food (as Joanna Blythman claims in Shopped). Corn is fed to animals used in the consumer food market, such as chicken and beef, staple parts of the American diet. It is also used in other food products in the form of flour, preservatives and other food-related ingredients, even in the pesticides that are used to ensure a healthy bushel of corn. The problems inherent in such an agricultural system are mainly those related to non-sustainability and the cruel nature of growing food for fuel instead of starving people.

This is in stark contrast to the diet practiced by many residents of Crete, in accordance with the food pyramid of the Mediterranean diet (Verivaki, 2007-2008). Although supermarkets in Crete do sell prepared food in cans and plastic containers, it is not available in great quantities, nor is it treated as a staple food source. Fast food outlets do abound on the island, so it is expected that a Kentuckian will be using their facilities as a meal replacement service, given the absence of KFC.

While Americans source their food in supermarkets and the likes of McDonalds and KFC, the Cretans subsist mainly on local food which they have grown and harvested themselves. Although television features in various degrees of priority in both locations, there would be very few homes in Crete which do not own a table large enough for one's family to dine on, despite the fact that this worrying trend has been seen to intrude i various households on the island.

The purpose of this thesis, oops, sorry, I meant post, is to provide a descriptive account of the food lifestyle of the Hanioto-Kentuckians.

The data used in the thesis (of course, I meant the post) were gathered through the use of:

  • casual interviews with the subjects (n = 2, no males)
  • a meal prepared by the subjects in their Cretan home
  • the contents of the subjects' fridge
  • foods from the Mediterranean diet range presented to the subjects
1. What do you do for a living? (Sedentary jobs, no doubt...)
S1 is an occupational therapist, while S2 needed new kneecaps and hips, no doubt partly due to the archaeological digs she has been participating in for the last 25 years. There isn't a moment to sit around...

2. When you are in Crete, what physical exercise do you take? (I'll bet it's the gym...)
S2 has been swimming all her life, even though she doesn't live near the sea. She first crossed a river close to her home in Pennsylvania when she was only four years of age. S1 swam before she could walk because her mother (S2) was worried she might fall into someone's swimming pool and drown herself, so she taught her how to swim form a young age. They are both able to tackle Kolimbari Beach, which is very stony and deep, playing host to a dangerous riptide every now and then. S2 has also been known to hose down neighbours who spray her freshly washed laundry with water mixed with concrete from their newly constructed house. Although the subjects are both very active, they did not partake in the tomato pelting fight which took place between two neighbours; they were very thankful guns were not used instead.

3. How far away is your local 'fastfoodadiko'? (This place sure looks like the wop wops...)
Neither S1 nor S2 have any idea where the local souvlatzidiko is. They must miss KFC a lot.

4. Where do you eat your meals? (Oh, shit, there's a table in here...)
All meals are taken on a Shaker-design table which S2 made herself. In fact, all the furniture in their home is hand-made Shaker-style by S2, including a rug, made on a traditional Cretan weaving frame, called an argalio, and the covers of the living room suite.

grimbigliana kolimbari hania chania

5. Where do you source your food when living on the island
? (I mustn't lose my focus...)
"We grow our own weeds," they proudly told me. The garden contains lettuce, peppers and glistrida (purslane). Basil decorates the balcony as a pot plant (and I can smell it cooking in the kitchen).

grimbigliana kolimbari hania chania

6. What do you keep in your fridge
? (I'm curious...)
Apart from a carton of juice and some containers full of cooling water, half the fridge had been invaded by a 15-kilogram watermelon. There were also an incredible number of corked wine bottles in the fridge, all of which have been presented as gifts (but never imbibed) from friends passing by to see them in their Cretan home in Grimbigliana, a hamlet of the coastal village of Kolimbari, west of Hania. The house itself was part of a former Turkish court, of which the fortifications and the stonework of the court, dating back to the 1700s, can still be seen today, against a background of terraced fields where wheat was once grown.

7. How often do you eat meat
? (Not a cow or chicken in sight...)
Despite expecting otherwise, no corn-fed cows were to be found in the vicinity of the house. S1 is a vegetarian; she only eats chicken when she goes out for dinner in Crete and their Cretan friends deliberately over-order, as they regard her as under-fed. S2 is tired of cooking after mothering four daughters and would love to eat something cooked by anyone else other than herself. Her youngest daughter, also a vegetarian, has just had the healthiest grandchild S2 has seen so far, over 9lbs. (The answer to this question has obviated the need to ask how long it's been since the subjects had KFC).

8. Can you name these foods? (Worth a try...)
"Oh my God, you bought us some horta! Oh, you didn't bring a boureki, did you? You made courgette patties especially for us?"

grimbigliana kolimbari hania chania

9. What are we eating today
? (I'm hungry...)
S2 made a tomato and courgette quiche, using a Southern recipe for the crust. It had a sprinkling of basil on it, an unusual herb for Crete. Anne whipped up a green salad with red peppers. There was also anthotiro, a soft white local variety of Cretan cheese, and multi-grain bread from Drandakis bakery in Akrotiri.

grimbigliana hania chania

10. Why do we need two forks, Mum
? (Thanks for the question, Aristotle)
I don't know, son.

11. Hey, what's that gun doing over the fireplace? Do they go hunting? (???)
Oh, go ask Alice, please, Dimitri.

12. How on earth does S1 keep so slim? (If I ask this one, I'll only be drawing attention to myself...)

Tomato quiche with Mama's crust is finger-lickin' good.
I must remember to take back my baking tin.
The framed flag on the wall travelled from England (as a scarf on an RAF soldier's neck) to Greece, to the USA, and back to Greece again; the rudder to the right of the fireplace is from a boat owned by a friend who also owned the gun (it doesn't work).
Is there a Shaker furniture store in Hania?
Who's your daddy?

The Mediterranean cuisine has had no effect in the dietary habits of the Kentuckians surveyed, although this must be verified with a greater sample size. Future research could focus on the availability of Cretan food in Kentucky, as this is what is actually eaten by the subjects where they live most of the time...

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: I am indebted to Anne Clarke and Allis for inviting me to lunch at their home in Grimbigliana, Kolimbari, Hania, Crete.

©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.

Friday, 29 August 2008

SkyWatch Friday: fire in the mountains

The middle of the day in Greece is a sacred moment, enshrined in the law as the holy siesta, when not even backgammon can be played in a residential zone. Noise control is usually enforced when the moment calls for it - except in the case of an emergency.

fire hania chaniafire hania chania
(right above our house with a bucket full of sea water - heading towards the fire)

On Monday, a helicopter was heard in the hottest hour of the day zooming around above our house. That can only mean one thing: fire, a fire in a field, a very dangerous area for fires to break out, as most fields in Hania (and all of Crete, for that matter) have olive trees planted in them, which catch fire and burn in the space of very little time. Fires more often than not are started by someone, not something: a farmer may be burning dry tree cuttings without ensuring that the fire is extinguished before he leaves the site; someone might be clearing a field on a windy day; an arsonist might want to raze a forest area to the ground so that the state can then declare it a non-forested area (even though it previously was a forest) and building developments can take place (sadly, this occurs frequently).

I didn't pay much attention to the helicopter as this sort of thing happens frequently. It flies above our house and usually disappears beyond our view...

fire hania chaniafire hania chania
(the location of the fire - pouring the bucketful of water over the fire)

...but not this time. I was lying on the couch reading a novel, but after hearing it zooming past just above my head (over our roof) for the third time, I decided to investigate. The other curious thing was that we could hear it the whole time in the air, meaning that the fire was close to our house.

The bucket hanging below the helicopter collects water from the sea, and returns to the scene of the fire. It's much quicker than a fire engine, which there are not enough of to deal with the frequency of forest fires as they break out in summer. Helicopters are used in areas that are difficult to access; many olive trees are found on mountainsides with a steep incline. This helicopter passed the area quite a few times when I took the photo, which means that the fire needed a lot of work to be extinguished. Apart from helicopters, Canader planes are also used in fire-fighting.

fire hania chaniafire hania chania
(emptying the bucket over the fire - flying away with an empty bucket)

The whole family got out to watch the helicopter, which made its way from the hills it was pouring fire over, to the sea (beyond our view unfortunately) and back to the hills. It did this about then times. I couldn't detect any sign of fire or smoke, so I'm wondering if the fire service was alerted to some smouldering remains, rather than an actual fire. Either that, or this exercise was performed as a drill.

Thursday, 28 August 2008


In August, the colour orange is strongly represented in Fournes, a village in Hania, located in a wider area well-known in Greece for orange production.

orange fournes

The summer sun anoints everything animate and inanimate, encasing it all in a shade akin to the golden globes found hanging on the dusty trees. Its shades are found in the terracotta urns that lie abandoned in the gardens of the old brick-orange houses, the chickens under the orange trees, the fallen citrus crop that nobody bothered to pick, the weeds that dry up in the scorching heat. Even the pick up trucks, the packing crates and irrigation pipes cannot evade the hue that Fournes is most famous for. The sun parches the ground, scorches the trees and burns the life out of the fallen crops. Yet without it, there would be no crops and rural life would cease.

orange fournes orange fournes orange fournes orange fournes
orange fournes orange fournes orange fournes orange fournes

(This work has been inspired from Calliope's series on Spectral Studies.)

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

ABC Wednesday: F for Fournes

It's ABC Wednesday again, and F is for Fournes, a village in north western Crete.


Fournes is the second-to-last village that you will meet on your way to the famous Samaria Gorge, the longest ravine in Europe (the last village is Lakki). It sits below the Lefka Ori mountain range. Its location, on a flat fertile plain just before the long and winding road leading to the mountains, was its greatest asset. The message one receives on passing it on their way to the Omalos valley where the gorge is located is that it has seen better days. The neo-classical designs in the old houses on the main road attest to a certain grandeur that has now become all but lost. The fields of Fournes are covered in olive and orange trees, but they often have a neglected look to them. They hint at a sign of modern times: the demise of agriculture.

barn in amongst olive and orange groves fournes hania chania

The village was once considered very wealthy because its location was easily accessible, and agricultural produce was an important source of wealth. Back in the days of wealth and prosperity, people showed off their money by decorating their homes ornately, indulging in the latest fashion and dining out on a regular basis in the town. It is said that a man would get a new suit sewn every month, even if he didn't get a chance to wear the suit he had bought in the previous month. Those days are over. Olives are strewn uncollected under the trees, oranges remain on the tree even when it is producing new crops, wild thorny blackberry vines strangle olive and orange trees. The decay is obvious: rural decline in favour of urban progress.

orange fournes

Despite its drawbacks, Fournes still manages to lure locals and foreigners alike. The number of residents has grown slightly over the years since foreigners and wealthier citizens started building new houses in the area. This is all due to its proximity to the main town, and the plentiful agricultural occupations it offers. In the appropriate season, there is olive picking and orange packing, and if one is not averse to the sweaty toil of fieldwork, there are plenty of seasonal jobs available in the way of cleaning up fields by getting rid of thorny bushes and weeds under the trees, and generally maintaining the land, enticing in this way economic migrants. It is not a big deal to commute by car between town and village if your work is located in the urban centre (only the cost of petrol is a nuisance).

(Tomorrow I will present more photos from Fournes)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Koum Kapi

My family and I were recently in the area of an inner-city coastal suburb of Hania known as Koum Kapi. As the name suggests, it was inhabited mainly by citizens with Turkish affiliations, until the time of the population exchanges precipitated by the Asia Minor crisis in 1922. The Turkish residents left many decades ago, but the names they had been using in Hania for four centuries still remain. Koum Kapi is still called Koum Kapi, and it doesn't look like it will change. Since we were in the district, we decided to enjoy our once-a-month family meal out at one of the dozens of al fresco eateries found there.

hania chania st lucia gate bulwark

Koum Kapi, a coastal area located eastwards of the main town of Hania, takes its name from the Turkish language, meaning 'gate of sand', which refers to the eastern gate (still standing) built into the wall that surrounded the town to guard it and its citizens in older times. Before Ottoman rule, the Venetians had already named it Sabbionara, again meaning 'sand gate'. The bulwark is now covered with trees, and there used to be a cafe operating under their shade. I was lucky enough to enjoy the view from this spot; it has closed down now.

One hundred years ago, Koum Kapi's sandy shores were once covered in straw huts, homes to the 'χαλικούτιδες' (halikoutides), the moslem servant tinkerers of Arab-African descent, who left the town during the last major population exchange in 1922 after the burning of Smyrna. The photo shows their dwellings: a rather unusual structure inhabited by unusual people. This photo has been taken from the book Chania outside the Wall, by Aimilia Kladou-Bletsa.


Koum Kapi gradually turned into another quick-build shoddy-construction ghetto: rows of workers' houses, crammed beside each other like sardines in a can, one room tacked onto the other with no town planning taken into consideration. The area resembled a slum and was considered a 'bad' neighbourhood, the kind where illicit activities take place. The area underwent major re-imaging in the mid-90s; as soon as the slum housing disappeared and the coastal road was turned into a promenade suitable for the evening volta (stroll), along came the developers, turning it into a glitzy cafe-bar neighbourhood. Before this happened, this is what it looked like (again taken from Aimilia Kladou-Bletsa's fascinating book), a little as I remember it when I first came to Greece:

koum kapi pre-1990s

It is now the most vibrant part of town, and there is never an empty seat at the eateries in good weather. It stretches along the coast starting at the right of the touristy old port, the eastern side of the Venetian city wall which is still standing; an open-air theatre operates below it, in the area of a former moat, throughout the summer. Passing St Lucia's gate, Koum Kapi ends just behind the stately Villa Koundourou, a 100-year old country house bequeathed to the state by the owner, now turned into an arts centre.

It seems that Koum Kapi is a well kept secret among the locals, as few foreign tourists are seen strolling along the promenade; while the locals walk slowly along the road enjoying the view and the misty breeze, the Northern European tourists jostle against each other for walking space at the old port in the high summer season.

koum kapi

It was a hot night, the theater in the moat was staging a children's play, the car park next to the theater - again housed in the moat - was choked with cars to full capacity. We were lucky to find a space near the entrance just as we were getting ready to leave it after driving right through it! This was the scariest part of the evening: getting through choking traffic with two youngsters in tow. But they weren't the only children being dragged to their parents' favorite hangout: my children met up with some of their friends from the day camp they have been attending. But the strollers were primarily young Greeks: smiling faces with bursts of laughter, all dressed in the latest fashion.

koum kapi kazimi hania chania

We took a walk along the promenade. The music coming from the bars, coupled with the style of the older houses, most of which have been renovated, will make you think you are on a backstreet in Havana. The food places were located closer to St Lucia's gate, while the open-air bars and cafes were found by Villa Koundourou. We walked back to find a seat in one of the little bistro-style tavernas, settling on the first place we found with empty seats. The sign above the indoor area gave its name as Kazimi. The seats were positioned next to the promenade, so that we had a direct view of the ocean, with the occassional spray of sea as the waves hit the breakwater. It felt fabulous to sit so close to the sea, but spare a thought for the locals: the music got louder and louder as the night wore on, and apparently no one goes home until well into the early hours of the morning...

koum kapi hania chania

We decided to order something simple: a mixed grill, more popularly known in Greek as a 'poikilia' (variety). There was a choice of small, medium and large: we chose medium for our family of two adults and two children.

'Anything to drink?' asked the not-very-talkative owner-waiter-cook.
'Two 'gazozes' for the children (locally produced cream soda), and a couple of ice-cold beers from the tap for us,' my husband replied.
'Sorry, I haven't yet bought the equipment for beer off the tap. We're new in the business, you see.' My husband was most disappointed. I wasn't too fussed; even if the food didn't come up to our expectations from this newly-opened eatery and its inexperienced owner, you have to see Koum Kapi for what it is: a good place to chill out. I wouldn't go to Koum Kapi otherwise. If all I wanted was good food, I'd stay at home. In any case, what we got for 31 euro, drinks included, was not just the food. There was also the intoxicating view and the lively atmosphere.

mixed grill poikilia

Admittedly, the food wasn't all home-made, judging by the chicken nuggets and uniform-sized schnitzel, but the meatballs were delicious, and the chicken souvlaki was the most succulent I had had in ages. The potato chips were crisp, but the sausages were the cheerio type, which would have gone down well at a children's party. As an added bonus, there was plenty to take home with us for the next day's lunch (2 kids count for 1 adult). It went well with the leftover boureki.

leftovers mixed grill poikilia

Funnily enough, I found myself at the same spot the next night with a friend. The bistro didn't fill up, while all the others around it were packed. Is this the effect I have on places?!

©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.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Odd shots Monday: hanging herbs

Locally grown herbs from the region of Hania, Crete, drying on the branches of a 100-year-old olive tree.

village, Hania, Crete.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Camera critters: sea snails

These snails seem to be quite cosy stuck onto the rotting wooden post of an unkempt fence at Kalamaki Beach. The owner of the house says that they are edible. They are boiled and extracted out of the shell with a pin, then dipped into an oil-garlic-vinegar dip before they are eaten.

For a completely different perspective of snail meals, click here.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Air conditioning

This grotesque metal box (there's another one on the other side of the wall) makes us feel more comfortable in the middle of a heatwave, which we've just recently been through. It makes life more bearable in the middle of the day. We use the A/C at the most ten days a year; this year has seen an exceptionally coo summer. It's only 11am, and it's 35 degrees Celsius already; by the mid-afternoon, it will have risen to at least 37 degrees, which is by no means the upper limit - last year we experienced temperatures of up to 43 degrees Celsius in the summer, one of the hottest on record.

These unaesthetic blobs are an unavoidable sight in houses and apartment blocks throughout the country. They are the only way of lowering the temperature in a brick and mortar house which is exposed to the sun all day. The screen awning we have placed on the balcony - left - in front of this room (which happens to be the bedroom) only keeps the sun away; it doesn't lower the temperature.

Friday, 22 August 2008

SkyWatch Friday: lunar eclipse

eclipse 16 august 2008eclipse 16 august 2008

Here's what I saw of the lunar eclipse that occurred on the Saturday, the 16th of August, from Hania, Crete, Greece. I could see a shadow of the sun below the moon (second photo) which did not come out too well in the second photo. The first photo shows a zoom-in on the eclipse.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

I wish I had a garden...

These pot plants were found beside the verandah of an apartment block built on an extremely noisy and dusty main road in an industrial zone, but the owner must be thankful that the flat does not face the street; despite this, the back yard of the verandah is located among a steel scrapyard, not the nicest of places to live, obviously.

The owner of the pot plants must have great affection for nature and living organisms. Maybe nature in its wild form is difficult to access for them, maybe they were born in a village, maybe they just love the colours of nature in their purest form. Whatever it is, I felt the owner's presence in this topsy turvy mix of living objects, imagining someone sitting outside in the cool evening breeze when the industrial complex has closed down after the day's business, nurturing the plants and enjoying their lot.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

ABC Wednesday: E for Eternity

It's ABC Wednesday again, and E is for eternity.

When I got married, I decided it would be for eternity. The Greek Orthodox wedding service made it sound like a grave decision that could not be overturned. The priest at St Nicholas church in the village of Galatas blessed our crowns, linked with a ribbon, joining the bride and groom, binding them for life. The crowns are kept throughout the married life of the couple, and there are even special frames available to keep them in. I wanted to put them in the same frame my parents had kept theirs in, but who knows what my father's wife did with it; at the time, I thought it impolite to ask. In any case, she ended up tearing her wedding crowns from the wall (for the second time) when she left him, which really was a waste of time and crown money in the first place.

I never got round to buying a frame for the crowns; for the last nine years, they've been hanging next to my wedding photo. I also kept a few flowers that had been used in my posh hairdo on the day of my wedding, and because I like to be fair to my husband and give him space, I salvaged a little bit of what was left of his wedding suit tie and stuck it onto the picture frame. The rest of the tie was cut up and fried, to be eaten as a dessert after the wedding banquet by his friends, according to a modern ritual. Men really are queer, aren't they?

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Outdoor fun park

My children were invited to a children's birthday party held at an outdoor fun park. They played in a balloon adventure park for nearly four hours without getting bored once. The parents enjoyed their margaritas in the cool evening breeze, as well as some pastry desserts and the leftovers of the children's pizza dinner.

outdoor fun park hania chania

The fun park is located half a kilometre from the beach, about two kilometres from where I live. It is located at the centre of tourist activity: there is a huge INKA supermarket across the road, and the area is surrounded by hotels, tavernas and shops catering for the tourist trade. During the day, the outdoor area doesn't operate due to the harsh sun. The balloons are pumped up after 6pm, when people start leaving the beach. People kept arriving at the fun park all hours of the evening, which was a very warm one (we were at the start of a heatwave).

As a family outing, it isn't cheap; children pay an entrance fee of 5 euro, with an orange juice included, but there's also the cost of food and drinks for the rest of the family. Then there are other attractions which are not included in the entrance fee (not pictured): each go-cart costs 1 euro per ride, and there are many other similar rides to choose from. As a children's function venue, however, it is very cost-effective: others do the work for you, and you don't have to clean up afterwards.

outdoor fun park hania chania

Despite living a stone's throw away from this amusement centre, which also houses a bowling alley on its roof and pinball machines indoors, I had never been there before. It has a desolate look as you pass it on the main road during the day. It is also greatly reminiscent of the plastic world we live in, with its artificial lights and well-kept lawns, despite the electricity and water shortages we face throughout the summer.

Nevertheless, I had a great time sitting in the cool evening breeze while the children amused themselves independently. Even my airy house with its top-floor balcony could not compete with this place. We got home just before midnight, having thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Odd shots Monday: stone house

Remains of an old stone house, Daratsos village, Hania, Crete.

Sunday, 17 August 2008


August the 15th is the day Greeks celebrate the third most important religious feast in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Easter takes precedence as the most important feast, followed by Christmas (ever wondered why Christmas in Greece is so dull?), followed by the Dormition (Assumption to the Catholics) of the Virgin Mary. A 14-day-long fasting period, along exactly the same guidelines as the Great Lent, precedes the feast day. Although it is a national holiday, it does not seem like one, mainly because it falls in the middle of the summer, just when everyone seems to be on holiday anyway: just like Christmas time in my Antipodes homeland.

Mary, Maria, Panagiota (the One above the Saints, but presumably below God) all celebrate their nameday today, along with Mario and Panagioti. Namedays, believe it or not, are more important than birthdays. Despite the fact that many people are happy to celebrate both their name and birthday, it's the nameday that won't ever be forgotten by friends and relatives. It's also the one that evokes pleasant feelings, which is what makes Greeks the envy of the non-Greeks on such auspicious occasions:

Woman announcing her nameday: "It's my nameday today!" "Oh, really? What's your name?"
Woman announcing her birthday: "It's my birthday today!" "Oh, really? How old are you?"

And for those of you - Greeks and non-Greeks alike - who have a name which is not recognised in the religious calendar of the Greek Orthodox church (my mother's, and even my son's, don't feature in it), don't worry: there's always All-Saints Day.

So here I am, on my nameday, expecting a dozen guests to be fed and watered. In Crete, namedays are celebrated without inviting people to them. Friends and relatives will either phone to wish the celebrant χρόνια πολλά, which loosely translates as: "may you have many years of life to come", which is OK if you're not, say, 84 years old, otherwise it might sound like a curse.

Here are the choices most people select from to celebrate their nameday:
1. Have a big sit-down meal at home. This means lots of cooking and cleaning. This kind of revelry is reserved for Papa Bear: his nameday falls in the autumn, when cooking up a feast is a good way of heating up the house on a cool evening and entertaining guests indoors is the norm.
2. Have guests over at home, but serve only finger food and sweets, kind of like a buffet. I love the idea but would prefer it if someone else would make the finger food and cakes. It still means cleaning up before and after the event.
3. Go out for either a sit-down meal or finger food and sweets. This works well if you know who is coming to your nameday, because it's one of those parties which custom dictates you do not invite people to; in other words, you must make the effort to let people know where you will be instead, because you won't be at home where they may expect to find you.
4. Invite certain people to go out with you on your nameday, but not your regular well-wishers. Too elitist for us; simply not our style.

caretta hania chania

We decided to go out to a place we knew well and could hope on finding a free table. It's best to book a table if you want good food on this day, being the holiday that it is, otherwise, you have to contend with restaurants, tavernas and other food establishments that may offer a lower standard of food and service. As I have a strong opinion about where you will find very good tasty well-cooked food in Hania (only in a private house), the place I chose was selected purely on the grounds of location: it was right next to the beach, the waves could be heard crashing on the sand, and there was a small playground for the younger members of the party to amuse themselves within view of the parents. I was simply lucky that the food also turned out to be good.

seafood kalitsouniacaretta hania chania

Caretta Caretta has nothing to do with turtles: the name simply has a good gimmicky sound to it. We've been going to this seaside taverna for a long time now. It's located on the west coast of Hania, in a village called Agia Marina (Saint Marina). The village borders two other seaside villages which play host to the the classiest nightlife zones in Hania at this time of year: Stalos to the east, and Platanias to the west. This is where everyone comes if they want to boogie the
summer night away. Neither Stalos, Ayia Marina nor Platanias have specific borders, melding into each other in the way that neighbourhoods tend to do when they start sprawling. Once the poorest areas in the district, they are now the wealthiest. Up until the early 1950's (ie pre-mass tourism), the seaside soil was considered infertile, and lay barren-looking. It was the kind of land that refugees were gifted by the state, because it was deemed useless. Some clever person had the idea that they could build basic rooms to meet the low standards of the backpacking beach-sleeping mosquito-bitten grubby tourists at the time, and since then, Greece has been treated as a cheap holiday destination, an opinion which suddenly changed this year with the dollar crisis, or should I say the euro crisis, since our Northern European tourists are particularly feeling the sting of an expensive currency.

sea urchin

Every year, Caretta Caretta shows signs of improvement rather than stagnating. It offers the full range of Greek cuisine, along with internationally known pasta dishes (like carbonara) which are safe choices for the poor tourists who do not know how to ask for good Greek food by name. Along with this standard menu, it also offers some surprises, some of which we chose for my special day: grilled filleted sardines, seafood kalitsounia (better get the chef police onto them for the misuse of Greek culinary terminology), crab stuffed with a cheese filling and our all-time favorite delicacy, the most expensive meze of all, sea urchins, which are dressed with the ubiquitous olive oil and lemon juice and enjoyed as a dip with sourdough bread: a very acquired taste, but a special one nonetheless. We also ordered a seafood salad, some dakos, a plate of fried whitebait, some tasty octopus in vinegar dressing, some fried calamari a few plates of fried potatoes - they were that good. Total cost: 135 euro, for a party of 12.

©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.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Morning coffee

Today I have to make sure that I get to do every single errand that involves going into Hania, as it's the last day my children are at day camp (ie being supervised by someone else). After parking the car a zillion miles away from the centre (as usual), and carrying a computer screen in my hands (it broke down while under guarantee), I started on the little tasks that make me walk from one end of Hania to the other every time I need I go into my hectic little town, with its erratic traffic problems which are always exacerbated in the summer.

Coupled with the congestion, there is the heat. Sweat poured down my back, my clothes were sticking to my skin, my head felt as if it were on fire. To make things worse, I had forgotten to fill my water bottle from my home, meaning that I was carrying extra useless weight in my bag aside from mizithra, okra, vine beans, children's books, among others. My mouth was dry, my body slowly dehydrating, and it was only half past nine. I needed a sit-down in the shade with something cool to drink.

My errands had taken up to the Agora, behind which there is a large square with cafes and bars surrounding it. I walked along the road and chose the first empty space offering ample shade; the name of the cafe and what it served did not interest me at that moment. In fact, whenever I'm eating out, the food and where it comes from never interests me, because I know that I can never be sure of the truth of anything the restaurateur claims about the menu. Luckily for those who live in Hania, when eating out, there is usually a choice of views, scenery and atmosphere to enjoy apart from the food: this is the motivating reason for me to eat out.

My view was not the most alluring: double parked cars, souvenir shops, tacky jewellery stores and other nondescript eyesores. Even the sight of the tourists who were milling about the area - a well-known tourist spot which may also be referred to as a trap by some - was not uplifting: after a certain point, one easily tires of seeing old-fashioned travel book images from a bygone era, young lasses clad in bikini tops and wraparound skirts and bare-chested men, their shoulders laden with a dusty backpack, in the middle of the town where we all conduct both our formal and informal business. As AA says, this is the image most people still have of Greece: a place where everyone lives by the sea beating octopuses on rocks and traveling by donkey. My tired feet and aching arms had not foiled my senses.

ano kato cafe hania chania

I looked up, spotting the name of the cafe: Ano kato: Serraiki Bougatsa, which could loosely be translated as "Topsy Turvy: Sweet Pie from Serres." Bougatsa from Serres? Foreign food, food that our foreign tourists are aching for, the term foreigners including urbanite Greek travellers from Athens, the kind who buy bougatsa in Athens which bears no resemblance to the bougatsa served in Hania, the kind of place a non-Cretan Greek would look for if words like boureki, dakos and stamnagathi scare them, fearing the unknown as we all do to some extent, which is why many of us will search for a Casa di Pasta restaurant in Thailand, or a burger chain in China.

"Parakalo?" Just when I was thinking that this might be a self-service cafe, the waiter had arrived, carrying a serving tray with coffees and glasses of water with lots of ice cubes. He had been busy preparing orders to be served to the local shop-owners, another one of those traditions which gives Greece a picture-postcard image: a waiter crossing the street with a tray of refreshments, specially ordered by businesspeople. No messing around with the cafetiere for them; silver service that even the plebs can enjoy. He left one of the glasses of water on my table.

Being on a diet - always one that is broken - I had left the house without having breakfast, so I decided to order some bougatsa, in full knowledge that it would contain three times the number of claories that my home-made breakfast would contain. I noticed the food display case: croissants, rolls, pastries, but which of all of them was the Serraiki bougatsa?

"A plunger coffee and a serving of bougatsa, please."
"The bougatsa's going to be ready in about ten minutes," he replied very politely. I was beginning to like this place.
"No problem," I smiled, I'm in no hurry."
He smiled too. "And you know it's the cream-type of bougatsa." Oh, the joy of being treated like a local...

ano kato cafe hania chania

As it was still early morning for some, the cafe was empty. I was being kept company by three empty seats round my table. I laid all my bags on the seat opposite mine, when it occurred to me that those inanimate objects might just have a better view than I did. I got up and changed places with the bags.

ano kato cafe hania chaniaano kato cafe hania chania

My whole world changed. No more cars and tacky souvenirs. I saw a different world: traditional handcrafts and woven textiles, a huge linden tree, the wall of the main square where the Cathedral of Hania is located. The most basic elements of the area had probably not changed since my parents' time before they left Crete to emigrate to New Zealand. I wondered whether they had walked in the same side street - probably it had not been pedestrianised in their time - before they left the country. It had the kind of look we are familiar with in those old Greek black and white movies which I used to see at the cinema in Wellington during a private screening for the Greek community.

old port hania chaniaold port hania chania

The ten minutes it took for the bougatsa to arrive passed pleasantly watching the shop owners waiting for business, sweeping the outside of their shops and chatting to their neighbours. A hotel owner sat in the alley opposite with a bowl of uncleaned horta reading her newspaper. Even the cobblestones on the street took on a new interest.

bougatsa serraiki

Serraiki bougatsa was surely very different to the bougatsa traditionally served in Hania: custard instead of mizithra cheese, icing sugar and cinnamon instead of white granulated sugar. Even the filo pastry tasted different. But it was tasty and made perfect breakfast fare. If only the woman who's always serving at the counter in Bougatsa Iordanis could be as polite as the waiter at Ano Kato...

©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.