Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Bag shop

I like the one with the elephant design best.

Bags sold at a tourist shop in the old town, Hania.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Post-weekend story: Fish and chips

When I was 12 years old, my parents bought a fish and chip shop in one of the not-so-interesting suburbs of the greater area of Wellington. Mum had been made redundant from her factory job after its closure, while Dad knew that his factory job was on the line, as that business was also on the verge of closure. At the start of the 80s when factories started to close down at the rate of one per hour, my parents were in their mid-40s: far too young to retire, far too uneducated and unskilled to look for work in trades other than service sector. The house we had bought five years ago (which permanently put off any dreams they might have had of moving back to Greece) had rotten wooden foundations, disused fireplaces and chimneys and a leaky bathroom ceiling. Unemployment benefit was out of the question, according to the work ethic upheld by most Greek migrants at the time. It was the service sector or nothing.

fish shop
(Dad at the shop with one of his employees, also from Hania)

I acted as my parents’ official translator at the lawyer’s office when they signed the contract to buy a fish and chip shop. It must have been one of the hardest moments in their life, to realize that the time had come for them to get into the catering business, the livelihood of most of the successful Greeks in the Greek Orthodox Community of Wellington. Why didn’t they enter the food trade earlier, when they were younger, more mobile, more able to work under pressure? They had probably put it off for so long, since they were comfortable in their routine factory jobs. For the last dozen or so years, they had been working 9 to 5 jobs, with the odd night shift and overtime, enabling them to be home in the evenings, and always close to their children. The shop would change their whole way of life.

Every morning, Dad would get up early to buy fish fillets and potatoes at the market warehouses in Allen St, not too far from our house. Or he’d shop at the Moore Wilson’s food supplier for flour, baking powder, ketchup sachets and tartare sauce. Then he’d drop us off at school, and make his way to the shop in Newlands, a quarter of an hour away from our house, to start cleaning, filleting and cutting fish. The potatoes had to be scraped of their skin and chipped (all by machine). All the delivery agents would make their calls at some point or other in the day. They popped in some time in the morning to deliver hot dogs, sausages, pineapple rings, curry rolls, spring rolls, donuts, corn fritters, paua fritters, reams of paper, Coca-Cola, Fanta and Leed, among the hundreds of bits and pieces we needed to keep the fish and chip shop stocked. How he managed to do all this without any English skills to speak of amazes me.

My mother stayed at home to cook, wash and clean, like all Greek ladies of her time. By 10 o’clock, she had prepared the evening meal and done most of the daily household chores. Then she did something that practically no other Greek woman of her time did: she took her bag and keys, locked the house and drove her own car to the shop. She was one of the few Greek immigrant women driving in Wellington, an awesome spectacle, the envy of the other Greek women who knew that this feat of my mother’s – gaining a driver’s licence after her fourth driving test – placed her well above them in the ranks of the successful Greek families. She only learnt to drive after my parents bought the fish shop; she had no other choice but to learn, what with the business being located so far from our house.

Mum’s job was to pre-cook all the fried bits and pieces that were sold along with the chips. First, a light batter would be made up and allowed to rise. Then she’d take the fish pieces, dredge them in flour, dip them in the batter and toss them into one of the two vats filled with lard that were used for this purpose. Dad took care of the third vat, pre-cooking chips in huge rectangular metal baskets. Everything would be drained well, then laid out on paper-lined drawers below the counter, and allowed to cool down before they were re-cooked in the customers’ orders.

In the early afternoon, Dad would come to pick us up from school. We were in our mid-teens before we were allowed to take the bus by ourselves. To get to the bus stop, we had to walk past the Parliament buildings, probably the most policed area of the whole of the city. It took a while for our parents to realize that the chances of being raped or kidnapped at half-past three in the afternoon after school when the streets of Wellington were teeming with trails of teal-uniformed school girls were actually quite minimal.

I’d take up my position by one of the deep freezers that we had in the work space behind the counter, while the little laughing olive tree took up her position by the second freezer. We’d open our school bags, spread out our books and start doing our homework, as fast as we could before the 6 o’clock teatime customers started arriving. I earned my linguistics major on that freezer. That’s where all my term papers were written. When the shop got busy, we’d leave our textbooks, notebooks and pencil cases to come out to the front of the shop and take the customers’ orders while Mum and Dad did the greasy cooking. When we needed something from the deep freezers, we’d pile our books one on top of the other, hold on to them tightly, open the freezer and get what we wanted. When things started to quieten down on the front, after seven o’clock, we’d go back to our homework. Kiwis all wanted to eat a the same time, or so it seemed to us. The rush over, Mum and Dad would clean up and get ready to close down by 8pm – unless it was late night shopping night, and we’d close at 9pm. The last customers were the drinkers from the pub at the shopping centre. They’d come in just before we closed down, reeking of alcohol, with their friends of the opposite sex, laughing rather raucously, as though they had just left from a Christmas party. They were the most talkative customers, the ones my parents were most afraid of.

When we came home, we weren’t so much exhausted, as smelly, greasy and rattled. We reeked of fish and lard. We ate our meal late, had a bath, finished off our homework and laid out our school uniforms clean and ready for the next day. Then we went to bed. There wasn’t much else that could be fitted into the evening. This was what most days of the year were like for us. This is what I thought life in New Zealand was going to be like for the rest of my life. No wonder I liked Greece better.

(the old port of Hania on a day like most are here...)

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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Camera critters: Dragonfly

koundoura hania chania

A red dragonfly posing just for me; Koundoura, Paleohora, Hania.

Kitchen art

A lot of people showed great interest in my response to the NY Times article on the Mediterranean diet on my food blog. Thanks for the positive feedback; I suggest you read the comments section with other people's views on the subject. Here's my kitchen (on a good day):


And here's what we keep posted on our kitchen wall:

(a map of Europe dated 1897; a map of modern Europe; the school calendar; the many wonders of the world - not just the ancient seven; the food pyramid)

I'm sure this is just a normal way to educate children in the Western world. In Greece, you will often be asked if the paint comes off the walls when you take the posters down, and how easy it is to wipe away the sellotape or gum tack marks.

"How should I know?" I reply. "I've never taken them down!"

We welcome all donations of educational posters...

Friday, 26 September 2008

SkyWatch Friday: The lighthouse of Hania

The most famous image of the old port of Hania (which is a now the centre of summertime night life) is that of the lighthouse. It could be considered a timeless view if it weren't for the fact that the lighthouse recently underwent extensive repairs, which clearly date it, as its appearance has changed. It was built by the Venetians about 700 years ago and restored by the Egyptians in the 1800s. Its recent restoration was deemed necessary as it was in dire need of restrengthening. It lights up the harbour every evening, and is considered one of the most romantic focal points in the town of Hania. Here it stands across the backdrop of the blue Mediterranean sky. Autumn is setting in, as the clouds attest.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Child photography

My mother uses her camera a lot, but she doesn't like to let me use it. I can't understand why, since they are so easy to use these days, and you can delete the photos you don't like. But Petros doesn't mind if I use his camera. He says it's broken anyway; that's why he's stuck a band-aid on it, to stop a square disk inside it from falling out. When I used his camera, I took photos of my toys, the turtle my brother made at summer camp school, and the buzzy bees on the wardrobe.

When I opened up the wardrobe, Petros asked me what was in the coloured box. I pulled open one of the drawers to show him what was inside. He asked me if I wanted to take a photo of that too, so I did. Here are my brother's underpants.

Photography by Christine Drikakis;
photographic equipment kindly donated by Petros Hahladakis

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

ABC Wednesday: J for 'the Jew'

The last time I ever dined at Mylos taverna in Platanias (the modern-age boogie capital of summertime Hania) was at my father’s 65th birthday. His whole family was there: his two daughters, their children, quite a few holidaying relatives from abroad – and his wife. She was a malevolent peasant woman who had divorced her husband and left her 10-year old daughter in the care of her two older daughters so that she could marry the 'rich Americano', as my father was known, because he had recently come from overseas (which is all called ‘America’) and anyone who had lived 30 years of their life abroad was considered rich (as all ‘Americanos’ are believed to be).

keratas taverna

Here's my Dad - left - as a teenager at the said taverna, with the restaurant owner Kavros in the middle and one of his best friends, Dimitri, on the right, who also lived in Platanias. When my father came back to Hania after a 30-year absence, he ran across Dimitri quite by chance in Hania. They immediately recognised each other, and Dimitri told him that he had a photo of my father when he was a teenager. Dad told him he'd like to see it one day, and Dimitri patted the breast pocket of his jacket: "I can give it to you now," he said to my father, and took the photograph out of his pocket.

Dimitri was a tailor. When he measured a man for a suit, he always asked him: "Are you left or right?" Everyone called him 'the Jew'. At first I thought he might have been Jewish; either that, or he charged high prices for the suits he made, or some other trait that categorised Dimitri into the limited knowledge that his fellow villagers had about the Jewish people. But that wasn't the case at all; he was an Old Calendarist, meaning he celebrated Christmas on the 6th of January and not the 25th of December, like the Russians, followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church. He was a Christian, but because his religion deviated slightly from the Christian Greek Orthodox norm in his home environment, he was given the label 'Jew', without even being one, judged by his difference, which is of course how most prejudices are born.

Dimitri visited my father when he was very ill and in hospital. He was probably at his funeral, and the memorial services too, so I must have shaken his hand at some point, but I didn't know him at the time to have thanked him for his loyal friendship, a rare thing in our times. Sadly, I found out that Dimitri died only a few months ago. I never got the chance to meet him, but at least I got the story behind the photograph, and managed to write it.

If you want to read what happened at my father's 65th birthday, click here.

©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, 23 September 2008

Sprinkler system

A perfect rain shower: my uncle and his patent irrigation design in the village of Galatas, Hania.
The roses are a very old variety (they have been planted there for nearly 50 years) and smell of that old musky rose scent that women liked to wear as perfume in the 1950s.

Photography by Petros Hahladakis

Monday, 22 September 2008

Post-weekend story: Stone deep

A few weeks ago, I visited Alekos once again in Vathi, a widely spread village built at the foothills of the Selino plains, set in what looks like a green crater dug out of the ground in which houses have sprouted. The village is deeply set in the gap between the road and the hills, hence its name, Vathi, meaning 'depth', which isn't necessarily the reason it was given this name, although it makes it easier to remember when I pass the village on my way to indisputably one of the best beaches in the province of Hania, Elafonisi. On this visit, the first thing I noticed at the entrance to the village was the large rocks set at a vantage point overlooking a canyon, from where the area could be viewed, creating a relaxed atmosphere from where the canyon below can be viewed, a gutting chasm making its way linearly towards the Selino mountain range.

As I drove down the main road, Vathi looked large and well-organised, with a community centre and ornate village square. In the past, this was probably the case, with Vathi thriving as an oil-producing region. Before the advent of tourism, Elafonisi was simply the place where the sheep were taken for a saltwater bath, and for the shepherd lads who led them there to cool off naked in the cool crystal waters. Vathi remains the closest main centre before Elafonisi, but this is now its only attraction, as it has taken the same direction as other agricultural centres, silently suffering the fate of rural decline; apart from seasonal labour in the fields and the tourist sector, the only other thriving industry is the restoration of the old houses in the village and its environs.

vathi hania chania vathi hanai chania

Vathi once housed over a hundred children in the now defunct village school house; today, there are about forty permanent residents in the village, all too old to lead animals to graze in the sparse pastures. This is now done with the help of 4x4 pick-up trucks, by the few able-bodied young men leftin the population. Economic migrants have moved into the village; the exodus of the young has left behind an ageing community which now requires the help of their offspring to care for them and the properties. Young laughter is still heard in the village as the population fluctuates according to the season.

In the summer, there can be up to 200 people, including the grandchildren of some of the residents, enjoying the tranquility of the village, broken by the whipping wind (the south coast of Crete is famous for it) rushing through the trees, giving them a permanent wave in their trunks. Many of the hosues are kept as country cottages. In the summer, there is also a steady stream of traffic from Hania making its way down to Elafonisi - and then back to Hania again in the late afternoon just before the sun goes down. The winter is a quiet period, when the locals ply the roads with their pick-up trucks, gathering olives for oil production and changing grazing locations for their cattle. The days are short and dark, the streets lights few, the evenings long.

vathi hania chania vathi hania chania

Rock and stone take on a prominent appearance on the hillsides. Seen from the main road before approaching Vathi, the mountains are littered with rocks, ending in the rock-filled ravine that run parallel to the road, which itself was carved out of jagged rocky hills. The grey crags jut out of lush green foliage which covers the mountains. This rocky appearance reaches a climax at Vathi's official starting points, both the north and the south, indicated by the sign bearing its place name. The remains of old rock constructions are visible in the fields: the mountainside was once bordered by stone fences forming terraces to facilitate in the cultivation of crops. The owners of the olive groves and crop terraces marked the borders with stone fencing. In some cases, the crops have disappeared; only the rocks remain.

The architecture of Vathi clearly attests to a long relationship with rock and stone. The first of its houses have rocks of different shapes and textures in their construction, sturdy looking walls held together with the earliest form of mortar available to the local residents, a dark-coloured mud mixture, eroded over the years, but not to a point where it has led to the collapse of the wall itself. Roofless stone houses abound in Vathi: the wooden roofs are missing, but the walls remain. During WW2, the village was burnt by the Germans during the Nazi occupation of Crete in revenge for the deaths of German soldiers. After the war, the residents made their way to the centre, the mainland, or even further afield, to another country, leaving behind the scraps that remained of their houses.

vathi hania chania vathi hania chania
vathi hania chania vathi hania chania

The arrival of economic migrants has helped the village to maintain Vathi's role in both the tourist and agricultural sectors. The olives are picked and gathered by them when the locals are unable to do it themselves. Many people whose family roots lie in the village but do not themselves live there use their services, as this is the only way to maintain their land and property. When there are no inhabitants in the stone houses of Vathi, they suffer the same fate as the village, subjected to the elements without a caring hand to wipe away the dust that seeps through the nooks and crannies of the stone walls, or someone to lay a coat of paint over the windbeaten doors and windows. They have helped in their own unique way to keep the village alive with their labour on the fields and in the renovation of the houses. Apart from Elafonisi, the monastery of Hrisoskalitissa, also found on the same route, attracts pilgrims and tourists alike throughout the year, culminating in the festival on 15 August of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Virgin Mary.

Stone work is evident in all the new structures, in an attempt to keep in line with the landscape of Vathi and its surroundings, for the sake of tradition. The roughshod has given way to more symmetrical callisthetic designs for ornamental purposes rather than the purpose built walls from which these new structures derive: smooth round rocks of uniform size adorn the war memorial in the town's square, where the trees and flower beds have been sectioned off with more stonework. New fences and walls mirror the designs of the forefathers of the people of Vathi, without altering the original patterns and colours.

The functional element of rock has never been overlooked. The old olive processing plant may be past its functional use, but it is still standing, despite the cruelty inflicted on it by the elements and the ravages of time. The doors have long gone, as if sending out a message that the olive oil factory does not welcome people through them any longer. Apart from the reservoir, only the original grinding stones remain of the equipment that was once used to produce cold-pressed olive oil. Perhaps they were too old to be lifted and transported to a museum...

vathi hania chania

Rocks unearthed from current excavation work are used in the construction of foundations. The coastal area of Elafonisi was never inhabited by a permanent community in former times, as there had never been an adequate water supply running to this point on the island. With the modern road network extended, irrigation pipes have also been laid, allowing hotels and restaurants to ply their trade during the summer months, while in the winter months, hothouse vegetables are grown in the newly-erected greenhouses, the foundations of which are built on the rocks that are unearthed when the land is shifted to make way for their construction.

elafonisi hania chaniaelafonisi hania chania

Where did all these rocks come from? Legend has it that when God was shaping the world, he was left with just a few stones. He scooped them up from the ground and threw them into the air. A few piled up one on top of the other (mainland Greece), while the remaining scattered here and there (and her islands). A more difficult question to answer is how they got to their final destination, as part of the walls of the oldest houses in the village at a time when cars and transport facilities were virtually non-existent. Beasts of burden were once the main form of transport, carrying everything from sacks of olives, fruit and produce, and building materials, primarily those rocks that needed to be disposed of from the cultivated land, to be turned into sturdy shelters for the inhabitants of what was once a thriving rural area. I did actually see a donkey tied up outside a taverna in the area, but it was difficult to work out whether the animal was being used as a tourist gimmick, or kept by a farmer who hasn't learnt to drive a 4X4.

vathi hania chaniavathi hania chania

Stonework is an essential element in the building of a new church. The rocks aren't hard to locate, as the whole area of made up of rocky hills. find; they are even left on the side of the road near the collection bin if too many were gathered for a recent building project, as if calling out to the passers-by: "free to a good home."

elafonisi hania chania elafonisi hania chaniavathi hania chania elafonisi hania chania

A good time to collect the best pieces would probably be in the summer when the river runs dry and exposes the most glittering examples of stone that it carried in its embrace during the rainy season.

elafonisi hania chania

After Vathi, the only other village before the monastery and the coast is Plokamiana. The landscape then becomes deserted, save the sheep and the more adventurous goats that clamber over the rocks, making it look like a simple jig.

vathi hania chaniaelafonisi hania chaniaelafonisi hania chaniaelafonisi hania chania

The scenery gives way to more rock and stone, into which roads have been carved to cater for the growing tourism in the region given its proximity to Elafonisi, a revival point for the whole area, indisputably the best beach in the province, the perfect place to soothe your parched skin and dry eyes after the beating they will have suffered from the clouds of dust created by the river of traffic all making its way to the same nature spot. With the improved road system, the interest shown by retired Northern Europeans in buying Mediterranean property, and the conglomerates searching for new commercial ventures without considering the costs incurred to nature, maybe a new village is waiting to emerge from within the crevices of these rocky hills...

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