Sunday, 30 November 2008

Cheese and honey

laiki street market hania chania

Locally produced cheeses and honey at a farmers' stall at the daily street market in Hania.

The practices of old-time producers often reflect the use of the products: Soft curd cheese (mizithra), hard yellow cheese (graviera) and honey are often used in combination in local food products, for example, kalitsounia.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


Hania has one of the highest rates of road accident deaths in the country, which must make us the worst drivers in the whole of Europe, since Greece once again tops the lists in that respect.

car crash exhibition hania chania hospital

It's all very well to say that the roads are at fault, but since we know that, we should be more careful when we drive.

car crash exhibition hania chania hospital

Recently, an exhibition was held outside the general hospital of Hania to highlight this fact. Cars involved in road fatalities were positioned centrally, at the entrance to the hospital, and each one had a sign saying how the accident happened, and why the driver was at fault.

car crash exhibition hania chania hospital

This one was caused by the driver of the car. The sign says:

"He was out all night...
He was drinking...
His co-driver was a few more bottles of beer...
He set out in a foggy journey..."

I don't know which driver(s) was killed, but that's not that the point.

Friday, 28 November 2008


In Greece, sliced bread is found in the convenience food counters of a supermarket. It is hardly ever sold in bakeries, and it never competes with the uncut loaf of bread. Most people buy their bread at the local bakery. I buy it from the supermarket because I like the bread produced by their suppliers. It is made in the same way as fresh bakery bread.

bread supermarket inka haniachania

Another staple bread product in Crete is the wholemeal rusk, commonly known here as paximadi, made by double-baking bread slices.

rusks paximadi supermarket inka haniachania

As you can see, it's a popular product, judging by the well-stocked shelves.

Rusk is popular in Cretan summer salad.

Yesterday's quiz answers: Kalamata olives, corn, avocado, daikon (white) radish, (purple) kohlrabi, rocket salad, quince (yellow), pomegranate (streaky red-yellow)

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Vegetable quiz: guess what?

Can you name all these vegetables?

fresh autumn produce

Answer tomorrow!

Yesterday's quiz: ΦΟΥΡΝΟΣ = oven; 'bakery'

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Warm weather

warm night end of novemebr hania chania

While Europe is lashed by floods, storms and snowfall, as my friend RuneE attests, Hania is basking in warm weather, rather barmy for the season, but nevertheless, enjoyed by many of the locals. We are having perfect weather for enjoying a drink outdoors in the evening. This photo was taken on Monday in the middle of town outside a bakery.

RuneE can't read Greek inscriptions; it's all Greek to him. I know that this photo isn't very clear, but can you help him decipher the letters at the top of the photo (click to enlarge) to guess where we are? Answer tomorrow.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Marks and Spencer

marks and spencers hania chania

Cor blimey, guv'nor!

Marks and Spencer making their mark in Hania.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Post-weekend story: The real Greek

Stavros recently posted some photographs of a Greek festival that took place in his part of the world, Maine, USA, where people living far away from Greece are maintaining customs and traditions that their parents passed on to them when they first emigrated from poverty-stricken Greece. Hermes from Australia thought the whole idea of staging a Greek festival in Maine was more like an American's nostalgisised attempt to hold on to an ancient culture whose language he can't speak.

Up until I was five years old, I didn't know I was a Greek. I knew I was a 'person', a diminutive form of the people who I was surrounded by: my parents, aunts and uncles, neighbours, the landlord, our friends. Everyone spoke the same language, went to the same church, had similar names (Kosta, Nikos, Yiannis, George for men and Maria, Toula, Soula, Voula for women), and ate roughly the same kind of food. All this was taking place in 1960s Wellington, in the suburb of Mount Victoria where many of those people lived at the time. This was the only world I knew up until 1970.

clyde quay school 1978
(7 of the 12 12-years-olds in this photo are of Greek origin;
Clyde Quay School, 1978, Wellington, NZ)

Then I started school, and that's when I realised that there were people who spoke my home language, and people who didn't. The people who spoke Greek were usually the same people as the ones I came across at church, while everyone else was some kind of 'inglezos' - English - or 'xenos' - foreigner. Greeks never considered themselves to be part of the 'xenos' category. I only realised I was the xenos when I was first labeled 'Greek', in the same way that I (and others) labelled people form other cultures, for example, Chinese or Indian. The only exception to this category was 'Maori'; they weren't 'inglezos', and they couldn't be 'xenos' because they were the indigenous people of New Zealand. They were 'maouri', as my parents' dialect called them.

My MA thesis (1991) centred around Greek language use in the Greek community of Wellington. One of the conclusions was that the Greek language was being maintained in the home, mainly by people who had direct contact with immigrant Greeks. When there are no immigrants in the home environment, maintaining the language through the generations becomes very difficult. This happens across all immigrant communities whose direct contact with the country the language is spoken in has been lost, due to permanent settlement away from the lingusitic environment. The Greek communities should be one of the first to suffer, in any case; only Cyprus uses Greek as a main language. In contrast, the Chinese language will continue to spread, because there is a constant influx of Chinese immigrants to countries all over the world. Greek migration has pretty much stopped; Greece is no longer a country of fleeing emigres.

So what happens to those people who called themselves Greek, then lost their language through the generations? Do they stop calling themselves Greek? During the course of my interviewing Greek people from all walk of life (I had to interview at least 100 people, and ensure that I had a good range of ages and generaitons), I also came across people who didn't speak the language very well, or whose children did not speak it at all. They still called themselves Greek, and they insisted that that's what they told people who asked them about their strange-sounding names: "I'm Greek," they all insisted.

The feeling a person has of his/her Greekness has never centred around the Greek language. There are many other factors involved. If the Greek language was one of the main defining factors in "engagement with Hellenism" as Hermes insists, surely the Greek communities of the disapora would have died out one by one, instead of flourishing, as they are still doing, judging by Stavros' and Laurie's reports of Greek festivals in Maine and Alaska, respectively. Clearly, religious choice is a more defining factor in the expression of Greekness than language - and if there were no Greek Orthodox church organising a Greek festival, there would be no festival.

I myself hated the hyphenated version of being Greek. I was born in New Zealand, but I knew that I was being raised to be a Greek. Was I a Greek New Zealander, or a New Zealand Greek? When I came to Greece and ended up staying here, I feel I was still regarded for a long time as a foreigner. Now that I have been living in Crete for nearly fifteen years, I've almost forgotten what it's like to feel like a New Zealander, but I still get asked where I come from, since whenever I open my mouth to speak, a foreign Greek accent is detected.

Hermes, when your veins run Greek blood through your body, you cannot but be a Greek. Eventually it will become evident somewhere somehow, evn if you have tried to ignore it in your life, and that's when you will be caught by surprise, when you realise that you are a Greek and can no longer hide it.

I will never forget a visit by a Greek politician to New Zealand in 1990, because he made one of the most condescending remarks I had ever heard made towards a Greek born outside Greece (up until then, that is, as I heard many more after I came to live permanently in Greece). He had just been given a guided tour round the Greek community halls of Wellington when he chanced upon a meeting being held by the young people of the Greek community. "Κοίτα να δεις, μιλάνε Ελληνικά", he said, ("oh, look, they're speaking Greek") gawking at us like we were aliens. It was one of my closest encounters with a Greek politician. Once I came to Greece, I realised that there were also many other people like him who did not regard us as Greeks equal to himself. Maybe we weren't Greeks just like him, because we had better manners, in any case.

Every non-Greece-born Greek will probably have asked themselves this question at some time in their life: what is it that makes them say they are Greek, when in fact that they were born in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or any other place in the world, except Greece? I think I just answered the $64,000,000 question (which has drastically depreciated in value just recently) of who is the real Greek:

the real greek
(Souvlaki chain restaurant found in the UK; this branch is located across the river Thames, on Southwark Bridge Road, London).

Who would have thought that a souvlatzidiko in the 'xeniteia' (the word Greeks use to mean a place away from their own homeland) would have provided the answer? What an elitist group we are.

Yesterday's answer: chunks of charcoal are in the big white sacks. They are produced at the end of summer, which is why there is alot available at this time, but it is mainly used for the BBQ, not to heat ourselves.

©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, 23 November 2008

Winter stock up: guess what?

winter stock up hania chania

A well stocked store in Hania: onions, garlic, potatos and ???
What's in the sacks?
Answer tomorrow.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Bicycle lane

Hey, look, Hania's finally got itself a bicycle lane!
In front of the Agora in the centre of town.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Tomato plants

These tomato plants seem to be producing, despite their sad appearance, caught in a light shower...

tomato plants mid november hania chania

Thursday, 20 November 2008


After nearly a week of rain (praise the Lord, we needed it), we finally saw a rainbow.

rainbow hania chania

And if you look closely, you can also see its shadow in the sky...

rainbow and shadow hania chania

These photos were taken yesterday morning.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Car crash

Shit happens.

Car accident down the road from St Luke's cemetery (no fatalities).

Tuesday, 18 November 2008


Wherever there is a florist's in Greece, there is probably a a church or cemetery close by, and this particular road is filled with florists, as well as marble stone cutters, another requisite of the traditional final resting place of the Greek people.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Post-weekend story: Searching for utopia

Kambi, 1919

Nikolas had heard the word 'Ameriki' mentioned many times in the village. Ameriki was the land of a poor man's wildest dream, something akin to utopia, where everyone is happy, employed and rich, like his brother, who sent one single postcard to his family since he left Kambi.

When Nikolas' older brother Grigori returned to the village from Ameriki, he had enough money on him to buy 90 acres of olive trees in the village, and live happily ever after. After working in the restaurant trade for five years in New York, being the patriot that he was, Grigori decided to return to the mother country to buy the land his family could not afford to give him and to complete his Greek military service, at a time when Greece was under attack from an enemy.

"In Ameriki, people are prepared to fight for their freedom. How can I stand and watch when my country is in danger?" he replied to his family when they pleaded with him not to leave so soon after his arrival. His betrothal to a blooming village girl arranged (as befitted his financial position), he had no sooner invested his money in buying land than he left again, this time to Thesaloniki where his knowledge of English earned him the rank of officer. He managed to survive the Battle of Skra, only to die from malaria two months before the end of the campaign, having never set foot on the land that he had worked five years on foreign soil to buy. It was shared unevenly among his siblings: his four sisters received a large share each as a dowry, making them attractively eligible for marriage, while Grigori's brother ended up with the remainder, a mere pittance of the original amount.

Nikolas received 10 acres of the land that had been bought with his brother's money from Ameriki, along with the beautiful bride his brother never married. He married her out of pity; even though her engagement did not constitute a marriage (there was no marriage to consummate in the first place), she would have a hard time finding another husband after being betrothed once already. Word would have spread that she was engaged to be married; her fate had already been decided. Who knows when the next offer would come? Nikolas also felt that she had partly inherited his brother's fortune, so that she deserved to be in on his good fortune.

Aggeliki, for all her outward qualities, was not the most useful woman around the house. She had been raised in the 'mimou aptou' way, as if her beauty did not permit her to cook, wash and clean the way a less attractive woman might conduct herself with respect to these duties, lest by applying herself to such tasks, her beauty may deteriorate, fade away, disappear, as if age could never play a part in this demeaning process, and it was all to do with how often one's hands touched the soil on the ground or how much sunlight shone on a woman's face.

Nikolas' land was fruitful, especially once he had cleared most of it from the thyme and dictamo bushes, after which he set about planting it with olive trees. He hunted hares and wild birds, plentiful in his own fields, but the cook was wonting in culinary skills; the rumour spread all over the village, with its population of 500, that Aggeliki was a hopeless cook. Nikolas didn't know who to feel sorry for more: himself for earning such fate, or the oven-charred or water-sodden carcasses that came out of the kitchen, sometimes sporting their fur or plumage. When he sat at the kafeneio with other men from the village, and listened to their chatter about how their own wives conducted themselves at home, his gut tightened.

"Give her time, Nikola, you're not even into a year of married life," the others would comfort him. But he neglected to tell them that Aggeliki entered the marriage in this way right from the start, and that his clothing was now almost ragged and Aggeliki showed no sign of replacing them for him before they had become tatters. He felt that the land - and possibly Angela's inviting appearance - had cursed him into the misfortune of a loveless marriage.

*** *** ***

When Aggeliki became engaged to Grigori, she had hopes of leaving the village for good. She knew that Grigori had made a lot of money, but she didn't realise that he had invested it in the mountainous territory that made up the village of Kambi. She expected that, once he had finished his military duty, he would move to lower ground - as most villagers who prospered did - and build a suitable dwelling for them to live in. After all, this is what he must have been accustomed to living in in Ameriki; everyone there apparently lived in fully furnished houses and had their clothes made for them by tailors and seamstresses. They did not need to shear sheep, spin yarn, or weave cloth on the argalio, which would eventually be turned into bedsheets and men's shirts; like cooking, sewing was not Aggeliki's forte. So it was to her greatest disappointment that Grigori did not return from Thesaloniki. She knew what fate had in store for her.

family 1960 village 1960 woman rolling stone on roof young woman 1960
(Crete in the 1960s, four decades after Aggeliki and Nikolas emigrated; the photos come from CRETE 1960, by John Donat, Crete University Press)

Aggeliki had not wanted to marry her fiance's brother, but there was no question of that now that Grigori was dead. Had she been married to Grigori before he had left for Thesaloniki, she would have inherited his land, a mixed blessing if ever there was one. She would have become a rich woman, highly ineligible for marriage; what man in the village would have been able to match her wealth? As it was, she suffered the cruel fate of being labelled a widow after Grigori's death anyway, even though she had never married; such was the nature of life in the impenetrable snow-capped mountains of Kambi, at the foothills of the Lefka Ori.

She looked around the house Grigori had built in roughshod style a short while before they were married: two simple stone-built rooms with openings for windows, blocked by wooden shutters to stop the winter cold from entering. There was an outhouse a little way from the house and an earth oven built next to one of them rooms. This was not the Ameriki she had dreamed of, nor was it the town of Hania that she had hoped to move to after her marriage. It was true that she had never known better than the village life she was born into, but no one could stop her from dreaming, which is what she did most of the day when Nikolas was away, clearing scrubland, planting olive trees, hunting hares and grazing sheep.

*** *** ***

Kambi, 1921

Nikolas was sitting at the kafeneio. He usually sat on his own these days, as he had little to share with the locals. It was almost three years since he married Aggeliki and still no children. He had by now grown accustomed to the way the kafeneio chatter died down when he entered the shop, and the compassionate smiles of the other men sitting in groups around the tables. He picked up one of the newspapers that had been left on the fireplace, to be used for kindling a flame. Although he had not finished primary school, his reading was at a reasonable level. He did not write anything apart from his name; there was no one to write to, in any case, and no one interested in reading anything that he wrote.

He had not grown tired of working the village land. What tired him most of all - and he seemed to have aged a decade since his wedding day - was that he was working with no future in mind. So what if he had thousands of olive trees; so what if his coffers were filled with olive oil. There was no one to eat it, and no one to sell it to; people were too poor in the village to buy more as their own stocks ran out, so they simply used it more sparingly. The economy of the country was still engaged in a new war effort; there was no interest in trading olive oil. So much effort for very little reward; produce-rich but lacking currency.

Every morning started off the same, as every evening finished. Routine after routine, with very little variation. Nikolas saddled the donkey, which lived in a makeshift shelter next to the main house, along with a group of six goats and sheep which Aggeliki milked each morning, and left for the hills. The land he had inherited had never before been touched by human hands. He worked most of the day with some paid labourers clearing the land of the scrub wood and rocks, digging it up, tilling it, and planting it with olive trees. Aggeliki had filled a woven bag with bread, some olives, a chunk of graviera and a carafe of wine for Nikolas to curb his hunger, before he came back home at midday. It was usually too hot to work after that; the sun did not rest even in winter. The midday meal was a very silent affair, one that always heightened the void between the couple. They could not fill the space between them with their presence. They had little to say to each other; their world had become static.

Without offspring, there was no one to work for but himself, and his wife, of course, who, at times, seemed to live in her own reticent world. Apart from his requests for better food and clean clothes to wear, he had very little to say to her. Yesterday, she had cooked youvarlakia in a tomato sauce, using the anidres tomatoes he had hung on the rafters of the house to dry for the winter, while the lemon tree was bulging from its own weight, laden with fruit. Hadn't she ever had youvarlakia? Didn't she know how to make an avgolemono sauce?

"What were you thinking, using the tomatoes I was saving for the winter? Where are we going to find them when we need them, woman!" He could hear the rumble in his own voice as he shouted at her. Usually the house was so quiet. He wasn't used to hearing himself speak like this. He left the house feeling more angry with himself than his wife.

kambous 1974

(Kambi village, 1974)

Things were not looking good in Smyrna: according to the front page, war was imminent. His mind immediately conjured up the image of his brother leaving the village to fight against the Bulgarians. What was it that his brother had said? "In Ameriki, people are prepared to fight for their freedom. How can I stand and watch when my country is in danger?" Did he understand what he was fighting for? Had he thought about whether the cause was worth fighting for? Did he know how close the war was to the end when he lay sick and dying? Nikolas did not share his brother's patriotism. He did not want to fight a war that he hadn't started. He did not wish to be one of the victims of war like his brother. Now seemed a good time to leave the village, maybe even the island, and why not the country if it got to that stage. The shame of childlessness could be avoided if he simply lived elsewhere, far away from anyone who knew him. Nikolas put it in his mind to seek a passage to Ameriki.

old woman and rooster george meis riding a donkey george meis old kitchen george meis baking bread george meis
(The kind of Crete Nikolas and Aggeliki left when they decided to emigrate to Ameriki; the photographs are works by George Meis, taken from a souvenir calendar of Crete )

*** *** ***

The video shows how Cretan families from Kambi were living in California in 1948; Crete at that time was extremely poor, while Greece was in the midst of a civil war. To the average Cretan, this picture would have seemed like a scene from paradise; poverty remains the main reason why, up to the early 1980s, Greek people emigrated to the New Worlds.

This post is dedicated to all the Cretans from Kambi, my mother's village, living in Modesto and Manteca, California, where very many of them congregated. It doesn't matter where they were born, whether it was in Crete or America, or whether they continue to speak Greek or not; they are still Greek at heart, and they know it.

©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, 16 November 2008

Orange grove in the town

This orange orchard is found, incredibly enough, in the town of Hania, on a very central traffic-congested road across from St Luke's town cemetery. It is always very well maintained (much much better than our own in Fournes village). The irrigation hoses are strung upin the branches to allow the owner to control the weeds below. The narrow lane in the middle of the photograph is an old irrigation channel. The water supply passed through this channel, and flowed over it to irrigate the field. It is now disused, but it's a very real reminder of the past.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Baptism boutique

Baptism boutique on a main road on the outskirts of Hania, near the old gymansium at Palia Ilektriki. The store also sells and rents wedding gowns, and all the other paraphernalia used at such events.

Greeks are really, really REALLY big on weddings and baptisms. Everything has to look glamorous. The boxes and miniature armchairs all open up to the contents of the baptismal wardrobe of the 'neo-fotisto': 'the one who has just received the light'. They are then used as a toy storage box as the child gets older. The lamps are a decoration for a tall candle, which supposedly signifies the life of the baptised child. It is held by another 'enlightened' child standing next to the baptismal font.

Friday, 14 November 2008


One day, I decided to watch my daughter playing tennis at the gym at Palia Ilektriki, accompanied by my son, who doesn't like sports at all. He doesn't like to rush for anything, he hates ball games, he's a slow walker, and I have always been wary of his weight, which has never been a problem, but he's young, so if it ever becomes a problem, it won't show up for quite a while anyway, which is why I worry. I wanted him to take up a sport, but nothing interested him, only chess, a sit-down game with no physical activity.

After he finished his homework while sitting at the outdoor tables at the closed cafe across the road from the tennis lesson, we went back to the gym where his sister was still playing a game, and wandered around, watching other children playing a bit of football and basketball, while others were doing warm-up exercises inside the gym. One of the coaches opened up a door to a section of the gym that we hadn't noticed before; actually it looked more like a shed. There were swords and masks hanging on one of the walls, just the perfect implements to entice a little pirate-loving musketeer like my son. In that shed-like shelter, my son found a sports activity that he wanted to take part in, without my begging him to become more active.

fencing club hania chania

By a random stroll around the gym, my son had found his calling. We signed up for lessons immediately. Apart from the actual sport of fencing, the coach gets them to run around the courtyard, chase a ball and generally remain active for 1 1/2 hours. And if my son doesn't become an Olympic champion fencer, I really don't mind; he's keeping himself active a couple of days a week, and that's what counts.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Autumn hues

signs of autumn

Autumn colours are considered one of the most spectacular artists' palettes. In my town, however, the mesmerising autumn hues are not played out very well; most of our trees are evergreens. Most of the time, summer turns to autumn without a trace, since the weather is still quite warm.

This is the only plant in the whole town - found in various places: my home, the town centre, most of the villages, and even my workplace, where the photo was taken - that remind us that winter is nearing.

For more spectacular shots of autumn, take a look here and here.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Street stall

Would you consider buying clothes from this stall?

First of all, it's a Wednesday afternoon, when the town centre is closed in Hania (as it always is, along with Mondays; an old-fashioned custom, probably imported from France), so it's very quiet in the area at 5pm.

Secondly, the stall is across the road from the town's gymnasium, so his only customers will be parents ferrying their children from one activity to another, no passing trade, just drivers. In the one hour that I hung around the area, I didn't notice a single customer, just some people he knew (friends or relative), who stopped by his stall and spoke to him.

Finally, he's a gypsy - oops, I'm sorry, that doesn't count. Or does it? I think he's set up a trading site to cover illegal activities.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Palia Ilektriki

Hania has a few sports facilities spaced around the town, some of which include: the track and field stadium in the centre,

stadium hania chania

the new gymnasium near the sea,

kleisto gymnastorio nea hora hania chania

and an old gymnasium on the outskirts of town, known as Palia Ilektriki, because it was built on a site where the state electricity company was formerly located (which is why the whole area has a shabby look to it).

palia ilektriki gym hania chania

One of my daughter's tennis lessons took place at Palia Ilektriki. While she was busy, I had to figure out what to do to keep my son occupied. There was what looked like a cafe across the road from the gym, which I noticed was closed. No surprise, as it was a Wednesday afternoon, when shops are closed and the town isn't so busy. Tables and chairs were still set outside it, even though the weather is cooling down now.

cafe gogoni street hania chania

We went there to rest on one of the chairs so my son could finish his homework. No one moved us away, which I was quite thankful about, especially when I saw the sign on one of the windows of the cafe: "No entry to under-18s". We weren't entering it anyway, but I wonder if they would allow under-18s to enter if accompanied by an adult. Probably a poker house...

Monday, 10 November 2008

Post-weekend story: Traversing four continents

In the globalised world that we live in, it becomes an unavoidable necessity to buy goods that have been imported. It has long been recognised that ASIA is more than willing to produce products that all countries right around the world can import cheaply, while the wholesalers can still make a reasonable profit selling them off to consumers at an equally cheap price. This is the commercial curse of modern times. If you want to buy something that hasn't been manufactured in Asia, you have to pay considerably more for it.


This is probably where this little coffee and saucer set took its first steps, in a factory somewhere in Asia. Hundreds of thousands of these white demi-tasses were probably made in a a noisy dirty factory, by underpaid overworked employees of rich and powerful businessmen who had people in the right places to turn a blind eye to the working conditions their employees were subjected to. It's hard to imagine what kind of injuries they might have sustained to produce these ornamental cups and saucers. A stack of badly stored boxes may have crashed onto someone's head; maybe someone else suffered first-degree burns by improper handling of the pottery in the kilns.

Nevertheless, this little coffee cup and saucer, appropriately decorated with a map of the island of Crete, travelled intact to EUROPE, eventually making its way down to Hania, on the island of Crete. Knowing the Greek authorities, it's not difficult to imagine the Cretan cups ending up in Kerkyra by mistake, or the Kerkyra ones accidentally being sent to Crete. These ones made their way to the souvenir shops of Stivanadika, where most tourists buy their souvenirs from: T-shirts, old-fashioned summer dresses, handmade leather sandals, I-love-Crete keyrings, gold jewellery fashioned in Cretan-inspired designs, olive oil soap, mugs, tea-towels, among a host of others. Cups and saucers always comes in 6-packs; it must have had another five siblings, all packed in the same box, waiting to start a life in a person's home.

*** *** ***

The Daughter of a Poor Farmer had been born into a poor agricultural family in a village in the foothills of the Λευκά Όρη (Lefka Ori - White Mountains) of Hania. She would have liked to go to school - there were 150 children enrolled in the village when the second world war broke out - but this was impossible. After second grade, she didn't attend much at all; there were more important tasks to be done. One of the easiest for a young girl her age was to lead the family's cows to a grazing field every day and milk them. By the time her tasks were completed, while her mother looked after her four younger siblings, there was just enough time to clean up and tidy the two rooms where the family lived: one room for the humans, and another for the animals.

As she left childhood and entered adulthood (there was no such thing as adolescence in those days), she began helping her mother carry fresh produce to Hania, where they would sell or exchange them for products they didn't produce themselves: rice, sugar, coffee, coloured thread for the rugs she made on the αργαλειό (argalio, weaving loom), buttons for shirts. They would start walking in the afternoon with the donkey laden with goods, and keep walking until it was very dark. There was a spot in the mountains which was sheltered and they overnighted here, sleeping on the ground. In the early morning, they'd wake up and continue on to the road for Hania, in order to get to the market to do their trade. After the days' work was over, they'd make their way back up again, stopping in the same place. The journey was more difficult this time, as the walk was uphill, getting steeper and steeper as they walked back up. They could only ride the donkeys if they had not once again been loaded up with more goods.

Although her family had a few patches of earth of their own, they did not have many olive trees to produce the amount of olive oil that their family used; five adults and two parents needed about 200kg of olive oil a year, especially if the main form of sustenance was psomi me ladi. The Daughter of a Poor Farmer became a μαζώχτρα (mazohtra), an olive picker for other wealthier families. In those times, olives were left to fall on the ground, and were then picked up, one-by-one, with the pickers' backs bent the whole time. Either they were collected into large baskets, or they were thrown onto large sheets. (Technology, as well as the black plastic netting that is now used to collect olives that drop onto the ground, took a long time to get to the mountainous villages, by which time, rural life had suffered a decline.) From this job, she was given a small share of the crop to take home with her, after it was ground into oil.

She had by now reached the age of 30, but she was so poor that she was never considered a worthy bride. As the oldest child in a family of five, this spelt doom for the family: if she didn't get married first, then the girls next in line would also have the same fate. Eventually, the family had enough oil to cover their needs from the girls' work, so The Daughter of a Poor Farmer asked to be paid in money instead. She worked with a bent back one whole olive season and dreamed of what she would do with the first real cash that she had received in her life.

All spring, she waited patiently to be paid for the work she had done all that winter, but the money didn't seem to be coming forth. There being no telephones in those days (no electricity, let alone phone lines!), she had to walk to the olive press herself to find the owner and ask him for her pay. She put on her best clothes and the only pair of shoes she had, which was quite clean, since shoes were never worn in and around the house when work was being done. They were saved for 'good' days.

The Daughter of a Poor Farmer entered the olive press. No one paid any attention to her, even though no one was doing any work in particular at that moment. She asked someone about being paid by The Rich Landowner for her last olive-picking season's work.

"Φαλίρισε (falirise)," was the one-word reply she got.

"What does that mean?" she asked.

"Φαλίρισε," the man repeated without looking at her. "He's got no money to pay you with. The bank's repossessed all his assets."

The Daughter of a Poor Farmer returned home and told her parents what she had learned. All that work for nothing, fake promises, false aspirations. If this was life in the village, they were resigned to poverty, and all because The Daughter of a Poor Farmer was still unmarried. It was at about this time that an announcement went up near the community offices about a paid passage to a relatively new country in AUSTRALASIA, offering the opportunity for women to work as cleaners and cooks, in return for a small salary which they could save and a paid return trip to their homeland. They needed to stay for two years in the job that they were offered, and there would be a training period in an institute in Athens where the girls would be offered English lesons and basic training in the service sector. To The Daughter of a Poor Farmer, this sounded perfect, even though she had no idea where she was heading to.

*** *** ***

The Daughter of a Poor Farmer was assigned as a chambermaid in a boys' agricultural boarding institute. She cleaned the rooms and kept the lobbies clean. The work was not very difficult, but the hours never seemed long enough. Once work was over, there was nothing to do, nothing at least for The Daughter of a Poor Farmer, who was not used to going out on the town, drinking alcohol in pubs, meeting up with the opposite sex. Imagine if her parents found out where she was now: how could she prove to them that she did not carry on as the other women did? They were all from the same island, but for the first time in her life, The Daughter of a Poor Farmer wondered whether she had anything in common with her compatriots.

The institute housed its own church on the premises. The Daughter of a Poor Farmer was invited to attend the church service, along with the other employees. She accepted the invitation. As she entered the church, she wondered why there were no icons on hanging on the walls, like in the Greek Orthodox Church that she had been raised in. No one seemed to be making the sign of the cross. Even if she wanted to do so, she couldn't understand what the priest was saying, and where was his petrahili? She looked at the pale faces of her employers and the dark faces of the young male pupils, and wondered what she was doing in their church. She felt that she did not belong here. The thought suddenly struck her that were she to die here, there would be no place for her to be buried, because there was no Christian Orthodox church. She suddenly felt very alone, and the two year-contract now seemed to her a long way away.

*** *** ***

The people at the institute were very kind to all their staff. They knew that the Greek girls wanted to see the other girls that they had travelled with, most of whom eventually settled in the Capital City. The Capital City had a Greek church in the centre of the city; wherever there is a Greek church, there are Greek people, and wherever there are Greek people, the Greek language will be heard. The Daughter of a Poor Farmer had met many Greek people in the Capital City on the day trips that the institute organised for their foreign workers. At the end of her contract, she decided to move there, instead of going back to the island. Sofia and Tasos, islanders like herself, had befriended her. They liked her so much that Tasos declared: "I'm going to find you a husband from the island." And that would end the blight on her family: the stigma of the unmarried eldest daughter.

From The Daughter of a Poor Farmer, she was transformed into A Successful Immigrant with a faithful husband and university-educated children. She still longed for the island, and went back to visit her sisters and their husbands and their children as often as possible, but she could not change the fact that her heart was on the island, but her home was thousands of miles away. Every time she visited her homeland - it was getting harder to do that as the years went on - she bought a trinket to remind her of the place where she was born. One of her favorite souvenirs was a set of demi-tasse coffee cups with a picture of the island. She kept them as far away from dust as possible, in the confines of her elaborate wall unit in the lounge which she opened up on just a few days a year - you could count them on the fingers of one hand: Christmas, Easter, her nameday and her husband's nameday; the children were by now celebrating their own namedays in their own homes. But the demi-tasses with the island motif were her favorite coffee cups, and she always served her guests Greek coffee in them, even if they didn't take it in the formal room where the cups were kept.

*** *** ***

"Talk about a hoarder. How many coffee cups can a person own?"
"Do you think they have any resale value?"
"Let's organise a garage sale."
"Do charity shops collect?"

The children of the Successful Immigrant had all been back to their parents' homeland at some point in their lives. They all had fond memories of the place where their parents were born, where they had spent a few winter holidays when they were young, before their grandparents had died. Since then, they never really felt any attachment to the island, since their last direct link had away, and they all had lives of their own in the New World, which had now become part of the globalised universe that the Earth had turned into.

The Youngest Daughter of the Successful Immigrant had herself moved to AMERICA, where she was recently called from on her mother's passing. She had never been a supporter of her mother's hoarding excesses, always berating her for spending money on yet another useless dust-collecting trinket, but when she saw the coffee cups with the picture of the island plastered across them, her mind flooded with memories of her parents, her grandparents, the village house, the souvenir shops, the blue sky, the golden sand of the beach, the light lunches at the tavernas that she had enjoyed under the shade of a tamarisk tree, her first love. It suddenly occurred to her that her mother had sacrificed her entire life to give her family a better opportunity in life, all the while living her life in an adopted homeland. She looked around the lounge, the most under-used room in the house she was brought up in with a twenty-five metre hallway, and everywhere she saw Crete: on the wall as an embroidered hanging, on the glass door as a sand-blasted picture, on the coaster set on the nested tables, in the tablecloth of the dining room table, in a faded postcard that her aunt had sent, now long gone herself, all signs that her mother had been living a temporary life in the New World with a permanent sense of home in the Old World, the lounge being transformed into a mausoleum of Crete.

The house was emptied of its contents and sold to a new owner, a property investor, who planned to turn it into four self-contained apartments, the latest fashion for old inner-city houses. After the expenses were paid, the inheritors all received their share of their parents' estate, and The Youngest Daughter was now free to go back to America, the place she now called home, her suitcase packed carefully so as not to disturb the demi-tasse coffee cups nestled safely in amongst her clothing. They would now start a new life in a new wall unit in a new house in a new country, where people would constantly ask The Youngest Daughter about the history of these cups, where they came from, and how she acquired them.

©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, 9 November 2008

The old wall

western side of wall hania chania

I often talk about the old town, the old port, the old wall of Hania, but I've never really shown you a photo of what the old wall actually looks like. The town centre was once enclosed within a square wall, surrounded by a moat. Some parts of the wall survive more or less intact, other parts are left in crumbling ruins, while the moat, which was never actually used as it was intended, has often been used as a car park, a football pitch, or a rubbish dump.

(The eastern side, which houses an open-air theatre; the western side, looking from the top of the wall down onto the moat, also bordered by the hill where the town was built)

western side of wall hania chania
(restoring the wall)

Work started about a year ago to restore the wall to its former glory. Houses that were built on the foundations of the wall, including an old hotel, were torn down to make way for its restoration. The wall represents tangible evidence of the history of the town. It was built in the 16th century by the Venetians who conquered Crete.

Answer to yesterday's quiz: donkey dung.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Guess what?

Can anyone guess what is lying under the tree?
Answer tomorrow.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Narrow path

It doesn't get any narrower than this - the space between these two buildings in the old walled town of Hania is just enough for the average person to walk through. It could be used as a gauge for obesity...

These buildings are used mainly as housing, although they are found in the tourist hub of the old town. The original residents were local people, but as they move (or pass) away, they are used as cheap accommodation for economic migrants, while some more daring owners turn them into bars, restaurants, clubs and other similar ventures, to be used in the winter months when people prefer to entertain themselves indoors.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

The Blue Flag

The tourist season finished a week ago, with the last of the chartered flights leaving Hania. It will open once again in the last week of March.

This noticeboard gives information about designated blue flag beaches in Greece, an international system for testing water quality. The best noticeboards in Hania are the ones by the beaches, especially when the beach is off the beaten track. Most of the information posted on the board has to do with rules and codes of conduct in these nature spots.

This particular beach (Elafonisi) has been categorised as a 'Blue Flag' beach, which basically means that the water has been tested for pollution, and was found to be very clean. Crete is surrounded by water, hence it has one of the highest numbers of designated blue-flag beaches in Greece. As the poster notes, there are over 400 blue-flag beaches right around the country; 96 are found in Crete, and 27 of those 96 are located in Hania.

The pollution tests will be recalculated next year and a new poster will be produced for the next tourist season.

Yesterday's quiz: the drum from an old washing machine is now being used as a barbecue. Ten points to Quint!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Village ingenuity

Recycling at its best.
What is being recycled, and what is its new life?
Answer tomorrow.

Welcoming the new president of the US

God bless Barack Hussein Obama!
God bless America!
US food
God bless each and every one of us!

PS: Commiserations to the losers

the sneaky dirty rat fink

Happy GUY FAWKES DAY to those who will be celebrating it with bonfires and fireworks!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Bird's eye view

A bird's eye view of the buildings in the Old Port of Hania, taken from the western side of the wall enclosing the old town.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Post-weekend story: The wild west

The image of Athens that springs to mind in most people's heads is that of a tightly packed sprawling treeless city full of apartment blocks that bear a resemblance to the notion of inhabitable accommodation, with the pride and centrepiece being the Acropolis. The image is generally correct, but this did not resemble my first introduction to the city that the Scottish like to think compares to their very own Edinburgh (and why a sun-starved city like Edinburgh should, only the Scots can tell us - it's all Greek to me). As a Greek born abroad, I had very little idea what there was in Athens beyond the Parthenon. The leafy northern suburbs (like Kifissia) and the southern coastal suburbs (like Palio Faliro) were and still are unknown to me, despite having lived in Athens for nearly four years. I went to the wild west, into an area that remains relatively unknown to most of the tourists and locals alike; you don't go west of Athens unless you need to.

When I first arrived in Greece, my very first introduction to Athens was spent in an area that was very far removed from the images of the Athens that I thought I was coming to, a mental image acquired from the tourist brochures at the travel agencies, the travel books in the Wellington public library, and the postcards we were occasionally sent from our relatives. Everyone there lived in single story dwellings, there were quite a few parks and many open spaces surrounding the houses, and the Acropolis was regarded as one of the most useless rocky hills on a prime spot of land in central Athens. The area was close to the sea, hence the name given to the region: Παραλία Ασπροπύργου (Paralia Aspropirgou: the Aspropirgos coast).

Aspropirgos is located 17 kilometres west of the centre of Athens. Many members of my mother's family moved to this area from the village of Κάμποι (Kambi) in the 1960s, in search of work and better opportunities; generally speaking, they were aiming for a chance to improve their lives. In the poverty of the post-war era, with the demise of village and rural life, everyone was leaving the agricultural regions and moving into the urban environment. But in Paralia Aspropirgou, urbanisation never seemed to catch on at the rate that it had in the centre of Athens. The area only recently acquired footpaths and tarmac on the road, while the main form of grocery shopping is still the neighbourhood παντοπολείο (pantopolio). Everyone knows each other; they are often related to one another in some form, be it as a sibling, best man, godparent or the same village origins. Many people from Crete settled in this area, creating enclaves of Cretan communities, in the same way that immigrants to the New World did in America and Australasia.

My aunt was one of those 'migrants' who settled in Aspropirgos with her young family after her husband was 'excused' from his duties as a policeman (due to the curse of the bottle). There were many job opportunities available in the area, all within walking distance of the first dwellings in the area: makeshift roughshod container style houses, onto which rooms were added one by one, until they were big enough top house all the occupants. They usually contain two bedrooms, and resemble brick and mortar shacks. The area was classified as residential only recently; since then, pavements and tarmac were laid on the roads, which were also given street names. Eventually, Thia bought her own home, very similar to the one she rented when she first came out to the area. It still remains a simple house, although it has been modernised to the point where she has air conditioning in the summer and radiators in the winter. Her tiny garden contains an olive, a lemon and a walnut tree, all of which she planted herself.

paralia aspropirgou
(the footpath, tarmac and street names are relatively recent additions to Paralia Aspropirgou)

"When we moved up with Leonidas-God-rest-his-soul, I realised that we would never move back down to Crete. Because of the jobs. Because we had no work there. It was very tiring travelling to Crete and back during the olive season, so I sold the olive grove I had been given as part of my dowry. What use was it to us? We had jobs here, and our lives were based here. I bought my own home with the money from the sale, and helped my daughters into theirs."

So what kind of jobs did everyone do around here? Factories. Hundreds of factories. Light industry, heavy industry, shipbuilding yards, gas works, electricity plants, metal works, oil refineries, cement works. The different suburbs of Paralia Aspropirgou weren't named after a church, in the classical Greek manner; they were all named after the works close to it.

Ask a cabbie to go west of Athens beyond Egaleo and watch the reaction on his face.
"Where ya goin' to, kiria mou?" asked the taxi driver.
"Paralia Aspropirgou," I replied. His face scrunched up; Paralia Aspropirgou isn't the most popular destination for cab drivers - there's no guarantee of a return fare. It's like World's End, the point of no return.
"Know ya way round there?" he looked at me suspiciously.
"Sort of, you can drop me off at Halips."

halips paralia aspropirgou athens
(Halips factory, as seen from the entrance to the suburb of Paralia Aspropirgou)

Halips (ΧΑΛΥΨ) is the now defunct cement works across the road from what looks like a narrow insignificant side street on one of the filthiest motorways in Europe, the very road that one must take to go from central Athens to Corinth. Looking at it from the motorway, it is difficult to imagine that there is sense of home and hearth behind the putrid dust storms that Halips left behind well after it closed down. Not a single house can be seen from the main road, only industrial plants. It looks like Hell, a wasteland of metal, concrete and glass, right next to the coast, a site probably chosen for the ease with which waste could be dumped without anyone needing to find out (toxicity tests started being conducted well after the environmental damage had turned the area into Athens' biggest sewer). Nothing shines here on the main road. If you saw the metal works in the Lord of the Rings films, you can conjure up the right picture in your mind. The windows are permanently covered with a thick film of dust, which doesn't get thicker because it is so dry, nothing can stick onto it any longer. It blows around continuously, entering the houses, settling on the ground, piling up in corners.

nafpiyia aspropirgou athens nafpiyia aspropirgou athens
(when you don't have a choice, you may indeed decide to go for a dip here; don't worry about the mass of ships ramming into you - this is a ship cemetery, they're not going anywhere)

On my first night there, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling somewhat disoriented, as is common when you stay in an unfamiliar place for the first time. From the window of the kitchen-cum-dining room where I slept, I saw a fire that seemed to be burning on the top of a chimney. I startled my aunt.

"Thia, wake up! Something's burning!" I pointed to the window. She turned to look at me, with a surprised look on her face, then looked back out the window without saying anything.

"What's that fire there?" I realised that she had seen this flame before.

oil refinery paralia aspropirgou athens
(look closely; you'll see the Olympic flame, too)

"Oh, that's the Olympic flame," she replied, and returned to her bed. "Διυλιστήρια (thilistiria - oil refineries)," she added. "Nothing to worry about."

I received a few more shocks over the next few days of living in Paralia Aspropirgou. One of the most shocking for me was that nobody could direct me as to how to get to Athens. No one knew how to go to the Acropolis. I finally found out from someone who had been living in Paralia Aspropirgou for a long time, and worked in Athens.

halips paralia aspropirgou athens
(the original Halips bus stop was at the point where the iconostasis is now; don't kid yourself about why the bus stop was moved a few metres away just below the recently built overpass )

"Cross the road and stand outside Halips. All the blue and white buses that pass this road terminate in central Athens (except one which clearly says PIREAS on its ticker tape). Buy your ticket at a kiosk before you board the bus and validate it once you get on. On a Sunday, getting into Athens takes a quarter of an hour from here, since there's less traffic."

It sounded surprisingly easy. "Why couldn't anyone else have given me this information?" I asked her.

"Oh, don't ask anyone anything here. They don't know, really they don't know anything. In any case, they do their shopping in Elefsina, which is only a few kilometres from Aspropirgos. It's much more convenient than entering central Athens. They'll just get lost, believe me, they'll never be able to return home if you let them loose there."

part of iera odos athens iera odos athens
(various views of Iera Odos; heading westwards, once you pass the signpost for the old monastery, the road loses its tree-lined scenery and takes on a deserted ghostly appearance)
iera odos athens iera odos athens

Elefsina, 5 kilometres westwards of Aspropirgos, is where the site of the ancient sacred mysteries perfomed in the goddess Demeter's honour are located. The site was highly significant in the ancient world, with members of her sect being sworn to secrecy about the ceremonies held there. The road from Eleusis (as it was then called) to Athens was known as Ιερά Οδός (Iera Odos), the Holy Road. It is still bears that name - Iera Odos offers some of the most pleasurable shopping opportunities in Western Athens - one big long stretch of road with few turns and bends, leading straight to the Parthenon, although this will not be so obvious any longer, what with the reshaping of the city of Athens once the urban sprawl began to spread out of control. There was a time when the Acropolis could be seen right along Iera Odos, although this has changed too, since the construction of tall buildings, obscuring the view of the hill where the Parthenon stands. My father remembers seeing it as he walked to work at the Pitsos appliance factory in Egaleo. It is more visible once you pass the site of the Agricultural University of Athens, which coincidentally is located in the most polluted area of the city, the western suburbs.

*** *** ***

So what did Little Crete have to offer in terms of edibles? I recently overnighted at my aunt's house, before meeting up with a friend who I had never met before in my life.

paralia aspropirgou CIMG4944
(typical views in the area of Paralia Aspropirgou)

"So what brings you to Athens, dear?" asked my aunt.
"I'm going to meet up with a friend who I've never met before," I answered.
"Oh.. well.. you know what you're doing, you always did." We left it at that.
"Are you hungry?" she asked me. I had left my own home in Hania at 7pm, and it was now half an hour before midnight.
"No, not really, Thia."
"I've got some leftover rabbit from today's lunch," she tempted me, an offer I couldn't really refuse. "I've cooked it with pasta, and there's just one more serving of it."

rabbit and spaghetti

Thia comes once or twice a year to Hania and stays with her brothers. When she returns to Athens, she takes whatever she can in terms of fresh produce back with her. Cretan products are not always difficult to source in Elefsina - her main shopping area - but they are not always available when she does her weekly shop. Her brothers give her freshly slaughtered rabbits and chickens, farm fresh eggs, potatoes and whatever is in the garden at the time of her visit. There are also some Cretan supplies stores in Elefsina. A very small laiki street market runs weekly in the area, mainly used by old people and those that do not own a car. Most people drive to the large well-stocked supermarkets in Elefsina to do their shopping.

"I almost forgot, Thia, I bought you some aubergines and peppers." She was most thankful; we discussed different recipes I cook to use up the eggplant surplus in our garden.

It was time to go to bed. Thia doesn't usually stay up so late. She did it for me. As it was a warm night, we left the window open in the bedroom. It was eerily quiet in the neighbourhood, save for a humming sound. This sound did not stop, in the same way that the Olympic flame never blows out in the Aspropirgos refineries. It was the sound of the humming machinery that was working 24/7 in the surrounding area, a slow buzz that did not so much interrupt the silence, as much as pervade the air. Every other sound was like an over-write on the silent humming, like the lyrics to the refrain of muzak playing in a supermarket, an artifical world where nothing seems to change. Paralia Aspropirgos had not changed much at all, despite my first visit to the area being seventeen years ago.

In the morning, Thia insisted that I have breakfast with her. She brought out some φρυγανιές (friganies - dry toast squares), feta cheese made in Hania by a local cheesemaker ("ask your uncles where they buy it from," she informed me), and a bowl of cured olives from the olive tree on her property, served with a cup of hot τούρκικο (tourkiko - Greek coffee, named after its origins).

cretan breakfast in athens

"Do you like it here, Thia?" What a question; she's been living here over thirty years.

"Of course, I do, dear, it's much better to be living in a little shabby house that I can call my own, rather than the best apartment in central Athens. If I didn't live here, I'd have gone back to Crete. I could never live in a box. And it really isn't that bad here; I know everybody and we all look out for each other. At night, all the lights from the factories sparkle like a Christmas tree. It's really quite beautiful."

If you could just keep your eyes away from the main road, Paralia Aspropirgos doesn't seem such a bad solution to the Greek housing and employment problem.

©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.