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Friday, 21 July 2017

Age shall not weary her

Our elderly neighbour.  Eighty years old and working out in the scorching sun.  She rises well before dawn and is down at her vineyard working hard, returning around midday before the heat is unbearable.  Well, unbearable for her.  We are having a heatwave at the moment, temps are up in the late 30's (40s tomorrow) and the humidity is debilitating.  I'm exhausted just doing a little housework and organising  grandchildren

The vines must be weeded and watered and if she doesn't do it then no-one else will. 

She came in for a chat about the automatic watering system which uses water from their well and keeps on breaking down. 

 Poor Vaso looked rather tired and admitted that she was 'whacked'.  She had fed the chickens and milked the goat, watered her vegetable garden and cooked some beans before walking the half kilometre to work in the vineyard.

 The pump is bringing up water into the resevoir but she is worried that it will dry up soon and she'll have to water it all with a hose from the town water.
K has arranged for a special timer which will top up the tank without wasting any of the precious water and she should have enough till August

She came back this morning with a dozen fresh eggs to say 'thank you'.......
and stayed for a glass of water and a couple of cigarettes 

But look at the lady she turns into when scrubbed and dressed up.  This photo was taken a few years ago when she came to one of our neighbourhood get togethers.  She was a beauty and is still a good looking woman (with her teeth in).

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Good News

- First, some news that all Greeks knew anyway.  Humankind has its roots  in Greece, never Africa.

This is where life started.  This is where civilisation, democracy, philosophy, Olympic games, theatre, law, mathematics all began they say.  Well, the Greeks say.  

Earlier this year  a team of Bulgarians discovered fossils in Greece (oh all right, and in Bulgaria) which date back more than seven million years.  These predate remains found in Africa.  

Next piece of exciting news 

-  Greek Salad movement.  An Athenian magazine has started a campaign to promote the greek salad.  I can confirm that it is famous throughout the Southern hemisphere.  It is the first dish which every one of our visitors wants to eat, followed by stuffed tomatoes and moussaka.

English food writer Nigel Slater wrote 'it is better to eat it with sand between your toes and salt on your lips', referring I presume to a  simple beach taverna on a greek island beside the deep blue Aegean sea.

The magazine wants greek chefs to create their own version and promote it however they can.

Bahh, my traditional greek person will only eat truly traditional greek salad.  A true greek salad he says does not incude lettuce, sweet corn or avocado or any other abomination which happens to be in fashion at the moment.  And the dressing is good fresh olive oil, no vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, lemon juice, mustard or honey.

Tomatoes, chopped not sliced
cucumber sliced
green pepper 
sliced onion
a few olives
oregano (local)
a thick slab of feta cheese on the top (none of that crumbled stuff)
 a good gurgle or two of local olive oil

It must be eaten soon after the fresh ingredients are assembled in the bowl.  That's it.

-   The island of Naxos has just got into the Guiness Book of Records.  What for?  Frying 554 kilos of potatoes for goodness sake.   

All the islanders got together and cleaned that mountain of potatoes, which then of course had to be cut up into chips and fried in 22 huge pots using 550 litres of  local olive oil.

They were eaten by the thousands of onlookers who came out to watch and cheer along the workers.

Naxos is renowned (in Greece) for its potatoes and holds a potato festival every July.  Every year the island produces 5,500 tons of potatoes.  

They should have done it in Athens and fed the homeless, the migrants and the down and outs.

Watch out for Anthony Bourdain's series 'Parts Unknown'.  Last year he spent two weeks on Naxos, the largest of the islands in the Cyclade group, filming for the show.  

Monday, 17 July 2017

My Greek Story.... Finale

The last chapter of the family's migration to Poros

  After two years on the island of Salamina   the Navy moved us on  again,  this time to Poros where I vowed we would stay even though it meant living enclosed in a family compound with my inlaws and my sister in law.  Far too close for my comfort  but just what the children needed.  They grew up in a close family atmosphere and their two male cousins next door became like the older brothers they had missed out on.

At first my mother-in-law expected us to live as a family unit, cooking together in the outside kitchen and eating together around her dining table.  She was so proud of her united family, boasting to friends that we all 'ate out of one pot'.  Poor K was sitting right in the middle of this pot which was ready to blow.    For a while we did cook and eat all together but the foreign daughter-in-law soon rebelled. 

I wanted my own cuisine.  Shephards pie, chicken cooked without lemon juice and no extra oil, curry, savoury rice, coleslaw, chutney, all totally unknown to greeks then.  I just started doing my own cooking and for a while  K would eat downstairs and then come up to eat with us.  It all came to a head one day when we prepared to eat downstairs with all the family and I took down a dish of rice.  M-in-law complained that the rice was undercooked (not mushy) and she got the plate thrown at her.  From then on we were on our own.  

We all got over that as families should and she continued feeding the girls when she could  and would often send up some delicacy for K.   My father-in-law suffered a stroke and had to be looked after by all of us.  We came together as a family and I was immersed in the lore of the island.

My father-in-law died soon after we settled in.  Death was 'hands on' and an occasion for all of the family to mourn together.  The open coffin stayed in the house overnight, the coffin lid outside on the road for all to know that inside was a place of mourning.  All the family, friends and neighbours gathered from far  and wide.  The courtyard was full all night as people came and went.  We served them coffee, wine, ouzo, and hard tack till the sun rose again.

Inside the house the old aunts wailed and cried until the sun went down.  The dead had to be buried within 24 hours and everyone came to say goodbye, tell an anecdote, fall weeping on the corpse, this completely covered in strong smelling flowers.  Outside they told tall tales, mostly about the deceased and many a time the mourners had to be hushed for laughing too loudly or becoming too passionate about politics or football.
I should have dressed in black for a year after the death, but I didn't. 

I learnt what was appropriate to do on a saints day, cook, clean and serve.  No ironing, sewing, knitting, washing or bathing.  I climbed up to small churches and stood piously outside while the priest droned on, but didn't join the line afterwards to kiss his hand and receive a piece of blessed loaf.  I tried crossing myself and kissing icons but felt that was going a tad too far.  Lighting a candle or two is more my style and now I disappear outside to some comfortable wall and settle down to await the end of the service.

I helped mother-in-law take the sourdough loaves to the local bakery and haul them home again.  She always made enough for a couple of weeks.  The first day the bread was fragrant and soft and we would dip slices  in olive oil.   Baking day was also the day for a pot of yellow split peas (pease pudding).  We used the bread as a shovel to eat this soft mushy 'soup'.  

The first press of the year's oil meant 'tiganites' (greek pancakes) fried in the fresh oil with sugar or honey and my mother-in-law made the best fried potatoes I have ever eaten.  She had a battered little pot  filled with olive oil and fried the chips on a little gas burner outside in the cooking shed.  They were always, crispy, full of flavour and in great demand by the grandchildren.

I wasn't expected to pick olives thank goodness. I had two children to look after.

Of course it wasn't all  rosey and I dug my heels in where I could.  The house was far too small for a family of four. Two bedrooms and a balcony we covered over to make into a small 'sitting' room.The extended family wandered in and out.  

Mother-in-law was still anxious that her only son had not married a bride with an appropriate dowry and would call us in now and again telling me that she had found a wonderful piece of land, with olive trees, a bargain, and I must phone my brothers immediately and tell them to buy it for me. 

I survived forty years in this country and am no longer quite a foreigner but am definitely not a local.  Which is why my blog is called local-alien.  When that song came out my daughters delightedly dedicated it to me and we sang it together with gusto

'I don't drink coffee, I take tea my dear
I like my toast done on one side
and you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an englishman in New York

I'm an alien
I'm a legal alien'




Linda a kiwi in flight

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Health in the wop wops

K and I went for a scan the other day across on the village of Galatas.  A private doctor.  We got an appointment for two days later, in the afternoon, so we could avoid the worst of the heat.  

Waiting time at the surgery -  5 minutes
Cost of  a full scan - 10 euros
Cost of 2 tickets on the ferry boat - 2 euros

Coming back on the car ferry I tripped and fell.  Thankfully I landed on my knees and didn't make too much of a spectacle of myself.   After being hauled back up again  I discovered to my astonishment (complete bewilderment) that one of my fingers  was bent way out of place.

Later I was so annoyed I did not take a photo .  In fact I couldn't stop looking at the darn finger.  How could it be bent to such a bizarre angle?  Photos were not not on my mind at that moment.      I've 'done a Rachel' and attempted to show it in a drawing.

The car ferry hadn't sailed at this point so we quickly disembarked and five minutes later I was at the Local (Regional) Health Centre.

There is always a doctor on duty whatever the time of day or night.  On a Friday evening there were no other patients and the Doctor saw me immediately.    

The nice young man took the finger and pulled.  30 seconds of  acute pain and I heard something click into place.  Obviously not broken but I'll have the finger strapped up for three weeks while the tendons/sinew/tissues, whatever is inside, take time to heal.

All nice and neat and on the way to recovery

Time waiting for treatment - 0 minutes
Cost - 0 euros

No complaints about the health system on this Greek island.  We do have national insurance (social security) but as far as I know even tourists coming here for first aid pay nothing.

The doctor advised me to come back on Monday for an x-ray. 

Cost of the x-ray - will be 0 euros
On a Monday morning I will probably have to wait an hour to have the x-ray and another hour to show it to the doctor.

The Centre will be full of patients from Galatas, Poros and outlying villages so while I'm waiting I'll learn all the latest gossip, good advice on goats, tomatoes and predicitons for this years olive crop.  I'll also end up being related to two or three of them.  The oldies always ask who/where/what and are keenly interested in all your most personal details.

We are lucky to have such good care round the clock.  For more serious cases  emergency treatment is given and an ambulance takes the patient to the nearest hospital, just over an hour way.

There were about ten stray dogs outside the Centre, very tame dogs.  They are well looked after by the staff and neighbours.  I didn't take a photo of the dogs either.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Photos from our Local

A morning at the beach

Savvy tourists keep us up with the Jones-es
A drone on Vagonia beach

And the operator.  He sent the drone way up over the bay and the surrounding cliffs

  Our keep-it-simple style.  A wasp catcher hanging from a tree

A plastic water bottle with a cup of sweet drink at the bottom.  The holes in the side make it easy for the wasps to enter but almost impossible to leave.  They drown full of sweet sorrow.

Even Santa Claus deserves a summer holiday, though he should be downunder  now preparing for Christmas in July

Everytime he went into the sea he took the big net with him and snagged whatever was floating in the bay. 

 The yacht in full sail sailed right past.  A beautiful sight on the horizen

A hot hazy day, ideal for swimming

Monday, 10 July 2017

Little bits of Poros and around

On our recent trip to the mountains to find some relief from the heat we also found cheap rooms in need of lots of TLC.  What to do about a hole in the wall?  A 'tasteful' spray-painted pine cone (leftover from Xmas?) just filled it nicely.

The military (navy) base here has recently put barbed wire along the top of it's entire perimeter fencing.  What do they know that we don't?   ISIS, anarchists from Athens, Ali Baba and his forty thieves?  A bit unsettling in this peaceful paradise.

Not such a clear photo to show my point but you'll 'get it' I am sure.  Tourists on the left in the sun, greeks on the right in the shade.  Only Mad dogs and tourists sit in the summer sun.

We most definitely always chose the shade.  I'm reading all about the Blue Zones (not including the greek island of Ikaria).  This book is about the first six communities around the world that were identified as places where many of the inhabitants live unusually long, healthy and happy lives.

Slow down
Be active
Be sociable
Eat less
Grow your own food, eat mostly fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables
Keep your family close
Drink red wine
Learn something new, exercise your brain
Be happy with what you've got!

Inherit good genes

Friday, 7 July 2017

Run from the Sun

That last heatwave was the worst I have  had to endure. Heatwaves are a norm here in July and August.  You drink more water, go for a swim or two, do any necessary outdoor work early in the morning, close the shutters,  have a long siesta and socialise late at night when the sun has long gone down.

This time there was no getting away from that exhausting non-stop heat.  At 8 in the morning I had already had a sheen of sweat glistening on my forehead.  Nights were unbearable .  Fans blew hot air, air condition never seemed to cool  quite enough.  

We finally could stand it no more and on the last day took to the hills.  We had done this once before in similar heat and found relief up near the (winter) snow fields and the forests of fir trees.

We were on the 7am car ferry, air con in the car working even at that early hour.  Two hours later we sighted our first 'norfolk pine'.  I'm not sure if they are norfolk pine, but these fir trees, called 'elata' in greek grow  in the mountains.  That first fir tree told us it was time to turn off the air con, open the car windows and enjoy the rest of the day!  

We found cheap rooms in a little mountain village with stone houses, surrounded by pastures of green grass, and sat in the square under  shady green oak trees.  Iced coffee, a cool breeze and new faces to check out.  Bliss

We literally took off our shoes and relaxed

Some relaxed more than others.  This woman had taken her shoes off and rested her bare feet on the coffee table.  Not exactly the most appropriate thing to do in a cafeteria in a public square

Local produce

Open sacks of lentils, beans, split peas, rice and herbs.  I bought red lentils, 3 euros a kilo.  In the supermarket they are 4.50 for half a kilo.  They will need a good wash though.  I wasn't too sure about those open bags.  Everything non persishable used to be sold this way but health laws now forbid it...in most places

The tavernas in the tourist village were very expensive and we were not impressed by the menu.  After a long siesta we took off for another little village nearby which we had visited years ago.  Population 114 in 2011.  

The men had gathered in the town square to play cards and pass the time in good natured discussion and gossip.  The one in black is the village priest.  One of the lads (ta palikaria)

We started off with coffee but soon ordered a jug of wine and something to eat.  These are stuffed tomatoes with the plate of tzatziki.  Of course we didn't stop there.  A half kilo of grilled lamb chops helped to fill up a few empty places.

No the dog didn't get the bones.  He had disappeared by that time.  A cat turned up so we gave her a few morsels and suddenly there were four cats, and another dog.  

Next day the heatwave broke and we returned to high winds which are still blowing, presumably from the north because they are definitely cooling.  Suddenly we need top sheets on the bed and closed windows at night.  K says this wind is the 'meltemi'.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Ouzo at the Monastery

When we found Vayonia beach still not open and serving ouzo by the sea we 'hiked' over to the other side of the island to the little cafe beside the Monastery. 

The road ends here just under the Monastery and the little café serves weary worshippers, parched tourists and locals looking for a bit of peace and coolness under the spreading chestnut tree

It is always cool up here with a nice breeze coming down from the ravine behind us.  The family that run it make their own cakes and savoury pies.  Their children go to school with our grandchildren.  They are happy to spend some time with the customers and we will sit and  chat about the children, the state of the island and this years summer visitors

It is cool under the tree and we get a welcome breeze.  We usually bring visitors from other lands here.  First we climb up and admire the view from outside the monastery and then clamber quickly down the steps for a cold drink

The Monastery with its grove of Cyprus trees

The spring water from this tap is supposed to have healing properties.  Now there is just a trickle of water.  On either side are pots of basil

The plate of snacks (mezes) to go with the ouzo

This is the little church down by the café.  Baptisms are held here and also weddings.  No weddings are held at the Monastery itself because monks never marry (?)

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Fun in the Sun

Fun in the sun.  What a stupid title for the hottest bloody day in the last ten years.  We had snow this winter, the first time for donkeys years and now this incredible heatwave.  I went outside to retrieve some washing, a half minute dash across a tiled terrace.  My poor bare feet got burnt and I was screaming because I couldn't get the door open fast enough.  Washing either gets hung in the shade or I put it out at night.  The scorching sun would ruin the clothes.

One more day and night to go and then 'they say' temperatures will go way down.  They had better go way, way down.  

This morning we took the grandkids down for a swim.  The car was bearable.  It was less than a five minute drive but the sea was warm and when I sat down for coffee it was like sitting on a heap of coals with the occasional blast of hot air from a furnace.  

Local Vayonia Bay from another angle.  It is up and running and doing great business in this hot weather

Kids jumping for joy to be in the water

The view from our table.  Looks the ideal place to be.  It was hot

There were half a dozen small boats out in the bay and two catamarans.  I don't know if I would have liked to be on a boat out there today.  Not much breeze and warm salty water.

The spiny sea urchins have all been collected and removed and any rubbish in the water or on the beach is quickly removed by one of the young lads

This catamaran was flying the Silver Fern (silver fern on a black background) which for those that don't know is the alternate NZ flag.  So easy to recognise.  Doesn't look like the Australian, English flags or any of those very similar flags of other english protectorates.  NZ ers voted not to change the old flag with the Union Jack in one corner and the four stars of the southern cross.  They didn't want a plant (fern) on their flag.  Strange people those kiwis.  

The Lions beat the All Blacks in the 2nd test match.  24-21.  First time the All Blacks have lost a game on home turf in 8 years.

Grandaughter and partner in the double skiff came first in their heat and will be in the finals.  This is the PanHellenic (National Greek) rowing competition so it could be a stepping stone to something big.

Our girls won the national double skiff!

When are the next Olympics??

Friday, 30 June 2017

Heat waves, Ocean waves and a wave to the All Blacks

-   Extreme heat wave.  Temperatures up to 43oC.  Not a good time to climb the exposed Acropolis with its acres of burning marble.   

The heat is oppressive even at night. I have moved out to the lounge with it's high ceiling and sleep on the pull-out couch, fan on full.  Fans make Greeks ill so I'm on my own.

Every morning at 5.30am I wake as the temperature goes down, briefly. I turn off the fan and am then deafened by the high pitched screech of the cicadas.

Yet half an hour later the dawn chorus suddenly screeches to a halt. There is silence until around 7 and then their daily concert begins in earnest. I wonder what makes them start and stop?

This is the best hour of the day for a quality snooze. I open the big balcony doors and a draft of cool fresh air fills the room. I almost need to pull up a top sheet. Almost.

Bed making is so easy at this time of the year. All we need on the beds are a bottom sheet (fitted) and a pillow.

Another alternative is sleeping outside under the grape vine.  Too many creepy crawlies, night owls and barking dogs for me.

-   NZ won the America's Cup!

Little old NZ , beat big old America.
Now that's a big deal for us/me and my Greek family. There were excited telephone calls being made around this island by all the kiwis and their hangers-on.

What the heck is the America's Cup?   Sailing, my friends.   NZ-ers are very good at water sports, and rugby. Bermuda hosted the racing this year and the final was between cup holders America and Team New Zealand.   NZ won 7 races to 1.

NZ reclaimed this oldest trophy in world sport with their victory over Team USA.  This is the third cup win for Team NZ (out of 35 cup challenges) in this yacht race of the world's best sailors on the fastest boats.  'Nuff said.

-   Rugby 

The combined English and Irish Lions rugby team are touring New Zealand at the moment.  The Lions will play 10 matches against provincial teams and three test matches against the All Blacks.  NZ won the first test match 30-15, two more to go.  July 1st (tomorrow) is the second test match. 

We would watch the two teams play but Greeks barely know about the game of rugby and it is never mentioned either on greek tv or the euro sports channels.  I doubt we'll find any live streaming either so we'll just make do with live updates.   

The best part of the game is the mighty haka (Maori war dance)  performed by the All Blacks before kick-off.  We'll see it on Youtube later.  

Rugby fever has gripped our little nest of greek island kiwis.  

-   Rowing 

Grandaughter is taking part in the Panhellenic Rowing competition in Mytilini.  Mytilini is the capital and port of the island of Lesvos.  It is  one of the main landing places for refugees arriving from the coast of Turkey and was recently shaken by a strong 6.3 earthquake.  Maybe these races can bring the islanders a bit of positive publicity. 

Lesvos is also the home of  the best of Greece's ouzo.  K has ordered a bottle of Barbayiannis, 46% proof.   He has a friend of course, who has a friend, who works in the distillery.  He has ordered a bottle to be brought back, with great care.