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Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Summer Solstice

21st June 2017

Summer solstice in Greece takes place (took place) at 07:23:25

We had 14 hours 48 minutes and 13 seconds of daylight.  Tomorrow we'll have 2 seconds less.

Today, Wednesday, was the longest day of the year.  Odd to think that the days will be getting shorter and winter will be on it's way, although we won't actually notice any difference until September. 

I have just been reading about those who today follow the 12 Gods of Ancient Greece, the Olympians.  They consider Greece to be under Christian occupation.  21st June is a day of celebration for them.  Their New Year began (begins) on the first new moon after the summer solstice. 




In ancient times there were processions and offerings, especially to the Goddess Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, and the High Priestesses.   The ancient Olympic games began exactly one month after the solstice.




This midsummer solstice was celebrated everywhere from Stonehenge to ancient Gaul, Scandanavia, North and South America and China. 

The solstices were a part of the circle/cycle of life.  Down in New Zealand they are celebrating the winter solstice and the rebirth of the sun.

This year in Greece the solstice really does seem to be the beginning of summer.  We have had weeks of rain and lower (not low) temperatures.   Today it seems the rain is over, temperatures are rising and our first heatwave is forecast for this weekend.

In a few days time it is the local fiesta of St John of the Fleas.  Actually the Greek orthdox church celebrates the  birth of John the Baptist.  It is also the day when we should burn our now dried-out May Day wreaths at crossroads.  A bonfire which young children jump over three times to be free of fleas and nits during the hot dry summer to come.



Our wreath is ready for burning but will probably just be tossed in the rubbish this year


We used to do exactly this years ago when the children were small but fire restrictions nowadays means that bonfires are forbidden.  20 years ago we used to build huge fires out in the street and kids and adults alike would drag out old furniture and planks of wood to keep the fire burning.  One year, the last I think that we were able to celebrate this way, not only did the firebrigade turn up but also the Mayor, to see what was happening.  



Preparing the fire and pulling nails out of old boards


The following year the Mayor took over our street party and it became more civilised.  Nowadays it is a festival of song and dance arranged by a group called the Poriotisses  (the Women of Poros).  Very tame.  

Monday, 19 June 2017

On the Island


Summertime and the main harbour road has been cleared of cars and most of the motorbikes.  No parking anywhere near the cafes. Now motorbike owners are playing a cat and mouse game with the police.  Park your bike opposite your cafeteria but be ready to put down your coffee and move your bike fast when the patrol car cruises past.  Mind you the police do give a couple of toots so you have some warning before they actually write a ticket.  And if you do get one of those pink slips then the fine is half price if you pay in twenty days.  20 euros for a motorbike as we found out last week!


Our favourite cafe from across the road.  That is our 'company' under the shade of the tree.


This is the narrow canal that separates the two islands, Kalavria and Spheria.  The smaller fishing boats pass under the bridge and into Askeli bay, with the fisherman hunched down in his boat. 

Spheria is where the main town is located with the tiers of white houses down it's volcanic slopes. Kalavria is larger and mostly pine covered with clusters of houses and hotels built around parts of it's coast. 





This sign says

"It is forbidden to throw dead animals down the into gulley.  They pollute the environment and the water we drink".

The sign was nailed to a tree up the top of the mountain road  a couple of years  ago.  I think once some lazy farmer got rid of a dead donkey this way.  Our water  supply comes from a clean resevoir in another area thank goodness and really I am sure it is easier to dig a hole and get rid of a carcass than to drag it up to the top of the hill and heave it over.  


Another way to take a selfie.  Take a photo of your reflection in the side mirror of the car.   My photographer in action





Saturday, 17 June 2017

A Greek farce

17th June, almost mid summer season and our local beach bar at Vayonia Bay has been taken to pieces like a broken jigsaw.  We, and all the other visitors, tourists and locals, have nowhere to sit, nowhere to drink ouzo, nowhere to shower after a dip in the sea, no sunbeds to sit on.

Sit tight and let me tell you a tale.  A drama, a comedy, a Greek farce.

At easter the bar was open as usual and doing a roaring trade.  The sun was out and foolhardy northern europeans were actually bathing.


Fast forward a few weeks.  The bar is closed.  The licence has to be renewed.



Days go by.  Weeks of  hot weather, three long weekends, an island full of city slickers.  The bar is still closed.  The sunbeds are stacked above the beach.  Toilets are closed.  No cold beer, no iced coffee, no ouzo and meze.


Beginning of June.  The archealogical department hands down an ultimatum.  The beach bar must be moved lock stock and barrel 10 metres to the right.  I kid you not.


This has been  the site of the bar for the last, how many, fifteen? years.  Now there is an empty space.  The toilets still stand lonely as a loo can be at the back of the old bar area.

Finally, almost three months later, the owners have their licence.  They have taken the bar literally to pieces and are reconstructing it 10 metres to the right.    Why did the bar have to be moved 10 metres?



The land on the left hand side of this road is designated Zone A by the Archeological Department and cannot be used for anything but sheep and goat grazing.  The land 2 metres away on the right hand side of the road is Zone B and you can build on it.

In-bloody-credible. 

We are talking about a beach bar here, a temporary structure.

This island which owes its existence to tourism is under the thumb of some official in a  ministery who only cares for red tape and the letter of the law.

There are probably  ancient ruins all over and under the bay and the hills above but they are never going to be investigated, dug up or studied, not in my lifetime or my grandchildren's I bet.   The islanders have lost income, the council has lost revenue, the government has lost taxes.

And we have missed our Sunday ouzo by the sea.



Grandson decided to go swimming anyway and stood on a spiny sea urchin.  He spent all the rest of the day painfully digging out the broken spines from his foot with a needle and a pair of tweezers.  If the bar was open the owners would have cleaned up the beach and removed all dangers like this from the shallows.


Ghika the billy goat is the only one to benefit from this chaos.  He and his harem have had the beach to themselves.  Once the invasion starts they'll take to the hills.

And this is not the only beach affected. Monastery beach is usually full on a hot weekend like this, all sunbeds occupied, tables full of holiday makers eating and drinking at the canteen.  This year there are no sunbeds, no canteen, no people.

Kalo Kalokairi
Happy summertime



Thursday, 15 June 2017

When Family Come to Town

When family come to town there are certain places that we must show them, sites and sights that they must see.

First of all is the mighty 4000 year old theatre of Epidavros only one hour away.  This years season is just about to start with ancient greek dramas and comedies performed just as they used to be with the audience sitting on the tiers of marble seats still baking from the summer sun.




In winter you can clamber up those steep steps and have the place almost to yourself.   My brother lets it all out on a bitter winter's day one November past



Or in the summer perform for the bus loads of tourists.  I can't remember what Steven was doing.  Looks like he was singing a bit of Pavarotti.  From this centre stone you can be heard from the very top seats without a microphone, which they  obviously did not have back then.


I used to go with them all, show them around.  Now I wait down at the canteen and drink an iced coffee (frappe).  That's me, the 'blonde' one with niece Betsy, from Australia, on my left


My favourite Mycenaean bridge.  4000 years old.  It always amazes me how it was made and that it has survived in such excellent condition.  This bridge was just one part of a huge network of roads so long ago


Those were the two touristy sites off the island.  On the island it is more about eating and drinking.


Big brother and niece Debbie eat at Sotiri's seaside taverna.  Everyone comes here to eat sometime during their stay, never mind the economic crisis and a little bit of expense. 
 You can feed the fish from your table.  Friendly service, good prices, real Greek cooking made by the matriarch of the taverna family.




And the roof top terrace of our old house at sundown.  My daughter, who lives there now, makes everyone welcome and we usually end up with a few beers and take-away souvlaki.  This photo is some of my little brother's New Zealand family and their greek relatives



Greek and Australian cousins

Naturally coffee on the waterfront is always part of the daily programme


Some things don't change in this unhurried way of life. Photo 2009
Same cafe we sit in today
Different chairs
We have these ones now in our front 'sitting place'
Pays to be friendly or family with over half the island



I hope that I can say for all our visitors....
 and these photos only show a few of those who have stayed with us over the years

            ' A good time was had by all'











Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Evil Eye Strikes Again

The handle of a glass coffee cup is all that is left after a rather violent incident.

I was washing dishes at the sink when there was a very loud explosion.  It was a blast, sounded like a gunshot. I got a huge fright of course and for a minute couldn't work out what had happened.

The coffee mug had not fallen down and broken, it had literally exploded.  

Wish I had taken a photo of the glass pieces.  They were not shards but lumps of glass and had mainly fallen in the sink and surrounds and not gone flying all over the kitchen.  I had no cuts or wounds.

Immediately it was attributed to the evil eye and our visitor who had just left.  Wierd or what.

I have two more of these nice IKEA coffee mugs and they are years old.  I'll leave them safely in the cupboard.


Sunday, 11 June 2017

OTHER ANIMALS

Summer brings a new parade of bizzing, buzzing, humming creatures.  Four legged, many legged, some peaceful, some come to disturb the peace



The cicada  or tzitziki.  We'll be hearing their shrill high pitched screeching from sun-up till sun-down soon and know that summer has truly begun.  When the heat is unbearable the saying goes

'the cicada is exploding'

Did you know, 
if a cicada was singing right beside your ear it's song is  loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss?





At the top is the discarded casing of the cicada which it leaves behind as it climbs out to adulthood.

The bottom insect is called a 'chrisomiga' or golden fly in Greek.  Their english name appears to be June Bug.  The bug is a bright shiny green and black.  In days gone by small boys would tie a string around one its legs and swing it around over their heads.  I think nowadays a game like this would be frowned on by grown-ups who are more aware of suffering and sensitive to the environment


How would you like to see this as you stepped into the shower?  I kept my cool and took a photo before quishing it.




One of the frogs which spend the summer hiding behind our pot plants in the garden




A lizard, or maybe a salamander.  In Greek it is a 'samyamithi'.
We see loads of these in the evening and the cool of the night.  They come out to hunt mosquitoes and moths and make high pitched squeaky noises



A praying mantis, or maybe a grasshopper.  One of those harmless green jumpy, flying things.  In Greek they are called 'alogakia' or 'little horses'.



An 'Alexander beetle'.  One of my favourite AA Milne poems

I found a little beetle; so that beetle was his name
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same
I put him in a matchbox and I kept him all the day..
And Nanny let my beetle out - 
yes Nanny let my beetle out -
She went and let my beetle out -
And beetle ran away




One of the many tortoises that roam slowly over field and by-way.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Villa Galini


An interim post while I enjoy family visitors from downunder. I will be seeing this mansion and much more from the sea tomorrow as we take a 'cruise' around the harbour by water taxi. 

Villa Galini, a neoclassical mansion built in 1892 by a wealthy  greek family.   It sits on a slight slope just above the sea.  Many great personalities have stayed here, authors and artistes.

Galini translates as peace or tranquility.

Every guide book, tourist site on Poros, notes the building and the people who have stayed there in years gone by but it is essentially abandoned.  The building has been closed up for as long as I remember except for a short period during the nineties when it was opened up and the rooms let out.






Just another beautiful mansion.  What makes it stand out is the mellow colour of the red brick, the tangle of bright bouganvillia cascading down the front and around the terrace and its imposing position right above the sea. 




What a place to write or paint!  Imagine being on one of those high terraces where Marc Chagall, Henry Miller, Greta Garbo, Lawrence Durrell and Greek poet and Nobel Prize winner Georgios Seferis drank cocktails and possibly found inspiration, or distraction.



.



The view from its terraces must take in all of Poros harbour, the procession of boats, yachts and fishing tratas, the tiers of  village houses and clock tower.   Most impressive would be the radiant oranges and reds of the evening sun slowly disappearing behind the mountains on the mainland Peloponese, the mountains that climb  up from the seaside village of Galatas to the remains of the german fortifications on its summit.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A trip to New Zealand ..... and back



All this time I had been back to New Zealand once after eleven years.
We couldn't afford the tickets  but the family in NZ very generously got together and paid for all the Greek family to spend Xmas together at my parents beach house at Pukehina in the Bay of Plenty (North Island of New Zealand)



For the first few days New Zealand was  totally foreign.  Green was the dominant colour. Endless fields, trees and grass. The houses were made of wood with real lawn around them. There were blue houses and yellow houses and brick houses, with jacaranda and hibiscus.  None of the fat round bushy basil the greeks planted in an empty olive oil can.  The cars were Japanese or Korean, no longer european and mostly automatic. 

There was a distinct smell of cooking oil covering my old home town.  Fish and chips in some sort of vegetable oil.  The bookshop smelled of unopened, pristine books, and they were all in English!  And there were english magazines.  The radio played music I knew with voices I could understand.  The newspaper was another wonder.  I stared in fascination at the ads  on TV, loving them all while the rest of the family just wanted to turn the sound off.

I was astonished at the variety in the supermarket.  Back then Greece had only just started selling milk in bottles (instead of cans).  European goods were slowly coming into the shops.   A greek mini market had canned tomatoes, milk, tuna and sardines and dried beans and lentils in huge open sacks.  In a NZ supermarket there were aisles of canned goods, freezers full of packaged food.  Shelves full of everything, except octopus, feta and salted fish.  Nowdays Greek supermarkets have freezers full of NZ lamb and NZ supermarkets have shelves of Greek yoghurt and even octopus.

My parent's house was just yards from a white sandy beach and across the road was an estuary where at low tide we could dig for cockles and oysters and my sister in law, Rainy, found us a huge net which we put out one night to catch flounder, with little success but lots of fun.


Ocean beach on one side, estuary on the other


Xmas day was cold ham and trifle and swims in the sea, but only between the flags where the lifeguards could see us.  There was a bad rip out there which often took unwary swimmers out far beyond the waves and into danger.  When the tide was out we dived in the gentler waves and dug for pipis and tuatuas.

The whole family got together, coming from further south in NZ and even from far away Perth in Australia.  My mother and father were thrilled but ensured their peace of mind by moving out into the little guest house off the garage!

The stars seemed so low in the sky, like a twinkling blanket above our heads. Haley's Comet was somewhere up there and we searched the night skies to catch this once in a lifetime appearance.

The little greek-girls could understand english. I had made damn sure of that.  They rebelled a bit against the sterner discipline of kiwi grandparents but generally I think enjoyed the experience, if not that longest of long haul flights from the northern to the southern hemisphere.  


If you've got to go cattle-class at least go Singapore Airlines.  One thing which I will always remember is the way they looked after my two little girls 4 and 5 years old.

Back in Greece I hated the sight of the dusty dirty streets of Athens.  Our flat in Piraeus seemed tiny and it was months before I settled down and got used to the routine of cooking greek food, shopping at the outdoor market and walking everywhere instead of driving.


Monday, 5 June 2017

My Greek Story Part Three Salamina



So we moved from the island of Crete up to the island of Salamina, just out of Athens, which is where the main Naval Base is located.  There we stayed for two years.  New schools for the girls.  Fortunately we found a few friends from Crete  who had also been transferred.  But new schools, new pupils, lots of anxiety.  One of the girls ran away from school while the other began lessons, cut off, in a small room in the churchyard next door.  There were not enough classrooms in the school to accomodate all the students. 

I liked Salamina.  It is very close to Athens, either a twenty minute car ferry ride or an hour by small boat putt-putting into the port of Piraeus.  At weekends the island would be buzzing as hundreds of Athenians with holiday homes filled the streets, beaches and tavernas.  




Once again we lived in a funny little two bedrooms house.  Both bedrooms had no windows and no light but it was cheap and clean and there was parking next door for our car and an empty lot where we dug a pit and spit roasted our lamb at Easter. 

It was back at the end of the eighties.  I remember watching the fall of the Berlin wall on TV there and it was there that we watched the first private run Greek TV channel and the american soap opera, Santa Barbara and the Young and the Restless in english with greek subtitles.  A new era in entertainment.

We made the best of it.  K was home most days and together we explored all the out lying beaches.  We bought a small blow-up boat, loaded it up with our picnic, put on flippers and swam it across to a small island for a day of swimming and snorkelling.  K and the girls dived for mussels on the other side of the island in the polluted waters just off the big Navy Base.  It's lucky we survived the contamination.  The girls learnt to hunt octopus, we saw cuttlefish mating, swam in a thunderstorm.



Salamina


We spent a lot of time with friends, eating out at small tavernas where there were just a few tables and one or two items on the menu, mussels and oysters, pork chops or salt cod.  The girls had a lot of concerns though after their third change of school and we all knew we would be up and moving again soon.



The first summer we spent two weeks at a Navy camp.  A real holiday.  We had a small one bedroomed cabin, cooked simple meals or ate at the cheap restaurant on base.  The sea once again was not the cleanest being just across from the main fleet but there was an Olympic swimming pool where we dived dangerously from a 3 metre board, hanging out there almost every day at the beginning of another sweltering summer.  K went to work during the week but was back each evening so it was a family holiday.

My Greek was reasonable by then .  I could understand everything and communicate well but keeping up with conversation was fraught with problems.  By the time I had understood the subject and wanted to dive in with my own opinion they were off on another topic.  I just tuned out and the long evenings of loud harsh music and tiring chat bored me stiff.  I thanked the lord that I had two small children and could use them as a reason to retreat early.

Salamina was a sort of interlude.  Next we go to Poros.

This is turning into a life story.  One, maybe two chapters, I think and that's it.  But it has got me writing and remembering.  I have promised my two girls that I shall write more.  The bits I've missed out.  But not for this blog.

A kiwi in flight

Friday, 2 June 2017

My Greek story Part two

Part two of my greek story. 


I have been in Greece since 1976.  That is a very long time.  We lived ten years in Piraeus. The last five years in a two bedroomed  flat on the first floor .   Underneath lived a woman without children and the noisy pitter patter of our feet above her head gave vent to much banging on the radiator pipes.  Fortunately we were well liked by the rest of the occupants and never had any other trouble.  

K was away on Navy business a lot of the time and I was on my own.  I used to put both children, around 2 and 3 years old then, in a pushchair, and haul them onto the green bus which took us an hour away to Syntagma Square in Athens.  From there we would walk up to the British Library where at least I could find English books to read.  They saved my sanity.  Not much else in english was available then.  Or we would go for a walk through the National Gardens, feed the ducks and stare for a while at the pitiful 'zoo' of two mangy wolves, a couple of monkeys and a peacock.  Often I would push them up to the top of the Acropolis.  Because I had Greek citizenship I had an official ID card and we were allowed in for free.  Now the Greeks pay just as much as the tourists if they want to see their national monuments.  At least my girls can boast that they have seen all the ancient ruins and not only once or twice.  We would picnic in the ruins around the old Agora (market place) at the foot of the Acropolis and in the temple to Hephaestos (the God of metal working and fire).  It is cordoned off now but then we could go inside and the girls would play around the columns. 


National Gardens



All our entertainments had to be cheap.  We lived on very little and I remember once towards the end of month going to the bank to withdraw our last 500 drachmas.  That is about 3 euros now.  I bought macaroni, sugar and custard powder to give us a few more meals.  The children didn't mind at all. 

I had a network of foreign friends and we met at different houses (apartments) for coffee mornings.  I had to take my unsociable children with me and they did tend to scream a bit in company.  I met a South African couple, Margo a doctor and Jimmy a bank manager now retired, who lived on a yacht in Piraeus marina and they would walk the girls till they calmed down.  We often visited them on their boat.  I valued their friendship tremendously.  Understanding, common language, book swapping, wine drinking.  Manouvering two small children on and off a small yacht was a little complicated but they just took it in their stride even when one of the girls threw their shoes overboard.

 Then my husband, a Naval Officer was transferred to the Navy base at Souda in Crete.  I loved Crete.  We lived in a small village, Mournies, in an 80 year old house for the first year which had great cracks in the floorboards, a leaky bathroom where you sometimes needed an umbrella to go to the loo and watercuts which meant carrying buckets of water from a tap across the road. Great fun.  I even ran the washing machine by pouring in buckets of water at what I deemed to be the right time, water often left in buckets on the balcony to be warmed by the sun. The youngest started schooling at a school where the first two classes were taught by one teacher.  I learnt to read and write with her.  


 Two little Greek girls with haircuts done -at- home and hand-me-downs from their (boy) cousins


  The village people just took us in as their own.  On the first day we moved in we found a big bag of grapes on the doorstep and the villagers just continued to give and give.  We were overwhelmed with oil and tomatoes, and whatever was in season in their gardens.  They gave us advice, looked out for our children who ran free in the fields, invited us into their homes and would take nothing in return.



A village street in Mournies


We would walk for miles through the narrow lanes visiting the other villages, often late at night, singing nursery rhymes in Greek and English at the tops of our voices.  Or just after payday we would visit the local taverna and eat grilled chicken washed down with a very rough strong, dark red wine.  
Coming home we would always be freaked a little by the hooting of the owls.  Time to sing even louder, me in English, the rest in Greek.  I did english animal noises and they would reply in unison with  Greek animal caterwauls.

There was only one store then and two cafenions (where the men went to drink coffee and raki) but down the road was a pitta bakery. OMG those delicious pittas still hot and moist from the oven.  It was lucky we walked a lot.

K brought lots of recruits and fellow officers back to the house and we would have BBQs in the back garden where the pig sty used to be and eat meat from the Navy storehouse, meat which had been in the freezer sometimes for a couple of years and could be as tough as an old shoe.


 The next two years we spent in Navy housing with the girls going to a Navy school.  Life was cheap there.  Everything was subsidised and we managed to buy a small car and start exploring the island.  Crete has everything.  Mountains, cities, lakes, long empty beaches, crowded tourist resorts, small villages and ancient ruins everywhere, most of them unknown back then and unvisited, except by us with a picnic. We went searching for snails when it rained and kept them on the balcony till we cooked and ate them, we saw a goat being born.  We spent the summer on the Navy beach and exploring the island.  We ate for next to nothing at the NATO base.



This is the site of Aptera.  It must have been excavated since we were there.  We used to picinic on some of the huge stones enjoying a panoramic view of the gulf below.  It was overgrown back then and hard to see it's dimensions.

My parents and one of my brothers visited us while we were there and we did more exploring, taking our car to the ruins of Phaestos, Frankocastello, Gortyrs, Mallia, Zakros, Paleokastro.  Knossos, the best known ruins just outside Heraklion I think I visited four times, once on a school trip.


Knossos, partly restored by Arthur Evans




 I loved the life there and actually cried as I saw it disappear into the clouds when we left.  But being in the Navy then meant that every 2 years would mean a transfer.

I'm sorry I haven't scanned any more photos.  When I learn to re-use the scanner  I'll post some more.  This story was just three paragraphs but it seems to have grown as I rewrote.  And this is only part of the memories.  The good memories



The family today (well two years ago).  I took the photo