Saturday 5 December 2015

2015..austerity All Blacks and more

XMAS 2015



What can I write that I have not already written  during this long year, last year and the year before. Economic ruin was on the cards for the first six months.  Worse than the years before, but with the usual outcome.  A last minute bailout saved Greece from bankruptcy but the threat is still there to keep the masses toeing the line.   Our stockpiles of macaroni and toilet paper gave us supplies for the next few months.  What we saved on food and hygiene products we gave to the government in the hope that we wouldn’t lose the roof over our heads.    January 1st will bring more pension cuts, from 10-25%.  Our family are still able to pay all their taxes and we are grateful for that.  I hope I can still write that at the end of 2016.

 Refugees and asylum seekers took first place in the news in the second 6 months.  In previous years refugees from Afganistan and Pakistan arrived in the thousands on the greek islands.    This year asylum seekers, mainly fleeing the war in Syria, have topped the half million mark.  You’ve all seen the news reports and horrific photos.
  Thousands are still arriving each day on greek shores crossing the 'sea of death' between Turkey and Greece.  Seas are rough, bodies are washed up daily on greek beaches.  Borders are closing as fences and walls are built all along the refugee route to restrict and control the huge numbers of people passing through.  Refugees are stuck in the freezing cold for days or weeks before they continue on to Europe.  Athens has opened up its Olympic stadiums to accommodate those who want to wait out the winter. 

And terrorists creep through to bring terror in Paris and all of Europe.``  

At the moment there are an estimated 7,000 on the northern greek borders.  Last week Iranian men sewed their lips together in protest at not being able to cross into Skopje.  Yesterday it was a war of stones with the police and bona fide refugees who are allowed through the border.  A Moroccan migrant was electrocuted whilst attempting to climb on top of  a train.  Why a Moroccan?     Was his life threatened in Morocco or was he just in search of a better life and trying to get into Europe via a back door.

Syrian families who can qualify as genuine refugees are the first to be allowed through to continue on their long trek.  But young men from Pakistan, Afganistan, Iran....and Morocco are the majority on the borders.  They are the irregular migrants who are stopped from continuing and they are the trouble makers.  They are fighting between themselves and with police. All of them are supposed to have been photographed and fingerprinted but what does that do really.  At least one of the Paris attackers came through the island of Leros.    Whose is to say if they are genuine refugees or a threat to peace in Europe.  Young men are deported regularly.  As soon as they set foot 'home' they are off again, on their way back to the refugee trail.

After the incident between  Russia and Turkey the 'Csar' and the 'Sultan' are insulting each other and making threats which I hope they do not carry out.  Russian ships have been stopped from sailing through the Bosphorous and out into the med.  Turkey has stopped providing fresh fruit and vegetable to the Russians.

Turkish war planes invade Greek airspace a dozen times a week.  As the Greek PM said, 'thank goodness our pilots are not as nervy as the Turks.'

A blessed greek monk, named brother Paisios, who died in 1994, left behind him Nostradamus type predictions.  One of them was that Russia and Turkey would go to war and Turkey would be wiped off the map.  Whilst he says Konstantinople (Istanbul) will be returned to the Greeks, something they have been waiting for since its fall  to the Ottomans on a Tuesday (a most unlucky day) in 1453, it would also mean a war on our border.  Peace brothers.

Greek chemists, hospitals, the employed and the unemployed are out on the streets striking and protesting.  Farmers have warmed up their tracters and are blocking roads.  Our local school still has not got its full quota of teachers although the schools opened in September. 

Big businesses are moving across the border to Bulgaria, Skopje and even Albania where life and taxes are cheaper.    We've all gone back to shopping at the Chinese 'emporiums'.  Galatas across the waters has  a large store where we find cheap clothes for all the family. 

Our days here are still sunny and bright but the nights are getting colder.  We lit our wood burning stove for the first time last night.  The neighbours have gathered most of their olives and we have a 17 kilo tin of fresh olive oil to keep us going for a few months, plus half a ton of fresh olive wood.

10 kilos of olives pressed to get one litre of oil at the beginning of the season
by December it was 6 to 1



The grape harvest went really well, especially considering that most of the grapevines in our area were under water for months after flooding last December.  For the first time Kostas did not get any grape juice and has not made his own wine.  We buy a few kilos from our neighbour as needed.  An extra tax has been put on wine and there was a huge uproar.  Politicians did agree that wine was not a luxury in this country but a tradition.  A few glasses of wine are drunk with every meal . Fiery  raki cleans out the rust and warms the blood, a necessary 'medicine' not a luxury.

The winter was wet, the summer was hot.  We all grew a year older.

“May calm be widespread, may the sea lie smooth as greenstone, may the warmth of summer fall upon us all”.

A maori blessing

as usual all the types of type face have been used, much to my bewilderment.  One day I will get it all the same, I hope. 

Saturday 29 August 2015


The Durrell family moved to the island of Corfu for four years in the 1930's.  Both Lawrence and Gerald have written about their time on the island and a film was made of Gerry's  book "My Family and Other Animals".

Lawrence Durrell was a novelist and a poet and also wrote books about his sojourns in Corfu, Rhodes and Cyprus. His books are a little out of date now, being written just before and after WWII, but he gets into the soul of the people, the country, its culture and quirks. These are not travel stories but as someone  wrote 'foreign residence' books .    His novels I find difficult to read though have enjoyed some.  His travel books on the other hand are delightful, rich in description, witty and shrewd. 

Spirit of Place is the one I have just finished and here are some quotes I enjoyed.

"My books are always about living in places, not just rushing through them.  .......tasting the wines, cheeses and characters of the different countries you begin to realise that the important determination of any culture is after all - the spirit of place."

"Most travellers hurry too much.  But try just for a moment sitting on the great stone omphalos*, the navel of the ancient greek world at Delphi.  Don't ask mental questions, but just relax and empty your mind."

"Ten minutes of this sort of quiet inner identification will give you the notion of the greek landscape which you could not get in twenty years of studying greek texts."

*omphalos - tummy button

This would be a delightful way to get in tune with Greece but nowadays it would be hard to find the peace and quiet needed. Cars and tourist coaches haul in hundreds of people every day and hour.  Maybe in a snow flurry in the middle of winter, and then only early in the morning.

And on Greek potholes.  So, so true even today. He is talking about his return to Corfu after twenty odd years.

"I'm not joking when I say that I remembered many of them from my youth - the identical holes. "

"An army of gnomes with teaspoons comes out one night and very deftly fills the holes with a light mix of cement and clinker - like filling cavities in teeth.  This just passes the test of summer weather, but the first thunderstorms of the autumn deftly wash out the fillings and leave us once more with the original road surface - a sort of confluent smallpox effect"

So it's gnomes with teaspoons that used to fill those damn potholes here on Poros.   I think they've gone on strike or have been frightened away by trolls on fiery four-wheeled  dragons.  Our potholes have not been re-filled for many a summer.

And one last quote describing a grande gourmet at a French restaurant.

"L'abdomen est un peu majestueux."

What I found even more entertaining was a couple of hours of his brother Gerald reading his highly entertaining books on his childhood in Corfu.  Most of you must know of the book 'My family and other Animals'.  It is a chuckle a page.  If you liked his books then these recordings are even better.  Great for taking the drudge out of the ironing.  There is one clip on YouTube where he reads his own work and is preferable to excerpts read by others.

Gerald Durrell.  Stories from a Corfu Childhood.  Look for it on YouTube.

Lawrence Durrell -
Prospero's Cell        Corfu
Bitter Lemons          Cyprus
Reflections of a Marine Venus          Rhodes
Spirit of Place    a collection of letters and memories

Gerald Durrell -
My Family and Other Animals
Birds, Beasts and Relatives
The Garden of the Gods

These three now seem to be sold as the 'Corfu Trilogy'.

for more on Greece and Poros 

Monday 24 August 2015


This is not just a few boat people arriving illegally under cover of darkness on a few greek islands. Summer and calm seas has brought an invasion with boats arriving on the hour during daylight hours.  Imagine a plague of ants climbing up and over your doorstep and swarming all through your house.

Thousands of refugees are now on Greece's northern border with Skopje* .   The route for this onslaught of refugees mainly from Syria but also Iran, Afghanistan and other middle east combat zones, is from the shores of Turkey to a greek island by some sort of flimsy vessel (although some were brought across by jet ski before the human trafficker was caught by the greek coast guard).  On they go by ferry to Athens, train to northern Greece and the border with Skopje where they are let through a few hundred at a time.  There they are allowed as far as the nearest railway station where they board a train for Serbia.  From Serbia they hope to reach Hungary and eventually Germany and places east, west and anywhere European. 

Bulgaria has closed its greek border for refugees so Skopje is the only passage way for them. Thousands were repelled by tear gas and stun grenades as they stormed the country's border.  Skopje has declared a state of emergency and is calling for more trains to transport them to Serbia.  Serbia meanwhile is struggling to give them food and water on their passage through the country.  Hungary is reputed to be building a 13' high fence along their border to keep out or at least restrain this human onslaught.  At the moment thousands are camped out on the main railway station in Budapest waiting to enter Europe. 

100,000 have entered Austria and Switzerland over the alps from Italy. Many more thousands are arriving in Italy from Libya which involves a much longer sea journey.  Italian authorities are reputed to let refugees escape  from camps in Sicily because it is just too expensive to keep them.

There are riots and fighting at the channel tunnel entrance on the coast of France. Official reports say they have stopped 37,000 attempts to reach England through the tunnel since January.

In Greece thousands are now being washed up daily and big passenger ferries have been put into service to transport them a few thousand at a time to the Port of Pireaus. Riots  on the island of Mytilene ended in two refugee deaths.  It is no longer just a case of those few hundred camped in Athens parks being rehoused (where they are complaining about the lack of WiFi).  Many of those fleeing Syria were from the middle class, educated, with good jobs.

  On the islands they must be fingerprinted and receive an official paper so they can continue.  Delays are making the crowds angry and frustrated.  Police cannot process them fast enough.  The biggest worry is that Islamic militants are among those seeking asylum.

5,000  are  today at the border of Skopje waiting for permission to enter.  The guards are letting in 100 at a time, families first.  The rest are left in a no mans land between the two countries.  They have already cleared the fields of anything edible, from the seeds of fields of sunflowers to watermelons.  Human aid workers are trying to keep them supplied with food and water and the small villages nearby are providing what aid they can.

The weather is changing and nights are cold. Rain is forecast.

There are 200,000 more refugees in camps on the Turkish/Syrian border.  

This a human tragedy of huge proportions.  It involves families, pregnant women and hundreds of  children who are fleeing alone hoping for the chance to live their lives free and in safety.

*The foreign press know the country as Macedonia but Macedonia is part of northern Greece, the birth place of Alexander the Great.  Macedonia is Greek.  The country's offical name is Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia or FYROM.  The greeks call the republic 'Skopje after its capital city.

Greece's political and economic problems are minor compared to the surge of human beings from the inferno of the  middle east.

Tsipras has resigned and called for elections.  Opposition parties are now trying to form a coalition government but that is unlikely to happen.  Elections will probably take place on September 20th before unpopular new tax laws come into force.

25 radical members of his party have broken away and formed a new party called 'Popular Unity' saying that Tsipras has gone against party promises of no more austerity.    

Tsipras  is seeking a majority for the SYRIZA party and he is still well liked because of the tough stance he took towards the European creditors.   However the first poll puts him only slightly in front of the opposition New Democratic party.

So now we have a month of endless political discussion and the prospect of an unstable future with another coalition government. The caretaker government will be headed by Supreme Court president Vassiliki Thanou-Cristophilou and Greece will have its first female Prime Minister.     

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Some more comments on the greek situation


Banks are open again but only to take in our money. Cash machines still give out daily rations of 50 or 60 euros. Bills are paid in this once cash society without money changing hands, simply transfers of numbers from bank account to collecting office.

Meanwhile the news is full of the dastardly plots of the left wing to return us to the drachma. Lafouzanis, leader of the extreme far left of the ruling party, dreamt up a wild scheme to invade the Bank of Greece, arrest the Governor and relocate 2 or 3 billion euros to be used to run the country while the drachma was being printed and distributed.

Varoufakis, outspoken ex-finance minister had plans to hack into his own ministry's computers in preparation for Greece’s exit from the eurozone.

Grumbling European partners suggested that Greece sell off its uninhabited islands, the Acropolis and other famous antiquities to pay back its creditors. French tourists at the archealogical site of Lindos on Rhodes demanded free entrance saying their country was owed billions by the Greeks and they had no right to ask for more. Security guards refused them entrance.

Tax inspectors are making sweeping checks all over the islands and inland resorts. In Crete the archealogical site of Knossos was found to be one of the islands big tax evaders. There was no official record of money coming in and no tickets being issued. After an inspection of all archeological ruins in the country it was found that only 2 of the ticket machines were connected to the tax revenue office. Millions of tourists visit these sites every year and they all belong to the Ministry of Culture. The government's own ministry was in violation.

New V.A.T. tax laws are a supreme absurdity. Souvlaki has a 13% tax but if salt is added the tax goes up to 23%. Parsley and rocket have 13% tax, basil 23%. Beef 23%, chicken , lamb and pork 13%.

There has been great and witty debate about the logic behind these taxes. General agreement - there is no logical explanation.

23% tax is supposedly only on luxury goods. This includes the carob and 'mountain tea' . The latter is a herb gathered for eons by the greeks from the hillsides and considered a fragrant healing infusion which they drink daily. Carobs are fed to the goats.

Leave these absurdities for the greeks to debate. The month of August is the peak of the holiday season. Sun is guaranteed every day. Souvlaki is still cheap with or without salt. There are dozens of cultural festivals this month especially on the islands. You can enjoy performances of ancient greek plays at the 2500 year old theatre of epidavros. Grape harvest festivals have already begun. Bathe in the romance of the August full moon at midnight on the Acropolis. Come and enjoy Greece.


Wednesday 12 August 2015


And another one’s down, another bill passed in the house.  The proverbial Fat Lady (female with luxurious curves) is warming up.  The Germans are rubbing their plump frankwurster paws. The agreement is almost sealed.
“Germany has gained £71billion from its tough stance on Greek debt crisis... and will still make a profit if Athens never pays back a single cent”
Thank you  via facebook

Looks like we’re set for three years of endless taxes, thirty years of payback and another 50 of recovery.   

The  road ahead is full of potholes although the PM, as usual, came on TV with a big grin on his face telling us that the final agreement is in sight and ‘we shall,  we shall overcome’.  The same thing he has been telling us since his election in January.

Many Europeans refuse to believe that Greece will  implement changes and insist  we just want  to exist on handouts.   Finland is pushing for a grexit. Slovakia will not pay ‘ one more cent of taxpayer money for greek debt’. The rebels in the ruling party SYRIZA  may cause a split and lead PM Tsipras to call for elections.  Just what we want after the pointless referendum.  Let’s throw away a few more million on an unnecessary election.

 On the islands opposite the Turkish coast those fleeing from their own war torn countries are floating in daily by the hundreds.  Riots broke out yesterday on the island of Kos .  ‘If this is Europe, then I want to go back to Syria’ said one.  Duuh.  You’re a refugee in a country that can hardly look after its own people.  The islands are overwhelmed. 124,000 arrived by boat in the first seven months of 2015.  Papers cannot be finished fast enough to get them off the islands and into Athens (where life will be better?)  There is nowhere for them to stay, no toilets and no water supply.  The refugees have  been described as ‘ticking health bombs’ because of the threat of malaria, TB and hepatitis.  They don’t want to stay in Greece and Europe doesn’t want them. 

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για REFUGEES GREECE

The  campsite set up by the refugees  in a central Athens square is still there although  temporary  housing is being set up for these people in small container-like cabins  with aircon and a daily meal handout.  Greek homeless are complaining and rightly so saying that because of the economic crisis they lost their jobs, lost their houses and now sleep on park benches.  No aircondition or daily meals for them.

August 15 is the biggest holiday of the year,  the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  Athens empties and the islands and villages prepare for a week of church services, village fetes, outdoor markets selling everything from donkeys to icons and always feasting, drinking , music and dancing.

Toursim has bounced back.  Greeks have dug deep and  departed from the big cities in droves.  Poros is full.  It has traffic jams, the harbour road is closed every evening, open only for pedestrians. The mayor, who still has to make any noticeable improvements for the locals is putting all his money into concerts and exhibitons.  We have this month the Celebration of the Lemon Tree, the International Piano Festival, usually in amongst the ruins of the temple of Poseidon on the hill opposite our house,  and something else called the Room of Music, which is probably greek or foreign music played on the steps of the old harbour front building and does enchant all those who are out to promenade on a warm summer evening.

 Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για temple of poseidon poros greece

Sunday 2 August 2015


A large clay pot sealed with bread dough.  This goes into the wood fired oven and cooks meat in its own juices for three or four hours.  This time it was a chicken.  All we added was lots of garlic, salt and pepper. 

A plate of snails stewed with onions and tomatoes.  These are sucked out with  lots of noisy satisfaction.  If you're shy you could always pick the flesh out with a toothpick .  The tomatoey, saucy juices are sopped up with lots of heavy bread and helped down with lots of cold white wine.  A typical mid summer dish.

My butternut/squash harvest.  I make sweet pumpkin pie, savoury pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin puree and roast pumpkin.  Anyone coming this way, please put a packet of proper pumpkin seeds in your bags (along  with the pineapple chunks and vegemite).  We don't get proper pumpkin here, alas


My hydrangea (called an 'ortansia' here, delightful word).  It originally had pink flowers but now just seems to have green blooms.  I read that it is the Ph of the soil that determines the colour.  Anyone got an idea how I can get the colour back - besides having the soil tested?  That is not going to happen.  I have since cut off all the flowers and am waiting for the next growth.

Summer treasures - not from our garden.  Melon, watermelon, figs, peaches and grapes.

Our local beach, Vagionia Bay.

Ghika the goat, this years resident at the beach bar.  He loves to eat towels. 

Refugees.  Still coming over from the close by shores of Turkey in their hundreds of thousands.  They eventually get to northern Greece and the borders of Scopje, Croatia, Bulgaria , where they are not welcome any more even though they just want to pass through. 

This is a transfer of population which is going to change the stability, cultures of europe.  Four million asylum seekers are expected.  As some one recently pointed out to me, that is the population of New Zealand.

Greek schools opened with a lack of 13,000 teachers.  270 did not open at all because no teachers had been posted to them.  One of our primary schools is trying to teach with two teachers missing and the intermediate has  three teachers less than needed.  It will be mid October before new teachers are appointed.

Elections this Sunday.  Whatever government is formed they will have to carry out European austerity measures. 

Second-year memorial service for my brother-in-law at the Poros Monastery.  No-one was happy when my sister-in-law Dina announced this service would take place in the monastery church.  The monk, Loukas, is very strict and is always giving lectures on the correct dress for women and the inferiority of infidels like me.  However, we were lucky.  He was away for the weekend and his place was taken by an extremely friendly black priest from the nearby town of Methana.

Also I saw that the notice on the door of the church has been changed.  Women wearing 'men's clothes' used not be  allowed inside the church at all.  Now they may enter but will be refused communion.  I still stood outside the door for the service.  There is not a very friendly feeling up there.

Dina made a big tray of funeral wheat which was bagged and shared out by my youngest granddaughters.  I made a 'fanouropita' which is a raisin cake made without eggs, milk or butter and it was darn good. After the service we 'retire' to the monastery's 'social' room where some of us make the small cups of greek coffee, others (women of course) share out the koliva (wheat with sugar, cinnamon, raisins and almonds) and I cut up and plated the cake.  We all had coffee and mastiha (which is a sticky liqeuer), cake and cinnamon biscuits.  Usually we then listen to a lecture from Loukas the monk.  This time we just cleared up and went down to the little coffee bar below under the spreading chestnut tree for a freddo cappuccino.  

Tuesday 28 July 2015


I should have trusted my instincts and known this was all just another greek drama.    This weekend traffic on the waterfront was in its usual chaotic summer mode, the supermarket was full of shoppers buying fresh fruit and vegetables, cafes were full and tavernas were setting up tables on the sidewalks,waiters buzzing  backwards and forwards with laden trays.  Greeks just cannot be kept down. 

The feeling now is 'enjoy life today for tomorrow we could still be bankrupt'. 

coffee at the orange chairs
No. 1 K-approved waterfront café
Nels, Elli and a young Natalia

I am sure all the unemployed sitting in cafeterias  sipping  one all-day coffee and arguing politics would prefer to be working 15 hours in the scorching sun and have money in their pockets.

Work means money.
Money means:
a winter holiday in the Carribean sun
replacing your rotten shutters
a new car (preferably a Mercedes)
nights out at a taverna with friends and laughter
a trip to the putanes over the border in Bulgaria, in your new mercedes (as some of the  local business men used to do every November)

The money is spread around, everyone prospers: the small business that cleans the hotel sheets, the local fishermen who sell their early morning catch on the waterfront, the fresh frozen potato man who operates out of his house and the beach bars that sell craziness on the sand.

Kyriakos and his water taxi ' Socrates'

Stathis from the little mini market at Neorion beach peddles furiously taking orders to tavernas and cafes all over the island.  He is in training for a winter job as a ski instructer  in the alps.  His bike pulls a laden trailer,  leg muscles screaming as he climbs up Neorion hill and over the top past the Poros Image hotel.

Every enterprise is set up to serve the tourist and the local community.  The small neighbourhood grocery stores stay open all day and deliver at any hour.  Grandparents and young children get roped in to sit at the till, weigh out the snails, stack the tomatoes.  Beach bars like our local at the bay below open at 9am and stay open until the last customer goes home.  One man drinking a slow beer may keep them open till 2am.  That's summer.  These two guys have set up a couple of tents in the field next door and take turns having a siesta when trade is slow.

The locals work long hours in a normal summer.  I worked at a swimming pool  bar for three years (many years ago) and 15 hour work days were the norm.  We did it gladly because of course the money we made kept us going through the winter when everything closed down.  Poros locals do spend a lot of time in cafes in the winter but that is what seasonal work means.  Unfortunately the tourist season which used to last here from April to November now lasts only the  hottest summer months, July and August. 

this is it folks
taverna by the sea
Rainy and Tony

Poros  lost a lot of its tourism after the fall of the English holiday companies at the end of the 80’s and is taking a long time to recover.  We need a leader with initiative on the island with fresh ideas and the will to implement them.

 Regular air travel to the other islands is now available from cities all over England . It is so much easier for tourists to fly straight to the island of their choice and be transferred in minutes to their accommodation.  Coming to Poros means a one hour bus ride from airport to harbour, a wait for boat or hyrdrofoil, 1-2 hours travelling, and then a taxi to accommodation.    Greek tourists took over as the roads improved and it became easier to come  Poros from Athens by car.  1 ½ to 2 hours, a short car ferry ride and you’re set. 

National Day
a young George in traditional dress
Long Live Greece
'freedom, education, bread'

Winter employment is difficult.  Nearly all tavernas close down and only half the cafeterias will remain open.  Olive picking is hard, dirty work in the freezing winter months.  Nothing romantic about it.  Long hours starting in the frost and working through till early evening through drizzle and misty fruitfulness.  Most olive pickers are family and they get paid in oil so they can ensure their years supply. 

Lemon and orange picking used to be an option but prices have fallen so far that a lot of orchard owners let their fruit drop and rot.  It is not worth employing someone to pick and pack them.

The Navy base provides bursts of money with their visiting days but generally winter is a time of café hibernation.

our house in the hills
right hand side at the back

Domestic tourism, especially in these islands in the Saronic gulf just out of Athens, is picking up.  We still have August to go so all is not lost.  I shall be the one hibernating till all the tourists go home.  Our house in the hills is well away from the bustle and noise of the waterfront.  We have the beach below us and the bar there in the early evening is quiet and Manolis and Marcos have time to sit and chat with K about tomorrow's weather and fishing prospects.

with friends on the island of Agistri
also in the Saronic gulf
where K's father was born

summer days at the navy beach bar
K on the left, Kyriakos on the right

Thursday 23 July 2015

church supplement and photos

Sometimes you need something to break up the text.  Yesterday's was a wee bit meaty but I sent it off before succumbing to the heat.  So here are some photos to break the monotony.

Just a note about greek church services.  They are mostly informal, sometimes VERY.  At the little churches where the service takes place inside with the congregation outside everyone sits or stands, walks around, chats and gossips, crossing themselves where appropriate, wandering up to light candles or kiss an icon.  Children run around and are hissed at or hugged by parents, hairy aunts and adoring godparents. Seating is on walls, handy rocks or cement benches. At weddings and baptsims it is common for the priest to stop the ceremony a few times and tell everyone to be quiet and listen to the holy words he is saying.  Church is a social occasion.

Another of the panoramic views of Poros and harbour from Elli's rooftop terrace - with friends and family

the little church beside the sea where grandson Jamie was
baptised a few years ago.  Duck as you go through the door

Papa Georgi and his chanter in preparation for dunking Jamie.  He went under three times

Linda enjoying an iced coffee (frappe)

bottles of pickled olives and some of last summers hot peppers

Wednesday 22 July 2015


The summer months are full of church holidays, fiestas and local celebrations.  Nearby towns on the mainland part of Greece called the Peloponese celebrate the artichoke and the aubergine and the olive.

Agia - female saint
Agios - male saint
Panagia - Madonna/Virgin Mary

June30/July 1 Agious Anagyri  Τhese two saints go together.  Their names are Kosmas and Damianos and they were healers.  There is a huge festival at the monastery of Agious Anagyrous, about an hour and a half away on the mainland.  We have been most years in the early evening before the crowds get too much.  This is summer and the evening heat and the crowds can be overwhelming.  Besides the service at the monastery there is also a kilometre long open-air market where we have bought a wooden paddle for our outdoor oven, children's clothing, bags of nuts, pillows and assorted household china, books and souvlaki with cans of cold beer.  First of all we queue up outside the monastery gate and are let in a few at a time.  The inside  line to get into the tiny church and light a candle is crushing.  The monks inside the church are chanting and cover us all with incense.  There is no room for more than a few of the faithful so everyone must drop a few coins in the box beside the candles, take two or three simple brown wax tapers, kiss the icon of the two saints and slowly make their way to the sand box, plant and light the candles, vigorously crossing themselves, before being released to the fresh air of the garden.

Around midnight comes the climax when the icon of the saints is brought out and taken around the monastery walls.  It is usually preceded by a local band and followed by priests with incense burners swinging, chanters and altar boys carrying candles.

We didn't go this year because of the crisis.  Next year we'll be there,  Mrs Merkel and God willing.

July 2  the little church called Vrysoula (meaning, the tap, as it is built beside a spring).  This church is dedicated to the Holy Belt of the Panagia (Madonna)  Once again it is a tiny church and the congregation stands outside to listen to the service.  This church is also popular for baptisms and weddings.  It is set back from the road under the spreading chestnut trees and there is a trough of running water which makes it so cool and fresh in the summer.  One of the icons in the church has been painted by K's cousin.

July 7  Agia Kyriaki  the little church at Liminaria on the island of Agystri.  Liminaria is the birth place of K's father and many in the small village are related to us.  We haven't been on the actual fete day of the church but were there to see the preparations one year.  The main street (50 metres long) was strewn with the branches of a fragrant local plant and was wonderful to inhale as we rode over it on our scooter.  The church and the street were covered with strings of flags and the one taverna had extra chairs and tables set up along the roadside ready for the many hungry visitors after the service.

17 July  Agia Marina  This saint is known around here as the protector of small children.  After reading the official accounts of her life I cannot see why.  There is a small church dedicated to her just below our old house where daughter Elli now lives.  Almost the only service which takes place there is on the eve and the day of her fiesta.  My sister-in-law used to take my 2 daughters there for communion.  Now they take their own children.

20 July  Profit Elijah (Elias)  His churches are always built on the top of moutains (or hills) though I am not sure why even after studying him on Wikipedia.  There is a folk tale which explains it all but this is not mentioned and I am not going to tell you either.

25 July Agia Anna.  This little church on the outskirts of Galatas, the village across the water is looked after by the Galatas inlaws, Nota and the maiden aunts.  They clean and polish this tiny church, put doilies and fresh flowers around the icons and polish the silver candlesticks.  The church is another of those tiny white churches with just enough room for the priest, chanter and a few of the more devout.  It has a tall Cyprus tree hugging one side, almost built into the walls.
St Anna has two festivals, one in July and one on 9 December.

26  July Agia Pareskevi.  This little church is just across the hillside from us and is a very popular celebration.  The Mayor and dignitaries turn up at the fiesta along with what seems to be half the population of Poros.  The road down to the church is very narrow and creates a huge traffic jam.  Most people come to the evening service on the eve and afterwards either go down to the bay below where the beach bar serves up roast pork and has live music and dancing till the wee hours or they go up to Paradise Taverna at the top of the hill and have their traditional roast pork there with cold beers and wine.

I make the 'five loaves' (with out the fishes) and a loaf of special bread with a holy stamp in the middle.  These are blessed and then cut up and passed out at the end of the service.  Many local women make these loaves along with other cakes and sweets made with olive oil.   It is a mad dash to get a bit of everything.  The 'five loaves' are a sweet bread and I use a recipe from Crete which has cinnamon and cloves, red wine, orange juice and 'mastiha' which is the resin of mastiha tree from the island of Chios and has an unusual aromatic flavour.

These are the local fiestas but every area has its own special saints and martyrs.  The greatest feast of all the year is on August 15, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  It is a national holiday and Greece closes down to celebrate.  Athens is empty, Poros is full and has traffic jams.  Every little church, monastery and municipality that is named after the Virgin Mary will have parades, church services, processions and feasts with local specilalties, wine and  some sort of roast or boiled meats.

Before the 15th August many will have been on a 15 day fast so there is even more reason to eat drink and be merry.  I always think it would be a good time for the Turks to attack.  There would no resistance whatsoever.  But if Mrs Merkel tried a new trick I'm sure she would be completely ignored.

Saturday 18 July 2015


We have learnt to throw around 'millions and billions' as
though they are just a few euros, change for our purse.  We learnt about capital controls, GDP growth rates and 'Standard and Poors', as Greece's credit rating dived into murky depths with the likes of Sudan, Zimbabwe and El Salvador.

 We know all the European officials by their Christian names, sour old Wolfgang Schauble,  haughty Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, white haired Christine Lagarde, successor to French amore Dominique Strauss Kahn who lost his post as head of the IMF when he was caught with his pants down in a New York hotel room.

  It is time to put all of them behind us.   The deal is not signed,
 the fat lady has not sung, but the road looks like leading us to a Greek revival.

Spit on us all three times , ftoo ftoo ftoo.  Keep that evil eye away. 

I just looked up 'Standard and Poors' current credit rating for Greece.

 CCC   outlook stable  

Down in the town this morning there was a different aura.  Shoppers in the supermarket buying fresh tomatoes, whole ripe karpouzi (watermelon), melons and peaches.  Outside, the 'green chairs', K-approved café,  was full of coffee drinkers.  The taxi boats were buzzing fully laden from Poros to Galatas across the strait.  I yelled half a dozen sunny 'kalimera's before getting down from my quad bike.  Catherine's bakery was handing out scrummy long loaves of brown, white and multiseeded  bread. The cheese pie shop had feta cheese, sausage and spinach pies hot from the oven. The meat market had a few customers, not just those reading the 'death and memorial' noticeboard.

Every year we have seen small tavernas and cafes open and then close down here on our little island. Souvenir shops have almost disappeared.  Jobs in the tourist industry have gone with them.  

  Maybe now our friends  newly opened  *meze taverna will stay open in the winter and they won't have to  rely on their goats, milk and feta to survive in the off months.

* meze -  snacks : salted sardines, olives, fish roe salad, octopus or kalamari, whatever is fresh and seasonal served with raki, ouzo, beer or wine

 Maybe Elli's clients will pay the money owed to her office as their  businesses  finally make a small profit and maybe she too will get paid in full and on time.

  Maybe the Mayor will have enough money to fix the jetty which fell into the water two years ago. Maybe he will fix the potholes which bounce my quad bike all over the road, and maybe we can again have  some fireworks at New Year.

Maybe I will be able to buy an english magazine sometimes.  Maybe I will be able to indulge in some new knitting wool this winter.

 Maybe K will be able to meet his friends and continue with their old Wednesday get together and chew over the local gossip and football scores. 

Greeks are social people.  Without that interaction (social intercourse, as Harry would say) they shrivel and  fade, no longer those plate breaking, loud talking, singing, dancing, light hearted humans.  Even  German holiday makers lighten-up here, attempt a little Greek, kicking off their birkenstocks, dancing like zorbas, drinking ouzo and forgetting the towels draped since dawn over their deckchairs. 

The cooling meltemi has started blowing from the north.  This  north wind, freezing in the winter, blowing down straight from the Russian steppes, is a welcome breeze in these hottest summer months.

Now that the pantry is full of macaroni our greatest fear is not hunger but fire.  K and I were drinking our iced coffees this morning under the lemon trees when we both noticed the whiff of smoke in the air.  We went out into the road to scan the sky but except for a slight blue haze in the bay below the skies were clear and sunny. 

That was yesterday.  The meltemi became gale force winds which whipped up fires all over Greece.  By dusk there were 72 fronts being battled by volunteers, firemen, helicopters, Canadair firefighting planes and army apaches.

Instead of 24 hour politics we were watching 24 hour smoked filled horror.  On the outskirts of Athens on the slopes of re-forested Mount Hymettus the flames engulfed a house as we stared at our TV screen.  A politican who arrived to speak in front of the cameras was told to take off his jacket and help fight the flames.  He made a hasty retreat. 

Mount Hymettus used to be known for the quality of its thyme scented honey.  Now there are only brown and grey slopes with blackened tree stumps.  I hope the bees escaped.  However,  two beekeepers were arrested for starting the fire. 

A new dawn.  The winds are not so strong and most of the fires are at least controlled, but not before burning houses and businesses.

Last night there was a cabinet shuffle.  Nothing to be excited about.  It was a difficult choice as no-one wanted to be in the unpopular position of putting into action more tax laws and sacking more public servants.

Tonight the family gathers to eat the fish K and the grandchildren caught.  7 year old Natali has become another fishing fanatic, happy to get up at 5.30am and thrilled to catch 3 fish.  They went diving as well and brought up scallops, the perfect meze for an ouzo or two.

All is well till Monday when the banks reopen and I have to pay all the bills sitting on the bench.  We still have money to pay them so we are thankful. 

Tuna sort of fish cooked on a clay tile
served with beetroot and garlic sauce