Friday 31 March 2017

I'm watching you!

The curse of the evil eye

The evil eye can be planted on you by someone who makes you a compliment and forgets to spit  ftoo ftoo ftoo, three times.  If you praise someone too much they become puffed up with pride and may become ill. The spitting  brings them back to earth.

Have you suffered from the evil eye?  I have. Sometimes it is a feeling of illness, other times it maybe some sort of accident. 
 Once, all dressed up for a wedding, I was told I looked just radiant.  I stepped out onto the road and fell flat on my face.  All was well except for my nose.  No-one noticed how 'radiant' I was looking because all they saw was a big red scab on the end of my nose.  

You can give yourself the evil eye too so forget the preening and be humble or just spit on your clothes and shake yourself about.  Ftoo ftoo ftoo get thee behind me Satan.

The evil eye can also be sent by thoughts of envy or just plain nastiness or even unconsciously by someone with blue or green eyes.  If looks could kill.  The laser-like rays of some glances can cause disaster.

Soon after we bought our house we came one evening to clean up after the builders and as usual it turned into a semi-party with the arrival of children and grandchildren.  As we left we had to pull over  to allow our next door neighbour to pass in her car.   We still hadn't formally met her though of course she knew who we were and we knew her.

As our cars passed, in convoy, on the narrow lane she gave  us a penetrating stare.  Lo, but the first car knocked off its wing mirror turning the first corner onto the main road.  Our car developed an oil leak and we only just managed to make it home.  As we walked into our old house the hot water pipe burst flooding the kitchen.

She is such a nice lady but we are always careful now and furtively spit three times when in her presence and 'turn us all about'.

The blue eye is a lucky charm to ward off the evil  and send the malicious glare back from whence it came.   A clove of garlic also defends against the evil eye as does a piece of fishnet or wearing your underwear inside out. 

You'll find blue eyes hanging on babie's pushchairs or  around the neck of the family donkey. We have a head of garlic hanging in a piece of fishing net over our front gate.

We have blue stones on the car's key ring and a blue talisman hanging above the dashboard

If you have been 'cursed' you'll probably get a headache soon afterwards and maybe feel nauseous, dizzy or just plain 'lifeless'.  The 'eye' can be exorcised in several ways.

You can do it yourself by crossing your arms, hands under the armpits, and saying the Lord's prayer three times, and then spitting.

A special charm can be chanted, a charm which can only be handed down from male to female.  Or a drop of water in a glass of oil will confirm whether you have the 'mati' (eye) and a prayer and the sign of the cross will remove it.

It doesn't matter how far you are away from your grandmother, aunt, or my sister-in-law for instance, as the curse can be reversed long distance.  You should start yawning as the curse is expelled from your body.  The exorcist will start yawning too and if really bad will end up with tears in their eyes and an aching jaw.

So have a good day and I spit on you all.

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Poppy time

Spring flowers

This is not a poppy, it is an anemone.  They appear a little earlier than the poppies and are similar in colour but the leaves are pointed

Whereas the poppy which I found a little further down the road has the same black centre but the familiar rounded leaves.

Broad beans and garlic sauce.  We have been eating loads of raw garlic in the last few days.  Blood pressure should be at a healthy level and any  parasites running for cover .

On the left is a traditional metal wine jug.  This one holds half a litre, ideal for a normal lunch time drink.
The broad beans are fresh from the garden, boiled and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

Our front garden full of sorrel/oxalis/clover with its yellow flowers.  It has taken over the garden but by June will have dried up and completely disappeared.  I don't mind it's invasion though it is a fight to keep it from strangling the lettuces.  That wonderful green colour and the yellow of the flowers are soothing to the eye and the soul.
The roses are covered in a blue powder to keep mildew and bugs at bay.

Dave, on his blog Northsider, mentioned planting potatoes.  These are some of our weird potatoes from a few years ago.  Vaso gave us a bag of seed potatoes.  We planted half and she planted the other half.  With all her experience she got a terrific crop.  Our crop was quite good as well but almost every potato had these strange purple streaks in the middle.  They looked completely normal on the outside. I googled but couldn't find anyone who knew what had happened to our potatoes.  Any ideas?

Sunday 26 March 2017

25th March

Hanging out the blue and white Greek flag for National Day.  The flag is called the 'galano-lefko', the 'blue and white'. 

There used to be a law that every house must fly the flag on National Days.  Our traditional person makes sure ours is always flying a few days before.

Four schools take part in the parade and each school has an honour guard with one of the top pupils carrying the flag

Most of the island turns out to watch the children parade and lay wreaths at the War Memorial.  The cafes are full and ouzo is a popular drink with a small meze before carrying on to friends and relatives who are celebrating their name day today.  Vangelis and Evangelia

The Municipal Band sets the pace and plays the National Anthem

After the parade along the waterfront the school girls put on a show of traditional Greek dancing, some of them wearing the local dress.

25th March is a double celebration.

The Greek Orthodox church celebrates the Annunciation, when Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she would be the mother of  Christ.

The Greek people also celebrate the successful war of independence fought against the Ottoman Empire (the Turks).

  The Commander at the Navy Base and escort, Chief of Police, Chief of Harbour Police, Mayor, Councillors.

 Priests from all the churches and the Bishop from the island of Hydra with his black flock of frocked priests


Police on guard, guns in holsters

Harbour Patrol boat

We will watch the parade and wreath laying and then go across the waters to eat salted bacaliaros (cod) with Vangelis  (son-in-law's brother) whose name day it is today.  When our daughter married Kyriakos we all became a member of their family as well and nearly always celebrate these holidays together, whether at their house or ours.

It is still Lent of course but fish is allowed today and traditionally it is fried salt cod (soaked in water for two days to de-salt it) and garlic sauce.   It looks like fish n chips with mashed potato but it definitely is not.   The battered fried cod is usually cold by the time everyone gathers round the table and the 'mash' is strong with garlic and vinegar, and oily.  

Once again Maiden Aunt, Eleni, 85 years old, fried the cod, over 50 pieces and her sister Tasia made the skorthalia (garlic sauce).


  Vangelis had made a huge baking dish of samali which is a semolina cake with no eggs, butter or milk.

Friday 24 March 2017

Well used

Our collection of well used Greek cooking and drinking utensils

The briki

A briki is a small long handled pot used for boiling greek coffee.  As someone mentioned recently, every Greek house has a briki.  In fact every Greek house has many brikis.

Every Greek house also has one of these small gas burners which are used almost exclusively for making Greek coffee.  A  hot plate on a stove takes too long to heat the water and the coffee ends up being stewed. 

The little copper pot on the right is the favourite.  It is a 'traditional' pot and is big enough for one coffee. 
The pot in the front is blackened inside and out.   This is the one I use to 'burn' the oil for tossing into the macaroni. 

The small pots behind are big enough for two cups and the larger one on top of the gas burner is for multi-cups, boiling water for my nescafe when the power goes off or even boiling a couple of eggs.

How do you make Greek coffee?  Measure out enough water to half fill your small cup (espresso size), add a heaped teaspoon of Greek coffee and a quarter teaspoon of sugar.  

Put one hand round the end of the long handle and hold tightly. 

Stir well and leave it till the froth just starts to rise up.

Keep your eyes on the pot the whole time. If it rises up and over the coffee is spoilt and you have to start all over again, and clean up the mess.

  Pour it into your cup and drink only the top half.  The rest is a thick sludge of dark coffee grounds.

The lettuces in the orange bowl in the background were given us by Vaso.  I keep them in the bowl in a little bit of water.  They will keep fresh like that for over a week.

Traditional copper wine jugs. 

The one on the left is  well used. This is the half litre jug.  On it is the saying
"whoever drinks wine has a golden heart"
which sounds much better in greek as it rhymes.

The small pot in the front is the quarter litre.  Never used, except as a handy holder for teaspoons and small forks.

At the back are the one litre jugs.  The blue one is a souvenir from the island of Paros.  The other copper pot is old and faded, almost a family heirloom.

The little clay jug is aesthetically pleasing but not practical.  It is too small, would have to be repeatedly refilled and probably end up in pieces on the floor.  I was the one who bought it of course but rarely get to use it. 

For larger get togethers
(Smokey Thursday, Clean Monday, Epiphany, the Prodigal Son, Christmas, New Year, Easter Saturday, Easter Sunday, 25th March, 28th October, 15th August, May Day, Carnival amongst others)
 and family affairs
(Sundays, arrivals, departures, congratulations, name days and birthdays)
 we have also two  2-litre glass jugs.

Wednesday 22 March 2017

Macarounes and gkogkes

The pungent whiff of garlic has 'perfumed' our house from kitchen to bedroom and beyond,  as from  a vegan Pepe le pew. 

We had macaroni for lunch today.  What you would call spaghetti.   I ate it with a simple tomato sauce made from freshly grated tomato (from the freezer) with a little oregano, cinnamon and little round spice balls, all-spice I think in english, and some finely grated mild yellow cheese.  

K wanted garlic macaroni (skorthomacaronatha) which is his favourite.  Usually after the spaghetti has been drained I would pour over burnt oil.  Literally burnt.  The oil is heated until smoking in a small pot called a briki and should sizzle as it is poured over the pasta.  Today I crushed three cloves of garlic and heated it gently in olive oil adding a little tomato puree and paprika.  This I then poured over the spaghetti which I topped with a finely grated hard sheep's cheese. And from this garliky sauce came the pungent aroma which permeates our house.

Another favourite way to eat spaghetti is with the sheep's  cheese fried in oil and mixed with the pasta. The sheep's cheese obviously does not melt or it would be a sticky mess. 

Or just with plain yoghurt, tangy sheep's yoghurt or the strained greek yoghurt which has become popular everywhere.  And if there's nothing else (but there will always be garlic and olive oil) then spaghetti is eaten with ketch-up, or kets-ap as it is called here.

I well remember the first time I grated cheese for my mother-in-law, preparing for yet another family meal, everyone squashed inelegantly around her rickety old dining table.  I used the coarse side of the grater, it was so much easier.  She took one look at it said 'mmmf, is that the way you do it.  We use the finest grater'.  Oh boy, totally useless foreign daughter-in-law!

Greeks eat a lot of pasta, much of it mixed and shaped expertly by old hands and eaten with seared butter or oil and covered in mizithra, a hard sheep's cheese.  The handmade pasta can be made simply with flour and water or at the end of summer, when chickens are laying and goat udders are full, village women make macarounes, gkogkes and hilopites (amongst others) rich with eggs and milk.

My mother-in-law would make pillow cases full of hilopites in the summer sun, kneading the dough full of eggs and milk from their small holding on the Peloponese, rolling it out with a long broom-handle-like rolling pin, cutting each piece to the size of a fingernail and then spreading them out to dry on sheets covering all the beds and tables inside the house.  She would store the pillow cases full of pasta under her bed and dole them out all through the winter.

Neighbour Vaso still makes her own hilopites and always gives us a bag of them which we eat when fresh, although I really don't like them.  They taste of the goat that supplied the milk.

Sunday 19 March 2017

March Sun

After many cold, wet winter days the warm March sunshine drew us out for a coffee on the waterfront.

Capuccino and a greek coffee

Can you read our future?  
 I see many more coffees on the waterfront only very soon they'll be iced coffee, not hot. I can see the waiter with his tray.....don't ask where!

  Your fortune can be told when the cup is turned upside down and those coffee grounds are left to drip down the sides only I didn't dare do that in public.  It's a common practise, at home, and just for a laugh (as far as I'm concerned).  One of my daughters has a great imagination, interprets the dark and light shadows and spins a fascinating yarn.

Not the clearest of photos.  The tables on the left are all out in the sun and no-one is sitting there, not even us.  The coffee drinkers are all inside the protective nylon wearing their heavy jackets.  No-one dares sit in that dangerous sunshine and woe betide if they are in a deadly draught.  Could be the last time they drink coffee in this cafeteria in this lifetime!

Our first meal out on the balcony, in the March sun for me, in the shade under the umbrella for K.   Fish of the day, lettuce from the garden, beetroot and garlic sauce and Vaso's wine

Vaso and the family were busy burning the olive prunings today but her son-in-law sat down for a drink and some beetroot.  He is fasting for the full 49 days and is not eating meat or fish (or cheese, eggs or dairy), but a glass of wine is good for the health and the soul.

And a Sunday ouzo in the sun.  Clocks go onto summertime next weekend.  We will have three months of beautiful warm weather before the scorching heat of summer.

Friday 17 March 2017

On the Sea

A small fishing boat (trata) returns with its early morning catch

Pumping out the bilges after two days of very heavy rain

A couple of yachties return to their boat by sail

I caught this couple as they set sail to return to their beautiful wooden sailing boat parked out in the bay.  

K's fishing boat has been taken out of the water again this spring to have it's bottom scraped and painted.

The big car ferry leaves for Piraeus.  An old photo.  The big passenger ferry used to leave twice a day carrying passengers from the port of Piraeus to Aegina, Methana, Poros, Hydra and Spetses.  Nowadays there is a passenger ferry two or three times a week in mid summer only and it stops at Poros and returns to Piraeus.  Now if you want to reach Athens you can either go by the expensive but faster hydrofoil, across on the car ferry and overland by car or by bus from Galatas.

The roll-on roll-off car ferry from Poros to Galatas on the mainland.  The car ferry leaves every half hour and takes trucks, cars, bikes, pedestrians and donkeys if necessary.  A one way trip for us costs 7euro for the car, the driver and a passenger.  Smaller cars are slightly less.   

The service runs from 7am to 10pm.  Don't have an emergency after-hours

One of the many water taxis which ply the passage between Poros and the mainland.  They take only passengers (and dogs), the cost is 1euro per person and the trip is less than 5 minutes.  Cheap enough unless you live on one side and work on the other.

The water taxis go all day and night though after midnight on a cold winter's night there might be one boat on standby and you may have to yell over the waters to get it to come across or call the Harbour Police for help.

The car ferry and the water taxis work all year round and the weather has to be more than gale force before they stop.  A good blow from the north will send waves crashing into the wharf , flooding the harbour road and force yachts to untie and dash for the cover of open sea

Quite exciting to be 'cut off' but it is usually only for a matter of hours.  The hydrofoils stop in a storm and you have to keep an eye on the weather forecast if you want to travel to Athens in the winter.

We're an island but only just but this gives us the best of all worlds.  We have the island culture, the picturesque island scenery, the security of an island and yet the easy access to the rest of the country and all its amenities and rich history . 

Wednesday 15 March 2017

March - the Martis bracelet

For as long as my grandchildren have been attending school or nursery school they have always come home on March 1st with a red and white bracelet made of cotton thread tied round their wrists.  This year was the same, even though the oldest is now a teenager.

This tradition of course goes back hundreds of years and is followed throughout the Balkans.  The bracelet, the children are told, is to protect them from the burning rays of the March sun.  This is why the bracelet is called 'martis', 'march'.

The red and white bracelet made of twisted cotton thread is worn throughout the month of March.  The red and the white 'perhaps' represent the rosy red cheeks of the children and the white their pale complexions, though a lot of greek children have a dark mediterranean-olive toned skin

My five grandchildren are out in the sun all year round.  Four of them are rowers and their skins are dark and tanned nearly all  the year.

At the end of March the bracelets are removed and hung on a tree where the swallows can find them and use to make their nests.

This year the grandchildren are going to hang them on our lemon trees.  I haven't seen any swallows yet but  soon they'll be swooping and darting round the trees at dusk, diving and skimming along any ponds or resevoirs.

The March sun is considered unhealthy and sitting out in it will bring you colds and aches.   Most greeks you will see at this time of the year sitting in the shade out of direct sunlight.  It is only tourists and the younger generation 'who know no better' who dare to enjoy the warming rays of the March sun.

15th March  - 
The Ides of March

'Beware the Ides of March',  the soothsayer warned Caesar

15th March
44BC Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by Marcus Junius Brutus,  Gaius Casius Longinus and Decimus Junius Brutus.  In fact he was stabbed 23 times in the back.  Indeed, beware the Ides of March! 

'et tu Brute?' ('and you Brutus?', Brutus once being his best friend)
as all school children once learnt, were the last words uttered by Caesar

from Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' 

This is also where the phrase/word  'backstabbing' came from

Sent by Turbo-X device

Monday 13 March 2017

Greek garbage

Rubbish in the main town is collected everyday of the year, even Christmas Day.

Down on the waterfront there are big green bins where you throw your rubbish all tied up in a plastic supermarket bag.  The back streets are too narrow to place bins along the way so each household puts its bags outside the door straight onto the road.  The safest way though is to hang them from your door away from cats and stray dogs who rip the plastic bags to pieces.

After a party and with big bags of clanging empy bottles and tin cans I would share the bags out around the neighbour hood or take them down into town.  We didn't want to get a bad name from the rubbish men.   Our reputation was not the best anyway.

Our recycling bins.  Paper, glass and tins are recycled.  You open up the lid and empty your special bag into the bin.  We were given a recycling bag by our grandchildren who were horrified we weren't already collecting the plastic, glass and tin cans.   Our grandchildren had school lessons on recycling and outings to the rubbish bins as part of 'green' education.

Rubbish remover

We place bags of rubbish in a bin out in the yard and then take them up to the big bin on the main road which is emptied about three times a week.  It is the hang-out for stray cats and also the place to drop anything from bundles of prunings to old matresses.  Anything which might be of interest to someone else is placed beside the bin and often disappears before the hour is out.

Until recently rubbish in the old town was collected by cousin Stavros and his donkeys, which were actually mules.  Mules could climb up all the odd irregular steps and squeeze down tight alley-ways.  I would hear Stavros early in the morning calling out to all the housewives as he passed.  He knew us all and would often stop to pass on the gossip he had learnt that morning.

When I first arrived the rubbish was thrown over a bank behind the old town and most of it tumbled down into the sea.  Now and again it was burnt and if the wind was blowing in the wrong direction we were all covered in foul smelling clouds of  smoke.

Then the municipality bought a couple of big  modern rubbish trucks and all the trash was hauled over the far side of the island, miles away from the town,  and burnt.   EU regulations stopped all that.  Now it is compressed and taken  almost daily to somewhere outside of Athens.