Friday 30 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-   NZ won the America's Cup!

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

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

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

-   Rugby 

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

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

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

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

-   Rowing 

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

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

Wednesday 28 June 2017

Fiesta time again

Agia Eleousa  - the Merciful Madonna

Beginning of June was one of our bigger local church fiestas and outdoor market.  The little church, hidden away down a narrow lane,  attracts villagers from all the small towns around.  

First you kiss the icon, suitable decorated with flowers and a lacy doilly

Next you give some small coins and buy two or three candles.  These are lit for yourself, the health of those near and dear and the saviour of those departed.  They are planted in big containers of sand, allowed to burn a little and then snuffed out and collected to be melted down and reused

You may stay, standing outside, to listen to some of the church service or like us go straight onto the market, each searching for a bargain.  The men size up the fatted pig.  There are two or three stalls this year

Your choice piece of pig is hacked off right in front of your eyes, chopped up and wrapped in greaseproof paper to take home so all the family can continue the celebration with fatty pork, cold beers and some greek dancing in the front yard

Dessert will be some of these highly calorific but highly scrumptious fried dough balls covered in honey or nowadays chocolate sauce

Or you can choose a new pet, sold in a plastic bag full of water if you don't want to buy a plastic fish tank

Cow and sheep bells

Those with the money and the stamina choose a table on the sand at the tiny taverna and get ready for a long night and early morning of live Greek music.  The best table is in the front row next to the dance area

Cold cans of beer are sold here and a large piece of greaseproof paper will be plonked down on the table in front of you with however many kilos of roast pork you have ordered.  You'll have salt and pepper in a twist of kitchen paper, a few slices of bread and a small greek salad on a plastic plate, plastic forks provided.   All the empty cans go under the table.  Try not to use the loos.

If you live on the island you'll be ferried back and forth by small water taxis.

This is how it used to be. The live music, often with a well known traditional-greek singer, has always been extremely popular.  Even I have sat through a few of these 'concerts' over the years.  Before the crisis you would have someone sitting at a table and saving places for all of your friends because the chairs would soon all be full.  There is still a small crowd who enjoy the throbbing twang of bouzouki music and the chance to leap onto the dance floor.

For the last few years we haven't even inspected the pork.  We buy our own and put it in the oven ready for our return.  The outdoor market is getting smaller and smaller.  I used to buy pillows, summer shoes, a toy for all the grandchildren, a new bag, cutlery and crockery, garden tools. This year I bought 10 pairs of white sports socks for 5 euros. Shrewdly I bought them two sizes bigger because they shrank in the first wash. The most popular stall is the one marked 'all you buy 1 euro'.

You can tell how bad the crisis has hit us by the total lack of beggars.  Ten years ago the small lane leading up to the church would be crowded by beggars and gypsies with their hands out.  This year I took my camera to get a record of them all and there were none.  
Thin pickings around here.

Monday 26 June 2017

Navy Base

Navy school and training base

Poros Hellenic Naval Academy

'Great is the state that rules the sea'

The Navy base or training school is in a commanding position on the causeway just before the small bridge that joins the two islands.  You cannot go anywhere without passing the base.  This piece of road is a favourite place for the police to set up a road block.  If you've been down for a beer in Poros town you're either going to get caught on your return (not that you'll be given a breathaliser test) and asked for your papers or if the telegraph is working then you'll know that there will be a long wait before they pack up and return to the station. 

Perfect place for a road block

This is the training school where my greek husband attended school from age 13.  Tough times back then.  Every minute of their day was monitored. Loudspeakers blared out their next assignment, time to brush their teeth, or eat their lunch, run for fire drill or start lessons.

The Naval School  provides boat sheds for the rowing club.  The soccer field and athletic track are also part of the Navy complex but used by all the island for sports meetings and football matches

The Navy clock tower.  I always check the time as I come zooming down on my quad bike, though time means little here unless you're trying to get to the bank before it closes at 2pm or catch a car ferry.  But there is always another car ferry and the bank reopens the next day.  Avrio, maniana.

The base started off as a training school for Petty Officers and has been for many years a training base for conscripts to the Greek Navy.  Every male over the age of 18 must spend 18 months to 2 years in the armed forces though now because of the economic crisis this has gone down to around 9 months.  The conscripts are paid a paltry wage.  It used to be 1,000 drachmas a month.  Enough to keep them in cigarettes.  Now it is probably around 50 euros.  Not enough even to get them home on holidays.  Families pay for the extras.

When K was assigned here he did 24 hour duty once or twice a week.  The base has an infirmary which was then also the first aid station for the entire island.  Got a wasp bite and need some cortisone, fallen over drunk at 3am and need a few stitches, fell out of a tree and broke your arm, think you're having a heart attack,  this was the first port of call before being sent on to a hospital on the mainland.  I well remember one night in the middle of August.  15th August, the biggest holiday in Greece, Saturday night, full moon, midsummer and the island was teeming.  They had 40 casualities to attend to, a record for one night on duty.

Now the doctor on duty may well be a dentist or even a vet.  All medical emergencies are sent straight to the 24 hour medical centre across the waters on Galatas.  During daylight hours if the local doctor deems it a matter of life or death a helicopter may be sent out from Athens to transort the patient to a hospital in the city.

Conscripts now go to the main training base outside Athens and most of the year the Poros school only has minimum personel.  There are rumours that it will be closed down all together and the buildings taken over by the Municipality.  

Meanwhile it is used to house athletes during sporting events and the lawns beside the sea are a pleasant spot to hold important functions.

The main building

The church of St Nicholas

View of the main buildings from our favourite taverna by the sea

Friday 23 June 2017

Imam Bayildi ... food

Iman Bayildi  - aubergine stuffed with onions and garlic

Aubergines with tomatoes, onions and garlic, a summer favourite around here.
When we were growing up my father grew aubergines for market garden.  Back then they were an exotic vegetable and we called them eggplant.  

Imam bayildi is a turkish dish meaning 'the Iman fainted', either because the dish was so delicious or the cook used up an enormous amount of olive oil.  Aubergines soak up oil like a sponge.

Imam - Muslim religious leader

I prefer my aubergines coated with flour and fried.  When done properly they are sweet and crisp and delicious

However, one of the traditional ways to eat them is with tomatoes and lots of garlic.  This is my version.

First prepare the aubergines -
- Use those fat purple aubergines.   Remove the stalks and cut them in half.  I then run a sharp knife around the inside of each half to loosen the insides.  

I have never soaked mine in salted water as some say you should do to remove the bitterness.  Mine are not bitter.  

aubergines and fresh garlic

- Place the aubergine halves in a baking dish and sprinkle with olive oil.  Bake in a moderate oven for about half an hour until soft.

-  Meanwhile make the sauce. 
 For four aubergine halves you need about 2 big onions, cut lengthwise and sliced thinly .  
- Put these in a pot with a cup of olive oil and four chopped garlic cloves.  
- Fry it all slowly till the onions soften a little.  
- a tin of tomato chunks or 3 - 4 tomatoes grated
- a handful of chopped parsley
- a teaspoon of sugar to combat the acidity of the tomatoes
- salt and lots of pepper

- after half an hour take the aubergines out of the oven.  Scoop out the softened insides, making a shell.   Chop the insides and add to the sauce

- Simmer it all for fifteen minutes then pour the sauce over the aubergine halves, making sure they are full.  Let it pour over the sides as well so all the aubergine is covered.

-  Add a little water to the baking dish and cook in the oven for about one hour

This what they should look like after baking.

Serve at room temperature with feta cheese,  bread to soak up the juices and red wine to drink.

Another way to use the aubergine is to make it into a 'salad' which I would call a paste or a dip.  I have never found one of these 'salads' which I like.  When I do, I'll pass on the recipe.  Usually they are too sharp and acid-y with lots of vinegar and garlic.

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.


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.