Sunday 30 July 2017

Summer Saints (1

So you thought Greeks spent all winter celebrating?  New Year, Carnival, Clean Monday, Easter.  Just a few of those winter  festivites.  Add about another half dozen and numerous name days and winter just passes in a blur of raki and rollicking.

Then summer arrives.  Perfect weather.  No raining on your BBQ here.  People plan their holidays around local festivals, returning to their village or island to take part in sometimes days of feasting, dancing and drinking till the dawn. These are religious holidays of course, honouring the town's saint.  So you go to church first and then enjoy yourself with a clear conscience. 

Worshippers at a Cycladic island church (Serifos, Tinos, Naxos, Paros, Syros)

15th August, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, is the biggest Greek holiday of the year.  The whole country closes down, except for eating, drinking and sleeping establishments. Athenians 
 depart by the thousands to spend a few days with relatives in the village or just get out of town.  Poros turns into one huge, hot, noisy traffic jam.  City slickers in their big black jeeps hog the narrow out-of-town roads and don't know where to pull over, or don't want to know, to let another car pass.  Quad bikes packed with bright pink tourists without helmets, a whole family to a bike, buzz around, whooping and yelling till late at night.

The Cycladic islands, with their blue and white architecture,  are renowned for their summer festivities.  Celebrations really do go on for three days or even a week and there is lots of dancing and feeding the masses with huge cauldrens of stewed mutton or boiled beans.  Each island has its own traditions which have been carried on for donkeys years, through dictatorship, earthquakes and financial bungling.

Feeding the masses

They will serve their local delicacies, wear the traditonal folk costumes of the area, dance to celebrate their roots and tradition.  The rhythm of an instrument, of a song familiar to them from birth gets into their blood, intoxicates them and there are few that do not join in the line of dancers under the trees in the square or outside the church.   Everyone loves to sing and dance, from the toddler to the most elderly bouncing around on aged limbs.

As I have never taken part in a Cycladic island rave-up I'll tell you about our own summer fiesta, tomorrow.  It is not only the cyclades that celebrate!

Friday 28 July 2017

Migrants, finances and tensions in the aegean

The last time I commented on any serious Greek news was a year ago.  The plight of refugees,  the Greek economy and what the turkish sultan, Ergodan is plotting next  are just part of the daily babble.  We hardly notice.   More so at the moment because we are no longer inside the house all day glued to the television being depressed by constant news broadcasts.  

 We live outside, in the shade, seeking a breeze and the relief of a little greenery,  sheltering under the grape vine, the canopy of the lemon trees, enjoying  the soothing freshness of a clump of begonias, a pot of basil, the spreading mint,   all kept alive with twice daily waterings in this heat.

Two different pots of basil.  The one at the back is small leafed basil and the one in front a winter basil which can grow up to a metre high and withstands very low temperatures

Now and again we are jolted back to the everyday problems of this country. 
- A severe earthquake on islands crowded with thousands of homeless refugees.
- Greece returns to financial markets.
- Another violation of Greek airspace by turkish fighters or confrontations with Turkish shipping and shots fired across the bows

Refugees - 

62,407 refugees are now stranded in Greece.  15,222 of these are in camps and other accomodation on the islands close to Turkey.   Lesvos, Leros Chios, Kos and Samos.  

The European Commission has just announced a new emergency aid package of 209 million euros.  Also in an effort to improve quality of life the UN refugee agency is providing 22,000 rented homes on the mainland and 2,000 on the islands.
The aim is to get people out of camps and give them some sort of normal life.

That all sounds very rosey but there are many problems  and outbreaks of violence.     Families are divided, many with relatives already in Europe are stranded in Greece and cannot be reunited.   There are many cases of sexual exploitation and violence between different national groups.  And refugees continue arriving from the coast of Turkey in makeshift vessels.  They are a forgotten problem, especially by european countries who are quite happy to have them constrained in Greece.

Greek Economy -

'Greece returned to the private debt market this week for the first time in years.....' (Bloomberg) . Doesn't mean much to me but it is supposedly positive news.  

The economy is apparently showing signs of life and the big boss, German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble says 'Greece is on a good path'.

Standard and Poors, an american financial services company, upgraded Greece's credit outlook from stable to positive.

None of that means much to the people like us.  There were more pension cuts scheduled for January 2018.  That is when we will know how our economy is progressing, or not.

Greece v Turkey

Military aircraft from both countries frequently engage in mock dog-fights after invasion of Greek airspace, sometimes resulting in a crash and loss of life. Often the planes are armed with live amunition.

Tensions  have been escalated by Ergodan disputing Greek ownership of many Aegean islands.  Anywhere from 18 to 100 (depending on who is spouting the rubbish) Greek Islands are coveted by Turkey

Erdogan giving us a blast of vitriol

286 Turkish citizens fled to Greece and have requested political asylum after the 'military  coup' last year.  Turkey is not amused and has demanded their extradition. Greek courts so far have refused.

And some trivial news to end this serious post.

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cambridge have arrived on the island of Kerkyra (Corfu to you) for summer holidays.  They are staying at the Rothschild estate.

This is not a pic from Corfu but you get the idea
(Daily Mail)

They both looked a bit overdressed but when one is not hauling ones own suitcases and stepping from private jet to high speed boat one can dress a tad more formally. 

Rothschild estate, Corfu. Holiday camp of blue bloods and millionaires

Wednesday 26 July 2017

Pastitcio -

Pastitcio - macaroni casserole with minced meat and bechamel sauce

This is a favourite in the summertime.  Why  summer I do not know.  It is not a particularly light or aery summer meal.

   The name is from the Italian so I presume they have a similar dish over there.

It is made from large tubular spaghetti, called macaroni here.  We buy our spaghetti according to the number. 

 No 6 is what we would normally use for spaghetti bolognaise,  or spaghetti served with a tomato sauce or burnt oil.  

No. 10 is very fine

No 2 is the fat hollow kind we use for pastitcio, a sort of pasta drinking straw.  I see this has 'ziti' written on the packet.  Is that the type of spaghetti?


There are three parts to this recipe, plus the putting together and the baking.  It is easy but you end up with a lot of pot washing.

- First
Boil some thick macaroni.  A little goes a long way.  Don't use a half kilo packet unless you have an army of hungry teenagers to feed and a huge baking dish.  Grate a pile of cheese

- Second
Make a bolognaise sauce with -
minced beef (half a kilo)
one chopped onion
a tin of crushed tomatoes
olive oil
a stick of cinnamon
salt and pepper
half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg

- saute onions, garlic and meat.  Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for about 40 minutes. It needs to have a little sauce so don't let it dry out too much

- Third
make a bechamel sauce, lots of it but not too thick.
That is a white sauce with a little cheese.
Melt 1/2 a cup of butter (I use half butter and half olive oil)
Take off the heat and stir in 2/3 cup of flour.
With a whisk add about 4 cups of milk, stirring all the time so you don't get lumps.  Put it back on the heat and keep stirring.  When it starts to thicken it is ready.  Stir in salt and I add a good dollop of mustard

Put it all together
Lay the spaghetti/macaroni at the bottom of a deep baking dish.  Don't overdo the pasta.  Leave plenty of room for the meat sauce and the white sauce on top.  Mix in lots of grated cheese. Leave a little to put on top

Cover the fat spaghetti with the bolognaise sauce

Top with the white/cheese/bechamel sauce (whatever you call it)

Sprinkle fine bread crumbs over the top and more grated cheese

Bake about half an hour till the top is brown and bubbly.  Wait for it to cool before cutting it into pieces or it will slop all over the plate.  Quite frankly I think 'sloppy'  is the best way to eat it but if you want it to 'look nice' on the plate then Wait.

Even tastier the next day

Quite often at the feast after a wedding or baptism you'll be given a square of this.  It is supposed to fill you up, either to give you energy to dance or so you don't devour all the platters of roast meat served later on.... or to fill the stomach so you are less affected by all the alcohol you're sure to drink.

As always

Kali orexi

Monday 24 July 2017

Ancient artifacts

Retrieved from the rubbish

My sister-in-law rescued these two items from the rubbish left out on the street.  I'm glad she did.  My mother-in-law used a  basket like this for collecting the olives.  The other paddle-like object is actually used for beating carpets.  I have never seen one before though my sister-in-law told me they used to have one.

It is a short, wide paddle, made out of wood.  The thing that surprised me was the weight of it.  It must have weighed at least two kilos.  Beating a carpet with that must have been very hard work.

  This, called a  'kouralou', used to be made on the loom, as shown below.  I have one my m-in-law made but it is hidden away so these pics are from the www.  

Long and shorter versions of these were put down on the floors in the wintertime and cleaned in the spring.  They have recently come back into fashion but are rather light and very easy to trip over.

This a bronze/copper vessel also retrieved from the rubbish, this time by my husband.  It is extremely heavy and made from two different metals.  I'm not sure what it would have been used for but it would make a great fruit bowl.

This portable tray was used to carry glasses of water, cups of greek coffee from the small cafenion nearby to shops and offices.  You called out over the road or made a quick phone call with your order and a few minutes later a young lad would come running in with your coffee and maybe another cup for a visitor to your place of business.  We bought this years ago for K.  He used to sit on the wall outside with his cronies in the evening and we would take out a coffee or an ouzo for them.

I doubt you'll find these on sale anywhere now and they are certainly no longer in use on this island.  Now you  get your take-away coffee in a plastic glass and if your visitor wants a coffee he goes and gets his own.

This wooden trough was used by my m-in-law to knead her weekly bread dough.  She used to keep it under the bed along with pillowcases of homemade noodles and dried oregano.  I retrieved it intending to use it for the same purpose but it ended up hanging on the wall.

Pithari - giant clay pot                                                                

A big clay pot once used by my inlaws, this time to store the olive oil that was used in the house.  It is about a metre tall. By the time I came along they had moved along to modern stainless steel drums which held a larger amount of olive oil for the growing family.

An oil scoop.

My inlaws used a shell like this to scoop the oil out of the clay pot and into a glass bottle for use in the kitchen.  I think my sis-in-law still has the original shell in her stainless steel oil tank.  It must be over 50 years old now.  This is one given to us by a friend who is a diver.   It needed a long time before the creature inside dried up and stopped stinking.

The shell is the perfect size and shape for a scoop.  It is quite easy to hold, floats on the top of the oil and has a nice flow which does not spill all over the place.

Friday 21 July 2017

Age shall not weary her

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 19 July 2017

The Good News

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

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

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

Next piece of exciting news 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 17 July 2017

My Greek Story.... Finale

The last chapter of the family's migration to Poros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Linda a kiwi in flight

Saturday 15 July 2017

Health in the wop wops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All nice and neat and on the way to recovery

Time waiting for treatment - 0 minutes
Cost - 0 euros

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 12 July 2017

Photos from our Local

A morning at the beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hot hazy day, ideal for swimming

Monday 10 July 2017

Little bits of Poros and around

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

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

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

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

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

Inherit good genes

Friday 7 July 2017

Run from the Sun

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

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

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

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

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

We literally took off our shoes and relaxed

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

Local produce

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

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

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

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

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

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