Saturday, 19 April 2014

Happy Easter (Καλό Πάσχα)

Dear mum,

I don't often write to you because we often speak, albeit silently, but I thought it was about time I sent you a note which can stand as a testament in time for a future moment. Telephone/telepathic conversations don't get recorded (actually, they tell us on the news that all phone calls may be recorded nowadays, but I highly doubt anyone would be willing to sift through my ones with you, even if they existed, to help us recall the things we talked about), but writing things down in a computer keeps permanent records of everything. It's a highly connected world now, mum, so long as you can use a computer. Would you believe it, I chat with The Little Laughing Olive Tree every day, and I don't even pay a single cent? Actually I chat with people all over the world, even people I don't know. It's all got to do with that telephone that you would ask me about every now and then, the one where you can see the person you are speaking to. It's been invented now, mum (like that train we once heard about on the news which will go under the sea and connect England with France - I've even taken it). 

I've just finished cooking most of my Easter delicacies, and I've now sat down with a cup of coffee to write this letter. I had the kids help me, just like I helped you to make all these things. Easter is one of those times when I really want to make all the traditional festive meals, probably because I remember making them with you, more than anything else. You know how much time kalitsounia take to make and how little time they need to be eaten. But I make kalitsounia, and koulourakia, and kreatotourta, and red eggs, and avgolemono (they call it fricasee here), because I know how much the family loves to see these foods at Easter. And just like you, I don't spoil them by making all these cholesterol-laden goodies all year round, which makes them appreciate them even more, I suppose. (Unlike you though, I don't have fat kids. There really was no need to tell me to eat all the potatoes you put on my plate before I ate my lamb chop, especially in 1980s NZ where half a side of a lamb cost just 20 NZ dollars, and there were someting like 20 sheep for every person in the country).

I don't cook the quantities that you did, but not just for health reasons. You see, even though I live in Kriti, and I am related by blood and marriage to so many more people here than I ever could count in NZ, I don't often get the chance to pull all the little families that make up our extended family together, like you did back in NZ. People here all have their little παρέα, and their festival customs, which isn't a bad thing. But it's very hard to penetrate those little circles that each group creates, especially now with that thing called the crisis.


You've probably understood something about the crisis, that it's a really bad thing that has cast a curse on Greece, and people are suffering, but if you are watching any of it (you don't have TV up there, do you?) you are probably wondering what it's all about, because it isn't like sickness and disease, or war with guns and bullets and blood and invaders. If I remember rightly, you never saw much of that anyway, even though you were seven years old when the Battle of Crete took place, because the invaders didn't quite manage to get as far as your mountain village. But dad saw lots of that (please show him the letter - I don't know if he's living in the same quarters with you, and I bet he spends a lot of time with his brothers and sisters now that they have all joined him up there, but no doubt, you see him), because he lost his father in the war, and so did my husband's mother (but she really doesn't like to talk about it much - her (mutual to you) grand-daughter has to do a school project about it next week, which involves recording her grandmother in an interview about what happened in those days, and I really don't know if she will agree to it. Θα δούμε - I may just have to help her along a bit on that one: as I mentioned to you above, it's all recorded on computer).

A lot of people do often say that things are not better now and they were better in the past, but I don't believe that at all. For a start, I don't have to work as hard as you, mum. In fact, I don't see anyone here working as hard as you and dad did. Apart from milk, food isn't expensive here (I think it's more expensive in NZ these days). We are free to believe what we like and do as we like, as long as we do not break the law. And unlike in the Greece of the past, you get caught so much more easily these days if you break the law. It's all got to do with the invention of the computer. That's a hard one to explain, but it's like you're being watched all the time, and if you really want to break the law, you need to be really deviant, so that eventually you get caught out as the nooses tighten.  It wasn't like that when you were living in Greece, but the past is over and done with. It's all to do with the crisis. 

The crisis is difficult to explain. The word 'κρίση' generally has a negative meaning, so you know it's something bad. I liken it to climate change. You may remember my mentioning this to you every now and then. You probably thought of me as an eco-nutter back then, but it's been proven now that climate change is a serious threat to the whole world, perhaps the most serious threat of all. Suddenly it's really cold or really hot unexpectedly, and you have to learn to adjust to these new extremes. For example, you may be flooded one day and the next day there may be a drought. That's like the crisis which goes something like this: sometimes you have a lot of money and you can spend it on anything you like and you don't even have to save it because there's more of it coming where it came from, but sometimes you don't have much money at all and you can't even make ends meet to pay your living expenses. So if you create reservoirs that don't flood, and can always be kept full, you are saved from the climate change crisis. Likewise, if you can limit your spending, change your habits and above all stop grumbling, you are probably saved from the worst. 

16

Everyone has been affected by the crisis. So we can say that we are all in the same boat. Suddenly, we have all become one and the same. That's one of the outcomes of the crisis. I think it's a  good thing, but most people around me are always mumbling about how bad it is. Well, it's bad if you live in a place where you can't even grow your own herbs, or if you can't get used to living with less. Most people are in this category. They were used to having most things done for them by others. Admittedly, some people are worse off than others. But even in poorer times, Greece still lets people who haven't got much money avoid paying their daily expenses. I know people who don't pay any of the taxes we pay because (on paper at least), they are considered poor - they don't even pay their electicity bills. And most people with loans have not had to repay them - I know plenty in that category too. And they know how and where to get more monetary benefits. Don't think that this applies to me and my family: we don't receive any benefits, we pay all our dues, and above all, we try to maintain our dignity. 

To my advantage, as the tax-paying Greek, prices have dropped, and I don't waste anything, and I mean nothing at all: I have a place to store plastic bags, a place to store rubber bands, used paper (I don't mean toilet paper - I mean paper for printers: you need them for the computer). And the most important outcome of all is that there is more solidarity among Greek people. People are more sharing and caring nowadays. My kids remind me every now and then to give them a packet of makaronia or beans to take to school, which collects on behalf of the community grocery, and I always give away the kids' clothes when they don't fit them any longer, just like you did, when you sent them to your nieces in Greece. People gives us things, and we give things to them. But it's not about things: we share a lot more than just tangible items than we ever did in the past.  

I really don't think the mumblers have good cause to grumble so much. The only ones that do have a good reason to complain are those that don't have jobs. But as I told you above, there is greater solidarity on the part of the government to help these people out. Admittedly,we would all like to be helped even more than we are now, but I think that's just asking for someone else to pay for everything. Most Greeks are mainly annoyed about the taxes they have to pay, which they weren't used to paying in the past. Even people outside Greece also mumble about the Greek problems, because they are afraid that the same bad times in Greece are coming their way. The whole world now uses Greece as a reference point. You hear people from other countries saying things like 'We don't want to become like Greece." You could say that Greece has become the feared μπαμπούλα you used to warn us about. But Greeks have shown that they have managed to get over the crisis in some way, and this is even more alarming to the non-Greeks, because it is proof that they may have to undergo a similar makeover. It's the same everywhere now, mum. 

But seriously, mum, things are getting better, and they will get even better. You know how much better your life was than your mother's and I can guarantee you that my own life is better than yours. And I really believe that your grandchildren's lives will be better than their parents'. Crises of various sorts come and go; there was never a period of no crisis, life has always been an uphill battle, with different difficulties for the many different people that exist on earth. (And yes, the earth is STILL the only place with human life. We haven't yet come across people from another planet, and there was no man on the moon after all, like you insisted, despite the many advances in science that help us to find out more about the universe. Sadly though, there is still no cure for cancer.) And all crises come to an end. If they didn't, then the world would end and the human race would die off eventually. Money can't buy eternal life. 

Don't worry, we aren't starving.  How could we when you can see kalitsounia, koulourakia, kreatopita, avgolemono and red eggs on my table? We'll never starve here, I can guarantee you that, as long as no one comes along to take the food out of our mouth. There is plenty of food to go round for everyone in greece, and good qaulity cheap food too. We're now being extra cautious that no one will take the food out of our mouths, too. Ever since my husband fenced off his orange field in his village (unlike all the other fields around it), we have realised that it produces many more oranges that we originally thought. We're even giving them away (I trade them with a friend for her fresh eggs).  

Oh, and look, while I was writing this letter, I was reading this newspaper article (I don't have to buy the newspaper in paper form anymore. I read it on the computer, at about the same price that it would cost me to buy the paper version. And what's more: I can read any number of papers that I want every day, all for the price of one. And I even write one myself, and people all over the world read it!), which said this:
In the past few days we have witnessed an effort to change the climate, to make it appear the crisis has ended and that Greece is making a leap toward normality. The primary surplus and the five-year bond sold to international investors raise the hope that our creditors’ harsh grip will loosen, money will flow into the real economy and the country will recover. These developments, along with words of encouragement from foreign officials and some publications, play a positive role in improving the climate. It is the light at the end of the tunnel for which we have yearned – and sometimes even the illusion of light leads us toward it. http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite3_1_17/04/2014_539074
It's really all about whether you see the cup half empty or half full. I definitely don't see a full cup, but I think that the glass holds just enough for my needs at the moment. I keep trying to keep it half full. As soon as I see it emptying, I pull the reins in the house. I'm the boss in it, just like you were, and everyone knows that. Even at work, my opinion counts more now. It's the crisis, mum; things are falling into place.  

It's been really cold lately. It even snowed last night on the mountains, your mountains, the ones where you were born. I don't know how lucky we will be to manage to get the Holy Fire home to us, but I really don't bother with this mumbo-jumbo anymore. At least this year, Greek Easter falls on the same day as the Catholics', so when the Pope comes on tv (they show him on the news in Greece too), and says 'Christ has risen', he won't be lying. Anyway, why do I need to bring the Holy Fire home with me, when I don't even light a kandili? I'll never forget that time when one of the kids dropped the candle in the car. I am not prepared to go through that again. I can't afford to buy another car right now. And anyway, we're modern people, mum. I don't tell my kids to fast, I don't force them to go for Holy Communion, they get to the kalitsounia and koulourakia well before Easter Sunday, we don't dress formally, we have Turkish friends, we have gay friends. We aren't regular church goers like in NZ, but I think that's because we go to church here for different reasons compared to NZ. For a start, we don't need to go to church here in order to feel a sense of Greekness and catch up with the other Greeks, like we did back in NZ. We are Greek, we already know that, and we don't need to prove it to ourselves. 
Galatas, Easter service, 20th April 2014
OK, I better sign off now, mum, because I'm talking politics, sex and religion, which you don't like to talk about or question. Anyway, it's nearly time to get ready for the Holy Fire thing tonight. When we do go to church, we always prefer the church where we know we will bump into our extended family, so I'll be seeing your brothers tonight. I've also talked with your sisters, and they are all fine. If they knew how to use a computer, I'd talk to them every day too, like I do with The Little Laughing Olive Tree, so I have to limit my call times with them. But they never forget me, and I hear from them often. They are like substitute mothers. (I thought you'd like that. I mean, I call my mother-in-law 'mama', but we don't share much with each other. You may not know what I mean because you never had to live with your mother-in-law. But it's really quite OK.) And your grandchildren are fine too. At the moment, they are downloading music for their dad to play in the taxi. (We don't use tape recorders anymore - we take them down from the computer.) They don't know much about you, to be honest, because they don't quite understand how it came about that I was born in NZ and I call myself Greek. Sometimes they ask me if I am actually Greek. So I suppose I could say that they are cottoning on to something that they will understand a little better when they grow up. 

Happy Easter, mum, and dad, of course. We'll talk again soon. Bye for now.

UPDATE: Good thing I haven't posted the letter yet. I've updated it with some family photos. Here's what we looked like last night.


©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Orzo rice pasta with peas (Κριθαράκι με μπιζέλια)

The simplest photo can have the power to cause the most unexpected surprise. Last night, I put up this photo on my blog:

There's nothing special about this meal, except perhaps that the peas were picked and shelled an hour before I cooked them. (There would have been more peas, but they were quite tasty in their fresh state - I ate my share as I was shelling them.) But this photo caused a little bit of a riot. My facebook followers fell in love with it - I imagine they were trying to pick out one of the peas straight from the screen! My kids loved this meal so much, that I think I should immortalise it, despite it's unplanned nature and its sheer simplicity. It's also a good lenten recipe for the Holy Week that we find ourselves in.

You need:
a large cup (or two) of freshly shelled peas
5-6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
an onion, chopped roughly
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1-2 teaspoons of tomato paste
250g orzo rice pasta (half a packet - it is usually sold in 500g packs)
salt and pepper

Heat the oil, add the onion and garlic and cook till translucent on medium heat. Add the peas and stir them in to coat in oil. Do the same with the orzo. Now add the tomato paste and pour in 2-3 cups of water. Add some salt and pepper. Keep stirring over medium-high heat until the water is absorbed and the pasta is cooked. This is very important because orzo tends to stick to the bottom of the pan if left unattended. You may need to add more water. At any rate, the water will be absorbed by the pasta.

Once the pasta is cooked (it only needs about 10-15 minutes), let it stand to settle and absorb more of the liquids. It can be served both warm and cold (it goes well with yoghurt), and if you have the time and inclination, you can add other vegetables to it like cubed carrot and/or corn kernels.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Monday, 14 April 2014

As Easter approaches (Πλησιάζει Πάσχα)

Here are some springtime images of urban and rural Hania, taken during the weekend, for you to savour as you think about your next holiday in Greece, or reminisce about your past ones.

Lazarus Saturday
The presence of family-oriented Northern European tourists on their sunny break was very visible in the town last weekend. We passed a couple with a child, all wearing socks with Birkenstock sandals. We then saw another couple with a child, all looking quite patchy red, especially the man, who was wearing shorts - it's still a little cool here! His shins were the colour of beetroot-coloured water. My daughter made a comment that she could smell suntan lotion in the air, while my husband commented that it had been a long time since he saw such pale faces streaming out of the airport where he was waiting for a fare...

Red roof tiles, stone walls, blue shutters, all under a blue sky surrounded by green trees - this classic Greek image happens to be an old school building in the town centre. These buildings have been reinforced against earthquake damage.

The Venetian harbour, with the lighthouse in the distance. I will never forget my friend's reaction while visiting me in Hania in summer about 20 years ago. I was living with my father in the town centre at the time, so we walked from there through the rather untidy concreted and highly urbanised area of Hania, towards the Venetian harbour. From the hot dusty streets of the town centre, I turned into Halidon St, which is full of tourist shops. You walk down here to get to the Venetian port. The sea is not visible from the top of the street, and you actually have to walk quite a way down before you sight it. My kiwi friend who had been living in London at the time was getting a little agitated (too many people, too hot, not used to sweating profusely, etc) and she was showing a bit too much impatience for such a short walk..Suddenly she saw the lighthouse (you kind of see it before you see the sea), and again very suddenly, she saw the Venetian harbour, and she just about fainted from the beauty of all that imagery coming into view all at once without any warning...

I can imagine the group of friends who had been sitting here enjoying the sunshine, in this narrow lane in the old town...
... right below the minaret, which was probably last in use about a century ago, before the population exchange between Greece and Turkey. 

Greece beckons...


Palm Sunday
The good weather allowed us to clear our orange orchard of tree trimmings. We spent the morning in the field, sapping up the very warm weather.

In the orange orchard, we've also planted a few fruit trees -this one is a nectarine tree. The orchard is surrounded by olive groves, all owned by the extended family.

Since we fenced off the property, there has been less 'traffic' passing through, which has all been beneficial for the naturally occurring flora of the grove. I also found the field full of honeybees. (As long as you don't bother them so that they do not get agitated, they do not cause problems.)

Although Palm Sunday is traditionally celebrated with a fish meal, we had to find an easier option as we were away from the kitchen. The fire from the burning wood doubled up as our cooking fuel.

As we left the field, the sky darkened slightly. By the end of the day, it was raining. That's springtime Crete - the weather is variable. But the rain is highly desirable in an agriculturally rich area like Hania which has a dry run for at least three months in summer.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Trapped (Εγκλωβισμένοι)

All photos and links come from Haniotika Nea. More photos are found in each link mentioned.

On the 31st of March, 2014, 345 people of undefined status were picked up in the sea 70km off the small harbour of Paelohora, a summer resort town on the south-western coast of the Mediterranean island of Crete. The rotten rusty leaky boat they were travelling on was towed by an oil tanker that was in the general area of the Libyan Sea, which the boat people boarded.



These people carried similar hopes and dreams of entering Europe as many others who have traveled in a similar way before them. Their quest: to seek a better life, like the many people all over the world who move from one place to another, both within their own countries and beyond their borders. Among them were women and minors whose ages could not be determined on sight. Their arrival coincided with claims by Médecins Sans Frontières that "Migrants face 'living hell' in Greek detention", as reported by the Guardian. Their arrival also coincided with the start of the tourist season in Hania, and the first charter flight to the region.


The boat people arrive in Paleohora

What do you do with 345 people who have nowhere to go in a foreign country? Only the state can get involved at an initial stage. Only the state has the right to be involved. The status of these people has to be determined, their health must be checked, their nationality must be verified, their reasons for finding themselves in this predicament must also be ascertained. At the same time, food and accommodation must be secured for them. It is not the job of the individual residents, nor should any of these actions be viewed as a form of goodwill. The problem of smuggling people into another country is a global one, and there are international laws which govern it.

Despite their undefined status and unexpected arrival, these people need to be accommodated in some way. There was no public space big enough to put them up in Paleohora. The hotels there are nearly all small family-owned businesses; they were empty at the time, but in all fairness, their use does not extend to providing free accommodation out of solidarity, nor should the state be paying such businesses to cater for the needs of unauthorised people in the country. The issue of where such people are accommodated, even temporarily, is a contentious one: no one really wants these people in their back yards, so to speak.

From Paleohora, they were transferred to EMEX, a centre which houses exhibitions in Hania, mainly of an agricultural/culinary nature, as well as the local water board, located in lush countryside with orange orchards and olive groves, about 10 minutes out of the town centre. (EMEX also happens to neighbour the long-standing minimum-security agricultural prison where low-risk prisoners are often seen outside the complex under guarded conditions working on the land; it is also close to the recently opened maximum-security prison.)

Local authorities and volunteer associations were all involved in the organisation of temporary accommodation facilities for the arrivals.

Bedding donated by various associations (a lot is most likely made in one of a number of local SMEs producing mattresses for the town's tourist industry - they are replaced regularly by large hotels, and the old ones are donated to those in need), chemical toilets, heaters and separate women-and-children quarters (for privacy) were set up for them by the local Red Cross and Samaritan groups. INKA supermarket, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh), the old people's retirement home (a state institution in Hania), the Orthodox Academy in Kolimbari (a religious-based unit) and the NATO Missile Firing Installation in Akrotiri offered their kitchen services (they each cooked an extra number of meals to make up the portions required), while the local state authorities, including Doctors of the World, began the Herculean task of working out who is who (smuggler, refugee or opportunist), which country they come from, and who needs medical attention.

The issue of how this leaky boat ended up in Cretan waters is also under scrutiny: it had first sent a distress signal from the sea zone of Malta, which begs the question about who 'pushed' it into Greek waters. While the state bodies did their utmost to meet the arrivals' immediate physical needs, Steki Metanaston (one of a number of anti-fascist, anti-racist groups in Hania, which has a very well-organised left-wing political climate in this respect, hence attacks of the Golden Dawn nature are practically non-existent in Hania) expressed the view that the state was 'unprepared' for this incident, since it treats migrants as 'illegals' and 'without rights', and the accommodation provided for these people was inappropriate. (You can find out more about their manifestos in this article, including discussion of the Dublin II treaty.) The various police associations of the island also complained about the diversion of all forces towards the guarding of the accommodation quarters of the migrants, potentially leaving the island unsecured; many officers worked throughout the two days needed to sort the migrants into groups, without adequate rest and nourishment. At the same time that this was going on, in Iraklio (the biggest city in Crete), a people-smuggler's ring was broken.

It is believed that the group consisted of mainly Egyptians (approximately 2/3), who will face deportation, while a large number of Syrians (not the complete remaining third) will not, as they are considered possible victims of a warzone, therefore, they may apply for political asylum. 6 smugglers were identified among them.

People who try to enter a country illegally are also organised in their own way, to meet their own demands. Three days after arriving in Hania, the Egyptians in the group decide to go on a hunger strike because they face the threat of deportation, also refusing to sign documents that stated their undefined status. The hunger strike did not last long, but the Egyptians continue to be held at EMEX, while the Syrians were given a document stating that they have 6 months to leave the country if their status remains undetermined.

Some of the more vulnerable Syrians were then removed from EMEX and taken to a hotel in the town, where they were allowed to stay until Monday (ie a week after their arrival); the others were looked after by the Rosa Nera squat (another strongly rooted left-wing organisation in Hania). No provision was made for the food needs of those who were dismissed from EMEX. It's cold and wet at the moment in Hania - where do these people go once they leave the hotel?! But that is not the worst of it: these people can apply for refugee status only in Athens, not Hania... but they are not allowed to travel to Athens as people of undetermined status, because Athens (together with the regions of Kerkira because it close to Albania, Thesprotia because it neighbours Kerkira, and Axaia because of the port area in Patras) is considered a Greek 'departure gate' - therefore, they may not go there because they may attempt to enter another country illegally... and Northern Europe doesn't want any more illegals in their countries... which are often blamed on Greece's incapability of dealing with issue... which is why Greece wants to pull out of the Dublin treaties (which state that illegal arrivals in the EU must be returned to the EU country where they first entered the EU... which is more often than not Spain, Italy and Greece).

And the icing on the cake: if these arrivals apply for refugee status in Greece, they will not be able to go to another EU country until they are given that status, which they may not get from the Greek authorities, and even if they do eventually get it, it will take years - Greece is often slammed for not dealing with this issue very quickly, and for not issuing such a status to most of the applicants. This also applies to other EU countries, as well as non-EU countries - no country hands out refugee status that easily. The paradox in the present situation is that it is highly unlikely that any of the boat people actually want to stay in Greece: they want to go elsewhere (their most likely destination while on that leaky boat was in fact Italy). There is a more pressing need right now: their status in Greece needs to be determined. Right now, they basically have a kind of non-status... leaving them, for all intents and purposes... trapped.

Boat people were rare in Greece before the barbed wire wall was put up between Turkey and Greece, which effectively stopped illegals arriving in Greece on foot. Some drowned in the freezing Evros river, but the wall basically meant that the only entry point to the Promised Land (aka the EU) was by sea. So the recent arrivals in Hania are effectively trapped here, and will be illegal residents in 6 months' time, unless they are offered another solution.

I wondered what would happen to these people after Monday when their hotel stay expires. I am pretty sure that these people will not be sleeping on the streets of Hania during that time, as their food and accommodation needs will be met somehow. In fact, this is what happened: churches, schools and local bodies collected clothing and food, while their hotel stay was extended: another two overnight stays will be paid for by the local authorities. (NB: the state said it could only afford to pay for one night.) In the meantime, the Egyptians seem to have disappeared overnight - no doubt, they were transferred to a holding centre in Iraklio, where they would eventually be boarded on the overnight ferry boat to Athens, from where they will eventually be deported.

PAIDIA
Photo of two Syrian children: from http://www.haniotika-nea.gr/fotografia-tis-imeras-121/
The number of minors on board that leaky boat was estimated at 107 - a huge number given that there were 345 people in total. Just 5 were from Syria and the other 102 were Egyptian. For the time being, they will not be deported: instead, they will be taken to various holding centres for minors in Athens, Thessaloniki and Crete. The accounts of members of the local authorities that are directly involved in the case are enlightening:
"... you try to find relatives of the first or second degree living legally in Europe, who want to get their children back to have a family reunion. The children from Syria have some relatives living legally in Germany and are likely to go there. The procedures may last for 1-2 months, but eventually the children will go where they want..."
"...Two shocking facts that I will never forget during these eight days in the holding center for the immigrants are: A boy from Egypt, who asked me anxiously if, at the guest house where he will be hosted, he will be able to go to school, because that was his dream. And all five children from Syria, on opening their suitcase, pulled out of it, not games, but the Syrian flag, which they hoisted..."
"... We hope to stop this tragedy... And we become better as individuals and as a state, we cannot close our eyes to them and sweep these problems under the carpet..." http://www.haniotika-nea.gr/telos-stin-peripetia-ton-anilikon-prosfigon/
From these accounts, it is clear that most of the local people want to see these arrivals being helped in some way... but most people cannot provide the help themselves. The above newspaper report shows both feelings of solidarity towards these people's plight, and the typical lackadaisical nature of Greek decision-making. 339 unexpected strangers needing hospitality is a lot to handle in one go. It's not easy to take them into our homes and it's not easy to feed them either. Above all, it is not the job of an individual, whether a person or a private organisation: it's the job of the state, as dictated by international laws.

As an example of what I am trying to say, I will use the provision of meals to illustrate my point. My workplace (MAICh, which was also involved in the provision of meals for the boat people) will be staging a dinner during Holy Week (next week) as an act of solidarity towards vulnerable social groups in Hania. This move is symbolic - many of our students are from the general areas of the countries where the recent arrivals are from. Naturally, the institute would want to keep its doors open to vulnerable groups on all days of the year, not just on festive days, and not as a one-off occasion. This comes at a time when the institute has had its state funding cut, and it faces its own financing dilemmas. But at the same time, it has expressed that it is open to collaborations with other organizations of the city.

This may all sound as though it goes against the principle of Greek hospitality, but it also goes against the international laws often created by countries who make war (in both the literal and figurative sense), leaving refugees in other countries, who are then distributed among yet other countries that are not necessarily well equipped to look after the needs of their own people, let alone strangers. The countries that have the luxury of distance, and therefore do not have to deal in any way with the immediate problems of these unfortunate people, are no better in the way they handle them: the so-called developed nations of the world do not accept so many refugees as may be believed by refugees themselves, nor are those countires in a rush to change their laws so that they can accept more. Take New Zealand for example: it accepts 700 refugees per year - that's a couple of boat loads of the size that arrived overnight in Hania last week. As I write this, an unconfirmed sighting of yet another boat in Greek waters is being checked, this time near the island of Kithira - that's not far from Crete...

I will end this post with a quote from Athens - The Truth" by David Cade:
‘Do you think we are racists?’ I (David Cade) say I’ve no idea, that I’d just like to know what she (a Greek psychologist) thinks. She replies that there are two definitions of racism: one that belongs to countries like the United States, the UK, and France, and one that is more general and appropriate for countries like Greece and Italy. Greece, she reminds me, is not like Britain, France, Spain, and other countries which have gone out all over the globe in recent centuries and conquered and colonised other lands. In her opinion, Greece’s problem is that as a member of the EU it’s being forced to wrestle with a definition that is only appropriate to countries where racism describes the treating of members of an invited resident race as inferior. But this definition can’t be applied in a country where immigrants arrive uninvited and unwanted. Greeks, Chryssoúla says, can’t be described as racist because they really don’t think of immigrants as being inferior. She reminds me that Greece is famed for its traditional philoxenía, its hospitality or, literally, its love of strangers, and she tells me many Greeks have given much help to immigrants, particularly by providing food and clothing when they turn up on the islands. And, indeed, I’ve witnessed several Greek restaurant owners giving food free to immigrants who simply stop and ask for it. So Greeks are well-disposed to visitors but draw the line at those people seeking to populate their country without permission or invitation. ‘To your country,’ she says, meaning the UK, ‘your government invited many people from India, from Uganda, and the Caribbean. To invite them and then to treat them badly, now that is racism! But to not invite immigrants and to not wish that they force themselves upon your country, that cannot be called racism!"
Just a thought. I think my country and her people are doing what ever they can for these people. And now, it's time the countries that created the status of these people also pulled their weight. It is heartening to know that, despite Helena Smith's sensationally headlined article being placed prominently on the Guardian website when it was first published, of the 1269 comments made on the article, the overwhelmingly majority are pro-Greece. As a commentator pointed out:
"It is sensationalist and shameful to be writing such articles, demonising a country, as if all of us, here in the UK and throughout the EU have nothing to do with it! Move the UK where Greece is, geographically, and then tell me how it feels like to be inundated by the world's most desperate people from every border, at the same time as the majority of your people is descending deeper in poverty and misery."
UPDATE 11/4/2014 - This report appeared in today's Haniotika Nea:
"The Syrian immigrants who are still being hosted at a hotel in Nea Hora (a suburb of Hania) are asking for help to leave Greece to go to European countries where they have relatives and the laws are more friendly to refugees. Speaking briefly before the local media, the migrants thanked all the Greeks who stood by them during their stay in Hania but also indicated that they had meant to go to neighboring Italy, and from there to other European cities. Among the Syrians are many children and minors with their parents who traveled to escape the flames of war."

If anyone thinks that Greece should be wasting her resources ascertaining the status of these people who don't want to stay here, they are completely deluded.
©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Ntounias (Ντουνιάς)

Ntounias is located in the little mountain village of Drakonas, about 25 kilometres out of Hania. You can only get there slowly because the narrow road leading to the village is full of bends and curves.


Drakona has had a new lease of life due to Stelios Trilirakis' initiative: he has created a seasonal menu of slow-cooked dishes, all based on local produce that he grows/raises himself in the area of the restaurant.

When you slow-cook family meals on a daily basis from scratch, you tend to view the process as second nature. I'd heard much about Ntounias' slow-food taverna, but given that I am a slow-food cook myself, I was a little slow to get there.

I'm not easily impressed by food places because I am a highly creative locavore myself, but I have to admit that at Ntounias, I met my match: it is the first time I have ever eaten at a restaurant where the meals do not follow standard recipes, there are more vegetarian meals being served than meat-based dishes, and the same meal will taste different due to the seasonal variations of the ingredients used.
Broad beans (faba beans) cooked in their pods are a Cretan particular. Stelios was particularly impressed on seeing my children eating this dish - adults often warn their children against eating broad beans out of the fear that it may be harmful to their health (due to the enzyme deficiency associated with broad beans). 
In a similar fashion to what famous novelists say about the books they write - that they are the kind of books they themselves would like to read - Stelios cooks the kind of food that he wants to feed to his family on a daily basis.
Braised broccoli and califlower with xinohondro (wheat-and-milk rusk added to meat and vegetable stews for extra flavour).
When you arrive at Ntounias, you will notice two clay wood-fired 'parasia' cooking away unattended. One usually has a terracotta pot on it, and the other has a frying pan full of chipped potatoes sizzling away.
We've been to Ntounias twice. In mid-February, it was fine and very sunny. On our second visit last Sunday, it was raining. 
It may look like a gimmick, but when you enter the restaurant, you will find that there are no gimmicks. A simple setup of tables and chairs fills the indoor seating area. When the shop is full, outdoor seating is set up, usually by the diners themselves. There is also an outdoor seating area set on a rise, but that is clearly for good weather use - I will get a chance to try it out in warmer weather.
White has many shades - goose egg (a present from Stelios). 
At Ntounias, you won't find the classic plastic-lined paper tablecloth that most tavernas in Greece use. Unironed white tablecloths are set upon shabby-chic pink table coverings, laid with cutlery and crockery that do not match. It feels like home to me - the vinyl table covering was disposed of long ago, and I hate ironing, doing as little of it as I can possibly get away with.
Lahanodolmades - rice parcels served with yoghurt. 
Stelios is the head cook and head waiter, much like the cook in most Greek homes. By reciting the menu to all his customers - there is no menu card of any form, - he gets to personally greet and chat with every single customer, even when the shop is full.
Another Cretan particular - koilidakia, tripe and intestines stew, usually served at Easter. 
If Stelios' descriptions are not enough for you, you can enter the tiny steaming wood-fired cooking area to see the dishes Stelios and his team worked on for the day. You just open the terracotta pots and check the contents.
Left to right: Lahanopita (cabbage pie) - Spanakopita (spinach pie) - Kreatotourta (meat pie).

All the meals are slow-cooked and kept warm in their terracotta pots, which means that grilled or microwaved meals do not exist at Ntounias. Filo pastry is rolled out in rudimentary form, bread is baked in oblong shapes, wine comes straight out of the barrel.
Stelios makes his own wine...
Food that is cooked very slowly should be eaten very slowly; each dish that you order is bought out one by one, so that you can savour its magic individually, giving equal time to each meal. If you find it difficult to choose which meals you wish to savour, you can have half-servings instead.
... and his own bread.
Well-cooked decent food should not be a privilege reserved for just a few. It should be available to anyone who wants it, as long as they are willing to spend the time needed to produce/prepare it.
We joked with Stelios that we would be willing to fry potatoes for him all day long as long as we can have as many as we want to eat. He told us that he wouldn't have a problem with that if we were willing to dig them out of the earth first.
Ntounias is very well-priced, and you get more than just a meal; the drive from Hania to Drakonas follows a scenic route, you will meet many animals on the way (you really need to drive slowly), it is one of the main wine-producing regions of Hania (you will pass many grapevines), and there are two different roads to get you to the same destination (either via Mournies-Panayia-Gerolakkos or Fournes-Meskla-Zourva), allowing you to cover a large area during a single trip.
Ntounias is open every day except Tuesday. Booking (by phone) is not essential, but if you don't get there early, you may not find a seat unless you set up your own table yourself. For more photos, check out my facebook album

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.