Friday, 20 November 2015

Relating the past with the present: History lesson Γ' Γυμνασιου

(The blue bits are translations from my son's third-year junior-high history textbook.)

Last week, my son asked me to help him with his upcoming history test. He wanted to 'say' the lesson to me, as it was presented in his history book (which you can find here:,2182/).
"I just want you to ask me random questions, to make sure I know it all," he said to me. 
"OK", I said, "which units?"
"5 (Hellenism in the mid 18thC until the beginning of the 19thC), 7 (The Friendly Society and the announcement of the Greek revolution in the Danubian principalities) and 8 (The development of the Greek Revolution of 1821-1827)." 
"Why not 6 (The revolutionary movements of the 18920-1821 period in Europe?)" I asked, which was about ). It starts off like this: "The European people questioned the decisions of the Vienna Congress (1815) by delivering policies and national claims. They projected politically the demands of the concessions of the constitution, establishing parliamentary institutions and the recognition of civil liberties and political rights. On this basis, they formulated three main political currents, which questioned the decisions of the rulers of Europe, each from his own perspective and in his own way: 
- Moderate liberals sought the establishment of constitutional monarchies in which the right to vote was given only to the wealthy, as was the case in England.
- Radical democrats aspired to establish republics that were not dominated by monarchs, which would recognize political rights for every single adult men and protect the weaker social groups.
- The Socialists, who appeared after 1850, considered that the most appropriate form of political organization would be a system of economic and social equality.
National claims arose as a result of the gradual awareness of nations..."
"The teacher didn't set that one for the test."
"But you've studied it in class, haven't you?"
I was a little taken aback. "You know that this chapter might have been useful in understanding our present problems?" I asked him. 
"Yes, I've read it." If he had said he hadn't read it, I would have made him do it. 
"OK. Question 1," I said, scanning Unit 5. "Why was knowledge of the Greek language widespread in the mid 18thC to mid-19thC?" 
"Not the blue boxes, Mum." 
"Well, if you know the answer---"
"It's not in the test! I don't have enough time to tell you!"
"OK, ... What was the role of the Orthodox church in Hellenism?" 
"The Orthodox Church, recognized by the Ottoman administration as the leader of all the enslaved Christians, was opposed to the spread of ideas about enlightenment because they believed that a revolution will endanger themselves and Hellenism. This, however, did not prevent some clerics adopting enlightened perceptions and to take some action against the Ottoman domination." 
"And you know that they hold a similar position in the present, don't you? Can you give me some examples?"
"Ah, they want religious studies at school to continue..."
"... which violates the principle of the separation of state and church..."
"... and they aren't being taxed for the property they own...
"... which is bound to change in the long run. Good. Next question: What role did Russia play in the Greek Revolution?"
"Hang on, you didn't ask me the kinds of people that the Greek communities were made of at the time: Phanariots, merchants, ship owners, klephts."
"As their name implies!" (Because I get bored of the obvious. There is never enough time. PS: 'klepht' cf κλέβω = I steal.) 
"So, what role did Russia play in the Greek Revolution?"
"Around the beginning of the 18th century, the Greeks turned to Russia for help, since the Russians had interests in common with the Greeks as well as the same religion. Thus, in 1770, with Russian origins, the Greek revolution centered on the Peloponnese. But the mobilisation of the Greeks was not the desired one, while the small number of Russian warships participating, headed by brothers Orloff, proved insufficient. The revolution, known as the Orlofika, was thus suppressed. A similar fate befell the heroic efforts of the Greek envoy to Russia Lambros Katsonis in arousing the inhabitants of the Aegean islands..."
"And what is our relationship with Russia these days?"
"Um... we still have the same religion..."
"Are we friends with them?"
"Um ... the EU doesn't like Russia."
"But do WE like them?" 
"Um... Yes, I think so." 
"Because... they don't let others tell them what to do."
"OK. Next question. What do we mean by the Greek Enlightenment?"
"Starting with the Greek communities---"
"Where were they located?" 
"Asia Minor, the coastal parts of present-day Turkey and Russia. Starting with the Greek--- " 
"And which other country? 
"Check the map." He goes to the kitchen to check it out. 
"And what do we mean by the Pontus?"

Διονύσης Σαββόπουλος & Δόμνα Σαμίου - "Black Sea"
"Μαύρη θάλασσα κλειστή και ψυχή μου χαρισμένη, 
σ' όποιον πολύ σε θέλει"
"Black Sea, a closed space, I give my soul to anyone who wants her"

"That's not in the book, Mum."
"Oh... OK." Another time perhaps.  
"What was the question?"
"What do we mean by the Greek Enlightenment?"
"Starting with the Greek communities, the Greeks came into contact with the ideas of the Enlightenment. Η εκπαίδευση συνδέθηκε με τον αγώνα για ελευθερία. Traders in general and the Greeks who traveled in Europe disseminated those ideas in the Hellenic world. So the notion that was cultivated was that logic can not only explain the world but it can also change it. Education became linked to the struggle for freedom."
"But that doesn't tell me what the meaning of 'Greek Enlightenment' means..."
"But it's not int he book, Mum."
"Maybe the book is not enough. let's look it up." We did a quick Wikipedia search:
"The Greek Enlightenment is an ideological, literary, linguistic and philosophical current that, in a sense, tried to convey the ideas and values ​​of the European Enlightenment, of which it is an offshoot, in the area of ​​the enslaved Greek-language Orthodox peoples in the Ottoman Empire. Constantine Dimaras introduced the term. He meant it to be an indigenous and endogenous phenomenon of Hellenism which concurs with European enlightenment. This influenced him but the original dynamic did not cease to be domestic. In another aspect, Greek Enlightenment has its roots in the 15th century under the influence of European culture systematized to the early 19th century the idea of ​​national identity for people in the erstwhile ancient Greek territories. According to Apostolos Diamantis, the Greek Enlightenment was an intellectual movement seeking the education of the Greeks."
"So the most important element of the Greek enlightenment was?"
"Education. But that's in the next chapter about the Filiki Eteria (the Friendly Society)."
"OK the, tell me about...  the educational aspect of Filiki Eteria."
"Well... it was formed by some Greeks living in Russia, who wanted to revive the idea of a Greek state, and it was mainly aimed at wealthy Greeks so that Filiki Eteria could raise funds for their cause, but the wealthy Greeks didn't want to support them---"
"Which could explain why Greeks find it difficult nowadays to pay taxes, don't you think?"
"Oh, OK. So Filiki Eteria relaxed its policies and turned to the not so rich, but their ideas were still difficult to disseminate, so Filiki Eteria asked Ioannis Kapodistrias to lead them, because he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Russia---"
"But why Kapodistrias?"
"Because he was Greek. But Kapodistrias refused the position because he said that the Greek people weren't educated enough to rise up against the Ottomans."
"And that's where education becomes important, because this is still a problem even in our days, isn't it, because..."
"... because...?" He wasn't sure what I was getting at.
"... not enough of us are..." I started.
"Oh. Not enough of us are appropriately educated to stop foreign powers from meddling in our affairs. It's similar to the problems we have now in Greece. And why we are being ruled the way we are being ruled." 
We still had one more lesson (Unit 8to study. It contained the names of various protagonists related to the Greek revolution. 
"Which European underground train system includes a station named after a Greek war hero?" "That's not mentioned in the lesson!" On a visit to Paris five years ago, I remembered seeing Markou Botsaris' name on the metro map. It pays to be observant; that's a very special skill to develop over time. I asked him a few more questions (for which the answers were in the book!) and finished off by wishing him good luck for the exam.

The next day, when I came home, he told me that the exam was really easy. He passed with a grade of 19/20. 

©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, 9 November 2015

Insanely awesome Balos

I had been to the Balos lagoon a few years ago on a short-cruise ship, which also took us to a fortress built on an islet close to Gramvousa peninsula where Balos is located. But for a long time now, I had also wanted to do the road trip to Balos, which involves taking a very rough drive on a rather stony tract of mountainous rocky road, leading right down to the lagoon area.

Last weekend's weather was perfect for walking, sunny and windy, but not too cold. The tourist season is over now in Crete, and the area, which was buzzing with cars and people throughout the whole summer, has now returned to its natural peaceful state. We set off via the motorway, which gets you to Kissamos harbour. The cruisers were all tied up at the port, including the ferry boat that goes to the island of Kithira and the Peloponnese.

The harbour is located between the two 'fingers' of Crete, Rodopou and Gramvousa. Continuing west, we entered the first finger, Gramvousa peninsula. Here, we passed field after field of stamnagathi (Cichorium spinosum, spiny chicory). Gramvousa is mainly where this salad green is grown on the island. It used to be very expensive to buy stamnagathi, as it grew only in the wild, selling at anything up to 13 euro a kilo, but since the species began to be cultivated, the price has dropped to 4 euro. Organic stamnagathi  continues to sell at a high price. Apart from stamnagathi, the Gramvousa coastal area is mainly covered in beautifully maintained olive groves and vineyards. The land is flat here, making agricultural work much easier. There were people working in the fields as we passed, picking stamnagathi and harvesting olives, something our summer tourists do not  get a chance to see because all the European flights in and out of the island stopped in the first week of November this year. 

To get to the Balos lagoon, you pass through the very picturesque village of Kaliviani. A few tourist hotels are located here but they are only open during the summer season. Kaliviani village has a very traditional look to it, but it has also been modernised in many ways; tourism symbols are seen all over the place. The aromas emanating from the kitchen of the one restaurant that remained open were very enticing. We decided to stop here after our trip to the lagoon.

At the Grambousa restaurant in Kaliviani, you look for the sign pointing to the road for Balos and follow the rocky road from hereon. After Kaliviani, the road gets kind of lonesome in the winter but you will not be completely alone: there are quite a few goats on the road. The area is actually part of the NATURA protected region and although there are no buildings of any sort (save a church and information centre), signs of human intervention exist with the roughly built shelters for the animals, delapidated cafes, and some unusually positioned old boats that are no longer in use*. The animals are all a part of locals' self-sufficiency: they grow olives for oil, grapes for wine, all manner of vegetables (but not much fruit), and their meat and dairy needs are met by goats (but not sheep due to the rocky terrain). The rugged road is not tarmacked, which is why we preferred to use our pick-up truck, but cars are also able to handle the road conditions. You are basically driving on top of a rocky peninsula, with very beautiful views of the coast. The black outline on the Gramvousa coastline is due to the strong earthquake that took place in 365AD. The earth was literally elevated. Gramvousa is most often the epicentre of earthquakes that take place in Hania, which is a very seismic region.

Balos Lagoon Cape Gramvoussa
The road offers no shade, so I would say it's not very comfortable in the summer. You drive along the narrow rocky road, where you will find a toll gate. During the summer, a small fee of one euro is asked from every driver passing this point. The proceeds of the tolls are used to strengthen the road. The road has in fact been improved over time: I recall people telling me that they suffered flat tyres while trying to traverse the area. In the winter, the gate is left open, as we found it when we visited. When the road stops and you find you can't drive any more, you park your car on a large square. A rough looking (and not very enticing) cafe was open at this point - we were among twenty or so tourists who were visiting Balos at the same time.

From the square, you walk about a quarter of an hour to get to the lagoon which is not immediately visible due to the hilly nature of the terrain. So when you first see it, you are totally overwhelmed by its beauty. At this point, we sat on the low wall of the path, and took in the view. A couple of tourists were approaching the area. We were just two metres away from them when I overheard an American say: "Wow, man, this is insanely awesome." It certainly was. From the viewpoint, on the left you could also see Pontikonisi ('mouse island', due to its shape) behind the 'frying pan' land mass (τηγάνι - ti-GA-ni, as it's often called in Greek). On the right, the fortress on the island of Imeri Gramvousa (it looks like a ship) was also clearly visible - it is only accessible by boat during the summer months. So there really are many good reasons why you need to visit Balos twice, both by road and by ferry.

#crete #oils #salad #potato #kaltsounia #kaluviani #mushrooms #chania #food #peppers #κρητη #καλυβιανη #καλτσουνια #μανιταρια #κρητικη_κουζινα #χωριατικη #γραμβουσα #παραδοσιακο #traditional #greece

We could have walked down to the lagoon itself - there were a couple of people walking along the sand while we were there - but the hike back up the hill deterred us. We were running out of time, and we had those restaurant aromas on our mind. So we went back to Kaliviani and had a really delicious lunch at the Grambousa restaurant, which served a number of locally grown delicacies - mainly meat dishes - including the signature crop of the area, stamnagathi. They also had a really kinky hobbit-house doorway leading to the interior: take a peek here... The Grambousa serves mainly traditional Greek cuisine with a novel twist. For example, my favorite dish of all that we tried was the lamb cooked in honey and wrapped in filo pastry. Heavenly! And for desert, we got fried pastry and a beautifully ripe persimmon.

When we came home, I was about to upload my photos onto the computer, when I pressed 'delete' instead of 'copy'. The photos in the post all came from the internet. Oh well, too bad, I thought, I will just have to go again some time. But I don't think I want to do the road trip in the summer. With so many tourists, Crete is awesomely insane in the summer. It's the winter I look forward to, when it becomes insanely awesome. Come and see it for yourself. A ferry boat leaves Pireas harbour every night for Hania, while there are 3-4 daily flights from Athens.

*Apparently, they have all been demolished: 
But the debris remains:

©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.

Friday, 6 November 2015


I've always dreamt of a sewing room in my house. A workshop seems too far-fetched an idea for a home our size. My sewing machine sits in the living room, and goes as far as the kitchen table where I usually work. A recent visitor to our house saw my sewing machine sitting in its corner in the living room and asked me how much it cost. Even though I thought it was an odd question, I still gave her answer: I had paid €280 euro for my SINGER TALENT 2 years ago from a local store. She told me she had bought a sewing machine from a discount supermarket for €99 about a year ago.

"And what do you use it for?" I asked her.

"I haven't used it," she said, not showing any signs of regret. "Do you use yours?"

Another odd question, especially since the sewing machine was surrounded by fabrics and other sewing paraphernalia. Apart from five large quilts, my sewing machine has made countless other items, including many gifts and charity items. I use it at least once a week, if not more. My friend asked me to show her what I make on it. She was surprised by the quilts I had made (quilting and patchwork in the modern sense is not a Greek hobby), but she was particularly intrigued by a small pile of sewn fabric sitting in front of the machine.

"What are these for?" She was genuinely perplexed by my 'mug rugs' (or pot holders and oven mitts, if you prefer, or even wall hangings if you have a special affection for the animal pictured) with a donkey cutout sewn on the top. I explained that I had made these for the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue in Iraklion, as a way of supporting the work the charity does. a charity I support. Charity starts from the home, and for the last few years, especially since the Greek crisis, I have always supported charities based close to my locality. My last lot of rug mugs sold out very quickly; I hope the new batch does too.

I make these donkey mug rugs by hand and finish them off by machine, because when I go into the kitchen to use my sewing machine in the evenings, my family sometimes notices and asks me to come and sit with them in the living room. I take up the offer so they don't think I don't want their company.

My friend stared at me blankly. "You make them for the donkeys?" Oh-mee-gee, I thought, the difficult part has just begun. I have a lot of explaining to do. It's not easy (and not much fun) having to explain everything to people who know very little. Even when you do explain it to them, they cannot understand what you are talking about because they lack the direct 'tangible' experience needed in order to understand certain concepts. I am especially wary of how I explain the part where I mention that I spend time making things without payment for others to raise money from. They really don't get that bit. If they did, they themselves would also probably be donating something to charity (if not time, then money).

If I were asked the same question in Western society, I would be able to look shrewdly at the person and ask: "Where is your altruism?" But you can't do that with people like my friend: you have to explain the meaning of altruism to her if you want an answer. In the Greek language, that is not as easy as it sounds. In Greek, altruism is translated as αλτρουϊσμός (al-troo-is-MOS). But that is simply a transliteration of the English word - in other words, the Greek word entered the language not just as a borrowed word but as a borrowed concept. Another translation of altruism is given in Greek dictionaries: φιλλαληλία (fi-la-li-LI-a): 'true love for other people'. But that is closer in meaning to φιλανθρωπία (fi-lan-thro-PI-a), which is where English gets the word 'philanthropy' from. Wikipedia mentions that altruism can also be called selflessness which is translated into Greek as ανιδιοτέλεια (an-i-di-o-TE-li-a): 'a characteristic of someone whose final actions (τέλη) are not (αν) dictated by self (ιδιο)-interest or personal gain.' But this word does not necessarily encompass the moral sense of altruism as the word is used in English.

Respectful citizen Mr Panteli, by Panos Tzavelas, who was a devoted communist all his life. 
Respectful citizen Mr Panteli (click here for the meaning of this Greek name), you have a shop somewhere here, you sell stuff, you make lots of money, you go to church on Sunday, you have a wife, son and daughter, modern furniture, colour TV, and you eat spiritual food. Respectful citizen Mr Panteli, so what if thousands of  black, white and yellow people die of hunger on this earth, just as long as your son's OK so you can leave him your name and money... Did you know Mr Panteli that others give up their youth and life to make true the dream of a slice of bread, so you can eat too, and what did you give Mr Panteli? Full of fear, irresolute, Mr Bean, you fouled up dreams and souls, an empty skin without breath. Respectful citizens, the young generation, bury those respectful people among the grains, and those who made Mr Panteli, they're useless worms on this Earth!

Hence, to a certain extent, altruism as it is understood in English is still in its nascence in Greek. The many different varieties of crises that the country has been through in such a short period of time have not helped people in thier quest for self-actualisation - but then again, you could easily get through your life without any need to feel altruistic. Take my friend as an example: she can buy a sewing machine even though she doesn't need one, so I suppose she has met her safety, physiological and social needs. But buying a sewing machine when you don't need one shows that she hasn't fulfilled her esteem needs. She still needs to build up her confidence before she moves on to self-actualisation.

Not that altruism is not understood in Greece. Let's take a very close Greek friend of mine who related this to me recently: "We have a severely disabled child, and we love him very much. It wasn't our choice to have this child. But that's the way God made him, and we accept him as he is. But I'm not an altruist like my French friends. They have a son with the same disability as my child. They couldn't have children, so they decided to adopt a child who they could provide a better quality of life to. They chose a severely disabled child, something I would not have done myself. They are the true altruists.".

I did actually wonder why my other friend hadn't used her own sewing machine. She told me she'd always wanted to own a sewing machine and when she saw it at the supermarket, she thought it was the perfect opportunity to buy one, although she admitted that she wasn't sure what she'd do with it. "I thought I might use it to mend or alter something, but it's really quite cheap to buy what we need these days." In many ways, my friend is right. Few designers can compete with the €1 shops in terms of price. Even in a poor country like Greece which has been overrun by deflation, life is still quite cheap these days.

Bonus photo: Thanks to Demetra, Gabe and Joanie for their fabric donations, some of which I used in the donkey mug rugs. I also made this quilt from them.

©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.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Δημοκρατία (Democracy)

(This is a true story, in case you think I'm making it up.)

I recently met up with an old family friend whose husband recently passed away. My father was the godfather of her youngest son; my parents were very close to their godchildren's parents. It was actually this woman's name that bought them even closer together. Even the priest must have changed shades as he dunked her into the baptismal font when he heard the name:
... the Priest turns the Sponsor to the East with lowered hands, and asks the following three times:
- Do you join Christ?
The question is answered three times:
- I do join Him.
Again the Priest asks three times:
- Have you joined Christ?
- I have joined Him.
Again the Priest asks:
- And do you believe in Him?
- I believe in Him as King and as God.
After the completion of the Creed, the Priest asks thrice:
- Have you joined Christ?
- I have joined Him.
Then the Priest says:
- Then bow before Him and worship Him.
The Sponsor) bows down, saying:
- I bow down before the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Trinity One in Essence and Undivided.
Following the blessing, the Priest asks the Sponsor what the name of the child will be, and the Sponsor says the name loudly and clearly:
- Dimokratia!

The name came as a surprise not just to the priest but also to Dimokratia's parents. But they knew Stavros was a devout communist, and a vow was a vow: they had asked him to become godfather to their child, and they could not go back on their promise. Back in those days, and in those regions, it was the godparent who chose the child's name, and the parents and godparents rarely met up, The parents in fact did not always attend the service, and would only find out the name of their child once the service was over.

My parents met Dimokratia and her husband while both couples were living and working in New Zealand. My mother remembered that when she was a child, not quite a teenager, one of her second cousins, Stavros (son of Efsevios, first cousin of my maternal grandfather), had left the village where both my mother and Stavros lived to become a godparent to a child in another village far away from the mountains where they lived. When he returned a few days later, he proudly announced that he had chosen a beautiful name for the baby - he had called her Dimokratia. Was this Stavros' goddaughter after all? Indeed it was. Here was Dimokratia herself, standing in front of my mother, while they had both transplanted themselves to another country, very far away from their own homeland.

The EAM anthem: 
Only three letters enlighten the Greek people
and show us the bright way to bring freedom
It is our struggle's light and the people follow faithfully,
young, old, all together they shout, hip hip hooray for EAM
EAM saved us from hunger, it will save us again from slavery
and it has congregationalism in its manifesto, hip hip hooray for EAM
It has united all our people, it includes EPON and ELAS,
and it has congregationalism in its manifesto, hip hip hooray for EAM
My mother and Stavros lived through very confusing political times in Greece. During WW2 when democracy was failing Greek citizens and Greece was under Nazi occupation, EAM, the National Liberation Front, was formed, quite obviously encompassing communism and left-wing nationalism, given the musical score that its anthem was set in (the Russian Katyusha theme). No doubt Stavros was one of EAM's strongest supporters, and he would have addressed Alexis Tsipras as 'comrade' if he were still alive now (although he would probably be turning in his grave now). But even for SYRIZA and Mr Tsipras, democracy has taken many turns. It pays to remember what SYRIZA meant to the world way back in December 2014, which isn't too long ago. Democracy has a variety of meanings for everyone, but it rarely encompasses all people: the fragile meaning of democracy has been debated since ancient times.

And what about Stavros, the godfather? Eventually he married, and after seven years, he and his wife gave up trying to have a child as none had come by that time. They decided to adopt instead. But Stavros himself chose the name he would give to his son: 'Eleftherios', from the Greek ελευθερία, 'e-lef-the-RI-a', meaning 'freedom, liberty'. My aunt related to me the day Lefteri (as his name is abbreviated in Greek) came to the village, when he was also baptised. Lefteris' father was so happy to finally have a child of his own, that he invited all the villagers to the baptism, and he composed a mantinada (μαντινάδα) especially for the occasion:
Ευχαριστώ στους χωριανούς - I thank the local villagers
και όλο αυτό τ' ασκέρι - and this great large assembly
που ήρθε κι' αποδέχτηκε - that came and greeted warmly
το Κάτη, το Λευτέρη. - the new Kati*, Lefteri.
(*Kati is the abbreviated surname of 'Katakis')

And that's not the whole story: Two years after Lefteris joined the family, Stavros and his wife brought Kostantinos into the world by natural birth. The moral of the story: everything happens in its own time, patience is a virtue, and hope dies last.

(The video clip is part of a playlist of politically motivated modern Greek music, composed, written and sung by some of the most famous names in Greek music, many of whom are considered heroes of the various Greek Leftist movements.)

©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.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Old age (Γηρατειά)

Can anything stop us from losing our mind?
"Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in fish and vegetables may help prevent your brain shrinking for as long as five years, new research suggests."
We are seriously wondering about this in our house, as we watched the terrifying consequences of the developments of our 91-year-old yiayia's senile dementia. Up until two months ago, she was cooking her own meals and cleaning her house. She watched TV and read the Saturday local paper. She also pottered around the garden, and kept the front yard immaculately clean.

It was around this time when she also started telling us about the living dead: so-and-so died, she'd say, proceeding to tell us the gory details of their death. As far as we knew, these people were still alive. Sometimes old people confuse things, we'd tell the children. But we got worried, and hired help, a neighbor who was looking for this kind of work, and had experiencing in looking after old people. But imagine what this feels like for someone who had always tried to live independently. The relationship didn't quite work out.

There was also that time when she kept waking up at night and phoning us, to ask why we hadn't woken up yet, because it was time to go to work (it was often in the middle of the night). Checking her kitchen clock, we wondered if perhaps she had simply confused the time: the clock was indeed showing the wrong time. So we set it correctly, and changed the battery just in case. But the clock still kept changing time. So we removed the button that did this, to make sure that the time-changing gremlins didn't strike again. Yiayia then removed the alarm button and popped it onto the pin that had been left on the time-setting button. So we were back to square one. When we removed that button too, yiayia chucked the clock in the bin. "It's broken," she told us. "No, look yiayia," we said, holding it to her ear, "it's still ticking." But she wasn't convinced: "Only barely," she replied. It's just old age, we'd tell the children. But we were worried, so we called in a doctor.

"She's probably suffered a myriad of tiny strokes that were barely noticeable," he told us, and recommended donepezil and some sleeping tablets. It seemed to work, at least when she took it, that is. Yiayia had spent her life not just independently but also without taking any kind of medication whatsoever. All she ever took occasionally was paracetamol for a headache or other minor ailment. It was a shock to her that the doctor was suggesting that she take pills to live. "But there is noting wrong with me!" she kept saying. And she was right. Her blood tests showed no signs of illness. Normal reds, normal whites, normal cholesterol, normal heartbeat: in fact, normal everything. "She's really healthy," we told the kids, but we knew that there was something that was not really right.

She began moving the furniture around the house. She threw things out. We had to go through her rubbish every day: a cup, a plate, a bowl, even the remote control for the TV. And of course, food. "They've all been poisoned," she told us, howling with horror when we showed her what she was throwing out. "Get it out of this house immediately!" she'd cry, hitting her walking frame up and down on the floor. She was having psychoses. "It's a normal part of senile dementia," the doctor explained. "But she needs psychiatric help." At 91, I doubted that she would ever be able to receive help for her condition, not because the Greek health care system is broken, but because she would be unwilling to receive it. By this time, she had stopped taking all the medication she had been prescribed (we were giving it to her). She did not want our own help; how would she accept a change in environment and caregivers?

None of this terrified me personally as much as what was about to ensue, during her last week at home. Believing that we were poisoning all the food brought into the house, she stopped eating. She literally ate nothing all day. I checked her cupboards: apart from a few rusks, some olive oil, sugar, flour, rice and lentils, there was no other food. She had thrown everything else out, and refused to take anything we gave her. When she stopped eating our home-made meals, we brought in all sorts of other store-bought delicacies: she threw those out too, believing that the wrapping they came in was poisonous.

After three days, I insisted that we should take her to the hospital. Knowing that she wouldn't allow anyone to take her out of the house, I asked some big burly black-shirt-wearing relatives to help us coax her out. "You need to disarm her," I told them. "Take away the walking frame."  She had been using it like a deadly weapon, hitting anyone she had stopped trusting when they tried to approach her.

The doctors were very sympathetic. "There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with her", they said to us. "She's just senile." The A&E doctors called the resident psychiatrist who tried to give her some sedatives. But she refused to drink the water that had been laced with drops, nor did she accept to have anything injected in her. "We can't make her do anything," the doctors and nurses said, and we understood them to the tee: we couldn't make her do anything either. Yiayia went home, and continued her diet. For the last week of her life at home, she didn't take one bite of food.

How long can a person live without food before they faint, fall and create bigger problems than what they already have? It was either that, or residential care. State old-age care does exist, but it requires a lot of paperwork. For a start, the person entering state care needs to have thorough medical checkups before being admitted. Yiayia's issues did not allow us to go through this procedure. Private care differs not just in cost but also in terms of what kinds of cases they take on. We eventually chose a unit that is run by someone who has 40 years experience in geriatric care, 35 of which was spent caring for old people in state care.

Apparently, she's eating and has now started taking medication. But she's still not the yiayia we knew. I'm not sure if she will ever be again. The Mediterranean diet no doubt aided in her longevity. But it didn't stop her from the eventual decline that we all go through when we get old.

©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.