Taxi service

Taxi service
Dimitris' taxi is available for all your holiday needs. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, we would like to drive you around. More info: drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Dimtris' taxi service

Happy Holidays in Crete, one of the top 5 destinations on Tripadvisor (as at 20 March 2018), behind Paris London Rome and Bali -

Monday, 26 February 2018


The greatest losers to airbnb were of course the hoteliers, but that is a different story: the internet-connected world and the 'sharing' economy made airbnb inevitable, even in the most unlikely places.  Although airbnb is not new to Hania, it literally took the town by storm last year, forcing rent prices up and throwing long-term tenants out of the market. At the beginning of the academic year in October of 2017, a large number of students of the TUC and TEI Hania were still searching for a place to rent. It all sounds surreal. But there is also another side to the story: in the pre-crisis times when there was more money to go round, there were a good number of tenants who weren't paying their rent on time, and who would also abscond from paying the utilities fees (water, electricity, and heating fees in apartments), leaving landlords footing the bills, or loading the financial burden onto the few reliable apartment dwellers. Tit for tat, one might say.

Now that the fog is clearing, and people are learning to live with what they have rather than what they borrow, under new forms of business, property owners are looking for ways to make more income, at the same time as cushioning themselves against unreliable tenancies. Hania is both a student and a tourist town. So airbnb provided a solution in part for owners of small apartments: short-term lets to tourists in the summer, and longer-term lets to the student population during the academic year. But what about out-of-owners and families? Presumably it forces them out of the area, as this report from a local newspaper states:
"Fewer and fewer students are attending schools in the old town of Chania, which is causing concern to local residents."
This news is not so shocking when one considers that the old town forms an integral part of the tourist zone of Hania. The rents are now too high even for immigrants, who were classic customers of the old town, with its rundown homes and cheap rents. Greeks prefer the countryside suburbs and larger houses, rather than noisy crowded areas full of tourists. But it can't be denied that airbnb is partly to blame for the loss of children's voices in inner city neighborhoods, as Athenians lament:
"Airbnb turns the neighborhoods of the city center into a huge leisure park for tourists. After the apartments for rent in Koukaki disappeared, Exarchia's turn comes; you can no longer find a place to live there (they have all gone to Airbnb). Pagrati and Mets follow. We are walking in the footsteps of major cities (Madrid, London, Paris), where the local population in the city center will soon be a protected species."
It's not all moan and groan however - some Athenians are also learning to love airbnb:
"The exploitation of empty buildings that will continue to have life after 20:00 is an element that contributes to the upgrading of the capital, especially in the daily life of the urban landscape. Even in buildings where company offices are located, one finds that on the last two floors there are apartments rented by Airbnb. The city is not just about restaurants, bars and cafes, not just workplaces, but also places of habitation by people who want to gain a personal experience of Athens. They want to cook, shop and love the city not only at the ground floor level, but at all its height."

My biggest gripe with airbnb is not so much the new way of using old properties: thanks to airbnb, people are cleaning up their old properties and making them ready for use, instead of lying around in a derelict state like they had been for a too long:
 "According to the latest figures of the Greek National Tourism Organization, there is a strong tendency for the reconstruction and restoration of old buildings into quality tourist residences, with a similar trend by professionals offering  rooms and apartments that are being modernized and improved... Many old houses, abandoned places in various parts of Chania, but especially in the old town, have been reconstructed and now function as tourist apartments, boutique hotels, tourist residences. Most are run by companies that do them up at their own expense and for a period of 15-20 years undertake to pay rent to the owner. There are also a few houses that are being rebuilt by their owners and being made available for a holiday home"
My biggest gripe is the unsustainable way people price their properties. Landlords are asking for a small fortune to book their property: they think asking 1000 euro a week for a 3-bedroom house in the inner city centre of Hania is perfectly reasonable, while they were struggling to rent out the same property for 500 euro a month in the winter. Even during the best year to date so far for airbnb in Hania, many properties were lying empty half the time.

Airbnb made me think about how I can use my late father's mid-town apartment which I have just finished renovating, after it was rented out for over a decade to the same tenant: all three children of the same family passed through it while they were studying in Hania. So I went along to some seminars being held in the town by the Greek representatives of airbnb (they all work in northern European countries). I learnt a lot of things in these seminars, some of which were more obvious than others:
- make your home unique!
- keep it absolutely spotless!
- take nice photos! (preferably from professionals!)
One usually forgets the downside of being an airbnb landlord in a summer resort town, such as the following:
- the tourist season starts in March and ends in October, but some months during that period are low season: for example, the average hotel will be filled to just 14% capacity in April, so it's unlikely that there will be much calling for a mid-town apartment on a short term let during that period. Most of the time then, it will be empty.
- an apartment will have to be cleaned and tidied after each guest leaves: factoring in a cost for cleaning on top of your price per night will add to the total cost of the apartment for the airbnb guest, who is  highly likely to choose cheap holiday accommodation on the basis of price (airbnb is not a lifestyle choice, in the way that a hotel/spa resort is).
- who exactly does the cleaning? If you hire someone to do it for you, you are losing profits. If you do it yourself, you have to pay yourself somehow - or give up your time, which you will have to do in order to let guests into the house, see them off and pick up the key, etc.

A peek inside an inner-city apartment in Hania built in 1980; some things (like the floors) can't be renovated without being completely removed. Renting to locals saves me from having to worry about airbnb guests commenting on how 'dirty' the apartment might have seemed to them. Locals have a different view of what to look out for when renting a property: above all, a quiet safe atmosphere to wind down after a a hard day's night - the gig economy keeps young people on their toes all day. 

Together with other family members, we made the decision to try airbnb-ing our parents' apartment, even if it sounded like extra work. So I got the renovations going and had just finished getting the bathroom re-outfitted. While I was waiting outside the apartment waiting for the electrician, a young woman from the next-door apartment (who had noticed that the flat was being renovated) asked me if I had 'promised' it to anyone. Mid-town apartments are all about location: my parents had made a good choice for their retirement. It was such a shame that they did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

I told the woman that the apartment was available for rent. She put me in touch with an out-of-town Greek who lives and works in Hania, a town she has fallen in love with and does not want to leave. I don't expect everyone to show the same kind of altruism that I am showing, by renting out accommodation at a reasonable price, to struggling Greeks. But the smile on their face when you show them you care is worth a lot more to me than the business of greed. Airbnb is not the only solution. Just like the crisis, this unsustainable situation will not last forever, and landlords will have to prepare themselves for yet more tax upheavals.

©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, 29 January 2018

Salade macédoine

If you don't understand the Macedonian name issue, read:

My students are mainly foreigners and they have to prove to the institute that they understand English in order to continue to follow our courses. Once they have done that, we allow them to initiate a series of cultural activities at the institute in tandem with their scientific studies; one of those activities is to learn - if they wish - the language of Greece, Ελληνικά. The purpose of the lessons is for the students to have some fun, to enjoy themselves by learning how to make small talk with the locals in the town and to impress them with their knowledge of Greek in basic transactions, like making acquaintances and buying things. For various reasons (that I will not go into here), I am giving the Greek lessons to the students, and also to understand the Greek signs that they are surrounded with so as to have a better understanding of their present home.

I started off by teaching the students the Greek alphabet. That way, I explained to them, they would be able to read Greek signs on the street; even if they did not understand the words they were reading, they would be able to guess the meaning, given that street signs have some universal meanings. Finally, they would be able to learn to write their names in Greek, a practical use of their new knowledge. The Greek alphabet is very transparent - unlike the English one - so what you see is what you read. And as you read those words with supposedly unknown meanings, you may make the observation that some words sound a lot like English. And lo and behold, you have increased your vocabulary, and your general knowledge of the language. This raises your confidence immensely.

In that first lesson, I was surprised to see Greek students in the class. This shows that our Greek students enjoy keeping company with their fellow students from other countries, and above all, they like to help them in their learning. Having someone other than a teacher to converse with makes for a more genuine learning environment. So I was pleased that Greek students were coming to the class.

In the second lesson, I checked that the students were comfortable with the alphabet. Then we started learning basic phrases with which they could have a simple conversation introducing each other, things like:
Γειά σου (Hello)
Τι κάνεις; (How are you?)
Καλά (είμαι), ευχαριστώ. Εσείς; (I'm OK. How about you?)
Πώς σας λένε; Πώς σε λένε; (What's your name)
Με λένε ... (My name is...)
Χάρηκα (Pleased to meet you)
At this point, I had to explain why we seem to have many ways of saying the same thing, but I simplified things and told them not to worry things like formal and informal language. The Greek students in the class also helped to this end, when we practiced some phrases and turned them into a conversation.

The lessons continued with:
Από πού είσαι; (Where are you from?) and Είμαι από ... (I'm from…).
We learnt about the different nationalities and the word endings in Greek which differ according to whether a man or a woman is answering the question. I started asking all the students in turn: Από πού είσαι; and I got a variety of responses:
Lusine said είμαι Αρμένισα, Zoulficar said είμαι Αλγερινός, Kahina said είμαι Τυνήσια, Elias said είμαι Λιβανέζος, Anya said είμαι Ρωσίδα, Anas said είμαι Παλεστίνιος, Siana said είμαι Αλβανίδα, Angelos said είμαι Έλληνας... until I got to (let's call her) Fidanka:

Από πού είσαι, Φυντάνκα; I asked her. Fidanka started laughing. Angelos (the Greek student in the class) also started laughing. The rest of the class looked on wondering what they were laughing about. At one point, I think they thought they should laugh in solidarity. But they didn't get it.

Φυντάνκα! I repeated. Από πού είσαι; 
Δεν πειράζει! (It doesn't matter!) she managed to say, in between the laughter.
Yes it does! I answered, continuing the joke.
Είμαι από το FYROM, Fidanka said.
No such country! That;s just an abbreviation! I reminded her. More explosions of laughter from those who were in on the joke.

When you make a joke, you need to include everyone in it, otherwise, it may look like you are laughing at someone rather than with someone. So I explained it to the rest of the class:
"Fidanka is from the Republic of Macedonia, but in Greece, we don't call the country Macedonia, we call it Skopia from the name of its capital, or FYROM from the abbreviation used by the United Nations, we don't call it Macedonia for political reasons, because Greece feels it owns the name Macedonia, and it can't be used to mean anything other than Greek..." And when I finished saying all this, I knew it all sounded ridiculous, and I, the logical cool calm and collected teacher I have proved to be, was sounding rather incoherent. Bt that is what I had to do to keep everyone happy.

I was met with stunned silence. "It's political," I concluded, "but to understand the issue, you need to read a little more about it," I said, laughing a little less heartily.

The Macedonia name issue has reafred its ugly head once again in Balkan politics: I say ugly because the two sides are unable to agree on anything other than what each side prefers. It's very rare to hear Greeks or Macedonians showing even an inkling of support for a compromise; they only support their side. It would help if each side could put itself in each other's shoes - rather than see their differences, they might find that they have much more in common with each other:
"The entire Balkan Peninsula claims Shopska as their salad: Macedonians claim it to be theirs, Serbs say, nope, it’s ours... Bulgarians also say it’s all theirs. Greeks, too, though they decided to call it 'Greek Salad' and added a few olives to it. :) Then again, they just decided to call everything 'Greek', including salads, coffee, yogurt, the sky, the trees, air… aye aye aye… 😉. In a nutshell? We will all go to war with each other to prove that something is ours and not theirs. Not just Shopska, though. We fight about the ownership of Ajvar, land, Baklava, land, Kebapi, land, Musaka, and land. But I have to add that, if we leave politics aside, we are the best of friends. Not kidding. We love one another like brothers and sisters. ♥" from:
More on Macedonian food: coincidentally, it all looks Greek to me:

Both the Greeks and the Macedonians have distorted views about the Macedonian issue, as Alexis Iraklides, a Greek academic and professor of international relations and conflict resolution, recently wrote. The article was written in Greek (, but I have taken the liberty to translate it into English:

THE MACEDONIA NAME ISSUE: Why "strangers do not understand us" and the reasons of the negative Greek and Macedonian attitude (by ALEXIS IRAKLIDES)
     In the famous Macedonian name issue, the Athens-Skopje conflict over the name, the other states and their peoples (except perhaps the Balkan states) find it difficult to understand Greek sensitivities and Greek fears. This is for at least four reasons.
     First, they are unable to see how such a small, poor and weak country, like Macedonia*, with virtually nonexistent armed forces and equipment (particularly in the 1990s), may threaten Greece, which is shielded to the teeth (an impressive naval and aviation, armored vehicles, specially trained bodies, etc.). So they come to regard the Greeks at best as graphic or paranoid, the worst usurpers and even the covert expanses.
     Secondly, other states have of course taken into account the many similar situations around the world, a common name between one country and the region of another neighboring country, eg. Mongolia and Mongolia in China, Great Britain and Brittany in France, Luxembourg and Luxembourg provinces in Belgium, Moldavia in Romania and Moldavia, or cases with complex names between neighboring countries, eg. Bangladesh (Benghal) and West Bengal in India, East Azerbaijan in Iran and Azerbaijan, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Mexico and New Mexico, and others. So they wonder: why is Macedonia, since 1991 to date, an unresolved dispute, initially with Greece and then Macedonia not accepting a complex name?
     Thirdly, most states, and undoubtedly the liberal Western states, regard self-determination as an inalienable human and minority right and, at grassroots level, an aspect of the fundamental principle of the self-determination of the peoples. It is therefore very difficult to accept that a foreign state can impose the name of choice in another state or co-decree or veto in the name of another state, how another state and its people want to be called.
     Fourthly, in most other countries, and especially in the West, historical laws that reach their ancient world seem incomprehensible and an example of annoyance (more comprehensible to longer-lived peoples, such as the Chinese who have a similar problem with Mongolia, as to who owns Genghis Khan). In particular, as far as Alexander the Great is concerned, the West has an ambiguous position. The identity of Alexander and the Macedonians is not crystal-clear (in spite of the findings in Vergina) to Europeans and Americans, something also reflected in most Western history school textbooks.
     However, if in the decisive first decade of the conflict, the Greek government had the responsibility for the impasse, after a decade between 2006 and January 2016, the Macedonian government under Nicola Gruevski, the leader of the nationalist VMRO- DPMNE (Inner Macedonian Revolutionary Organization - Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity) was at fault. That is, the initial intransigence of one side, the Greek one, has brought about - or has eaten - the intransigence of the other side, which as the smallest and newest country was by nature the most insecure, so it does not accept any compromise since it is almost certain that it will be perceived by the inhabitants of this country (meaning the Slav-Macedonians and not the significant minority of Albanians living in Macedonia) as degrading, with the following obvious reasoning: where did we hear about the change of our national identity, which we chose?
     Two first obvious reasons for the Greek attitude are due to ignorance. One is the ignorance of what was geographically Macedonia, which was divided in 1913. The second is the shape of Kofos in extremis: that Titus invented and produced, arbitrarily, a new nation from scratch.
     Few Greeks know, even those in responsible positions, that geographically Macedonia is not one, the Greek ("historic Macedonia") one, but three, obviously all three with the right to be called Macedonia, with a complex name or derivative to be perceived for the Macedonia we are talking about. And the "Macedonian" or Slav-Macedonian nation was not an invention and construct ex nihilo of Tito. It existed as a potential new nation. It was a people that had been gradually alienated by the Bulgarians and were in search of a new national identity beyond the original Bulgarian, although opinions differ as to when this ethnicity originated. More likely, as we have seen, in the 1930s, at the level of the elite, Tito found ground for his well-known venture, which was crowned with success.
     But there are other reasons for the excessive attitude of the Greeks, which are more difficult to deal with than simple ignorance treated with elementary knowledge of the facts. I would distinguish them in three categories: (1) official reasons, (2) hidden and ungrateful ones, and (3) in more general terms related to Greek identity and historical narrative, as well as to the dominant image of Greece and Greeks in the international arena.
     The most obvious official reasons are, of course, the (a) fears of neighbors' perceptions in Greek Macedonia and (b) the wrath of attempted seduction / theft of a significant part of the Greek cultural heritage.
     As for the first, the aspirations, the answer to foreigners when they tell the Greeks "you are paranoid, how can you fear such a small and weak country" was the following from the lips of Ambassador Manolis Kalamidas (close friend and partner of Antonis Samaras) in the early 1990s: that an identification called Macedonia is rooting for a future conflict because it allows Skopje to nurture territorial aspirations and seek them in the future when international conditions are more favorable.
     As for the second, about the theft and falsification of Greek history, I will confine myself to a phrase by Evangelos Kofos that impressed the Australian anthropologist Loring Danforth, and he wrote it in his famous book on Macedonia: "It's like a thief entering my house and stealing my most precious jewels - my story, my culture, my identity.”
     The most hidden and unmistakable reasons of the prevailing Greek attitude - the skeletons in the cupboard, to use the familiar English expression - are, in my opinion, three or maybe four.
Firstly, the non-recognition of the Slav-speakers of Greek Macedonia as a national or ethnic minority, not even as an ethnic or linguistic group. Although these people number only a few thousand (and therefore there is no threat to Greek territorial integrity) and a part of them has now voluntarily acquired a Greek national identity, Athens however fears the slightest reference to them and the recognition of their existence, while there are some other mother tongues, like Slavonic-Macedonian (and not Slavic, which is not a language, but a group of multilingual languages). With this denial of their existence, the fact is forgotten or concealed that they were oppressed in the Interwar period, and many of them (though not all) fled or were expelled as refugees to ELAS (fifty to sixty thousand Macedonians). Upon the end of the Greek Civil War, in 1948-1949, their property was confiscated, and since then it is not permitted for them and their descendants to return to their homes or to claim their property.
     Secondly, the fact that the current inhabitants of Greek Macedonia are mostly non-native, they do not come from the pre-existing local population. Approximately two out of every three present-day residents of Greek Macedonia are refugees or descendants of refugees from Asia Minor. This makes them psychologically more insecure, since they came to the region in the 1920s, long after the Slav-speaking or Slav-Macedonians who were "natives", the native inhabitants of present-day Greek Macedonia for centuries (half of whom fled or expelled from 1913 until the late 1940s). This insecurity of the descendants of the refugees may explain their great need to identify with the glory of the ancient Macedonians and the legendary Alexander the Great, in order to take root in Greek (historical) Macedonia and to be considered the descendants of the ancient Macedonians (while, to the extent that are descendants of ancient Greeks, they will probably be the descendants of the Ionians).
     The third, more secret and unconscious reason is, I think, the following. In the 51.56% of the Macedonia that came to Greece, the Greeks (the strictly Greek-speaking) constituted only 10-11% of the geographic Macedonia. That is, they did not actually "liberate" this area, but they conquered it, and then they tried to evict, in one way or another, the majority of the native population. So there is a hidden source of Greek insecurity: that Greece received, far more than it would have been due, on the basis of the proportion of Greeks on the population, much more than it was entitled to, if a referendum with international oversight had taken place, in other cases in the second half of the nineteenth century, or which it realistically could have expected if the Balkan Wars had not taken place with the unexpected result, pro Greece.
     The fourth possible reason for the Greek attitude has its roots in the insecure and ancestor-loving Greek identity. In this case, who were really the ancient Macedonians, given the conflicting positions of the ancient Greeks themselves, who regarded them as (a) non-Greeks (Demosthenes), (b) partially Greeks or not fully Greeks (Thucydides, Isokrates) or (c) fully Greeks (Herodotus). That is, the fact that two out of three ancient Greeks south of Aliakmon and Olympus, at the time, questioned the full Greekness of the ancient Macedonians (which, of course, the other side does not miss the opportunity to exploit).This leads the present Greeks to ‘Angst’ and exaggerations in order to guarantee the Greekness of the ancient Macedonians. However, according to most sober historians who have dealt with ancient Macedonia, the ruling class in the ancient state of Macedonia were Greeks, or they wanted and proclaimed to be Greeks, or they were Hellenized, and yet spoke Greek and had the same religion, the Twelve Gods (in the organization of the state and how their state differed and fewer Greeks were present). However, their citizens, of whom we know little, were rather a mix of Greek and non-Greek ethnic groups (probably Thracians, Molossians, Paoians, Illyrians, etc.). It is also certain that there were no Macedonian Slavs at that time, since Slavic ancestors of the Slav-Macedonians came in the 5th and 6th centuries AD.
     Let us now look at the more general reasons for the Greek attitude. One is the Greek identity itself and the national narrative of thousands of years of glorious history, which has resulted in the way the Greeks view the newer Balkan "nationalities", and especially the Slav-Macedonians. Hence the many insults they embraced: the state, the hybrid, the construction, the fake nation, the artificial structure, the Macedonians, Skopje, the Balkan Gypsies, Skopje's warts, Gypsoskopians, etc. As Antonis Liakos said in 1993, in the Macedonian issue there is an ideological use of history by the Greeks, in terms of national ideology of the 19th century, "on the argument that the titles of a nation are due to the age of its origin. Thus, the Greek national ideology, claiming a four-thousand-year history, may even deny the existence of a nation whose certificates are not found before the last hundred years, the legitimacy of its language and the feasibility of its constitution; despite the fact that most nations are modern, they were born in the 20th century.
     The other general reason is the prevailing perception in Greece as to the "strangers" who "cheat on us" and "conspire with conspiracies against us", the well-known anti-hellenism supposedly dominating internationally, the narrative of the disrespectful brother's nation or the "syndrome of Dighenis Akritas " as I had called it. The strangers "do not understand" or "they want to see us fall to evil" and do not support us in the "Skopje" issue, while "we are right on our side" and while "they owe us" as descendants of the unparalleled ancient Greeks, the cradle of European culture.
     The obvious causes of the attitude of the other side are: their great bitterness about the unfair share of 1913, the attempt of the Hellenization of those who lived in Greece ("the Macedonia of the Aegean") during 1919-1940, the oppression of the Metaxas regime, their expulsion in the 1940s, the expropriations-confiscation of property, and of course, above all, their non-recognition, the rejection of their own identity and mother tongue by the Greeks, which is particularly heavy and unbearable especially for a new, relatively insecure nation.
     There are also several hidden reasons for their attitude, "skeletons in the cupboard" as in the case of Greece. Let's look for some.
     First, although their Slavic ancestors were in the wider Macedonia region for centuries (and before the Cyril and Methodius era, that is, from the 6th century AD), they were slow to gain a distinct national consciousness. Their identity, even with the advent of the 19th century of nationalism, remained either Bulgarian or vague and fluid, rather because the volume of the then inhabitants was ungrateful villagers, with all that this entails. However, the ‘unlearned’ villagers were one hundred and twenty years before almost all Serbs and eighty years ago most Bulgarians, but this did not prevent them from gaining national consciousness. However, it is the penultimate new Balkan nation (with the last being the Bosnian Muslims), with a history of 70 to 80 years. Initially, as we have said, many have identified themselves with the Bulgarians and with Bulgarian nationalism. Indeed, some Slavic speakers were identified at the beginning of the 20th century as Greeks (initially as "patriarchs") and they became Greeks (Graikomanoi) or changed identity on a case by case basis, from 1904 (with the Greek Macedonian Struggle) to the partition of Macedonia into three parts.
Secondly, some of them, in Yugoslav and Greek Macedonia, co-operated with the conquerors in 1940-1944 and mainly with the ethnic relatives of the Bulgarians, even if the latter, with their attitude, quickly abhorred them.
     Thirdly, it is their national narrative that suffers, the original in relation to the Bulgarians (appropriation of the Empire of Samuel, Cyril and Methodius, etc.), in order not to be considered Bulgarians, and the most recent, known as antikvizatzija (antiqueism or dependence). This second distorted national narrative, mainly of the right-wing nationalists, began in the mid-1990s, originally by amateur historians and nationalist politicians who claimed to be of ancient Macedonian origin, namely that they had ancestors like Philip and Alexander the Great. This unrealistic national narrative is popular because of the great prestige it gives them, but it has not completely prevailed and it is criticized by the most serious Macedonian historians and other serious social scientists.
It seems that this trend was born mainly as a reaction to the ultra-Greek attitude and the "hysterical anti-Macedonian campaign of Greece". It responded to Greece's refusal to accept the term Macedonia, and to the exclusivity of the term, with ancient Macedonia being considered Greek, a part of just Greek heritage and national historical narrative and identity. After that, the Slav-Macedonians opposed the exclusive ownership of ancient Macedonia and its symbols by the Greeks. In this way they attempted to strengthen their own claims in the name and in the geographical area, making it a part of their own national heritage and not the Greeks. If Greece, with the protagonists of Samaras, Papathemelis, Marti and other "Macedonian fighters", did not place so much emphasis on Alexander the Great and the ancient Macedonians, if Macedonia and its derivatives were not excluded, then we probably would not have what emerged as a national narrative of the neighboring country, a national narrative that makes the resolution of the name conflict much more difficult. The Greeks shouted that the name "is our soul," but it is also the soul of the "Macedonians" - and perhaps more, because they have very little but their name as an identity. In other words, if for the Greeks it is an important part of their cultural heritage, the Macedonians have their own cultural heritage, regardless of whether this reading is inconsistent with serious historiographical research.
     Although this narrative has no basis - apart from the coincidence of the names "Macedonia" and "Macedonians" - they insist on it, given the unparalleled glamor and the European identity of the ancient Macedonians conferred on them by this national construction: a descendant of the Slavs and another descendant of the European Macedonians who conquered the then-known world. However, the identification of the inhabitants of Greater Macedonia with Alexander the Great has deep roots among the southern Slavs during the 19th century and first appeared in Renaissance written texts in the Republic of Ragusa (today's Dalmatian coast of Croatia). However, more than half the Slav-Macedonians - and clearly the center-left or leftist Slav-Macedonians, starting with Gligorov yesterday, and today with Prime Minister Zaev and Foreign Minister Dimitrov - reject archeology as nonsense and emphasize their Slavic origin and the advent of their Slavic ancestors in the Balkans during the 5th and 6th centuries AD.
     More generally, antiquity and other exaggerated reactions by neighbors are due to insecurity that is all but unjustified. This country, when it became an independent state, felt the threat of neighbors who thought it would dissolve in the immediate future - in the Bulgarian case it would disappear by embracing the "motherland" and joining with it. The questioning was of great caliber as it concerned the language (in terms of Bulgaria and Greece), the church (Yugoslavia-Serbia), the flag (in terms of Greece), the name (in terms of Greece), the nation (in terms of Bulgaria and Greece) and of course the state itself from all three neighbors, partly from the Albanian side because of the Albanians there.
     Finally, the issue of the term Slavic Macedonians (and Macedonian Slavs), which the Greek side has previously proposed, is constantly rejected even though it attributes the identity of this nation, and it has been used in the past (late 19th century and early 20th century) by some intellectuals and activists of this new nation. The rejection of this term by Skopje is made with three arguments: (a) that they themselves have chosen the term Macedonian and Macedonia; (b) that there can be no Slav-Macedonians, as there are no Slav-Poles or Slav-Russians and (c) that this name is accepted by the Albanians in their country for the name of the country to which they belong, as a geographical rather than a national term. As for the third argument, one side (the Albanians) does not use "Macedonia" as the other side means, which by its name denotes its national identity - that is, the nation ("Macedonians") with the state ("Macedonia"). Can the same name mean two different things? As strange as this seems beyond Cartesian logic, it seems to be true, and yet it is accepted by both constituent ethnic communities in Macedonia. Perhaps the case of Spain resembles this paradox, in the sense that the name Spain (which originated from Phoenician and Roman) was later associated, in the Renaissance, with the Castilians, with the Spanish language being the original Castilian, but also to the fact that Spain as the geographical name embraces the other nations of Spain, such as the Basques and the Catalans.
(first publication: XRONOS magazine, 27 January 2018)
[* I use the term Macedonia 'liberally']

From Irakleidis' article, it is clear that there has been a mix of cultures occupying the same land throughout the centuries, a Macedonian salad so to speak. The French call a mixed (frozen) vegetable salad 'macédoine': which can also be made with fruit - the Spanish call this mixed fruit salad 'Macedonia': Now we all know why. The world seems to be laughing at us; either that, or they are just tired of the same old song. Best to stick to food; the next Greek class will focus on ordering souvlaki and frappe.

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Sunday, 21 January 2018


Many many years ago, probably more than 35, some time in the early 80s, I remember a Kiwi woman coming into the fish and chip shop that my parents owned and operated. I happened to be there too, so it can't have been a schoolday. The woman was a customer, not a very regular one, but maybe she felt like some fish and chips that day.

"Are you from Greece?' she asked us. Yes, I answered (the children were always their parents' representatives in the shop).

"Oh, what a coincidence" (no, not really; Greeks were the main owner-operators of fish and chip shops back in those days), my daughter is living in Greece. She met and married a man on the island of Crete."

"Crete?!" my parents exclaimed, their faces lighting up gleefully. "We are from Crete! Which part of Crete does your daughter live in?" they asked.

"Hania," the lady replied.

"Hania?!" my parents cried, not believing what they were hearing. "We are from Hania! Is she living in the town?" they asked.

"No," said the lady, "she's living in a village called KOU-NOU-PI-DEE-AAAAA-NA". 

Split-second pause. "A-ha!" said my parents, but from the look on their face, you could tell that it was not really an a-ha moment; it was more of a shock to their ears, for they could not believe that this city woman's daughter gave up her comfortable urban life to move to a village where water supply was scarce, and there were more goats than people. 

We exchanged more niceties. If I remember correctly, she showed us a photo of her daughter holding her first child, the lady's grandson. When her order was ready, she paid for it and we said goodbye, at the same time wondering whether we would also see her coming into our shop once again, but this time with both her daughter and grandson; you had to be one tough cookie to leave urban life and go live in a goat village.

"The foreigners are taking over our country," said my mother, mindless of the fact that she was an immigrant. "Who would even want to live in Kou-nou-pi-dia-NAAAAA?" said my father. 

Turn the clock ahead four decades. Google Kounoupidiana and you will see no goats. Instead, you will see a whοle new town, whose residents are fully served in terms of any service, public or private, that they may need: schools, doctors, lawyers, sports centres, chemists, churches, shops, houses, apartment blocks, English language schools, confectioners, all the supermarket chains operating on the island. It even has a university, one of the best tertiary institutes in Greece. The 6,500 residents of Kounoupidiana - 8,500 including the 'suburbs' of Kounoupidiana) can easily live in their own little bubble, without even venturing to the central town of Hania, only 10-15 minutes away by car, depending on the traffic - not the four-legged variety, but the four-wheeled.  

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Last night, I met up with Philippa, the woman's daughter, whose life became firmly rooted on the island, despite being a stranger to the Greek world. It wasn't difficult to recognise her, as she reminded me so much of her mother, even after all those years. It's possibly the third time we have seen each other since I moved to Hania. We were at a Kiwi get-together organised by a former Greek Kiwi like myself. Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch Greeks reminisced their time in a faraway land, sharing some moments together. Funnily enough, among the little παρέα that we created, we were nearly all related, each one knowing someone else's relatives and acquaintances, notably our koumbaroi, meaning the primary attendant to the couple in a wedding ceremony or the godparent of one's child(ren). It really was a small world among the Greek diaspora communities of old. 

And while we are on the subject of Kiwi Greek life, I feel as though I have gone through the full Greek circle, having just invested the last remaining Kiwi dollars of my parents' savings (they both died too young to use it themselves) into the coveted - in Greek terms - 'investment property'. My parents both died too young to use their earnings themselves, but I am sure that they will be very proud of what their daughter did, to firmly root her life in our wonderful island. 

Naturally I will be super busy from now on as I work on my new project. Watch this space...

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Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Tinned tomatoes

I've been following the populist 'no more tinned tomatoes' debate that broke out just over a week ago in the New Zealand media, when a women's refuge worker demanded (not just requested) that food donations to the charity should not include tinned tomatoes. The 'Treatise on Tinned Tomatoes and Why They Are Like Books' did not get as much airtime as did the readers' vicious comments about the connection between 'poor people' and tinned tomatoes, which sounded like it was coming from non-Maori/Pasifika (read: white) higher-end middle class New Zealand society. The post (I found a cached version) did not actually villify tinned tomatoes. All the reasons that the writer gave for banning tinned tomatoes were based on solid facts and sound logic. Given that we are just days away before Christmas, it shouldn't be too difficult for most people to see why words like 'tinned' and 'staple foods' don't collocate well with 'Christmas'.

The women's refuge worker claimed that refuges (like food banks) often have many tinned tomatoes in their pantries, often past their due date. Women who use refuges generally don't use tinned tomatoes, nor did the people who raised them, and some of the women who use refuges don't even (know how to) cook. So if you gave those women a choice, they would never even ask for tinned tomatoes. In other words: if a woman cooks with tinned tomatoes, its a cultural thing. Pasifika/Maori women - the main users of women's refuges in NZ - are unlikely to have a cultural background of cooking with tinned tomatoes. Middle class NZ society might be very surprised to discover this: some people just don't use this quintessential global pantry stocker. By judging these women on foreign (to them) cultural terms, ie as good and knowledgeable budgeters ("tinned tomatoes are cheap!", "tinned tomatoes are versatile!"), the 'tinned tomato brigade' can't actually see what these women are feeling when they enter a refuge, ie sadness, depression, shellshock, running away from violence. Coupled with a lack of life skills and literacy skills, being cash strapped, in debt and looking after children, they wouldn't even feel like cooking, let alone cook from scratch: tinned tomatoes usually imply cooking from scratch.

Women who turn to a refuge for help have no family support - if they did, they would not be asking a refuge to help them. The writer made a point of how important it was to help such women get what they wanted, rather than what other people feel they need. In such moments, they want simple comforts: "spaghetti on toast or really simple things, stuff [that can be eaten] straight from a can if needs be".  Donors donate what they think poor people (which does not always mean the same thing as 'women in a refuge') need rather than want: "That’s you putting your values, and your mores, and your cultural prejudices on other people." Offering to teach women how to cook, how to use tinned tomatoes, and any other life skills they may be lacking is all very well, but there's a time and place for everything; when they arrive at a refuge, they need to settle into a new kind of life. Eventually, they may start preparing meals like they used to for themselves and their children; but some of these women may never want to cook, let alone from scratch. So tinned tomatoes are probably never going to be useful for them.

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My old no longer wanted books started this foreign language library at CIHEAM.MAI Chania. Many students use it in their free time, and students also add to the collection.

The writer made the analogy that "tinned tomatoes are a bit like books": just like we don't all cook, we don't all read. While cooking and reading may sound like very basic activities to some people, to others they are not. For some people, cooking and reading are very difficult activities. Giving things to people who need things is not the same as giving people presents: the things you give to people who need things have to be useful things. Giving tinned tomatoes - a very cheap common product - to someone who has never used them is like giving away your old books which you no longer wish to read to people who never read novels. The better off harbour comfortable perceptions about what others should be doing all the time to become better off.

The treastise against tinned tomatoes aroused a storm of comments from both sides of the argument. A (Maori) woman working for another women's refuge added canned chickpeas and canned lentils to the forbidden list of items that refuges didn't want:
"We ask for fresh meat and vegetables and we get beans and lentils. What are our people going to do with chickpeas? Are they going to be making hummus in the safe house? Like tinned tomatoes, chickpeas and lentils have to be cooked and accompanied with other ingredients, using knowledge and supplies that many families [don't] have."
A (white) woman working for a Salvation Army food bank said she was shocked to hear that other charities were turning away tinned tomatoes:
"...the refuges are being a bit fussy... We are very short on things like [tinned] tomatoes... chickpeas and lentils are staples in Salvation Army food parcels given to families at this time of year... The staples are never going to go out of fashion. And hungry families will usually eat anything."
Anything? I doubt it. (And she also put her cultural prejudices into the picture by calling women in refuges hungry.)  Food is incredibly personal and highly cultural. Clearly the Salvation Army is catering for different kinds of people from those entering a women's refuge. People on a low income may also lead a more stable kind of life, not the nomadic existence of a woman fleeing from violence. Processed food is not necessarily the greatest miracle in the food world to make women's lives easier; having someone doing all the bloody cooking for you is even better than buying, carrying, storing, preparing and cooking food yourself. We don't all have that luxury of a private home cook; this usually happens when you are very wealthy or if you live in a cultural setting where one of the household's women (eg the grandmother) will prepare meals for all the family members, who may be working out of the home, or have been assigned other tasks. As mentioned above, if a woman has this kind of family support, she would not be asking a refuge to help keep her safe in the first place.

Snails and xinohondro - highly acquired Cretan tastes!

As I was following the discussion in the media, what really struck me was how unlikely it is among these refuges that someone will be cooking something for someone else, so that those people who need a decent meal (especially children) would find something that wasn't full of sugar/fat/salt (read: snack-type ready-to-eat highly-processed, eat-from-the-packet kind of food). It is already obvious that a lot of the people using these services don't have many life skills needed in order to maintain a healthy standard. So why not have someone cooking something on a regular basis, which can be served up to everyone and is also healthy and comforting? Some of the commentators mentioned that they would like to do such a thing as a cook-up, where some of the meals produced can be frozen for emergency moments. I think that the answer to this question will bring to the fore a host of other social issues that will be difficult to resolve.

It seems to have escaped people's notice that a lot of people in highly advanced countries like New Zealand are too busy to cook these days. This doesn't apply just to people in difficult situations. Most people in advanced countries spend their time in many creative ways, which often include doing things away from the home. And when they do have free time, they spend it more leisurely. Cooking is not a leisure activity when you are thinking about how to feed a family. It's a chore.

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Lentil (φακές - left) and bean (φασολάδα - right) stew/soup - it depends on how much water you add.

Cooking for others, cooking with tomatoes and cooking with beans are therefore all very culturally based. In truth, I cook tomato-based bean dishes not because they are the yummiest thing imaginable, but because I have to feed a family, and beans are a pretty good quick cheap choice of food which can be prepared the night before, by the working woman in the household. (I am doing this right now as I write: a pot of lentil stew is boiling away on the stove. It should be ready before midnight. No, I don't use a pressure cooker.) This is not to say that a woman living in New Zealand from the Maori/Pasifika cultures cannot do the same thing for her family as a Greek or Indian woman (two cultures which use beans a lot in their daily diet); she doesn't do this simply because it's not part of her culture. She could be taught to do something like this - but if it was never part of your culture to prepare food in this way, learning to do this kind of chore is very difficult in modern times, when people are generally being 'taught' to treat food as a commodity: you buy/eat food when it's time to eat, or when you're hungry, or maybe to comfort you - and it's all ready prepared by someone else, and - generally speaking - you will generally cook when you feel like it. What may have been part of the food culture of a Maori/Pasifika woman fifty years ago has now changed, due to her translocation - due both to internal and external migration - into a highly advanced society headed and directed by non-Maori/Pasifika leaders. No matter how settled a woman in New Zealand who has turned to a refuge becomes, she is unlikely to revert to a less processed-food daily diet.

*** *** *** 

The 'tinned toms' discussion that ensued tells us much more about comfort food, processed food, and the act of cooking, than it does about how to use tinned tomatoes. The following can be implied:
- Comfort food is ready-to-eat food
- Cooking is for people who lead stable lives
- Canned chickpeas and lentils are the kinds of food that connoisseurs, health-freaks, vegetarians, vegans (and generally other 'smart-farts') know about (and eat)
- Certain cultural groups eat a lot of chickpeas and lentils, so they will know what to do with them
- Certain classes of people - especially those whose lives are less complicated - have the chance to be more adventurous in their food experiences
- Canned food (eg chickpeas and lentils) is for poor people
- Canned tomatoes are useful in a home where the act (which is now often considered an art) of cooking can actually take place (read: you have a kitchen, a stove/oven, AND you can afford to pay the electricity/gas bills)
... inter alia.

Canned tomatoes - and muuuuuuuuch more recently canned beans, but never ever canned lentils, except at LIDL when it's having a 'Spanish week' - are highly popular among Greek food banks and especially in soup kitchens. They are cheap and easy to work with. They make quick filling meals. A heated tin of tomatoes could quite possibly be poured over some boiled pasta. BUT: If this was never part of your culinary repertoire, then you will not eat it, let alone know how to make it. Culinary knowledge in western countries has passed into the realms of mystery, while things like chickpeas and lentils are considered food for the poor - or food for cultured. Even Greeks will acknowledge that beans are cheap and that's why the eat them.  Most Greek women with a family (including me) will cook up a bean dish once a week on a week-day, de rigeur.

I can't actually imagine any working Greek woman with a family here in Crete not cooking up a bean dish at least 2-3 times a month, but this is based on cultural norms. Greeks may have become impoverished - but still, there is much truth in saying that theirs is a dignified kind of poverty. We can have our cake and eat it, because we know how to make the cake. Greek identity these days often implies food knowledge. Recent Greek emigrants due to the economic crisis often end up working in their own food-based business. Their family background is not necessarily middle class. They rarely realise the superiority of their culinary skills because until they leave Greece, they do not realise that there are people out there who lack such knowledge. They are also astounded to learn that most people in highly advanced societies watch cooking shows and buy cookery books - but they rarely cook meals: most of their food will have been prepared by someone else, for them to heat and eat.

It's still not very common to see soaked ready-to-use chickpeas (let alone lentils) in Greek supermarkets; on the other hand, there is a plethora of dried beans on the shelves. If such canned products were presented to a Greek woman, and she was asked to produce something on the spot with them, I don't think she'd have much trouble producing a hot comforting meal in little time. All you need to make classic Greek φακές (lentil stew) and ρεβιθάδα (chickpea stew) are tomatoes, beans and water; if you add some minced onion and garlic, salt and pepper, your soup/stew - depending on the amount of water you add - will taste nicer. A hot bean soup made with canned tomatoes makes great comfort food - and it tastes better the next day.

Puttanesca is one of the quickest things I can cook from scratch 

Tinned tomatoes are often hailed as a food processing miracle by media cooks:
"The larder is worryingly bare when you've run out of tinned tomatoes. They are the cook's comfort blanket, the progenitor of any number of soups, sauces, stews and braises... Tomatoes are the best source of the carotenoid pigment lycopene. Some studies suggest it can help prevent prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. Tomatoes are an interesting exception to the rule that cooking food reduces or destroys valuable micronutrients: lycopene is better absorbed when it has been heated, either during processing or cooking, as the heat turns the molecule into more useful isomers. Tomatoes provide significant amounts of bone-strengthening vitamin K, and some research suggests that lycopene also supports bone health. Many studies link tomatoes with heart benefits, and although the mechanisms aren't yet clear, the antioxidant vitamins C and E in them, along with lycopene, seem to slow down the processes that would eventually cause heart disease."
An old photo of my pantry - these days I prefer to freeze our bumper summer tomato harvest.

In short, a pantry full of tinned tomatoes and chickpeas and lentils symbolises domestic wisdom, happiness and prosperity. But this is something that is not within the sight of a woman fleeing to a refuge with just her kids and the clothes they're all wearing. They'd rather be having some tea and toast, and maybe something sweet, like chocolate biscuits, to bump up their spirits. In other words, they want the same things you want. I highly doubt that the average citizen of a highly advanced society is eating tinned chickpeas or lentils cooked in tinned tomatoes on a daily, let alone weekly basis. We all want variety.

When buying "food for the poor", we really need to think about what we ourselves like to eat rather than what we think poor people 'should' be eating. Better still, charities can tell you what they need because they know who they're supplying. It's even better to give them money (they are likely to make better deals with suppliers), so they can do the appropriate shopping for that tiny segment of society that is rarely visible to the majority. Especially now before Christmas, to make it a merry one, skip that bloody canned food. As the Greek saying goes:
Φάτε τώρα που το βρήκατε, γιατί αύριο έρχεται η φακή.
(Eat now that you have good food, because the lentils are coming tomorrow.)

More articles on Greek food banks and soup kitchens:

All quotes come from the following links:

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