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TAXI SERVICE, for all your holiday needs while you are travelling in Hania. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, maybe we can help you out. For quotes and prompt service, drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Friday, 25 November 2016

Cheats' Haniotiko Boureki

I ran into a couple of girlfriends in the supermarket the other day. By friends, I mean real friends, not the ad hoc kind we make on facebook. 'Ελα ντε that they are also on facebook and we are friends there too, which explains how they knew what I had been cooking recently.

"What a great boureki you made!" said one girlfriend.
"I wish I'd thought of making it like that!" said the other girlfriend.

Boureki is a very common favorite family recipe in Hania. (See my basic recipe here: While I was trying to remember how I made the last one we ate, and why it seemed to impress my friends so much, it occurred to me that I 'faked' it a little, by using 'cheap' ingredients.

"Did the family like it?" said one girlfriend.
"Did they notice the difference?" said the other girlfriend.

My husband noticed something different ("I prefer it without the pastry, the way you usually make it"), but my kids actually preferred it to my usual boureki, because it had a crunchier texture. But the family still doesn't know about the substitutions I made to the basic recipe, and they didn't seem to realise that I had made any. I don't intend to tell them, either. The boureki just looked different.

The whole issue could be phrased as a 'man' problem:
"My husband's always complaining that I don't buy mizithra much these days," said one girlfriend.
"When I refuse to mizithra, he goes out and buys it himself - and in bulk! Can you imagine what kind of money he's spending?" said the other girlfriend.

This will probably all sound like not so big a deal to most of my readers, but clearly for me and my girlfriends, it is. We can now draw some conclusions - among the three of us, despite our different age, socio-economic class, occupation and education, the three of us have many shared traits:
1. our families are quintessentially Greek, and their behavioural trends are more or less similar,
2. our husbands have fixed notions of what traditional Greek dishes are supposed to be made of, how they are supposed to look, what they are supposed to taste like,
3. our cooking habits are very similar,
4. we place a similar importance on ensuring that our families eat home-cooked healthy food,
5. our financial situations have changed over the last few years towards the worse.

It is this last point in particular that was really the basis of the conversation. We all know how to make a boureki, but it didn't occur to all of us how we can make it cheaply, without causing a domestic argument over the kitchen table. Differences in taste are immediately spotted by well trained eaters. Some are more open to variations, while others are not. (Look how well trained my family are, for instance: ) So you need to use all your powers of deceptiveness if you want to fool them.

It occurs to me that Cretan mizithra is difficult to find both in other parts of Greece and the rest of the world. So my latest version of the recipe for Haniotiko Boureki should prove very useful. Here are some useful tips on faking it:
- when you buy cheap ingredients, make sure to hide them in the fridge where your fussier members of the family can't see them,
- if some family members have a tendency to search the darker corners of the fridge (mine doesn't), then you should take off the packaging material and leave no label visible, repackaging the items in plain plastic bags,
- prepare meals when no one's looking,
- if anyone comments about how the meal feels/tastes/looks different to what it usually looks like, fake it even more by saying that you made it the same way that you usually do, by saying something like: "maybe the zucchini tastes different because it's out of season" (which it almost is at the moment), or "hm, the potatoes must be old" (they don't have a due by date, do they?). Just don't mention the substitutes (cheese in my boureki's case).
- if anyone insists that the boureki was made in a different way even though you say it wasn't, ask them to cook the next meal: you just provide them with the ingredients. This last one always works for me.

All over the western world, everybody's living standards are falling. So in effect, everyone is in crisis these days. Some of us are simply better at coping, like me an' my girlfriends. Just ask them.

I don't have much time these days for blog writing because I am incredibly busy at work (which basically means I am not unemployed, which is a good thing these days). I put up long posts on my facebook profile instead. Come and join me there if you like: 

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Tuesday, 8 November 2016

People waiting!

All quotes and film excerpts come from "America America" (1963), by Elia Kazan, a Greek-American director, producer, writer and actor.
(Watch it here:

America is having her day today. Following the rage, through the media that has overtaken the whole world concerning the US elections, I can't help feeling a little heartened that Greece is not alone in having to make a bad choice about who to elect democratically to rule the country. The US elections have been revealing to the world the Emperor who wasn't wearing any clothes. Our world is very transparent now, and we are suddenly realising that politics is about grabbing hold of power by giving people just enough of what they want so that they feel that politicians really care about them. But they are lying. Politicians really don't care about you, they just care about holding onto power, as has clearly emerged with the ruling party in Greece. The UK is also another great example: by charging along with its agenda, with complete disregard for the country's judicial system, the Conservative party is making even non-conservatives believe in them, in their own attempt to hold power. It's all a case of giving everyone just a little bit of what they want, at just the right time. But it has come at a price:
"... the day came, here in Anatolia, as every place where there is oppression, people began to question, there were bursts of violence, sudden and reckless, people began to wonder, and some to search for another homeland.

These words set the opening scene in Elia Kazan's "America America" (1963), set in 1896, in the cave dwellings of Cappadocia, in what is now modern Turkey. The United States has changed in many ways since the time period that the film was set in, but 120 years later, we find that the oppressed, like all those around the world, are again questioning, and this is accompanied by violence, while people are wondering not so much about a new homeland - we have discovered all the earthly ones - but what our homelands have become.
I'm going away... far away... to America! ... Hear me! You are my last hope.
If the world has turned full circle and everything that can be discovered has been discovered, then we have no more work to do here any longer. The working class is over - throughout the developed world, it has morphed into an employed class and an unemployed class. For perhaps the first time in a century, a lot of people are looking to the past instead of the future, in order to try to find a way out of this deadlock, and be 'great' again..
Τ’ αστέρι του βοριά θα φέρει η ξαστεριά - The clear skies will bring the star of the north
μα πριν φανεί μέσα από το πέλαγο πανί - but before it appears through the ocean, like a sheet, 
θα γίνω κύμα και φωτιά να σ’ αγκαλιάσω ξενιτιά - I'll turn into waves and fire to embrace a foreign land
Κι εσύ χαμένη μου Πατρίδα μακρινή - And you, my wasted distant homeland
θα γίνεις χάδι και πληγή σαν ξημερώσει σ’ άλλη γη - You will become a caress to the wound, as dawn rises in another land.
Can we really go back in time and let history be our guide to the future?
I don't want to be my father! I don't want to be your father! I don't want a good family life! A good family life? All those good people stay here and live in this shame! The church goers that give to the poor - they live in this shame! Respectable ones, polite ones with good manners! But I am going! No matter how! No matter! No matter! I am going!
But people have always found new solutions for all the problems that arise in the present time - as long as we have our health.
As of tomorrow, I will get one of those top hats that the Americans wear.
It's the bottom line; if you don't have that, you have nothing.
I have been beaten, robbed, shot, left for dead. I have eaten the sultan's garbage, and driven the dogs off to get at it. I became a hamal... but now I am here. Do you imagine anyone will be able to keep me out?
But you also need to have hope, and a lot more patience.
He saved himself... America America! He saved himself.

In some ways, our different worlds all seem alike now.
In some ways, it's not different here... But let me tell you one thing. You have a new chance here. For everyone that is able to get here, there is a fresh start. So get ready, you're all coming
But we continue to believe that we differ immensely form one another, and that there really is some kind of light at the end of the tunnel which will lead to utopia.
Come on, you! Let's go, you! People waiting!
We're all waiting, but we really don't know what we are waiting for.
I think you and I, all of us, have some sort of stake in the United States. If it fails, the failure will be that of us all. Of mankind itself. It will cost us all. . . . I think of the United States as a country which is an arena and in that arena there is a drama being played out. . . . . I have seen that the struggle is the struggle of free men. (Ciment, Michel (ed.) Elia Kazan: An American Odyssey, Bloomsbury Publ. U.K. (1988) p. 231; from Wikipedia)

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Thursday, 27 October 2016


Starbucks - its not just about the coffee.

This is my first time at Starbucks in Hania. Apart from Starbucks, the only other international branded food outlet we have is Dominos pizza. Perhaps this is the reason why I never tried Starbucks before: because I am a snob. I'm into my small and local and I shy away from the large and international. Besides, I've heard and read all the bad stories about Starbucks on the news and social media: they serve standard coffee, it is expensive, the company doesnt pay taxes, etc. I decided to try it out for myself today.

Starbucks Hania

I choose the cappuccino. Safe choice. That caramel brownie also looks tempting. And so does the last outdoor free table. I sit al fresco under a dull grey sky that looks like it's going to rain (the weather forecast was only joking - we haven't seen real rain since March), and a stagnant humid feeling - summer may be over, but the warm weather is still with us. 

Starbucks cappuccino and caramel brownie  

The Venetian port is crawling with young Americans. LA long vowels, NY nasals, Southern drawls. Baseball caps and capri shorts, crew cuts and shaved faces, very white faces and very black faces. Both males and females. And for the males, icky-looking socks pulled up to the mid-shin height, with trainers. It was kind of difficult to find any news on the web about what these Americans were doing here. The USS WASP LHD-1 ( is in town ( no less than nine days, taking a break from its 'six-month tour of the Middle East' (as Wikipedia claims), purely for the pleasure of the crew, and presumably on the President's orders. Hania is nice for breaks. That's probably why the rain is holding out - to make the 1000+ crew members' holiday as pleasurable as possible. 

"We promise the perfect drink. If your drink is not like you want it, we'll make it again."

I'm about to take a sip of my coffee when I overhear the American man sitting behind me all alone talking to what sounds like his family: 
"How are you all?... I can't wait to come home... I know, I know, I miss you too, honey... Love you..."
It sounded just like an American movie. But it wasn't a movie, it was being played out right behind me. My heart broke at that point. he hadn't seen his family since... June, if I'm correct. 

Still no rain: apparently, priests in the Orthodox Church of Greece have begun chanting incantations. 

If only the President - both present and future - could hear that man. I wish him a safe journey home to his loved ones, and hopefully soon.
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Friday, 7 October 2016

Bargains galore

We recently decided that we need new sofas. Our old ones have been with us since we got married, and they have been through all the phases of of our children's childhood, which includes being peed on, vomited all over, and being used as a trampoline. I remember my son in particular, sprinting up to the sofa, crouching to do a little jump, turning his body in mid-air as he performed his somersault and landing -PFAFFFFFF!- onto the sofa. At the time I was worried he might hurt himself. Over time, I realised that he was hurting my bum, as it sank into the underside of the sofa. Now is a good time to change the sofas, we decided, since the kids are almost no longer kids, and these phases are over for the time being. We did think about adding some more padding to our old sofas, but we also felt that it was time for a new look in our house. 

We like to lie on our sofas and watch TV movies as a family, and the sofas in that state are really no good for that. Not only that, but we also discovered during the summer that it would be nice if we could invest in some sofa beds because we had a lot of friends and family staying over at our house. At one point, there were ten of us staying in the house, using three bathrooms. Everyone slept on beds, not the sofas. By investing in sofa-beds, we could even airbnb our house. OK, that's a joke. But, really, you never know: There was a huge surge in tourism this year, at least in Crete, as we felt it here. We keep breaking records in that sector, and the way the world is going, no one really can make predictions for what could be happening next year. 

So here we are, wondering where our next sofa is going to come from. We had some ideas about where we could go. The easiest solution was to go first to the furniture store near our house. It's Friday night, and we enter a very quiet store. As soon as we entered, the owners turned on the lights for us. We explained what we wanted. 

- Alas, the owner said. I sold the last sofa bed a month ago. It was a shop sample. But I've ordered a new sample. It'll be here some time in mid-November. 

Mid-November! We wondered how difficult it was going to be to find something we wanted without resorting to the internet. Sofas, among many other things, are try-before-you-buy items. 

- I used to have half a dozen of these sofa beds in my storage area, the owner continued. But now with the crisis, people don't buy things like they used to. We'll be lucky if we can sell something like that now once or twice a year. That's why we don't store them any longer. People are really hard up these days; mark my words, yo will see many shops closing down before the year is out. 

The owner's saga wasn't really helping us achieve our aim. Out of interest, we asked how much the sofa bed would cost. We probably looked like zombies when we heard the price: €1600. It was made in Italy. 
We left the store feeling quite dejected. 

We then went to another store, where we had bought our children's computer desks a few years ago when we renovated their rooms. Now this store was quite different from the other one. It was crowded with stock, people were coming and going, and it was hard to find an assistant, because they were all busy with prospective customers. When it was finally our turn to be served, the young woman showed about half a dozen sofa beds of various kinds and sizes, and at varying price levels, half of which were made in Greece. Among those sofa bed models, we saw some that were just what we were looking for, and they were all really well priced: the ones we liked cost up to €400 each! We asked how long it would take to have them made up and delivered to us. 

- We've got a dozen in stock in the basic colours. We can deliver them tomorrow if you like. 

What a change form the other store! We took measurements, checked colours and decided on a weekend delivery when we would all be home.

*** *** ***

The difference between the two stores could be stated on a simple level as 'cheap shop' and 'expensive shop'. But there is also the question of 'image': the former offers 'Italian design', while the latter offers 'well-priced quality'. I will admit that marketing strategies don't really help struggling Greek businesses in Greece in general, because people don't have much money to spare: they don't have much disposal income. But if the small Greek businesses want to survive, they need to find a way to diversify so to speak. They may have to drop the 'luxury' image that they may once have had, because people nowadays prefer to sacrifice image for comfort. They may also need to change location, because some places simply don't spin money. The same barely surviving business just might do well in another area by selling similar products that people can afford rather than high-end products. 

In Athens, Ermou St once again has become a shopping destination. Even in Hania, shopping locations have really changed over the crisis period. We now have an established 'high street'. It started off with 'big names like Zara, Bershka and Pull and Bear opening in the same area, presumably all franchises are operated by one business, under different names. Sounds multi-corporate? Yes, but it's had an incredible effect on the local business life. Z, B and P&B brought in other lesser known names like Jennyfer (French), Stradivarius (Spanish) and only just recently, Pink Woman (Greek). And it is helping small local-brand stores in the following way: the small shops (eg one-euro stores, traditional cheese suppliers etc, frozen food warehouses, major coffee supplies stores, etc) began extending their shopping hours, and opening on afternoons when shops in Greece were traditionally closed (eg Monday and Wednesday afternoons) because the big shops were bringing in the customers. So now, we have all-day shopping in Hania, despite the cries of shopkeepers about low trade, falling profits and poor consumers. What's more, even foreigners use our high street. It's really quite interesting watching tourists shop at our big brand outlets - they must have the same shops in their own countries, so we wonder what they like about them: perhaps our stores are cheaper, perhaps also our stores stock designs that theirs don't. 

In a recent survey, it was noted that Greeks spend on average €1419 per month (per household, I think), compared to about €1460 per month the previous year: that sounds quite healthy if you consider that we are supposed to be earning low salary/wages. We spend on food (20,7%) housing (13,3%) και transportation (12,8%), the lowest on education (3,3%), where we used to spend 11% in 2014. 11 out of 12 sectors show a decrease in spending, with the lowest being 1.1% in holidays and 'culture'. The only category that shows a rise is health (1,2%), probably due to people not trusting the state system. The holidays sector stats are very interesting: another survey shows that there has been a 75% increase in Greeks buying online holiday packages: we're becoming so European in our ways!!!

Apart from travel tickets, I rarely shop from the internet these days. Nearly everything I need is available at a local store in my small Mediterranean island town. I hunt down bargains, I always prefer credit card payments to cash, and I've even worked out where to get souvlaki by credit card. Both Greek consumers and business people have woken up so to speak. In the meantime, we are so looking forward to getting those sofas delivered. 

I'd like to show you some photos of the high street, so I'll update this post in the not too distant future. Meanwhile, here are some nice photos of what the Venetian harbour looked like yesterday, when I had an hour to kill between finishing work and picking up the kids from their afternoon activities. 

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Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Man on the Bench

Last Friday evening was very humid. The temperature reading in the car showed 28C at 7pm. Sweat poured down my back as I trudged through the town, laden with my shopping: chickpea flour, my new sunglasses, a 10-pack of school notebooks, school diaries for the kids, and I hadn't quite finished yet. It was getting dark, and my clothes were sticking to my skin. I felt the need to rest a minute or two, so I sat down on the bench pictured below.

There was a man sitting on the bench on the opposite side from me. He paid no attention to me. We were both, in effect, resting on the bench. I laid my shopping bags around me, and opened my handbag to take out my cellphone. The Man on the Bench was smoking. A closed bottle of water and an open can of coca-cola were set on the bench next to him. There was also a transparent plastic bag near him, sealed at the top, whose contents looked like plastic cutlery, two slices of bread and a single-use white plastic pot with a lid, whose contents were probably food from a soup kitchen. He was, perhaps, wearing a few too many items of clothing for the weather at that moment.

I don't know if he was homeless. He might have been. Homeless people are highly visible in Greek cities from my own experiences, but because of the good weather in the summer, they can make do with less stuff, they can sit virtually anywhere without worrying too much about being moved on by the authorities, and they act in a way that I would call 'normal', ie they don't look too different from non-homeless people. So in many cases, you won't realise that they are homeless.

Both the Man on the Bench and I were fully aware of each other, but we carried on with our own business, not bothering each other. I felt like giving him some money... but he wasn't asking for it. What right did I have to treat him like a homeless beggar? I sat on the bench for just enough time to get back my energy. As I picked up my bags and stood up to leave, the Man on the Bench spoke:

- Can you spare 50 cents? he asked me. Of course I could! I put down my shopping bags, opened my handbag, found my purse, and got out some my small change.

- Here you are, I said. He smiled and said thank you. I had just picked up my shopping bags and was turning to leave when I heard him speak again:

- May God look after you and your family.

I thanked him for that, and went off onto my next chore.

The homeless of Hania, numbering about 25-40 people, mainly men, are provided with shelter in children's summer camp facilities during the winter. Last winter, a bus picked them up from the shelter, took them into the town, where the homeless like to socialise, and a bus was arranged at a pickup stop to take them back at night. Some of the homeless don't like this setup and they prefer to sleep on benches; no one can force them to go to the shelter if they don't want to. Unlike what I have heard about the homeless in the US and other European cities, the homeless of Greece are not hidden away from society during the day. Because homeless people suffer from other problems (eg alcoholism), they don't all get through life easily, like Thomas Deligiannis, a well known homeless man in Hania, who died earlier this month.

It's not quite winter yet, which is why the Man on the Bench came to my mind today, when we had our first torrential downpour since February, coming somewhat unexpectedly. I hope he's OK.

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