Monday, 23 February 2015

Koulouma (Κούλουμα)

It's the start of Great Lent, and the holiday allowed me to make the most of the day. Traditional food marking this event in the religious calendar includes shellfish - no meat or animal protein is eaten on this day.


First things first, taramosalata, using a salty cod roe, freshly processed breadcrumbs from stale bread, lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil.


As bloodless seafood is a mainstay of the day, I cooked some shrimps, in the easiest way possible to let me enjoy the day:  Take some headless shrimp, deveined and frozen. Wash them to get rid of most of the ice, then place in a shallow frying pan with minced onion and a good sprinkling of fresh aromatic herbs (I used Cretan wild greens picked up from my recent shopping trip to the Saturday street market, at the λαϊκή). Heat the pan and cook, straining off the liquids and adding a little lemon juice, a little red wine and some olive oil (and salt) to taste. Cook till the skin is crispy - you will be able to eat the skin too.


The rest of the meal consisted of fresh vegetables prepared as hot or cold salad: freshly boiled beetroot (with the leaves, which Greeks love to prepare as a hot salad), freshly prepared shredded cabbage salad, sliced avocado, freshly boiled potatoes, and some pickled vegetables.


The bread of the day is flat lagana. We buy two differnt kinds, to last us throughout the week. It was the case in the past that this bread went stale quickly, but times have changed - bakers have changed their recipe, and lagana stays fresh longer...


Although the weather looked promising in the morning, by lunchtime it was raining and remained so throughout the day, which cancelled our plans for a walk to the Ayious Apostolous beach which is popular on this day for kite flying. Many people were more daring than us: the beach area was full of kite-flyers.

The meal was finished off with some store-bought halva. The total cost of the meal is much more than what a home-made lunch meal usually costs, the most costly items being 800g shrimps 12€, 150g cod roe 4€, and lagana at 6€ a piece. As we say, it's only once a year.

Kali Sarakosti!

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Thursday, 19 February 2015

Staying in control (while others panic)

You've probably heard me say the same things before, about three years ago when Greece faced another Grexit crisis. We're experienced in these things now. 

"In central bank circles it was discussed why the Greek government had not yet introduced capital controls. The Governing Council and the Governing banking supervisors would feel better if there were capital controls to prevent bleeding of the banks." (Translated from this German link).

I'm no longer worried about when Greece runs out of money, as this is already a well established fact about Greece, a country so desperate to find money from anywhere it can, that it's practically begging (non)tax payers to pay their taxes, by allowing people with unpaid tax dues up to 31.12.2103 to pay just 50% of what they owe if they pay half what they owe up front (or: they can pay whatever they can, and the same amount will be forgiven, while the remainder can be paid in small amounts over a long period of time). As for those who paid all their tax dues on time, like myself, well, they can revel in the knowledge that they simply don't owe anything, it's that simple. (So if you are the 'paying' kind of person, you are the true loser; if you were a true believer of the ΔΕΝ ΠΛΗΡΩΝΩ movement, you  have just been vindicated.)

I wish Greece had introduced capital controls ages ago as it only seems sensible. (My husband says that the reason it hasn't is because we live in a very democratic country - there is no other explanation.) I no longer care if I run out of money - I just don't want to run out of food; it's time for me to stock up on pantry basics. Voting in a new government has resulted in people being irresponsible about how to handle money, and we often hear them blaming Germany for everything that went wrong in Greece. It's hard for me to like the new government when I am surrounded by spoilt-brat behaviour and misled rhetoric.

Our wood supply is protected from the
weather with all sorts of bricabrac
.
As long as no one takes the food
out of our mouth, we shall never starve.
Let's take a moment to imagine that capital controls to stop people taking money out of the bank are finally put in place overnight, just before the upcoming three-day weekend celebrating Kathara Deftera (Clean Monday, the first day of Great Lent before Christian Orthodox Easter):

We buy onions
every summer
in braids which
last nearly all year.
Don't look at the brown
bits on the cauliflower.
Boiling water blanches
them.
I've got plenty of beans in the pantry, some sorry-looking (due to the weather) broccoli, cauliflower and spinach that needs to be picked, plenty of onions, garlic and spices for flavour, and enough pasta and rice for bulk. I'm running out of flour, which is very important for me as I make a pie every week. I've just stocked up on some protein (from the German discounter supermarket chain LIDL, who gives Greeks what they want: apart from cheap imported food, they also sell cheap made-in-Greece food), and I also remembered to buy some petfood - our dog and cat have to eat too! There's plenty of wood for the heater till this temporary freeze goes away. I may not be able to buy petrol for the car if I can't use my credit card, which means that I will have to work from home, or simply take time off work. I've been wanting to do that for a long time.

Work at home is the same as in the office.
But I'm definitely not stocking up on cash. I hate cash. I can't stand the idea of taking money out of the bank just to make myself vulnerable to burglary, attacks, etc, which has already happened to others: a couple was robbed of 60,000 euro in mainland Greece, and only last weekend an elderly couple was murdered in a remote village in Hania, all because they were known to be keeping large stashes of cash in their house.

Reduced and non-reduced chicken wings.
It's not a war with starvation, blood and bullets, but it's definitely a war, and I know I'm one of the innocent victims, along with many other ordinary people like myself. Take for example the Bulgarian man in the supermarket who saw me picking up the last two sticker-special packets of chicken wings. He asked me if there were any more with a 30% reduction sticker, and when we realised that there weren't, I gave him one of the packets, so we could share the savings, and when he wasn't watching, I picked up another packet of chicken wings at the full price. That's what I call solidarity. I could have made another early morning trip to the supermarket to see if there were any more discounted chicken wings, but who wants to fight through the last-minute shopping rush before Clean Monday?

Clean Monday?! Oh gawd, the shellfish. I may not feel the need to buy or eat it myself (the family doesn't call me Merkel for nothing), but the rest of the brood won't be too happy to hear that we will be eating beans again. Another shopping trip is in order after all, in order to contain the masses, and maintain an appearance of being in control. Now, where do I find cheap seafood and halva*?

*LIDL sells cheap halva and seafood, but we are used to higher quality in this line of goods, since we rarely buy them.

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Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Hoxha the Greek

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, communism declined all over Europe, and people from communist countries were able to move freely. At this point, many citizens of former communist countries entered Greece, whose borders never really needed controlling during the communist era: Greece was surrounded by the sea in the south which created a natural border that was difficult to navigate, with Turkey in the East and Italy in the West, countries whose politics never targeted Greece from the migration aspect, and finally the communist countries in the north, who guarded their own borders for their own purposes. But when communism began to lose favour and free movement was granted, Greece was an obvious choice for Eastern Europeans (as we often label the citizens of former communist countries), and since 1990, many Eastern Europeans, primarily Albanians, are a permanent fixture of Greek demographics. But a whole generation has passed since then, and immigrants' children have been born/raised in Greece: the Albanian in Greece is now a Greek Albanian.

I've written before about Albanian people in Crete. 25 years down the track, we are talking about a second generation of Albanians who have been born and/or educated here, and they are now creating the third generation of Greek Albanians. Despite being born in Greece though, their citizenship status still creates problems for them in terms of official documents, and they remain a kind of Hellenic alien. The previous government was set to recognise some rights of second generation immigrants, but this is now being vetoed by the present government's coalition partner (who says that it may show preference in recognising the third generation - and so the chase goes on).

The second and third immigrant generation has essentially grown up and been educated in Greece. They speak Greek perfectly, without an accent, and they do not stand out among the general population, given that Greeks come in similar shapes, colours and sizes as they do. Despite the subtle differences between Greeks and Albanians in terms of their appearance (they tend to be shorter, paler and slimmer than Greeks, and they sometimes dress differently), Greek Albanians are thoroughly assimilated, and can be found in all sectors of society, save one: the public service, which in Greece is still reserved for 'real' Greeks.

The way that Albanians have assimilated in Greek society reveals a lot about Greek society itself. I'll use a few examples of Albanian people I know and have contact with, who show 'typical' Greek societal traits. My Albanian contacts are simply copying society:

1. My daughter recently came home feeling rather grumpy, after we told her that she couldn't stay longer than 9pm at a Sunday night party at a friend's house. "But the party hasn't even started!" she complained. The next day was a school day and the start of a new working week. Didn't her Albanian friend's parents know this? I'm sure they did. But this is just how the average Greek in their neighbourhood holds parties.

2. An Albanian friend recently told me that he is no longer sure about his legal status in Greece. He had a resident's permit, but during one of the least stable political periods of Greece in 2012, he stopped paying his social welfare contributions - like many Greeks - given the lack of monitoring. But now that the system has caught up the non-payers, he owes a lot of money - like many Greeks - and if he doesn't pay it, he will be asked to leave the country - unlike his Greek counterparts, because they are living in their own country.

3. My husband recently picked up an Albanian from the police station, where he had spent two nights in a cell. His crime: driving without having a driver's licence. Driving without a licence was quite common in Greece, up until the law came down harder on unlicensed drivers, albeit relatively recently, and now the general rule is that people will not risk it. This man has been living in Crete for more than a decade, is married and has three children. He had no legal status in Greece. but this was not a problem when the law was lenient, and he was just doing what other Greek citizens were also doing. Now that it's harsher, he finds himself in great difficulty, much greater than the average Greek: legalising his status in this country will require a lot of money.




The crisis is said to have taken its toll on all residents of Greece, irrespective of their background, and many Greek Albanians have had to reassess their existence, in the same way as other Greeks, in their country of birth. For many Albanians born in Greece, Greece remains their homeland in most senses, even food-wise, as can be seen from the highly authentic looking Greek food, prepared, cooked and sold in North London, by Albanian-Greeks.

The arrangement of the food in this cosy-looking takeaway restaurant has little to differentiate it from the typical Greek mayirio found all over the country. In fact, it felt like I was looking at the dishes on display in the Agora of my own hometown. The reviews of the restaurant attest to its Greek authenticity - but the facebook site is quite telling of a different story. The names in the likes and comments are not at all Greek.


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Thursday, 12 February 2015

Two bags full

My brief annual spells in Athens (one weekend in winter, assisting a local sports club to manage their team) take me to the same places. Unfortunately, I don't see much of the city of Athens at all, which is a shame, because last weekend was such a sunny one, and Athens would have been in her best form under all that sunshine. If I look at things from the outside, then the sky, the buildings, the people, the roads, the metro... they will look much like they looked the last time I was there. They don't change much at all. To see what is different, you need to 'read between the lines' in order to comprehend the fuller story.

These two bags full of Greek pastries like tiropita, tsoureki, stafidopsomo, and other delicious-looking bread/filo-based treats will look very tempting to most people.
But the pastries were stale - I could tell just by looking at them, as they remained so rigid in that flexible plastic bag. They were badly packaged and some were broken, before they had even been placed in the bag. If they had been bought, they would have all been placed carefully into appropriately sized bags with the bakery's logo - more than two, that's for sure - with a paper napkin wrapped around each one, and a few other napkins placed in the bag.

The man carrying the bags was standing in front of me on the ilektriko*. He had hopped in at one stop, and hopped off the next one, which gave me a very short period of time to observe him. His clothes were dirty, and they smelled. No doubt, he was picking up some food from a place where he knew he would find it. I don't think he would be eating it all himself - he was really quite slim. Because the bags were so full, I presume that he had not eaten any of the contents yet. He was probably taking the bags to some place where there would be others to share it with, people in the same position as himself.

I suppose it's a fair comment to make if I say that he would not be going hungry today. But I can't guarantee that he (or the company that he keeps) is not homeless.

*ilektriko - the oldest metro line in Athens, running south-north from the port of Pireas to Kiffissia.

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Friday, 6 February 2015

In or out? (Μέσα ή έξω;)

Last night, many Greeks attended peaceful rallies staged at their local town squares, protesting the measures that the European Central Bank (ECB) has enforced against Greek banks (it won't lend them money to cover their needs, so Greek banks will need to borrow from an emergency fund, which will work out more expensively for the banks). We are hearing the "Unfair!" and "It's not our fault!" cries from the Greeks, which seem to be falling on deaf ears at the moment.

Athens, Syntagma Square, "No cage wiring and special police forces. Pro-government. A first!"

The uncertainty and distrust of Greece's position is to blame for this move. After five years, Greece still hasn't settled the question of whether she is 'in' or 'out'. On top of that, the new government simply overturned what the previous government had enacted, and is 'promising' to break past promises. It's understandable that we are not being trusted.
Matt cartoon, February 6
The global media does in fact seem to be supporting Greece but we aren't getting support from the places where we need it. The ECB just turned off the tap, a number of eurozone governments are being non-committal, and the German government tells us that, actually, they will only support us if we show that we can support ourselves. Our cockiness with the newly found support the freshly elected Greek government has found might be preventing us from taking a more practical approach to our problem which is based on increased uncertainty and lack of trust:
"The foreign press is full of inspired articles that feed our narcissism as we again become the center of attention – this time for good. But this barely does us any good for it cultivates our immaturity as a nation. We see ourselves reflected in the distorting mirror of the foreign media and we derive pleasure from this. Because in that mirror, we look like tragic victims or beautiful heroes. But we hardly look like the average European nation." http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite3_1_05/02/2015_546935
I'm really hoping that the new faces in the Greek parliament will deliver on one thing, and that is reform. After all, their faces are a welcome relief after those 'old-school' corruption agents that we had before. But don't think they don't come from 'important' Greek families themselves - their names are not necessarily new players in the who's who of Greece. For example:

- Tsipras (Prime Minister): his dad made a mint from construction projects
- Konstantopoulou (Parliamentary Speaker): her dad was the head of the Coalition Party of Greece (before it joined up with other parties and evolved into SYRIZA)
- Varoufakis (Minster of Finance): his dad was not only a university professor, but also the president of the Greek steel industry
- Tsakalotos (Alternative Minister of Finance): his grandfather was Chief of the Hellenic Army General Staff
... and so on. I fully believe that the above-mentioned politicians all started off their political careers quite humbly... but they were not unknowns to start with, and they certainly weren't ordinary members of the public. 

If these newbies can simply reform the state, that will be enough for me. Once you no longer fear the euro/drachma dilemma, you realise that this Greek problem was never really about staying in the euro or not (and I firmly believe that we are going to stay in the euro, as both sides have too much to lose). It's all about reforms, and the reforms have to show, and that's when people will trust us again. That won't happen overnight, and if our recent experience is anything to go by, we don't have much to show for our last 5 years if we bloat the public sector again (the new government has decided to rehire 3,500 fired public employees) and start dishing out more forever-jobs:
One question European policy makers are asking is whether Mr. Tsipras represents a break to [Greece’s] clientelistic tradition, or whether he will be guided by the business-as-usual principle that “it’s our turn now.” If the former, Greece’s eurozone partners may be more inclined to accommodate its requests provided the government signs up to meaningful reform. If the latter, they may eventually be inclined to take the risk of casting it adrifthttp://www.wsj.com/articles/europe-weighs-the-costs-of-casting-greece-aside-1423174320
It's still all quite unstable to make predictions at this stage. One thing for sure is that Greece is being talked about a lot by everyone - by the good: 300 scholars urge Greece's European partners to accept the mandate of the Greek people; by the bad (see above) and by the ugly: apparently our beloved and charming Minister of Finance, Mr Varoufakis, was refused entry to a Club because... he wasn't wearing a tie, despite the fact that he
"... certainly impressed the hedgies and City types he addressed on Monday night. His two-hour speech received a standing ovation; his flawless English, “more eloquent than practically the entire British Cabinet”, said one person who met him. “Not the dogmatic Marxist he’s portrayed as.”
Maybe we still stand a chance. But all this instability is really getting on my nerves. I haven't yet dug a hole in the garden, or lifted some of the bathroom tiles to hide my euro. If Grexit could ever be classified as a genuine threat, then the whole euro thing will be jeopardised. Surely 'Europe', above all, doesn't want that, does she? But at this stage, we Greeks don't really know whether we are in or out. Then again, perhaps we're bi:


And if we do go 'out' and Greece returns to the drachma, as a friend of mine noted, "this time next year we'll all be millionaires" (thanks @ChrisMurphy).

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