Monday, 6 April 2015

Agia Marina Donkey Rescue - Καταφύγιο για Γαϊδουράκια Αγία Μαρίνα

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Agia-Marina-Donkey-Rescue/225542274129832
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage: http://www.agia-marina-donkeyrescue.com/new.html
When fishes flew and forests walked    
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet. (G.K. Chesterton, 1927)

There were many things I didn't want to do on Palm Sunday (ie this year's Calendar Easter Sunday - Greek Easter is next week) - I didn't want to cook the traditional fish meal for the occasion, I didn't want to play host to my daughter's friend, I didn't want to go shopping among the hordes at the start of Holy Week, I didn't want to spend my time cleaning the house all over again, plus I didn't really feel like going to a blossom water distillation festival that I was invited to (been there, done that). 
Apollo - he was rescued after her owner could no longer afford to keep her.
I wanted a Mental Health day off, so I decided to accompany my son to his fencing competitions taking place in an area of Crete that I last visited 20 years ago: the Messara valley, in the Iraklio region. This way, I would have an excuse to read Captain Corelli's Mandolin during the 2.5 hour bus trip each way. When I looked up the journey on the map, I realised it would take me close to the Agia Marina Donkey Rescue, run by a Kiwi woman and her Cretan husband. My son did not really need me around to play well, so I decided that if I found a chance to get away, I would.
Areti - she was rescued when her 92 year old owner's family forbade him to ride her after suffering a heart attack while working in the fields. The old man was very happy that his beloved donkey was going to a great home.
The route took us from Hania onto the highway, leaving it just before Rethimno, where we turned into the historic village of Archanes, then right down to the south coast of Crete at the picturesque summer resort village of Agia Galini, continuing along the coast to the greenhouse area of Timbaki, and on to the south Cretan town of Moires where the competition was being held - the donkey sanctuary is located between the villages of Sivas and Petrokefali, just 5 minutes away from Moires. It's been a long time since I have been down here, so I stopped reading my book and just admired the scenery. The villages in this area are large, easily spotted on the hillsides, tucked neatly away below the mountain peaks. The fields of the Rethimno region, leading onto the Iraklio region, are more verdant than in Hania, and the rivers much wider. Given so much rain this winter, they were full and moving fast. (The one crossing Rethimno is actually called Platis Potamos - 'wide river' - and the one crossing Iraklio is Geropotamos - 'old river'.) The rivers both run into the Libyan Sea - the Liviko, as we know it - which looked very calm among the tranquil surroundings, while a light drizzle was falling at that moment. It's really the calm before the storm, as the tourist season is about the start, with its onslaught of rental cars jamming the narrow roads.
Iphigeneia - she arrived at the sanctuary in an emaciated state. No one realised she was pregnant. The next day, her foal, Ero was born.
The roads leading to the games after we got off the motorway were all ours. Few people were driving at that particular hour of the morning (we left Hania just before 7am), it was raining, and it was Palm Sunday, a week before Easter, when not much is happening. With the knowledge that there would be no buses running, once we passed Timbaki, I decided to ask the bus driver if we would be passing any of the above-mentioned villages. "Never heard of them," he said. I had looked up the google map for the area the night before, and knew the villages we should be passing (there was no GPS on the bus), yet the driver had no idea. We were now on the road towards the ancient palace of Phaistos (of Linear A disc fame). So when we passed a sign on the road pointing to Sivas (6km), I knew another sign would follow, pointing to Petrokefali (4km). As I passed those signs, I decided that the consequences of yelling 'STOP!!!!!!' to the driver might have deleterious effects. Plus, everyone would think I was mad, which is not a bad thing at all, but having lived in Crete for over two decades, I knew that it was not the right time for me to show this side of my personality since my 14-year old was on the bus with me. (I'm sure he knows I'm mad, but he wouldn't want me to advertise it.) Despondently, I let the bus carry on to our final destination, which I could discern before we got there: from google maps, I could see the red dome of the sports building among the valley's fields of olives and grapevines. 

Ero - this is the first donkey to be born at the sanctuary. She is Iphigeneia's daughter.
Once off the bus, I could see hillside villages dotted around the valley from the point where I was standing. They didn't look too far away to walk, but the light drizzle didn't make the walk look enticing. By chance, Dimitris, the fencing coach from the Messara team, had just come out of the stadium. "Is that Petrokefali?" I asked him, pointing to the cluster of white buildings in the distance. I was in fact looking at Pombia, a neighbouring village due west of Petrokefali.
Agapi - she was found tied to a tree without food or water. The owner had left both the donkey and the village. 





"Do you want to go there?" he asked me. "Do you know someone there? Who do you know? How do you know them? (etc) Hop in, I'm in a rush, but I can drop you off there." My husband often considers me to be very lucky, luckier than him. I agree, although my luck is usually a case of good planning. Dimitris dropped me off at the path that led to the donkey sanctuary. It was lined with redolent wild fennel, which I hoped I would remember to forage before I left the area. 
Phaedra - when she arrived at the sanctuary, she was old, very shy and frightened of humans.
I heard about the donkey sanctuary through facebook, so it was always on my mind to visit the sanctuary some time. Crete is a big island, and the distances seem even greater in bad weather. The roads of Crete are all in good shape now (in Greek terms), but they are all full of bends and slopes. In the winter, some landslides occur; between Agia Galini and Timbaki, we were diverted because the road had sunk from this year's unprecedented heavy winter storms. So it isn't that easy to simply go for a spin to the other side of the island. A distance of greater than half an hour on these kinds of road conditions saps away our energy. The bus ride gave me a chance to enjoy my Mental Health day with greater freedom. 
Talos - he gets a bit obnoxious. As I was saying hello to the other donkeys, he moved in and pushed my hand off them. Along with his name necklace, he also wears another one saying 'I may bite'.
At the gate of the sanctuary, the customary large guard dog met me, together with a couple of smaller doggies, all of whom bared their teeth to me and growled, as a way of saying hello. This was followed by a bray of unison from the 20 donkeys at the sanctuary as they saw me approaching. They had all lined up outside the fencing sectioning them off from the home of their carers, Kiwi Barbara and her Cretan husband Fanis. Barbara and I met on facebook: we are both New Zealanders, and we left New Zealand and came to live in Greece at about the same time, so we have a lot in common. 
Haritomeni (meaning sweet-joy) - she came to the sanctuary in April 2010, lying in the back of a truck crippled with arthritis. Her owner who loved her (she even had a name!) could do nothing to ease her pain so he brought Hari to Barbara and Fanis. Within a month after medication & therapy there was a big improvement in her mobility although she cannot get up on her own after lying down. Hari is old now and tires easily. She is always found lying down every morning and is helped up. Donkeys form lifelong friendships with other donkeys; Haritomeni is nearly always seen with Pandora (below). 
Barbara was very involved with horses during her New Zealand years, which is how she got the idea for a donkey sanctuary. Horses are uncommon in Crete - they are not suited to the mountainous terrain. They are mainly used in urban environments in the tourist trade, similar to other urban centres around the world. An example of their use is the horse and carriage rides around the Venetian port in Hania, and for weddings. But donkeys are perfect for village work. The only problem is that nowadays, cars are more readily available and their maintenance is cheaper and less time consuming than the needs of a donkey. Donkey milk farms have opened up and closed down in very little times; such business ventures easily go bust because the business people don't realise how much work is involved in such a business. Donkeys are now mainly used as fairground material, while the (recently impoverished) owners of the working village donkeys are getting too old to care for them.
Afroditi - her owner was abusive and beat and neglected her. Eventually he left her tied to a tree without food or water, but a villager took care of her. When he was no longer able to due to work commitments, he asked the sanctuary to take her. This is their morning feed: the local mills grind a mixture of grains for their breakfast. This 'muesli' has a very sweet natural smell. They eat hay in the afternoon.



What do you do with a donkey you no longer want or need? You can give it away, or sell it, but this is difficult in our times, when the traditional use for donkeys is no longer needed. Some people set them free to roam, which sounds kind, but this is not really the case. A donkey that is set free by its owners will wander away and run into trouble. While it may find enough food to eat, it will probably not find enough water, so in the summer, it will die of thirst. They may also be run over by cars on the road: if they were used to being led by their owner, they will not sense the danger of passing vehicles. Other owners just tie them up to a pole and leave them to their own fate, which is certain death.
Kassandra - she's had a very sad life... You can read about it here: http://www.agia-marina-donkeyrescue.com/Kassandra.html 
Donkeys often arrive in emaciated states. Once a donkey arrives at the sanctuary, it is given a beautiful ancient Greek name, All the donkeys have their own personal history. Some tales are sad, but many also resemble the human side of life: birth, work, retirement, and eventual death from natural causes. One thing is sure at the sanctuary - the donkeys are cared for by Barbara, Fanis and their growing family of children and grandchildren. They receive a lot of attention from the many visitors that come to see them throughout the year. While I was there, various tourists visiting Crete during the Easter break came to the sanctuary - for some, it is not their first time. 
Persefoni - she has also had a sad life: http://www.agia-marina-donkeyrescue.com/Persephoni.html
During my visit, Barbara and I had a good strong cuppa tea together, and reminisced our Kiwi life, which for both of us, forms our irrevocable history. It's a part of our life that has finished now, because now that we live in Crete, we are here to stay, a bit like the donkeys at the Agia Marina Donkey Sanctuary. It's most likely our last stop. It's so nice here, we really don't want to leave.
Achilleas - originally from the island of Patmos, he lost his hoof due to being tied up by his leg with wire. Donations have saved his leg and helped him to regrow a hoof. 
The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Agia-Marina-Donkey-Rescue/225542274129832
You can also check the sanctuary's webpage: http://www.agia-marina-donkeyrescue.com/new.html

Bonus photo: This is Mr Prickles, a cat that a tourist brought to the sanctuary because he felt that it would be mistreated if left to survive on its own. Mr Prickles has cerebral palsy. Now two years old, it took him a while to learn to walk, as he kept falling down.
Mr Prickles
He walks just like a human being who has cerebral palsy. He reminds me of Beri, our lame cat, who adopted us six or so years ago (Beri still walks with a limp). Mr Prickles also reminds me of the disabled people I see living among us. Apart from a modest pension payment, they don't get other help from the Greek state, ie there is little in the way of assisted housing, so they are generally allowed to live a normal life among the people they have grown up with and are accustomed to seeing. Mr Prickles and Beri are no different. They just plod on stoically.

The Agia Marina Donkey Rescue is a registered Greek non-profit organisation which is runs purely on donations and TLC, by the Doulyerakis family of South Crete since 2004. It is a haven in the sunshine for aged, abused and unwanted working donkeys. If you can make a donation to the donkey sanctuary, please contact Barbara through the site's facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Agia-Marina-Donkey-Rescue/225542274129832


You can also check the sanctuary's webpage: http://www.agia-marina-donkeyrescue.com/new.html

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

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

The Greek Collection: Shabby chic Greek flag for Independence Day

It's an Independence Day bank holiday today for people of Greek heritage all over the world. The origins of the formation of the modern Greek state has its beginnings in March, 1821. Yanis is due to spend it in Hania. (If the parades turn into a musical feast, you might even get to dance with him.)

A funny story related to Greek Independence took place just this week at my workplace. My non-profit institute's finances are monitored by the various organisations that fund it, which includes the Greek government. Checks are performed even on our library acquisitions: we were recently asked to justify why an institute with an agronomic nature such as ours, which uses English as the main working language of the institute, bought a book about the Greek revolution of 1821, in Greek, to add to our library. I wrote the following justification to our funders:
"Greek and English language lessons are offered to students, both during the academic year, and the summer school period. The Greek-language book about the Greek Revolution of 1821 is of great value for students studying the Greek language, who wish to gain an understanding of Greek history from the Greek point of view, as most material that Greek-language learners will most likely read about Greek history is in another language, and therefore the Greek point of view may not be expressed."
HIstory is open to interpretation. Library acquisitions have wider readership than just the acquisitioning library: our acquisitions can be shared through the institute's interloan system, which is connected with other institutes in the wider region of Crete, for the needs of university students. In this way. such material has a greater audience, and the knowledge that they contain can thus be shared among more people. 

A sky full of Greek flags will be flapping in our springtime breeze today, sporting the traditional blue and white stripes. We rarely see less traditional flag designs based on the Greek flag, so I wonder what people will think of my shabby chic patchwork creations. Greeks are not really into the shabby chic design - they prefer more modern lines. 


Shabby chic: a form of interior design where furniture and furnishings are chosen for their appearance of age and signs of wear and tear or where new items are distressed to achieve the appearance of an antique. (Wikipedia)

Bonus information - The book about the Greek revolution is not the only book we had to justify:  
"The Gatekeepers of Galatas (by Brian Taafe, in English) is based on the history of the wider region of Chania. It is written by a New Zealand academic living in Australia, whose father was stationed in the region during WWII. The local history detailed in the book - the battle that took place in Galatas, Chania, in an area known by the allied soldiers at the time as Pink Hill - has had little mention in contemporary writings about WWII. The usefulness of this book as a resource to students is in its descriptive value of rural life in Chania during WWII, with which students can make direct comparisons with their own experiences of the region."
Mentioning the war - that war - is bordering on the taboo these days. But just what was village life like in Hania during WWII? The book's descriptions of Galatas, a village only 5 kilometres out of Hania, show that, despite its proximity to the main town, the village was typical of many other villages further inland: simple houses, lime-washed stone walls, earth floors, long stone ledges to serve as seats, beds covered by rough woven blankets, very few bits of furniture in the houses, consisting primarily of a dowry-type chest full of linen, a weaving loom, an oil lamp, an icon, and πύθοι (earthenware urns) for water and oil. People ate fairly frugal, yet healthy diets, made up of pulses and other vegetables, herbs and wild greens, olives, village bread, paximadi (dry hard rusk), goat cheese, snails and, on a very seldom basis, meat. This was supplemented by olive oil, honey, fruit and berries, and washed down by wine and raki. The village roads were lined with pollarded mulberry trees, whitewashed against insect attack, some flowerpots and other trees, and the houses were covered by maze-like vines that provided shade. Life was not as hard as in the mountains, but it was hard nonetheless, wrote the author. There also seemed to be a shortage of food, according to the author's father; the villagers were very generous, but there was little available to buy. 

Compare all this to the situation nowadays - we've come a long way, and there's no going back.

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

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Greek Collection: Greek fabric designs

I've been collecting fabrics of all kinds for many years now. My special interest fabrics are those that can convey a sense of identity, especially Greek, in a similar way to the clothing, accessories and upholstery designs associated with the UK and US: namely, their iconic cities - London and New York - which, along with Paris, are the only cities to feature in international designs, and their flags - the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes - which happen to be the only flags that feature in those same international designs.

The UK/US flag is also redesigned in many ways, using fabric ideas such as patchwork, 'shabby chic' and colour alterations, among others, especially for the purposes of patchwork and applique sewing techniques, and design in general. Patchwork is a common hobby among fabric enthusiasts all over the Anglo-Saxon world, and the actual designs of these two flags lend themselves well enough to such alterations. So does the design of the Greek flag, with its cross and many lines. But the international fashion market is dominated by the UK/US flags; ξενομανία (cf. ξένος - KSE-nos = 'stranger', and μανία - ma-NI-a = 'mania') has also ruled the Greek market to a great extent. So there is no such corresponding market in Greek fabrics or Greek flag designs, showcasing Greek identity in common everyday-use objects in this way.

My grandmother's patchwork rug:
it's all hand-sewn.
Patchwork is not really a homecrafts tradition in Greece, although rags and scraps of fabric were never thrown out in pre-industrial days: they were re-used, including patchwork-style, as part of the frugal lifestyle. I still have a patchwork rug, made by my grandmother in the log cabin style: some of the fabric has worn away, but some is definitely still distinct and can be traced as vintage early 20th century fabric. The Greek kourelou tradition also uses scrap rags woven to make a rug.

While on a visit to New Zealand over a decade ago, I was intrigued to come across fabrics with designs associated with New Zealand. Such fabrics are very idiosyncratic, and would not be understood by anyone outside New Zealand without an explanation: flora such as kowhai, pohutukawa, the fern; fauna like the kiwi, the pukeko and the shell of the paua, and Maori artwork. They would not have a great appeal, apart from among New Zealand patchworkers, and perhaps the tourist trade. The fact that such fabrics exist is perhaps based on the idea of a collective national pride, things that New Zealanders, no matter their differences, share with each other. The same that I bought so many years ago are still being sold in New Zealand, and they remain particular to the country - you would only use them in a genuine Kiwi design, because they don't lend themselves well to be added elsewhere.

I have just started using these fabrics in a patchwork quilt. The quilt design I've chosen looks quite ambitious, but with a sewing machine, a rotary fabric cutter and some μεράκι, this kind of work doesn't take a long time to finish. 

Although patchwork, in the US/UK meaning, is not a tradition in Greece (I myself picked it up while living in New Zealand), there are now patchwork groups in Greece - this is not necessarily a post-crisis thing: foreigners living in Greece have introduced the locals to this fabric art. But the crisis has certainly helped make people more aware of patchwork, both as a hobby and as a way to re-use something frugally in a creative way, and there are now web-based Greek patchwork groups.

It's very hard to find Greek-based images on fabric, but I did manage to come across this gem - a Greek island motif - at the street market. 

The absence of Greek-based fabric designs is a tricky issue to interpret. I sometimes see it as a lack of interest in collective identity: Greeks tend to be τοπικιστές. The concept of nationality-based fabric designs is also an Anglo-Saxon one, extending to its colonies. Tourist shops sell clothing with Greek-based fabric designs. The meander is the most often-used design in tourist-related products, labelled 'Greek key'. But that is more closely associated with Ancient Greece, not the modern present-day country. It's also often used in American college designs with the Greek alphabet (try googling images for just the word 'Greek'). There are also many Greek fabric souvenirs (eg towels, kitchen gloves, tablecloths, etc) that bear summertime Greek motifs depicting island scenery, the sun, the olive, etc. But they also tend to have a big fat placename (eg Athens, Greece, Crete, etc) printed over them, which makes them clearly destined for the tourist market: this kind of fabric is not the same kind as that used in patchwork. The low quality fabric and its kitsch design value, as well as its mass production, hints that it is most likely all made in China.

This leads to the question of what kind of Greek iconic images would be used in the concept of Greek fabric design if (or more likely, when) they come onto the Greek market. We all have collective iconic images of Greece in the sub-conscious, but they may be different according to the individual: Tourists might mention things to do with summertime Greek island scenery and the Acropolis (google images for just the word 'Greece'). But what would a Greek person living in Greece first put in their mind? Maybe they would not have given it much thought in the first place: Greeks tend to take their surroundings for granted in this respect... Whatever these instantly recognisable iconic Greek timeless images are, they need to be separated from 'touristy Greece'.

If I could design such fabric myself, I would want to see things that remind me of the Greece I am living in now, modern Greece, not ancient Greece. Try googling the images for 'traditional Greek symbols': the icons that come up depict ancient Greece - and they are most often non-Greeks' ideas of what constitutes a Greek symbol.

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

Monday, 16 March 2015

Recipe certification and copyright

I've just been asked by (someone important) to do some research (for someone else more important) on the topic of 'certification of traditional Greek recipes' eg pastitsio, soutzoukakia Smirnis, etc. While I applaud interest in this kind of research - as a way of showcasing Greek identity in a positive way - as a long time food blogger, I know how pointless such research would be, as you would constantly be going nowhere while running around in circles. For this reason (and because I know that I would never get any credit whatsoever for research which will prove fruitless), I gave them a very concise reply:

"Certification of traditional recipes is not really possible. Recipes are not the same as food products; they are simply instructions on how to make a food product. A food product can be certified, but a recipe cannot. For example:
- We can have a certain health body certifying a recipe for its benefits (eg recipes certified by the American Heart Association)
- We can have products certified for their features (eg organic, PDO, PGI)  
- We can have restaurants that are certified for using specific products - but not for the recipe they use to make those products (eg Ntounias in Drakona, Hania is certified for serving Cretan cuisine 
etc

We can readily find discussions about the certification of traditional products but they always concern finished products; the recipe used is not certified in any way - the product that a recipe uses is what is certified, ie the finished product. 

Certification is different to copyright. Many recipe authors copyright their recipes, but this does not mean that their recipe cannot be reproduced by anyone else. You only need to change one ingredient, and a recipe is different. Instructions can also be changed just slightly, and again you have a new recipe: 
Mere listings of ingredients as in recipes, formulas, compounds, or prescriptions are not subject to copyright protection. However, when a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions, or when there is a combination of recipes, as in a cookbook, there may be a basis for copyright protection. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author's expression in literary, artistic, or musical form. Copyright protection does not extend to names, titles, short phrases, ideas, systems, or methods. http://opensourcecook.com/recipes-copyright-law 
We cannot simply copyright a well-known recipe, either. This has been settled pre-internet (!):
The most definitive case on this issue was Publications International, Ltd. v. Meredith Corp. (88 F.3d 473 (7th Cir. 1996)). This case involves the fascinating subject of a book of Dannon yogurt recipes. Meredith had in 1988 published a book called “Discover Dannon – 50 Fabulous Recipes With Yogurt.” In the case, Meredith alleged that Publications International, Ltd. (we’ll call them PIL) copied many of the recipes from their Dannon book and printed in them in various publications (some of them copying up to 22 recipes). How similar were the recipes? Well, although not identical, the court (rather humorously for judges) stated: “it doesn’t take Julia Child or Jeff Smith to figure out that the PIL recipes will produce substantially the same final products as many of those described in DISCOVER DANNON.” http://paleomagazine.com/recipe-copyright/#history
There are cases where someone tries to 'sell' the idea of the certified recipe, eg making certified Neapolitan pizza. According to the link, the person in question is not really certifying the product - he is trying to certify the process, namely because he lives and works far away from the place where the product he is trying to certify originates, and he wants to market his product as 'the real thing'. There are EU-funded projects going on where people are involved in writing up 'specifications for traditional Greek recipes' ("συγκεκριμενοποίηση συνταγών") where they describe the exact quantity and origin of each ingredient in a recipe, but that in no way certifies a recipe. Someone else somewhere else will be cooking the 'same' recipe in a different way."

As a long-time food blogger, this kind of reply was not difficult for me to write.

"But that's not enough," I was told, "I want to provide (that more important person) with a solution!"

A solution? Really?! Some people can't take no for an answer. If there were one, it wouldn't be provided by the simple food blogger. It would be given by a team of experts who have been funded to work long term on such a project, backed up by legal representation who will irrefutably, once and for all, decide what a traditional recipe is. I think it would be much easier to find that needle hiding somewhere in the haystack.

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

Monday, 9 March 2015

Climate change (Κλιματική αλλαγή)

I haven't been to the Omalos plateau for a long time. In the summer we usually spend our time by the coast, and in the winter, I personally prefer to avoid Omalos because I don't really like snow. (It's nice to look at it, but not to have to wade through it. I'm sure most of North-East America agrees with me.) But the spring weather seemed nice enough yesterday for a daytrip to Omalos, so off we set on a clear fine day, making a quick trip to (one of) our orange orchards on the way, ...


... enjoying the sights of the yellow and white carpets of clover and daisies that had magically sprung up under the olive groves...

... only to find fog as thick as soup while we were driving up the mountain.


We've had a very strange winter this year: from last year's summer drought, we had not one, not two, but at least three huge thunderstorms, so big that they blew up our internet routers (twice) and my mother-in-law ended up with no phone for a whole month. Neither of these things have ever happened to us before. It's little things like this that remind us how difficult it is to live in harsh weather and terrain conditions. We all treasure our creature comforts.

While we were at Omalos, my daughter met up with her friend who often complains about the time she has to spend away from home at the weekend.


Her parents work in a restaurant that is open all year round on the Omalos plateau, which receives visitors from all over the world: during the summer season, avid walkers come to walk through the Samaria Gorge, while in the winter, the area becomes a favoured day trip for locals wishing to get away from urban life, especially when it snows, as the area gets covered in the white stuff.

Seasonal pond on the Omalos plateau

This year, during the Christmas period when Omalos is transformed into a winter wonderland, the snow was fell so often and so thickly that her friend was stuck at Omalos until the roads were cleared. And just think: they only live 30 minutes away from the plateau on lower ground just a few kilometres away from the main town!

Life at Omalos

I've been following the Guardian series on climate change, and there's a lot of interesting talk about developed nations' governments getting together and talking about how their economic policies can be tailored for a sustainable environment, but what all discussions about climate change lack (and Naomi Klein is seriously guilty of this too, as she enjoys her first-class globalised lifestyle) is the desire by the individual to turn back their own pace of life. Living in developed countries means living a more artificial life, whether you like this or not. Changing your lifestyle to a more sustainable one when you live in a developed country will ostracise you from mainstream society.

People never really lived all year round on the Omalos plateau. If they did, they were nomadic. Olives do not grow at this height, but apples and pears do. There are also lots of horta (stamnagathi - Chicorium spinosum). A lot of meat is raised here, and this is reflected in the restaurants of the area (see my food photos below).

And anyway: Who really wants to grow their own food? Most people can't be bothered growing herbs in small pots on their windowsill, and they prefer see floral inedibles to 'victory gardens'. Who really wants to go to the lengths - and the expense! - required to use natural energy sources? Greeks know this better than most others in the developed world - they can tell you how much they miss the simple act of pushing a button to heat themselves. How likely is it that 'New World' citizens will stop travelling abroad and just holiday in their own countries to save on fossil fuel? Also ask the Greeks about "getting less and less in the public sphere... defended in the name of austerity": the Greeks want more and more in the public sphere, without any austerity and no real plan about who is going to fund this (except that they will not pay for it themselves - it will always be someone else).


Tsigariasto (goat slow-cooked in olive oil and herbs)

Braised lamb with stamnagathi

Staka (a cream-based dip)

Pancetta

Lamb chops

Grape hyancinth bulbs, cured in vinegar (they aren't poisonous - plain hyancinth bulbs are!)
Kalitsounia fried in olive oil and topped with honey

If you were to try to sell, to the Greeks, the idea of a more sustainable lifestyle while making even more sacrifices, I'm sure they would reply in words to the effect of: "Γύρνα πίσω στο χωριό σου" (Go back to your village"). If you still have one, you are very lucky. But in the name of progress, you can't even do that. If you do stay in your village, to a certain extent you need to forget the progressive lifestyle. No amount of money will change that, even in present-day Greece. In Crete's relatively medieval past, living in mountain villages was a clear sign of a life under threat (of invasions by  foreigners). Once that threat subsided, people slowly left the mountains and fearlessly moved (back) to the lower coastal regions, where the weather is better, the terrain is easier to conquer and life is more social.

We enjoyed the Omalos plateau as much as we could that day. I know I won't be coming back too soon, even if my home is located just half an hour away. I covet the rural lifestyle, but I also like to living close to a town, like my daughter's friend. Isn't it better to live near more people than more animals?!

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