Monday, 8 February 2016

The multicultural layers of Hania (Τα πολυπολιτισμικά Χανιά)

A tour of the multicultural layers of Hania within the old walls

The tour has been specially organised for MAICh students, in conjunction with the MAICh Students Council.
Date: Sunday, 12.15pm, 7th of February, 2016
Meeting point: AGORA
Guide: Your English teacher
Carry an umbrella in case of rain - the tour will not be cancelled.

Some things to know before we start:
Crete is first mentioned in the Odyssey by Homer in ancient Greek poetry:
"There is a land called Crete in the midst of the wine-blue sea,
a beautiful and fertile land, skirted by the sea; in it are many
people, innumerable, and there are ninety cities.
Language with language is mingled together. There are Akhaians,
there are great-hearted Eteocretans, there are Kydones,
and Dorians in their three clans, and noble Pelasgians." [Homer, Odyssey 19, lines 172 - 177]

- in ancient times, Chania was known as the Minoan town of Kydonia
- before Christianity, Crete is conquered by the Dorians, an ancient Greek tribe, ca. 1100 BC
- Roman rule: first Byzantine period, ca. 320-820
- short period of Arab rule, ca. 820-840
- the Byzantines regain control of Crete, ca. 840-1204
- Venetian rule: 1204-1645
- Ottoman rule: 1645-1830
The Greek Revolution takes place in 1821 but Crete remains under Ottoman rule.
- Egyptian rule, by order of the British: 1830-1840
- the Ottomans regain control of Crete: 1840-1898
- Crete is an independent state: 1898-1913
- Crete becomes part of the Greek state: 1913

The society and/or the population of Crete has also been influenced by the following factors:
- arrival of refugees from Asia Minor after the population exchange: 1922-23
- Nazi occupation: 1940-1944
- arrival of repatriated Russian Greeks (Pontians): 1980s
- arrival of Eastern European immigrants after the fall of communism: 1990s

Multicultural symbols are found all over the island, but our tour will stick to the urban part of Hania that is located within the Venetian walls

A - Agora (= Market)
(meeting point)
The Agora was built at the beginning of the 20th century (1911) when Crete was an independent state. It was built on the external part of the old town walls built under Venetian rule. Parts of the walls were demolished at this point to make way for the urban plans of the town for new roads and buildings. (Old buildings of historical importance began to be protected from demolition since 1960.) The Agora marks the new part of the town which began to be built outside the old walls. Before that, the area outside the town walls was regarded as countryside, and rich Haniotes built villas here, most of which are still standing, and have now been converted for use by the public in a variety of ways. The idea for a covered market in this area came from the food sellers of older times who congregated here to serve the needs of the townspeople. Thus, the use of the site has not changed over the years - it was simply formalised in a covered market when originally it was an open-air informal market. The building of the Agora was based on the Halle Puget, the covered market of Marseilles, a neo-classical building built in 1666 and modelled on a Greek temple.

The Agora has always been a meeting point for Haniotes. Mileage to and from Hania which we see on maps and signs is calculated from this point. The market still has an old-fashioned feel to it. It is centrally placed, and it is here that you will find all the traditional Cretan food products: cheeses, rusks, herbs and spices, meat, fruit and vegetables, and of course olive oil. The Christmas tree is placed here every December. Chania was heavily bombed during WW2 when the Nazis occupied Crete, but the Agora was lucky to survive intact, whereas many other buildings in Hania were totally destroyed.

B - Minaret of Ahmet Aga
The minaret on Hatzimihali Ntaliani St is one of the two surviving minarets in Hania, a remnant of Ottoman rule, which lasted longer than in the rest of Greece. In Ottoman Chania, there were 33 minarets in total. Its prominent presence in the town is a clear reminder of the cultural layers of the town's history. The buildings of former conquerors of the island were not always demolished by the new conquerors. People simply built over them or changed the use of the building into something that suited the society at the time. The area of the Ahmet Agha minaret is known as Splantzia, which formed part of the Muslim quarter of Hania during the Ottoman period. Splantzia remains to this day one of the more mysterious parts of the town because it has managed to combine in a harmonised way all the elements of the civilisations that have passed from the island over the centuries. It is inhabited by a wide variety of people: Greeks - both from Crete and other parts of Greece - and migrants, who are mainly Muslim, as well as 'itinerants', travellers and bohemians who come to Hania and stay for a reasonably long period of time, before leaving again.

Across the road from the minaret, we can see a former Catholic monastery for monks built during the Venetian period, which was turned into housing during the Ottoman period. Twenty years ago, it was bought by a very famous Greek hairdresser who worked in Paris. He has transformed the building according to European standards by keeping the Venetian and Ottoman features. The exterior of the building tells us nothing about what the building looks like through the doors - most of the old buildings in the town have very deceptive facades!

Hatzimihali Ntaliani St (named after an 1821 Greek War of Independence hero) is now a pedestrian zone which is very popular as an entertainment venue among the locals. The street also houses Steki Metanaston, the Immigrants' Corner, which gives out information, food and clothing to immigrants who need help. It also organises Greek language classes for beginners. Migrants in Hania are often Muslim, so the area links them with former times. The whole street exudes a foreign air, that doesn't seem to be related to the typical Greek standards of the town.

C - Minaret of Hugar Tzamisi - Agios Nikolaos Church
The church of St Nikolas has a very multicultural history. This church was originally a Catholic monastery from Venetian times, built in the 13th century, probably on an already existing site of another church. It was considered the most important church in the area. When the Ottomans conquered the island, it was turned into a mosque, specifically for the use of the Turkish military. Today it is a Greek Orthodox church dedicated to St Nikolas. It is the only church in the whole of Greece that has a bell tower on one side and a minaret on the other, linking two very different cultures.

The Hugar Tzamisi minaret was considered the most important in the town during the Ottoman era, which is why it has two levels. This minaret was also called the leaning tower of Hania in modern times because it was ready to fall! After prompted calls for its renovation, the minaret has now been restored and is a very distinctive landmark.
It was a very nice day during our walk, and as we passed by the cafes, people looked at us and wondered where we were coming from, since our students are a varied bunch, they all speak foreign languages and some of them wear traditional dress from their own cultures. Some of the shop owners came out and greeted them, as I explained where we were coming from. Generally the town knows about MAICh and its work, but our students don't go out as a visible group so this outing made an impact on the town!
The square where Agios Nikolaos is situated is dedicated to the 1821 Greek war of independence. It has a very old plane tree which has played a historic role. Greek war heroes were hanged here by the Ottomans. There used to be a Turkish kiosk on the square where important Muslims would sit and drink their tea. Unfortunately it didn't survive in modern times. There is also a Turkish hammam underground, no longer in use in modern times, which the Muslims used for washing before they entered the mosque. On the square nowadays we see one of the oldest charity organistions of Hania which started off by helping lonely old people, and has developed in modern times to helping the poor and needy. There is also an old Venetian church on the corner of the square dedicated to St Rocco, who was considered the saint that guarded people against the bubonic plague. This shows that Crete did not remain unaffected by the plague.

Like many Mediterranean towns, Hania is a walled town. Walls were built by the various conquerors to keep out enemies. The first walls of Hania were built during Byzantine rule to strengthen it against Arab invasions, using materials from other ancient buildings in the area. The walls were also inhabited in modern times, but people were removed from the area for the walls to be restored and to become a historical monument. The walls of the town were extended under Venetian rule, as the town grew bigger. Both walls are still visible in some parts of the town today. 


Chania was originally an ancient Minoan settlement, and the town's name was Kydonia which means 'quince' in Greek. The Minoans lost power once the Greeks conquered them. Crete was first conquered by the Dorians, who are the ancient Greeks, around 1100 BC, which is when the island became Greek.  Kydonia was mentioned in the Odyssey of Homer, which gives it some significance. A glimpse of the Minoan settlement is visible in Kanevarou St, where some excavations have revealed old houses from this time. Hania has been inhabited continually for more than 5500 years, making it one of the oldest towns with continuous habitation in all of Europe. 

The Neoria are the old Venetian shipyards that were used in the winter to repair ships. During Venetian rule, there was a need for closer presence of the Venetian navy in Crete so Venice built shipyards (the Italians called them 'arsenali'; in Greek, we call them 'neoria'), docks where ships were repaired during the winter. The first two shipyards in Chania were completed in 1526. A total of 20 shipyards were built in Hania over the years before the Venetians left. During the Ottoman occupation, the shipyards fell into disuse. Only 9 survived - 2 at the entrance to the Venetian port, and the 7 that are joined together in arches. During the Ottoman period, they were used predominantly as storerooms, and in modern times, some have been converted into entertainment and exhibition centres. The buildings in this area the old Venetian shipyards used to extend into the sea in older times. When the harbour was extended under Ottoman rule, the neoria were no longer in the sea, and the buildings became storage sheds.

The visible history of some buildings in Hania remains only in their name, as it does with the music cafe-bar Stafidiki. In the past, all the grapes that were not eaten or used to make wine were brought to Stafidiki, the Union of Grape Growers of Hania, where they were dried and turned into sultanas/raisins. Raisins were very important in older times, before sugar became more common, because they were used to sweeten foods. Before 1900, Greece's top export product was raisins. When sugar became more commonly used worldwide as a sweetener, the Greek raisin economy collapsed. So the government banned the use of sugar in the confectionery business and grape syrup (called stafidini) was used instead. Stafidiki was based on the site of the old neoria (shipyards) and operated from 1929 to 1965, when the law against sugar was repealed. After that, the grape drying businesses moved to Iraklio, which was a more central area in Crete. The capital of Crete was also moved from Hania to Iraklio a few years after that, in 1971. Stafidini is still used in confectionery and wine making.

D - Koum Kapi
The area of Koum Kapi is known by its Turkish name which is still in use even today, meaning 'sandy gate', since it is located near a sandy beach. The area was used in the past for the homes of the Halikoutes. These people came from Africa - no one knows exactly where they were from - and they were forced to leave the island after the population exchange in 1922 according to the Treaty of Lasusanne. They were mostly working as boatmen, porters and servants at the Venetian harbour, and lived at Koum Kapi in rough huts. They got their name presumably from the way they spoke - the locals didn't understand what they were saying, so they just called them something equally meaningless.

Η ιστορία της πόλης των Χανίων
Halikoutes at the harbour - this photo hangs above the water fountain in the MAICh restaurant.
Koum Kapi has always been known for its small humble dwellings. Today, it also houses smart, trendy cafeterias on the beachfront. We call Koum Kapi the Greek people's harbour, because the foreign tourists stick to the area of the lighthouse. An open-air theatre is located near the old Venetian walls of the town which is used in the summer for culture and entertainment events. The walls and the buildings seen in this area were built by the Venetians, but some remnants of the Byzantine and Ottoman features are also still visible.

E - The two oldest Neoria

The Neoria (Venetian shipyards) at this point are the two oldest in Hania. They are also the closest to the harbour. More were built on the other side of the port. Up until the 1990s, people lived on the top part of these two shipyards, but the houses were cleared away eventually because they were considered illegally built on archaeological sites of great importance. One of the two shipyards has been renovated and is now the Chania Sailing Club's headquarters.

The lighthouse is the symbol of Hania. The Venetians conquered the whole of Crete in 1212. They made Chania their base, and decided to build a new town by extending the walls from Byzantime times. The Venetian harbour was built in stages, and it isn't all natural. But it wasn't until about 1595 that the Venetians began to build a lighthouse, built into the natural rock. When the Venetians left and the Ottomans came, the lighthouse fell into disrepair because the Ottomans preferred to use Souda harbour in the east and not Hania harbour in the town. In 1830, when the Ottoman Empire fell, the English decided not to make Crete a part of Greece, but they gave Crete to the Egyptians instead. It was under Egyptian rule that the lighthouse was renovated. But it did not have its original form - the base of the lighthouse remains Venetian, but it now looks more like a minaret. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the whole of Europe. It was extensively renovated in 2005. The remains of the old guard house in the middle of the pier used to house a cafe until just recently.

The seven neoria cluster can be seen in the middle of this photo, which was taken from the point where the two oldest neoria are located, before the beginning of the pier leading to the lighthouse. 

F - The Old Customs House (Palio Telonio)
The Customs House (located between the cluster of seven neoria and the Great Arsenali) was built in one of the neoria on the harbour to extract tolls and taxes for imported goods which were brought to the island by ship in older times. It was used as an exhibition centre in modern times, but in 2006, it suffered damage due to a big earthquake in Hania, and has since been under renovation, when it will eventually open as a theatre. Earthquakes are very common in Hania, but they are generally not very destructive since their epicenter is in the sea. If they occurred more often on the land, all the old buildings in the town would not have survived. The greatest damage to the town's buildings was during WW2 under the Nazi occupation, when the town was bombed.

The Great Arsenali (Megalo Arsenali)
Next to the Old Customs House, separated by a car park, is the Great Arsenali. It began to be built in 1585 during Venetian rule. Because it stood on its own and the walls were thicker than most other buildings, it was known as the 'big' shipyard. The second floor was built during the Ottoman period. It has had various uses over the years, and is now home to the Centre for Mediterranean Architecture. It also acts as an art gallery. (This is where MAICh will stage the 2nd photography competition, "on the subject of Intercultural Encounters" - your photos will be displayed here for the public to come and view them.)

G - Hasan Pasha Mosque
Τhe Hasan Pasha Mosque is also known as Yali Tzamisii, which means 'seaside mosque'. It was built in the late 17th century, in honour of the first Ottoman commander of Hania, Küçük Hasan. The design of the building is based on the plans of an Armenian architect. It continued to operate as a mosque until 1923 when the population exchange took place. After that, it has had various uses, but it is mainly used as an exhibition centre in modern times. The mosque is architecturally unique in the Mediterranean - the domes on the mosque in this arrangement do not exist elsewhere.

H - Frourio Firka

Τhe Venetians erected various military buildings to strengthen the town against attacks. This fortification was originally called Revellino del Porto and it was used for firing cannons, around the middle of the 16th century, to prevent any hostile risk to the port. It was completed a few years before the Ottomans took over Chania in 1645. The building was designed to house the military and to store ammunition. In the middle of the courtyard there is a large vaulted tank which gathered rainwater.

During the Ottoman occupation, the Revellino was renamed Firka, which means barracks, and we still call it Firka in modern times. The vaulted shooting sites were used as prisons during the Ottoman occupation until the years of the Greek civil war. Until the end of the 19th century, under Firkas Fortress was the “Kerkelos”, the great iron ring to which one end of the chain closing off the harbour mouth was attached. The other end was attached to the lighthouse. The corner tower of the fortress symbolically hoisted the Greek flag on December 1st, 1913 when Crete formally became a part of Greece. The Turkish flag was hauled down for the last time and the blue-and-white flag of Greece was raised in its place, where it has waved proudly ever since.

Nea Hora is located west of Firka. It was the first western suburb of the town to be built outside the old walled town, ie the original 'old town', to accommodate the growing population around the turn of the 20th century. Before that, Nea Hora was where the Jewish and Muslim cemeteries were located. By this time, Hania had mainly a Christian population. Nea Hora is now a highly congested residential area with many apartment blocks, and some hotels. It is very popular among tourists since it borders the coastline and has a very pretty beach with safe waters for swimming.

I - The old Jewish quarter
The Jewish community of Crete was never very big. It was always less than 1000 people. When Crete was conquered by the Ottomans, many started to leave the island, going to West Europe. In 1913, when Crete became a part of Greece, there were less than 400 Jews in Hania. The Jewish synagogue was originally a Catholic church. It fell into disrepair, but was renovated in the 1990s through personal and community efforts by various members of the Jewish community that now remains in Hania.

The Jewish people of Crete were killed during the German occupation in WW2. Most of them were transported off the island by the Nazi occupiers in 1944. They were put on the Tanais, a ship that was transporting prisoners of war to Athens, which would later take them to concentration camps. A British torpedo sank the Tanais, mistaking it for a German ship, in this way tragically killing the island's pre-war Jewish community, together with many other Cretan prisoners who were also on the ship.

J - Archaeological Museum - Catholic church - Cathedral of Hania
During Venetian times, the building that is presently the Archaeological Museum of Hania was the largest building in Hania. It was used as a monastery and church at that time, changing use to a mosque during Ottoman rule. Under Cretan rule at the turn of the 20th century it became a cinema, the Nazis used it during WW2 and it became a store room until it was converted into a museum in 1962. The museum is set to move away from the town soon, and the building will once again be available for use in a different way.

The Catholic church of Chania has been operating since 1879. A monastery for monks existed on this site since 1566, the first Catholic monastery in Crete. It was renovated to its present day in 1991. Catholic Easter usually falls on a different day from Greek Orthodox Easter, but when they fall on the same day, the Catholic and Orthodox church across the road celebrate it together.

The Cathedral of Chania existed before the Venetian period, and has had a changing history according to the rulers. During the Ottoman period, it became a soap factory. It was given back to the Christians in the mid-1850s after the son of a Pasha was saved when he fell into a well. The Cathedral of Chania is considered the most important church of the area, and its patron saint is the Virgin Mary. The town celebrates its feastday on 21 November. A building resembling a hammam can be seen on the left hand side of the square, which is now used as a clothing store. Across from the cathedral, the dome of the Catholic church is also visible. This gives a multicultural look to the general area.

Our tour stops here. I hope you enjoyed it. Come back and explore the area on your own, using this guide, which was written using a variety of Greek and English sources on the internet.

Something to think about: Nothing is stable and everything changes. How do you think these buildings will be used in the future, in a hundred years from now? 

Some extra information passed on to me via a reader's email:
The impressive  fortifications of Chania with their moats (what we often refer to as the Venetian walls) were first built by the Saracens that were marauders from Salonica which at the time was ruled by the Saracens. They named  Chania  ’Rabd el Jebn” i.e.  Castle of cheese because of the cheese shape of the acropolis at the harbor! 

**The lighthouse in its present form was built by Egyptian Mohammedans in the form of a minaret around 1830. The British had nothing to do with the passing of the administration of Crete to the Egyptians,  as at the time Egypt was a vassal state of the then Ottoman empire that at the time decided to call on the Egyptian Army to subjugate the unruly  people of Crete, who were constantly revolting against the Turkish administration.

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

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The cabbie, the lawyer and the farmer (Ο ταξιτζής, ο δικηγόρος και ο αγρότης)

(Strike action is taking place on a national level today in Greece.)

A cabbie, a lawyer and a farmer, decided to protest against the government's decisions concerning the reforms in social welfare. They joined the street demonstrations and helped put up barriers on the road to block it.

"I've locked up the taxi today," said the cabbie. "Our union's representative has put two cabs on standby for emergency use only."

"I've locked up the office today," said the lawyer. "The judges aren't working either, so the courts will be locked up and all cases will be delayed."

"I've been on the street all week," said the farmer. "I helped set up the road blocks and I'm making sure no one uses the road."

"Hang on," said the cabbie. "The street markets were operating all week, weren't they? You might have been better placed closing them down instead of continuing to sell your produce while you create a bit of havoc on the road, don't you think?"

The farmers' revolution in Hania is taking place on the blue dotted line. 
As all roads eventually lead to Rome, and Hania is a small town, drivers simply use detours. 

"Good point," said the lawyer. "None of the olive presses closed down either, did they? You haven't achieved a work stoppage, you're just here making your voice heard while your work continues."

The farmer got angry. Since he had nothing to add to the conversation, he just spewed forth a few curses.

*** *** ***
I heard from my husband that a small skirmish broke out, the police calmed the waters, and most people left. By the time I saw the road block, the police had also left. Half a dozen farmers looked to be 'guarding' the area, having placed olive branches (it's olive trimming season in Hania at the moment) on the eastern part of the road block, and old car tyres on the western part.

Everyone has a right to be angry about the way things are working out in terms of the Greek economy, but we don't all suffer in the same way. Special interest groups continue to demand to be made an exception to the New Order. If their demands are met, this will result in similar inequalities that existed before the reforms were tabled.

Some people just don't want to play their part; either we all pitch in, or we continue as usual, which needs to be outside the EU and the EU€.

©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, 1 February 2016

Youvarlakia soup (Γιουβαρλάκια σούπα)

Youvarlakia is Greece's version of a meatball soup, most commonly made with white sauce, although you will also see it made occasionally with tomato. The dish basically consists of meatballs boiled in a light water-based broth, with egg and lemon juice beaten into it once the meatballs are cooked. I make youvarlakia about once a month in the winter period. Since the kids have become avid vegetable eaters, I now add a lot of vegetables to the soup, together with the meatballs, and our youvarlakia soup turns into a very hearty and less meaty meal. My recent youvarlakia variation turned out to be the most popular version of the dish to date.

For the meatballs, you need:
1 kg minced beef (or pork, or a mixture of beef and pork)
1 large onion, finely grated
2-3 garlic cloves, finely grated
1/2 cup rice
a few springs of parsley, finely chopped
a few sprigs of mint, finely chopped
salt & pepper to taste
a little olive oil
some flour for dusting

For the soup, you need:
3 litres of water (or stock - I prefer water for a lighter soup)
50g butter (you can also use olive oil instead - I prefer butter because I don't use stock)
a few sprigs of dill, finely chopped
1/2 small cauliflower (or broccoli), broken into bite-size florets
1 large carrot, cut in small chunks
1 cup of peas
These are the vegetables I used in this version of the soup. You can use any vegetables that will keep their shape when cooked - I try to use only seasonal vegetables, especially if we grow them ourselves.

For the sauce, you need:
2 eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice

Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs (except the flour) together very well by kneading them. Make golf-ball sized balls, and roll them in flour. Set them aside while making the soup.

Boil all the ingredients for the soup together. When you get a rolling boil, add the meatballs, one by one, and continue to boil the soup until the liquid starts rolling again. It may need more water if the liquids have evaporated too quickly (you can make it as thick as you prefer). Turn down the heat to the minimum, place a lid on the pot and continue to cook the soup until it becomes creamy, for at least 60 minutes. Turn off the heat, take off the lid and allow the soup to settle for a quarter of an hour.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and lemon juice together. Pour a tablespoon of the soup into the egg and lemon mixture and keep beating the sauce (otherwise the egg will 'cook', like scrambled eggs). Pour another tablespoon into the sauce and keep beating. Keep doing this until the bowl is nearly full. (Don't try to hurry this step - you will spoil the soup by cooking the egg.) Now pour the sauce slowly into the soup. Stir it in gently. The soup is now ready. Serve it hot.

Youvarlakia soup is hearty enough to be eaten on its own with some thick slices of toasted bread. If you like to add a bit more protein to it, try it with a thin slice of feta cheese on the side, or crumbled into the soup. This soup will congeal once it cools down, but when warmed up, it becomes runny again. It also tastes good the next day.

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

Friday, 29 January 2016

All in an evening's work

January as slow as molasses? You read about my busy January in my previous post; here's an account of yesterday evening, in my cabbie husband's words.

"Just as I was relaxing for the evening, the tablet rings out a fare. I was the nearest free cab within a 15km radius. When someone needs a taxi in winter this far away from the centre of town, it's usually because they need to go to the hospital. But the pick-up point for this fare was outside a supermarket. That's a bit suspect: if you do your shopping at a village supermarket, you must be within walking distance of the supermarket. 

When I arrived, I saw a man standing outside the supermarket (the only one in A_________) with a heap of bags sitting next to him on the ground. He was also carrying a bottle... of ouzo... which was open... and half-full. All I could think of that moment was FUCK. I put all his bags into the boot of the car. He sat in the front next to me. He didn't stop talking, not one moment. He was barely intelligible; I couldn't understand what he was talking about. All he had on his hands was the half-filled bottle. I suspected that he had paid for the goods he bought at the supermarket. But no one can really know what is in a drunk's pocket. 

"So, we're going home, are we?" I asked him, hoping that the ride would be as short as possible. Somewhere amidst the gibberish he was spieling off, I heard the name of another village: M_______. That's just seven kilometres away from the south coast of Crete, an hour away from where we were at that moment. This was going to be a very long night. I put on the metre, not justfor the reason that I should be on the right side of the law, but because I wanted to see how much the metre would clock up so I can at least talk about the fare the next day at the rank. Being able to tell a story out of it may be my only trophy for the evening. 

I suddenly remembered who this man was. He was a pensioner, having held some high-level public service job. I had picked him up once before, in a similar drunken state, again in the same village of A_______ and he had asked me to take him to the other side of the island. I took him to the town centre and dropped him off at the taxi rank, with the excuse that I had run out of petrol. He's well known among the cabbies. Some will take him round in circles (as long as they know his pockets are full). This is not my idea of work. At that moment, all I could think of was my warm house, the armchair and the TV. 

"M______? Are you sure that's where you want to go? It's a bit far, isn't it?" He said that he was going to see his friend V_______ who ran the cafe there.

"Don't you want to go home first and drop off your shopping?" I suggested, but he was adamant that he didn't want to go home. Had I known where he lived, I would have taken him there immediately. I was in two minds to turn for the town centre or to take the road to the south coast. I set off for the town centre. "No, not that way!" he shouted. In his drunken state of mind, he was still able to see the road. I was stuck with him. I had just cleaned the cab that morning, so I opened the window on his side so he could vomit if he needed to; from the north of the island, the journey to the south involves climbing up and down mountains. 

I've driven to the south coast many times over the course of my life as a cabbie. A faraway fare is a cabbie's joy.  But in the middle of winter, it is one of the most desolate experiences you will ever have. The villages in the province of Hania are small, so small that they now have very few inhabitants, nearly all of whom are old and go to bed early. We were leaving the last inhabited village on the way to the south coast. There were hardly any lights on in the houses we passed. They were either uninhabited, holiday homes at best, or the residents had gone to bed. Street lighting is poor. During the whole journey, the man didn't stop talking, occasionally taking a swig of ouzo form the bottle he was carrying. The smell of his alcoholism shielded me from the smell of his body odour. This man was in his own world at that moment. 

When we finally reached M______, I asked him where his friend lived. He said he didn't know. I headed for the village square. There was a kafeneio in the village, near the church. Thankfully, it had a light on, and I could see someone inside. I helped my fare out of the car, locked it and headed towards the kafeneio with him. As soon as we entered, I noticed the look of horror on the young owner's face. While my fare continued speaking in his unintelligible gibberish, I asked the cafe owner where we might find V_______. 

"V________'s my father," the man said, speaking in whispers. "He's been dead for three years." FUCK. My fare continued to call out to V_________. The cafe owner asked me to take him away. A baby was heard crying in a cot, and a toddler was playing on a mat, overlooked by a young woman who spoke Greek with an accent. If a young man wants to stay in his village, he needs to marry a teenager and bog her down with childcare responsibilities right from the word go, or he needs to import a foreign wife. The woman was fair, short and slim - she was probably Albanian. 

"OK, G______ (he had told me his name), let's go home and drop off that shopping, shall we?" I tried to coax my fare back into the cab. At this point, the metre had already written up 75 euro. 

"Home?" he looked at me with a wry smile. "I'm not ready to go home now! Take me to the town. I'm a great dancer! Did you know that? I am the best χορευτή in all of Crete! Let's go and listen to a λυρατζή, and I'll show you how good a dancer I am!"

I've been driving a cab for nearly 40 years. It's given me enough time to develop various people skills, one of which is the role of psycho-analyst. As we headed back to the village of A________, I worked out roughly where he lived. I was able to take him to his house. "No," he said, "I'm going to the town, remember?" 

"OK, G______, let's drop off the shopping first, so I can take a driving break, is that OK?" Luckily he agreed. I helped him out of the car once again (because I was really worried he might damage it, or throw up in it), and got him to the door of his house, a large 60s style village home built next to an olive grove, which he probably owned. He fumbled around for his keys, but he managed to open the door by himself. I would have done that for him too, but you never know when a drunk might wake up from his slumber. They are used to being robbed or attacked, and may recognise the signs of an imminent one, like he did when he realised I was taking him in another direction. 

I brought in his shopping - he had done a lot of it, 10 carrier bags full. The outside of the house did not give any sign of what you would find inside it. It was nothing less than a τρώγλη. Εverything was in disarray, the house was filthy. It was obvious that he lived alone, without any family. I wondered how long ago someone other than himself had entered his house. I may have been his first visitor for the year. 

When we had finished carrying the shopping, he asked me how much the fare cost, to my surprise, and partial relief. I showed him the meter: it had written up €140 at that point. "Oh, I've only got €100 on me at the moment," he said. I told him that would be OK. "No!" he insisted. "I have to pay you in full. Take me to an ATM." There was one in the village, so I took him there. He handed me the fare immediately. "Now let's hit the town!" he said. I'll show you what a good dancer I am!" 

Again, I had no choice, but to take him into town. I dropped him off at a kafeneio where I could hear Cretan music playing. "how much do I owe you up to here?" he asked me. "Nothing," I said, you paid me earlier, remember?" I just wanted to get rid of him at that point. "No, I didn't! You're still working!" So I asked him for €10. I didn't want anything other than to get away from him at that stage. "You're coming in to see me dance, aren't you?" he asked me, imploringly. "Of course I am," I lied. "Just let me park the car." 

What a night. But it wasn't over. As I was driving back home, I picked up another fare about three minutes away from my home. What's there to lose, I thought, I may as well go for the bonus prize. I arrive outside the house and a young woman enters the car. There was something unusual about her face. But it was dark, and I couldn't see her very well. I asked her where we were heading, thinking I'd picked up a typical winter's evening fare (town centre or hospital).  

"S__________", she said. 
"S________? That's a bit far for this time of night, don't you think?" S______ was just two or so kilometres from A________ where I'd picked up the drunk. 
"It's my husband's village," she said. 
"Oh, going home then?" I inquired, building up a picture of my fare. "No, we're separated. I'm from D______, in the H______ region. I live here now, and I'm going to pick up my son from his father's." I had picked her up from the middle of the road between her ex-husband's and her own village origins. She was in a bad state: I could now see that half her face was swollen. She told me that her husband had insisted on taking the child with him to show her what a good father he is because he wanted to help raise it, even though they were no longer together. She had advised him not to because the child was ill and he could wait until the child was better, but he didn't heed her advice. He had just called her to tell her that the child was unwell and he couldn't look after it. She said he'd left him because he beat her up. I wanted to ask her what a nice girl like herself was doing with a jerk like him, but I could tell what the answer would be: something like 'he was never violent when we were getting to know each other'. He was probably a good dancer too. Girls from small villages fall for that kind easily; it's a way of leaving your village - and ending up at another one. 

When I arrived at the house, I realised who her ex was: his drunk brother had blown out his brains at a wedding when he insisted that his gun wasn't loaded. "See, look, it's empty," he said, pointing it to his head. The dead man's brother came out of the house as soon as he heard the taxi drive by. He looked as though he had not shaved or changed his clothes for a year. The woman paid me. I thanked her and was just about to leave when I decided to ask her one more thing: "How will you get home tonight?" She said that her ex will probably give her a lift. I wondered if she would actually return home that night, or end up staying overnight at her ex's. I left, turning off the tablet, as I did not want another fare that night."

We all listened incredulously, as my husband related his evening's exploits. I'd phoned him once to ask him if he could pick up one of the children from the after-school activities, so I knew what was going on. I also called him twice to make sure he was OK. He called me after he picked up the second fare. I keep reminding myself that it's winter, and Greeks hate living through the darkness alone. Everything will be better in the summer, won't it? But not for everyone. Some of us live in perpetual crisis, while others live off other people's crises. (When he got home, he got a call from another cab driver who wanted to know if the drunk guy had any money to pay him for a ride out to the other side of the island. My husband said he had no idea.) 

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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

January in proverbs (Ιανουάριος)

January is supposed to be as slow as molasses. In Greece, 2016's January has been full on. 
January has many proverbs associated with it in Greek culture. Click here for a list of them.

In January, I put the fear of God into the last lot of students who did not obtain a suitable grade in the TOEFL test. I give them the all advice and support they need, and I know that if they don't take my advice, they will probably fail. A couple seem not to be heeding it. Let's see what the results will show. And with this last testing session over, I finally took a week off work, at the beginning of the sales shopping period. Very convenient that my private writing jobs came in at the right time:  Γενάρης στεγνός, νοικοκύρης πλούσιοςΙ got myself new boots (€25), new shirts (€55 for 4), and new jeans (€30), with a little left over - maybe a new hair look? Even children ask me why I don't dye my hair. Maybe it's time I did. (Hm. The salon was closed when I decided to make an appointment. Is that a sign?)

January started off freezing - Αρχιμηνιά, καλή χρονιά, με σύγκρυα και παγωνιά; then it got warm - Δέκα μέρες του Γεναράκη, ίσον μικρό καλοκαιράκι; and now it's back to freezing. It is winter after all. The kids are walking around in short sleeves, making their parents feel very old as we bundle up against the cold. I can't believe they don't feel it. I don't remember under-dressing at their age. Perhaps we should turn off the heating and see how they feel then. But that's impossible - it's their bundled-up parents that can't cope without the wood fire.

Son's birthday party went very well - 9 kids turned up. They were really quite kids too - one was Albanian, another Bulgarian and one more called himself Skopian (I suppose he's been told not to say Macedonian).  "It wasn't like that in my days," my husband said. "We were all Greek." He completely forgets that half his classmates were actually the children of refugee Greeks from Asia Minor, whose parents and/or grandparents had come to Crete in the early 1920s. (He went to school with kids who had surnames like 'Agop'). The difference between my childhood and my husband's and my children's is that the migrants were different colours at my school, whereas they were/are roughly the same colour in my husband's and children's classrooms. Τ' Αλωναριού τα μεσημέρια , και του Γεναριού οι νύχτες. We've all gone through some kind of migrant experience, but they've seen the migrants through cat's eyes, different shades of the same colour.

The kids watched a thriller movie with some donuts and cheese pies, then we served BBQ, baked potatoes and salad for lunch while they listened to youtube videos. The they played a  game which involved banging the door open and shut (I think they've damaged it a bit - Γενάρη διαβολόμηνα ποτέ σου μην ξανάρθεις) while each one took turns entering the room wearing a long white scarf. (I have no idea what they were doing, and I never asked them.) Then we cut the birthday cake and they watched another video till it was home time. Very innocent. My English friends remarked that their kids would be out on the lash at this age - I waited a long time that day to have a drink, and I had to make sure I wouldn't be ferrying kids around.

After the weekend, the skies finally cleared. We can now see how low the snowfall has been. Only the lowest lying hills are bare. That's why it's so cold. But it's a good sign: Γενάρης χωρίς χιόνι, κακό μαντάτο. And now, I also hear both kids sniffling, blowing their noses and coughing. Serves them right.

The cat walked into the house after a week's absence. He disappears like this every year at this time. Nα 'μουν γάτος τον Γενάρη κι ας μην είχα άλλη χάρη. But now, he's come back blind. His nose has been scratched, his tail is slightly torn at the tip, and his one good eye is now bloodshot (he lost his other eye very soon after he adopted us, about 8 years ago). He occasionally crashes into the walls of the house and he doesn't feel confident climbing onto and down from his chair. He also jumps when he hears someone coming into the room, out of fear - he can't see us but he can hear us. When we speak to him, he feels reassured, and goes back to sleep. We're letting him stay indoors throughout the evening, but he always wakes up in the middle of the night crying to be let out. He doesn't always want to stay in anyway. He's still eating well despite losing one of his teeth a few years ago, but I think he's on the last of his nine lives. Today, I spotted him at the nieghbour's and called out to him. He heard me and jumped his way towards the fence to get to me. He had no idea how to get through. He just sat there and meowed. I coaxed him to follow me until I found a hole big enough for me to grab him and pull him through. I took him home, and gave him something to eat, and then he stared at the door again, meowing to get out. Even though he can feel so human, I really need to remember that he's a cat. A Greek cat, for that matter. He will live out his ninth life, and we will probably never find out how he lost it.

The four posters on our bed finally lost their last life. They were always a bit wobbly, and we had tried to secure them, but the new laundry basket is a bit bigger than the previous one I broke, and I bumped it onto one of the posts as I was taking out the washing. The whole thing came crashing onto my head. We decided to take down the posts after that. Κόψε ξύλα τον Γενάρη μην κάψεις τα παλούκιαIt had its charm, but in our later years, it served more as a place to hang clothes we couldn't be bothered putting away. (Now we'll have to start putting them away.) Just when I was thinking what I was going to do with the curtains, my daughter says she wants to get rid of the girly ones in her room so I offered to recycle the ones from the 4-poster bed (which now looks like a plain old bed) for her use. She said she'd like that. She's grown up so fast: just the other day, she asked her dad (she is a daddy's girl after all) if he could take away her cellphone for a few hours in the week so she can concentrate on school work. I'm very thankful she found a solution for her problem instead of me having it on her (perhaps she'll remember to wear long sleeves too).

I'm trying to sort out my needs from my wants. I think I want rather than need new hair (despite what kids tell me). I think I should have new hair, but I don't think I need it. At least that's what I think. I need new glasses. I've always worn glasses to see far away, but I'm having problems seeing things close up. If I take my glasses off, I can see things close up quite clearly. I don't have problems driving with my glasses. Perhaps I can let the glasses wait for the time being. I need a new cellphone. I keep worrying that because it's nearing 5 years old (HTC Desire, if anyone's interested), it will soon break down. But it does everything I want it to do, and even more. So I could say I just want a new phone because my present phone is old (and it has a 3" screen and naturally I'd like a bigger screen). So I'm putting that on hold too. The way I think about things, it seems that all my needs are really wants. Ο Γενάρης δε γεννά μήτε αβγά μήτε πουλιά, μόνο κρύο και νερά.

Pump-Driven Espresso/Cappuccino Machine contemporary-espresso-machinesWe weren't sure whether we needed a coffee maker. I've had the same coffee maker for the last 15 years: a tall plastic cup (I gave up on plungers after I broke two in succession), a very fine sieve (it's lost its handle, but I haven't seen anything in Hania that can replace it) and the good old Greek briki (I prefer gas to boil water and I didn't want another kitchen gadget on the worktop). Husband has always made his milky coffee using the briki, but recently he admitted that he didn't like the taste any more. He has a takeaway cappuccino when he's suddenly called away on a fare in the morning, and he has obviously developed a taste for it. I personally never found takeaway cappuccino tasty enough and it's always so hot it burns your tongue if you try to drink it as soon as you buy it. On the other hand, a cappuccino in a sit-down cafe is NEVER hot enough, and it's always too small (even the ones that are supposed to be large). In the end, I decided to buy a cappuccino maker (DeLonghi, €130), probably because I got a €50 voucher from the purchase of a vacuum cleaner. Kotsovolos (UK's Dixons in Greek disguise) was giving €50 vouchers with the purchase of various German products. I think I bought a Siemens (or was it Volkswagen - haha). Money well spent. Γενάρη μήνα κλάδευε και το φεγγάρι χέστοWe LOVE our cappuccino machine.

Εκλεισαν ξανά τους δρόμους οι αγρότες κλιμακώνοντας τις κινητοποιήσεις τους - Κλειστά Τέμπη, ΠρομαχώναςThe country's in tatters at the moment. I always put it down to winter. Μωρή πουτάνα αμυγδαλιά π' ανοίγεις τον Γενάρη δεν καρτερείς την Άνοιξη ν' ανοίξουμ' όλοι αντάμαThe farmers are on the streets up north. Greek winter is at its shortest in Crete, which is why the farmers have delayed their raging here. How can they strike anyway, when the whole of Southern Crete is busy supplying the country's tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers at present? (A good experiment: plant only seasonal produce, and see how long it takes before the peasants' revolt begins.) Cretan farmers are too busy making money in their greenhouses at the moment, as well as keeping their olive trees trimmed. Κλάδεμα του Γενάρη κάθε μάτι και βλαστάριCome summer, they'll be busy harvesting tomatoes in the open. Που να σου να Γεναρη καλε και ξακουστιαρηThe north is now covered in snow. Βαρύ το καλοκαίρι βαρύς και ο Γεναροχειμώνας - Χιονίζει ο Γενάρης, ξεψυχάει ο γαϊδουριάρης. Northern Greek farmers have less to do in winter; no wonder they have the time to think about how to block passage to Makedonia Airport. In any other democratic country, this would be seen as placing the security of the country in danger. But not in Greece: we are just too democratic to stop the undemocratic. Democracy as its most democratic.

Στα «κάγκελα» οι δικηγόροι για το ΑσφαλιστικόThe lawyers (and scientists, and engineers, among others) are raging too, in their suits and ties. They no longer have 'their' people in government. They are no better than the farmers if they think they deserve different taxation methods and special pension funds. We are all in this together, mates: we ate it altogether, didn't we? I don't care if they strike forever. We are used to a very S-L-L-L-L-L-L-O-W justice system, because lawyers are used to striking in this country - they did it for different reasons before, but they didn't take to the roads like they do now. The greatest moaners are those that can't live without their comforts. They don't know how to downsize. May Syriza rule for a long time, no matter how badly they are doing it. Κάλλιο να 'δω σκυλί λυσσασμένο παρά ζεστό ήλιο τον Γενάρη. The others won't rule any differently, except to look after 'their' people, just as Syriza is doing now. That's what politicians call sharing.

A police officer stops a car at the French-Italian border
Europe is also raging - again, against Greece. First they wanted Greece out of the eurozone (which they didn't manage to do), now they want her out of Schengen. They can't decide what to do with the Schengen among themselves. They say they want to break it, but if you ask me, those crying out for Schengen to be suspended want to go back to the past, where there was a mini-Schengen zone among a few Northern buddy countries, a Schinken zone in a sense. Northern European countries feel that they are the 'safe' countries, while they view Southern European countries as unable to control what is happening within their territory. They cannot get away from the fact that the north is landlocked against a cold inhospitable sea with hardly any neighbours - Οι γεναριότικες νύχτες, για να περάσουν θέλουν συντροφιά και κουβέντα - while the south borders the warm hospitable Mediterranean, and its nearest neighbours are Arab countries. The north thinks that the south lets in all the 'problematic' people. This is of course utter bullshit. The north has its own serious problems of home-grown terrorism. The problematic people are already living in Europe, as bona fide European citizens. Some countries were slow to catch onto this (France and Belgium in particular), while others (notably the UK) have been through it much earlier than the Paris attacks. In the meantime, Greece has done all it can for the refugee crisis. We put up a fence between Greece and Turkey to stop people walking into the country undocumented - did that stop them? No! They just sailed in instead. Apart from allowing them to drown, we can do nothing else. We cannot turn the boats back towards Turkey - that's a war signal. Marine borders DO NOT EXIST - Tsipras is spot on in this senseNo matter how many patrol boats are out in Greek waters, attempting to force a vessel of asylum-seekers back into Turkish waters is both illegal and dangerous, even in calm seas. So unless a Turkish patrol stops a migrant boat and returns it to Turkey, there is little Greek or Frontex patrols can do once it has entered Greek territorial waters but arrest the smugglers and pick up the passengers or escort the vessel safely to landWhat use is the Greek navy in this case, apart from plucking people out of the water?

Those Northern Europeans think they know everything: Johana Mikl-Leitner, the Austrian interior minister, rejected Greek arguments about the difficulties of patrolling its maritime borders with Turkey and explicitly warned Athens about a Schengen expulsion. “Greece has one of the biggest navies in Europe,” she said. “It’s a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be protected.” Come on over, Johana, and show us how to do it. Our arch-rival Turkey isn't bothering us. But not even Turkey can stop people from sailing away in dinghies. People say that Turkey is not a good place for refugees. Sure it isn't. But neither is Greece. These people do not want to start growing a few potatoes and keeping chickens to survive. If they did, we could probably accommodate them, just like we did during the population exchange: the numbers are the same now as they were back then. the present-day refugee issue involves approximately 1,000,000 people migrating to Europe in 2015 - the 1922 population exchange forced 1,000,000 Turkish-speaking Greeks to leave Turkey for Greece, while 500,000 Greek-speaking Muslim Turks were forced out of Greece and repatriated in Turkey. They were given land to live on and to live off - but this is not what the modern-day refugees want: they want a Western lifestyle. Many Greeks themselves are also biding their time, waiting for better days. Greece isn't a difficult country to live in; it is simply a little challenging at the moment. News sites write about the dreams refugees have for a better life in a Western European country. Is it any different from the dreams that Greeks have at the present? Most of us to a very large extent have a home and a family to turn to. Most of us also have jobs, albeit low-paid. We can't change that at present, and neither can we offer much more to desperate people. But we don't intend to let them drown, even if we can't offer them anything. We offer them a second chance to breathe; if they can wait with us, I'm sure we'd be happy to have them here too. History is just repeating itself, without any lessons learnt from the past.

brussels?? july 1991When I travelled through Europe in 1991, between France and Belgium-Luxembourg (on the latter, what is a city that calls itself a country? Try cutting off its food supply and tell me if it can function), you rarely had your documentation checked. West Germany was also relaxed, but former East Germany wasn't - the wall had only just fallen, and the guards were used to doing things differently from their Western counterparts. Does anyone remember those pre-Schengen days when you could drive through different countries without presenting any documentation? "You cross the bridge from Germany into Luxembourg, turn left, and 300 metres on you’re in France – three countries in about three minutes, and not a police officer in sight. In 1985, ministers from five governments met here to launch a bold experiment in border-free travel. Cars and lorries with green dot stickers on their windshields could roam the five countries – the same three plus Belgium and the Netherlands – without passports." Those five countries trusted each other, they knew each other well. In fact, they were hardly different from each other, and they had nothing to share or divide between them. They just pretend to be different, so they can have a place to call their kingdom (and with a kingdom, you have rulers, and rulers have power. That's all.) They bordered countries they also trusted; they were all far away from Greece, who was cut off from them by the Iron Curtain that the north didn't trust. Greece was simply on the 'wrong' side. Suddenly, it's the other way round: Το Γενάρη το ζευγάρι διάβολος θε να το πάρει. Τhey now trust former communist nations more than Greece, who is now seen as the devil.

A lot depends on trust. A colleague who left Hania for Paris just after the attacks told us that immediately upon exiting the plane (from Athens), she had to show her passport. The French authorities had no proper space for this kind of check for flights within the Schengen zone. So they just 'caught' the passengers as they exited from the plane and checked their passports. They didn't trust the Schengen agreement after Paris was attacked - even though some of the attackers were bona fide European citizens, with French or Belgian citizenship. But checking your borders at all times is sensible, isn't it? Σ' όσους μήνες έχουν «ρο», μπάνιο με ζεστό νερό. Schengen just felt too utopian. Just because a law says you can pass through without checks doesn't mean you are maintaining safety. You are just putting your faith in the law, without really being certain that the law is protecting you.

Ισχύει το δίπλωμα οδήγησής μας, σε άλλες χώρες της Ε.Ε.;So will I need a passport after all? Let's see. I've booked the tickets, I've hired the car, I've got my International Driver's Licence issued, I'm trying to get my credit cards sorted out (I really have no idea if they will work abroad, with all this capital controls σκατά). Will we be turned away at Border Control because we have Greek ID cards and not passports? I am wondering when my luck and my confidence in knowing what the future holds will run out. Χαρά στα Φώτα τα στεγνά και τη Λαμπρή βρεμένη.

There are often times when I am very thankful to be a Greek citizen. We are much more democratic and so very much less fascist than most other European countries. I HATE what Europe stands for these days: it is generally a money-focussed organisation that everyone wants to be part of, but they don't want to be led by a united Europe because each country thinks their way of seeing/doing things is superior to other countries' ways. They are afraid of losing their power. They want the money without the responsibility. They are no different from Greece, even though think they are. Do they really believe that they can have their Schinken and eat it too? With the North's predominantly sedentary lives and the ease with which Schinken is produced these days, having too much Schinken is a sure killer.

PS: All except one of my students passed the TOEFL. I've become a star. Everyone is in general agreement that he probably didn't follow my instructions. We're talking about a never-before-sighted test, sat by the weakest students, and they all scored more than 500 points (except that one person). When I initially suggested to my superiors that students need no more than one week of intensive courses for TOEFL, and they should sit the exam no more than a week after the course, they thought I was nuts. Instead, they listened to those fools (English teachers that no longer work here) who were bleeding them dry by demanding intensive courses for a month (so they could make more money) and staging the exam two months after the end of the course (when the students had forgotten everything they had learnt). Serves them all right - both the teachers that left (they were anything but teachers) and the superiors that didn't listen (and now have to admit to the role they played in the past recurring systemic failures in the English courses).

PPS: Get this: the same hair salon that I checked in at during my spending spree phoned me randomly with a €40 giveaway for whatever I want done! I can now have new hair. (Wednesday's the day.) Talk about good luck, which often comes to me. I think it's got to do with the level of patience I am willing to show. I have a lot of patience, and it really pays off. But I admit that this may not play a role in whether Schengen becomes Schinken. Let's see what develops.

©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.