Saturday, 3 May 2008

Spring salad (Ανοιξιάτικη σαλάτα)

Easter was a time of over-indulgence in my family in terms of meat: at no other time of the year do we eat so much of it. Thank goodness, because I don't want to cook it again for a long time. Today's meal is a little τουρλού τουρλού ('tourlou tourlou' - a muddle). There's something for everyone in this salad, which is considered a main meal rather than an accompaniment. Greek salads such as the traditional village salad or horta are also main meals eaten with lots of bread to mop up the sauce, but this one contains its own 'mop': boiled potatoes. A salad consisting of boiled eggs and potato doesn't sound like something that could be attached to a real story; this is what I initially thought while I was writing up and publishing this post, but even this simple meal can produce a memory. On Saturdays after lunch, we normally have a lie-down - whether we sleep or not, it's 'quiet time' in the house. I was reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen - I highly recommend it - and had come up to the part where the protagonist of the story is offered food and water in the middle of a desert landscape, when suddenly I remembered today's lunch being served up by my mother as part of our outdoor meal for the annual Cretan Association of Wellington picnic, held in late January or early February. So here I am, midday nap interrupted, scribbling down the story of my life.

The Cretan community of Wellington was one of the biggest Greek brotherhoods among the Greek Orthodox Community of Wellington (GOCW), which consisted of the following other groups: the Mytilineans, Cephalonians, Cypriots, Macedonians, Akarnanians and some other groups who attached themselves to one of the larger brotherhoods already mentioned. However, it was the Romanian-born Greeks that actually doubled the size of the Greek population of Wellington (among the many bits of trivia I gathered while researching my Masters thesis). They were third- and fourth-generation Greeks - they were usually better educated and more 'cultured' than the average unskilled Greek migrant - who had been living and working in Romania, a country very close to their homeland. They were eventually forced out of Romania, where they had made their home up until WWII, when the communist regime took over. Their first stop was Greece, but after living the poverty and miserable conditions of the Greek refugee camps, they decided to try their luck in another country, and some of them came to New Zealand. The Greek-born expatriates came in the same way that other immigrants came out to New Zealand - they wanted a better life than the poverty that they had been raised in.

The Cretans, despite being one of the last Greek groups to migrate to New Zealand, also became the biggest group. Most had left Greece during very difficult times in their own country during the late 1950s and early 1960s. It was during this period when New Zealand was short of labour, and started inviting people from other ('desirable') countries to work in Aotearoa on contract. A large number of women (from Crete and a few other islands) were given free return travel to New Zealand as long as they completed a two-year work contract, being seconded to jobs in the cleaning and catering industries. My mother was one of them; she arrived in New Zealand in 1963. Very few of those women decided to return to Greece after their two-year contract was over; in the course of a 2-day journey they went from oil lamps and a once-a-week bath using water boiled up on a wood fire to electricity and both hot and cold running water. Who could blame them? They even 'imported' their husbands from Greece; my father came to New Zealand on Jan 31, 1965 and married my mother on Feburary 6, 1965. They had been writing to each other on a monthly basis; my mother wrote a letter to my father and he'd reply to it. She didn't get a reply after the 13th letter; my father later explained that this was the time he was preparing for his journey to New Zealand. It seems like a plausible excuse.

The ex-patriate Greeks did come back to Greece, but only on holiday - very few came back to live here permanently. I consider myself one of the more fortunate members of the GOCW. Funnily enough, it was mainly the Cretans who actually returned to Greece, with or without their Kiwi-made families, which is why today, the Cretan Association of Wellington is on the verge of extinction, whereas the ex-patriate Wellington Cretans are thriving. It is no surprise that the Cretans were those who left New Zealand; here are just a few of the zillion reasons why this was easy to do, whereas it was difficult for all the other groups:
  • Crete is the largest island in Greece, making it most likely that a returning migrant will find work all year round, unlike the other regions, which have high economic activity for only a few months of the year (except for Cyprus; the Cypriots arrived in New Zealand after half the island was occupied illegally by Turkey). This is, of course, why the newer economic migrants of Greece (from Bulgaria and Albania) come to Crete to look for work rather than locating themselves in large cities - Greece is not known to be a technologically-driven country full of office workers;
  • 95% of the Wellington Cretans came from Hania, a thriving summer resort town. Some even built hotels on their native land, or bought land to build businesses in the tourism industry. There are no losers in this field;
  • Hania (as well as Iraklio, and possibly Rethimno) has an enticing night life for young people. Entertainment is a very important aspect of a person's attitude towards their place of residence. If there was 'nothing to do' here at all times of the day, ex-patriates would probably choose to ping-pong back and forth from Greece to New Zealand, a very costly time-consuming way to live in the 'patrida' (mother country (an aeroplane journey from Wellington to Athens consists of a 22-hour 3-plane flight, up to 6 hours of waiting time between flights, and that's not including the plane or ferry journey to Crete);
  • the other Greek migrants of Wellington came from underdeveloped regions of Greece, which today continue to suffer from deprivation and economic recession (except for Cyprus again; the former homes of Cypriot New Zealanders are in the illegally occupied non-European zone of Cyprus - they lost their homes). Hania, on the other hand, according to Haniotika Nea (14 April, 2008) comes first in people's choices for local tourism, and LAST in unemployment in Greece (the study was conducted by my work environment, the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania - MAICh); in the summer, there is work in the tourist industry for anyone that wants a job (conditions and salaries aside), whereas in the winter, labour is needed in the agricultural sector (I don't need to prove to anyone what a minefield that is in Crete - my blogs are filled with its splendours);
  • Hania is a relatively safe town to live in. At 10pm at night when I finish working at the private language institute, the roads fill up with laughing self-confident teenagers walking home alone or with their friends, or being picked up by their parents, whose cars have blocked the road outside the school. I used to walk home to the other side of town before I had a car, and never felt I was in danger. Of course, dangers exist, as they do in any place in the world, but the same safety rules still apply: don't walk down dark alleys alone, be street-wary, walk with a purpose, keep away from alcohol-saturated areas, etc, etc, but at least we don't get that daily reminder in our news reports that someone was raped, attacked, knifed or shot (vendetta crimes, which do break out sporadically, are more feudal rather than criminal);
  • Crete enjoys 300 days of sunshine; need I say more?
My family was one of those that did return, although each member made their way to Greece on their own, for different purposes: a holiday, the famous New Zealand OE, a wedding, a funeral; but the person who started the migration chain in the first place is also the person who can never return to Greece. Maybe she's watching us now, with a feeling of mission accomplished.

To make the spring salad my mother took to the Cretan Association's annual summer picnic (the hottest day of a Wellington summer is about as warm as an average day in the Cretan spring), you need:
1-2 boiled potatoes for each person, depending on how hungry they are, roughly chopped
1 boiled egg per person, sliced thickly
1 firm tomato per person, cut into small chunks
1/2 a medium sized onion per person
olive oil and vinegar for the dressing
salt to taste
any of the following: olives, cucumber slices, fresh broad beans, fresh cleaned artichoke cut into small pieces (not carrots, cabbage and lettuce; they are not traditionally used in this salad)
optional local additions: mizithra and crumbled bits or Cretan rusk
Mix everything together, dress and season. The oil mixes in with the egg well; thickened by the starch in the potato, it creates a mayonnaise taste. This is the equivalent of Greek potato salad. This is also a very simple meal that can be prepared quickly: it's especially appreciated when the weather is very hot and no one can be bothered slaving away in a hot kitchen preparing (let alone eating) a heavy meal. Enjoy this salad as part of a BBQ picnic, like the Cretans did in Wellington when they organised barbecues out at Waikanae Beach when it was just a holiday/weekend/retirement village and Maidstone Park when it had swimming pools and a miniature children's railway track.

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