Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Water, water, everywhere... (Kάι το νερό νεράκι...)

When you came to Greece on holiday, you probably took that jug of water, the first thing to arrive at your taverna table, for granted, because it was hot, which therefore deemed it necessary to be there. Just as you had sat down, a waiter would come to your table, set it with a plastic tablecloth, and plonk a few scratched water glasses on it, along with a large jug of water topped with ice cubes. After a satisfying lunch in the shade, while all around you singed of scorching heat, you'd go home, take a long shower to cleanse your body of the perspiration you had to endure while sitting under the Mediterranean sun. In the late afternoon or early evening, you'd probably find yourself sitting at a cool cafe by the sea, ordering a frappe, ice-cream or something more tipsy. What was the first thing that came to your table again? That's right, a glass of cool welcoming water, whether you asked for it or not.

falasarna sunset taverna

For many years, I took my water supply for granted, mainly because it was never disconnected, it was free, and it was always clean. It did surprise me slightly that I had to pay a charge in Greece for the amount I used, because in New Zealand, we could use as much as we liked without feeling that we were using too much.

In the beginning of my stay in Greece, I was taken by surprise with the frugality shown by my relatives in terms of their water usage. Because they had to pay for it, they turned the tap on to run slowly when they were washing, whether it was the dishes or themselves. A basin was always used to catch the running water from outdoor taps, which was subsequently used to water the flowerpots. No one took baths, everyone took showers. What alarmed me more than anything else was the ring of chalk that boiled water left on my pots and pans, the electric jug, and metal worktop in the kitchen where the washed crockery was drying; everyone told me that it was nothing to worry about, just a natural substance called alata.

Today is Epiphany, the 'day of lights', so called because it is considered the day the Christian Orthodox celebrate the baptism of Christ, and in this way 'enlightened' the people. It is also known in Greece as the day of the blessing of the waters. On this day, young men (women have been making an appearance in this event in recent times) dive into the wintry waters of our oceans and lakes (what a blessing it is for Greeks living 'down under', where the seasons are reversed!), to retrieve the cross that the priest threw into the sea as he blessed it. The winner is often presented with a small gold cross, and is bestowed with good luck all his life.

When Thou wast baptized in the Jordan, O Lord,
the worship of the Trinity made its appearance...
Photo: Angela Wylie

Things are very different now compared to what they were twenty years ago. Hania is blessed with a good water supply and there is plenty for all - or so it seems. Nowadays, our fresh water supplies are under constant threat. In the summer, we often suffer from disconnections, and the booming tourist trade has made unprecedented demands for greater supplies. Tourists need to bathe and shower constantly when on holiday, and they always prefer hotels by the sea equipped with a swimming pool (?@#*&$!). They also seem to have misconceived ideas about the water supply, hence the overkill on using bottled water, which entails the garish image of empty water bottles marring our beaches. They never get recycled, and the beach bins are full of them. Most people seem to think that tap water is bad - not so in my area...

swimming pool
One of the ugliest sights that my tired eyes must encounter on a daily basis is the filthy brown water of my neighbor's swimming pool, when it is unused (which is approximately 350 days each year). We live a 10-minute walk away from the sea, and these guys come and use this pool (complete with a lawn which needs watering in a town that sees rain once a month) every time they stay at their summer house, which is about a fortnight per year...

What with the desertification process already making great inroads in the Mediterranean, pretty soon, it will be water, water, everywhere, but not a drop that's potable. And will we ever say no to bottled water? I doubt it.

For a poignant read about the preciousness of water, have a look at what Carolyn has to say about the matter.

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  1. Morning Maria!!
    Kronia Polla!
    Totally agree! Such wastage is ludicrous on an Island dealing with thousands of tourist..
    What enrages us is the plunge pools with each hotel room, seems to be a requisite around here in every hotel that's being built, when they are within feet of the sea!!!
    Mrs. Angry!

  2. Καλημέρα!
    Στο blog μου υπάρχει ένα βραβείο για σένα...
    Θα ήθελες να περάσεις να το παραλάβεις;

  3. We have water restrictions in Sydney most summers, but not this year. People are becoming more aware though, and rainwater tanks for gardens are more common than a few years ago.

  4. Nothing like a refreshing glass of water in the summer heat of Greece. Pools in Greece do not belong!

  5. Our own water is exceptional but my daughter will not drink it without a filtration system so there you have it.I wish I were swimming in the azure Agean right now instead of driving through the snow:D

  6. Πραγματικά απίθανη η φωτογραφία με το σταυρό στη θάλασσα. Μπράβο Μαρία μου!

  7. Maria, I love your post on waters--both blessed and cursed. I agree with you about the idiocy of swimming pools in coastal towns (with that gorgeous beach right there?!) and also about bottled water, which we abolished in our house about 7 years ago. NYC is actually blessed with great tap water and I am blessed to be able to take that "for granted" in daily life--just meaning that I can use as much as I want without surcharges; a blessing I do appreciate, in fact. Xronia polla to you for the Theophany.

  8. You're right on many fronts Maria. Most people do take water supply for granted, and here in the United States especially where we are not dependent on "thermosifona" to heat our water, we tend to overuse our plentiful hot water. I, for one, have changed my habits as of late: little things such as shutting the tap when brushing our teeth; scrubbing dishes without the faucet running and then rinsing them all at once; running larger washing machine loads so as to limit how often the machine is used, etc., etc.

    Thankfully, we're blessed to have really good tap water here in NYC. And when we visit Greece, we buy bottled water only when staying in Kalymnos or Kerkyra as the island water there is not ideal (although some parts of Kerkyra have fairly good tap, just not where we stay). In Agrinio, however, the water is great and we drink straight from the tap. And tap water has many benefits most bottled waters do not--i.e. fluoride for healthy oral hygiene.

  9. Because we're building a new house, we're living in a rental house right now where the landlords did not install a filtration system for the softened well water (very high in sodium because of the water softener system). We cannot thus drink this water, so buy bottled water and every time I drink it I feel guilty.

    Good post.

  10. guilt - this plays a tremendous role on the psyche, in making people change their ways. there are now a few ads on tv focussing on environmental (eg recycling) and safety (eg wearing a seatbels) issues that are influencing greek people's attitudes about these topics

  11. Happy Epiphany from a Utah Anglican. Our Rocky Mountain water is alkaline and filled with minerals. Not everything will grow in our soil, but things which do, absolutely love it. It tastes great, but it leaves a white residue on everything it touches then evaporates from, from white spots on your car after a shower to clogged up steamers and coffee pots, it is always with us.
    The Salt Lake City mayor recently outlawed bottled water use by public employees at work.

    My pet peeve is that Nevada seems to feel a divine right to buy as much of our water as they want, so that they can build another golf course or 3 or 4 in that sink hole of indulgence Las Vegas, which is in the middle of the Mojave Desert.

  12. Geia sou Maria!

    Xronia sou polla. Na sinexiseis to omorfo blog sou kai na se xairomaste.

    It annoys me, too, when I see people in Greece trying to keep their lawn green even during the summer, by consuming so much of our precious water. Haven't they not understood yet that green lawn and living in Greece are two incompatible things?

    Personally, I enjoy the yellow, dry grass in the Eletherios Venizelos airport everytime I visit Greece, in the summer. That's how it should be.


  13. Gazon and swimming pools in Crete sound like bad jokes, particularly in the eastern part of island where the water supply is limited!

  14. bad joke indeed - yet this is what is happening with our precious water supplies