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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