Monday, 2 January 2012

Crisis furniture (Έπιπλα για την κρίση)

Just last week, the wood-fired heater that we had ordered arrived, and after picking it up (ourselves, with our truck), and carrying it up to the first floor, we called on our neighbour and good friend Stelios to help us install it.

- Do you think this heater will keep the whole house warm, Stelios?
- You bet it will! I've got a similar one to this in the village, and I can tell you that if you keep all the doors of the rooms open, you'll be walking around in just your underclothes when this is burning at full power. You've bought one with an oven, so you can cook all your roasts in it, and heat up all your meals without using electricity.

- So you're not from the town, Stelios?
- No, I live in the town now, but I was born in a small village on the south coast of Crete. But I visit the village often. My family owns a very large house thee. My father was a builder and he just kept adding rooms to the basic house, so it just kept growing. I recently renovated it, with the help of my brothers. My mother still lives there, and that's an incentive for me to go there regularly, but because I grew up there, I still think of it as home, even though I now have my own home in the town.

- So you grew up in the village, Stelios?
- Yes, I was living in the village until I was about 15. I went to primary school there. I had to walk five kilometres every day there and back to go to school because there was no school in my village. My mother would take me part of the way, and she'd carry my bag for me. Then we'd meet up with other children walking to school, and I'd tag along with them. In my first year, I couldn't even carry my bag, it was too heavy for me. So other kids would carry it for me. I went to high school in Souyia which was the closest main centre to my village and after that, I came to the town, mainly because I was going to go to high school here, but I wasn't interested in reading and writing, and I've made my living from working in construction even since then.

- Have you installed a lot of these heaters lately, Stelios?
- That's all I've been doing this winter, since October, when the first bout of cold came, I've been drilling holes in people's living rooms. We live in a crazy country, where diesel fuel was so cheap that even people in the village who are surrounded by free firewood were using diesel to warm their homes! All of a sudden, everything's been turned upside down - people who were used to living a moderate life can;t even have basic comforts. It's so much easier to push a button than it is to chop wood and store it.

- How long have you been in the building business, Stelios?
- Since primary school. I've never worked in any other trade. My old man was a builder and he took me with him wherever he worked. My first job with him was to straighten nails.

- Straighten nails?
- Yep, you heard right. In the past, we never threw away nails after shaping a mould from wooden planks. We'd pull out the nails and take the planks off the mould once the concrete set, and we re-used the nails just like we re-used the planks. The planks were used as needed, often cut down to the size that they were needed, but the nails would bend, and we'd have to straighten them to use them again. I'd place them on a cement step on the staircase of our house and hold them down with one finger while I hammered them back into shape with my other hand. I never had a white fingernail on my hands, they were all black and blue because I would hit them while I was hammering at the nail. We used each nail about ten times before we threw it away. Now, people don't recycle nails any more, they just buy new ones.

- Did you miss the village once you came here?
Well, I'd return every weekend in the beginning, but I felt at home wherever I found myself. I liked going back to the village because it's where I grew up, but everyone I grew up with has moved away now. We all have our ancestral homes there, our ancestral land, but they don't pay the bills, do they? So it's hard to say you'll stay in the village, when you know that you won't have anything to do there, except grow your own food and look after the fields. I go down for the olive harvest and to spend a long weekend here and there. I also helped renovate the house because it was getting run-down, as all old houses do after some time, and I think it's a shame not to maintain a place and let it go to waste. If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be able to have my home comforts while I'm there, like I was for Christmas. We had the wood-fire heater going all the time while I was there, since there is so much firewood available in the fields. But I don't know how long this will still be allowed for us, because life is getting harder, and we're all being made to live our lives according to a different social order. One day, you won't be able to collect your firewood for free, not even from your own fields, without paying a tax. A forestry official will have to approve it before you cart it off to your home. The same goes for property: taxes are going to be so high that we won't be able to afford to maintain our grandparents' old homes, and they'll lie in ruins until someone richer than us comes along and buys them for a low price because we won't be able to afford to maintain not even the home we're living in now. And it won't be long before this happens: very soon, we're going to be living a German lifestyle in Crete, except that we won't have jobs like Germans do, so we won't have money. Things are supposed to get better, but I doubt it. We're not Germans, remember; we're Greeks.


- We're just about to sit down for lunch now, Stelios? Would you like to join us in some fasolakia
- Thanks, very much, but I'd best be off. The wife'll be waiting. Not that I wouldn't mind having some fasolakia, with you. I'm not a fussy eater. There's nothing I don't like. In fact, there was no such thing as 'I-don't-like' when I was growing up. If you didn't eat what was put in front of you, you weren't allowed to get up from the table. And if there were beans or horta, and no meat, then that's what you ate. No 'μα και μου' like you hear these days from children. You did as you were told then, or else you got wood to eat."

Stelios worked with my husband from 8am until 3pm to get this heater up and running. All the photos (except the first) were taken on the same day. The heater warms up most of the house - the more wood you feed it, the higher the temperature.

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