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Saturday, 11 February 2012

The old man and the kumquat tree (O Κρητικός και τα κουμκουάτ)

My children have grown up enough now so as not get sick very often. It has been a while since I had to take them to the doctor for what seemed like a cold that wouldn't go away. On seeing me, the paediatrician was surprised that I was still around.

"I thought you'd left and gone to Australia," she said to me. Australia and New Zealand - they're all the same to some.

"No," I looked at her sarcastically, "why would I want to go there?"

"Oh, you know, with all the problems Greece is having," she said apologetically. I replied by telling her that I was quite happy living here and I don't feel things are so bad that I have to leave the country.

"I know," she sighed (she had also lived abroad for a number of years while completing her education), "but people don't seem to seem to see things the same way."

It turned out that my daughter had developed a bad cold (helped by the low temperatures and lack of sun that Crete has been experiencing recently), but she didn't need any antibiotics, just some extra care. After paying the doctor (30 euro, the same rate she charges me whether I bring one or both children to be examined) and giving me my receipt, we left her surgery and returned to the car.

As I was unlocking the door, my daughter showed me something she'd found sitting on the fence of the house which we'd parked in front of. It was a kumquat, which had fallen from the tree in the garden of the house. All the fruit in the lower branches had fallen (or been picked), so it wasn't easy to pick any for ourselves. Just at that moment, an old man was crossing the street towards us.

"Shall I pick some for you?" he asked me."They're very good for the throat, you know."

The man was well wrapped up for the cold weather. He was tall, with the typical Cretan looks: a thickset moustache, olive skin with ruddy cheeks from the cold and a tall stature that was unbent, despite his age. His hands looked well-worked in the fields, the palm clumpy and the fingers thickset, reminding me of many others amongst me who have toiled in olive groves well past their prime. He was easily able to reach up to the higher branches to bring some fruit down to us, which we stuffed into our pockets.

 Such a precious present cannot go wasted - I turned the kumquats into a spoon swwet, together with bergamot (περγαμόντο - pergamonto).

The old man reminded me of my father who would have looked just like him, had he not gotten sick and passed away too early.
 
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