Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The family house (Πατρικό)

The question of allowing children to play outdoors has received heated debate in recent years because of the increasing dangers associated with unsupervised play in modern times. On the one hand, children playing outdoors without supervision fuels their creativity, improves their social skills, and keeps them healthy and energetic by taking them away from sedentary indoor activities like web-surfing and tv-watching, and putting them into an environment where they are constantly moving. Another added bonus in my case is that they will be breathing fresh air in the aromatic Cretan countryside.
In the summer, there are more people living in the area, as the neighbourhood overflows with visiting πρωτευουσιάνοι as we like to call them (Athenians, otherwise known as 'capital city dwellers'), people who come to stay in their summer houses, which are usually old Greek village houses, usually the homes where their parents are living, or where they themselves were born (and/or inherited), which is why these houses are often referred to as πατρικό - the paternal home, ie the family home. Nearly all of these people bring their children/grandchildren with them. In the winter, there are only a few other children in the area, which has its advantages: you generally know where to look for your children if they've wandered off. This is a luxury in modern times; in urban neighbourhoods, this is the main reason why children are not allowed to wander off on their own. The neighbourhood is also blessed with some child-friendly zones, like a children's play area and a mini-soccer pitch, all with close and almost visible range from our house. These facilities are well used throughout the year, especially the latter, which is frequently booked by teams or groups who come to practice their skills. The country paths criss-cross olive groves and grazing pastures, and the traffic is minimal - mainly neighbours' vehicles - making the area quite safe for bike riding and free wandering.

We recently bought the children new bikes and helmets to replace the old gear-less ones that they had used to learn to ride on. These old bikes were too small and hence very uncofortable for them to ride for a long time. We had delayed doing this as much as we reasonably could because we knew that once they got their new bike, there would be less control over there movements.

In the beginning, it was a bit of a chore having to look out for them on the road. In the summer, there are more people around to look out for each other's children, who are often playing together in someone's yard or the park, but in the winter, this is not the case at all. In larger groups, they are easier to control; in smaller groups, they wander off and are difficult to spot because they are much quieter. I often end up taking a little walk myself around the immediate neighbourhood to check out their whereabouts and what they are up to, which turn out to be quite innocent.

One day, after I'd let them loose on their bikes, I found some toys in their bedroom which I knew weren't their own. I asked them where they came from. They gave each other knowing looks.

"We found them in the park," one answered.

"Don't believe you," I replied.

"Alexandra gave them to us," the other added.

"Now I really don't believe you," I said, and told them to take them back to the park where they claimed they found them.

Another day, the same thing happened. This time, I marched them to the park and told them to show me where they found these objects. I knew that they wouldn't tell me the truth there and then, but eventually, given time, the truth surfaces by itself. It turned out that there was an old property behind the park where an old woman lived until she died. Since then, the house stood vacant and lifeless, like so many in the general area. Old houses are rarely demolished to make way for new houses. This is a trademark of Greece which gives its nostalgic look. Few tourists would be endeared to the Cretan countryside if it weren't for these delapidated edifices, looking almost like ancient ruins themselves, and hinting to our not-so-distant past, which on the durface looks so different to the image of modern Greece today.

The house itself was locked up, but the small derelict crumbling storeroom was not. This small dark room was attached to the house, but it was quite separate to it. It might have had a multiple number of uses when it was originally built. It was clearly built for storage purposes. Animals may have been kept in it in its early years. It was possibly used as a kitchen at one point. The items contained in it were worthless: old newspapers, nets for collecting olives, dusty plastic water bottles, broken crates for collecting agricultural produce, among other remnants of a former agricultural household's paraphernalia.

There were also some children's toys in a cardboard box, the only item that looked reasonably new among the other articles. The toys were probably being used by children holidaying in the area in the summer. They are worthless too. But not in the eyes of another child. The same thing applies for the old house. It's worthless and probably needs to be demolished - but a house is a house, property is property, and in Greece, that's a big deal. Especially if it's your πατρικό.

The houses in the photos are not of my own neighbourhood but they are situated relatively close to it and I pass these ghostly images almost daily.

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