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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Uprooting (Σύριζα)

In today's election, Greeks are being asked to make a best-of-the-worst choice - it's a bit like choosing the best olive oil in terms of price and quality among the bottles and cans found on a shelf at a Northern European supermarket: they are generally all bad. By knowing this, they will probably buy the cheapest choice; the more adventurous may prefer to try 'something different'. Generalising this to today's election, by voting against mainstream parties, I'd be jeopardising Greece's chances of finding political stability, but by voting for them, I'd simply be voting back in those who destroyed my country.  
PS: This post doesn't denote my voting choice - I'm not voting Sexy Lexi's party. This story is just a story, and a true one at that. But the story does denote my political convictions - the system's gotta go.

When my husband's olive grove was burnt in 1988 in a fire due to a problem with the electrical supply in the village, all the trees were burnt down σύριζα. Nothing remained of the olive grove except for the blackened tree stumps. The earth was just as black as the tree stumps that remained. Although he thought himself lucky that the fire was not started by accident for the purposes of land clearance, or due to arson - he would have got nothing in such a case - those tree stumps caused a great many delays in his receiving compensation for the damage.

For a start, the horticultural experts who came to see the field for the purposes of estimating the damage in the coming days after the fire told him that if the tree stumps were still visible above ground, then he would not be compensated for those trees because they hadn't burnt down σύριζα - they would be considered survivors. But the trees that did in fact burn σύριζa weren't visible since there was nothing left of them to see, so they couldn't be counted. He had to dig into the earth for any remnants of their existence, in order to find proof that they did actually once exist (a bit like taking away human remains after a vicious fire sweeps through a building), even though their roots were burnt: the destruction was total. It was like a vicious circle. Compensation was paid out not only according to the number of trees, but also depending on how old they were, which could be calculated from the root system of the trees. The roots of those trees were very old - he had to dig quite deeply to get to their remnants. Even the plastic nets that my husband had laid down on the ground, ready for the next season's harvest, had disappeared in the fire. In the case of the nets, he couldn't prove that they were there in the first place in order to receive the compensation for the equipment lost on the land (the plastic nets cost a lot of money at the time). Along with the roots of the trees, they had also burnt into the ground.

olive grove fournes hania chania
Our olive grove - 20 or so years ago, there was nothing here but blackened earth. 

The fire was a big shock to my husband and his mother. He had just come home from working the taxi during a very hot summer's day, and was about to sit down and have lunch when the phone rang.

"The village is burning, come and help put out the fire!" his cousin was wailing over the line.

burnt stump
My husband's foot, standing on the only remaining blackened stump on the field. It is of an almond tree (it never re-grew), which has always been used to delineate the borders between his field and his cousin's (seen in the photo).

As he headed for the village, he saw the fire burning in the hills above it, at the point where his grove was located. His cousin didn't have the heart to tell him that the fire was burning down his olive grove (it stopped short of the village). My husband's property was the largest single piece of private property to suffer damage. His mother was overwhelmed with grief. It was bad timing all round: apart from his father's recent death, he was only a few months from moving into his new home - the only home he has ever owned, after 35 years of renting old houses in the town centre, all with outside toilets. The burning down of the olive grove, coupled with the move, took a heavy toll on his mother's health. In the middle of the following winter, after moving from the rented property to the new house, she was hospitalised for 35 days with a severe case of pneumonia.

Despite its destructive nature, the fire at the olive grove gave the whole area a chance to be reborn. This particular olive grove had never received artificial irrigation - it only got what came down from the sky. The land was cleared, and then left completely to its own devices. The olive trees were not replanted. In fact, nothing was actually planted there. Everything grew back on its own - from the same roots, in the same position. After 20 years or so, the olive grove is now functioning again, something which started about five years ago when my husband finally found the time and money to start reworking the land again. Most of the trees came up as wild olives, which are inedible and need to be grafted into domesticated edible species; this we did over a long period of time; Rome wasn't built in a day. The olive grove now doesn't produce as much olive oil as it used to (my husband would sell half of what he made whereas now he sells nothing), but every two years, it gives us enough oil to last us for our own use, before we need to buy some more to maintain our supplies until the next harvest. 

lefka ori covered in snow fournes hania chania
The view over the olive tree in the winter.

The olive tree is miraculous, having survived over centuries. You can cut it down σύριζα, but it's still very hard to eradicate. To uproot something entirely is not the end of the world; in the case of our olive grove, it was the start of a more sustainable one. Like the olive grove, sometimes we need to eradicate everything σύριζα and start afresh. The roots of the olive tree are humble ones with great depth, too profound to be obliterated once and for all. Those roots form the olive tree's past, and their experience tells the tree how to get over a present catastrophe in order to continue to have a future, in the same way as people who know their history well. 

If you do not know your past roots, you will have only your present rootless soiless foundations to help you cope in an uncertain future, like a house built on concrete piles and not embedded in rock. If you have a past, you do not need to wait for politicians to pass decrees for you to decide on how you will act in times of adversity. All politicians are power-hungry crooks - you mean very little to them. Your survival does not depend on them; it depends more on your own choices and if they are sustainable. 
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It's time to take a blogging break. I have lots more good stories to tell you, but the time to tell them is not now. Let's see what tomorrow brings. One thing is sure - there are plenty of zucchini and horta in the garden, the good weatehr is guaranteed and the beaches close to my house are quite clean. See you again soon, I hope, and definitely in Greece, while I post sporadically for the time being.


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