Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The village house (Το σπίτι στο χωριό)

Two posts in one day: count yourself lucky.

A picture tells a thousand words, in the same way that the village home also tells us a lot about the resourcefulness of Greek people.

For more photos of the village, click here.

This series of rooms was originally built by the father of the present owners (he was in the building trade), from left to right: store room, main house (the top floor is a recent addition) and kafeneion (which the father ran). His sons were all born in the middle room (all rooms in the past were called σπίτι 'spiti' = house) - they are also in the building trade themsevlves now.

When their father died, their mother moved to the town to be with her boys, where they all worked - with no jobs or activities in their tiny village, it was only a natural outcome to leave and find their fortune elsewhere. Their mother was the third-to-last permanent resident of this tiny difficult-to-access village near the south coast of Crete, in the prefecture of Hania. She didn't want to be alone, fearing illness, a fall, etc. Today, there are only two permanent residents left (and possibly they still feel safe because they have each other -they are a couple - and a telephone to dial for help).

The three boys then divided the property in such a way that each one got something useful - each room was turned into a self-operating home, used primarily as a village retreat or summer house, Since they were all in the building trade, they were able to do up the houses on their own, helping each other out at the same time. Each home has access to the same verandah, which means that they can all share the same view of the hills that they had when they were young.

Village homes are difficult to maintain if you don't have much money. An Athenian-born cousin of the home owners was visiting them while we were there, and he told me how much he was itching to get out of Athens: he has a job there, but he believes that the company will go under soon and he hopes that he will be fired so that he can take the plunge and leave. The pittance of a salary that he receives is his only motivation for staying in the city where he was born. His mother (an only child) also has her own πατρικό (= paternal home) in the same village, but it's been locked up for years, and was never used during that time. It needs to be renovated in the same way as what was done with the property in the photo, making it more comfortable to stay in on a long-term basis.

If you can't build/renovate your own home by yourself, you need to spend money on doing this, and these days, money reserves are difficult to come by. But most people in fact used to do a lot of the bulding work on their own properties in rural Crete, and most of rural Greece - they have spent money and invested time in their homes (I have female friends my own age who have helped mix the cement used to build their homes).

Naturally there is a garden with fruit trees and olive trees surrounding all the little houses in the village; the three boys also share the care of a chicken coop, so they have eggs, meat, fruit and veges to use while there, and they buy things like rice, sugar, flour, coffee, etc in bulk, while their wives bake bread every now and then if they stay there on a more permanent basis.

A village home looks like a luxury, especially when foreigners realise that the Greek owners of such homes also have another home in the town where they live and work - but these village homes do not look like villas, nor do they look luxurious: they are simple homes, built by expending a huge amount of labour by the owners themselves.

The present owners also have children who will one day inherit their village home, to be used in the same way that their fathers used it - provided of course that they agree on how the properties will be split up, and hopefully they will find a fair way to do this, like their fathers. Wherever they are (the town of Hania, another city in Greece, somewhere in Europe, wherever), they will think of that village home as a retreat, just like their dads do, even now.

This is the crucial point where Greeks differ from those Northern Europeans who are trying to tell Greek people how to run their lives
: not in the way the Greeks divide up property, but in the way that family plays a crucial role in Greek people's lives. Good on those Europeans for trying to tell us a few things about how to run a country, I'm not against it (!), but clearly, those people have a lot to learn from the Greeks themselves. Independence plays a much bigger role than family in Nothern Europeans' lives and it also plays a big role in the ethically corrupt behaviour of people who think only of how to make it in a world that aspires to make easy money, with little idea of where their primary food sources come from.  

No wonder Greeks feel very un-European, despite being Europe's creators. But more money being pumped into the Greek economy by foreigners (who pretend to threaten us with bankruptcy, who pretend not to like us, even though they keep giving us money all the time, despite delays, in the same way that Greece delays executing her own promises to repay these loans) to top up our coffers will not change Greek people's behaviour. Family is all they are left with to cope with the real danger Greece faces, which lies not in hunger and poverty in the literal sense, but in ostracisation and prejudice, due to Greek people's refusal to conform with the executive corporate image of globalisation.

1000 words, or 1003 to be precise, if you come from one of those countries who thinks in terms of exactitude - I didn't count the preface, captions and afterword, but I believe I am still within my ethical word-counting limits to do this.

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