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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Knitting (Πλέξιμο)

It had been about seven years since I last knitted anything, as there didn't seem to be any need to knit anything. New Zealand, like the UK and the US, is knitter's paradise; people love showing off their craftwork and complementing others for it. I used to knit a lot when I was living there, but I noticed how unnecessary most of my works were in Greece, because it is simply too hot for woollen clothing. I've kept a good number of my woollen creations, mainly because of the great amount of work I had put in them; it didn't feel right to give them to a charity shop or leave them in a bag outside a church, because these kinds of items are not appreciated by locals. They aren't really useful, and they are generally not worn these days.

Mittens made with 4-ply pure wool, and a scarf being made with Greek BONSAI yarn
Now that my children are becoming more fashion conscious, they are asking for accessories like scarves and gloves. In my time, I've knitted countless pairs of the latter. Among the material possessions I transported from NZ to Greece were a few of my favorite knitting patterns and my knitting needles; I'm really glad now that I did because equipping yourself for hobby purposes can be quite a costly outlay. In my youth, I knew them almost off by heart; when you knit a pattern very often, it's like a recipe that you don't need to consult a cookbook to make. Nevertheless, patterns for making just about anything are now available not just on websites, but even on youtube videos, to guide you through the whole process.

Keyhole scarf made with eyelash yarn
My kids' interest gave me a chance to survery the yarn market in Hania. There are only two shops in Hania selling various yarns, which may say something about the popularity of yarn crafts. At the same time, it should be mentioned that local radio is now advertising knitting lessons, no doubt one of the side effects of the economic crisis. These kinds of novelties followed on from sewing lessons which teach ot just how to sew your own clothes, but how to give your old clothes a makeover.

Although beautiful soft non-scratch woollen yarns exist, they are not so popular here because they are more expensive, but the yarn market has also grown in the last decade due to advances in technology. Polyamide yarn mixes, available in a wide variety of forms, are now very popular all over the world. Although they cannot be described as very cheap, you usually need only one ball of wool to make a fashionable scarf or a pair of gloves, for instance. In terms of prices, Hania is not much more expensive than a small town in Holland, for example, where I picked up some interesting yarns while holidaying there, but I notice that similar yarns are also sold in Hania at similar prices.

Ruffled scarf yarn, thanks to technological advances
Knitting has similar therapeutic qualities as reading a book that isn't very demanding, like chick lit. As I waited for my daughter's basketball session to finish, I sat in the small gymnasium knitting a very colourful scarf in simple garter stitch (for the uninitiated, knitting doesn't get any easier than that). The stares I got were enough to make me move to a more isolated spot away from the team's eyes, which were more often centred on the scarf rather than the game - I don't know what intrigued people more: the yarn or the knitting process.

Once you know the basic stitches, knitting requires patience and a determination to finish a project; both virtues are highly essential in a society that is trying to rebuild itself after suffering a fast-paced domino-like path of destruction. Athens and New York share a similar plight, in the sense that they need to rebuild something that took decades to construct and only a very short time to annihilate. But they don't share the same theory on how to resolve these problems, as the following paragraph, written in Greek in the original, shows:
Anti-capitalists may be pleased to see the hub of capitalism being hit so hard by something it could not control. I am happy for what I saw happening for another reason: I saw a city and its citizens learning from past events, I saw the wider state infrastructure in the face of a black president who took action despite the pre-election period, I saw people knowing how to judge which channels, which photos, which blogs they should believe. I saw homeless people being removed from the area of danger, shops being protected, neighbours helping others, I saw firemen and police officers in their posts, people accepting humour at their expense, even directing sarcastic comments at themselves, with the self-confidence that you can only have from the security of the knowledge that you can rebuild what is being destroyed. I saw a city that works, one which we don't want to be like.
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Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Tax evasion

It was never hard to be a tax evader in Greece - the path was paved quite clearly. In fact, as long as the concept exists, it's not hard to be a tax evader anywhere.

When I left NZ, I made sure I had no outstanding debts, which was quite easy for me, since I didn't have an overdraft on my bank account, I had no credit cards and I did not have any tax debts. My last NZ tax payment was made a few months after I left NZ permanently, after my previous year's revenue was examined. When I began living in Athens, I wanted to ensure that my officially legal tax status would continue. Every year, I'd file my tax forms like all Greeks, declaring what income I made from my job and I'd state my expenses, mainly through rental receipts, which never showed the full amount, because my landlord was a classic Greek property owner, who never declared the full amount that he was receiving from his tenant (he would only declare the amount that I would be taxed for).

At the time, I wasn't a property or vehicle owner. Because I was a full-time paid employee of a firm, I was viewed by the Greek tax department as a salaried employee whose taxes were taken out of her monthly salary; therefore I could not owe anything to the state through my job, because tax was already being paid via my employer (who was highly reputable and paid his employees both well and on time). But there was one area which I couldn't declare, and that was the income I was receiving from ιδιαίτερα, which literally translates to 'particulars', but which every Greek citizen knows to mean 'private lessons', a form of freelance teaching: one-to-one lessons, in a private home (either the teacher's or the student's), paid at a higher rate than other forms of teaching (eg at a frontistirio), with no receipt/invoice issued. This system is as old as the modern Greek education system, seen as a way to acquire the knowledge required to pass school examinations and diploma-based foreign language tests.

I couldn't declare the income generated from ιδιαίτερα, because I was a salaried employee: the law at the time stated that you could either be a salaried employee, or a freelance worker - not both. When I mentioned to my colleagues that this didn't make sense (I was making almost as much money from my freelance teaching as I was from my salaried work), they would always laugh and say: "You're not in NZ now - that's the way things are done here." Athens was too large and messy and impersonal for me to bother with finding out if there was a way to be a legal tax-paying hard-working citizen in Greece, while working in two similar (but in the eyes of state, dissimilar) kinds of jobs. I left that for when I decided to live in Crete.

Hania was (and generally still is) a small town, especially useful for getting bureaucratic business done quickly, especially in my case because I lived in the centre of town at the time. In my first winter here, I decided to visit the tax offices, all centralised for the whole province in one big building near the Agora, to find out if there was a way to declare all my earnings. I must have first gone to some kind of information desk (in mid-1990s Greece, there really was no such thing as an information desk in the state services), and stated my problem to the employee: how to legally declare freelance teaching income if I am also a salaried employee. His initial reaction was that there is no need to do so, if I am already receiving a salary (what everyone else was telling me).

I kept insisting: how would I declare my income as a freelance teacher if I weren't a salaried employee in the first place? He directed me to the office that issues receipt booklets to freelancers (of any kind, not just teaching). I explained what I wanted to do; this tax office employee also said the same thing as the previous employee. He then went on to expalin to me that if I wanted to ask for such a booklet, I'd have to fill in an application form, and pay an upfront tax fee for it, before I even issued a single receipt: something in the range of 30,000-50,000 drachmas if I remember correctly, which was about half an average salary at the time.

I explained that I would probably be making about that much a year from my freelance teaching, so this was not convenient for me. He reiterated that I didn't need to delcare this income (remember, we are in the state tax offices) because I was 'already paying tax' as a salaried employee. I kept insisting that there must be a way to declare this extra income (in retrospect, I think he thought I was completely nuts). He directed me to yet another office, where this time one woman was working alone in it. She said pretty much the same thing to me as did the previous two employees. The year was 1996.

Yes, most people who have heard this story before did tell me I was completely out of my mind, and I should leave well enough alone; they were the same people who told me I should never have declared the full rental incomes I was receiving after I became a property owner. I continued to declare my rent income in full, but I really could not declare my freelance teaching income, no matter what I did. So I just left at that. What else could I do, apart from become a menace to cosy convenience?

PS: I stopped doing ιδιαίτερα since I had children.


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Monday, 29 October 2012

Bami goreng (Ινδονέζικα νούντλς)

Food can be cheap, but it never needs to be as boring as something out of a packet.

Noedels bami goreng
Just add boiling water and oil and Serves 2, the wording stated on the packet of the VITASIA Bami Goreng Stir-Fry Noodles (which, coincidentally, cost more than twice as much as what is shown in the photo - the one-time offer took place at LIDL in Greece at the same time as in Holland and Belgium). Sounds good, I thought to myself, taken in by the exotic-looking photograph. I bought two packets (Produced in Switzerland) and decided to prepare them for that night's evening meal.

This didn't happen as I discovered my husband preparing a big tomato salad, swimming in oodles of olive oil and decorated with slices of pungent onion and aromatic pepper. The air was redolent with the aroma of crusty bread slices. The table was already laid, centred by a plate of feta cheese. I put aside the noodles and forgot about them until only just recently when the weather had cooled down and we had begun to run out of tomatoes. I decided to prepare one of the packets for a quick fix meal.


The food in the bowl looks almost like the photo on the packet - all except the vegetables. The complete meal packet did not even fill a whole soup bowl!

The instructions on the back of the packet stated that approximately 10 minutes were needed to prepare the whole meal (less than the time needed to prepare the recipes in JO's latest collection). Instead of a wok, I used a saucepan. As I tipped the finished meal into a serving dish, I realised the whole meal looked enough for one, not two meals. It was closer to a snack than a meal. The appearance of the cooked food (80% noodles, as stated on the packet) had lost its exotic appeal, possibly due to the cooking speed. The finely processed vegetables (6.4% of the total meal) resembled lifeless papery fragments - bits of dried orange peel instead of carrots, limp rotted grass for mushrooms, camouflaged slivers of onions and Savoy cabbage - temporarily revived by the warmth of the liquids, with a buzz of radiance provided by the oil. Only the celery seemed to remind me of its fresh self.

I knew I could have prepared a more appetising version of this meal if I had devoted just a little more time than I needed to cook it straight from the packet. Most of the ingredients listed are staples even in an urban kitchen (eg pasta, onion, garlic) while most are cheap to buy. They are also the kind that we normally keep in the fridge anyway (carrot, leek, tomato). Recipes on the internet for bami goreng (apparently a very popular dish in Holland from their Indonesian influence) make the dish sound very easy to prepare. I used the noodles from the second packet that I had bought in conjunction with one of those recipes, to prepare a more colourful and much more enticing meal (not just a snack) for the whole family.


Instead of ham and shrimp, I used smoked Cretan pork, and went easy on the coriander. Ground ginger was replaced by fresh and sambal oelek is now seen regularly on supermarket shelves marked 'tastes from abroad'. This is influenced possibly by the source of imported foods for each supermarket chain: AB Vasilopoulos, for instance, relies on DelHaize, a Belgian importer. 


Bonus trivia: The nutritional value of 100g of the packaged contents amounted to 169 calories. Each packet weighed 125g net, ie 211 calories per packet. Only water and oil are added in the cooking process. Water is calorie-less, while olive oil contains approximately 120 calories per tablespoon; the whole meal therefore contained approximately 450 calories. If the meal were divided into 2 servings, that's about 225 calories per serving. The average recommended daily calorie intake is 1940 for women and 2550 for men. If the meal is meant to serve 2, it would have to be supplemented by other foods to constitute a complete meal. A small steak (or juicy sausage) on the side would have complemented it quite nicely!

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Sunday, 28 October 2012

Lest we forget

The 28th of October, known as the heroic "NO" day, when Greece prevented fascist Italy from entering the country during WW2, is a major public holiday in Greece, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday; therefore Greek workers lose out on the holiday aspect, because it is simply part of the weekend. (Greek public holidays are never transferred for observance to a weekday - they are celebrated on the day they fall.)

Most television discussions and programmes today will centre around an event which took place 72 years ago:
Κορυτσά 1940: Μία γελοιογραφία της “Daily Mail” και ένα γράμμα - Φωτογραφία 2
Cartoon of the time
On the 28th of October Italian troops stormed across the Greek border as Mussolini attempted to add Greece to the new Roman Empire, and show fellow fascist Adolph Hitler that Italy too, could launch its own Blitzkrieg offensive. Mussolini's poorly lead troops however had underestimated the Greeks' tenacity to resist the Italian invaders. By the end of October, the Italians had captured the Greek town of Koritsa*, near the Pindus mountain range, only 6 miles into Greek territory... the Greeks launched a series of counter-attacks aimed at cutting off the main road out of Koritsa and threatened to isolate the Italian army [... threatening] not only the Italian forces along the coastline, but the only roads out of Koritsa to the west. The Italians had reinforced Koritsa with remnants of the 3rd Alpini Division a mere day before the final Greek assault began, spearheaded by armour imported from Italy before the war. The 9th Italian Army resisted desperately, but the town fell along with some of Mussolini's best troops to the II Greek Army on November 22nd, after both roads west of Koritsa had been cut. The next day Italian troops were driven from Greek soil.
We were having an early breakfast this morning, confused by the time change (daylight saving ended yesterday) which got us out of bed rather early. The sun was already shining at 7am; for the past month, it was quite dark at this time, when we usually get up to prepare for work and school. The TV programs for the day will all be historically based. While we were listening to someone telling us about his experiences as a soldier in Koritsa, my husband was reminded of another story from his youth. He did not have the chance to meet his maternal grandfather, who was killed by firing squad in his home village in WW2 by the Nazis, or his paternal grandfather, who was spared because he was fighting the war at the border, but he remembers his paternal grandmother's stories, which his father told him.

"Where did you sleep in Koritsa, Saranto?" she asked him when he returned from the front.
"We slept όρθιοι," he replied, meaning that they didn't sleep much. There was no such thing as a bed for Greek soldiers in any of the contemporary wars that they fought. They were most often ill-equipped and lacking arms. Patriotism was mainly what kept them struggling.

"So you never lay down?"

"Of course we lay down, because if we didn't, we'd be falling down as soon as we closed our eyes."

"So where did you sleep?"

"It was very very cold up there, and the earth was frozen solid, so we couldn't sleep on the bare ground. We'd place four dead soldiers on the ground side-by-side, and then we'd lie down on top of them. there was enough space for two of us. But it was still very cold, and even if we wanted to sleep, we really couldn't."


People talking about hunger during WW2 in Greece

Cold, tired and hungry, my husband's paternal grandfather eventually returned to Crete. He died a few years after his return due to the accumulated health problems that he had suffered from his war effort. 

It's difficult to forget stories of this kind, even if we wanted to. Now Greece's long oral tradition is also being complemented by a lot more writing, these stories will remain an integral part of history. 

*Koritsa is no longer a part of Greece - it is now Korçë, in Albania.

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Saturday, 27 October 2012

Most Saturdays, I take a walk around various places in town. I always have a small camera in my bag, in the hope that I will see something interesting to photograph. Today I didn't have to work very hard to find that photo.

Souda Bay, Chania

The sunny clear weather provided the perfect environment for a mirror image of the boats in the water. Don't be fooled though - I was wearing a knitted jacket; daylight saving ends tomorrow, as the cooler weather begins to set in.

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Friday, 26 October 2012

Moving on

Just lately, Greece has a lot to commemorate rather than to celebrate. Every day for the past two months, Greek TV has been reminding us of the catastrophic events that took place 90 years ago in Smyrna (a city of modern-day Turkey). Only another decade is needed for the centennial commemorations to take place, yet there are still people appearing in the programmes, describing the events that took place when they weren't even born. They are relating the events as they were told about them by their deceased relatives, for future generations to remember. The photographs and films of the time, despite their blurred and grainy images, depict the devastation very well.

Today, Greece commemorates the liberation of the city of Thessaloniki in Northern Greece, on the same day as the feastday of St Dimitris. Double celebrations are seen as auspicious in Greece (eg independence from the Ottomans), hence the alignment of certain feast days with national events . Thessaloniki's Hellenisation preceded the Smyrna events by a decade. Both events sought to maintain Hellenic territories: one was successful (most of what was known in ancient times as Macedonia is now Greek territory) while the other one wasn't (what was once known to Greeks as Asia Minor is now all lost).

Makedonomahos (Fighter for Macedonia), Thessaloniki
The Macedonian war reminds me of a story my husband told me, as he was told it by his father, who heard it from his father; my husband did not have the chance to hear it from his grandfather becuase he had died before my husband's birth. Many Cretan soldiers went to Northern Greece to fight in the Macedonian wars - this was at a time when the island of Crete was not formally a part of the modern state of Greece. My husband's grandfather had fought close to the border with Bulgaria. The soldiers went for many days without food. At one point, they saw a donkey eating the rind of a watermelon. They fought tooth and nail with the creature to prise the rind out of its mouth, so that they could eat it.

Today of all days, the Greek Prime Minister, speaking from Thessaloniki, told the Greeks that they don't need to be reminded that Alexander the Great was Greek; after all, he spoke Greek, he believed in the Greek gods and his teacher was Aristotle. But he also reminded us that it is now time to move on from Alexander the Great. He is of course alluding to Greece's official position concerning the name of a neighbouring country. That is enough to set off arguments that he is betraying his country.

Greeks rarely forget their glorious past. Just lately, they are coming to terms with some of the less glorious moments of their more recent past, like the post-WW2 civil war, which wiped out more than 150,000 of the Greek population of the time, half the number of Greek lives lost in WW2, while many Greeks who were against the allies (US and UK) fled the country, settling in communist countries, mainly Russia. Since the breakdown of communism, many returned to resettle in Greece, accompanied by the problems of healing old wounds.


The island of Crete will undergo its own question of identity next year, in 2013, when it commemorates 100 years of being part of the modern Greek state which had been created almost 90 years before that date. To understand why it took so long for the island to become a part of Greece means that it is necessary to understand the difference between modern Greece and ancient Greece, without forgetting that Crete has been Greek since the time of the Dorian invasion of the island. 

Knowing your past gives you the chance to carve your way into the future. But knowledge of the past can also keep you back there, as the past does not always coincide with the present; events that are supposed to unite us often end up dividing us. In the past, all that was needed was a state decree to make people comply with the official position of the state; a good example of this is how Christianity spread among the Hellenic world. The ancient Greeks may be said to have invented democracy, but coercion was still an important political tactic in their days. Coercion is not taken lightly by Greeks, the only country to stand up to the Nazis in WW2, and it continues to be opposed, as Greek politics has demonstrated very well in the last three years.


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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Full-time long-term

Imagine seeing a headline like this:


Kind of shocking, isn't it, especially given the economic climate. It makes Greeks out to be very lazy and disinterested in working, as if they have enough to get by on and don't search for more ways to augment their income, which must be meagre now, given the job cuts, salary decreases and the high unemployment.

But the report that this headline appeared in cannot be giving incorrect information as it is based on statistics gathered from the state-run Greek employment agency ΟΑΕΔ, which is where people pick up their unemployment checks from (ie it's better known for its benefit payments than its job placement schemes), as well as data from freelance online sites like www.Freelancer.com and www.RealWritingJobs.com, where people sign up for small one-off part-time piecemeal work, which can often be done online while working form home. These jobs do not pay much, but someone dedicated to working freelance, preferring to keep an unstructured timetable without being tied to normal office hours, would enjoy this kind of work. Most of the jobs on these online sites involve only a few hours of work and only a small payment.

The article states that "many Greek freelancers have registered with these agencies and uploaded profiles but their accounts remain idle. They do not chase up jobs, they do not systematically check for any new offers and tend to respond to job invitations tardily or not at all." Another reason given in the article for Greeks generally lacking interest in such jobs is because of the small payments.

In fact, such working conditions are commonly found in western countries, where full-time long-term jobs are also difficult to find. This kind of work is in fact a way to keep someone busy without getting depsondent while looking for full-time long-term employment. Many see this kind of work as a foot in the door, which could lead on to something else with better money/conditions. There is also an emphasis on the idea that the employee is in charge of his/her working regime, being able to choose the amount of work taken on and the number of hours to be put in the job. I recall doing such piecemeal work myself in the (pre-online) New Zealand of over two decades ago, which also found itself living through a kind of home-grown economic crisis at the time.

The article also reported on a three-month long experiment conducted by a Greek daily newspaper (the same one which published the article), which posted freelance jobs on the sites mentioned above: "Not a single Greek freelancer responded to any of the job offers in a timely manner." It sounds like Greeks are not interested in finding work, but this is oversimplifying matters, of course.

Apart from the well-known problems involved with such work (eg start-up and membership fees), there is also another problem for Greeks, one which is often fuelled by misguided attitudes: Greeks don't see part-time work as 'real' work. When Greeks look for work, they are often in pursuit of full-time long-term employment. Part-time work is considered by most Greeks as something temporary, even though the truth is that many people work part-time on a long-term basis, because it may be all the work they can find and/or it may suit their lifestyle choice. Part-time work may also be considered a non-male territory in Greece; there is still a stigma attached to males working less than their wives, which is often the case in Greece, ever since the collapse of the building sector (a 'real' man's work territory). While traditional male occupations have suffered during the crisis, traditional female occupations haven't: where would (for example) the tourist industry in Crete be without hotel cleaning staff? Or night-time shift-work at a bakery, which women often prefer because they can work hours that do not interrupt the needs of taking care of the family? There are many other examples of women keeping on jobs in places like Crete, while their menfolk lost theirs. Not that there aren't any traditional part-time male roles too: fast-food motorbike deliverers are usually male.

The other problem with piecemeal online work also has to do with the low payment. OAED job offers are mainly of this kind: part-time temporary jobs with a low payment. I've heard of young people saying that the reason why they aren't interested in applying for certain jobs is because of the low payment being offered. It often surprises me to hear this, given that they are presently unemployed. I believe that these people do not really need the money (they often live at home with no expenses, or their parents are able to support them and pay their living expenses), otherwise they would have applied for the job. In a low-income household where parents are not able to support their children's smoking/cellphone/cafe habits, the children would be encouraged to take such jobs on. Then there are the people who do not accept the new employment conditions that Greece's money-lenders are demanding. If they are avoiding such work on grounds of principles, then they probably have other sources of income or charity that they can rely on. 

There's another bad Greek work trait that will also have to be considered when analysing why people aren't considering odd jobs. Some people have the mistaken idea that the job will find them, rather than chasing a job themselves. This was born out of the old system of finding work in the state sector: after graduating, a potential state job candidate went on some kind of waiting list for an open position, so that when, say, a school teacher or hospital doctor retired, the next person in line would be considered for the job (without any considerations concerning their appropriateness for the position). If a potentail employee wasn't prepared to wait that long for a state position, the most job chasing that they did for such a position was to pull strings.

It was once believed that people in the future will work less and have more time to spend on leisure. This may still be true, but our leisure activities may have to become more sustainable and less reliant on a high income. It's all very well for new jobs to be created in Greece, but attitudes towards work also need to change. Job requirements and specifications change as quickly as technology. People need to realise that the idea of a full-time long-term job is now a thing of the past.

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Monday, 22 October 2012

Κερνάμε Ελλάδα (Taste Greece)

Please excuse my terrible photography - that will teach me to remember not to recharge camera batteries at the last minute!

Another agricultural fair took place in Hania over the weekend, at a more national level, rather than the local Agricultural August organised by the municipal region of Hania. The "Kername Ellada" trade fair showcased mainly local products and cultivations, as well as a number of food companies from other parts of Greece.

 A carved graviera cheese wheel, featuring the a picture of the island.

Aloe vera
Carob products
Apart from the regular tasting sessions for cheese, honey, preserves, baked products and drinks, and the local products that were also available for sale, the exhibition also contained a few surprises, this time in the form of novel products made from plants that were often considered only as animal feed (carob) or for ornamental use (aloe vera) in the past.

Buddha's fingers (or hand)
Superfood berries
Superfoods like ippofaes and the goji berry are now being promoted as possible new cultivations for the island. One stall in particular (the Botanical Park of Crete) displayed the most impressive array of tropical and other exotic fruits, ranging from jujube berries to Buddha's finger citrus fruit.

Farmed snails
Snail farming was also showcased at the fair. This is an unusual prospect for locals, who are not yet quite convinced that snails three times the size of garden snails can be prepared in the same way as for Cretan snail stew. Farmed snails also have a whiter coloured meat than do foraged snails, but the former is not being sold in the fresh market. Most farmed snails are destined for the French market, as well as other European countries; they are mainly sold preserved in jars of olive oil, kind of like truffles.

One of the non-food stalls had some very eye-catching ceramics, made in free styles with artwork inspired by Cretan flora and fauna. I bought accessories (pendant and bracelets) for my family, in the ancient Greek style reminiscent of μελανόμορφα and ερυθρόμορφα ceramics. The business producing them operates from Iraklio at Kokkino Hani, and they are also producing raku-inspired (Japanese) ceramics in dazzling Greek γαλανόλευκα colours. 

 
Red-figure and black-figure ceramics originate in ancient Greece - olive is a common pottery theme in Greek art, while the pomegranate and sardine designs below remind me of the Mediterranean.

The possibilites for Cretan agriculture are really endless. What remains is the manner in which this potential is exploited for profit. The bounty of products at the fair sent a positive signal of abundance and wealth: we may be poor, but we are not hungry.

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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Cost of living (Κόστος ζωής)

A lot is being said nowadays about the cost of living in Greece. It's certainly not cheap, but you can still get by frugally. It's hard to gauge average prices because everyone's needs and preferences are different. Here's what I bought today; I have included prices as a guide for comparing prices among countries.

Saturday's shopping list read as follows:
local newspaper: the paper press in the mass media market is probably dead or dying, but in the local context, it is the best way to get news, especially for old people; we buy the local paper for yiayia every week - €0.60
bakery bread: bread (along with milk) is a fresh staple in our house that we cannot bulk-buy or stock up on so easily; no meal is taken without the (sometimes superfluous) presence of fresh bakery bread - €0.99 (500g loaf)
pre-cut sandwich bread: for the kids' school lunches; bakery bread is not really convenient for this purpose (due to uneven slices, crumbs, etc). This bread never goes stale or mouldy, you can keep it in the fridge for a long time and it is often used as a last resort when I don't have a better lunch available for them (usually once a week). This bread is never used at the kitchen table (unlike in NZ - this was all we ate) and I notice that as the kids are getting older, it disappears faster than it used to, now that they are preparing their own meals (they think of a ham-and-cheese toasted sandwich as a gourmet dish). They know I really hate this bread (and the carb-and-fat-filled sandwich), so they only eat it when I'm not around. Sandwich bread is sometimes sold at a discount in supermarkets - bakery bread is never sold in this way, and it always runs out (unlike the pre-cut stuff) by the end of the selling day; you get what you pay for - €3.30 (900g)

pulses ospria beans lentils: buying Greek lentils is cost-effective only when buying in bulk, and I didn't manage to get to a bulk-buy store, so the imported ones (half the price of Greek ones) will have to do this time - 2x€0.75 (500g each)
chickpeas: Greek chickpeas cost only a few cents more than imported ones - I went for the Greek ones - €2.00 (500g)
white beans: same story as for lentils (see above) - 2x€1.53 (500g each)
black beans: more and more 'unusual' (for Greece) products are becoming available to us, and I always live in hope that one day I will find them available at a supermarket or specialist store, so I make a note to look out for them occasionally (but still no luck - I didn't find any such thing during today's shopping expedition)
ham slices - for school lunches once or twice a week €1.83 (200g)
100% Greek milk brands
milk(s): the plural is to remind myself to buy some milk for yiayia; although she drinks the same 2% milk that we all use, I buy her smaller 1L cartons which cost more than the 1.5-2L cartons we buy, because the bigger packaging is too heavy for her hands. NB: if anyone needs proof that the prices of certain commodities have remained more or less stable (with some prices coming down, not going up, since 2008), check out my MILK post for the prices of a number of milk brands. I bought MMMilk brand today, at basically the same price that is was being sold in 2008 - 2x€1.24 (1L each) and 4x€1.90 (1.5L each)  
butter: although I never use butter for cooking, bread and butter is the only alternative the children will consider to cornflakes and chocolate-flavoured cereals, which are expensive and highly processed western-style breakfast foods. They know how I feel about cornflakes (the same as for pre-cut sandwich bread), and they know I prefer them to 'real' food. Cretan (sheep/goat milk) butter is not the most appropriate butter for spreading on bakery bread; it's lumpy, bland and very expensive. Lurpak butter is the most economical in terms of the kind of product you get for the price you pay - €2.67 (250g)
Chipped feta chunks
feta: chipped pieces from bulk-buy barrel-matured feta can occasionally be found at the supermarket for €1/kg less than a piece of feta cut from a larger part, which works out much cheaper for me (while pre-packaged barrel-matured feta costs more than €10/kg). As these pieces break off, they are gathered and placed in pottles. It's the same thing as a block of feta, but much cheaper. NB: they are not feta crumbles - that's rarely seen here, unlike in western countries, where feta crumbles are sold at a premium price - €3.03 (460g).
yoghurt: we buy a tub of strained yoghurt (made with 100% Greek milk) every 3-4 weeks; this is what is commonly known as 'Greek yoghurt' in western countries. Strained yoghurt is used as an occasional evening meal (topped with honey), or in a cheesy dip. It's not something we eat every day (it's too expensive) - €3.18 (1kg)
spinach: every week, I make a home-made filo-pastry pie. Spanakopita is my family's favorite pie. I make it large enough to have as an evening snack one day and cook a pie. Until our spinach starts growing (which will happen once we plant it, I guess), I will have to buy it (about twice a month). With the (only slightly) cooler weather, it's price has gone down to a more affordable level (it was double the price two weeks ago) - €1.19 (1kg)
leeks: leeks are not highly appreciated by Cretans, even though enough leeks are grown on the island for the population's needs. I add them to pies, soups and stews. They are not popular among my family, but I hide them in our daily meals in various forms. The reason why I buy them is because I really like them; they are more commonly used in mainland Greece - €3.30 (2kg)
Dry bread products
paximadi: bread rusks (twice-cooked bread dough, cooked firm) are a very ancient food, and the recipe hasn't changed much since my ancestors' time. What has changed is the grain used to make them. Rusks are an integral part of the Cretan diet. They are used in Crete's signature dish, dakos, which gained nationwide fame in relatively recent times. Rusks constitute a quick-fix meal and they are also a staple that can keep for a long time, like beans. They aren't cheap to buy, but a little can go a long way. Once made in village ovens, as a way to preserve bread and not need to bake it very often, in modern times, industrial ovens mass-produce it, with an emphasis on quality and taste -  €4.45 (750g)
olives: I was shopping at a national supermarket chain today, which never stocks olives cured using local methods. Olives cured in the style of mainland Greece are also very tasty - but the family is used to the local varieties of olives, and if I buy anything else, I will end up eating them alone. This is not an undesirable prospect, but it's not really economical. The olives will have to be bought another time when I go shopping with local products in mind (which is the reason I forgot to buy them today while I was in the town centre - I had other kinds of shopping on my mind)
Locally cured olives are sold loose. Pre-packed olives are always more expensive.
lysopaine: this is Greece's quick-fix medication for sore throats. Until the pharmaceutical industry is deregularised (one of the troika's mandates) in Greece, we can only buy non-prescription medication from the chemist. This kind of medicine will eventually be sold in the supermarket (as is paracetamol in western countries). NB: pharmacies in Greece were never open on Saturdays until only this year; chemists were considered a 'closed' profession. If you got ill at the weekend, you had to search for an emergency pharmacy (this is no longer the case) - €1.65 (20 discs)
cotton buds: luckily, I remembered to buy these at a €1 shop while I was there; they are more expensive at the supermarket, because they are branded - 1.00 (200 pieces)

toilet paper: I could have bought this item at a much cheaper price from a stock shop while I was in town. But who really wants to walk around with a bumper-pack of toilet rolls in their hands, while they're on a shopping errand in the centre of town? - 6.55 (10 rolls)
Badedas: although we buy and use bars of olive oil soap, liquid soap is easier to use and is preferred by most members of my family. Liquid soap is now a part and parcel of the routine of a globalised lifestyle. 'Gourmet' olive oil soap will continue to be made in the future (for similar reasons that Dutch clogs are still being made and worn). It is priced outrageously at the supermarket, although it's often sold at a reduced price if you buy it in bulk or at discount stores (use sparingly, I remind my loved ones) - 5.40 (750ml)
"Yes, my little piranha fish?" (as Basil Fawlty used to ask his wife)
fish - there's cheap fish and expensive fish, just like there is frozen fish and fresh fish; my biggest temptation is fresh fish, and Saturday is the only day we can eat fish (because it's the only day I have time to cook it). The children's weekend sports activities take me through the town centre, where my eyes feast on the fresh fish available at the fishmongers. Koletis fish shop near the municipal buildings offers two species at a special price every day, changing the species daily. Today, there was European hake (known in Greek as 'bakaliaraki') for €5/kg - other times, this species costs €10/kg (for the small fish, and €18/kg for the big fish). This is my family's favorite fish dish (fried) - €10.00 (2kg)
wool: I used to knit a lot in NZ, where the weather was colder, and wool was cheap. I stopped knitting in the last decade, but now that my daughter is becoming fashion-conscious, I've taken it up again to make her scarves and other accessories. Yarns are now fancier than in my youth, but they are still affordable. The yarn for the scarf pictured above cost more to buy in Holland (€7.95 for a 100g ball), where I first saw it, than it did in Greece (€5-6 a ball, depending on the brand). I bought some pure wool today to make my daughter some leg-warmers (2x50g balls @ €4.00 each) and a fancy polyamide yarn to make myself a scarf (100g for one ball - €5.50).
Two apples are lying hidden in the bowl among the last crop of pomegranates from our tree.
As usual, there is always something I forget to write on the list, and this time, it was fruit (apples or bananas) for the children's lunchboxes. There are a couple of apples left from last week's shopping, which I will now try to hide from everyone's view, so that they can go into lunchboxes for Monday, when I can buy some more.

And as happen on most shopping expeditions, there was at least one item that was not on my original shopping list - more on that another time.

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Friday, 19 October 2012

Doing it like the Greeks

No one wants to spoil their holidays to Greece, especially travel agents on behalf of their customers. Now they too are learning good Greek tricks not to let 'national' strikes stuff up their itineraries. Speaking of which, 30,000 people marched in Athens against the austerity measures - hardly a national strike.

The cruise ship that calls every Friday into the port of Souda in Hania came yesterday instead, on the day of the 'national' strike, in order to avoid any possible problems, in a city that has gained a reputation in recent times for temporary outbreaks of chaos. It was supposed to call into Athens yesterday, but it simply changed the order of the destinations, making up for the lost day in Athens by going there today instead.


Kudos to the cruise organisers for thinking like ordinary Greek citizens during these times. Judging by the figures, Greeks are tired of strikes and always find ways to get their work done and to continue their lives without letting a few petty individuals (who believe they are killing themselves to fight for our rights) stuff things up for them. neither, me nor my husband, nor my kids' school teachers went on strike (the latter told the children that they had bills to pay).

The world is catching up with what is really happening in Greece. One only needs to look at the shambolic state of the EU/IMF/ECB troika, Greece's money lenders, who all agreed that Greece should get nothing if she doesn't conform to certain rules, nor will she be given anything until the troika's report comes out concerning her progress (due next month). Now, they are starting to disagree even among themselves as to what to do with Greece. The carrot-and-stick theory works too slowly for the desired veneer to show through quickly enough; they have now agreed under the table that it's best to always have ready a dish full of food beside a bowl of water, to avoid contagion knocking too close to their own quarters.

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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Ex-pat

Crete's climate and relaxed lifestyle draw a wide range of people to the island: Greeks from the mainland and immigrants from Eastern Europe have made the island their home, as well as a certain class of immigrant that is never called an immigrant: the retired ex-pat. A high number of Northern Europeans have settled on the island, often buying or renting property built exclusively for them, while some have chosen to renovate old Cretan homes in remote villages. The largest group of ex-pats come from the UK.

On their choice of migrating to live out their retirement years, the Brits could be said to differ from the Greeks in that they choose to leave their homeland and move to a foreign one, a country whose language they usually do not speak, a situation facilitated by people's increased reliance on the internet. But at the same time, they exhibit a similarity with Greek immigrants abroad, who often wish to come back home to live their retirement years in their ancestors' country. Although Greece is not a Briton's home country, the fact that Britons choose a place like Crete to reitre could be for similar reasons as those of their immigrant Greek counterparts - they want the last years of their life to be spent somewhere nice. Crete is one of those places that attracts ex-pats, mainly due to its climate, landscape, good food and laid-back lifestyle.

The Apokoronas region in Hania is a popular choice of residence among ex-pats, who buy or rent new modern homes or renovate old ones. The population of the village of Plaka (below the hill in the photo)has doubled to 400 in the last decade - half the residents are ex-pats.
But the ex-pat is not of Greek origin, and the way the ex-pat wants to retire is quite different from the way the Greek (whether immigrant or not) would want to retire, the main difference being that an ex-pat is quite happy to leave friends, and more importantly, family including children back 'home' (or in any other part of the world), and come to live in a place where they don't know anyone. On this point, Greeks prefer to live close to their children and the biggest move they may make in retirement is to live in a rural setting instead of an urban setting where they may have worked. Greeks from Greece don't usually change country when they retire; like their European counterparts, they know the virtues of their country, and how these virtues are valued by non-Greeks. This tells us a lot about Greece: it's really quite a good place to live, as long as you can afford it.

Online forums set up by ex-pats are available for information and advice-sharing for Northern Europeans thinking of retiring in Greece. Ex-pats usually choose a place to retire based on their preferences for landscape. Many ex-pats prefer remote mountain villages. In the past, construction companies did a roaring trade selling newly built houses to ex-pats, creating ex-pat enclaves in areas of Crete that were on the verge of dying out as inhabited places. This had a positive effect in terms of resurrecting dying villages; a side-effect was the change in the micro-climate of the area due to the presence of large swimming pools in private homes and housing estates. Despite being surrounded by the sea, ex-pats regard swimming pools as a necessary part of a house.  Few locals share this opinion: swimming pools are viewed as luxury items whose outlay and maintenance is not really affordable, and anyway, the sea is always closeby for swimming; pools are generally viewed as an element of a luxury lifestyle which only the very rich can afford to maintain.

I was recently looking through one of the ex-pat forums to help a friend who was interested in ex-pat issues. One of the most popular discussions on those forums is the issue of the transportation of cheaper-priced UK goods to Crete. Certain (mainly) imported items are available very cheaply in the UK, whereas in Greece, shoppers are required to pay a premium for brand labels, mainly non-perishable goods such as cosmetics and personal care products, eg  shampoos, washing powder, deodorants, etc. It goes without saying that all such products are available cheaply on the island in other forms (not as brand labels, but as private labels), but in the UK, even brand-label goods are available at a heavy discount in high street stores (not just online). When you make a decision to move away from home country, you often don't realise what the daily cost of living is there; it's possibly based on costs like the cost of a house, utilities and how much a good meal out costs (which of course, is far cheaper in Crete than it is in the UK); it's not based on the cost of what may be considered a basic supermarket item in your own home, eg brand-label soap.

Ex-pats have quite a different relationship with money compared to the locals. For example, the price of Listerine (an imported good in Crete) will cause them much more anguish than the price of a car. During your time as an ex-pat in Crete, you will probably buy a car just once; if you are good at bargaining, you will get a good price for it. But if you are used to using a capful of Listerine (as the instructions say) twice a day for oral health and daily freshness, you will need to buy Listerine regularly, which costs approximately twice as much (or more, depending on where you buy it) in Crete as it does in the UK. When you've gotten used to spending very little of your income on bulk-buy brand labels (at places like Poundland), it feels as though you are downsizing when you realise you are forced to buy private labels instead of brand labels for similar goods that do the same job, and if you do insist on brand labels, your disposable income will suddenly be disposed of rather more quickly than you thought it would. Ex-pats try to reduce their living costs on Crete by buying from the UK what they consider to be basic non-perishable goods, and then have them shipped to Crete. In all fairness, many ex-pats came to Crete during the time when the UK pound was equal to €1.47; it went down to as low as €1.07 at one point (now it is approx €1.23), which means that the ex-pats will have been caught short for a time - I did hear about a small number leaving the island because they couldn't afford to live here any longer on that basis.

Then there's their relationship with food. If you are the must-have-a-swimming-pool type, you probably aren't the grow-your-own-veg type, a common activity of the retired local. Swimming pools are probably surrounded by lawns, not zucchini plants. Most ex-pats love to go out for a meal (which may say something about their cooking skills). But Crete is not an all-year-round warm weather destination, so the tavernas that most ex-pats frequent in the villages often close down during the off-season (end of October to end of March). Their 'local' probably won't be operating in the winter. A meal out at least once a week is seen as a necessity by most ex-pats (speaking on behalf of myself, it's not really affordable these days in the eyes of most locals). This gives us a fair idea of how much more money ex-pats retire with here.

In terms of food shopping, the typical ex-pat makes a regular shopping trip at a supermarket once a fortnight. You will often come across ex-pats shopping in LIDL (a well-known German discount supermarket with scathingly competitive pricing) and Carrefour (which sells mainly imported goods at cheap prices). Their carts are usually filled with alcohol and petfood (both of which no doubt raise their shopping bills). They most likely use trips back home to stock up on favorite food items, eg Marmite (very scarce in Crete, and also very expensive when it is available), black tea (not very good quality in Crete, I'm afraid to say), packaged biscuits such as gingernuts (Greece has never really had a wide range of good quality tasty packaged biscuits, and those that are available are in a much more limited taste spectrum - ginger, for example, is not really popular among Greeks). You rarely find ex-pats shopping at INKA, a Hania-based supermarket chain that sells many local food products that locals buy to cook basic Cretan meals, or AB Vasilopoulos, a gourmet Greek supermarket chain which sells national (rather than local) fresh food and gourmet imported products, (albeit at a price premium). My guess is that they have been into INKA and seen the prices for Cretan food products, like graviera (gruyere cheese) - anything from €12-18/kg: who could blame them?! Foreign cheese varieites are also available (eg Pilgrim's Choice cheddar), but as imported products, they are much more expensively priced here than what they would cost in the UK.

Another reason for not choosing a Cretan supermarket for food shopping could also lie in the fact that if you have not been brought up to prepare Cretan dishes, you will probably not be able to use local food products easily and quickly in your daily cooking routine; even Cretan paximadi takes some getting used to if you've been used to always having bagels instead of rusks on hand, or fromage frais instead of Greek yoghurt, or black tea instead of Cretan malotira. They most likely use trips back home to stock up on favorite food items, eg Marmite (very scarce in Crete, and also very expensive when it is available), black tea (not very good quality in Crete, I'm afraid to say and imported goods are over-priced, as usual), packaged biscuits such as gingernuts (Greece has never really had a wide range of good quality tasty packaged biscuits, and those that are available are in a much more limited taste spectrum - ginger, for example, is not really popular among Greeks).  

The typical ex-pat in Crete is in a relationship, owns his/her own home with a swimming pool, doesn't have any dependent children, does not live with their children, travels back to the UK at least once a year, is in their mid-50s and is retired. The latter will naturally strike most Greeks as odd because of the tirades that we have had to put up with from Northern Europeans that Greeks are lazy and retire much earlier than people in the UK and Germany; at a time when most retired Greeks, whether they have taken early retirement like the ex-pats or not, are probably living off about €8-10,000 euros a year (sometimes between two people), supporting both children and grandchildren, ex-pats live off a pension from €12,000 to anything up to €20,000 per person per year. Most ex-pats have some kind of private pension fund which they are drawing from before they begin to receive a state pension, which will up their income at a later date, an unlikely prospect for most Greeks; Greeks in early retirement are most likely drawing a state-funded pension, and they most likely belong to the category of special occupations, eg policeman, military personnel, etc, jobs which also fall into the 'special category' professions in the UK, who can also retire early. 

The extent to which the ex-pat has acclimatised to the Greek way of life, or more to the point, the Cretan lifestyle concerning my island, is divided 50/50 between those who have integrated into the wider village community, and those who have maintained their own customs from their home country. Although they don't generally have a family to look after (or to look after them), those who have adopted a Greeker way of life are inclined to grow some food in their garden, including picking some olives to produce their own supply of olive oil. They are also likely to cook most of their own meals, and enjoy taking part in inexpensive activities within the locality they reside (especially more so now that petrol is expensive). 

On the other end of the scale, their more "British" counterparts prefer to go out for a meal on a frequent basis, ordering according to more urban/global standards: a meal will begin with an aperitif, it will include bottled alcohol, and it may finish with an Irish coffee (Cretans are unlikely to order alcoholic drinks before and after a village taverna meal). They are more likely to spend more money per person on a meal out than their "more Greek" counterparts, some of whom claim to eat out at a cost of  €10-12 per head (ie the same price that my own family pays for a taverna meal, or much less at a snack/souvlaki bar), which is about twice that of the "more British" group (€20 per head). The "more British" group is likely to spend more per person on a meal out in Crete because they are using a measure closer to the British standard. At the same time, they may simply have more disposable income than their "more Greek" counterparts. It is likely that people who have made a decision to leave their home country in their retirement and try to live out the later years of their life in a new country will try to live sustainably within their means, especially when their stay is intended to be a long-term more permanent one.

Generally speaking, whatever their income level and expenses in Crete, ex-pats will agree on two things: Crete is a nicer place to live all year round than anywhere in the UK; despite all the rising taxes that home owners in Greece are now facing, living in your own home in Crete is generally much cheaper than living in your own home in the UK; and the better climate in Crete allows you to live in a way that you would never have imagined in the UK. This all points to a higher quality of life in Crete rather than Northern Europe: as one of the forum members stated, you can be 'life-rich and cash-poor' in Crete, something that is not so feasible in the UK, since the cost of living is more expensive there, although there are hardship benefits for those hard-up there, unlike in Greece, where many pensioners are now being forced to live on €326 (that's what my mother-in-law has been receiving since June 2012). But while Greeks have a family or village connection to fall back on in hard times, ex-pats do not, so they are often amazed with the way that locals give them food (and alcohol), or treat them to something extra in their taverna/cafe, since they know that these people are cash-poor.

Although ex-pats are mainly retired people, or they are simply tired of living the routine they were used to in their home country, they still like to be active, especially mentally.  A good example of this is their charity work: they are heavily involved creating events like the annual CIC Christmas bazaar held in Hania, whose proceeds all go to local charity groups. Retired Greeks' charity interests are mainly home-based, eg looking after children, growing food for the family, etc; in Greeks' case, charity really does begin in the home environment, as the saying goes. 

To gain the above insights into ex-pats' lives in Crete, I used the BritsInCrete forum pages, which are open for public viewing. They tend to show that ex-pats (like their local Cretan counterparts) generally like to live within their means, which vary from one individual to another. The conclusion is that some of us have more money than others, which means we can live very well, but even if we don't have as much money as those lucky others, we can still live very well in Crete.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Greek statistics

The title of the e-newspaper report I read yesterday sounded rather shocking:
"Δύο στους δέκα έλληνες σε διατροφικό κίνδυνο! Στην Ελλάδα 439.000 παιδιά ζουν πλέον κάτω από το όριο της φτώχειας"
which translates to: "Two in ten Greeks in nutritional danger! In Greece 439,000 children now live below the poverty line." The figures have been taken from the latest report by the Greek committee of the United Nations in combination with figures released by another study conducted by the Hellenic Nutritionists Society, during June-September 2012, in Athens, Thessaloniki, Katerini, Ioannina, Corinthia, Crete and Cephallonia.

The article starts off with a discussion of Greeks' recent adoption of fast food which damaged their health, especially that of their children; this is nothing new of course, since it is also a common trait in Western/developed nations. A return to the classic Greek diet has been proposed as a solution, but this is viewed as "prohibitive" for most Greeks, given the "present circumstances". The latter phrase is not explained, but I take it to mean that we are all too busy to cook bean stews, or that it may be too expensive to do so.

An attempt was made to measure how "Greekly" people ate. From a sample of 798 adults aged 18-73, it was found that half the group showed relatively good nutritional habits, whole the other half that didn't admitted that they did know better but did not follow a healthy diet. Women were better at keeping to a healthy diet, but at the same time, half the sample did not adopt the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. The report also states that more than 1.5 million Greeks suffer from high blood pressure, while 40% of the Greek population also suffer from high cholesterol, and 15-16,000 Greeks per year have a heart attack. Diabetes in Greece is as common as in other European countries (4%) while the risk of obesity has increased to 40%.

The figures are quite damning, but they should also be viewed with caution. If Greece has a high rate of unemployment, then there should be more time available to people to cook a Mediterranean meal, something like bean stew.  It is also reported in the popular press that fresh products are being sold at very competitive prices at the street stalls (λαϊκή), while discount supermarkets sell pantry staples at low prices; the cost of food isn't always as expensive as the cost of living is made to sound in the mass media. To my mind, the research sounds counter-intuitive.

The figure of 439,000 children living below the poverty line is a worrying one; the number was presumably calculated from statistics for income and household size including number of children. Such figures do not take into account the stories that come to light every day about people who declare an extremely low annual income to the state while at the same holding Swiss (or other) bank accounts with more than half a million euros.

According to Greek statistics, there is poverty and hunger in Greece. But poverty levels are often cited according to international standards, always using mainly income as the basis. Different lifestyles are not always taken into account, eg the high reliance on one own's food resources, something Greeks revere and take on like a national sport. I'm sorry but I don't buy those figures.

There's a fasolada lying in my fridge today, leftover from Monday because I didn't have time to prepare a meal last night for the next day's lunch. There are also some tomatoes and peppers from the garden, and there's a 2kg-block of some of the best graviera I have ever tasted, which was given to us (as is done every year) as payment in kind, by a farmer who uses some of our land for grazing his flock. My children's lunch box today contains the last pieces of turkey meat, another gift from a relative, supplemented by some pasta. Poor man's food? Give me a break. Even our pet dog and cat eat home-cooked food: there's some leftover pilafi rice for both of them from Sunday's lunch that no one wants to touch now.

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Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Neck pain (Αυχενικό)

I have a pain in the neck which causes me discomfort when I'm using a computer, knitting, sewing, ironing, peeling potatoes, preparing salads, and basically anything which requires the head to be lowered at a slight downward angle while concentrating on a task that usually requires you to sit/stand still and focus your eyes on one specific object.

This pain in the neck is referred to as αυχενικό (afheniko) in Greek, and cervicaglia in Italian. It's not referred to as anything in English, because supposedly it doesn't exist. The Italians will know what I am talking about, but sadly, the British will view it as an imaginary affliction, often seen as a way for a hypochondriac to escape from routine, which is why I don't talk much about it. But the truth is that I sufffer from this 'pain in the neck' for long periods every year. It eventually goes away a month after its onset, and there isn't really much you can do about it, except to get a whole lot of tests done to prove that you've got it, and once you're sure you've got it, you can start taking some pills on a regular basis that supposedly relieve your pain, but you need to take them for a long time, even when you don't feel the pain, to see any effect.

The pain usually starts with a weather anomaly, like high humidity, which Hania has been challenged with for the last month-and-a-half: temperatures in the mid-30s during the day, with misty mornings and cold nights. When I see this weather pattern setting in, I know I am going to suffer; it really is a psychosocial disorder, this pain in the neck of mine. 

I've tried the pills, and I know I really didn't feel any differently from when I wasn't taking them, so I've decided to let nature take its course instead, this time hoping that my pain in the neck will go away by the end of the month, and I truly believe it will, since I've been suffering from it since just after the birth of my first child (the things mothers go through), and I know it usually lasts up to a month (or so). But since my whole life revolves around all the above-mentioned activities, it's pretty hard to do much (writing in particular) these days.

 An amazing place I visited during the weekend, with friends and family: the ruins of the ancient walled town of Aptera.

The good thing about my pain in the neck is that walking, being out in the fresh air, lying down, and simply resting doesn't exacerbate the pain, so with all the good weather Crete's been having lately, it's given me the chance to be outdoors more, which means I feel the pain less, and I don't think about it so much. The truth is that the older we get, the more often we feel a pain here or there, and I've got friends my age who have similar annoying aches in other parts of their bodies (and they seem much worse than mine), so I guess my pain in the neck is just one of those things that comes with growing older. But if you have a young family, you mustn't let this part of your natural development hinder your daily dealings with them, so I always try to pretend that there is nothing really wrong with me, even though I do in fact feel a lot of pain.

The only thing I haven't done much of these days is any blog writing, but at least that's given me the chance to do more reading. Once I get over this thingamijig, I'll let you in on my good reads.

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Friday, 12 October 2012

Uncontrolled

Gorse bushes cover a good deal of the landscape of Crete, as they are difficult to control; it is also the case that controlling it is not always feasible, as it may be too costly or involve strong herbicides.

High rise apartment blocks are often seen standing right next to a section of land covered in gorse and other low-lying scrub. It is most likely waiting for that moment when it too will be transformed into a high rise apartment block. The owner is probably waiting to become rich, or sell the piece of land for a high price.

 
Friends from abroad often remark that for a remarkably Westernised country with close contact to Eastern borders, Greece behaves as though she is still 'under development', as nothing seems to look finished.


Some land parcels seem ot be situated in a prime location but they look as though they have been left to lie in ruins, when all this time, they could have been developed into something that may be paying good money.



So many places end up having a worthless look about them, when in fact they have a high real estate value.


Other times, such areas may look under- or mis-utilised.


But when the time comes to utilise them, mistakes may still be made. Nevertheless, something positive will now come out of all this uncontrolled gorse growth - now that all land parcels and property (regardless of use) will be taxed as of 2013, unused land (and property) will be too expensive to hang on to for the sake of just having something and not making use of it.


It will be interesting to see the same areas in a decade's time; it is unlikely that the gorse bushes will still be there. Greece is ploughing through with developments, even if they seem strange to her. Never before has her Europeanisation taken such a firm hold. Diaspora Greeks beware: that old property of pappou's is suddenly going to become very costly to maintain...


All photos taken recently in the Souda area, close to the ferry port.

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