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TAXI SERVICE, for all your holiday needs while you are travelling in Hania. If you're coming to Hania and you need a taxi, maybe we can help you out. For quotes and prompt service, drop me a line at: mverivaki hotmail com

Friday, 30 November 2012

Computer lessons (Μαθήματα Η/Υ)

About a month ago, my workplace decided to offer the staff a subsidised computer training course - you are paid for attending lessons. It meant staying at work for a few hours after you finish, something very few working wives and mothers really want at a time in their lives when they are already too busy. I was roped into taking part because the minimum attendance number had not been reached. The five 3-4 hour-long lessons are now keeping me at work until 7-8pm on the days that the course runs.


My evening work at MAICh gave me a glimpse of the evening meals enjoyed by the students: soup is always on the menu, followed by meat or fish, with at least one carbohydrate, and the ubiquitous salad and fruit.

Kitchen and ground staff, as well as some of the younger members of the administration staff, were all taking part. They are generally people who do not spend all their time sitting at a desk with a computer on it. I wondered what I really needed to learn about computers that I didn't already know. In the first lesson, I thought the answer to that was 'nothing': one of the first things we did was to 'learn' how to turn a computer on, and then we learnt that the Windows screen kept the same things on it that our office desk would have, were we not to be using computers. OK, I thought, as I silently read 'other material from my secret cache.

 


  The family still have to eat: I prepared the dough, and some instructions on how to cook a pizza.

The next day, I realised I had lost a memory stick where I kept some files I was working on at the time. Luckily for me, I did have back up copies of my work, but admittedly, like all people, we are sometimes lax about things like that, and my files weren't completely up to date in terms of back up. I fretted a little. Maybe that's why I need computer lessons, I thought.

The second lesson proved much more exciting - the very well informed info-tech instructor advised us about how we can jaz up our WORD files. WORD is a program I use regularly, and if I had time, I could make all those graphics discoveries that I learnt about in the lesson all by myself. But time is of the essence and I don;t have time to much around on such things. After the lesson, I went home to download some files that I had sent to myself through my workplace's intranet. Alas, I was to discover that the internet wasn't working.


 I specifically reminded them to take photos for me.

What to do now? I fretted, much more than the last time. I had lost the memory stick, the internet wasn't working, so I was now stuck. The next day, I noticed there was still no internet at home. I went into work early, frantically downloaded/uploaded/saved whatever I could onto a new memory stick. It was then that I noticed the black memory stick, wedged between the computer tower and a black file box. I still had time to write a little post about how my kids had their first no-adult-supervision cooking session while I was away. To my horrors, Blogger did not seem to be working. I gave up and got on with 'real' work.


I was pleased to see that the house hadn't burnt down when I arrived back home, and I was equally pleased to see the results. The kids have seen me roll out filo pastry dough, so perhaps this is why they made a mistake with the pizza dough -they were trying to roll it out too thinly. But if they hadn't made this mistake yesterday, they wouldn't be better pizza makers today. I called their pizza creation 'omelette pizza' because it turned out to be much easier to eat it folded up.

So here I am back at home. I've backed up my file register, the internet is now working, but I found I still couldn't write anything on Blogger. I did a quick internet check, although I admit that it took me a while to find an appropriate search string to give me the information I wanted: for instance, 'blogger down' led me to some entries about similar problems that took place over a year ago. The best one was 'can't (WITH the apostrophe, take note!) write a new post blogger', where the latest entry had appeared only half an hour ago. The 'best answer' to the question had already been posted: 'turn off draft blogger'. And sure enough, it worked.


Despite being too tired to do much, I still found the time to show the kids how it 'should' be done.  Life doesn't get much better than this in our tiny small quiet part of the world.

Next week, we'll be focussing on Excel. Powerpoint will follow, and the last computer course session will be based on the use of the internet. I clearly have a lot more to learn than I thought. There will always be something for everyone to learn, no matter how long they've been using a computer for.

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Clogs (Τσόκαρα)

When I was in Holland, I visited an open-air windmill museum in Zaanse Schans. One of the windmills was being used to show the history of the clog, and there was a display in the windmill of how clogs were made. Dutch clogs look kind of strange, and I didn't think anyone would wear them now, as they look so dated, stemming back from a time when people had less and didn't have access to much else - until I saw an older-looking gent wearing a pair of bright yellow clogs as he was riding his bike in a quiet suburb of a Dutch town in the north.


When I decided to buy a pair of clogs (in the Swedish style and not the Dutch, even though they are made in Holland, because I'd really stand out if I ever chose to wear the latter in Crete), my husband thought I was mad. But they suit my kind of lifestyle - I only wear shoes when I have to, and if I can slip them on and off easily, all the better. I was given instructions at the clog windmill as to how to wear them "Always with a thick pair of socks, so they don't cause you any discomfort."

I began wearing my clogs in Hania in late autumn. I noticed that they made a lot of noise as I walked on the bare tiles of the floor, but I only put them on just before I was ready to leave the house. They were relatively quiet on the carpeted areas. But still, they did not pass by unnoticed. I wore them yesterday as I was taking a piece of moussaka to yiayia (which we cooked in the wood-fired heater). She looked down at my feet and said "So it's you who's been wearing tsokara!"

"Oops," I started apologetically. Yiayia lives downstairs from us, so I was obviously making quite a clatter as I walked about the house in them. "I  didn't realise they were that loud, mama, sorry."

"I haven't heard that noise in years," she continued, as if she hadn't heard me. "They were the only shoes we had when I was a young girl, and throughout the war years. Our fathers would hew them out of wood, and nail a piece of leather on top for your feet. Most people didn't actually have any shoes at all, so I was very lucky that my father had made me a pair. And my mother never let me wear them without socks, unlike other children, whose feet were always looking red and sore, because they had no socks to wear with their clogs. And they had no other shoes, so if they didn't wear them, then they'd have to go barefoot. So many children had dirty feet in those days."

"They must have been useful in the fields, mama," I said, hoping to coax her memory to tell me more.

"Well, they never got left stuck in the mud, but if you were walking on the flat road, you often tripped because they were quite slippery. They needed a bit of rubber on the sole, but we didn't have anything, especially when the war broke out. We had nothing, not even any food. And I walked in those clogs without socks to the neighbouring village where we took refuge with another family. By the time we got there, my legs were so red and sore that my ankles had swelled and I collapsed."

Although she went through a terrible ordeal during WW2, she still has the courage to talk about it. Even though she says she'd like to forget those times, it seems that in her older age (my mother-in-law is 88), she remembers those days even more clearly. 

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Operation broomstick (Επιχείρηση σκούπας)

Επιχείρηση σκούπας (Operation broomstick): this phrase is often used to denote the random 'sweeping' action taken by the Greek police to round up illegal immigrants. 

It's not difficult to understand why some Greeks are turning to Golden Dawn, directly or indirectly, to solve their problems these days. Their lack of education leads them to think that foreigners (and not Greeks) are to blame for their problems. Their interests are pretty much focussed on how to hog their job without having other forms of cheaper labour sources take it from them. The violent tactics of Golden Dawn party members along with their supporters have become front-page news all over the world. But there are other more sublte and legal ways of showing defying the 'enemy', which inadvertently help the state in their general task, with a surprisingly positive result obtained by legal means. I think this is the road that Greece is going to be taking, not the ridiculous one of total annihilation that is being portrayed in the mass media.

Aποκλειστικές (apo-kli-stik-ES) are nurses that are privately hired by the patient or their care provider (family member), to provide one-to-one attention to the patient. This is usually done because in Greek people's minds, Greek hopsital care is inadequate. I specifically mention 'in Greek people's minds', because I believe it is a mistaken belief: ask our ex-pat residents from Northern Europe to tell you what they think about Greek hospitals, and they will say exactly the opposite from what the Greeks say - that the care and attention provided by the doctors and nurses is very good, and in their opinion, they would not have received similar attention in a UK hospital. I won't go further into explaining this, except to say that it has to do with the great difference in the levels of social education of the average Greek and Brit, and their beliefs (Greeks meddle in doctors' affairs, Brits show greater trust in their health system). Greeks also like to look after their sick family on a personal level, believing that they are the best person to look after them - but this often stems from their non-belief in the state system to do anything correctly. The Greek health sector allows people to stay overnight in a hospital with a patient, so there is no stopping anyone doing this, or paying someone else to do this in their place, which is where the αποκλειστικές come into play.

These αποκλειστικές are all women. They are often trained nurses with many years experience in patient hospital care, who became αποκλειστικές when they couldn't get a job within the state sector (the usual Greek sob story - everyone wants to be a public servant). They have their own union, they often wear a nurse-style uniform, and they do things that a state nurse in a Greek hospital should be doing (eg bathing patients, ensuring that a weak/incapacitated patient eats a meal, helping them to go to the toilet or providing a bedpan, etc), but does not usually do, mainly because the hospitals are understaffed. But there is also the other side of the coin, which is that the state nurses have 'learnt' not to do this because it is tacitly implied that the patients' carers have dealt with this side of the nursing profession. Whatever these αποκλειστικές do, they are - or should I say were - paid very highly for providing these services (which were very reliable). I recall paying about €100 for the most expensive shift (the weekend evening shift: 11pm-7am) in the recent pre-crisis past, when my mother-in-law (who had broken her leg) and my late father (bedridden, suffering from pancreatic cancer) were in hospital. Interestingly, αποκλειστικές often handed out receipts for the fees they charged, because these could be included in a patient's tax return, since medical care of this sort was tax-deductable (one of the few freelancer professions that has usually shown a high level of fiscal transparency), so receipts were always demanded by patients, because they knew that they could claim back on the fees.

I recently heard from a state nurse friend of mine (who will be retiring at the age of 50 next year, and will then begin to receive a reduced state pension, although she is worried that things may change in between these points in time - who cares what the troika asks for, since the merriment of the Greek public sector continues unabated) that the αποκλειστικές have watered down their prices during the crisis. On the one hand, they were forced to, due to the lack of disposable income among their clients; on the other hand, there was a readily available cheaper form of labour: the immigrant. Why hire an expensive nurse when you can hire a willing cheap immigrant to do exactly the same job?

The αποκλειστικές had been working side-by-side for a long time with the immigrant carers, until the crisis hit. My nurse friend tells me now that there are regularly 'sweeps' clearing the hospital of immigrant carers, instigated by the αποκλειστικές themselves. When an immigrant is spotted (in Crete, they stand out for their clothing and accent in spoken Greek, not necessarily for their skin colour or facial features), the αποκλειστικές inform the hospital security guards, and with their assistance, the status of the immigrant is ascertained (if they are legally in the country or not - like Greek citizens, they are required to carry some sort of identification and proof of residence, which comes in the form of a Greek ID card for Greeks). If they are illegals, they are carted out of the hospital (I don't know if the police gets involved or not).

But even if they are legally in the country, that doesn't actually mean that they are legally entitled to work as αποκλειστικές carers. The 'certified' αποκλειστικές have got very conniving in their intentions to keep their job in the crisis. After the immigrant's status is verified, their work status is then questioned: are they working with IKA? ie are they paying into the national social security system? ie are they paying tax on their earnings? Few Greeks bother to pay this on behalf of their hired immigrant labourers, which  provides the latter with entry into the healthcare and pension system, as well as ensuring that the income they are making is being taxed. Of course, this has left a number of patients in the lurch, because no warning is given during these random sweeps. The onus of being a legal immigrant in the country also involves paying taxes if in employment: for this reason, the αποκλειστικές are now a form of state caretaker. But this is now back-firing on Greek citizens who are not quite legal tender themselves. In other words, black market employment is being shown up.

It may sound racist to pick on people who look or sound different, but the tactics of the αποκλειστικές do not involve violence, and they are not being done to get anyone in trouble - this is all in aid of keeping one's job. Indirectly, they are helping the state to achieve what it initially set out to do - to make people pay taxes. My nurse friend tells me that these random sweeps are a regular event at the local hospital, and that these αποκλειστικές are the kind of people that can easily be swayed into voting for Golden Dawn because they see the immigrant as a threat to their prosperity. The subtle difference lies in being able to get the system working for you without having to resort to racism and violence. It's not a bad thing to protect your work, but you have to do it in a totally legal way, without infringing on immigrants' rights to live and work freely. Perhaps the tactics of the αποκλειστικές are providing a role model for others to follow.

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Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Winter (Χειμώνας)

It's not really very very cold in Hania; there's still a lot of sunlight during the day. But the mornings are getting darker, and the early onset of evening means less daylight, therefore less sunlight. Time to turn on the wood-fired heater, which we lit for the first time last night for this coming winter season.


My bright-colured bold-patterned knitting adds a bit of brightness to the long dark evenings.


And so does our food, as usual.

Two ways with black-eyed beans: make it into a soupy stew one day, and then serve it the next day slightly strained with tacos, guacomole, home-made pepper sauce and cheese. Instead of roasting lamb or chicken with fresh okra, I used some home-made bifteki (meat patties).

Now we can truly wish each other ΄Καλό χειμώνα'.

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Monday, 26 November 2012

Golden Dawn (Χρυση Αυγή)

“Third party! Third party!” These cries are often heard among the populace, meaning that extreme far-right Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή), the Greek nazionalist party, is gaining ground and will have much stronger support in the next elections, whenever they take place. It is believed that Golden Dawn is making inroads all over the country. Their Hitler-style salute is based, they insist, on an ancient Greek way of greeting comrades, they believe that immigrants must get out of the country asap, and above all, the country must be ‘nationalized’ and not ‘sold out’ to foreign creditors, as it is now. It's unfair to say that the symbol of the party looks like a Nazi cross - it's cleverly disguised as an ancient Greek symbol.

The Guardian (UK) has published a series of damning reports about Golden Dawn, claiming that the Greek police side with them, they incite racist attacks and their violent physical tactics have led to the serious wounding of immigrants living and working in Greece inlcuding those who are legally in the country. It is already well known that Golden Dawn members ‘help’ pensioners to withdraw money by providing them with ‘protection’ so they don’t get mugged (older Greek citizens in Greece are generally speaking techno-illiterate), and they also hand out food parcels to Greek citizens only on presentation of a Greek ID card (they also gather personal data on their supporters, which their supporters stupidly hand out, at a time when privacy of data during the Internet Age is often controversially debated, which is just one form of evidence that their supporters are, for the most part, lowly educated, in both educational and social terms). They are also behind racially motivated attacks, based on skin colour, spoken accent and little else – their tactics involve displays of physical abuse rather than verbal policies.

Representatives of Golden Dawn were in Crete at the weekend to speak to their supporters. The Golden Dawn movement in Hania (and generally throughout Crete) is not highly visible, one of the few places in Greece that generally does not show high support for the racist party, although it does exist (their offices are based in Tzanakaki St, in the middle of town). This is possibly due to the fact that Cretans, while mindful of the high visibility of illegal immigrants on the island (begging at junctions, involved in petty crime, etc), do not actually object to immigrants living here, for very simple reasons: Eastern European immigrants have lived in Crete on a permanent basis for a long time now, since the fall of communism, and they are appreciated for their industriousness. Agricultural tasks simply could not be performed without immigrant help; immigrants are also a form of cheaper labour (which happens to be what Greece’s money-lenders are demanding – that Greek labour costs become cheaper).  My understanding is that Golden Dawn supporters are generally not able to make their presence felt in Crete, because the political climate in the island is against them, so they keep to a more underground level in their activities.

The Golden Dawn rally in Hania was, for the most part, peaceful and uneventful. It hardly made local TV news, let alone nationwide coverage. The roads were blocked and there was a great degree of police presence; both supporters and demonstrators were highly visible, with more of the latter than the former. The presence of Golden Dawn on the island was reported by the mainstream press as ‘ανεπιθύμητη’ (undesirable). My husband locked down the cab early in the day, something he only does when he foresees φασαρία (trouble) brewing, which he fears may cause damage to public and private property, although none of this actually happened.  

The Third-Party criers (they are generally not just supporters of Golden Dawn, but also of other parties) also believe that SYRIZA (the complete outsider who happily became the opposition in the previous election, as they themselves admit: “We are not yet ready to govern”) will win in the next election. These same people are also heard saying that Golden Dawn will be the main opposition, which means that they will need to be elected as the ‘second’ party. I hope they get their wish, and maybe even see Golden Dawn as the first party, ie winning the elections, but when I tell them that, they say it won’t happen. Obviously, they do not believe that their dreams can come true. I have a feeling that their dream of seeing Golden Dawn gain enough seats to become a strong opposition is simply just that - a dream in their head just like the ones they see in their sleep. They always wake up back to reality after the event takes place, and the dream does not have a continuation. It may be replayed a number of times, but it does not have a future. 

On Golden Dawn's official site, we are informed that: "With fervor and enthusiasm Cretans welcomed Golden Dawn to the island... The event was a great success, as the Cretans proved that they closed their ears to Syriza supporters and anarchists who claimed it was a 'fascist' rally, choosing to listen to the language of truth, the national language of Golden Dawn!" Their representative (Ilias Kasidiaris, who had a punch-up with the not-very-nice-person-herself journalist-turned-KKE-MP Liana Kanneli live on TV), tells us that they are no longer illegally carrying weapons (as presumably they did in the past) because they now have this right as MPs. He also tells us that they use cheap forms of transport to move around the country (preferring Hyundais to Mercedes and BMW). They make themselves very likeable, don't they?

I’m not a Golden Dawn supporter, but I don’t think this party – which has no aspirations or even any economic program – should be banned. Nor do I believe that my own views (Greeks ruined Greece themselves, their habits as a whole were unsustainable, and they need a bout of austerity to get things under control again) are the only right ones; a small number of my acquaintances (Golden Dawn supporters aren't all skinhead freaks) can actually find something positive to say about that party. Everyone has an equal right to express themselves politically, no matter how much I may personally despise their tactics. But if people really believe that this is the party that could lead them towards a better future, I hope they get their wish, especially since I know that the last time I voted was probably the last time I ever will vote because I will be voting 'no confidence' from now on. The rise of Golden Dawn will help Greece to sink much much lower than she has already, pointing her in the direction of total annihilation. Only when Greece is totally destroyed will she be able to start rebuilding herself in a more positive direction. So something good may actually be born out of their shit.

One thing is sure, and that is that Golden Dawn does not spring out of Greek ideals. Greeks have always revered foreign ways, being quick to adopt what suits them. It is a movement that has European roots, and Golden Dawn is manifesting it with its own Greek style. Perhaps this is what will be its downfall in the end - it's unsustainable.

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Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Mule and the Donkey (Το Μουλάρι και το Γαϊδουράκι)

How would Aesop write his tales if he were alive today?

 

And now, for the latest news, and we start with the top story for the day, as it has been for a number of weeks now, which is the Eurozone crisis. In today’s talks, it seems as though the rift between the Donkey and the Mule is increasing and a compromise is still elusive. The Mule Driver is reported to have loaded the Mule with the same weight as the Donkey – but one could not quite keep up with the other. 

“They kept pace in the beginning,” explains the Mule Driver, “but as we left the level road and began climbing up a mountain, the Donkey showed signs of being unable to manage its load, and it now remains to be seen whether it will be able to cope.”

When asked whether the Donkey’s load was lightened, the Mule Driver did not respond. But reports are coming in stating that the laden Donkey had been seen sinking to its knees, and it is assumed that this has probably happened from being unable to carry the weight assigned to it.

No reports have come in stating that the Donkey got up, and since then, there have been no sightings of it, although it has been rumoured that the Donkey could be heard asking the Mule to take a little of its load, but this has been denied by the Mule, who does not wish to be interviewed.

The Mule Driver reportedly stated that work was underway for the Mule to be loaded with the Donkey’s burden, in addition to its own, but the task has not been completed and talks are set to continue tomorrow, although
no deadline has been finalised for this task.

An anonymous source is reported to have heard the Mule saying that it is getting what it deserved:
“If I had agreed to lighten the Donkey’s load a little when he asked me, I wouldn’t have to be in the position now of having to carry both loads on my own poor back.”

Analysts are now saying that this points to evidence of failed policies. “The Mule is refusing to let the Donkey breathe more lightly, now that the need arises, but this is backfiring onto the Mule, as it looks as though he may end up losing everything he lent to the Donkey.”

Moving on to the second main story for the day… 

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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Money (Λεφτά)

The boys had a date with the barber today.



Mr Mihalis has relocated his salon from the busy centre to the outskirts of town bordering suburbia. He appreciates the peace and quiet of a residential street to the noisy polluted central location of a cramped town.

Apart from the usual framed qualifications and family photos often found on the walls of small local enterprises, Mr Mihalis also has a framed collection of Greece's former currency, the drachma.



As I snapped a photo of it while he was giving my son a haircut, he stopped what he was doing without saying a word, and went to the till where he opened a drawer beneath it. He took out a bunch of papers, and handed them to us to look at. They were photocopies of old drachmas that were in circulation in the 1930s and 1940s.


The 1930s notes had similar denominations to the drachma notes of the 1990s: 1000 and 5000 drachma notes were considered perfectly normal in both periods. After 1941, however, all sense of normalcy was blown apart, with Greece being ravaged by WW2. By 1944, the denominations that the drachma was available in lose all sense of proportion. Try following the commas and the zeros in this series of numbers: 100,000, 10,000,000, 500,000,000, 10,000,000,000.



Mr Mihalis has always found these drachma notes intriguing because he was living in the time that they were being used:
"In the village of Floria where we lived, we had chestnut trees. When we harvested the chestnuts, my father packed two large sacks full of chestnuts and loaded them onto the donkey, and took them to Hania to sell them at the market. When he came back, the sacks still looked full. They were filled with hundreds of drachma notes. He had sold the chestnuts and was paid for them in small denominations of drachmas. During that time, money was worthless. You needed a million drachmas to buy a loaf of bread. If you didn't have your own source of bread, you either gave everything you had to get some or you went hungry."
In the times that we live, the value of money is now seen as a balloon that is ready to pop. When the value of work decreases, so too will products and expenses, because no one will have much money to pay them.

Cost of a boy's haircut: €10; no wonder our summer tourists flock to the local salons here to get a haircut. It's ridiculously over-priced where they come from.

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Friday, 23 November 2012

Rainshine

Autumn in Crete is never highly visible, due to the evergreen landscape. The hills of the Cretan countryside are covered in olive trees, which do not shed their leaves, so we don't get the spectacular auburn-red carpets seen elsewhere in the fall season. The leaves of the tress that do fall often turn brown very quickly because of the temperatures, which are usually higher than one is normally accustomed to when they hear the word 'autumn'.

Autumn usually comes late to Hania and the temperature can be variable throughout the day. There is no better place to observe this than the mountains. The day may start off very fine and clear, but end up very wet.



Rainfall in Hania hardly ever consists of a spastic continuous drizzle. It comes in torrents, and then departs and doesn't come back for a while. Passing showers are frequent. This allows the locals to get a lot of work done on a day when it looks as though it will rain: you just wait for the shower to pass. While we clearing our field, we noticed a few fires in other areas where people were doing the same thing. The day was perfect for this - not too hot, not at all cold, and no wind.


Some of us gathered olives for curing, others cleared the olive grove. 

Although we did experience a good shower at one point while we were in our olive grove, this did not deter my husband from barbecuing some pork steaks and sausages. He felt that the charcoals left from the burning of olive cuttings would go to waste otherwise. We stayed in the car until the rain cleared.

 

We would have sat in the olive grove and eaten our lunch there and then, had it not started raining again, which consisted of a stronger rain shower. Our cheeks had become very rosy from being out in the crisp air, but it was now starting to turn cold. The thunderclaps were so loud that they scared the dog; the lightning bolts could be seen falling onto the hills in the distance.



It was time to call it a day, after spending five hours in the area. We made our way back home and tucked in heartily.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Baby octopus pilaf with Swiss chard (Οχταποδοπιλάφι με σέσκουλα)

Here's a one-pot meal that keeps in good shape, which I whipped up last night for today's main meal. I had bought some fresh baby octopus for yesterday's lunch, which I didn't get round to cooking, because the day turned out quite differently to what had been planned. We've also got a lot of Swiss chard in the garden at the moment. Leafy greens pair well with seafood. Only the carbs are missing: voilà, octopus pilaf with Swiss chard.

 I rarely use my white soup dishes for taking food photographs, but I must admit that it makes the colours of the meal stand out magnificently.

Prepare and clean 1kg baby octopus (take out the inky innards and remove the 'eye' in the centre). Place in a pot with a lid and allow to sweat for 30 min on low heat. Drain the liquids, heat 1/2 cup olive oil and add 1 medium chopped onion and 2-3 finely chopped cloves of garlic. Saute with the octopus together for 10-15 min. Add 1 wineglass of white wine and simmer 10-15 min. Grate 1 large ripe tomato into the pot and season with salt and pepper. Add some finely chopped Swiss chard (I used 12 very large leaves) and cover the pot with a lid. Simmer 10-15 min, then take off the lid and stir the contents of the pot. Add 3 cups stock (or water) and 1 cup rice (I used basmati rice which gives off a wonderful aroma). Cook on low heat till rice is done (another 15-20 min).

Swiss chard can be replaced by spinach, and any other seafood can take the place of octopus (prepared appropriately). Basmati rice doesn't swell and clog like other rice varieties, so this dish will re-heat nicely the next day.

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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Tranche time for Greece

Glossary:
- δημόσιοι υπάλληλοι: public servants
- δημοτικοί υπάλληλοι: municipal workers

The number of workers paid by the Greek state has to be reduced, according to the terms of the Greek bailout. This had been agreed on when the crisis first broke out, but it was never acted on (in fact, more people continued to be hired even in those early crisis days).

Now that it's a done deal, the Greek state is being forced to take action. But what does the state do? Instead of reducing the public sector, it decided to throw the ball over to the municipal sector, asking the mayors of each region to send it lists of the staff that wasn't hired through proper channels, or has only basic education qualifications (ie school leaver's certificate).

Hence, strike action being taken by municipal workers...

The municipality offices of Hania today - ΚΑΤΑΛΗΨΗ: 'under siege' - otherwise known as 'sit-in'

... hence, no rubbish collection.

The whole nation's rubbish bins are spilling their contents on the road.

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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Greek road tax (Τέλη κυκλοφορίας)

Even though I don't own much technology because I can't afford it, I do revere any new invention that makes life easier, and I like to use online systems to make utilities payments, something most Greeks still don't do because they fear that there is some kind of goblin at the invisible end of the system that will gobble up all their money. So you still see many people queueing at banks and post offices, paying bills. I only did that when I absolutely had to, eg road tax, which until last year used to involve a wait for the payment slip to be sent to your address, and then you had to queue up at the bank to pay it and get a sticker as proof of payment (or a trip to your local tax department offices, if you preferred to pay in arrears, like many sods did).

This year, the Greek government decided to do away with the sticker thing, and make road tax payments a mainly online transaction. If a Greek police officer stops you, s/he can check if you've paid your road tax by entering your car's licence plate into the system (presumably, they are equipped to do this). There is no other way to prove that you've paid road tax. Hence, it's up to the state to ensure that people have paid their dues.

Most foreigners will know that Greeks love their cars, not wanting to walk anywhere when they know they can drive (this hasn't changed much). Most people have at least two cars per household. In the past, it was easy to cheat the system: Once a system cheat paid for a road tax sticker, they then went back to the tax department and claimed they'd lost it. The officials would then issue the cheat with a new sticker, which they simply stuck onto their second car, ie, they would only pay road tax on the first car, and the unpaid road tax on the second car remained unchecked, because there was no one bothering to do this.  At least now, the state won't be paying for worthless paper.

You may say that people can still get away with paying road tax like they did before in Greece, because the state and police are both inefficient. True, but at least the state won't be running up the expenses it used to run up in the past. Now that Greece is (finally) uphauling tax payments to a more transparent cross-referenced system, there is less chance of being able to cheat. It's getting harder to be able to cheat, and the cheats are now being caught out.

Some people will inevitably remain tax evaders and others will simply pay less tax even when they are making a lot of money, but that happens everywhere, as was recently pointed out by some critics in the UK of Starbucks, Amazon and Google, who belong to the case of 'legal tax evasion' - they pay a very low rate of tax because of a loophole in the law when they report greater losses than profits. And there are people who simply 'put off' paying their dues until the law catches up with them, by which time they have declared themselves bankrupt. But these are extreme cases: in general, we are all καλά φακελομένοι these days...

*** *** ***

If you are an ex-pat and live in Greece but don't speak Greek, here is how you pay Greek road tax:
  1. To pay without being registered in the online system, go to http://www.gsis.gr/
  2. Click on 'χωρίς κωδικούς'.
  3. Then click on 'EΙΣΟΔΟΣ' at the bottom right-hand corner.
  4. That will get you to a page with two blanks: in the first, enter your personal tax number (ΑΦΜ); in the second, enter your licence plate number (Aριθμός Κυκλοφορίας).
  5. Click 'ANAZΗΤΗΣΗ' - if your details are correct, you will see a message at the top of the boxes saying "Επιτυχής αναζήτηση. Πατήστε Εκτύπωση" (Successful search. Press Print).
  6. Press 'ΕΚΤΥΠΩΣΗ'. This will create a PDF file with your name, personal tax number, the amount you owe and your car's licence plate number, as well as a payment code. 
  7. Print this out and go to a bank to pay it - or simply use the e-banking services of your bank, like most people do in Western countries, using the payment code.
Greece may not have chosen the euro (it is more likely that the euro chose her), but the choice Greece is making now point to her Westernification. It's pretty much final - no more Ottoman excuses.

UPDATE 22/11/2012: Just heard from my cabbie husband that owners of uninsured vehicles will now be penalised through the tax department. One can assume that some digital vehicle registration ownership is now in place and is actually in use. No more excuses...

UPDATE 28/11/2012: Due to the fact that not all Greeks are connected online, it has been decided that you can pay it at a bank using just your personal tax number and car licence plate number (ie no need for an online printout). 

UPDATE 31/12/2012: And of course, there is always an extension granted in Greece for every tax bill you can think of. Every year, an extension is granted to car owners to pay their road tax, and in this case, it is up to one week. This is the reason why Greeks generally don't pay anything on time. Why should they, when they know they will be granted an extension to the expiry date?

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Monday, 19 November 2012

A rainy day (Μια βροχερή μέρα)

My son wrote today's post and he told me to publish it.

Dad hates it when it rains at the weekend.

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He says it should rain during the week when we have better things to do. I'm glad it rains at the weekend because I'd have to help him with whatever he was doing if it wasn't raining.

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Because it was raining, we all stayed at home and did various jobs. But even though it's raining, it's still not cold enough to light the wood stove. 

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When it rains, you feel like eating more food. It makes you feel warmer.

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I made carbonara last night and Mum made spring rolls.

 
If Cosco starts shipping spring roll wrappers and srichacha sauce through Pireas instead of Rotterdam (along with the Hewlett Packard products), Chinese food supplies just might catch on in Greece as their cost drops (so I won't have to beg my northern friends to carry this stuff for me).

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Today it's Monday and it's still raining. Maybe Dad's wish has been granted and the weather will be good at the weekend.

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Sunday, 18 November 2012

Dream interpreter (Ονειροκρίτης)

The new year's calendar selections in the bookshops present no surprises. The over-priced wall calendars consist of glossy tourist photos of Greece, presenting the country in all its dream-like glory, often centred around a Greek theme (eg Crete, cats, donkeys, etc). The dates are printed in little boxes in the classic style of a calendar, but no mention is made of the importance of the day, except perhaps by shading the boxes in a different colour to highlight the weekend or a public holiday. Wall calendars that include all the feastdays written in the boxes are more difficult to find: they are likely to be available in specialised stores, often given away by religious organisations to their members, and you may be lucky to find them in a newspaper supplement at the end of the year. I'm specifically making one up for an old-aged diaspora aunt whose special needs include XL print.

 Tourist wall calendar, combining the γιορτές (feastdays) via the Eortologio.

There is also the little page-a-day calendar, a traditional albeit old-fashioned iconic symbol of Greek popular culture, which gives you much more information than is given in any of the glossy wall calendars, including the saints' days celebrated on each day, so you will know whose nameday it is on that day. They are excellent value for money.

 
The page-a-day calendar answers all these questions for you:
What day is it today? (the first word gives the day, the big number the date, and the last word the month); I wonder who's celebrating their nameday. (right under the big number); What time should I milk the cows? (sunrise time is given right below the name of the day); When should I feed the chickens? (sunset time is next to sunrise time); Is it time to trim the grapevine? (moon quarter is stated next to sunset time - agricultural tasks are performed according to whether the moon is getting 'bigger' (ie approaching full moon) or getting 'smaller' (approaching new moon); Is it a fasting day? (the bold text below sunset/sunrise/moon quarter: eg καταλυσις εις παντα = 'non-fasting day'); What shall I read? (bible reading for the day given in the two lines above the name of the month); Any ideas for cooking? (it's written on the back of the paper - you will see it once you peel off it off, tomorrow - other versions of this calendar come with poems, sports trivia and religious verses).  

Image of Dinner With PersephoneΙn the same place where you find the calendars in a Greek bookshop, you will also find the Kazamias, the book form of a Greek new year's calendar, an almanac containing the same information as the useful little page-a-days, with extra bonus trivia such as encyclopaedia entries, recipes and even dream interpretation, ονειροκρίτες. Dream interpreteters need constant updating, hence the reason why these books near the calendar section of a bookstore. We need new dream interpretations on a regular basis as the world changes, because as the world changes, so do our dreams, which depend on where we get our inspiration from, as Patricia Storace clearly illustrates in Dinner with Persephone:
Artemidorus
Another person calls to me, this time a girl in blue jeans standing on the corner beside a stack of books piled on an upended crate. "Do you need one?" she asks. "What are they?" I slow down, shift my packages, and climb toward her... She holds up a volume and flips the pages. "Dream books. Oneirokrites." Actually, I did bring one. But it was written in the second century, the Oneirokritika, a handbook of dreams collected by a professional dream interpreter named Artemidorus, who traveled in Greek cities, and recorded and classified the dreams people told him in order to make a manual of the art of dream interpretation for his son. It is a social history of shocking intimacy, a study of the unconscious lives of people of another world, trying to divine the future through their dreams, while we, so far away, try to divine the past. The Oneirokritika ... was an inspiration for Freud's Interpretaiton of Dreams. "I do have one," I say, "but it's old." "You are foreign?" she asks, and I nod. "How long have you lived here?" "Two days." "Then you will need a new one. You will have new dreams here."
My mother-in-law refers to (a very old) dream interpreter on a regular basis. It's always depressing to hear about her dreams; the interpretation is more often negative than positive and causes her great anxiety throughout the day. She never seems to have good dreams, ones whose symbolism in the unconscious world predicts a happy outcome in the real world. Most of the time, she tells us about her dreams when we are about to do something that she predicts will have a bad outcome, like for example when we treat a stray cat with kindness: "Oh, don't do that! I saw a cat in my dream last night, which means someone's conspiring against you." I often wonder if she realises that her dreams aren't actually our dreams; logically, they should befall her, and not us.

Predicting the future is as old as the evolution of the human being. Natural phenomena like earthquakes, random celestial events such as eclipses, animal sounds, and the ancient orcales are among the events used in the past to predict the future. Nature has provided the greatest inspiration for dream interpretation, since it forms the most primitive form of life, while the evolution of technology is a relatively recent form of inspiration in people's dreams.

Never having owned a dream interpreter, I decided to add such a book to my collection in this exceptionally difficult year for Greeks. My ονειροκρίτη is organised alphabetically, according to the names of things or actions. Ιt contains interpretations based on Artemidorus' original works, judging by the kinds of entries (eg αγάνωτα - cooking vessels that haven't been treated by a tinker); I can only guess that the entries still have some validity, judging by the number of references made in the book to times of economic hardship. Either that, or times of economic hardship have always been a part of everyday life: 
File:Tinsmith's Shop interior.JPGAγάνωτα (untinkered cooking vessels): If you see your cooking vessels in your dreams and they are untinkered, await economic hardhsip. If you are served food from untinkered tin vessels, you will go through a worrying period. Among the betrothed this means the dissolution of the engagement.
Something as simple (and delightful in taste) as the artichoke can also be a symbol of financial hardship:
Αγγινάρα (artichoke): If you see it in its season, the dream is good, but if you see it out of season, await bitterness, slander and bad financial news. If you're eating it raw and it makes your lips turn yellow [don't they mean black?], a bad outcome in litigation cases awaits you.
Despite its quackish-sounding predictions, similar to those of psychics and fortune-tellers, I felt rewarded by the high level of the occurrence of fresh food items in the dream interpreter, all directly inspired by nature. But even natural items such as fruit and vegetables are often associated with an impending disaster. Cucumbers can only mean problems: 
Αγγούρι (cucumber): If you are eating cucumber in the winter, it means grief and worries. If you give it to another person, you will end up arguing with the person you are giving it to. If someone is giving it to you, that person will be the reason for your grief.
The thing is that these days we are unlikely to dream so simply, so the dream interpreter could be said to be highly imprecise given the complexity of our present world. For instance, it does not include an entry for υπολογιστή (computer). So if for example, you see a salty computer screen in your dream, you can't look up computer, but you can look up salt:
rock saltΑλάτι (salt): If you have salt in your hand and it is spilling out of it, you will lose, out of neglect, a person that is highly valuable for you. If you're grinding salt, you will pass through a period of unhappiness. If you're sprinkling it on food, you will see bitterness enter your life. But you will also get some small help. If you are lending or borrowing salt, you will give or receive bitterness. If someone is asking you for salt, you will get a letter.
But if the salt was on a computer screen, does that mean someone is giving it you? Or did you give it to someone else? If the screen is salt-clogged, you will not even be able to see the person involved in the first place. And if you had the sound turned off, you will not hear if someone was asking for it or giving it to you. And could the letter be an email instead, which most of us receive every day (and very often in the form of junk mail)? As our world becomes more complex, so do our dreams...

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Saturday, 17 November 2012

Above all equals

Last night, I was feeling very tired, from what turned out to be a very busy week, not just at work, but also at home, and when I saw how untidy the house was, I realised I was going to have a busy weekend too, so I just flopped onto the couch and tried not to think too much about it all, because admittedly it made me even more tired.

But the cold weather also made me hungry, and I could have just dipped my hand into the cheese bowl, and dipped my other hand into the bowl of olives and and cut myself a slice of bread and called that dinner, but I really couldn't stand having another meal like that because that's what I'd been having most other nights that week.

So even though I felt like a dead weight, I took out my heavy shallow saucepan and chopped an onion and minced some garlic, and poured over some olive oil which was difficult enough when you're cold, tired and hungry, and tossed it all into the saucepan, and because I was too tired to consult a recipe, I just started tossing into the pan whatever lay before me - some cabbage which I'd shredded in preparation for a salad that was never made, some spinach and leeks that I'd prepared for making spanakopita, but that never got made either, and the very very last of the summer garden peppers, and why not grate a carrot to go into that, I thought, which is what I did, and then I remembered that there was no protein in it the pot, so I threw in a few frozen mussels, which did the trick.

Despite that drained feeling, I hadn't lost my senses completely so as not to remember that a good Chinese stir-fry needs some soya sauce, and some finely grated ginger, and a chilli pepper or two, all good fridge/freezer staples, and a few rice noodles which you can add to the hot vegetable medley and let them soak up all the juices as they cook in the hot pan with the hot vegetables, which is especially useful to avoid having to use another pan and create more work in the kitchen.

And when it was all ready, I poured the contents of the pot into a huge bowl and found some chopsticks and began eating, making my way into the living room, where everyone else was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and then everyone began asking me if they could have some of that aromatic meal I was enjoying, and so I passed around the bowl, and we all ate from it, and we just kept passing it around so we all ate an equal share, but because I was worried that this splendid meal was being consumed at record speed, I demanded that I get the most share, because even though we were supposed to be sharing this meal equally among equals, I considered myself as above all equals, because I was the cook, and I dreaded the thought of remaining hungry, because if my stomach remained empty, I wouldn't be able to fathom the tiredness and the cold.

If I weren't feeling so cold, tired and hungry, there'd have been a photo to prove that this meal took place, so you'll just have to take my word for it. In the meantime, καλή νύχτα...


Bonus photo: here's is the above-described meal, cooked up again today. It's being prepared early to make spring rolls tonight.

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Friday, 16 November 2012

Tiding it through

The economic crisis has wreaked havoc on society mainly by the frightening effect is has had on many people, if we are to judge all the reports that we hear - very often in Greece - about people fleeing from it. We don't really know if they are going to a better place but the feedback we get about them is that they are going to a place which is not in crisis, which sounds incongruous because the crisis is a global one.

Two-day-old boiled beetroot leaves and bulbs, two-day-old roast meatballs in tomato sauce, one-day-old spinach rice: fresh food that has been appropriately cooked and stored does not go off after the day it was cooked - it simply becomes more flavourful. The cheap plonk went well with my delicious home-cooked meal, made by my own hands.

I suppose it's easy for me to say this, as I sit in my office at work, or in my comfortable home in rural Crete. "You don't need to flee," is what I hear being directed at me, as I am wearing my old clothes, driving my old car, buying velcro to sew onto my kids' hand-me-down coats to avoid buying new ones, folding away clothes instead of ironing them, eating my one-to-two-day-old well-cooked food, heating my home with wood, among other activities often associated with 'poverty'.


 Έρχονται κάτι στιγμές Certain times are coming
Που θαρρώ πως τα 'χω δει όλα  When I thought I had seen it all
... Και στο όνομα ετούτων των στιγμών And in the name of those moments
Show must go on
Και ίσως κάποτε τελειώσει And maybe at some time it will finish
Όταν κι ο πάγος στην Ανταρκτική θα έχει λιώσει Like when the ice on the Antarctic will have melted
Έρχονται κάτι στιγμές που λες Certain times are coming when you say
Το δυο χιλιάδες δώδεκα νομίζω In 2012 I think
Που θα σε κάνουν να παραδεχτείς σαν κλαις That they will make you admit as you cry
Τον φαύλο κύκλο μου ποτίζω "I'm watering my own vicious circle"
Έρχονται κάτι στιγμές Certain times are coming
Κι ότι έχτιζα αιώνες τώρα το γκρεμίζω And whatever I built over the centuries I am know knocking down
Και στ' όνομα ετούτων των στιγμών And in the name of those moments
Show must go on
(Sung by Haris Alexiou, lyrics by the late Manolis Rasoulis)
No, I don't need to flee, because I saw what happened to those who did flee before me. They came back to a Greece that was better than the one they left. It was never Utopia, but it was pretty good value. Why would I want to leave my country now when I know that things will only be better in the future? It should be obvious to most by now that it is part of the Greek mentality to flee in times of adversity, while this trait is less inherent in other cultures who face a similar predicament:
Some 501,000 foreigners had moved to Germany, the EU's dominant economy, between January and June 2012 - a rise of 15% compared with the same period last year, the data showed. The number of Greeks moving to the country rose by 78%. The figure for Portugal and Spain went up by 53% over the same period.
It's not just Greek people who are leaving, it's Greek businesses too:
[In contrast,] Greek firms and national businesses, which enlarged successfully here and assured themselves great profit and wealth, are making hippity-hoppity jumps on the first turn of the economic cycle. For example, the decisions of the 3E and FAGE companies to transfer their economic headwuarters, the former to Switzerland and the latter to Luxembourg, are indicative and do not provoke the best feelings among... the Greek people.
This is in sharp contrast to the number of multi-nationals presently entering the Greek market. Cosco, a Chinese firm that operates part of the port of Pireas in Athens, has made a deal with Hewlett-Packard that the latter's goods will be entering Europe not through the traditional port of Rotterdam in Holland, but through Greece. Unilever is also proposing something similar, with its intention to introduce 110 of its products to Europe through Greece, stating strategic reasons.

Five years from now, Greece will be a much nicer country than it already is, and in a much better economic position than it is at present. Ten years from now, the Greeks who left will be thinking about wanting to move back. Although Greece will be a much nicer country then, it will also be a different kind of Greece; what may have seemed easy to do in the past (return to the mother country, live off inherited land in an inherited house, planting tomatoes and sipping ouzo in the patio) will now not be so easy. Nor will the Greeks tiding out the crisis in their own country be so willing to make it so easy for the deserters, once this crisis business tides through. And it will: the crisis won't last forever, just like all previous crises, because no crises last forever. Wars finish when there is nothing left to destroy, which means that starting up again from scratch is the only thing left.

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Thursday, 15 November 2012

Olive harvest (Μάζεμα)

It's olive picking season now, and the work is in full swing at the moment in Hania. Even though it hasn't rained a lot, the precipitation that has fallen in the area was enough to strengthen the crops.

When I arrived at work yesterday, I found the gardeners gathering (mechanically with the help of a motorised beating stick) the olives of the tree in the main courtyard. 

Despite the fact that the olive trees at the campus of MAICh are mainly ornamental, they are not exempt from this mainstay activity.
This one tree will yield 5kg of fruit, which should yield 1 litre of olive oil.

Panda, MAICh's resident cat, is now more easily able to climb into the heart of the trunk to get a nap while the weather is still good.  
“Agriculture is the mother of all arts. When it is well conducted, all other arts prosper. When it is neglected, all other arts decline”, Xenophon 430-355 BC 
The method of gathering olives depicted in the photos is standard practice all over the island in our times.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Full house

It's  International Food Photography Day today!

"Maria, if anyone opened our fridge and saw this, they'd wonder what kind of crisis we were going through," my husband remarked on Monday night.


The contents of the fridge don't hint at an economic crisis, but they hide another one: the only cook in the house doesn't always have time to perform her duties.

The truth is that it's already started to empty. I've managed to clear some space in it the other day when I cooked up the bag of beets (bottom left hand corner), dug out the leeks for a soup (F&V compartment), ate the boureki leftovers (metal vessel) and gave the dog Sunday's leftovers (ceramic vessel). And now that I've prepared the okra (blue bag) and spinach (below the blue bag),we should be set for a pie-making session tonight. But school lunches constantly refill it (eg top left hand corner), and the quince (below the lunch box) will last us throughout the winter - seriously!

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