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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

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Last posting

Happy Nameday if your name is Ahmed (Ahmad/Ahmet). It's St Ahmed's today in teh Greek orthodox church calendar.

What has happened to my time as of late? It flies, perhaps too quickly for my liking. I don't use it up so leisurely any longer. I was hoping to get a quick post in before Christmas, but I also know that whatever I would have written two days ago would have become obsolete by now.

I was woken up not by carol singers today, like we usually are on Christmas Eve, but by the mourning toll of the church bells. Since last night, I knew that Christmas had been cancelled in my neighbourhood, after the area was swarmed by cars parked on every available spot in an area that does not even have a footpath. How easily we change our traditions after a tragedy. "Να τα πούμε;" (Shall we say them?), as the saying goes concerning the question traditionally asked by carol singers before they begin singing, was banished here this year. If anyone asked any question, it would have been along the lines of "Δεν τα είπαμε;" (Didn't we say them already?). The event could have been predicted, sooner or later. Or perhaps the question was "Δεν σου τό 'πα;" (Hadn't I told you so?), since it could also have been avoided. We all knew it was bound to happen. Even his parents had predicted the event when they got rid of the motorbike. They gave him a car instead.
Prepping Christmas lunch: A friend was asking me yesterday if she can find lamb shanks in Hania - as long as you know how to tell the butcher how to cut the meat, yes, you can find lamb shanks. Generally speaking, butchers hack it to pieces here, and the locals use it in this way. Forget about what you see in the Greek haute cuisine magazines: they show mainly urban cuisine, and what we aspire to, rather than what we really are. My contribution for Christmas Day lunch is: guacomole, roasted peppers and lettuce with kid avgolemono.
Now we can also make predictions for the summer. For instance, we can be quite sure that we will no longer be woken up at the same time in the middle of the siesta, and later on, in the middle of the night, by the garish sounds coming from the same car as it sped up and down the road, windows rolled down, car stereo full blast. The car is now scrap metal, and its driver buried under the earth, joining his young cousin who died under similar circumstances a few years ago. His young mother will wear black for the rest of her life, as will the mothers of the other two teens who died with him. The fourth one - who had just finished his teens a year earlier - is still fighting for his life. I predict he will make it, but he won't be the same person that he was.

Since the event, I have had to reorganise Christmas Day lunch. The mother's wails can still be heard. Tomorrow's lunch will now be pot luck, at a friend's house. Making as little effort as possible in order not to be seen or heard, we shall pack our pots and pans, and head out of the area. We'll be wearing our seatbelts, and only one of us will drink, to ensure that we can make it back home.

Life doesn't always go as planned, but that is no reason to get angry. Rearranging keeps you on your toes. You can't have everything you want all the time, but you can probably have everything you need. You may or may not be the perpetrator of all your own misery, but you can usually be the creator of all your own happiness.

Merry Christmas to all. I hope to be back in time for the New Year. Till then, more work to get through...

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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Experiential dining: Fancy burgers

Accompanied by our London host, we set off from the Charring Cross train station to Trafalgar Square where we saw chalk-writers expressing their political views peacefully while a kilt-clad lad played the bagpipes, as the blue cock watched over them all, moving on to Leicester Square with its erratic jet fountain and a 7-storey M&M building, and finally to Chinatown where I was hoping to enjoy some Asian cuisine.
"Are you sure about this?" my knowledgeable host asked me. We were browsing through the garish menu cards of the Asian restaurants. Some were pasted onto the doors and windows of the restaurants; one covered the front display to the point that you could barely see inside. Others had their menus posted on sandwich boards on the road, but they were usually accompanied by hawkers stationed right by them. Living in a tourist town myself, I know how plebeian that looks and feels.
"Look at the range of dishes they claim to serve you," my host continued. "Compare that with the number of customers seated in the restaurant. Can they really cook all those meals? Or are they just going to dig them out of the freezer for you?" He had a point: these places looked empty, while their menu cards would need a good quarter of an hour to be read in full. And who knows for just how long the crispy ducks had been on hanging on the window display? Feeling rather sheepish, I agreed to look elsewhere. It was our treat that night, and I didn't want to appear 'cheap'.
A few shortcuts later, the red lanterns and crispy duck displays gave way to standing-room-only bars, dessert restaurants, jamboneries (at least, that's what it looked like to me - instead of cupcakes on the display, they had cones full of cholesterol-laden treats) and upmarket tobacco stores, where I presume you could not smoke what you ordered if you take smoking bans seriously. Here, there were no hawkers; in fact, quite the opposite was happening: people were queuing up to get in.
That's how we ourselves ended up queuing at a place my host described to me as a 'fancy burger bar'. It feels a little weird admittedly to be queuing up for a burger. How good must that burger be? We don't have McDonalds in our town. We do have Goody's, but, the idea of going out for a burger among my family is not common, and it certainly isn't considered a must-have-before-you-die kind of meal. Having a burger sounds like having a souvlaki, not a sit-down restaurant meal.
So here we were, feeling like fish out of water, as we took part in a performance of what looked like the typical English habit of queuing. We gave our name to the informal-looking gent who spoke in a rather well-versed Cockney accent (this could have been part of the act for all I know) at the door of the restaurant (which he didn't come to immediately - we had to wait till he did), and then we joined the back of the queue, where we got bored. I asked if we could be excused from the queue and go for a little walk (we were told we'd need to wait about 25 minutes for the appropriate table to be found), where I had some time to take in the sights that surrounded us: the lights on the buildings were bold and brassy, the people bore smug smiles as they rushed by, the window displays were brimming with goods and the cars sped by as if they never stopped working. This was a very fast world.
We were eventually seated after waiting for about twenty minutes (about the time it would have taken us to find a McDonalds in the area, order a burger and eat it, I suppose, chit-chat time included). The place was full (as to be expected if you are queuing up to get in), mainly with young-looking people, but I also spotted a couple of middle-aged men sitting next to us, with an expensive looking bottle of wine (in an ice bucket) on the table. (Wine with burgers, another new one for us.) Some people must have been tourists (they had come with their suitcases), but most were 'locals' from the sound of their accents. The atmosphere in the restaurant was buzzing, with people nattering constantly over their meals, melodies of golden oldies playing softly in the background, and a silent black-and-white Porky Pig cartoon being screened on one of the walls, all reminiscent of the 50s American hamburger joint.

A very efficient looking waiter (with a non-native English accent) brought us a rather unassuming A4 menu card. The food choices were rather spartan but the prices of the burgers seemed reasonable, which is not surprising given the mass-produced food displayed around the seating area and the staircase leading to the basement (ie the toilets). The walls of the restaurant were stacked with boxes of canola oil and gherkin cans. The tables had a range of bottled sauces on them. Watching the waiters bringing food to other people's tables, it was obvious that the fries were προ-κατ (the Greek phrase for 'machine-processed and frozen'), as were the uniform and perfectly sized onion rings and the burger buns. At this point, the only thing that differentiated them from McDonalds was the plates: their burgers didn't come wrapped up in paper and cardboard, and you ate with metallic knives and forks.

It's the drinks where they 'grabbed your bum', as Greeks say (σου πιάνουν τον κώλο). A bottle of cider or an Oreos-flavoured milkshake cost almost as much as the burger itself. Paying 80 pounds for the five of us may not sound expensive when 'London prices' is taken into consideration, but translate 80 pounds into Greek-earned euros, and we just paid 100 euros for a burger meal. The waiters were all very friendly, but their politeness and helpfulness did not seem so heartfelt. Their efficiency came from the line that the management adhered to, not from the depths of their soul. Needless to say, I did not leave a tip. We still talk about it every now and then over our de facto organic, local, seasonal Cretan meals, where so little is προ-κατ, not even our mass-produced bakery bread which is hand-shaped and hand-sliced.

We keep in mind that we did not go to the fancy burger place for the food. We did it for the experience, which I suppose we could gauge as a very positive one overall. It's interesting to see how the other half live.

Bonus photos: To complete the experience, our host suggested a dessert restaurant to sweeten our palates. 25 pounds later, we took a long walk back to our train station, almost missing the very last train home. It was all just another part of the London experience.

Away from the madding crowds of Soho, the streets of central London were empty. We had Waterloo bridge to ourselves.

More bonus photos: Real food for real people - I cooked beef burgers (with layers of roast veges), zucchini fries (a menu item at the burger bar) and onion rings at home a week later. Like filo pastry, the home-made stuff does not compare to anything store-bought.
 

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Monday, 15 December 2014

Brockwell Park honey (Μέλι από το Λονδίνο)

My household is a great consumer of honey. When I think of the amount of honey we get through in a year, even I am amazed - we buy about 15-20 kilograms of honey every year, which is consumed among the 5 of us. Yes! 15-20 kg per year! Is this too much? I don't know what to say... I just know that we do in fact get through that much and it feels about as normal as going through 150 kg of olive oil per year (again, among the 5 of us). What's more, I rarely (if ever) use honey in my cooking - honey is used in very limited ways in my household's food preparation:
  1. a teaspoon in tea or milky coffee 
  2. as a spread on bread and butter
  3. a tablespoon poured over each individual sfakiani pita, a traditional Cretan dessert 
  4. a couple of tablespoons slathered on top of pan-fried cheese-based kalitsounia, another traditional Cretan dessert (occasionally, mainly when I'm in the mood to make them)
  5. making syrup (for Greek-style syrup desserts, eg karidopita, galaktoboureko - very occasionally, mainly for a party)
  6. as a yoghurt topping
Lately, I've also used it in some savoury meals like fried chicken wings, and I've also tried it in biscuit batters. But generally speaking, we consume honey as a raw product, and rarely as an ingredient in our family recipes. 

All the honey we consume comes from one source: I have a cousin who is a beekeeper. He refills my jars year after year. He keeps beehives in forested area in Sfakia, and produces fresh honey in the summer. So it is fair to call honey a seasonal product. Cretan honey is said to be among the best in the world. But like any overly good product, it can also be prone to fraud. At the same time, it is almost impossible to tell at first glance whether a honey variety is very good or not - colour, smell, density and crystallisation do not indicate this. Beekeepers may also feed their bees sugar in the colder months of the year or when there is a lack of flora, which is 'against' international rules for honey production. But we can't ever know this - such information can only be obtained by a laboratory analysis.

During a recent trip to London, a friend presented me with some honey that he had helped to produce. Apparently bees find London a better place to produce honey than other parts of England because London is where more flowers are grown, at least this is what we were told. The honey we were presented with certainly did look and taste different to our regular Cretan supplies. For a start, it was very runny (ours is very dense), it smelt of mint (ours smelt of thyme), it had a very clear colour (ours is quite dark), and we were told it was prone to natural cystalisation, which we found quite interesting, because we've never seen honey crystallise in our house (it gets eaten too quickly).


The honey came from Brockwell Park, where there are community gardens and a group of beekeepers who strive to produce fresh natural produce in a city where most food is imported into the general area. Apart from honey, my friend also collects beeswax and makes candles, and he is also learning to make mead. My friend also showed us some older honey, which had crystalised, so that it looked like butter in a jar. It's still good honey, he reassured us, which we found amusing, because he still hadn't opened the jar, which contained only a quarter of the amount that are own jars usually contain!

He also showed us a large plastic tub of honey which he explained was not good for eating because it contained too much moisture and tiny droplets of wax. In fact, it did taste a little waxy to us, and it was not very sweet, mainly due to the excess moisture content, we were told. He intended to use it to make mead - this supposedly sub-standard honey could be used as an ingredient, he told us, but it could not be sold as fresh honey. He also gave us some buttery looking manuka honey to try, which as a beekeeper, he thought he should try. As there was no other honey in his house where we were staying, except the buttery honey varieties, we preferred to use the waxy sub-standard honey which was still runny. I used it to make a pear pie with pears I had bought from Crete, and a cheese pie using mizithra I had also bought along with me. In both cases, I used this waxy honey in the batter as well as a topping. We liked the results very much. 


My friend also gave us some Brockwell Park honey to take home with us as a present. When I went to the store room to place it together with our honey jars, I was surprised to find a jar of Cretan honey lurking in a dark corner of the shelf, which I had not used in due time. It wasn't runny, and it hadn't lost its colour or its texture, but I could tell that this honey had undergone some transformation form its taste - it did not taste sweet and it seemed to lack the thyme aroma that I was used to. That's when I got the idea to take some samples of each honey type - fresh London honey (FL), old Cretan honey (OC), fresh Cretan honey (FC) - into the MAICh laboratories at work to have them checked.



Honey is influenced by very many factors: the flower species, temperature, environmental conditions, age and storage conditions are just a few things that make or break a good honey variety. The floral species used in the honey give honey its colour and aroma, as well as its texture. Crystallisation is also a feature in honey of certain floral species (eg citrus). Honey is like olive oil - their properties undergo a negative change as they age. So honey is not like wine, whose taste could improve with age. Apiculturalists check for moisture content, diastase activity and hydroxy-methyl-furfural (HMF) content.

Water content crystallises honey more quickly, which explains why the London honey crystallised whereas the Cretan honey didn't. The environmental conditions of London are damper than in Crete. This in fact was proven in the laboratory analyses: of the three samples, FL contained the highest moisture levels (17.6, while the two Cretan samples (OC and FC) contained  the same moisture content (14.3-14.6). But FL was still within the limits set by international regulations, which state that moisture content in honey must be less than 20.

Diastase activity tells us whether the honey has been subjected to high temperature, which makes it runnier. This is a trick that honey sellers may use if their honey crystalises. Honey production does involve heating but only at appropriate temperatures. Diastase activity is lower in honey that have been subjected to very high temperatures. Of my three honey samples, LH had the highest diastate activity (19.9) while FC had 13.8. Both honey were within international limits, which state that diastate acitivity must be higher than 8. But OC was not within the limit: it had a diastase activity of just 6.7. Since I know my honey source well, and both OC and FC come from the same source, what could have gone wrong? Most likely, the storage conditions of OC were inappropriate: I had left the honey in a space which gets overheated in summer, whcih most likely affected it, since I had forgotten it there for over a year, something I rarely do with honey, given our high consumption levels.

Finally, the HMF content also tells us about whether a honey variety has been heated inappropriately. This should be lower than 40, and all my honey samples fell well within the limit - FL: 3.4, OC: 5.8 and FC: 3. So I am able to conclude that the storage conditions for OC were what reduced the quality of my old Cretan honey sample.

The MAICh laboratory was also able to give us information on the pollen sources of each variety of honey, by checking for the frequency of pollen grains from nectar giving plants found in the honey. More importantly, the pollen information can tell us whether chemicals or artificial feeding have been used in the honey-making process. Bees travel a lot, so they are most likely picking pollen from a wide variety of sources. Here is what we found for my honey samples:
LH: Eucalyptus occidentalis type (29%), chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) (17%), with 3-15% traces of Pyrus-Prunus type (e.g. almond tree), Malus type (apple tree), Trifolium repens type, Robinia sp. (locust tree), sporadic traces of Salix sp., Brassicaceae, Centaurea sp., Boraginaceae, Liliaceae, and pollen grains of nectarless plants: Quercus sp., Graminae, Hypericum sp., Cyperaceae, Pinaceae.
OC: Eucalyptus camaldulensis (40%), with 3-15% traces of thyme (Thymbra capitata) (14%), dandelion (Taraxacum sp.), heather (Erica sp.), Trifolium repens type, sporadic traces of Cirsium type, Urginea maritima, Parthenocissus sp., Satureja thymbra, Citrus sp., avocado tree (Persea americana), Brassicaceae, and pollen grains of nectarless plants: Verbascum sp., Olea sp., Cistaceae, Graminae, Hypericum sp., Vitis vinifera, Ephedra sp.
FC: Chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) (32%), with 3-15% traces of thyme (Thymbra capitata) (12%), heather (Erica sp.), Trifolium repens type, myrtle (Myrtus communis), Eucalyptus sp., Satureja thymbra, sporadic traces of dandelion (Taraxacum sp.), Cirsium type, Apiaceae, Urginea maritima, Oxalis pes-caprae, Centaurea solstitialis type, Parthenocissus sp.and pollen grains of nectarless plants: Verbascum sp., Olea sp., Hypericum sp., Cistaceae, Pistacia lentiscus.

Based on the pollen examination, the London honey was classified as multi-floral while the Cretan samples were honey blends because they contained honeydew elements from pine trees, whereas the London honey contained no honeydew. This tells us a little about the insects that survive in the general area where the honey is produced. Honeydew, a honey blend of flower nectar and pine honeydew, also gives the darker colour of Cretan honey, which is highly prized in for its reputed medicinal value: in Greek mythology, méli, "honey", drips from the Manna–ash, (Fraxinus ornus), with which the Meliae, or "ash tree nymphs", nursed the infant god Zeus on the island of Crete.

However, the diastase activity of OC was below the honey legislation limit, so that particular honey sample can only be characterized as 'baker's honey'. Although I don't use honey in my baking, I am now using this honey in my cake batters and syrup making, instead of sugar to use it up without wasting it. Even my friend's high-moisture waxy London honey was still edible - it just wasn't marketable. Another interesting point is that the famous thyme honey of Crete can only be called 'thyme honey' when the thyme pollent content is at least 18%. Therefore, my thyme honey samples, while smelling unmistakably of thyme, cannot be called thyme honeys in the market sense because they contained only 14.6% (OC) and 13.4% (FH) thyme pollen.

I passed on the tests to my London friend who took them to his apiculturalist's club, who were very pleased to get them. Such tests are not available to small producers in London, mainly due to the cots involved. They were very pleased to read that their honey was of the highest quality that could be produced anywhere in their country. As for my own honey samples, I couldn't have been more pleased - and next time, I'll be more careful of where I store my honey jars.

Many thanks to Slim Blidi, whose thesis on the topic of "Effect of thermal treatment on the quality of Cretan honeys" I had the pleasure to read, whcih helped me to better understand the magic of honey, and enabled me to write this post.

©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. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Choices and decisions (Επιλογές και αποφάσεις)

It was getting rather late. Late for Londoners, that is. Most Greeks would be arriving at a restaurant after half-past nine (it was something like a quarter to ten) on a warm September evening, even if it were mid-week. The kebab house was typical of the style of London kebaberies: photos of Turkey, Aladdin's lamps hanging from the ceiling, arabesque red hues covering the walls, with a row of Tunisian wall tiles dividing them, and Greek music playing softly, all alluding to an exotic Mediterranean melange, which in reality does not exist.

"A table for five," I said to the black-garbed staff member who greeted us at the door. Black is the colour of service workers in London. The kebab house staff wore black shirts and black trousers, the staff at Primark where we would go shopping the next day also wore black, as did the staff at the Italian restaurant where we would have a quick lunch in between visiting exhibitions. Only the Muslim women staffing the museums and clothes stores weren't wearing black shirts and trousers - they wore black floor-length chadors instead, covering their whole body except their hands and faces.

The waiter waved his arm around the room and told us in his accented English (another London service worker's characteristic) to sit anywhere we wanted. The place seemed empty, save one occupied table. I felt embarrassed entering the restaurant so late, as if I would be keeping the waiters past their knock-off hour, but our host had warned us that some of the takeaways in the area might have already closed down by the time we got there, and he had chosen the closest eaterie to home. (I suppose we could have come earlier, but our previous view was rather exciting and we lost track of time.)



The table was already set, and the menu cars were brought to the table for our perusal. The word 'meze' featured prominently on the card, as it did on the paper placemat. Meze is used in many languages to mean the same thing. But when a Greek sees the word meze, it will be all Greek to him. And our Greek was at that point exploding from our mouths. We sounded just like a Greek TV news broadcast, where the news reader sits in the middle of the screen, with four little open windows on each corner with different people all speaking all at once. Our Greek chatter was immediately picked up by the waiter who came to take our orders.



Έλληνες είστε? he asked, with a big smile on his face. Standing before us was the epitome of Adonis (let's call him Adonis in this post): a tall, handsome, muscular young man, with an unmistakable fluent not-Cypriot Greek accent. He possessed the perfect proportions of a Greek statue, and in our eyes, his especially good looks and hospitable demeanour represented, precisely and unarguably, the archetype beauty of our country and people. Whatever trepidation I may have expressed initially about the restaurant before we entered it ('it's our first night in London and we're having a souvlaki?'), standing in front of us was proof that we could not have chosen a better place to dine. We felt, in our minds, as if we were in the home of a fellow Greek.

We got talking, in that Greek διασπορά way, where we all ask each other how we ended up in the non-Greek world. Indeed, everyone could tell a different story in answer to this question, even if they are from the same family. Most of us were born in Greece, some were born as Greeks in a faraway land, and one of us was a Greek who wasn't born Greek. Adonis was a Persian Greek. I recall a group of Persians of the Baha'i faith living in New Zealand; they spoke perfect Greek, having lived a few years in Athens after being granted refugee status there. I don't know how they arrived in Greece, but Adonis probably does, according to the stories his parents might have told them about how they came to Greece. Eventually some of the people Adonis' parents arrived with were given the right to travel and live and work in New Zealand. I am guessing that Adonis was born to refugees from the same stock as the people I had met in New Zealand, who never called themselves Iranians. They called themselves Persians.

Adonis had never been to Iran, and had only been in London for two years, as he explained:

"I was born in Athens. I lived in Greece all my life. My parents ran a small shop in an Athens suburb, selling car accessories and sound systems. And then the crisis came. So you can imagine how quickly we went out of business. No one was buying anything any longer. There were no jobs for any of us, my parents and my sister. My brother was still at school.
Potatoes
"Paying the rent suddenly became difficult. We were always worrying about being evicted. We were also worrying about the lack of food. If you live in the centre of Athens and you don't have any money, you won't have any food, either. We had put a little bit of money aside from our business. We never thought of savings as something you spend or fritter away on daily living expenses. So when things got really tough, we had to think of a plan. Staying in Athens was not an option. Staying in Greece wasn't an option either. We were urban people, and we couldn't make the transition to the rural parts. At any rate, jobs in the rural areas are always seasonal. We'd still have problems paying rent and bills.
[CIMG2447.JPG]
Potato soup (with leek)
"Eventually, we made a decision to leave Greece. We had friends in London, and they told us that there were plenty of jobs there for anyone who wanted to work. We left as a family, the five of us. The most important thing for us was that we could remain together. We miss Athens, but we couldn't live there the way things were. We are all working now, and life isn't easy anywhere these days, but we are all working, we have a roof over our head, we aren't hungry.

Boiled potatoes
"For some time before we left Athens, we didn't have much food in the house, and we didn't want to spend our savings on daily living expenses, so we ate whatever we had in the house. At one point, all we had was potatoes. My mother cooked the potatoes in different ways. One day, we'd eat them boiled, the next day we'd eat them mashed, the next fried if we got hold of some oil. We had food, but we knew we were eating the same food all the time. We just got so sick of eating potatoes, but we could not do anything else about our predicament at the time. We just waited patiently for a better moment to come..."

Mashed potatoes
Adonis asked us where we were from. "Crete... oh, you're all better down there. There is tourism, there are jobs, you have food at your doorstep." We could not disagree. I asked him Adonis if he had been back, and he told us he had:

Potato cakes (with some leftover corn)
"I go back periodically for a visit. All my friends are there, I left a whole life behind in Athens. Sometimes the weather gets you down here. But it's hard everywhere and all places have their good sides and bad sides. It's hard... But it's also scary. Whenever I am returning to the UK, I get stopped at border control. My passport is Greek, but my name isn't, so I'm always asked to stay behind while they conduct their searches. I get delayed by about two hours before I get through..."


Fried potatoes
Adonis told us his story while simultaneously serving our meze (or more correctly, mezedes, in the Greek plural). "I told the chef to give you the works," he assured us, "I hope I haven't forgotten anything!" His smile was never absent while he spoke to us. Our appetite had of course diminished somewhat on hearing his story, but we did our best to eat everything up, to give a good impression, which was not really that hard, since the mezedes were very tasty.



I don't think we will ever forget Adonis. If we travel again to London, I intend to look him up. If I find him at the same place, that's a good sign. If he's left, that's even better. It means he will have advanced in his life and not remained stagnant.

©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, 3 December 2014

The privilege of advanced studies

Having understood the stress that the students were under when we told them that they would not last longer than Christmas at our institute if they did not show signs of improvement in their English tests grades, Omar from Syria (a second-year student) came to find me, to tell me about how he went from scoring a very low grade to obtaining not just a passing grade, but something higher than that, in just two months. He asked me to tell the first-year students to find him and he would tell them what he did. I asked that, instead of students going to find him (which they wouldn't do anyway, mainly out of neglect and - dare I say it - laziness), Omar should come to my class and tell them what he did. He agreed.
What did Omar do to attain such a grade? Here is his story:
"I would go to bed every night at 9.30. I didn't attend any of the social events that the students organised. Then I'd get up at 4am, splash cold water on my face to wake me up and take my laptop and notebook downstairs to the computer study room (so that I didn't disturb my roommate). I would start studying at 5am, never before, because I wanted to treat myself to waking up slowly, so I didn't tire myself out. I studied English systematically for 3 hours every morning, never less, never more, for two months. I used the teaching materials provided (ie my materials), and a book of exercises, all on the computer, nothing on paper. If I didn't understand any words, I'd write them in my notebook and look them up. I made an effort to learn three new skills every day. In the first few days it was hard. After the first few weeks, it got easy. By the end of the two months, I was simply practicing - and answering successfully - everything I learnt."
At the end of the 20-minute seminar, Omar pointed out that this was his way to improve his English skills, and it won't work for everyone, but everyone should be able to tweak the program to find one that suits them. While Omar was speaking, I would interrupt him (we had agreed on how to do this) to reinforce some of his points, eg you don't really need paper tests, you can work on the computer; you don't need to learn things off by heart, you need to study at the RIGHT time, with the RIGHT materials and in the RIGHT way; you don't need to spend hours in a classroom studying English with a teacher, you need to know what questions to ask your teacher when you see her, or better still email her with your query. Teaching and learning is not like in the past when we had a teacher, and books, pens and paper: it's more dynamic now - and much much faster.
At the same time, I had to ask some of other students to stop talking amongst themselves while Omar was speaking. I also had to remind them (while they laughed, especially on hearing 'no socialising' and 'wake up at 4am') that, actually, they have their meals cooked, their rooms cleaned, and their expenses paid while they are here, so there is no excuse for not being a hard-working student. 


Studying is a privilege these days. You need to show some good results to those who give you that privilege. Otherwise, we can bestow the privilege on other more deserving people.

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Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The threat of childhood obesity by Eva Stamou

Obesity is rarely mentioned in the Greek news. While the UK makes a big issue of it, and expends a great amount of time, effort and money into thinking up solutions for the problem, in Greek news, we simply get the latest results of an obesity survey, mentioned in passing in the news, and that's about it. Everyone is left to their own devices. Not that this is wrong, since obesity does have a lot to do with the food habits of the home environment, but it does seem wrong that no one is trying to find a solution to it, especially when Greece apparently claims the greatest weight levels for children aged 6-9 in Europe. The article below appeared today in Protagon. I have translated it into English in order to add (even) a (small) Greek voice to the global debate. 

Inter-school sports day for primary school children in Hania:  I took this photo in June 2008

According to the survey results of the World Health Organisation which were released last month, the childhood obesity rate in Greece is among the highest in Europe. Survey data concern the obesity rate and the 'more than normal' body weight for children aged 6-9 years in 16 European countries, including ours. One of the actions taken by the Greek Society of Obesity to address the scourge of childhood obesity is to establish "Obesity Week" (October 21 to 26) to inform and raise public awareness. One week is not enough however.

We can laugh over the developments related to the case of the "new food" program devised by Michelle Obama, and the comments of American students on twitter, but in Greece the situation is just very sad. The absence of welfare interventions in our country is a trait that dates back to long before the economic crisis. Nutrition, dental, and psychiatric care during childhood and adolescence, unfortunately, remains almost inactive, not just because of limited resources but also because of the famous Greek discontinuity of party-appointed authority, which constantly creates obstacles and misunderstanding among public bodies.

Competent bodies should not ignore the relative economic status and dietary choices of the population, which is confirmed by the survey data, showing that childhood obesity is present at an increased incidence in low family incomes - but they should also not underestimate the role of prevention and systematic information to the public in the way that this works in all the other European states. It might also be good of the parents if, apart from seeking support from doctors, nutritionists and psychologists, they think seriously how they themselves can help their children, changing their way of life.

My work in Britain with families of adolescents suffering from eating disorders made me realize how painful and multidimensional this issue is. The first thing that psychology takes into account when facing the problem of childhood obesity is the eating habits of parents. If the child grows up copying the wrong habits of his/her parents - who may or may not be obese, according to their body type - it is necessary to address the problem as a problem of the whole family. Those using certain food items, such as sweets, as "bait" to encourage the child to do or not do something, or as a "painkiller" when the child is sad, help to create not only obese children, but also obese adults, since we can reproduce the wrong perception about food, which we acquired as children for the rest of our lives.

With the guidance of experts, parents are wise to set and follow certain dietary rules, so that they themselves provide the good example, even if they are not overweight. It is important to encourage the child to be involved in sports and exercise, helping them to choose something that suits the body type and temperament of their child. It is equally important not to devalue the child, to avoid comparisons with friends and classmates, so as to not create guilt about the child's extra weight.

The time has come for us to understand that childhood obesity is a threat to the individual and to public health. This disease is directly related to physical and mental disorders, which usually appear in childhood and are maintained into adulthood. An organized scientific approach on the part of the state is now compulsory.

©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. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

We've got to talk about Macedonia

The country that must not be named needs to be named often in my workplace. 

"Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) are nowhere near a solution to the name dispute, the Balkan statelet’s foreign minister, Nikola Poposki, said on Saturday. “We are further away from a solution than we were a few years ago. I wish I were in a position to say that we are close to leaving this issue behind us, but reality mandates that we remain particularly cautious,” Poposki told Skopje’s Faktor website. In the same interview, the FYROM official blamed the government in Athens for lack of progress in the negotiations, while adding that he was still waiting for a fresh proposal from United Nations special mediator Matthew Nimetz." Saturday November 1, 2014 http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_01/11/2014_544231

I totally agree, both sides are nowhere near any solution, and I don't foresee any solution in the near future, not in the next year, nor in the next five years, and why should I expect a solution in the next decade, judging by the way other more significant issues (eg Cyprus) are being resolved. The main reason why there will be no solution is because neither side wishes to be unhappy: "A really good compromise is the one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied", but in the case of Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, both sides are stubbornly staying put, refusing to budge. Those who purport to be involved in helping them find a solution do not make it a priority, nor do they create penalties to force the two countries to find a solution. So we find ourselves in a stalemate, creating fertile ground for breeding propaganda, suspicion and ultimately hatred. 

I am not a historian, so I will not use historical references to write this blog post. We all have access to the internet, and we can use any sources we wish, in order to prove any point we want to make about literally anything. Diatribes about the Macedonia name dispute abound on the web, and we are all free to look them up and read the ones that best suit our feelings. I am not interested in adding to this futile list about which side owns a name, and who it rightfully belongs to, and why. It pays to remember that no one is jumping up and down with American place names such as Athens (GA) and Crete (IL). I am also not interested in the history of the geographical region, ie how the area known as Macedonia got divided up among the various countries that the area now belongs to in the 21st century. The Greek part of Macedonia was only incorporated into Greece proper about a century ago. The borders of Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia have been known for years as places of exacerbation of national differences: 
For the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first of the twentieth, Macedonia, with its inextricably mixed populations of Greeks, Bulgars, Serbs, Albanians, Turks and Vlachs, was to be the focus of the competing nationalisms of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia, as each sought to carve out as large a stake as possible of the crumbling Ottoman possessions of the Balkans. A Concise History of GREECE by Richard Clogg, 1992.
Neither am I interested in the propaganda-style claims made by way of maps showing an area named something to the likes of Greater Macedonia. Irredentism was the root cause of the recent brawls at a football match against Serbia where a similar map was used by Albanian nationalists in reference to Greater Albania. Similar maps are also used by Greek nationalists for Greater Epirus, a region which was divided between Greece and Albania during the WW2 period. (A Kiwi joke springs to mind as I write this, concerning friendly rivalry between New Zealand and Australia.)

The images presented here are propagandistic maps. Some of the borders of the areas depicted in them have changed hands over the last century, as well as in the last two decades, and even more recently than that. For example, Kosovo is a partially recognised state in Southeastern Europe that declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 as the Republic of Kosovo. While Serbia recognises the Republic's governance of the territory, it still continues to claim it as its own Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija (Wikipedia). In the left-hand map above, Albania clearly makes a claim to it: 'Shqiperia e sotme' translates to 'Albania today'. The right-hand map above shows, as Greek territory, parts of modern-day Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, where Lake Ochrid is located. In the map, it looks like it is also part of Greece. In fact, Greek news sources still call the southern region of Albania 'Northern Epirus' - Epirus is located in the north-westernmost border of Greece, on the border with Albania.
Half the area labelled Macedonia on the left-hand map below includes Greek territory, while Greece is labelled separately. The right-hand map below shows the same map, overlaid with the Greek flag - but not all the area is Greek territory. 

I am avoiding the use of Greek or Slav Macedonian references apart from newspapers that report on certain incidents and 'need' to name the countries being referred to - each side takes on nationalistic reporting styles that illustrate its politics. I also will not talk about the recent archaeological findings in Amphipolis, in the Central Macedonia region of Greece. Even if Alexander the Great (or his army friend Hephaestus) is buried there (and something like this does seem highly likely), it bears no relation to the borders and names of the countries of the modern world we live in. It will have a bearing on the way we view history, and some gaps may be clarified, while other details may be proved incorrect. But it won't change the modern borders of a modern country. If Alexander the Great could speak, I wonder what he would have said first: 'I am a Hellene', or 'I am a Macedonian', to throw a spanner in the works. 

What I am interested in is trying to find a workable solution to the Macedonia name dispute, because I am quite directly involved with this issue. Very few of us have first-hand experience of the Macedonia name dispute, meaning that the dispute creates significant work-related issues that must be dealt with as effectively as possible without insulting either side. In my line of work, I have to make numerous proofreading corrections to various English language texts, which is why I am particularly sensitive to the name dispute, and the wording used to refer to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. At my workplace the country known as the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia is frequently mentioned as we have students who come from there to study in our institute, hence it is very important that we use the utmost respect when referring to each other's counties, and this is especially important, and even more so in the English language (my workplace uses English as its teaching medium), considering its global context. 

What made me decide to talk about Macedonia at this point in time is the number of news stories that have come out of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, putting it into the national and international spotlight on numerous occasions in just the last few weeks. This is in reference to a spy case, the Ebola virusa film competition and the name dispute itself. For this reason, I think it really is about time that we talked about Macedonia. The world is not waiting for Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia to resolve their issues before they start talking about Macedonia. The world is unconcerned with such a seemingly minor spat as a name dispute, possibly treating the issue as a sign of childishness. This is because the world does not comprehend the magnitude placed on the dispute by either side. The world just ploughs on without looking back all the time, without flinching every time the word Macedonia is uttered. Ιt wouldn't be normal to not just keep calm and carry on with life just because the word Macedonia was mentioned. The world in general does not understand the significance of Macedonia in history over time, in the same way as the Greeks and the -- the, the?? - the Macedonians, of course, as they have been known and referred to throughout modern history since the 19th century: 
To understand the forces of nationalism and their impact on the late 19th century city [of Salonica], we need above all to appreciate their novelty. Much time, money and effort was required by the disciples of the new nationalist creeds to convert its inhabitants from their older, habitual ways of referring to themselves, and to turn nationalism itself from the obsession of a small, educated elite to a movement capable of galvanising masses. The Macedonian Struggle, which swept across the city and its surroundings, started out as a religious conflict among the region's Christians but quickly turned into a way for activists to force national identities - 'Greek' or 'Bulgarian' or even 'Macedonian' - on those who refused them. By the first decade of the twentieth century, thanks to years of fighting, there were indeed Greeks, Bulgarians, and even Turks in a national sense, and their rivalries were threatening to undermine Salonica's cosmopolitan Ottomanist facade. Salonica: City of Ghosts, by Mark Mazower, 2004
"Modern researchers recognize that all nations are modern constructs." By way of illustration, I will use my blog's statistics counter. I am given a variety of information, including where the reader comes from: 
The server of this information is using a specific protocol in the naming of each country to aid in data reporting. If I decide to disagree with this protocol, I can stop using this server to report my data to me and find another server that uses a different protocol. But if all I want is access to the data, then I can say that the server serves me well. So where is the problem? The problem is that I am Greek, and supposedly we Greeks object to the country called Macedonia (or Republic of Macedonia) being referred to as such, and we insist that the country should refer to itself (as if you can tell someone what to call themselves!) as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (in Greek: πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας), abbreviated to the acronym FYROM in English (and ΠΓΔΜ in English). In other words, I have been indoctrinated. 

Indoctrination works both ways. A friend who is not Greek but lives in Greece told me the following story, of what happened when she met someone from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: 
  • "Where we are in Greece, the country is always referred to as Skopje, even by people from there. One woman told me she was from 'a village in Skopje'. Since Skopje is a city, I said 'You mean a village in Macedonia?' She quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard me and then said, 'We're not allowed to say that here. We can only say Skopje.' She told me she was Skopianos. I kept saying Macedonia. She was from a mountain village, not the city of Skopje. When she said Skopianos, I said, you mean Macedonian. She said, 'we don't say that here'. That's indoctrination."
Another possible reason why we opt for abbreviations and acronyms is laziness. The English abbreviation FYROM is ΠΓΔΜ in Greek (which is transliterated into English as PGDM): Πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας. But there is one big problem with it: it's completely unpronounceable because it has no vowels, which is why Greeks quite happily use the English abbreviation to refer to the country, freely calling it 'fee-ROM', and going as far as to write it in Greek as ΦΥΡΟΜAlexis Tsipras, leader of the opposition in Greece, used it in Parliament just a few days ago, and this was broadcast on TV: 
Concern was expressed by the president of SYRIZA surrounding the events in the Western Balkans and the upsurge of nationalism, which he said, weighs heavily on the attempt to solve the problems of the region, including the issue of the name of FYROM. 13th November, 2014 http://www.tovima.gr/politics/article/?aid=650163
Tut, tut, he should have used the acronym ΠΓΔΜ in the Greek Parliament, or better still, he should have said πρώην Γιουγκοσλαβική Δημοκρατία της Μακεδονίας - instead, he chose to use the English acronym (since the Greek one is not pronounceable). This is precisely where all the problems lie, and it is easy to see why this word - which has no meaning, it is not even a Greek acronym, and has been blindly accepted as a name by Greeks - is regarded as derisive and offensive to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. 

To complicate matters, it is actually only the Greeks who call the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia FYROM. It is also only the Greeks who also refer to the country as Skopia (from the name of the capital city, Skopje, in the Republic of Macedonia). So Slav Macedonians as referred to as Skopians, presumably as a way to avoid the use of the word Macedonia/nThat's OK by me; it solves the name dispute on Greek territory, but only in the Greek language. We also do this in various ways for other placenames; we know what we are talking about amongst ourselves. We say Pekino, no Beijing; Vomvai, not Mumbai, we call Istanbul Constantinoupoli. But at the airport, it's always Beijing, Mumbai and Istanbul, not Constantinople.


Even old New York was once New Amsterdam 
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way
So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constntinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constnatinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks'... 


While the Greeks are using 'fee-ROM' (or 'SKO-pya'), the rest of the world just says Macedonia. Greeks know what the rest of the world means when it says Macedonia, and are able to separate the use of the word between its Greek meaning and it country meaning, but the rest of the world generally does not know what is meant by 'fee-rom'. Ask the average Greek what 'fee-rom' is and you will get a standard answer: the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Ask any average person in the world who isn't Greek what 'fee-rom' (or 'fy-rom') is, and I'll bet they'll say 'What's that?' It is a similar problem to the difference between Burma and Myanmar (Greeks say Virminia in this case) - it all depends on what your politics tell you what to do.  

The 'Greek' way to refer to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia causes great embarrassment to me. FYROM is not the name of a country, it is simply an acronym. There is no such thing as a 'fyromese/fyromian' - person or product; it is a purposeful slight on the part of the Greeks to call a group of people φυρομαίοι - they are simply playing on the sound of the acronym in spoken English, and have coined a word in their language which cannot be transliterated into a comprehensible concept beyond the Greek borders. Few non-Greeks would know what the Greeks were talking about when they talk about φυρομαίοι (fyromians) or σκοπιανοί (Skopians). Worse still, φυρομ is often pronounced offensively: the Greek φ becomes English v, and the Greek υ is dropped, so the word comes out sounding like 'vrom'. If you are a Greek speaker, let's not kid ourselves - it's offensive. 

Not that Greece does not/has not recognise(d) over the years the fact that there are both Greek Macedonians and Slav MacedoniansNon-Greek Macedonians are known as Slav Macedonians (Σλαβομακεδόνοι) in Greece. Greeks have known this very well, but for ideological reasons, they do not like to mention it - unless they are forced to face up to it: 
"In the 1980s, a socialist government in Athens, in what it presented as a long overdue effort to heal the wounds of the civil war, invited veterans of the communist army and their families to leave their places of exile in the Soviet bloc [where they fled after Greece's post-WW2 civil war] and return to Greece. However  the law providing for this return made it clear that the invitation applied only to people 'of Greek race' - so veterans who regarded themselves as Slav Macedonians need not apply. The Greek communist party protested mildly over this ethnic criterion but it could not do so very loudly for fear of being branded treacherous, anti-national and disloyal to the broader Hellenic community..." Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey, by Bruce Clark, 2006)
So, if, in the 1980s, there were Greek Macedonians and Slav Macedonians, and if the Greeks came back to Greece, where would the Slav Macedonians go, if they were allowed to 'return'? Yugoslavia was still under communist rule at the time - but the Slav Macedonians in exile wouldn't have known Yugoslavia, as that was a country created after WW2, and they had fled to Russia before then. So if they did indeed 'come back home', where would it have been? Probably Greek Macedonia, where they were living amongst the Greek Macedonians, or the Socialist Republic of Macedonia, as their former homeland was known during the communist years (which formed part of the Yugoslavian state). Multi-culturalism in the greater Macedonian region has undergone various degrees of ethnic cleansing at various times over history, as people moved according to the politics of the time:
Konstantin is a Skopje taxi-driver, a complete contrast to his London opposite numbers with immediate views on every question. He is taciturn and pretend at first not to speak Greek. He admits, eventually, that he is an ethnic Greek, born in [FYR] Macedonia in the aftermath of the Greek Civil War and that he hates nationalism and abstained in the [1991] referendum [for the independence of the former Yugoslav state of Macedonia]. But he refuses to reveal his surname and he knows that he is living on a dangerous crossroads... By 1949 at least 50 percent of the troops in the Communist army in the Greek Civil War were Slav-Macedonians. Konstantin's father was almost certainly among them. The Greeks: The land and people since the war, by James Pettifer, 1993.
Macedonia has been inhabited by a variety of cultures over the period of its history, not just Greek and Slav Macedonians: Turks, Serbs, Albanians, Roma, Vlachs, Pomaks, Armenians and the largest (and oldest) Jewish community in Europe (who lived mainly in the area of Thessaloniki - they were wiped out during WW2) gave this endlessly complex republic the name Macedoine to a French salad

Slav Macedonians don't call themselves Skopians, so I fully sympathise with them when they become irate about their country being introduced as FYROM during international events that take place in Greece. In such incidents (many of them, occurring every now and then), the teams from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia refuse to take part unless their country is named the 'Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia', and not pronounced as 'fee-rom' by Greeks. The Greek hosts do not always oblige, so the groups sometimes pack up and leave. I do not blame them. As an aside: My compatriots from my birth country wouldn't like it either, if someone called their country Enzed at an official event instead of "New Zealanders". (But there is a difference between New Zealand and the Republics of Macedonia and Greece: New Zelanders would not pack up and leave! They'd just go away thinking 'weird people...' After all, there is no country in the world called Enzed - it's called New Zealand.) There is no country in the world called Fyrom - it's Macedonia for most countries, the Republic of Macedonia for many countries, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia according to the United Nations ruling, which is the one that Greece uses in all official mentions of the country. 

Who is to stop one country from using another form of a name? No one, it seems, and the latest example of this is when Greece took part in a film competition in Lugano (Switzerland), where the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia was referred to as the Republic of Macedonia. So Greece pulled out 7 films from the competition, meaning that Greece was not represented in the competition. The Greek film producers were devastated by this. So as Greeks, it really is about time we talked about Macedonia, because everyone else in the world is talking about Macedonia without having a tantrum.

We have to remember that Greece is the country that has turned itself upside down over the adoption of the naming of the Republic of Macedonia by the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, "as though Alexander the Great's nationality were a matter of extreme contemporary urgency" since the early 1990s. It does not seem to have been an issue before Yugoslavia broke up, presumably because the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia was not a separate country, even though, during the communist years, the area was known as the Socialist Republic of Macedonia. Greece was not concerned with the name issue until after the breakup of Yugoslavia, when it suddenly became the central focus of everyday life, as Patricia Storace illustrates, in her mystical account of living in Greece for a year during that period:
The doorbell rings, and I answer it a little uncertainly, not knowing quite how cautious to be. Standing outside is a small, sturdy woman with carefully architected gray curls. She is holding a tray of some unrecognizable cookies, and is dressed in a flowered smock. The entire floor smells like a swimming pool thanks to the heavily chlorinated cleansers popular in Greek households. "Welcome to Greece," she says, "I am Kyria Maro. If you have any questions, knock at my door. I am a friend of your landlady's, so if you cannot reach her for some reason you can come to me. Any questions at all. And," she adds in grandmotherly tones, as if she were imparting some domestic golden rule about doing the dishes or the frugal use of electricity, "you know, Macedonia is Greek." She hands me the china plate and tells me to return it whenever it should happen that I have the time, and clacks down the hall in her slippers. Dinner with Persephone, Patricia Storace, 1996
'Macedonia is Greek'. We have been saying this for a long time, learning the phrase like one of those children's songs that you learn in primary school, and you never forget it, even if the lyrics do not make sense. Poor Kyria Maro, she was stating the obvious! Of course Macedonia is Greek! But what would she have thought of the idea that Macedonia is also Macedonian? The name dispute surfaced in recent times after Yugoslavia broke up, with the fall of communism. Before that, the name dispute was limited to the end of WW2: What stopped it from being discussed too loudly was the closing of the Yugoslavian borders, in other words, communist rule, which effectively put an end to the Greek fears of a country called Macedonia. This stemmed back to the Balkan Wars, fought during the WW1 period, where the greater region of Macedonia was shared among various countries, including Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. This is in fact what gave rise to what is often referred to as the Macedonian Issue. When the Greek economic crisis broke out, the name dispute, while not at all forgotten, was pushed under the carpet, overshadowed by other more serious matters, swapping places with the economic issues that were plaguing the country over all those years but were never dealt with until the eleventh hour. Both countries involved in the name dispute - like their neighbours - always have more pressing issues than just their names!

How exactly does the world now talk about the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia? The recent spy case in the country, and a possible Ebola case (which proved to be incorrect), gave the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia a lot of coverage in the news. Below are screen shots of google searches using the following phrases: 'macedonia ebola/spy case' and 'fyrom ebola/spy case'.


macedonia spy case: BBC (UK) and NYTimes (US) top the list. One reference (www.balkan.eu) uses FYRO Macedonia - from their facebook page, I found out that they are registered in Thessaloniki - ie Greece.
macedonia ebola: All the first-page references (except one) are from the UK (the other is from Canada). 
fyrom spy case: The relevant links (ie the ones that actually report on the spy case) are ALL Greek. The others are all sites or fora, both Greek and non-Greek, that discuss the name issue. 
fyrom ebola: The links are ALL Greek - except the first highlighted one, which is from the Guardian, a very highly ranked global news website. 
I scrutinised the Guardian references a little more closely, as one would think that a newspaper with such a great global readership would be very careful in its wording and would have strict guidelines about how to mention politically sensitive issues. The 'fyrom ebola' Guardian write-up was thus:
Guests quarantined in the Hotel ‘SUPER 8’ look out from their windows, being not allowed to leave the hotel in Skopje, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 09 October 2014
But that seems to be someone else's wording, as the above was used as a caption to a photograph. It was not Guardian staff that wrote this. When actually writing about the case, the Guardian used 'macedonia':
UK to introduce Ebola screening as death of Briton reported in MacedoniaThe Foreign Office was last night investigating reports that a Briton had died of suspected Ebola in Macedonia. Tests were being carried out but the man’s colleague said he had not been in any country known to have Ebola outbreaks.
The use of 'FYROM' is inextricably linked to Greek usage; everywhere else, it's 'Macedonia'. The comments on a Reuters article Ebola) are particularly telling of how the issue of the name dispute is being viewed: Greeks don't want to read about Macedonia and non-Greek Macedonians don't want to read about FYROM.

During those early years of the name dispute, I couldn't remain unaffected by the constant barrage of nationalism. About eight years ago, which coincides with the 2008 proposal for the name dispute, while proofreading M.Sc. theses at my workplace, I noticed that students from the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia were using just the word Macedonia in their thesis work (their studies often refer specifically to issues concerning their country, and the data is collected there too), to refer to their country's name. Given the attention placed on the name dispute, I could not let this slip by unnoticed. I decided that it was unlikely that this would remain unnoticed in the long-term anyway, and sooner or later, someone would notice if I wasn't 'correcting' the students' writing appropriately. I decided not to take a nationalist stance: I corrected the reference to Macedonia by writing FYR before the word, so that the the phrase looked like this: 'FYR Macedonia'. This rewriting was also relayed to my boss, who agreed with what I was doing. 

Eight years later, I proved myself right, when someone other than the boss did actually notice something about my proofreading style: someone who was flipping through a MSc thesis asked me about the wording FYR Macedonia. What was it exactly that they found difficult to accept? Don't FYROM and FYR Macedonia look the same? The reasoning behind their stance in my opinion is purely psychological: since the name dispute broke out, there has been a Greek tendency to view the initials FYR placed next to the word Macedonia as something that is revolting. With FYROM, it was very easy to mask the revulsion - and given that the acronym was pronounceable and easily turned into a word, it was a simple matter to turn the acronym into a name, and be done with the issue. The sight of the word Macedonia sitting next to - but not stuck to - the initials FYR stirs up feelings of revulsion among some Greeks, which is turned into nationalism, which is why Greeks try to claim the word Macedonia as their own. 

When the name issue broke out in my office, a couple of other people (both Greeks) also questioned my use if the phrase FYR Macedonia. One was from the Greek region of Macedonia, while the other was married to someone from the Greek region of Macedonia. A very brief discussion revealed that while they were initially, let's say, 'perturbed' by the sight of the written phrase FYR Macedonia, they did in fact agree that FYROM is not a name of a country, and the name of the country must be referred to appropriately in a thesis. The name issue was simply a case of psychological revulsion: once people 'got over' the revulsion factor, they began to accept that the word Macedonia must be used to refer to the former Yugoslav republic. It isn't just my own Greek Macedonian colleagues who can see the logic in this (we now write 'Macedonia[FYROM]' as the name of the country in student lists) - there are Slav Macedonians who admit that they too have seen Greeks show respect to their countries' name dispute: 
Eleanora Veninova, the director whose short film "Hair" has been shown in Switzerland, has told us that she hasn’t heard about the Greek reaction. "I have not had inconveniences during other festivals because the Festivals independently decide whether they would address us as Macedonia or FYROM and almost always it has been Macedonia. When I was at the Festival in Drama in Greece, where the movie "Hair" was in official competition, the organizers everywhere announced the movie as a movie from FYROM, but during my official statements I was introducing myself as a director from Macedonia and they had no problem with it. I won a prize for a pitching workshop, held alongside the festival for the next short film I make, so the film professionals had never been a problem. Certainly, sometimes there are reactions from the audience or people we come across there, but it has not been anything news", says Veninova. http://www.independent.mk/articles/10791/Greek+Directors+Angry+Athens+Censors+Films+Because+of+the+Name
Given the work-related incident, I decided to google 'fyr macedonia' to see who else is using the FYR abbreviation next to the full-form Macedonia, without abbreviating it to just the letter M. It seems that this is used mainly by the football team of the Republic of Macedonia, and by Eurovision to name the country in the song contest. I also found a reference to it that is being used by the World Bank. The phrasing FYR Macedonia is officially being used in a similar way to my own, when I proofread students' theses. So it seems to me that in terms of the written form of the name involved in the dispute, it has actually been resolved theoretically and practically for most intents and purposes. The spoken form is a case of psychology - that will take forever to resolve. The question that now remains is when the two countries will finally realise that the world is not waiting for them to solve their problems. 

The borders of countries are purely political constructs with global recognition. The people living on or near the borders often mingle with each other, and this is noted in their customs, their dress styles, their architecture, and of course, their food. While talking with one of my FYR Macedonia students about Florinis peppers (long red ones, not hot), she told me I could try making ajvar, since we always produce a lot every year in our garden:
"We use florina type peppers (long red sweet peppers), seeds removed, and eggplants: 50 kg peppers, and 50 big size eggplants [you need more peppers than eggplants] The vegetables are roasted over fire, peeled, ground and placed in huge pan. We add 3-4 liters oil and we cook it over fire, outdoors for 4-5 hours, continuously stirring. This is my family's recipe, but it varies from family to family, in terms of the pepper/eggplant ratio, oil, addition of parsley or garlic, shili pepper, etc. It is usually flavoured with just salt. The hot ajvar is placed in hot jars and then the jars are placed in a big pot all together, wrapped in old blankets. The next day, the jars are cold and the sauce can last for several years like this without changing the flavour. But of course, it never stays longer on my shelves than April the following year..." http://www.organicallycooked.com/2013/11/ajvar-eggplant-and-pepper-sauce.html
I wondered if the same preparation was also made on the other side of the border. Communally made storeable food, like yufki (a kind of egg and milk based pasta that can be kept all year round and is used in a variety of dishes), is still popular in the former communist countries which border Greece. The cold-war barriers once ensured that not even neighbours could learn from each other. I made some ajvar on her advice. 

This year's batch of ajvar - I use it as a base for stews

I am always on the lookout for new products on our supermarket shelves. So you can imagine my surprise when, after making ajvar for the first time last year, I found something like ajvar at the local supermarket. It was not labelled ajvar; it had a very general description that could be translated to something like 'pepper and eggplant spread'. But it was unmistakably the same product (for more information, see this link - it was this product). The name was simply not being mentioned. If you google the search string 'αιβαρ' (= ajvar transliterated into Greek), you will find it. The search can be narrowed down to food only by googling 'αιβαρ φλωρινης' (= ajvar florinis, from the pepper variety used to make it). And my wackiest find: a bilingual recipe for ajvar, written in the official languages of Greece and FYR Macedonia. 

I will end this post with a poignant quote from Farewell to Salonica, by Leon Sciaky, a Jew whose family was born, raised and based in Thessaloniki, left the city in 1915, during the political turmoil: 
The Balkan coalition which had been the hope of the people, the war which was to be the liberation of the oppressed, had ended with the Treaty Of Bucharest, that treatty of August 1913, which for the first time partitioned Macedonia and sowed the seeds of further hatreds and cruelty. And now the wave of horror which had swept pover Macedonia had engulfed the countries fo the West. The shot fired at Sarajevo [ie the beginning of WW1] had plunged the whole of Europe into war... Bulgaria, humbled by its defeat in 1913 and bearing the pressure of over 600,000 Macedonian refugees, had thrown her lot on the side of the Austro-Germans. She had attacked the Serbs from the rear and in a few weeks had overrun most of Serbia. The British and French had landed in Salonica... During the first few years, there was in our New York apartment an atmosphere of transiency, the feeling that we must be ready to pack up at any moment. The talk around the dinner table often reverted to our home in Salonica and to plans for our return. The war could not last much longer... Now that America had entered the conflict, it would soon come to a successful conclusion and we would be on our way... Farewell to Salonica, by Leon Sciaky, 1946
Of course that never happened, as Leon's son, Peter, explains in the Afterword. Instead, Leon bought a farm in the are of New York now known as Fahnestock State Park
For the greater part of the year, we lived there by ourselves; other family members came on weekends... Thanksgiving and Christmas were family times, which occasionally included close friends... In the late summer, the Macedonians - Greeks, Bugarians and Turks - would arrive for a giant barbecue. Despite all the Old Country animosities, they seemed to find compatibility and freindship with one another in their adopted land. Afterword to Farewell to Salonica, by Peter Sciaky, 1974
For the time being, let's admit it - we are nowhere near to a solution:
United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz admitted on Wednesday that “no progress” was made in the latest round of talks between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) aimed at resolving their name dispute. Nimetz called for “greater flexibility” from both sides after hosting talks between Greek diplomat Adamantios Vassilakis and FYROM negotiator Vasko Naumovski in New York. Nimetz, who visited Athens and Skopje in the summer, did not submit a new proposal designed to settle the dispute. He said that talks would continue in the next few months. Vassilakis said that “no new ideas” were put forward during the talks and that Naumovski, who recently took up his role, “essentially repeated the ideas that Skopje has.” Wednesday November 12, 2014 (22:06) http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_12/11/2014_544543 
Why? Because: "A really good compromise is the one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied" but neither side wishes to be dissatisfied. That's why we really need to talk about Macedonia, as soon as we can: people are already talking about us, so why can't we talk about each other too? But even with the rest of the world, no one is really taking a position: 
Following a new deadlock in talks between diplomats from Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the Balkan state's official name, Washington has said it supports the continuation of United Nations-mediated efforts to resolve the longstanding dispute. The US would like to see "a mutually acceptable solution as soon as possible," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was quoted as saying after talks in New York on Wednesday, mediated by UN official Matthew Nimetz, failed to break any new ground. 
Friday November 14, 2014
http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite1_1_14/11/2014_544584
Hm. The oracle has spoken. 

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