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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

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Everyone live like this (Όλοι ζουν έτσι)

It's cold and wet today. Other places in the world are as not as cold and as wet as mine, but I believe they are often better heated. The heating issue affects all of us in Greece. Most often, it is the case that we live/work in one heated room. If our tasks take us away from that heated room, we feel the cold.

That's one reason why I have not been blogging as of late. My computer room is actually the walk-in storage area of our house. It's the only part of the house that hasn't been insulated because no one was supposed to stay there for longer than picking up or stacking something in the corridor-like room. Its conversion to a computer room is a recent one. The seating space is very very cramped - if I were any fatter, I literally would not fit into the chair. Sitting in front of the desktop computer, my head is set against the cold wall, and my left arm rests below a small window built into a freezing exterior wall.  The heating does reach my legs... but it doesn't do anything to the walls of the room. I can use my wifi laptop in the living room which is heated (the only room to be), but we don't have much bandwidth available (we are all using some kind of wifi device at the same time, and everyone's wifi work is always 'urgent'). The kitchen is only warm when I'm cooking. That's another reason why I have gotten lazy and I'm not making pita lately - it's just too cold to roll out pastry.

As for that project of mine, the tactile labour has had to be put on hold due to the problems that winter brings us. I am now severely lacking in work space. The desk which I brought into the living room is often piled with clothes needing mending, laundry for folding, the laptop and speaker set for watching films, as well as being a general dumping place for the day's paperwork and bric-a-brac. Sometimes the children do their homework on it, as it's strategically placed next to the wood-fire heater since it's warmer there than in their rooms. That's when we turn on the light in the living room: when the kids are doing homework. Otherwise, the lights are always dimmed, just enough for us to be able to see our dinner - after 2pm, the kitchen feels rather uninviting.

As I bear the cold, I am comforted by similar Greek news stories that I hear and read, that tell me that I'm not alone, and everyone's finding themselves in a similar predicament. Some of us stay on, while others leave, hoping to find a better life on other shores, but generally all we find is an improvement rather than something better, as attested by these lines from my favorite novel Small Island by Andrea Levy (about a Jamaican woman who goes to live with her husband in London after WW2):
"[He] sucked his teeth and flashed angry eyes in my face. 'What you expect woman? Yes, just this! What you expect? Everyone live like this. There has been a war. Houses bombed. I know plenty people live worse than this. What you want? You should stay with your mamma if you want it nice. There has been a war here. Everyone live like this."
Winter can be depressingly long and very dark in some parts of the world, but I know that in mine, the cold dark season is going to be over in less than two months. Patience, patience - at least I am getting a chance to catch up with some good reading...

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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Changing Greeks (Οι Έλληνες αλλάζουν)

I've been doing a lot of really thought-provoking reading for the project to get an insight on those timeless quintessential elements of Greekness, but on my recent trip to Athens, I was able to see some things that can and do change. They are usually more 'tangible' than the timeless elements. 

If you haven’t seen Athens, you’re a fool, wrote Iraklidis o Kritikos, a Greek writer and traveller from Crete living in the third century BC. Even though I don't crave urban life, I still regard any trip I take to Athens wit some awe; a trip to the capital of Greece is a reminder of my Greek roots. Cretans are τοπικιστές (to-po-ki-STES - 'localists'), and the highly interconnected global world allows them the privilege of being self-sufficient in terms of their basic needs. So a trip to Athens is a way to remember how small we are, and more importantly where are roots come from: the original inhabitants of the island of Crete, often referred to Eteocretans, became Hellenes when the Mycenaeans conquered them.

This year's trip to Athens took me to the same place that I visited last year. This time, it was strictly business, and I did not visit any exciting places as on my last trip. But a visit to exactly the same place at exactly the same time as last year gave me the chance to make some comparative observations. Some are nice, others not so. Generally speaking, they show changing attitudes with a firm Greek imprint.

Let's start with the port of Pireas, where we landed after our overnight journey with the ferry boat. Last year, the benches by the waiting area were packed with homeless people and their possessions, including their animal companions. This year, there was only one person sleeping on the bench. The rate of homelessness may be rising, but there is more solidarity being shown to the homeless, and more accommodation is being provided by shelter services.
Our first destination was the train station, where we were to take the oldest train line in Greece, known as the 'electric' (see the green line in this map).
Graffiti is an integral part of Athens. But judging Athens (and by extension, Greece, and the Greeks) by the amount of graffiti on the road and viewing graffiti in the way that it is viewed in the western world is very misleading: you need to look beyond the graffiti to understand what is going on in Athens. 
Outside the station, you are greeted by the timeless Greek image of the quintessential koulouri seller. There has probably been a koulouri seller outside the entrance to the station ever since its inception. The koulouri seller, together with the kiosks (περίπτερα) selling cigarettes, newspapers, snacks and refreshments (and all sorts of bric-a-brac), are timeless elements of Greek daily life, and they provide a reassuring sign of normalcy.
During our journey, various beggars boarded wagons, for the duration of one station to another. Most were asking for money directly (they were spieling out the same classic lines such as: 'i'm handicapped, my wife is sick in hospital, we are very poor, we live on the street, we have 3 children, one's a baby, i just want to buy them some milk and bread'). The accordion player is my favorite: I like the music of this instrument, and the musician is always offering people something. For those that want to, they can give him their small change in return. But when you're on an inner-city metro train, you're not sitting down, you're accompanying children and you're carrying bags filled with expensive sports equipment (fencing swords and uniforms), it's inappropriate to put down your things and take out your purse and bring out your change. You still see people giving beggars money. But not a lot.
We got off at our station and walked to the indoor sports facilities at the OAKA park, where the 2004 Olympic Games were held. The facilities haven't been maintained in the way that one would expect of facilities of such greatness. Paintwork, tiles, glass panels, decorative shrubbery: let's just say they are kind of lacking. But the grounds are clean and they are being used by Athenians who come with their children, bikes, dogs and skateboards to run, walk, ride and play in a safe and clean environment. People are less prone to littering.
On the subject of litter, people still drop it on the ground, and it gets carried away in the wind. I saw a lot of train tickets on the ground. There's a bit of goodness to be read in that too: more people are buying train tickets, despite the fact that there are still no barriers in place to prevent non-payers from entering the platforms. This may have to do with the highly publicised cases where a passenger died after forcing the doors open and jumping off a bus after a ticket inspector caught him without a ticket, and the harassment of ticket inspectors in general by non-payers. The truth is that such incidents have caused a shift in attitude about paying for mass transportation services. In comparison to last year, I also saw more ticket staff at the stations whereas last year the cashiers were closed and we had to buy tickets from machines.  Most of the time, we needed to go from one stop to the next one (Eirini to Neratziotissa, and vice-versa). Needless to say, I did not bother buying tickets then. But this time, since the cashiers were open at both stops (which are considered significant ones - one leads to the 2004 Olympic Games facilities, while the other leads to the biggest shopping centre in Athens), I did.
The sight of the contents of a rubbish bin spilling over onto the ground also has its good side: it shows people are looking for a rubbish bin to place their trash. There were cleaning staff at the sports centre, so how can one explain the sight of a bin spilling its guts out on the floor? If you take a good look though, the rubbish is not here, there and everywhere: it's all around the bin, and some of it has even been bagged, in acknowledgement that there was no more space in the bin. There was no rubbish on the floor elsewhere in the sports centre - nearly everyone picked up their rubbish from the seating areas, too, after they left the sports centre. That's a sign of social responsibility - but we also need to keep in mind that there will always be some pigs among us.
During last year's weekend trip, I do not recall a preponderance of computers or tablets at the competitions. People carried smartphones, but nothing much bigger than that. This year, every family seemed to be using at least one tablet among the members. Greeks are now accustomed to living in a highly connected world. 
Last but not least: Greeks' cars are getting smaller. There were very few SUVs in the parking area. We're learning not to bite off more than we can chew.
As for the food that I saw being eaten over the two days we were there, admittedly I was on the road, but that hasn't changed much since last year - Athenians eat global food when they go out. Crete is recognised by most Greeks as the last bastion of traditional Greek food - wherever you find yourself on the island, there will be quite a lot of non-global food to pick from, among the food choices. It is understandable why we are topikistes.
The hotdog/souvlaki stand was set up specifically for the football match that was to take place at the stadium near to where the fencing competitions were taking place (just next-door to us). The big Athens-based team AEK was playing a virtual unknown - Ermis Zoniana (would you believe it, for those that know a thing or two about  Zoniana). 

Greeks are a nice bunch, really. The problem is trying to tell this to others. Perhaps you need to see it for yourself.
All photos were taken in Athens on 18-19 January 2014.

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Friday, 17 January 2014

Changing Greece (Μια άλλη Ελλάδα)

2014 seems to be the year that the rest of the world starts to notice the changed Greece that my country is becoming. It still looks the same on the surface, but different words are coming out of people's mouths, together with different hand movements; the most subtle of all to be detected is the different emotions being vibrated. All this has to do with the way the country is grappling with the issue of how to become a 'normal' country. As the German newspaper "Die Welt" recently reported:
"Powered by the donors, the Greeks are going to put their country back on its feet. And something is moving, everywhere you look in Athens, whether at the office, in a museum or in the church." http://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/article123773721/Diese-50-Dinge-haben-sich-in-Griechenland-geaendert.html
"Die Welt" has in the past taken a similar hard stance other German media sites like "Bild" and "Focus", both of which have made monstrously unflattering comments about Greece in the recent past. So Die Welt's present thoughts could be regarded as sobering. It recently published a list of the visible changes that have taken place in Greece according to the author, who mentions that not all the changes have to do with the troika's demands, but they seem to be a direct result of the side-effects resulting from the changes being demanded. The complete list is only available in German, not English, which confirms my belief that the media is not interested in Greece these days: despite the crackpots that still believe in the possibility of a Grexit (still being reported in 'serious' financial news media), the demise of Greece is a fait accompli, and there is not much else that can be said or done about it in the global media. Only the Greeks can now play a role in picking up the pieces, keeping calm and carrying on, as a recent BBC article notes is now happening:
"With predictions of growth in 2014 and unemployment down slightly, there is a feeling of optimism from the government in Athens - but Greeks say they know there are still difficult days ahead."http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25431288 
Not even in the Greek media will you find a complete translated list of the perceived changes (only a partial one): Greek news media have much more significant news to deal with on a daily basis. Greeks themselves cannot keep up with the latest news, as there is so much to take in. As I was writing this post, I was listening to the TV news in an empty house (which explains how I managed to hog the TV that night): more bribery arrests, more scandals coming to light, more financially related arrests, more Golden Dawn members remanded in custody, more warnings to non-payers of taxes... it's out with the old in Greece for 2014, as we wait and see what exactly will be in with the new. We're too busy to worry about what every Tom, Dick or Harry is saying about us outside the country.

The comments found at the end of the article (all in German) are very telling: people don't want to believe that anything has changed in Greece. The commentators generally hold similar views to the diaspora Greeks I have recently talked to: Κοιτάξτε τα χάλια σας! and Ρεμάλια, όλοι! are regular expressions to be found on social networking media, written by diaspora Greeks to describe people and events in Greece. Horrible expressions, aren't they? I've never use the word ρεμάλια to describe anyone, and I detest the over-used χάλια phrase: they both sound very bas class, straight out of kafeneio culture, utterly demode, with overtones of the over-used μαλάκα. They remind me of old-fashioned derogatory Greek phrases like σκατά να φας, only used now by old diaspora Greeks who remember their mummy and daddy saying it. Such phrases have been superceded by other slang idioms.

I am not surprised with the Germans' and diaspora Greeks' chants, because they comment only on what they think they see during their short (and always summer) holidays here. They don't live in Greece, therefore they cannot feel or understand the changes taking place; most hear/read about Greece from the media. They are possibly also the kind of people who aren't capable of understanding the changes taking place, and it may not suit them to hear such news. They prefer to highlight the few direct experiences they have of Greece, which are usually negative (and often self-created) ones, as those representing real Greek life today.

In reality, they are only deluding themselves, in the same way as those who harped on about things being so bad in Greece that people were fleeing in droves, to Australia of all places, which has very strict immigration policies. Much ado was made about this, both in the foreign and local press, in the early period of the economic crisis. The recent publication of the results of an immigration study has "confirmed many suspicions and revealed unpleasant truths":
"... the year when the real brain drain began in Greece was 2011. It peaked in 2012 and has continued at a steady pace this year. A quarter of Greeks seeking greener pastures headed for the United Kingdom, while most of the rest settled in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the United States. However, taking into account the official unemployment numbers, especially in Greece and Spain, the number of emigres so far is not that impressive... the majority of citizens who decide to leave have a high education level, with the percentage of degree holders among the Greek emigres reaching 89%. Contrary to popular belief, 51% of the Greek participants had jobs in Greece when they decided to move... they may have been unhappy with the conditions, their prospects and their salaries, but they were not in dire straits.” 
http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite6_1_13/01/2014_535235
It also turned out that of the 919 Greeks surveyed, among 7077 PIIGS (remember that acronym?), 97% were up to 45 years of age, and 46% said that it was the first time they had ever lived abroad. Oldies just don't pack up and leave; they have fewer chances of succeeding in a new country in the first place. Greeks (together with Italians) are generally happy with their cushy lifestyle at home. Most middle-aged Greeks are dissatisfied with their living standards, but they generally just wait for things to get better (like Italians). While in London last year, I was surprised by the prevalence of Spaniards and Poles working in 'menial' jobs (eg shop assistants). But they weren't being joined by Greeks in similar positions, whose main destination is the UK when they leave Greece in search of work. As the above link confirmed, an overwhelming majority of Greek emigres leave Greece with degrees, so they are probably not looking for menial work - they can find that here. (More on this issue later, when I finish researching it a little more.)

Some things change very quickly, while others take a longer time, and there are also some things that will not change, but employment and taxation don't come under this category. I keep this in mind as I start to work on my New Year's resolution, that bigger-than-a-blog thing, which I really want to be quintessentially and timelessly Greek. It's a large task to grasp, but slowly we are returning to our identity, and those quintessential timeless Greek elements are also rising to the surface.

With the help of a friend, I have compiled the list of the 50 changes that "Die Welt" mentions. Some points are made sarcastically, a little tongue-in-cheek. Some do not seem like tangible changes, but more like changes in attitude and mindset. It could also be argued that some of them contrast with descriptions of Greece as she is portrayed by news media and diaspora Greeks, the greatest critics of Greece. Not all people are law-abiding citizens of their country, and this applies not just in Greece; sooner or later though, we eventually all steer ourselves into the straighter path which is constantly widening to accommodate more and more of us. The reality is that these are the new rules of the game for the grand majority of Greek citizens. It's the way of the world: we prefer to go forward with the flow rather than to be constantly swept back with the tide, which eventually becomes tiresome.

Here is the list (thank you, Ulrike). Make what you wish of it.
1 Receipts Everyday life in Greece is rich in documents 2 Taxes The chief tax collector reported that in 2013 for the first time more taxes were collected than were actually budgeted for 3 Bribery The government introduced a compulsory rotation system where financial department heads must now change position every few years to combat bribery 4 Officials register The government sent a mandatory questionnaire to all employees to profile their workplace and qualifications 5 Layoffs Public servants who do not turn up for work are the first to be fired 6 Dismissals  Almost 1 in 10 Greeks were employed by the state in 2009. By 2012 there were 750,000; this is expected to go down to 660,000 by 2016 7 Restructuring The transformation to a modern administration is seen as a major task 8 Economy The government is minimising expenses during the EU presidency: 50 million euros is a much lower sum than previous years for serving customers given the increased travel volume between Athens and Brussels 9 Sponsor Audi is sponsoring the transport for the EU presidency 10 Middle class The Finance Minister used a VW Passat on duty 11 Renovation Very little but much-needed refurbishment takes places in the Ministry of Interior: old furniture, special mention goes to the fine cherry-wood conference table, laminate floor 12 Buildings In the past, ministers liked to show off their country to their visitors. Now, they use the Zappeion Megaron, a nice old building with a circular colonnaded courtyard, situated in the middle of the city. In 1906, it was used as an Olympic village 13 Visitors A record 17 million tourists came to Greece last year, more than the previous year when Germans kept away out of fear. , with a 10% rise in German tourists 14 German fans Now the tide has turned - there was a 10% rise in German tourism. "German tourists leave Greece with the feeling that they are in a safe place with hospitable and warm-hearted people," said the Minister of Tourism 15 Hospitality One of the rules of hospitality to the visitors is not to be ripped off: a survey of Athens taxi drivers revealed that no taxi driver tried to add absurd surcharges or to use a route with detours 16 Smoking Although people still somewhere everywhere, rolling your own tobacco seems to be the order of the day 17 Hellenes The National Archaeological Museum displays a ship wreck from the Aegean Sea dated 70-50BC - it was full of art that was already considered ancient at the time. The then world went crazy about those pieces, and then the Greeks of today like to point that out 18 Purchasing power The economic performance is far below pre-crisis levels, the standard of living of many Greeks has fallen dramatically 19 Savings Austerity measures totaling 30% of economic output have been made in Greece 20 Bars The pubs in Plaka are full as before. But people keep to one drink lasting a long time 21 Mini growth 0.6% growth is expected in Greece in 2014. "The recovery has begun," says a member of the government, adding that "at least it is not decreasing" 22 Struggle Enough with the impositions on the Greeks, the government states, as it is more willing and prepared to argue persistently with the troika 23 Elections PASOK received 44% of the votes in 2009. It has since dropped to single digits 24 Solidarity The government wants more concessions from European partners, lower interest rates or better repayment terms, a kind of debt relief that is not being named as such 25 Deficit  By the end of 2015, a deficit of just 11 billion euros is predicted by the Finance Minister 26 Markets The Greeks want to be able to borrow money again in the capital markets. GIven that they needed a haircut before, that will be quite an adventure. "The markets prefer reduced interest rates and longer maturities," says the minister 27 Surplus Antonis Samaras boasts that there has never been a country in the world that has mined its deficit as quickly as Greece. It was at 15% in 2008. A surplus of 0.9% is expected for 2013 28 Facing the crisis Greece no longer borrows in order to spend: "We have completely eliminated one of the basic reasons for the crisis," said the Minister 29 Exports During the crisis, imports plummeted drastically. At the same time, there is now a "significant increase" in exports which is remarkable, given that for decades, production was mainly inland 30 Deficit Without taking into account debt service, Greece is expected, for the first time, to announce a small surplus of 1.2%, a necessary condition for further assistance 31 Troika Greeks don't like to hear about the "fulfillment of all requirements" from the aid package 32 Benevolence The - unexpected - primary surplus will now benefit the Greeks, relieving hardship: 70% will be plugged into the social security system, 30% will be saved 33 Flexibility The troika demanded that patients pay a fee of €25 on being admitted to hospital form 2014, a ruling which has laready been cancelled. This lack of money will be compensated through an increase in tobacco taxes 34 Transfers In 2010, Athens could not pay over 9 billion euros in debt. Now, 7 billion have already been paid out 35 Latecomers Thessaloniki is the 2014 European Youth Capital. Even as late as 2013, several issues were still pending. "It is the Greek way, we are always late. But there will be no problems," promised the provincial governor 36 Waiting The government has promised that you will be able to queue up at only one counter, in just one day, in order to be able to set up a new business 37 Reward If you are a foreigner and you intend to buy a property worth 250,000 euros, you will get a  residence permit as a present for five years 38 Privatizations Four billion euros have been made through privatizations. Admittedly, the plan included more 39 Cadastre One must first know what belongs to whom, before one can sell it. Land registry has progressed in this direction, under the guidance of Dutch experts 40 Lawyers Previously, each party had to bring in a lawyer to make a real estate purchase. This is no longer the case: "Resistance from interest groups was immense," the government admits 41 Praise German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised the Greeks during his recent visit for the work they have done on reforms. "The work that is being done here is not just a job for Greece, but for Europe. For that, I give my encouragement" 42 Protests Europe Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas Looking out of his office down at the Syntagma Square, the Minister for European Affairs says that the better the signals, the more people believe that the road to recovery is less painful, and fewer people take to the streets to protest 43 Action The Greek Post Bank recently admitted to 400 million euros in bad loans, leading to arrrests. Coincidence or not: Many arrests were made exactly during the ceremony taking over EU presidency 44 Churchgoers More people are going to church, according to the Fathr Maximus of the Athens Archdiocese. "Whether they are religious or not, the congregation at the liturgy increases. People don't look just for material aid, but assistance for the soul" 45 Consumption Although Father Maximus sympathises with them, he never liked the consumerism of the boon years: "Greeks lost their identity because of it" 46 Education To be someone and to make a living, you had to have studied at university. Now, for the first time, dual training courses, according to the German model, are being applied (ie learning a profession through apprenticeship with a firm and theory at a school) 47 Culture 12 million people visited significant museums and archaeological sites in 2013. The Minister of Culture has promised that in the spring, the opening times will be extended to attract even more visitors 48 Museum The New Acropolis Museum had already attracted 6 million visitors since it opened in 2009. It did not receive a single subsidy, according to the Director 49 Service A Greek archaeology professor regards the museum as a training centre: "The staff here learn that we have to provide good service, so that we can live off the income" 50 Requirement Half the stunning Parthenon frieze was "kidnapped", says the New Acropolis Museum's director. He wants it back: "It belongs to humanity, and it belongs to Athens.

Some great progress has indeed been made in Greece, but there is still a very long and painful way to go, especially on the political and administrative level. Nothing will happen about this overnight, but the progress being made already on the social level is bound to have an effect on other levels too.

©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, 16 January 2014

Obesity: comment is free

There's a lot of discussion going on these days about the food people are 'forced' to eat in highly developed countries. My reading this week started off with a Guardian comment-is-free discussion of how obesity cannot just be controlled through personal responsibility alone (written by an Australian contributor) - in other words, the state and industry needed to make some kind of contribution too. Then I saw the BBC using the phrase 'obesity crisis'. Greek news rarely discusses obesity as a prime news topic (let's face it, we have plenty of other hot topics to discuss right now), although I don't see it as anything close to a crisis in my country. Last but not least, The Guardian also published a story about banning sugar and chocolate at supermarket counters, replacing them with dried and fresh fruit, oatcakes and juices, after customer demand:
Lidl (supermarket) has banned sweets and chocolate bars from the checkout at all 600 of its UK stores after surveying parents about the "pester power" of their children. 
This last story was followed up by a Guardian survey, asking readers if they thought this was a good move. This led me to think about how I could make a contribution to the obesity debate, by writing my own comment-is-free article that The Guardian may be interested in publishing. Writing beyond my own blog is definitely one of my goals, and since I write in English and not Greek, I look towards international websites where I can do this. (Writing in Greek is very very different from writing in Engligh - it is not one of my goals at present.) So I began to write my article on Monday morning before contacting the website about my interest in becoming a contributor. (There are rules and guidelines about how to do this, which I read through first; The Guardian leans to the left.) I spent the whole morning writing; 2pm, I felt I had covered all the topics I wanted to include, and added the relevant links. I then prepared my introductory letter email to the comment-is-free staff (you don't send them the article, just a little about the topic you want to cover), which is always the trickiest part of introducing yourself to someone that doesn't know you:
   I would like to contribute to the current discussion about obesity. I live in Greece, and have been blogging (http://www.organicallycooked.com/) about Greek food and how it relates to Greek identity for nearly seven years. 
   The main point about obesity that I wish to make is that it is often caused by an over-abundance of processed food, especially in the western world which attaches a negative view to home-cooking and and a positive one to branded food products. I would like to draw on my personal experiences, many of which I have recorded in my blog, and to point out the differences in the Greek culinary culture that possibly protect us from rising obesity levels.  
   I hope it will be of interest, as the topics of obesity levels and industrialised food seem to be cropping up on a regular basis in mainstream news.
As soon as I sent it, I got a routine DoNotReply email acknowledging receipt. This was immediately followed by two more bot messages: one from a comment-is-free staff member who said they weren't in the office that day and would respond on their return, and one more from another staff member informing me that they don't work on Tuesdays or Wednesdays (I was writing on a Monday) and to contact another staff member (who was in fact the one that sent the previous email to say they weren't in the office day). Half an hour later, I received another email, this time from a real person:
"Thanks very much for this offer. I'm afraid I don't think it's one for us." 
So that was that, I decided. I then sent a 'thank-you-for-your-prompt-reply' message, as I like to acknowledge receipt of my emails. Since I'd already written my post, I decided to put it up on the blog, after making a few refinements. I didn't do this immediately, as I thought that the topic could 'wait' a little. The next day (Tuesday), what caught my reading attention in The Guardian was an article about the free school meal plans for every child in the UK. It sounded to me like the problem of feeding children was being removed from the parent, and added to the state burden; helping people to cope with the global economic problems is a bit like giving a man a fish to eat (not teaching him how to fish). Providing a decent meal for your child is part of good parenting, so I wondered if this kind of policy would encourage parents not to bother to do this, using the excuse that their kids will have been fed already at school. Parents (for various reasons) are often the main factor in the obesity problems and bad food habits of their children.

I also snatched a glance at another food-related article touted on the home page of The Guardian entitled "How to give up sugar in 11 easy steps", clearly related to the previous day's issue of obesity not being just a personal responsibility, as well as the ongoing excess-sugar debate in processed food. But I was a little dismayed to discover that Zoe Williams was being more tongue-in-cheek than her usual form, and her 'advice', at least after the fifth step, was bordering on the batty (point 6 was simply labelled 'Gary Barlow'). I also snuck a quick look at the 5 most viewed posts in the Life&Style section which gives one an idea of what kind of topics the website publishes (and presumably what people are interested in reading):
  1. 1. How to give up sugar in 11 easy steps
  2. 2.Female pilots: a slow take-off
  3. 3.I'm unable to have penetrative sex with my husband
  4. 4.Why snooty waiters are becoming a thing of the past
  5. 5.Dieting makes you fatter
It is worth noting that there was another obesity-related article mentioned in the list, as well as another food-related post. I quite liked the 'snooty waiters' story:
"the recession may have been 'one of the best things to happen to the dining scene in the UK' because it forced the restaurant industry to look at the way it serves people". 
I dislike snobby attitudes to food: the next thing that should go in the UK is treating top-to-tail dining as an elite and expensive experience (for goodness sake, you are eating an animal's bum). And less than an hour later, I caught a BBCNews discussion on the continuing mistrust of the public in the labelling of their food, in relation to the biggest food fraud in the last decade, which was revealed by the horsemeat scandal.

So it is not far wrong to believe that food is a really hot topic in the UK, especially when it comes to processed food and obesity. Hence, it is a shame that a Greek point of view could not have been equally considered as part of the obesity debate, given that it was trying to provide some insight into why one of the poorest countries in Europe has better nutrition habits. Never mind, I know who will appreciate it, of course. My readers. So here it is (blued, to make it stand out from the rest of the post).

In Crete (Greece) where I live, obesity is also regarded as a problem, especially prevalent among children and women; this is often explained by high inactivity levels and the ease with which processed (read: junk) food is available. Despite the economic crisis, where one would think that people will be spending less money on ready food and more money on cooking from scratch, this does not hold true.

Children are still eating a heck of a lot of junk food, something I regularly notice when I drop my son off in the morning at his high school. A good many pupils arrive carrying packaged food: large chocolate bars, crisps, salty pastry snacks, store-bought ham-and-cheese filled rolls, packets of chocolate biscuits. Drinks range from locally produced soft drinks (I am surprised to see this - they don't seem to be drinking global brands), juice boxes (the school is located in an orange-producing village!) and styrofoam coffee. I once saw a girl licking an ice-cream rocket cone as she arrived at the school gates. No one was munching on fruit or anything that looked barely home-made.

Why shouldn't they eat all this packaged food? For a start, it's very cheap. Supermarket offers of own-label crisps and croissants are so low-priced that it makes baking cakes, muffins and biscuits from scratch seem expensive: why not just stick a pretty package full of something tasty (as processed food usually is) into your child's lunchbox (or let them buy it for breakfast), instead of going to the trouble of putting real food in its hands, like fruit which may get damaged in its bag? (Yes, I have seen what an uneaten banana looks like - brown goo - when it is forgotten at the bottom of a school bag.)

It should be noted that not all the children that I observe in the morning eating packaged food are fat, or even close to obese. Only a few look overweight, and there are a good many that do not look fat at all. So the first thing to note in the obese children is not necessarily what they are eating: it's better to ask how inactive they are. Greek children spend a lot of time at school sitting at their desks and they have only two-three school periods dedicated to physical education; after-hours sports clubs abound but may be too costly (this includes time and petrol expenses for children who live far way from a main centre and there is a lack of bus services). It's not just the hi-carb, hi-fat, hi-sugar food that's making them fat.

Greek food culture is still heavily based around a home-cooked meal, and mama's kouzina: there is still a great likelihood that there will be a freshly cooked meal, either on the stovetop, in the oven or the fridge, waiting for everyone to come back home to after school or work. Even among working Greek women who aren't at home to cook the main meal, which is often eaten some time after the middle of the day until the early afternoon, they will have prepared the meal from the night before, or someone else will be doing the cooking (eg a grandmother, an older child, or even the father/grandfather, as Greek men are now more involved in these once-female domains). Even if Greek children eat processed food, they are also just as likely to be eating a home-cooked meal made from scratch on a daily basis. It is also a point of discussion among women at work: "What have you prepared for lunch?" my colleagues ask each other. The answers are, believe it or not, very similar: fasolakia yiahni (string beans in tomato sauce), bifteki (baked meat patties) and potatoes, fakies (lentil soup), among a range of Greek meals considered standard fare in daily Greek cuisine, which can be prepared easily, and overnight if the home cook is not available to cook it during the day. (As I write, there is a pot of rice-stuffed mallow leaves - a kind of dolma - waiting on the stovetop, prepared from the previous evening, for when my family comes home in the mid-afternoon).

The preponderance of home-cooked meals in Greece is attested even among the poorest sectors of society: Greek soup kitchens and food banks supply people with a cooked meal, or 'primary' ingredients with which to cook a meal at home. They are rarely supplied with ready-to-eat or heat'n'eat products. This can even be seen at the food collection points of Greek schools and supermarkets: things like tinned soup, pasta sauces, rice pudding and sponge pudding are not part of our culinary culture. No wonder the 'Greek' label is being tacked onto processed food products (whether produced in or outside Greece) and doing so well: Greek food is regarded as healthy and pure. The main meal of the day in Greece is less likely to be a heat 'n' eat type - such products are still more expensive than cooking the same meal from scratch. A meal can be as basic as roast/stewed/boiled vegetables, and/or dry/frozen beans, often accompanied by cheese (Greeks most likely still eat more cheese per capita than any other European).

Even the nation's beloved fast food meal, the souvlaki (also known as yiro), can hardly be called a highly processed meal. Each layer is completely transparent and anyone who has bought souvlaki in Greece from a souvlatzidiko will remember its assembly: First, the kitchen hand slices some cooked meat off the upright grill. Then he picks up a square piece of paper and places on it a flat disc-shaped bread product (the most processed part of a souvlaki). He then spreads yoghurt on it, some onion slices, the meat pieces, tomato slices, some freshly cut, freshly fried potatoes and sprinkles a bit of paprika on top, before sealing the paper on both ends. Hardly a processed meal - and even that is more expensive in a crisis-ridden economy than cooking a meal from scratch.

The obesity issue is making a regular appearance in mainstream international news websites, and it should worry all of us, not matter how healthy we think our food is, even if we do read all the food-packaging labels, despite how sure we are of what goes into our food because we put it in there ourselves. But what should really worry us most of all concerning our daily diet is our food habits. If our daily food routine involves eating a lot of processed food whose contents are not immediately discernible on sight, we should really be asking ourselves what is in that food. And much more importantly: if we are responsible for the food that children eat, whether they are our children or not, we really need to be sure that they are eating appropriate amounts of food for their activity levels.

Falling into the habit of eating too much processed food is just too easy to do in highly developed countries, which treat cooking as an art form rather than a daily chore; where cheap tasty food is presented in pretty packaging; where time spent on cooking from scratch is seen as old-fashioned; where branded food is heavily advertised; where sedentary work is the rule of thumb; where drinking juice is cheaper than eating fruit; where drinking out of a logo-printed bottle/cup is more common than drinking tap water; where 'eating out' includes breakfast; where Michael Pollan's ideas about eating like your grandmother or eating food which contains up to five ingredients are regarded as deluded; where food is regarded as a money-spinning industry; where standardised tastes are viewed as superior to seasonal differences (and seasonal differences don't exist anyway); where people have been deliberately brainwashed to have complete ignorance of their food chain - you really cannot control what you put in your mouth under such circumstances unless you make an incredibly large effort and possibly spend quite a bit of time and money to eat nutritious healthy 'real' food that does not contain hidden additives.

Such evidence possibly lends some weight to the argument which claims that obesity cannot be controlled through personal responsibility alone, but I highly doubt that the profit-driven food industry which works according to the rules of the modern market-driven world is going to work towards making processed food healthier quickly enough to save my children from their inescapable fate, which is that they will most likely cook less than their mother and eat more processed food in their older age than their parents ever ate. Cultural culinary habits play a major role in what and how we eat, even in the highly developed world, whose citizens enjoy the greatest range of international cuisine, and the greatest freedom from time spent in the kitchen. Sometimes, you just have to say no, whether it's to yourself or to your children. It's the only way to control salt and sugar intake. Sometimes, having the economic power to buy whatever you want to eat in artificial form is actually working towards making you ill, requiring you to find equally artificial ways to expend some of your excess energy. (approximately 1500 words - 12 links from my blog, 2 links from elsewhere)

In my opinion, it really is a shame that a Greek point of view on the topic of obesity cannot be heard more widely. Greek food is popular throughout the western world and Greeks are traditionally a nation of home cooks; asking them to teach economics to the outside world might be regarded as laughable, but this surely cannot apply to their cooking habits.

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Monday, 13 January 2014

Start-up

The buzzword these days in business is 'start-up': finding a creative conveyor-belt method of entering the business world profitably in a manageable way. The modern business world is saturated with the old tired business models of physical shops and internet services, while the new world continues to make a lot of disposable income which they are looking to spend in exciting ways.

The frozen food business is a very important part of that disposable-income world. People there have better things to do than to cook. Although I don't think much of frozen food in a box, I still liked the idea of the frozen pitas being produced by the Demetra Pies brand, which are about to start being shipped to the US: the 'Greek' label is a sure winner in the new world. Labelling a food as 'ALL NATURAL' probably has a similar image - the new world is filled with tasty hi-carb, hi-fat, hi-sugar, hi-salt processed food containing artificial additives for flavour and taste, which all pose increasing health risks. It follows that if you live in a highly regulated and concreted society, fresh food with the soil still clinging to the vegetable (and feathers still sticking to the egg shell) is probably not within your easy reach unless you are willing to pay the price for it.

What particularly caught my eye on this box was the phrase 'PROUDLY 100% GREEK'. It isn't every day you hear Greeks proudly stating their heritage, is it? It is without a doubt a sign of acceptance after the grief, denial, anger, bargaining and depression of the our recent past. 2014 seems to me like the year that Greeks finally accept their predicament and take the bull by the horns, manifested by the inspiration of young Greek minds. Demetra Pies is some kind of young people's initiative which received an award from the "Re-Inspiring Greece From the Youth Up" competition. So the idea arises from fresh optimistic minds, young Greeks who are not looking back at the problematic past of their country and shaking their heads in disgust - these young folk are providing their own answers to the issue of their survival in their country. It makes good economic sense to create a 100% natural Greek product for export. The venture also sounds like a case of small business winning over big business, using the talents of highly trained people (no more amateurism, thank you) with a future vision:
"The idea started with George Ballas, a mechanical engineer and business adviser, and Alexandros Toulias, a civil engineer and analyst at a large investment firm in Germany, who decided that they needed a product that would make them stand out from the competition. They abandoned promising careers in their respective fields and founded a food export company in Athens that promotes high-quality Greek products abroad." http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite6_1_09/01/2014_535238
Greeks need to learn to love living in their country! Any venture that sounds like someone is enjoying living and working here, instead of beating out the tired old 'dying to get out of Greece' myth makes me like it very much. After all, there is plenty to keep us here:
"The importance of the family unit in Greece has shielded many. And people here love life: even if some cannot afford essentials, they still find pleasure in their climate, landscape and culture." http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25431288
The start-up possibilities in the food business for Greek people are endless because of the plethora of natural products in the country, and the fact that Greeks are accustomed to using them, effortlessly and naturally. We know our products well, even if we do seem to take them for granted.

One of our ancestral orange groves is found somewhere in this photo.

If I were thinking of some kind of start-up (using that €50,000 in start-up capital and loans that Demetra Pies received to help them along), I'd probably go for an all-orange venture using our 500 organic orange trees, processing the fruit in different ways to get a variety of products: these days, a fresh food product is not worth as much as a processed one because of the high profit margin involved in giving a product added value. The whole of Northern Europe has been brought up on the 'myth' of Vit-C content in oranges. No part of the fruit will go to waste, from the peel to the juice to the fibre: 'Greek' and 'organic' will be the magic words found on all the packaging. Apart from real organic candied orange peel for Germany's lebkuchen and real organic marmalade made from whole fruit for English breakfasts and fresh orange juice for the dark Scandinavian winters, I'd also freeze the juice in a cute small square box, which would be printed with the photo of the orange orchard where the juice came from, along with Organically Cooked's recipe for moist orange cake! And let's not forget the sidelines, like orange-flavoured honey and orange-flanoured olive oil: the new world likes these kinds of quirky food, even though they have little place in daily nutrition.

Capturing quintessential Greekness in its many forms: my orange cake is made from orange juice (of course), orange zest and extra virgin olive oil. The eggs were store-bought in this case, but the rich colour of the cake can be detected below the cracks on the top, all due to the oranges.

What is Greece all about? She's about the food, the landscape, the food, the scenery, the food, the kitsch, the food, the sea, the food, the sun, and of course, the food again. In the words of Demetra Pies:
"The reason you choose Demetra is mainly because it brings you memories and pictures of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the Greek summer breeze sliding on your skin. Exactly these memories we try to preserve from fading away..."  http://www.demetrapies.com/#modal=2713
It's all about knowing your assets, thereby knowing yourself, and we have to remember that the world we live in is all about making money as quickly as possible, before anyone else notices: as soon as I start working on the above-said projects, somebody else bigger 'n' better 'n me will come along, and push me out of the business, either with a little handout to buy me out (so I can then retire early and write my memoirs), or by just crushing me out of the game with their brute force (which could end up in bankruptcy for me). The quicker you get into the game, the better. I hope I don't sound too cynical - that's the way the modern business world works.

If a Greek can produce something that is wanted in another bigger, richer country, I call that a moment of brilliance. But it needs start-up cash and a business model. It needs a dedicated team working towards a united measure of success and a fair division of profit. Doing everything on your own just tires you out, unless you have patience, but the world doesn't stop for anyone to catch their breath these days. Perhaps this kind of start-up is not for me because I am not young any more, and the strength I still have needs to be put to use elsewhere, but I can smell its prospects and taste its success even at a distance.

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Thursday, 9 January 2014

New directions (Νέες κατευθύνσεις)

During my blogging break, I have the chance to view my blog retrospectively, to help me decide how and where I want to take it in the future, together with the next step, which is to go beyond the blog. Looking through the blog's statistics (the hits counter), I notice that they are still quite healthy, despite my blogging absence: they have dropped by only a quarter according to the various sites I use to monitor this. Regular readers are still clicking in (thank you!), either to check for updates, or to look up a recipe: most of the posts being clicked on clearly have a recipe title. Visitors (non-regular readers) are also clicking on recipe titles, mainly by looking up a food word/phrase, and clicking on the respective link. There are also a few readers who are clicking on the 'Older Post(s)' button (at the end of the post), which means that they see the last few posts I wrote (up to about 20); this probably means they are catching up on something they may have missed reading during the holidays. So I can surmise that the main point of interest in my blog is the food I present, namely Greek food, with some interest in other Greek topics.

snails cooked a la hania chania crete
While writing this post, a British visitor to my site was looking up something to do with cooked snails.

One direction I could go in is to start cooking food for people other than my family. I was recently pointed towards this direction by a friend, who recommended informal sites like this one, where you set a date to cook a meal in your own home. If you get any offers, you give a cut from the price (which you have set) to the site owner; if you do not get any bookings, it does not cost you anything, apart from the time and money you would have spent in preparing the meal and/or location. It sounds like an interesting venture that is cheap to set up; I'd be working from home and it would almost be like cooking for my own family, but I can already see the traps:
1. I don't need to have a trader's licence to cook for my family, but I would need one if I were cooking for other people and expecting to be paid for it. My family hasn't been poisoned by my cooking, but the risk remains of people making such a complaint to the relevant authorities. Certain sites 'certify' their cooks, but let's not forget that trading standards differ from country to country; I have no idea (but I highly doubt) whether my own kitchen would make the grade according to Greek standards.

2. Making money in Greece is a highly contentious issue. From the beginning of this year, everyone running a business in Greece is taxed on the first euro they make. I'd be a tax evader, if I didn't declare my side business. It makes no difference if I don't actually make any money form the business: I'd still be obliged to declare my extra income, and pay tax on that.

3. On a similar note, how do I issue a receipt to the customer? All businesses in Greece, including freelancers, need to issue receipts to clients for services/products provided. If my home-cooking business is based on demand and I work only when required, without the work or the business being declared to the authorities, I would be working illegally in this country. (I believe that this is not being monitored very well at the moment, but that's the thing: just when you thought you were going by unnoticed, you suddenly find yourself in deep shit.)

4. Setting a price for a meal is either quite easy: it's a free market and you can set any price you want; or quite difficult: if you want to be marketable, you need to be cheap, which often means you won't be making a huge profit. Sites like the one I linked to (above) take a 15% cut of the set price. I have to remember that I have already paid between 13-23% VAT already on what I am cooking (unless I produce all the food I cook with, which I clearly do not). If I try to get round the health/safety standards by cooking in a professional kitchen (eg using a restaurant's premises on the night that they don't open), I'd need to pay for its use, too.

5. Of course, you aren't advertising yourself as a chef in such a venture, but you need a food philosophy of some sort if you intend to cook for others apart from your immediate family, who you are  feeding rather than entertaining. If you aren't a professional cook (and I am definitely not a chef, I am just a home cook), what exactly are you? Someone asked me once what my 'food philosophy' is: food must be real (ie the primary ingredients must generally be as transparent and unprocessed as possible), it should be for everyone (I dislike food sounding elitist), and therefore it should not be over-priced. Even when there is a theme associated with the food, it should still be cheap enough for anyone to enjoy; just because someone puts a lot of thought into the menu doesn't necessarily mean that this will be reflected in the payment for the inspiration: decor, props and plating shouldn't make the food more costly to prepare, in my opinion. But if I am cooking for others, I need to make a profit, otherwise... I may as well invite people to my home as guests.

All these issues mean that you need to find ways to get round these problems, which goes back to the age-old practice of "wait and see": keep doing what you're doing until you get caught out, and take it from there - there is rarely a Plan B.

Pizza in a cone
Nevertheless, nifty novelties in the food sector are constantly making their way into even my own little town in a not-so-little Mediterranean island, eg the donut business, and the pizza-in-a-cone. I can envisage potential for setting up a home-based Asian-themed pop-up restaurant. The local population is ready to try new ideas, but the costs involved in running a formal business are still too high, now that the taxation and health/safety regulations have changed in Greece. Not only that, but the island lacks tourists during the winter, who are more likely to be able to afford such novelties. (Tourism remains a summer activity in Crete, due to the flight schedules: during the six-month summer period, approximately 6,000 flights were recorded - and that figure is just for Hania, it doesn't include the biggest city in Crete, Iraklio. Flights during the winter are reduced to just domestic connections mainly to/from Athens.)

Last night's dinner, whipped up on a whim, after work, when I simply 'felt like' some Chinese food: stir-fry veges with chicken, basmati rice and calamari-and-cabbage spring rolls, with dipping sauces. It's almost become second nature to me to cook Asian food at home from scratch, now that I have developed my skills in this direction and I have acquired some basic equipment, thanks to friends' gifts of ingredients, woks, books and demonstrations. Nearly all the vegetables used in the meal were grown in our garden, so it is actually quite a lot cheaper than eating out. Judging from my family's enthusiasm for eating Asian food, I believe that it will have wider appeal in the community. 

The whole concept of presenting something new in the food sector is problematic. Ideas that I really like the sound of (eg Ziferblat) may be considered too avant garde in my town. My ideal to is find a way to be creative with food, but such ideas may also rely on cultural norms and honest customers. Some things are not quite clear-cut in small Greek towns.

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Sunday, 5 January 2014

Recipe calendar diaries

Recipe calendar diaries are a clever idea in essence, but it takes a lot of work and imagination to produce an original one every year. Once you stick a date to something, it becomes obsolete very quickly. More importantly, which recipes exactly suit each date?
And not a word about all that empty page space, for note-taking presumably. It's a rather cheap way of producing a book that must sell quickly, so I suppose it would only work with celeb chefs who are difficult to compete with.

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Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New Year's resolutions (Αλλαγές)

As Greece changes and veers off her 'normal' (I know this is a politically insensitive word) course into abysses unknown, those of us who have remained in Greece and continue to live here without the thought of emigration crossing our mind need to reconsider our lives and routines. "Happy New Year" is just a saying - we really need to think about how we can actually turn 2014 into a happy new year, because all the signs point to a grimmer reality: despite the lower corruption, despite the improving economy, despite the record-breaking number of tourist arrivals which is set to be broken again, despite the dirty truths that have been exposed for the first time ever, despite the dropping of immunity for crooked politicians and even putting some in jail, and, incredulous as it may sound, the return of massive amounts of bribe money received by politicians which have been put back into the Greek coffers, both of which are firsts for Greece, the average Greek citizen is set for a very difficult year. His/her savings have been depleted, taxes continue to rise, comfort zones are removed and even those people who thought they were heavily cushioned from feeling the worst effects of the crisis are now starting to feel its grip. 2014 will be a critically difficult year for most of us.

So what we really need to do in order to ensure that 2014 will be a better one is to turn our pessimism into optimism. Unfortunately, for the average Greek, that is really, really hard:
"We find meaning in conflict and separation instead of in unification and building together. We find meaning in endless philosophizing rather than action. We laud the past, ignore the present and deny the future. We canonize the beggar and demonize the person who strives for self-sufficiency through daily toil. We find meaning in the concept of the victim, but not in the quandaries of hope, choice and decision making – because the latter entail assuming responsibility. And as we know all too well, for someone who always feels like a victim, it is always somebody else’s fault."http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite3_1_31/12/2013_534150
Damning words, aren't they? With that kind of attitude, no wonder we find oursleves up the creek without a paddle and hating the fact that we are still living in Greece. That's what horrifies me most - this country is full of people who have never known any other country, and they hate the only one they have ever known. But it is that very reason that made me start blogging daily just over two years ago because I wanted to write about how I was coping with the crisis rather than breaking down together with the economy; the media already doe the reverse well enough, in terms of reporting about the shattered lives of shattered people living in a shattered country.

I don't want my children to be reading this blog some time in the future and thinking that their parents blamed others for their own state of affairs, that they were deluded by the state, and worse still, that they didn't do anything to improve their lives but carried on as if nothing was amiss. They hear plenty of deluded opinions from people amongst us, most of whom have never stepped outside the country, their country, the only one they have ever known. More importantly, I don't want my kids to hate their country. We've seen what happens when people cultivate a feeling of hatred for their country, both in Greece and abroad, with some well-known examples (they became terrorists). I don't think I will easily forgive, not just my kids, but myself, if my kids were to reach that extreme. I will not allow them to bad-mouth their country. Through my daily blogging, I wanted to show that I can rise above the misery and tackle life as it is given to me. Over the last two years, I believe I have succeeded in doing that. So now, I won't be blogging every day. There is no need to do this any more now that things have taken their course; in spite of the serious problems that Greece still faces, Greece is putting on a face of a 'normal' country to the outside world.
31 December 2013 · 

My blog originated in August of 2007 as a seemingly Greek recipe blog. But by the end of that year, I had already written my first identity crisis story. I didn't tag it as 'identity crisis' back then, because it looked more like a crisis of modernity, a consumer crisis rather than an identity crisis. Back then, if I told a Greek that the story I had written showed the early warning signs of an identity crisis, they'd have called me nuts. Back in those days, I would have been told how little I understood the Greeks. The Greeks' interpretation of how I viewed what was happening would have been cynical: "You're jealous of others, Maria, because you can't live like them, or perhaps, you don't want to live like them." Better late than never, I say; at least we are now unable to continue in the way that I describe the people acting in the story.

At the same time as blogging about the food I cooked in our home, which has not changed much over the last six years, I incorporated stories, often based on food (to act as a cover), that described elements of Greek identity, usually in the form of fictionalised facts, and characters grounded in my real life acquaintances. I foresaw that one day I would not have anything to blog about if I simply stuck to recipes. There is only a finite number of foods that genuinely Greek cooks cook for their family. The idea of veering into the world beyond Greek food (apart from learning to use our garden produce in different ways) simply reeked of commercialism, and it did not suit my frugal nature. In short, I didn't want my food blog to start looking like a foodie blog, because that was never the point of my writing. What's more, I really liked writing the stories much more than the recipes. For this reason, I have decided to concentrate from now on only on the stories associated with living in Greece. They naturally take much longer to write. Hence, I won't be blogging every day, and I won't necessarily be blogging about food.

I was recently playing around with some of my older blog posts, turning them into e-book files, and I was amazed with how beautiful I could make my blog look on an e-reader. This led to something that I knew I would have to do a long time now, having often been reprimanded by friends for not having done it already. I am starting to write something bigger than a blog, something that will be able to go into print. I won't call it a book, because, in essence, it will not be a book exactly, though it may have a bookish form. Nevertheless, it will be something printable, and hopefully unique, combining Greek food and Greek identity. The project will be revealed slowly over the course of the year. Because I am working on it all by myself, I don't really know when it will be finished. It probably won't be available commercially, so the blog remains the main platform to develop it.

Whatever form that bigger-than-a-blog thing takes, I really want it to be something quintessentially and timelessly Greek. I don't want it to be something that will look interesting for a week or so, until you've flipped through it and read it, and then you put it away and don't bother again with it until you start dusting your shelves. I certainly don't want it to become ephemeral and obsolete, being taken over by something more modern as soon as it came out. You are probably right in believing that I have set myself an immesely difficult task, which is made all the more difficult by my doing it all by myself. But I think it's achievable, and I am not at all worried about failure, as I'm setting my own goals. For this reason, I will not be blogging on a regular basis this year. I'll simply be keeping readers updated through my story writing. But if I do chance on an interesting recipe, I will definitely share it with you.

As my blog changes course, and morphs (once again) into something new, diving into its own unknown abysses, I am simply rising to the challenge of not remaining stagnant. To have a happy new year in Greece, we need to feel the need to be part of a changing world; otherwise, 2014 will turn out to be just as horrible as 2013. More than ever, we need to stop showing the world our pessimism. So if you are Greek, I hope you can rise to this challenge too, of being more optimistic. Can you do it?

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