Monday, 9 March 2015

Climate change (Κλιματική αλλαγή)

I haven't been to the Omalos plateau for a long time. In the summer we usually spend our time by the coast, and in the winter, I personally prefer to avoid Omalos because I don't really like snow. (It's nice to look at it, but not to have to wade through it. I'm sure most of North-East America agrees with me.) But the spring weather seemed nice enough yesterday for a daytrip to Omalos, so off we set on a clear fine day, making a quick trip to (one of) our orange orchards on the way, ...

... enjoying the sights of the yellow and white carpets of clover and daisies that had magically sprung up under the olive groves...

... only to find fog as thick as soup while we were driving up the mountain.

We've had a very strange winter this year: from last year's summer drought, we had not one, not two, but at least three huge thunderstorms, so big that they blew up our internet routers (twice) and my mother-in-law ended up with no phone for a whole month. Neither of these things have ever happened to us before. It's little things like this that remind us how difficult it is to live in harsh weather and terrain conditions. We all treasure our creature comforts.

While we were at Omalos, my daughter met up with her friend who often complains about the time she has to spend away from home at the weekend.

Her parents work in a restaurant that is open all year round on the Omalos plateau, which receives visitors from all over the world: during the summer season, avid walkers come to walk through the Samaria Gorge, while in the winter, the area becomes a favoured day trip for locals wishing to get away from urban life, especially when it snows, as the area gets covered in the white stuff.

Seasonal pond on the Omalos plateau

This year, during the Christmas period when Omalos is transformed into a winter wonderland, the snow was fell so often and so thickly that her friend was stuck at Omalos until the roads were cleared. And just think: they only live 30 minutes away from the plateau on lower ground just a few kilometres away from the main town!

Life at Omalos

I've been following the Guardian series on climate change, and there's a lot of interesting talk about developed nations' governments getting together and talking about how their economic policies can be tailored for a sustainable environment, but what all discussions about climate change lack (and Naomi Klein is seriously guilty of this too, as she enjoys her first-class globalised lifestyle) is the desire by the individual to turn back their own pace of life. Living in developed countries means living a more artificial life, whether you like this or not. Changing your lifestyle to a more sustainable one when you live in a developed country will ostracise you from mainstream society.

People never really lived all year round on the Omalos plateau. If they did, they were nomadic. Olives do not grow at this height, but apples and pears do. There are also lots of horta (stamnagathi - Chicorium spinosum). A lot of meat is raised here, and this is reflected in the restaurants of the area (see my food photos below).

And anyway: Who really wants to grow their own food? Most people can't be bothered growing herbs in small pots on their windowsill, and they prefer see floral inedibles to 'victory gardens'. Who really wants to go to the lengths - and the expense! - required to use natural energy sources? Greeks know this better than most others in the developed world - they can tell you how much they miss the simple act of pushing a button to heat themselves. How likely is it that 'New World' citizens will stop travelling abroad and just holiday in their own countries to save on fossil fuel? Also ask the Greeks about "getting less and less in the public sphere... defended in the name of austerity": the Greeks want more and more in the public sphere, without any austerity and no real plan about who is going to fund this (except that they will not pay for it themselves - it will always be someone else).

Tsigariasto (goat slow-cooked in olive oil and herbs)

Braised lamb with stamnagathi

Staka (a cream-based dip)


Lamb chops

Grape hyancinth bulbs, cured in vinegar (they aren't poisonous - plain hyancinth bulbs are!)
Kalitsounia fried in olive oil and topped with honey

If you were to try to sell, to the Greeks, the idea of a more sustainable lifestyle while making even more sacrifices, I'm sure they would reply in words to the effect of: "Γύρνα πίσω στο χωριό σου" (Go back to your village"). If you still have one, you are very lucky. But in the name of progress, you can't even do that. If you do stay in your village, to a certain extent you need to forget the progressive lifestyle. No amount of money will change that, even in present-day Greece. In Crete's relatively medieval past, living in mountain villages was a clear sign of a life under threat (of invasions by  foreigners). Once that threat subsided, people slowly left the mountains and fearlessly moved (back) to the lower coastal regions, where the weather is better, the terrain is easier to conquer and life is more social.

We enjoyed the Omalos plateau as much as we could that day. I know I won't be coming back too soon, even if my home is located just half an hour away. I covet the rural lifestyle, but I also like to living close to a town, like my daughter's friend. Isn't it better to live near more people than more animals?!

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