Wednesday, 27 January 2016

January in proverbs (Ιανουάριος)

January is supposed to be as slow as molasses. In Greece, 2016's January has been full on. 
January has many proverbs associated with it in Greek culture. Click here for a list of them.

In January, I put the fear of God into the last lot of students who did not obtain a suitable grade in the TOEFL test. I give them the all advice and support they need, and I know that if they don't take my advice, they will probably fail. A couple seem not to be heeding it. Let's see what the results will show. And with this last testing session over, I finally took a week off work, at the beginning of the sales shopping period. Very convenient that my private writing jobs came in at the right time:  Γενάρης στεγνός, νοικοκύρης πλούσιοςΙ got myself new boots (€25), new shirts (€55 for 4), and new jeans (€30), with a little left over - maybe a new hair look? Even children ask me why I don't dye my hair. Maybe it's time I did. (Hm. The salon was closed when I decided to make an appointment. Is that a sign?)

January started off freezing - Αρχιμηνιά, καλή χρονιά, με σύγκρυα και παγωνιά; then it got warm - Δέκα μέρες του Γεναράκη, ίσον μικρό καλοκαιράκι; and now it's back to freezing. It is winter after all. The kids are walking around in short sleeves, making their parents feel very old as we bundle up against the cold. I can't believe they don't feel it. I don't remember under-dressing at their age. Perhaps we should turn off the heating and see how they feel then. But that's impossible - it's their bundled-up parents that can't cope without the wood fire.

Son's birthday party went very well - 9 kids turned up. They were really quite kids too - one was Albanian, another Bulgarian and one more called himself Skopian (I suppose he's been told not to say Macedonian).  "It wasn't like that in my days," my husband said. "We were all Greek." He completely forgets that half his classmates were actually the children of refugee Greeks from Asia Minor, whose parents and/or grandparents had come to Crete in the early 1920s. (He went to school with kids who had surnames like 'Agop'). The difference between my childhood and my husband's and my children's is that the migrants were different colours at my school, whereas they were/are roughly the same colour in my husband's and children's classrooms. Τ' Αλωναριού τα μεσημέρια , και του Γεναριού οι νύχτες. We've all gone through some kind of migrant experience, but they've seen the migrants through cat's eyes, different shades of the same colour.

The kids watched a thriller movie with some donuts and cheese pies, then we served BBQ, baked potatoes and salad for lunch while they listened to youtube videos. The they played a  game which involved banging the door open and shut (I think they've damaged it a bit - Γενάρη διαβολόμηνα ποτέ σου μην ξανάρθεις) while each one took turns entering the room wearing a long white scarf. (I have no idea what they were doing, and I never asked them.) Then we cut the birthday cake and they watched another video till it was home time. Very innocent. My English friends remarked that their kids would be out on the lash at this age - I waited a long time that day to have a drink, and I had to make sure I wouldn't be ferrying kids around.

After the weekend, the skies finally cleared. We can now see how low the snowfall has been. Only the lowest lying hills are bare. That's why it's so cold. But it's a good sign: Γενάρης χωρίς χιόνι, κακό μαντάτο. And now, I also hear both kids sniffling, blowing their noses and coughing. Serves them right.

The cat walked into the house after a week's absence. He disappears like this every year at this time. Nα 'μουν γάτος τον Γενάρη κι ας μην είχα άλλη χάρη. But now, he's come back blind. His nose has been scratched, his tail is slightly torn at the tip, and his one good eye is now bloodshot (he lost his other eye very soon after he adopted us, about 8 years ago). He occasionally crashes into the walls of the house and he doesn't feel confident climbing onto and down from his chair. He also jumps when he hears someone coming into the room, out of fear - he can't see us but he can hear us. When we speak to him, he feels reassured, and goes back to sleep. We're letting him stay indoors throughout the evening, but he always wakes up in the middle of the night crying to be let out. He doesn't always want to stay in anyway. He's still eating well despite losing one of his teeth a few years ago, but I think he's on the last of his nine lives. Today, I spotted him at the nieghbour's and called out to him. He heard me and jumped his way towards the fence to get to me. He had no idea how to get through. He just sat there and meowed. I coaxed him to follow me until I found a hole big enough for me to grab him and pull him through. I took him home, and gave him something to eat, and then he stared at the door again, meowing to get out. Even though he can feel so human, I really need to remember that he's a cat. A Greek cat, for that matter. He will live out his ninth life, and we will probably never find out how he lost it.

The four posters on our bed finally lost their last life. They were always a bit wobbly, and we had tried to secure them, but the new laundry basket is a bit bigger than the previous one I broke, and I bumped it onto one of the posts as I was taking out the washing. The whole thing came crashing onto my head. We decided to take down the posts after that. Κόψε ξύλα τον Γενάρη μην κάψεις τα παλούκιαIt had its charm, but in our later years, it served more as a place to hang clothes we couldn't be bothered putting away. (Now we'll have to start putting them away.) Just when I was thinking what I was going to do with the curtains, my daughter says she wants to get rid of the girly ones in her room so I offered to recycle the ones from the 4-poster bed (which now looks like a plain old bed) for her use. She said she'd like that. She's grown up so fast: just the other day, she asked her dad (she is a daddy's girl after all) if he could take away her cellphone for a few hours in the week so she can concentrate on school work. I'm very thankful she found a solution for her problem instead of me having it on her (perhaps she'll remember to wear long sleeves too).

I'm trying to sort out my needs from my wants. I think I want rather than need new hair (despite what kids tell me). I think I should have new hair, but I don't think I need it. At least that's what I think. I need new glasses. I've always worn glasses to see far away, but I'm having problems seeing things close up. If I take my glasses off, I can see things close up quite clearly. I don't have problems driving with my glasses. Perhaps I can let the glasses wait for the time being. I need a new cellphone. I keep worrying that because it's nearing 5 years old (HTC Desire, if anyone's interested), it will soon break down. But it does everything I want it to do, and even more. So I could say I just want a new phone because my present phone is old (and it has a 3" screen and naturally I'd like a bigger screen). So I'm putting that on hold too. The way I think about things, it seems that all my needs are really wants. Ο Γενάρης δε γεννά μήτε αβγά μήτε πουλιά, μόνο κρύο και νερά.

Pump-Driven Espresso/Cappuccino Machine contemporary-espresso-machinesWe weren't sure whether we needed a coffee maker. I've had the same coffee maker for the last 15 years: a tall plastic cup (I gave up on plungers after I broke two in succession), a very fine sieve (it's lost its handle, but I haven't seen anything in Hania that can replace it) and the good old Greek briki (I prefer gas to boil water and I didn't want another kitchen gadget on the worktop). Husband has always made his milky coffee using the briki, but recently he admitted that he didn't like the taste any more. He has a takeaway cappuccino when he's suddenly called away on a fare in the morning, and he has obviously developed a taste for it. I personally never found takeaway cappuccino tasty enough and it's always so hot it burns your tongue if you try to drink it as soon as you buy it. On the other hand, a cappuccino in a sit-down cafe is NEVER hot enough, and it's always too small (even the ones that are supposed to be large). In the end, I decided to buy a cappuccino maker (DeLonghi, €130), probably because I got a €50 voucher from the purchase of a vacuum cleaner. Kotsovolos (UK's Dixons in Greek disguise) was giving €50 vouchers with the purchase of various German products. I think I bought a Siemens (or was it Volkswagen - haha). Money well spent. Γενάρη μήνα κλάδευε και το φεγγάρι χέστοWe LOVE our cappuccino machine.

Εκλεισαν ξανά τους δρόμους οι αγρότες κλιμακώνοντας τις κινητοποιήσεις τους - Κλειστά Τέμπη, ΠρομαχώναςThe country's in tatters at the moment. I always put it down to winter. Μωρή πουτάνα αμυγδαλιά π' ανοίγεις τον Γενάρη δεν καρτερείς την Άνοιξη ν' ανοίξουμ' όλοι αντάμαThe farmers are on the streets up north. Greek winter is at its shortest in Crete, which is why the farmers have delayed their raging here. How can they strike anyway, when the whole of Southern Crete is busy supplying the country's tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers at present? (A good experiment: plant only seasonal produce, and see how long it takes before the peasants' revolt begins.) Cretan farmers are too busy making money in their greenhouses at the moment, as well as keeping their olive trees trimmed. Κλάδεμα του Γενάρη κάθε μάτι και βλαστάριCome summer, they'll be busy harvesting tomatoes in the open. Που να σου να Γεναρη καλε και ξακουστιαρηThe north is now covered in snow. Βαρύ το καλοκαίρι βαρύς και ο Γεναροχειμώνας - Χιονίζει ο Γενάρης, ξεψυχάει ο γαϊδουριάρης. Northern Greek farmers have less to do in winter; no wonder they have the time to think about how to block passage to Makedonia Airport. In any other democratic country, this would be seen as placing the security of the country in danger. But not in Greece: we are just too democratic to stop the undemocratic. Democracy as its most democratic.

Στα «κάγκελα» οι δικηγόροι για το ΑσφαλιστικόThe lawyers (and scientists, and engineers, among others) are raging too, in their suits and ties. They no longer have 'their' people in government. They are no better than the farmers if they think they deserve different taxation methods and special pension funds. We are all in this together, mates: we ate it altogether, didn't we? I don't care if they strike forever. We are used to a very S-L-L-L-L-L-L-O-W justice system, because lawyers are used to striking in this country - they did it for different reasons before, but they didn't take to the roads like they do now. The greatest moaners are those that can't live without their comforts. They don't know how to downsize. May Syriza rule for a long time, no matter how badly they are doing it. Κάλλιο να 'δω σκυλί λυσσασμένο παρά ζεστό ήλιο τον Γενάρη. The others won't rule any differently, except to look after 'their' people, just as Syriza is doing now. That's what politicians call sharing.

A police officer stops a car at the French-Italian border
Europe is also raging - again, against Greece. First they wanted Greece out of the eurozone (which they didn't manage to do), now they want her out of Schengen. They can't decide what to do with the Schengen among themselves. They say they want to break it, but if you ask me, those crying out for Schengen to be suspended want to go back to the past, where there was a mini-Schengen zone among a few Northern buddy countries, a Schinken zone in a sense. Northern European countries feel that they are the 'safe' countries, while they view Southern European countries as unable to control what is happening within their territory. They cannot get away from the fact that the north is landlocked against a cold inhospitable sea with hardly any neighbours - Οι γεναριότικες νύχτες, για να περάσουν θέλουν συντροφιά και κουβέντα - while the south borders the warm hospitable Mediterranean, and its nearest neighbours are Arab countries. The north thinks that the south lets in all the 'problematic' people. This is of course utter bullshit. The north has its own serious problems of home-grown terrorism. The problematic people are already living in Europe, as bona fide European citizens. Some countries were slow to catch onto this (France and Belgium in particular), while others (notably the UK) have been through it much earlier than the Paris attacks. In the meantime, Greece has done all it can for the refugee crisis. We put up a fence between Greece and Turkey to stop people walking into the country undocumented - did that stop them? No! They just sailed in instead. Apart from allowing them to drown, we can do nothing else. We cannot turn the boats back towards Turkey - that's a war signal. Marine borders DO NOT EXIST - Tsipras is spot on in this senseNo matter how many patrol boats are out in Greek waters, attempting to force a vessel of asylum-seekers back into Turkish waters is both illegal and dangerous, even in calm seas. So unless a Turkish patrol stops a migrant boat and returns it to Turkey, there is little Greek or Frontex patrols can do once it has entered Greek territorial waters but arrest the smugglers and pick up the passengers or escort the vessel safely to landWhat use is the Greek navy in this case, apart from plucking people out of the water?

Those Northern Europeans think they know everything: Johana Mikl-Leitner, the Austrian interior minister, rejected Greek arguments about the difficulties of patrolling its maritime borders with Turkey and explicitly warned Athens about a Schengen expulsion. “Greece has one of the biggest navies in Europe,” she said. “It’s a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be protected.” Come on over, Johana, and show us how to do it. Our arch-rival Turkey isn't bothering us. But not even Turkey can stop people from sailing away in dinghies. People say that Turkey is not a good place for refugees. Sure it isn't. But neither is Greece. These people do not want to start growing a few potatoes and keeping chickens to survive. If they did, we could probably accommodate them, just like we did during the population exchange: the numbers are the same now as they were back then. the present-day refugee issue involves approximately 1,000,000 people migrating to Europe in 2015 - the 1922 population exchange forced 1,000,000 Turkish-speaking Greeks to leave Turkey for Greece, while 500,000 Greek-speaking Muslim Turks were forced out of Greece and repatriated in Turkey. They were given land to live on and to live off - but this is not what the modern-day refugees want: they want a Western lifestyle. Many Greeks themselves are also biding their time, waiting for better days. Greece isn't a difficult country to live in; it is simply a little challenging at the moment. News sites write about the dreams refugees have for a better life in a Western European country. Is it any different from the dreams that Greeks have at the present? Most of us to a very large extent have a home and a family to turn to. Most of us also have jobs, albeit low-paid. We can't change that at present, and neither can we offer much more to desperate people. But we don't intend to let them drown, even if we can't offer them anything. We offer them a second chance to breathe; if they can wait with us, I'm sure we'd be happy to have them here too. History is just repeating itself, without any lessons learnt from the past.

brussels?? july 1991When I travelled through Europe in 1991, between France and Belgium-Luxembourg (on the latter, what is a city that calls itself a country? Try cutting off its food supply and tell me if it can function), you rarely had your documentation checked. West Germany was also relaxed, but former East Germany wasn't - the wall had only just fallen, and the guards were used to doing things differently from their Western counterparts. Does anyone remember those pre-Schengen days when you could drive through different countries without presenting any documentation? "You cross the bridge from Germany into Luxembourg, turn left, and 300 metres on you’re in France – three countries in about three minutes, and not a police officer in sight. In 1985, ministers from five governments met here to launch a bold experiment in border-free travel. Cars and lorries with green dot stickers on their windshields could roam the five countries – the same three plus Belgium and the Netherlands – without passports." Those five countries trusted each other, they knew each other well. In fact, they were hardly different from each other, and they had nothing to share or divide between them. They just pretend to be different, so they can have a place to call their kingdom (and with a kingdom, you have rulers, and rulers have power. That's all.) They bordered countries they also trusted; they were all far away from Greece, who was cut off from them by the Iron Curtain that the north didn't trust. Greece was simply on the 'wrong' side. Suddenly, it's the other way round: Το Γενάρη το ζευγάρι διάβολος θε να το πάρει. Τhey now trust former communist nations more than Greece, who is now seen as the devil.

A lot depends on trust. A colleague who left Hania for Paris just after the attacks told us that immediately upon exiting the plane (from Athens), she had to show her passport. The French authorities had no proper space for this kind of check for flights within the Schengen zone. So they just 'caught' the passengers as they exited from the plane and checked their passports. They didn't trust the Schengen agreement after Paris was attacked - even though some of the attackers were bona fide European citizens, with French or Belgian citizenship. But checking your borders at all times is sensible, isn't it? Σ' όσους μήνες έχουν «ρο», μπάνιο με ζεστό νερό. Schengen just felt too utopian. Just because a law says you can pass through without checks doesn't mean you are maintaining safety. You are just putting your faith in the law, without really being certain that the law is protecting you.

Ισχύει το δίπλωμα οδήγησής μας, σε άλλες χώρες της Ε.Ε.;So will I need a passport after all? Let's see. I've booked the tickets, I've hired the car, I've got my International Driver's Licence issued, I'm trying to get my credit cards sorted out (I really have no idea if they will work abroad, with all this capital controls σκατά). Will we be turned away at Border Control because we have Greek ID cards and not passports? I am wondering when my luck and my confidence in knowing what the future holds will run out. Χαρά στα Φώτα τα στεγνά και τη Λαμπρή βρεμένη.

There are often times when I am very thankful to be a Greek citizen. We are much more democratic and so very much less fascist than most other European countries. I HATE what Europe stands for these days: it is generally a money-focussed organisation that everyone wants to be part of, but they don't want to be led by a united Europe because each country thinks their way of seeing/doing things is superior to other countries' ways. They are afraid of losing their power. They want the money without the responsibility. They are no different from Greece, even though think they are. Do they really believe that they can have their Schinken and eat it too? With the North's predominantly sedentary lives and the ease with which Schinken is produced these days, having too much Schinken is a sure killer.

PS: All except one of my students passed the TOEFL. I've become a star. Everyone is in general agreement that he probably didn't follow my instructions. We're talking about a never-before-sighted test, sat by the weakest students, and they all scored more than 500 points (except that one person). When I initially suggested to my superiors that students need no more than one week of intensive courses for TOEFL, and they should sit the exam no more than a week after the course, they thought I was nuts. Instead, they listened to those fools (English teachers that no longer work here) who were bleeding them dry by demanding intensive courses for a month (so they could make more money) and staging the exam two months after the end of the course (when the students had forgotten everything they had learnt). Serves them all right - both the teachers that left (they were anything but teachers) and the superiors that didn't listen (and now have to admit to the role they played in the past recurring systemic failures in the English courses).

PPS: Get this: the same hair salon that I checked in at during my spending spree phoned me randomly with a €40 giveaway for whatever I want done! I can now have new hair. (Wednesday's the day.) Talk about good luck, which often comes to me. I think it's got to do with the level of patience I am willing to show. I have a lot of patience, and it really pays off. But I admit that this may not play a role in whether Schengen becomes Schinken. Let's see what develops.

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