The heat is on

The above photo was taken on the town beach on January 24th. The one below is of the same beach, but using the zoom on my camera, just three days later…

The prevailing winds here are from the north-to-north west, but if we get a south east wind, and especially with a strength of around 5-6 on the Beaufort Scale (which is how they rate wind strength here in Greece), then the result for the town beach is what you see above. Here’s another one from the northern-most end of the beach. In fact, if you check out the second photo in this post, it was taken at virtually the same spot, only on 24th January, whereas this one below was the 27th…

As you can see, it was a superb day weather-wise, but the wind direction put paid to any plans my wife, or indeed any of the locals had, to go for a swim. Up until a few days ago we’d been enjoying a truly beautiful, dry and mild winter. Apart from maybe one night back in December when the overnight temperature dipped to around 9 or 10ºC, we haven’t seen a cold spell the like of which usually occur two or three times a month during December through February. That’s all about to change now though. Sakis, our favourite TV weather man, always ends his report with a map showing the air masses across the entire continent of Europe. The colours range from deep red for very hot, through orange and yellow (warm) through green (temperate) into pale blue then deep blue to purple (ruddy freezing).

Well, Saki’s reports this past few days have shown deep blue over us, as a cold air mass descends upon us from the Urals. The result will be that daytime temperatures on Sunday and Monday will be lucky to reach the teens. It’s rare and usually doesn’t last for more than a few days, but when it happens there’s nothing for it but to put the heat on in the house. Maybe, owing to the expected precipitation we’re due to be getting on Sunday and Monday too, it’s a solid case for a hot cocoa with some falling down water in it (for medicinal purposes you understand), together with a good book on the sofa. Oh, and of course, the wonderful Six Nation Rugby Tournament starts this weekend, so I’ll be watching Wales v Ireland without a doubt.

Today, (well, actually, since it’s now past midnight I should say ‘yesterday,’ Friday 4th Feb) was a gorgeous day. We were forecast to get only around 14ºC, but we actually saw 18º, so we were well happy with that as we tucked into our bougatsa along with a couple of Freddo espressos. On cooler days in winter we often switch to Americano, which here is more often called Galliko, but we decided on the iced coffees while we sat in the Cup Café and enjoyed a good session of people-watching, since it’s in the very centre of the town.

Thursday’s demonstration in support of the local hospital and against its planned closure was massive. In fact the local radio station, Radio Lasithi, declared it the largest demonstration by the town’s population in its history. The whole thing kicked off in Ierapetra’s central square, then set off to the hospital, were a human chain surrounded the entire complex to symbolise their demands that no one should dare to close the place. It remains to be seen, of course, whether it will have any influence on the Government’s decision.

Finally, one or two photos I quite like. The first one is of a door and window in an abandoned cottage in the village…

This mandarin tree below is in the small orchard below next door’s terrace…

Last, but not least, a nostalgia shot from somewhere around 2007, when we went to Kalymnos for a visit from our home on Rhodes…

Wrap up warm, won’t you.

The latest work of fiction, “The Lone Refugee” (Click on cover image)

The latest work of non-fiction, “Greek Oddities” (Click on cover image)

Acceptance

This was the town beach on Tuesday, another truly beautiful January day, so beautiful that Yvonne got her cozzie on and not only had a sunbathe on the beach, but went for a swim too. The sea temperature right now is around 17ºC which I swear had no bearing on my decision to sit on the wall and watch her, rather than go in as well. She got to the beach before me, as I was in the iLab store busy negotiating a deal on my new iPad. When I got there, this was the first I saw of her (below)…

On Saturday we finally got around to dropping in on Angla’i’a and Giorgo in the village for the first time in months, it seems. As per usual her door was wide open and we called through the fly screen to see if she was about, safe in the knowledge that she’d be in the kitchen as sure as gravity exists. Her voice called out, “Ellate, na piete ena kafé,” so we eased open the screen and stepped inside, asking her, “Is this a good time?” to which she replied, “No, but then it never is. Sit down, you’re making the place look untidy.” So we sat at her welcoming kitchen table while she dug out the gas burner to make us both a Greek coffee.

We had quite a lot of catching up to do, since it was probably November when we’d last cadged a coffee from her. Giorgos was over the horafi tending his vegetable patch when we first arrived, so at least temporarily, it was just the three of us. It’s never that way for long, though, since apart from eternally cooking Angla’i’a is ever badgering the council for some need or other that the village has, since she’s the village ‘Pro-e’dros’ or Mayor, after all. We hadn’t been at the table for long, while she’d placed a dish of home-made biscuits, some peanuts and that odd honey-wafer stuff that they seem to like over here before us in case we were peckish, when the phone rang and she was talking to the deputy mayor of Ierapetra. He’d called to update her about something she’d been campaigning to get done, like maybe some street-lamp bulb replacements or a new pump for the village water treatment plant or something.

The other hot potato at the moment is the extremely unpopular decision to close the hospital in Ierapetra and reduce the building to a simple ‘health centre.’ On February 2nd there’s a huge demonstration planned for the centre of town, in which just about everyone will be out waving black flags (we’re told that every vehicle will sport one, and even the delivery men/boys on their scooters/mopeds running all over town with coffee consignments for stores and offices will have black flags flying from their top-boxes). It seems that the main reason for the closure of many of the hospitals on the island (maybe all over the country, I don’t know) is that there is a serious brain-drain going on of qualified hospital staff. Surgeons, anesthetists, radiographers, in fact you name it, they’re leaving the country in their droves because they can earn significantly bigger salaries in other countries. The result is that the Greek health service can’t replace them and thus medical facilities are emptying of staff to care for the patients. The Government seems to have decided that to close hospitals all over the place is the best way of solving the problem. Angla’i’a, like most people around here, is up in arms about it and cited to us at least one case where someone was rushed to hospital in the last few days, who was saved, but would definitely have died had their carers been compelled to take them half an hour up the road to the hospital at Agios Nikolaos. The hospital in Ierapetra is a good one, up until now, and the only one serving a pretty large population along the South East coast.

There are, it seems, no easy answers to the problem, but it’s making local people see red and they’re determined to fight the decision all the way.

Apart from her frequent phone conversations, people are perpetually turning up at her door with paperwork, or questions for her to answer, or requests for help in some way or another. By the time she’d placed our coffees in front of us she’d already dealt with three visitors and two phone calls. In fact, I jokingly suggested that she needed a P.A. with a desk just inside her kitchen door. Just when we thought that yet another person seeking help or advice was dropping by, we were relieved to see that it was her hubby Giorgos, hobbling back from the field. We’ve been in the village for over three years now and we’ve seen a decline in his mobility, sadly. He never gives up though, that’s the good thing and no doubt a major factor in his still being around in his late eighties. As he eased himself into a chair at the table beside us, he expressed surprise to see us, since it had been so long. I replied that the ‘Xenoi’ had come to call, trying to imply that since we hadn’t been by for a while, we’d become almost strangers.

Giorgos, however, misunderstood my meaning and, thinking I was referring to the fact that we’re foreigners and still very new residents in the village, he replied with a warm reassurance that we were most certainly not ‘xenoi’ now, but rather Makryliots, the highest compliment that anyone can be paid, in my book. It’s a reassuring sign of acceptance that we were deeply touched to hear. This led us on to the subject of his contemporary and near neighbour Manoli, whom we hadn’t seen climbing the hill outside our garden gate lately. Angla’i’a informed us that he’d got some trouble with his back and was having to spend a few days on his bed to rest it. As it turns out, this drawback Manolis is experiencing has a connection to the fact that our cat Mavkos has been AWOL rather a lot lately. Just when we were thinking that we’d lost him to some other village residents who may have found him much more affectionate than the feral cats around the place and thus tempted him away with tasty puddy-tat treats, a theory that we propounded to Angla’i’a, she replied that she’d seen him every day at Manoli’s, keeping him company it seems. Much though we’d missed him awaiting our emergence in the morning while curled up on one of our veranda chairs, we were happy to hear that Manolis had been feeding him and that Mavkos seems to have detected that the old guy would benefit from a little sympathetic company.

It’s OK, as long as the cat’s happy. He’s certainly got at least three food-calls now, we believe, so if we were to go away for a few days we wouldn’t have to worry about him, so that’s good. And he has been back on our veranda chairs this past three mornings, ready for his breakfast and looking at us like butter wouldn’t melt… Manolis must be getting up and about.

Someone who used to live in the village and wasn’t very popular was mentioned over the kitchen table too. This person had lived abroad for a few years and come back with high ideas about who he thought he was, allegedly. Anyway, the local olive-pit processing plant, which serves the entire island of Crete, is hassling to clear an area among the olive groves a little further down the valley from us to dump some of the waste from the process. Angla’i’a has already canvassed the entire village for signatures on a petition opposing this, because it brings the possibility of further such developments closer to the village, which up until now is not really affected by the plant. She is angry, and understandably so, because she feels that the ‘townies’ who own the plant think they can ride roughshod over the villagers as they’re all just simply a bunch of ‘Voskoi,‘ or ‘shepherds.’ It implies that they look down on such people as being yokels, if you like. This was where the former village resident was mentioned, because it seems that his unpopularity was in part due to his having a similar view of his neighbours after coming home from America some years ago.

When Angla’i’a used the term ‘voskoi,’ (or ‘voskous‘ when not the subject of the verb) she looked at me to see if I understood the word. I replied that I most definitely did, and she went on to say, with a degree of righteous indignation in her voice, that ‘voskoi‘ or not, we were people deserving of the same consideration and dignity as anyone else – a point which we were only too keen to agree on.

Well, as the above shows, there was most certainly some catching up to be done, eh? Time for a few photos I think. The first group below are all from a late afternoon walk a few days ago. I posted one photo from this walk on the Facebook page recently too…

Here are a few from the house and village. I just love the colors of the citrus fruits on the trees at this time of the year. The middle one is me during our morning coffee break on the sun terrace. Sorry about the knees…

The next one’s from a square in Heraklion, where we recently went for a shopping expedition (and to stock up on M&S Earl Grey tea!) –

That about wraps this one up. Talk soon. By the way, I’ve tentatively begun work on a new book; it’s called “Moving Islands” and traces the story of how we came to move here to Crete from Rhodes back in 2019. It’s at a very early stage yet though.

The latest work of fiction, “The Lone Refugee” (Click on cover image)

The latest work of non-fiction, “Greek Oddities” (Click on cover image)

Distinctly average

You’d have to be pretty lacking in the intellect department to deny that climate change is happening. You only have to look at industrialisation in the past 150 years, coupled with deforestation, and it’s a no-brainer really. But, and I almost hesitate to write what I’m going to say next, but I shall anyway, there is always a danger, IMHO, when we get an unusually warm spell, an exceptionally wet season, or an unseasonably cold snap, to immediately assign it to climate change or global warming, when actually it has much more to do with simple oscillation above or below the average. I’m able to cast my mind back to the fifties, and some people reading this even further I’m sure, and I can remember stand-out years when the winter was exceptionally warm, or conversely much more snowbound than the average, and I can think of summers that were either too wet and cold, or, as in the case of that glorious summer of 1976, on a par with the summers we get here in Greece, especially in the Southern Aegean.

What am I trying to say? I’ll have a go at explaining if I can: Every time we see the weather forecast we hear about averages, right? The rainfall for a particular month was above average, or the sunshine hours way below average. These days comments about such occurrences usually go hand-in-glove with that ‘Well, there you go, climate change, right?‘ ensuing comment. Yet think about it, where do averages come from? They’re the ‘mean’ between the highs and lows. If everything about the weather was exactly average every day, week, month, etc, wouldn’t that be weird, not to mention impossible? Plus, if the temperatures for one month or indeed a year hovered around what was established as ‘the average’ for most of that period, but then dipped way below for about a week/month, then the newly established average would be a lot lower, but artificially so, in fact, right?

OK, so, having established that fact, one can easily see that for averages to exist, there must by necessity be periods when the wind is stronger/weaker, the rainfall heavier/lighter and the temperatures higher/lower, it’s an inevitability. Thus I come to the weather so far this winter. I can well remember some winters when I was a boy being much warmer than the average, but equally, some that were a great deal more bitter. The winter of 1962-3 is a good example. We lived, my family and I (me, my sister and my parents) in a small village about six miles outside of the city of Bath. The village was situated on a ridge along some gentle hills, one side of which dipped down to the area around Dunkerton and Carlingcott, and the other dropped away across rolling fields to the village of Priston. That winter our village was cut off for weeks by snow-drifts that were higher than the hedgerows, and I remember walking with my dad along to the village sign on the B3115 and standing on packed snow at hedge height, worrying about when supplies might reach us, or when dad would be able to go into Bath to go to work again. That winter was the coldest in 200 years.

On the other hand, lots of you in the UK will remember the summer of 1976, and whenever I think back to that cloudless heatwave that lasted for months, I hear the Bellamy Brothers song “Let Your Love Flow,” or The Eagles’ “Take it to the Limit'” and Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver,” ah such a great summer for music that was. That summer was the hottest of the entire 20th century, although only the second driest. The UK still hasn’t had a summer like it, despite the advent of ‘climate change.’ I remember waking up to cloudless skies day after day, much as we do here every year, but for the UK it’s unheard of. The temperatures were regularly over 30ºC during the daylight hours. Now, if that happened this past couple of decades, for sure it would be hailed as evidence of global warming, agreed?

Just to reiterate, of course I accept that climate change is a reality, but the fact that this winter here on Crete, at least up until last week, has been almost continually sunny and warm, isn’t in itself proof of it. It’s simply another of those ‘above average’ periods, which, when coupled with the ‘below average’ periods, gives us the averages that the meteorologists regularly quote at us.

Anyway, if it gives you readers from Northern Europe any comfort, last Sunday it rained here. We also had a colder air-mass over us and thus our friends Giannis and Maria, who’d invited us to their Myrtos home for Sunday lunch, lit their ‘Tzaki‘ in our honour. It’s when the weather’s cold and the humidity is up that Greek houses are no fun to be in during the winter months. Nearly all houses in the villages over here are either stone-built (the older ones), or built to withstand earthquakes according to that all-too-familiar concrete/re-bar skeleton, which is filled in with holed terracotta bricks and then rendered and plastered, before being painted, usually in white inside and out. They have no cavity, there’s just the one layer of plaster/cement/brick or concrete between the inside and the outside of the walls. That’s why most Greek houses of the most common construction method end up with black mould on their interior walls by the time the spring arrives.

I mean, can you imagine a house in the UK without cavity walls? Even the older stone-built cottages usually end up being dry-lined when they get renovated these days, and inside that dry lining is a layer of insulation, right? Here, it seems to me that because the winters are so short, the Greeks simply put up with the walls running with condensation when the interior of the buIlding is heated and the outside temperatures are down to around 10ºC, or even lower if you’re up on the Lasithi Plateau, for example. It’s no accident that many of the regular TV ads over here during winter are still either for air-con units (because air-con dehydrates the atmosphere in a room) or for dehumidifiers, various models of which are to be seen on display even in some supermarkets in the months December thru March. They’re certainly exhibited very prominently in all the electrical appliance stores at this time of the year.

It was actually a happy accident that the house we bought here in our small village near Ierapetra was constructed using the same method as the one we’d lived in on Rhodes for 14 years. The only difference was that the one on Rhodes had steel frame and this one’s timber. But this house is actually warmer than the one on Rhodes because the cavities between the inner and outer walls of our snug little home on Crete are thickly insulated, resulting in a home that never feels bitter inside, even when the outdoor temperature is maybe 9 or 10ºC and the humidity is at 80%. You can step into our home from a chilly wind outside and you’d be forgiven for thinking we had the heating on. We also never see any mould or condensation on our interior walls. When we stepped inside our friends’ home in Myrtos, at around 1.00pm last Sunday, from a heavy rain-shower and a cold wind outside, the house felt chilly to us. Our hosts Maria and Giannis soon got the fire going in the hearth though, and Giannis suggested I may want to warm my tootsies. I didn’t need a second invitation…

They may look nice and inviting, but these open fires consume heaps more wood than a cast-iron log burner with a glass panelled door in the front. Plus most of the heat goes up the chimney, whereas a log-burner (soba) acts like a radiator and does a better job of warming the whole room and not just the feet of whoever’s nearest. Nevertheless, Giannis and Maria insisted that I stay there and warm my tootsies, so, ever willing to please (it’s just the way I am, folks), I obliged for a while until Maria called us to the table to eat.

One thing you can be sure of if you’re invited to eat at a Greek home, you never leave that table still hungry. In Britain we’d serve up a roast dinner (or the like) on individual plates, whereas here they not only start with what’s on your plate (in this case each of us was presented with a grilled fish the size of a modest shark, accompanied with a warm risotto garnish) but there is also a selection of common dishes in the middle of the table that in this case were loaded with lettuce and red cabbage salad, a huge pile of ‘sectioned’ spanakopita, a dish of roasted sliced green and red ‘arrow’ peppers bathed in oil and lemon juice, enough paximadia to feed an army, some seeded bread sticks and a few other things besides. Plus there was a jug of water (a given), a bottle of very acceptable white wine and still more.

By the time we rose from the table to repair to the very welcoming corner sofa, we’d eaten full to bursting, and Maria was complaining that she thought that we hadn’t eaten much and couldn’t we manage just a little more. She made me a huge Elliniko, which I was persuaded to take with me back to the hearth (photo no. 3 above) to make sure my feet weren’t cold, which, with the solid floors here and lacking our slippers, was the case, to be honest. Giannis, as we sat and talked over how to solve the world’s problems along with how the girls disdained the current fashion trends, got up every quarter of an hour or so to open the front door (resulting in a flurry of raindrops and a few leaves being blown in) in order to go fetch another log large enough to fill a wheelbarrow on its own, such is the size needed to feed the Tzaki. When we had our soba back in Rhodes (and indeed we’d had one too back in South Wales where we’d lived before moving to Greece) we could heat the house for an entire evening on a few logs in a basket beside the fire, such is the difference between how much wood you need to get through a winter if you have an open fire, compared to how much is needed for a log-burning stove.

Nevertheless, we enjoyed a thoroughly lovely few hours in the company of our hospitable friends, who rent rooms for a living during the summer season, and have had a tough time of it during the past couple of years, and took our leave in the driving rain as the light was beginning to fade. As is always the case, they tried to get us to stay longer, which Greeks will always do even if they have a list of pressing chores or other responsibilities to accomplish, because it’s just the way they are. You have to learn to read the situation. In the past we’ve allowed their warm insistence to persuade us to stay, and then, as the time has gone on, come to realise that we’d actually overstayed our welcome, not that the hosts would ever let on, of course. I’ve mentioned before too that when you want to leave by a certain hour, it’s always best to start the process of departure a good 15 minutes earlier, because that’s at least how long it’ll take you to finally walk off along the road waving your goodbyes.

We got home around twenty minutes later, turned on the Masters Snooker from the UK on TV and promptly fell asleep, the pair of us, on the sofa. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable few hours. Oh, and before you go asking why I didn’t let my beloved sit in that armchair in front of the fire. I did, OK? She declined, several times. I did try, honest.

The latest work of fiction, “The Lone Refugee” (Click on cover image)

The latest work of non-fiction, “Greek Oddities” (Click on cover image)

Two great men

If you set out from just behind the sea front at Ierapetra, a few metres from the main police station (which stands just set back a little from the water’s edge) along the street called Dimokratias, you’re heading almost exactly due West. The first couple of hundred metres is a quite pleasant, tree-lined street with a few retail businesses and some very nice café/bars along it, until you reach the first set of traffic lights. The street is almost dead straight until the lights, and not much different for another few kilometres all the way to Gra Ligia village after that. However, once you get past the traffic lights and you’re heading out of the downtown area, the road becomes much less attractive to the eye, lined as it is all the way to the village with wholesalers selling animal feed, bulk fertilizer for farmers, tyre depots, builders’ yards and the like.

What few street-name signs there are still suggest that the road beyond the lights, heading up the slight incline towards the large church at the top, next to the fork in the road, the right turn of which leads all the way up into the mountains to the village of Kalamafka, is still called Dimokratias. However, that would be wrong because, from those lights, where Dimokratias meets the periferiako (ring road), on the corner of which is the smaller of the two branches of the Sklavenitis supermarket chain in Ierapetra, the road has, since the 1970’s, been called Pavlos Kouper. A quick consultation with Google Earth reveals the truth of this…

Photo courtesy of Google Earth Pro

Now, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable thing to ask the question, “‘”what would a small Greek town on the island of Crete be doing re-naming a street ‘Pavlos Kouper,'” would it? The answer is connected to the local area’s major change in fortunes that took place back around the years 1966-71. Just who was this man, Pavlos Kouper?

Born in the Netherlands in June 1939, Paul Herman Felix Kuypers (as his name was spelt in his home country) grew up to become an agriculturalist. He also developed a love for Greece and, after spending some time on the island of Syros, settled here in Ierapetra, aged 27, in 1966. While on Syros he’d begun experimenting with new planting techniques, specifically involving vegetables and, after moving to Ierapetra, perfected his craft, being the first person to construct thermokipia, or hothouses, covered with polythene and measuring a couple of stremmata in size. One ‘stremma‘ is 1,000 square metres, by the way, and all locals here measure land area in stremmata, rather than acres or hectares. One stremma is around a quarter of an acre, or 0.1 of a hectare.

Local farmers were soon cooperating with Kouper and built their own thermokipia at a rate of knots. Following his methods they were soon increasing their yields significantly and the result was quickly converted into major increases in sales and profits from the production of salad vegetables and, primarily, hot peppers. In short, Paul Kouper revolutionised the agriculture of the area and, in a very short time, made local landowners very prosperous. If you visit this area you can’t fail to notice that in places much of the landscape is covered in these huge hothouses. OK, so pretty to look at they are not, but if I had to choose between those hothouses and huge hotels dedicated to mass tourism as a means of making an area a decent living, then give me the hothouses every time.

The existence of mass production of vegetables, and in particular hot green peppers, in the area has meant that southern Lasithi has not needed to give itself over to the worship of the package holiday as have many other areas, not only of Crete, but of the rest of coastal Greece and her islands too, in recent decades. It’s the primary reason why, if you laze around in a café in Ierapetra, or take a meal in a local taverna or restaurant, the majority of voices you’ll hear around you are still Greek, and not a babble of other European languages. Locals here are generally well off and the reason is all down to Paul Kouper. Ierapetrans can well afford to drink coffee out many times each week and to patronise their favourite taverna as often as they like. There is no shortage of expensive German and Japanese limousines and 4×4’s in the area.

What became of ‘The Dutchman,’ as Kouper came to be affectionately called by the locals around here? Tragically, after a mere five years in Ierapetra, Kouper was killed in a traffic accident in 1971, leaving behind a wife and small child. His legacy, though, has grown and developed and that’s why the local authority decided to re-name a street after him in the 1970’s and they even erected a bust in memory of the great man which now stands beside the road from Ierapetra to Myrtos, which passes through the village of Gra Ligia

As it happens, we made some friends of a family that owns a number of hothouses not long after arriving in the area back in September 2019. They invited us out to their house, which in the USA would probably be called a ‘ranch,’ and it sits in a secluded area a few hundred metres from the main road in Gra Ligia. The house was constructed from scratch to be large enough to house not only the couple and their children, but also the grandparents, and a couple of the children who’d already grown up and married had their own private wings with their own front doors. They have an outdoor covered entertaining area as big as a tennis court and, as we sat there on their shady terrace, amongst all the tall palms, yuccas and other leafy architectural plants that afford the place shade and coolness even in the heat of the Cretan summer, our host Giorgos told me, after I’d asked how they made their living, “Gianni, this whole place is built on peppers!”

“Peppers?” I asked him,

“Yes, hot green peppers, we export them all over Europe. it’s the profits from growing them that built this house.”

Well, there’s one family that has a lot of affection for ‘The Dutchman,’ I’d say. The local farmers do grow other vegetables as well, of course, in particular tomatoes (all varieties), cucumbers, lettuce, aubergines and courgettes, to name a few, but it seems that peppers are the main crop that most folk make their living out of.

I called this post ‘Two Great Men,’ didn’t I? Well, one thing that Paul Kouper has in common with the great French Emperor Napoleon is the town of Ierapetra. Of course, Kouper made the town his home and stayed for five years until his untimely death, whereas Bonaparte only reputedly passed one night of his life in the old town here back in 1798. If you haven’t already done so, maybe read my post entitled Figs, a flag, a fortress and some flutterybies some time. You need to read all the way to the bottom of that post, but then all is revealed. Plus, the following post (both from July 2022) Small Corners and Sealed Doorways in the Sunshine also sheds a little light on the Napoleon episode too. Of course, old Bonaparte could never have known that his fame would be eclipsed in this small corner of the world by a young Dutchman almost two centuries later, eh?

Time for a few photos, then. The gallery below is of some photos all taken in the village of Kentri last Sunday morning. The village is almost connected to Ierapetra these days, as the town has grown northwards towards the village in the past few decades, leaving not very much undeveloped land to separate the two. The village does, however, have an old part that quite surprised us when we discovered it…

Here is just a tiny selection from Ierapetra this past few days too…

The latest work of fiction, “The Lone Refugee” (Click on cover image)

The latest work of non-fiction, “Greek Oddities” (Click on cover image)

Not much to say

Actually, since I decided that this post would be composed mainly of photos, I decided to entitle it ‘Not much to say‘ but, as per usual, I’ll probably end up rattling on about some of the shots below anyway. Here goes then, a selection of recent photos and a few (*#!?*) comments about them individually under each one…

Above: Here’s Yvonne (Maria) doing her ‘Emma Peel’ bit on the waterfront a few days ago. And if you remember who Emma Peel was, you’re probably older than you look.

Above Gallery: All these were taken during a long walk around the mountain that we did last Monday. The first one shows the village sitting snugly on the hillside from across the valley in the midday sunshine. The one of the ‘butchered’ olive trees shows you what an olive grove looks like right after having been harvested. Contrary to what you may think, you can hack back an olive tree as hard as you like and it’ll always grow back. In fact, the ‘flattening’ of the tree’s profile is essential to ensure that the next crop of olives gets enough sunshine on to the fruit itself.

Above video: I love the sound of the bells on the sheep which, of course, help the shepherd to keep track of them. I have to say though, if I were one of those sheep, would I get a little cheesed off with that clanging all the time?

Above: Those very same sheep, and if you look closely, there are a lot of little baby lambs, one of which is just born. On our way back from this walk, we encountered a well-weathered old chap filling a plastic bucket with this bulbed plant (photo below), which he held for me to photograph…

We asked him why he was picking this particular plant, and he told us that it was for eating as an accompaniment when drinking Raki. It looked very much like small crocus bulbs to us, so we’re interested to go back up that path in a couple of months time to see what flowering plants are in evidence and maybe isolate what this one was. This chap had a 25kg bucket full of them and he showed us how he was going to strip the bulbs to their white heart and then prepare them for eating. I actually thought he’d said that he made his raki from these bulbs, but my wife understands better than me sometimes when someone’s talking in a broad accent, and she reckons that it was not for making the drink, but rather eating along with it. Ah well, suppose it’ll be less likely to cause hallucinations than magic mushrooms.

Above gallery: Of course everyone gets enthusiastic about the gorgeous anemones that grow wild here during the winter months and, no matter how often we see them, I still can’t resist (any more than half the Greek bloggers in the country it seems) taking a few photos.

Above: Not hard for anyone coming to our front door to deduce that we’d just returned from a country walk, is it?

Above: This little bunch were all taken during a lovely stroll along the waterfront, including the taking of coffee (of course) at the Island café/bar, where the guy also gave us that cake as a freebie. It was deliciously moist and not at all too sweet. We very often take our coffee on the Island’s sunbeds (on the beach, the other side of that building across the road) during the summer season, but this time we sat just outside the main building, against the wall, in order to do some serious people-watching. If you study the photo in which Yvonne’s left arm features heavily, you can just make out the old green moped that now serves as a handy plant-stand. The orange directional indicator on the handlebars is easy to spot. Like I’ve so often said, the Greeks were into recycling (or should that be re-motorcycling?) long before we caught on.

One last photo, below, to show just how wonderful the sky has been lately, and it shows the building that houses the Ierapetra Port Authority office, which was just across the road from the Island Café…

There you go then. If you happen to be reading this in some wintery country further north than we are, I hope those have brought you a little warmth from sunny Crete.

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They came bearing gifts

I am not a great one for all this Christmas malarkey, but each to his or her own I say, so I won’t dwell on my reasons here. But both me and the better half wouldn’t dream of spoiling other peoples’ fun and we’re firm believers in the ‘live and let live’ philosophy anyway. The kids (as I mentioned in the previous post) in Greece go out on Christmas eve and tinkle their triangles at peoples’ front doors while torturing – sorry – singing (But the former is usually more accurate in the case of the smaller children, even though it’s strangely endearing) some traditional carol or other and then the householder’s supposed to give them some small change. OK, so even if we don’t go much on all this pagan celebrating, why should we be nasty to a couple of innocent kids who ring our doorbell? So we always send them away with a couple of coins in their little box and we tell them they’re good kids, which they are.

On the Eve of Saturnalia (which is what I prefer to call the big day, as it’s a more accurate description), Maria our neighbour (not the one across the lane, Evangelia’s daughter, but the one just down below us, whose hubby sadly committed suicide a few years ago and left her to raise her kids alone), well she rang the doorbell after dark and I answered it to see her standing there with a tapsi covered in cooking foil and a huge warm smile on her face. Inviting her in, she stepped inside and lifted the foil from the tray, inside of which was a very delicious-looking array of kourabie’des, melomaka’rona and that weird wafery stuff made primarily from honey, which is baked (maybe fried?) and then rolled up to be eaten rather like a spring roll. The third of the three items we’re not so fond of, but the first two really do it for the both of us. There’s not much to touch either a kourabie’da or a melomaka’rono with your morning coffee in our book, and Maria explained right away that she’d made all of it, nothing shop-bought there, all made by her own fair hand.

She’s such a sweet person and she explained, “I spent all day making these, and then I thought, ‘There’s Gianni and Maria up there, foreigners and all, and they’ll be all on their lonesomes, so I’ll take them up some of the stuff that I’ve baked.” Tell, you what, we don’t at all mind a bit of charity coming our way when it tastes as delicious as Maria’s baking. What we really loved was that she seems to be able to get the balance of sweetness just right, as when you buy either Kourabie’des or melomaka’rona in the shops, they’re often just a little too sweet for us. Maria’s, on the other hand were so delicious it was hard not to scoff the lot right away. I’m amazed to say that we still have just a few left…

We may be fighting over that last Kourabie’da, so it’ll probably end up getting cut in two!

As I think I’ve mentioned before, we now get our olive oil too from Maria and her diminutive son Dimitri. We have a couple of 5 litre plastic bottles (only used for transit of course, we’ve been well advised to transfer it into a stainless steel barrel with a tap at the bottom once we get it in the house) and, when we need more oil, I trot down to their house and deposit the bottle outside their front door. Sure enough, usually within 24 hours Dimitri will be at the door with a refilled bottle of their own home-produced oil. Thus, a couple of days ago he did just that, rang the doorbell at sundown, and when I opened the door there he was with a nice full bottle. It’s not only his mum that comes bearing gifts though, I handed him the very modest amount of cash that they ask for the oil, and he then thrust a huge bag of homegrown aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers at me with the other hand. It’s impossible to overstate just how lovely these people are, truly.

The beautiful, settled warm sunny weather continues and, if the forecasts are to be believed, will do so for another week or ten days yet. It’s a welcome change after last winter, and now, as we move into the new year, whenever some colder weather arrives it will still be of shorter duration that it was last year. The garden’s been teeming with butterflies lately, especially on the flowering lantana in the top bed, where red admirals and painted ladies abound. Plus there are bumble bees going right inside the hibiscus flowers in the pots on our sun terrace and we delight to listen to their busy hum while sipping our coffees and feeling the heat of the sun on our chests. Of course, this weather’s very conducive to photography, so here goes with this post’s batch. Hope you like them…

I like the above shot of Yvonne, because you can see the seafront reflected in the glass behind her. This final shot below is of a plant in the raised bed that I built beside the sun terrace a while back. It usually flowers for about a month-to-six weeks during the spring, but look at it now. It’s plainly confused about what time of year it is. Anyone know what it’s called BTW? –

Here’s wishing everyone a peaceful and happy 2023. I truly hope you’ll manage, what with all the cost of living hikes and the awful news about ongoing conflicts and climate change, to stop and smell the roses, to take some leisure time and appreciate the good things, high on the list of which is good company of course. And, if you don’t live here in Greece, maybe you’ll be able to pay us a visit sometime during the coming 12 months.

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A close encounter of the bird kind

As is the case on most mornings, we awoke to bright sunshine streaming in through our full-length picture window, the one at the foot of our bed, through which we’re fortunate enough to have a view between olive grove-clad hillsides down to the glistening Libyan Sea beyond. From my pillow, once the curtain is drawn back, I regularly give thanks for the beautiful vista that I can stare out at, without so much as lifting my head more than a few inches. I’m not boasting, honestly, I’m expressing my deep appreciation for the wonderful little house that we found, and into which we moved a little over three years ago. So far, this winter has been mainly sunny and not at all cold. As we chomped on our regular breakfast of chopped fruit (whatever’s in season at the time), muesli and yogurt or tahini, with a few diced nuts (almonds, hazels, walnuts) and sunflower seeds without their husks thrown in too, and sipped our mint tea, we decided that, since it was already 16ºC out at 8.30am, we’d take a leisurely drive over to Ag. Nik. It was yesterday, December 24th, the Eve of the Roman feast of Saturnalia, although most people give it a different name nowadays.

Taking the route over the mountain from here, passing the villages of Meseleri and then Kalo Xorio, we hit the main road at Istros, where we turned left and headed up the by-pass towards our destination, Agios Nikolaos, bent on simply walking the town, enjoying a coffee out and then coming home for lunch after a couple of hours. If you’ve studied the photo at the top of this post, you’ll no doubt have spotted the grey heron flying away from me across the Ag. Nik harbour. That photo was taken at around 12.30pm, and it’s usually about as close as one ever gets to such a gloriously grand bird. Grey herons usually don’t let you get within about fifty metres of them before doing what that one’s doing – fleeing; but hold on, don’t go away, because if you love birds, as we do, though I may say so myself, I have some truly remarkable photos for you just a little further down.

We took coffee (our regular freddo espressos, since it was hot in the December sunshine) at the beautifully located Kosa Café beside Ag. Nik. lake…

The place was buzzing, and we only just found the last two-person table before it reached capacity, and the time was around 11.20am. Parents were all sat in small groups waiting for their children to return from doing tours of all the business premises with their little triangles, and cardboard boxes swathed in wrapping paper and with a slot cut in the top, so that they could hopefully see some hard cash deposited there after they’d rattled those triangles and sung a carol, or a Kalanta to the proprietor. Judging by the sheer number of groups of small children touring the streets in red floppy hats trimmed with white wool, I reckon that some of those shopkeepers paid out more than they took over the counter during a couple of hours that morning. Everyone in the café was drinking coffee of one type or another. That showed that most were Greeks, whereas if you’d sat in the same bar in July, the majority would probably be tourists, and the chosen drink decidedly more likely alcoholic.

The Greek tradition of children tinging triangles whilst singing a Kalanta to householders or shop proprietors on the eve of December 25th is thought to have originated in Byzantine times and be connected to honouring the god Dionysius, by the way.

After a thoroughly enjoyable half hour of people-watching, we left a few Euros on the table for our coffees and stood up to leave, just in time to invite an older couple to take our table, since they’d recently entered the café’s outdoor terrace area in the hope of finding seats, and so far been disappointed. Something I truly love about one of the ways that Greek people will express their thanks if you show them even the smallest kindness, is the fact that, besides actually thanking you in word, they’ll lift a hand to their chest and press their palm or fist to their heart, like they’re saying “I appreciate your thoughtfulness from right in here,” and I believe that they genuinely do.

Leaving the Café and crossing the famous bridge that separates the lake from the outer harbour, we headed around to the left to walk along the very pleasant promenade that heads north, skirting the rocks and sea below. But first you pass along the northern side of the harbour, at the far end of which is a concrete jetty that you can walk down to, and where a couple of fishing caiques were tied up. I took the photo below as we approached that jetty…

I’m sure you know that if you right click (on a laptop) or tap and hold (on a phone or tablet) on that photo, you can open it in a separate tab and then enlarge it. You see those steps at the far end of the jetty, well look closely and the heron that is seen flying away in the top photo is standing on the platform at the bottom of those steps, although I hadn’t seen it when I took this one. We reached the jetty and walked down on to it, and then this amazing thing happened. As we approached the far end of the jetty, the head of the heron came into view. As soon as we spotted it (at a distance of only ten feet or so), we stopped in our tracks, but from previous experience, we fully expected that it would hop-it pretty sharpish, as they generally don’t like to be in close proximity to humans, and understandably so. But this one stood its ground, and thus I was able to take the following gallery of shots. They’re all taken with my phone, but the results, if I say so myself, are spectacular…

Herons are huge, and if you’ve ever seen one at close quarters then you’ll know that their head can be a full four or five feet off the ground. I couldn’t believe that, since it showed by its head movements that it was aware of our presence, it still stayed put while I took those pictures. I was looking it in the eye by the time I took the last one. I knew that if I kept on coming then eventually it would decide to take flight, so, I slowly stepped forward, inches at a time, until it opened its wings and flew off, along the surface of the water, as is evident from that top photo on this post.

I was waiting for it to take off, in the hope that I’d catch a shot as it spread its wings and flew. I had no idea what I’d get, but as soon as it did that I clicked another shot. This was what I got…

I don’t think I’ve ever taken a shot as good as that in my life, and it was all over in a millisecond and I was shooting blind. I reckon that photo could win prizes, and I take no credit for having been an ace photographer, because it was pure pot-luck, but it paid off. I so hope you get as much pleasure from those photos as I do, and they almost bring tears to my eyes, because if ever there was evidence of the beauty of creation, then that was it. Anyway, off we went, brimming with excitement over that close encounter with the heron, and took the rest of these shots, before we headed back to the car and home for lunch…

I wish you peace, health and happiness. Above all, treasure what you have, because in spite of all the economic woes and the increasing cost of energy, possibly meaning you have to cut some corners with what you can afford to buy at the moment, still three quarters of the world’s population is hugely worse off than we are and live on the equivalent of a couple of Dollars a week. One final thought for this one too: The old adage that the best things in life are free is true, you know. We were out of the house for around three hours yesterday, and, apart from a few Euros worth of fuel we used in the car, we only spent the grand sum of €6.

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Bottling it

Before I start sounding off, this time I thought I’d begin with a photo that’s a blast from the past. The shot above was taken on a Skiathos beach in 1998. Actually, since moving to Greece I’ve been in better physical shape than I was in this picture, mainly owing to the more active lifestyle we lead here, whereas back then I was a graphic designer sitting most of the time at a drawing board and, at about that time too (circa 1998) the Macintosh came into the studio and we began pushing mice around instead of moving the parallel up and down the board. The hair actually still had some colour then too, and it wasn’t out of a bottle. That rather large black thing in my right hand, complete with shoulder strap, was my video camera. Blimey, things have moved on a bit haven’t they? I can take infinitely better quality video now with my phone, that’s hardly much bigger than a playing card, than with that VHS contraption that we used to think was the bee’s knees back then.

Yeah, progress can be a good thing, but then again what’s called ‘progress’ can be complete lunacy. I shall proceed to make my point: for time immemorial one of the things that we all loved about sitting at a taverna table was the fact that the olive oil that was served up usually came in refillable bottles or even earthenware jugs with cork stoppers (better for the environment) and this was quite simply because it was always, either produced by the family that ran the restaurant, or by the villagers who’d been their neighbours for generations. Home-produced olive oil, often from the trees that one would walk past while going to the taverna, could only be the best quality, right? Damn right, and I make no apologies for saying so.

So, back in 2018, when the Greek government of the time allegedly (I have to be careful here) caved in to lobbying from the big olive oil producing companies, a new law was passed making it illegal to serve up olive oil in anything other than sealed plastic bottles, supplied by – you’ve guessed it – the big manufacturing companies, thus freezing out the small guy from proudly serving up his own oil to his clientele at table. And what was the supposedly sound reasoning behind this? Read this article (published in January 2018) and you’ll see how it was pitched, to make it sound so much better for all concerned, except it was the opposite. I make no apologies for saying that, in my view, everything about that article screams “written to please the big companies,” because it says that this move was long overdue, that the oil supplied in little plastic bottles would be fresher (aw c’mon, fresher? Are you kidding?), and that the customer would be quite happy to pay an extra €1.50 for the privilege of taking profit away from the small guy, expanding the profits of the big fat cats, and littering up the already suffering environment with millions more little plastic bottles and their little metal tops, none of which needed to be in circulation before this lunatic law came into being.

I well remember with dismay, as no doubt will many who read this, sitting at a taverna table where I’d eaten for years, and suddenly seeing that the only way I could get some more oil to pour over my salad was to pay for a tiny plastic bottle from a factory somewhere, whereas in the past it would have been a service provided free by the taverna. Now the taverna owners had to buy the stuff in, all the while having barrels of their own fresher oil stacked up out the back, then pass on a charge to the customer which no one in their right mind was really happy to pay. Not only that, but these pesky tiny bottles, all bearing the brand names of the big boys, would often prove too small and we’d have to order a couple more, thus adding yet more to the bill we’d be paying at the end of the meal, and this at a time when prices were going up anyway and taverna owners were trying to shave their profit margins to avoid putting up their menu prices too much at the risk of losing customers.

You probably gather that I wasn’t too impressed with this blatant attempt by the big olive oil companies to boost their profits, and the looks on the faces of taverna proprietors whom I’d known for a long time said it all. They were frustrated and embarrassed to have to charge us for oil, when in the past they’d simply have poured a little more into a reusable jar or bottle and placed it on the table for their clientele to avail themselves of at will. What thrills me nowadays is the fact that most of the tavernas and restaurants I frequent have reverted to using their own IMHO vastly superior and certainly fresher local oil in reusable containers once again, and the police have largely given up coming round and fining them for doing so. Let’s face it, the local police all have families that make their own oil. I would bet that not many local policemen feel too good about trying to enforce such an absurd and flagrantly unjust law on their friends and neighbours, people they’d grown up with, people they harvest olives with every autumn.

In fact, I tend to believe that the tavernas where the oil is once again home-produced and served up ‘draught’ are the ones that locals want to eat at, while avoiding the ones that still comply with that crazy law. Thank goodness that most people seem to be ignoring that law these days, although what the future holds I don’t know. I’ve heard tell that the law to which I refer has since been repealed, but I can find no evidence to support that assertion. Meanwhile, I shall continue to enjoy the excellent quality oil that we can pour as abundantly as we like on to our plates at the start of a meal when we, like the Greeks around us, will add a little salt and then dip our delicious fresh locally-baked bread into it and sip our chilled Restina while perusing the menu.

On a much lighter note, how do you fancy a delicious tasty cake with only three ingredients, that takes about ten minutes to prepare and 45 mins in the oven, after which you can eat a warm slice with your morning coffee and feel righteous about the fact that it’s totally vegan, νηστεία as the Greeks call it, because it can be eaten during their fasting period?

Yup, that’s it in the dish in the first picture above, and I enjoyed that slice (and a second) with my coffee as we took it on the sun terrace a couple of days ago (with the puddy tat of course). The only ingredients for that truly tasty cake are tahini with added cocoa (you can buy it like that in the supermarkets), almond milk and self-raising flour. My better half is fast asleep at the moment, as I forgot to ask her for the quantities, so I’ll get the exact recipe tomorrow and post it on the blog.

Here are a few more from an late afternoon walk this week…

In the zoomed shot of the village, with the sun’s last rays illuminating all the walls, our house is clearly visible. It’s the one right above and behind the gleaming white house just right of centre. If you look closely, you can see the square mural of a white background with a Greek urn and a little piece of climbing vine wrapped around it, which I painted on the back wall of our upper garden, below Gianni’s terrace, which is just to the right of the stone balustrading (Giorgo’s place next door). Our veranda is easily discernible, and there is a picture hanging on the house wall to the right of our full-length bedroom window. Our balustrading is wooden, with that ‘x’ effect design. The bottles hanging from the olive trees in the other shots are insect traps, thus showing that these farmers aren’t using chemical sprays, but rather a mixture of fruit juice and jam, which does the job well enough. Once the insects get inside that bottle, they won’t be coming out again.

Yesterday was so beautiful, at around 22ºC that we went to the beach and Yvonne took a dip. I decided to document her efforts with my camera, so I wasn’t able to join her, sadly (*#??!)…

Ah well, another post done. Keep warm, and don’t over-indulge too much. Remember too, when you fret about the cost of living, that there are entire cities in Ukraine right now without power (not to say glass in their windows for many) in sub-zero temperatures. It’s good to count one’s blessings eh?

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A wet Sunday afternoon stroll through the village

Well, after about six weeks of very steady, sunny and warm weather, this week we’re set to enter a few days of unsettled conditions. It’s OK, in some ways it makes life more interesting, and the temperatures are holding up well anyway. It’s dark now at a quarter past six in the evening as I type this, and we still have yet to think about using any heating in the house overnight. Outside it’s been in the mid-teens all through the night lately and looks like that isn’t going to change for a while yet.

We went to bed as usual, this afternoon, maybe a little earlier than usual, because by about three I was tossing and turning and so I decided to get up, throw something on and go for a walk around the village. There has been rain on and off all day, not much of it heavy, even though my mobile phone screamed a warning at me late this morning to suggest that we may not want to go out in the car due to extreme conditions locally. That hasn’t materialised, at least not so far, but rain besides, it dried up sufficiently for me to shoehorn in a half-hour walk. So, as per my usual habit, I had the phone’s camera at the ready and took the shots you can see below…

Above: The view across the valley towards Anatoli and Kalamafka villages. Kalamafka is just visible as a tiny white smudge just to the left of those trees in the extreme right middle of the picture. It’s in the clouds. Where you see the brightness is around the Gra Ligia area, on the coast just East of Ierapatra.

Above: Wherever you go in Greece you’ll see noticeboards like these. You may think that they’re notifications about funerals, but they’re far more than that and they indicate just how much a part of daily life death is to many traditional Orthodox Greeks. Those notices do not only inform about the latest death in the village or community, but they also tell of forty-day, six-month, and one-year memorial services that are carried on following someone’s demise. Once someone close to you dies, if you’re very attached to the religious traditions, you don’t just attend their funeral, you also go back to church forty days later, six months later and a year later (and I may have missed one or two there too). It’s rather weird to me, I have to say. If you lose a loved one, your life from then on is sad enough, yet is also continually punctuated by religious ‘events’ that interrupt your subsequent life. What I also find almost macabre, is that in our village there are octogenarian women who I see regularly standing in front of these noticeboards, to see what ‘event’ following someone’s death is being commemorated next. Imagine if you’ve lost a couple of loved ones, plus neighbours, in the last few months, just how many times you may have to go to the church to show your respect for that person, who’s not going to know anything about it, after all.

Still, there you go, I’m trying not to pass an opinion on the above, merely an observation, but it’s small wonder that younger Greeks give up on it all, except for all the festivals, of course, where there’s wine, dancing and food in abundance.

Above: This little gallery is of shots taken in the village, at an hour when few venture outside, whatever the weather’s doing, since it’s mid-siesta time. The one showing the logs outside someone’s wall, well that’s a clear indication of where we are in the calendar when in a Greek village. The one showing the orange tree, now that is something that frustrates us every year, because so many houses these days are left empty for weeks on end, and the front gates are usually chained and padlocked. Meanwhile the fruit trees in their courtyards produce wonderfully juicy oranges, mandarins, grapefruits, all of which simply end up falling on to the ground and rotting, or being eaten by birds and animals. It pains me, I have to say, that so much lovely healthy food is wasted when there is so much want, not only in the world as a whole, but right here in this country, on this island even.

There you are, a brief snapshot of a wet Sunday afternoon here in Makrylia in mid-December.

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An everyday story of country folk

The above shot was taken a couple of days ago, just before sunset. The village is bathed in the last few minutes of sunshine and, if you look towards the bottom of the shot, you can make out some nets laid out beneath some olive trees down the slope from the village itself, in preparation for another early start next morning.

This past few days we’ve had quite a lot of interaction between ourselves and our neighbours in the village and its environs. We did a walk up the mountain on the opposite side of the valley, where we encountered Evgenia, wife of Manoli, the couple we met whilst walking there last winter. They have a house in the town, but usually weekend in the house on the hillside, across the way from the village. Evgenia was in one of the olive groves beside the lane, and was harvesting olives by hand, literally picking them like cherries. She realised that we were slightly nonplussed at the sight of the method she was employing, since it would mean that to harvest even the one tree would take about six months. Holding up the receptacle into which she was chucking the olives she’d picked, she explained that she was simply collecting enough to prepare some jars of ‘eating olives’ and that their proper harvest was carrying on apace over the hill, where hubby Manolis was currently labouring away. We asked her how many trees they have, to which she replied, “Oooh, about a thousand.”

Which leads me on to another conversation we had with a neighbour about the olive harvest. When a family has that many trees, they have always, in the past, taken on labourers on a daily wage to get the job done. This year, however, there is an acute shortage of workers, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, as another friend Giorgos told us, “The workers that are available simply want too much money for a day’s work. If they want to earn the kind of daily wage that many are demanding, they need to be skilled at the job and work a darned sight faster than many of them do,” he told us. At the rate some of them want, it isn’t financially viable to harvest the olives at all, which was why Giorgos said that he and his wife would be harvesting only enough for their own domestic supply of oil for the next year or so.

For there to be seasonal workers available to work only for the few weeks of the olive harvest is becoming more of a problem than in the past. Previously they’d have been Albanians, Romanians, even Pakistanis (many of whom work in the hothouses in the Lasithi area, which came as a surprise to us when we first learned of it). Such people, though, are simply not in the area any more, unless they already have regular work anyway, and that rules out them taking the time off to help with the olive harvest. It’s a problem that doesn’t appear to have any workable solution any time soon.

In our garden we have three olive trees, one in the upper garden, and two that are centuries old in the lower garden. We’ve now been in the house just over three years and this autumn we made the decision to give them all a hard pruning. We didn’t want to harvest the olives, even though they had a lot of fruit on them this year, because we have plants all around the trees, and to lay the nets would have devastated our flower garden (plus it’s a little too easy to get our oil from Dimitri and Maria next door!!). But we did want to keep the trees healthy and also let a little more light into the garden during the winter months. This is how the two in the lower garden look after the job was done…

Getting it done involved me shinning up into the trees with my trusty chainsaw on occasion, not an easy or even very safe thing to do, but there’s little alternative. It seems that our labours have met with the approval of the neighbours though, since several have commented that we’d done a good job and were especially happy because it means that there won’t now be showers of oily olives all over the lane for weeks on end as they fall in the wind. Once the ground is covered with fallers, you only have to drive over them or step on them to create a right slippery mess. Of course, we also received some advice about the job we ‘d done too. Lefteris, hubby of Filia, Evangelia‘s sister, took a look from below at the lower of the two trees and proceeded to tell me that I’d cut in in the wrong shape. It needed to be flatter along the top eye-line, he said. Frankly, it’s easier to get the chainsaw back out again than it is to try and argue, so I did as he suggested. Anything for an easy life.

A couple of mornings ago the phone went at around 8.50am. It was in the lounge and we were having our breakfast in bed. By the time I got to it it had stopped ringing, but I noticed that it had been Angla’i’a calling, and she only does so when it’s important, so I called her right back. It turned out that she and hubby Giorgos, a tender 86 years old (or thereabouts) were the only helpers that their son had as he was trying to lift a new bed-settee off the back of his pickup just across the lane from us and to take it into a house that’s unoccupied for much of the time. It’s owned by a family who now live in Athens, and they did use it back in the summer for a while. Seems that the dad, Dimitri, who was quite frail when he was here, has now died, sadly. Anyway, they had a new sofa-bed to install and another pair of hands was needed to get it off the pickup and into the house.

I told Angla’i’a that I’d be there in five minutes as, since she’s kindness itself, I actually look for opportunities to repay her kindness in some way. I threw on some clothes and went to offer what little brawn I have at my disposal to get the job done. After a fair degree of pushing and shoving, with ‘helpful’ advice about how to carry the thing and which way to turn or tip it, being offered by Angla’i’a and Giorgo, their son (who’d responded to the ‘advice’ with irritated retorts about us knowing what we were doing – which we didn’t really) he and I finally got it into position inside the house and I made my exit, back to bed and my breakfast.

Sure enough, as we expected, later in the day Angla’i’a phoned again. “Gianni,” she said, “Just pop down to the corner will you?” She finds it difficult to get up our steep drive with the problem she’s had with her knee lately, so I obliged and trotted down to meet her. I came back to the house with a bag full of fresh vegetables and some eggs from their hens. See, it’s a virtual impossibility to do anything for these people without them repaying you in some way.

We took a Greek coffee with Iraklis at the kafeneion on Saturday. It’s been a while so we thought we ought to put in an appearance. He said he still had one olive tree left to harvest, and had already brought home two tonnes of oil from the harvest so far. As you may know, they don’t measure the oil by the litre, but rather by the kilo. If you’ve read Rob Johnson‘s excellent and very funny book ‘A Kilo of String’ you’ll know that it’s not only oil they sell by weight, but a selection of other stuff too that would surprise the non-Greek. And if you haven’t read it, there’s the link right there, so do yourself a favour.

We couldn’t stay as long as we’d have liked with Irakli, as Yvonne needed the loo and, if you know Irakli, you’ll also know that he doesn’t like people to use the toilets at his kafeneion, because it means that he then has to clean them, a job that he tries to do as seldom as is possible. It’s been known for village regulars to pop home whilst passing some time at Irakli’s establishment, just so that they could have a pee. We were there long enough, though to learn that he owns three houses in Ierapetra. Poor soul, he’s so hard up. The place was quiet because everyone who’s not an old ya-ya, physically infirm or maybe a few sandwiches short of a picnic (and every village has one or two of those!) was in the olive groves, but one rough-looking horiatis did turn up in a battered old pickup, the engine of which was so badly in need of a tune-up that it chugged on for half a minute after he’d turned off the ignition and got out of the vehicle, the door creaking loud enough to wake the dead in the process, and he came and sat at the table with the three of us. He looked like he belonged in a Grizzly Adams movie, and his lined, bearded face cracked into a wide grin revealing a set of teeth that a dentist would rub their hands in glee at (thinking of what they could make while fixing it all) when Iraklis introduced us.

Appearances can be deceptive, eh? This extra from the movie “Deliverance” was quite erudite and revealed that his daughter had spent 7 years in the UK at University. Never judge an old pickup-driving Greek by the cover.

Yup, you guessed it, photo time…

The selection above are a few more from the village of Vasiliki, right across the valley from the impressive Ha Gorge.

Above: This one’s also from Vasiliki, but I wanted to show that door step, which must surely have seen a plethora of changes during its time in situ. It must surely have been there even when the Nazis walked this land back during the war, don’t you think?

That about does it for this one. Thanks for taking the time to read it, much appreciated.

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