Sunday, 25 January 2015
Wednesday, 14 January 2015
(Snow in Anemotia; photo: Takis Xatzidiakos)
The New Year presented Lesvos with a thick layer of snow; especially in the higher regions and the mountains where it was plentiful. It got Agiasos renamed Small Switzerland: even without snow this little mountain village is picturesque, but with a layer of snow it is like an Alpine paradise and photographers can’t get enough of it. I also saw pictures of Anemotia in the snow, nearly as beautiful as Agiasos.
The first winter I spent on Lesvos was also pretty cold and had mainly lots of sleet. As soon as the snow whirled down, all the villagers came out to see the spectacle: snow in Molyvos is very rare they said. However the next winter, in 2004, was even worse: you couldn’t count the snow falls anymore and Molyvos coloured white more than once. I then concluded that Greeks must have bad longterm memory, because they pretended the snow was very special, but I had then seen snow two winters running. There was so much snow that even Eftalou and her beaches were white and of course nobody claimed to ever have seen that before.
I must admit that since then winters have become a lot milder. Since then I have not seen snow in Eftalou. Even though the highest peaks of the island, Mt Lepetymnos and Mt Olympus have, now and then, gathered some snow, last winter they remained green. And whilst Agiasos once or twice has turned into a Christmas postcard, it was never for long, nor as beautiful as this year.
It is clear that you cannot trust Greek winters. On any one date temperatures can vary immensely. Take for example New Years Day. In 2010 temperatures reached 23 ºC and in 2007 they went down to minus 7ºC. Last New Years Day the thermometer barely reached 3 ºC and last few days it has descended slowly to below 0, so that in many places - even at the seaside – there were frozen water flacks and many broken water pipes.
Low temperatures do not have to be a problem. What’s really unbearable is the windchill. At the beginning of this year a wind from the north turned into a nasty storm and made being outside nearly impossible. And this Voreas keeps on blowing his icecold Siberian breath over the island: what a chill!
Personally the new cold year surprised me with a nasty flu and so I did not enjoy all the beautiful sights with the snow nor did I go for a walk in the snow. Buried deep into a warm bed yesterday my thoughts were in the harbour of Molyvos (and all over Greece), where Epiphany was celebrated. The priests, while most of the villagers were present, blessed the sea. During these kind of celebrations everyone dresses up and from deep under my pile of blankets I could feel them shivering in the almighty cold. The low temperatures, feeling even lower due to the wind, did not prevent a group of boys from standing ready in bathing suits to dive into the water, looking for the cross which the priest throws into the sea. Not even a mighty Ice Queen can halt this tradition.
Armed with a hot water bottle at the feet and hundreds of Kleenex around my head I have lots of time to muse about this New Year. Just like the weather reports that cannot get rid of the cold, the political barometer also tends to storm. The news of the attack at Charlie Hebdo (the French satirical magazine that I used to read when living in France, but for years now lost sight of) hit my bed like a heavy earthquake. I was wondering if this magazine would have already prepared for next month a special issue about Grexit, a Greece without the euro or Europe without Greece. So I slumbered away into a world where the drachma would re-appear.
I dreamt about a procession of strangely dressed people, straight out of a Jeroen Bosch painting, who swarmed through the narrow and snowy streets of Agiasos. In each street more people gathered. They merrily waved with big piles of drachmas and started to make a fool of the Greek Gods. Their behaviour became more and more obscene and their screaming louder until the village and the snow disappeared because of the huge congregation of people and everything became a pretty straggly gruel.
In a few weeks the Carnival will start and for the Greeks this means the opportunity to satirize everything they do not like in life: the Greek carnival are The days of Satire, because on those days nothing will be spared, even the Holy Church. Beautiful Agiasos is especially known for its incisive political satire. And I am sure there will be lots of laughter this year during carnival, because the worse life is in a country, the better the satire. And no Kalashnikov nor any other violence will prevent the Greeks from this great carnavalesque criticism.
The best wishes for 2015
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
Geplaatst door smitaki op Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Saturday, 6 December 2014
Monday, 24 November 2014
Sunday, 9 November 2014
Friday, 31 October 2014
(Goats at the road)
Now that the tourist season has finished, it’s also time for me to take a plane homewards. After I check-in and walk towards the gate, the check-in clerk calls me back and asks me to take my suitcase. Oops, I forgot. You have to move your suitcase yourself to a scanner about ten metres further along. That is the way they do it on Lesbos.
The flight is going well. When I look out of the window just before landing, I already know that I will miss Lesbos. If you had to judge a culture of a land and its inhabitants from the sky, I would think the Netherlands and the Dutch are pretty tight and rectilinear. All parcels of land are properly demarcated by fences or ditches. The roads are at right-angles, as are the canals and even the cows seem aligned in the same direction. I am back into a country where everything is organized and regulated. A country where, for ten years now, a discussion has been going on about whether an ambulance should arrive within fifteen or thirty minutes. A country where people receive financial compensation, if for part of the day they are without electricity. A country where people of a district protest against the arrival of another big supermarket. A country where dogs are no longer allowed in parks, lest a playing child steps into a turd. And it even gets more crazy: on my return to the centre of the city there appeared bicycle coaches who have been appointed to ‘advise’ me where I can park my bike.
What a change from Lesbos! Where the landscape is overwhelming: all mountains, a chestnut forest, pine trees and olive groves; it is beyond me how the Lesvorians can have built any roads at all. Driving along the roads, it is swinging through one curve after the other. Sometimes you get stopped by goats roaming freely over the road — or a stoic donkey, crossing snakes, foxes, dogs and cats, or a shepherd with his flock of sheep. On spotting their little piles of dung, you can trace where they crossed the road. The only hospital is in the capital, in the southeast of the island. When being in the North or West and there is an emergency, you’d better drive the person in your car in the direction of the hospital, so that an ambulance can take-over midway. The only Lidl (big chain supermarket) on the island is also in the capital and in the mini-supermarkets elsewhere food stuff – much of it bought at Lidl – are relatively expensive. And you cannot always be sure of warm water, electricity or a good internet connection.
Despite these geographical and logistic inconveniences, life on Lesbos is relaxed and good. I am pretty amazed by how good everything works and how often you do have warm water, electricity and internet. The shops are well provided. Cars and scooters may be parked criss-cross - where they should or not - but its place measured on the centimetre. Large vehicles like vans or buses always manage to just squeeze by. Bus drivers are real steering artists. I seldom saw collisions. You best be prepared for a little patience when travelling by public transport. It can happen, as I once witnessed, that the driver takes a detour through a village in order to pick up a tin of olive oil or to fill-up at a gas station. But in the end you will always arrive where you want to go.
As a big city habitant, who barely knows my neighbours, I love the friendly and helpful people on the island. Because I was not prepared for a cold spring, someone gave me a warm blanket, another person a woollen waistcoat. When I had parked my scooter a little clumsy on a slope and I was unable to get it off its stand, I was helped by a shaky old man, who could barely keep to his feet. When I was unable to start my scooter, there always appeared a boy to do the job for me. When I was stung by a wasp, out of nowhere, there appeared a lady with some ointment. When I decided to walk, cars always stopped to offer a ride. Due to a minimum of physical exercise and the many invitations to join a Greek dinner party on a terrace, my body shows off how good life was for me on Lesbos. People take care of each other; crowdfunding to help people out is pretty normal. And it is admirable to see how many animal lovers take care of the street dogs and cats.
Now back into my hectic ‘normal’ life, I might be a danger of idealizing Lesbos too much. Let’s be honest: life there is not always, nor for everybody that easy, especially in the winter, when a large number of the islanders are without work. And the fact that within an hour, half of them know where you have been, what you did and with whom, can also be annoying. But for me I consider Lesbos as a pearl in the Aegean Sea that has to be cherished.
New developments, like the much discussed and criticized tourist train that runs between Molyvos and Anaxos, will do no harm. When in the Netherlands you sit in a train full of sulky commuters or are stuck in a traffic jam with reared motorists, it is hard to imagine that people could have problems with this slow going train full of merry tourists. Or am I mistaken?
This is my last column about my personal experiences and meanings about life on Lesbos. I enjoyed writing them. Without any scientific substantiation, my wish was to inform, amuse, tickle and provoke a discussion. For some the subjects were recognisable, for others amusing and for some it hurt a little. Thank you for reading and all your reactions. My special thanks are for Julie for having made a place in her blog for me.
I wish you all a good winter!
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
Geplaatst door smitaki op Friday, October 31, 2014