Monday, 19 December 2005


I'm not that quickly scared, and especially not on this island. It might happen that your pile of wood gets stolen, two years ago at restaurant Anatoli some of those huge red clay urns disappeared, some weeks ago a bicycle was stolen in Petra and last winter in Petra a clothing shop was robbed in the night and the income of a sales weekend disappeared into thin air.

In the summer you have to be more careful because not all tourists come for the same reasons. But in general there is not that much crime here on the island. You never hear about a stolen car and we are always pretty amused at seeing people going on safari, climbing out of their jeep and locking it. First of all there's mostly nobody around to steal the car and secondly where would they hide with a stolen car? No way coming off the island. Also theft from a car is not known here.

All villages on the island are small communities and when something happens, within no time everybody will be informed through the tam tam. Last week again Lesvos was in the news on the national television. Not because we had some fantastic warm days, or another mud stream that overflowed Kaloni, this time it was a woman who went missing. The days that she was not found were kind of creepy.

The 31-years old Anastassia Hadzidiakou had the small gambling shop in Molyvos. There you could place your bets, buy lottery tickets and whatever you wanted to gamble on. There is pretty much compulsive gambling going on on this island. Sunday night, the 11th of December, she had a meeting with a 24-years old customer who owed her 14,000 euro. That is quite some money that you will not earn that fast picking olives. She received the money and was on her way back, she told her fiancée who was waiting for her in Petra. And then nobody heard from her or saw her again. This was the first gossip of the story going all around the island on Monday.

Lots of citizens and police searched around Lepetimnos for her and her car, both seemed to have disappeared from the earth. Planes and helicopters flew on and off, police cars were driving at high speed to and fro along the roads. Wild speculations about what could have happened were running fast. Did the boy who owed her money set her up, did she have a secret lover with whom she went partying, some bad mouths even thought her fiancée had something to do with her disappearance. The North of the island was pretty much in commotion. Whoever you met, first question was always: is there something new about Anastassia.

On Tuesday most people agreed that she probably was not anymore alive. Police from Athens flew over and a big search was set up. They found out something irregular: The boy who was to give Anastassia her money lied. Anastassia was seen driving through Stipsi, so their appointment was not in Vafios. To the fiancee of Anastassia who phoned in order to ask where she was, he said that she forgot her telephone in his car and this was a lie too. He was severely questioned and he admitted to the murder... It took until Wednesday night that they found the body and her car...

They probably had a fight over a bet that he placed on the same day. Because he owed her money Anastassia did not place the bet. A pity because otherwise maybe nothing would have happened because then the boy would have gained a lot of money. He had just a little knife on him and that might be why he stabbed her over 40 times. He threw her in his car, drove to Lepetimnos where he threw her in a small drinking pool for the sheep. It is said that she still lived for another 4 hours... He hid her car under a tree on the way from Clio to Tsonia.

It is a real horror story, also because so many people knew her and the places where it all happened. Monday and Tuesday did not feel good on the island. What could have happened and was there a murderer going around? Just like last year when 3 young boys got killed in an accident, this was the talk of the day for the whole week.

We recently asked a friend who is a lawyer on the island what cases he got. No murder cases, he answered, because a murder only happens once in 10 years on the island. However, this was the second murder of this year. Last March a man was arrested because the remains of a friend were found in his fireplace. He blamed his wife for the killing because she was jealous of the girl friend.

Since the temperature dropped this night the Leptimnos towers white above the woodlands as if on its slopes the horrible things never happened. Even this paradise-like island knows it's murders for passion and it's killings for money. It is not a peaceful story about the island I am telling you just before Christmas. However, I do wish you all a very merry Christmas from an ice cold Lesvos.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Tulips from Amsterdam

What a strange subject, you will think. Tulips in the midst of December. Well, I was looking that dumbfounded when I was planting tulips in our garden and discovered daffodils on the verge of blossoming. With Christmas we will have Christmas daffodils!

For my birthday I got a large packet of various flower bulbs. In fact I only asked for tulips from Amsterdam. The giver did not realize that crocus, iris, anemones and daffodils all grow in abundance on the island. I was happy to be able to put a lot of merry coloured crocus in the ground. The autumnal crocus just disappeared and for spring here they do not know any crocus.

The bright yellow daffodils from Holland got a place just next to their Greek fellows, the pale yellow daffodils. When they hurry up I will have for months at a row blossoming daffodils. However I hesitated planting the anemones. In a few weeks these flowers will be colouring our landscape, the first anemones last winter were out on the 1st of January. To put cultivated anemones near their wild sisters... The same thoughts were for the iris. In a little bit of time there will be plenty of them all around.

I was pretty happy with the snowdrops. As far as I know they do not exist in the Lesvian nature. Well, that is a pity because these white fragile flower heads bungling from a green tiny stem might be the most prettiest harbinger of spring. I really do hope that they will not get mixed up by our strange weather. A few days it was cold, these last days the sun shone away the chilly northern wind and today it is lovely and warm. However, when those small white beauties like it here and multiply, know that when you will discover them here in some ten years they originally came from Amsterdam.

The flower bulbs coming for sure from this region are the tulips. In the 16th century the famous tulips from Amsterdam were imported from Turkey (Lesvos in that time was under Turkish rule). In the midst of the 17th century there was even a 'Tulpo mania' in Holland: the bulbs were precious merchandise, they were subject of speculation and crazy prices got paid for them. One man once changed 2 loads of grain, 35 litres of beer, 2 loads of rye, 1500 kilo of butter, 4 fat oxes, 500 kilo of cheese, 12 big sheep, 1 silver cup, 5000 litre of wine and one pack of fabric against one tulip bulb! When this craziness was over like with a crash on the stock market many Dutchmen went broke. Now nobody speaks anymore of Turkish tulips. The Dutch took over the commerce and got world famous for it.

Some books say that there are tulips here in the Lesvian nature. For sure they are on the island of Chios. But I did not find them. Where is the tulip hiding on this island?

Lesvos is not famous for its spring flowers nor for it's cyclamen which make the autumnal landscape so pretty. Lesvos is famous for its olives and at this moment you can learn everything about this harvest. Everywhere you hear the sound of the click-clacking of the sticks against the trees, the chatter of the women picking the olives from the ground, the panting of the men carrying the loaded sacks to the cars, the mount of olives growing by day at the Olive Presses.

It is a good year for the olives. Thanks to the bad harvests in Spain and Italy the Greeks get a good price for a kilo of olive oil (In Greece they do not know litres but all is calculated in kilos) and the trees are just loaded with dark blue black olives. So many an olive farmer can bring in workers. And these days even labourers are well paid: 30 euro a day. Which makes everybody happy. Even the weather seems to cooperate. It looks like spring here on the island. And that is what the daffodils thought as well.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 28 November 2005

The Flood

I already said it last week: the southern wind was coming and that often brings rain. And warmth. Last Monday we had a night of -2°C, this Monday the quicksilver went up to 20°C. Summer! And this warmth we really needed, because this time the rain was a little too much.

Holland, Germany, Belgium and England got a bad surprise with the cold, storm and snow. Greece, and especially Lesvos, was tortured with rain. It rained and it rained, one full day, two full days and the third day the rain did not yet seem to stop. And now I am not talking about some drizzle or light rain, but without end it rained cats and dogs.

Masses of water fell down. The first days it meant that we stayed inside. It was not cold, the animals all had a roof where they could shelter and anyhow rain was good for the plants. The third day however we felt annoyed not to be able to go out without getting thoroughly wet. And then the messages from the outside world started coming in: The road to Petra was flooded, Mytilini full of water, Kaloni flooded...

When we went for lunch in the afternoon to Anatoli, we could see it with our own eyes on the national television where Lesvos, among some other places in Greece was hot news. The quays of Mytilini looked like one wide river estuary, brown water everywhere flowing into the sea. Kaloni was worse. A brown mass of mud entered houses and shops, in some places 1 metre high! Children panicked when the water invaded their school. They had to take refugee on the first floor. A lot of people got surprised by the rising water.

In the afternoon when on the island the state of emergency became a fact, the rain slowed down and we could drive to Petra. Merry waterfalls dropped down from the mountains and several mud streams still used the road to go down. The Bay of Molyvos as well as that of Petra was coloured brown from the mud and had branches, trees and other stuff all floating around. The harbour of Petra looked like a Tsunami had passed, so many things floated on the water. As well as in Mandamados, in Petra several houses got flooded.

You probably know the sight in Lesvos of all those dry rivers in the summer. Sometimes it is hard to imagine that there will be water streaming through. In the winter there always crawls some water. The masses who sought a way through those rivers this last Friday were probably never seen. The wide river after Kaloni in the direction of Mytilini swole that much that it occupied the main road most of the day and no traffic was possible from or to the capital.

I always wondered why Kaloni had this wide high street in the direction of Skala Kaloni. Now I know why it is such a royal road: they built it above a river. This river could not handle all the water and came up. Not only houses and shops but also many pieces of land got flooded.

Molyvos and Eftalou were lucky. Only some land got flooded and the road next to the bus stop at the school was for some hours under water. The lovely small river next to the road to Vafios became a wild roaring river which overflowed the road as well sometimes.

Now the sun is out again, the temperatures have risen like in summer, mushrooms shoot out of the earth and the people are resettling themselves. In Kaloni and Petra complete furniture, clothing and carpets are sunbathing outside. People clean and scrub, they are not in a good mood.

The day after the flood we took a walk to Molywood, the green part of Molyvos under the Donkey Station where it is full of olive groves. There we could see how the water had behaved. From the mud banks we had to wade through, you could see that only a small river came out of its bed at least 1.5 metres higher. Many roads are damaged or destroyed, many crops on land drowned. No, this winter rain we waited so long for did not make anybody happy.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 21 November 2005

The Living Room of the Mayor

Just like in the rest of Europe winter has arrived in Greece. In the north of the country a thick layer of snow fell and the thermometer descended pretty much under 0°C. On Lesvos the Lepetimnos is sprinkled white with snow. You guessed it: very unusual for the time of year.

Before the thermometer reached -2°C this Monday morning we had some days with rain, which was needed badly on the island. Everything was too dry. Although not everybody was happy with the rain. The olive harvest this year started quite early and it had just started a few days when the heavens opened and the rain came down. That meant that most people could stay home, olives are not harvested when it is raining.

So it was a good opportunity to go to the bars. Which are only a few to go to, in the winter in Molyvos. One of the best at the moment is the Bar from the Mayor: Paradosiako, also named the Kafenion or the Living Room of the Mayor.

Molyvos has a mayor who needs only a little bit of sleep. That's why he prefers to hang out in the bars until very late. You can say what you want about this, but early in the morning he gets up fresh to do his work. So we cannot say anything about him being a barfly.

Two years ago he used to spend his nights at the Brasserie, which was a nightmare for the owners because when the mayor arrived at one o'clock it meant for them that they could not close before three o'clock even though the mayor was their only customer. Since last year the mayor found a solution for this: he opened his own bar.

With that he handled two problems. In all other villages you fall over all the kafenions - you know, those locals brightly lit by fluorescent lamps. However, in Molyvos there were none although each village should have one. It is the hang out place for the elderly people who pay half price for a drink there.

So the mayor opened a kafenion and got a brand new living room. Paradosiako does not really look like a traditional Greek coffee house, even though it's name means traditional. Instead of white walls and bright lights there is cozy light and the walls are painted light orange and pale yellow. The whole place is furnished in a way that looks like a nice family room.

So each night you can find the mayor in Paradosiako, together with a lot of villagers who look like one big family. Thanks to the cultural artifacts on the wall, the brown wood and the large balcony you can imagine yourself in a Swiss chalet. Except that for the rest everything is really Greek.

I do not know how the Greeks design the interior of their bars, but it seems that they are not that smart in doing it. Like in the brand new restaurant of Babis, the sound installation is posed on a huge refrigerator. So when you want to put on the music you have to take a chair, put it against the refrigerator and climb on the chair in order to put on the music.

When you have demanding clients who every 5 minutes want other music, that means that every 5 minutes you have to take a chair, put it against the refrigerator, climb on the chair, change a CD, climb down and put back the chair. Seeing this happening at least ten times in a row it is like you are watching a slapstick movie.

The restaurant Sykamnia of Vangelis in Skala Sykaminia is not that new but it has it's ice and coffee machine placed somewhere at the other side of the street. This means that Vangelis or his brother are always seen running up and down the street with cups of coffee or bowls with ice.

Also the new Living Room of the mayor is not very smartly designed. The refrigerator with the cool drinks is placed against the wall opposite the bar. Before that refrigerator is a table. Because the Living Room of the mayor is not that big there are always people sitting at that table. In the winter it is even the game table for the card-players. Playing cards is the favourite winter occupation for the people here. So the guests at this table are not able to have a quiet game because every now and then they are summoned to get something out of the fridge. This means that when an exciting game is going on you are even afraid to ask for a new bottle of retsina!

But I must say, it is a way not to drink too much and besides that there is often good live music to distract you. And then the mayor dances, or his wife. So you see, the mayor of Molyvos day and night really takes care of his villagers...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 14 November 2005

Getting lost on Lesvos

Yes, we finally did it! We managed to do a walk described by Brian and Eileen Anderson without getting lost. This English couple has published about 28 walks in the book 'Lesvos, car tours and walks' published by Sunflower Books. The walks are breathtaking, but the directions are pretty badly described, or very badly translated.

When I have to choose a walk from the book I always look at the time they give for a walk. I start to know the Andersons. It is as if they have wings because they fly over the walking paths as a fly smelling food. However we walk, we always need double time.

It is true that in the walking world, people do mend their pace. We do have friends who are alike. They walk like they have to finish a skating marathon. If you do not stop them, they will not look at anything and they pass at high speed all beautiful purple cyclamens, terrific views, nice shaped trees and beautiful landscapes.

You can say it in reverse as well. We cannot walk without stopping at superb views, we have to take a picture of a flower or a tree, we cannot pass a wild apple without looking for more or we have to stop to define a mushroom in order to pick it or not. For us walking is not making kilometres, but to get surprised by the always changing landscapes.

I have to admit that I often also have to stop the gang because I have to recover from a steep climb. For a Dutch woman coming from the Flat Countries the mountainous island sometimes gets me in trouble. Although my condition each year becomes better and better. I am getting used to climb over the mountains. In my first years I got tired just seeing a mountain where the path would pass over. Now I walk as if nothing matters.

Last week we did the winning walk, I mean the walk where we did not get lost, the part we took a wrong direction in Loutrópoli Thermi I will not count. So I can criticize those walks, but I have to admit that each walk surprises us with a new part of the island. Walk number 3 is a walk about Thermi by Panagia. It starts at the beach and then it continues through a residential area, pretty chic. The sandy paths go past big houses and gardens to match. I was most surprised by the Tower Houses, some renovated, some in ruin. These are old country houses where in the past century the rich of Mytilini passed their days in the country. The area is full of olive trees, as well as orange, lemon and mandarine trees. A shadowy land with impressive views of the always blue sea.

Especially these months the coloured leaves of the huge planes which are bent over very old churches form enchanting autumnal pictures. The endless gardens are silent witnesses of a past wealth. It was a nice change to do a walk through surroundings made by humans.

You did not get that impression from walk number 12 that we did today: Agias Anargyri, Asomatos and back again. There you walked over centuries old footpaths, where time seems to have stopped and where thousands of old olive trees are backed up by walls as old as the trees. The whole looked that natural that you forgot that those walls who make half a circle around the tree are built by human hands, as well as the old footpaths which have to be made by somebody.

Now they are fantastic walking paths, the narrow monopathis who give space for only one donkey and the kalderimis which are much broader, say for three donkeys abreast. Once these were the high roads of the island. They say that when you break up an asphalt road for sure you will find an old kalderimi, they are the perfect foundation for the modern roads.

Walk number 12 started at the picnic area of the little church of Agias Anargyri, where it rained leaves from the huge planes, where the autumnal colours and the gurgling of little water streams meant that you immediately fell in love with the spot. But we were there to take a walk and the start already was a problem. In what direction we had to start? The walking guide of the Andersons (in Dutch) is a real puzzle book. And do not make any mistakes because that means trouble.

We did the walk totally wrong (as usual), but this time we were rewarded by the Gods. Everything went smoothly until Asomatos. An incredibly beautiful path wound up to the mountain village close to Agiasos. In the village square we only had to read the instructions ten times before finding the right kalderimi going down. And even at the turning point opposite a B-2 building, we thought we were on the right way.

But we did not encounter a junction where we should keep left, nor did we find a pretty steep climb. The better for us because that climb towards Asomatos was enough for that day. We walked a sheep path going through enchanting olive groves. We walked and we walked and we passed a little church on a magic spot in the middle of nowhere, we saw little streams of water but nothing anymore matched with the description of the walk of the Andersons. The sun disappeared behind the mountains, the clock was ticking time away: what would happen if we really were that lost and we could not come out of those donkey paths before it became dark...

This time we really walked as fast as real walkers do. We chose to follow our feeling of the good direction and not the directions of the Andersons. And suddenly there was the path where we started. Results? Instead of the double time we normally need to do a walk of the Andersons, we only had 1 hour more on this walk of 1.45 minutes. We set a new record! When some time later we closely examined the map we discovered that we did skip a large part of the second part of the walk. Very well with us, otherwise we probably would still be looking around for the right way to Agia Anargyri. And then I could not complain to you about those very bad directions given in the (Dutch) description of those breathtaking walks of the Andersons...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 7 November 2005

Everywhere cats

Yes, the tourists are all gone. Yes, all the hotels are closed. For the visitors in the winter only Hotel Adonis and Hotel Delphinia will stay open. The streets of Molyvos look deserted. Many inhabitants are back to their houses abroad or in Athens, some took off for a holiday. What stays behind is a sad pack of hungry animals. Especially everywhere cats.

This summer it was a lot of fun in Hotel Panselinos. Not only for our dogs Rockie and Vrini who went there to play with the hotel dog, brown cocker spaniel Bella and all the guests. Also for Albino, a beige snautzer-like dog, who was an entertaining guest of the hotel the whole summer long. And besides those dogs there were everywhere cats.

Now the gates are nearly closed. Only a last labourer is doing some last jobs and then Eftalou will be almost empty. And Albino, what will happen to him? He followed his friends Rockie and Vrini. So he is often with us. And at our place there are everywhere cats...

A few days ago a merry Whisky followed Rockie to our place. This nice young black & white doggie we already knew from last summer when he was running up and down the Eftalou Boulevard, looking for some attention and an owner. Now he totally unexpectedly found us. So he came amidst everywhere cats.

I had no reason to complain because only 4 cats stayed in Hotel Panselinos at the end of the summer and now came to our house. Molly, a tiny white cat with a black mask, Tiger, a small grey baby tabby tiger and Puk and Muk, two complaining grey and white cats. Integration is not that good because our eleven cats think: everywhere cats.

Amidst all those cats Whisky is trying to find his place as well as Albino who tries to become a member of the family. So we have everywhere cats with thick tails who snap at each other and who snarl at each other because so many newcomers is quiet a change. And all those dogs, 5 in number together with the illegal black dog who got thrown away by his Greek owner, cause quite some commotion. So spitting cats everywhere.

Last year we started the winter with 23 cats, this winter we kept the amount at a lower number: 11. Miss Panselinos and 4 new cats are making it a reasonable 16. But what in heaven are we going to do with 5 dogs! Because the cats are everywhere!

It is also a big difference between feeding 23 cats and 16 cats and 5 dogs. In the morning when you open the door there is a pack of animals who cry that loud that you can hear it in Molyvos. As if they never get food! When you serve them their food there are dogs who do slurp slurppp slurppp and gone is the food. And what do you see? Everywhere cats.

They got disappointed because such a small Molly or a fat Leonardo, both eat at least ten times slower than a hungry dog. How do you feed cats and dogs together? It is after I wake up that I get nightmares. How will I manage to share out the food in a fair way between all those dogs and everywhere cats?

So, I will call upon two Dutch ladies who left Hotel Panselinos in a taxi on the 31st of October. They fell in love with Albino whom they called Flipse. He might like to be exported. I would like that. Because I'd rather have my two dogs and everywhere cats.

Rougette is upset because there are too many dogs, Reu does not sleep anymore in front of the house, GrisGris and Eftalou do not want to know any dog, Tinto does not dare to eat with all those dogs around, Jip lost her place on the couch, Little Tiger cannot get used to the always running dogs and stays in a tree, Yanna simply does not come here anymore and Dikkertje Dap thinks about a smart way to reach the house without being seen by the dogs. Only the smallest one, Molly, is not disturbed by the turmoil of the dogs during dinner and she likes to crawl next to a warm dog, no matter if it is Rockie, Vrini or Whisky. You see, our cats are not happy with dogs everywhere.

And I, I probably soon will not come out of my bed. I can choose between dropping the new dogs so that they have to face famine or I have to face each morning this chaotic animal family. Help! Please give advice what to do. Because when I open my door: everywhere cats. Do I make a step forwards: everywhere dogs. Do I sit in the sun: everywhere cats. Do I stand up: everywhere dogs. Do I serve tea outside: everywhere dogs and everywhere cats. Do I hang the wash outside: everywhere cats. Do we take a walk: everywhere dogs and everywhere cats.

November is quite a bit colder than last year. The winter approaches. This month is the cruelest month of the year: just put on your blinkers in order not to see all those lonely animals. Because there are already so many dogs and everywhere cats...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 31 October 2005


I love Greek music. I do not know what it is in those old songs I specially like, because I still do not understand all the words. But Greek songs go straight to my heart. In Holland they would be called tear-jerkers but I assure you that the sound of a bouzoukia (Greek guitar-like instrument) goes deeper than the best Dutch tear-jerker song ever.

My evening is good whenever there is dancing besides the music. In Greece weddings, parties and dinners can all turn spontaneously into a big dancing party. It is more than often that the music is played so loud that there is nothing else to do than to listen to the music and to watch the dancers. I do not mind, but sometimes there are parties when it is pretty irritating that the sound is so loud that it is hard to chat with your neighbour and even impossible to talk to the person opposite you. The Greeks never seem to mind. They sing and clap enthusiastically with the music, they carefully spot all people in the party and they love to show how good they dance.

In my earlier years I was crazy with the bouzoukia. That is not only a musical instrument but it is also the name of a nightclub where Greek singers perform until early in the morning. Sometimes the people there go that wild that plates will fly over your head.

Not because there was a fight. In earlier times when you were happy because your friend danced well, or the singer was beautiful or she brought you to tears with her song, you could order a pile of plates and smash them into pieces on the dance floor. Nowadays they do it with flowers, which is less spectacular. And I miss the crackling sound of the broken pieces under the shoes.

Now I am a little older and I do not know anymore the art of getting the magic of those long and late nights at the bouzoukia. How the Greeks do it, I do not know, but for sure at one o'clock I mostly go in the direction of my bed and not to the bouzoukia. Also there is no bouzoukia place near Molyvos. The local music bar in the Harbour Street is kind of small, although a band with singers as well as a public do get in easily. They will not see their beds before four o'clock in the morning.

I did visit the music bar once and since then I intended to go there more, but until now I have not been back there. That does not matter because I have enough parties where there is music and dancing. Sometimes it even happens during dinner in a small restaurant that people start dancing in between the tables, like happened in Stipsi where we ate last week.

Some parties have a disc jockey who alternates English music and Greek music. Then plenty of people will enter the dance floor and the now so popular simultaneous dancing is nothing compared to this. The handkerchief is flying through the air and it will rain flowers on the dancers. Sometimes somebody does a breathtaking solo dance, like the groom at the last wedding we visited. He danced alone and happy around a glass of ouzo, as a last farewell to his life as a bachelor. There are times that it is the grandparents who will make the show. When they enter the dance floor it is as if they totally forgot their age and their stiff bones.

Greek dances come form the heart and not from the legs. That is why they often can be pretty touching. And sometimes they are hilarious. On the island of Samos I used to know a Yannis who with his mouth tilted a little table in the air and danced around with it. Last week we were on a Dimitri dinner party (It was Dimitris Day) and there was a man who first tried to put a glass on his head, then he stood up with a bottle on his head and finally he put a vase with flowers on his head, walked slowly to the dance floor and did a pretty amazing dance act.

I will not easily learn Greek dancing and I am sure that I will never dance with a vase of flowers on my head. For the people who do like to try this at home I have one tip: you need a bald patch on your head and before you place an object there be sure that you wet the surface of your head and the surface of the object with some spittle. I am sure you will be successful!

For the ones who like to try to dance with a table in their mouth I have no advice. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw it happen. I will not compensate for new dentures nor will I compensate for a new vase with or without flowers!

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 24 October 2005

Strange Greeks!

Sometimes you think that Greek people have odd customs. The difference between the Greeks and other European people is not that big but there are days when you think: what strange people they are.

For example: I think it is odd that some Greeks do not immediately give a name to a newborn child. Until they are baptized all those babies have to respond to the name 'baby'!. There is already enough confusion with names in Greece because so many people have the same name. Last week we had dinner with 4 Yannis! But also to give identical names like baby to all babies, that's a little pathetic. Then, after the birth they have plenty of time to come up with an original name, but all that happens is that they fight over whose mum or dad may give their name to the new child.

Another strange habit in Greece is the soup as a dessert. This so- called Patza is a probable way of not getting a hangover. But to eat a fat soup right after a delicious meal, I never managed to do that. I prefer drinking glasses of water in between all alcohol in order to have a minimum chance of a hangover.

And then the Greeks think their priests are really saints. These papas do whatever they like, which has been proved this last year. The scandal around the papas from Petra who was not only a pimp, but also stole icons from the church and was always drunk, is just a tiny incident at the end of a long row of scandals that hit the Greek Church last year. In Greece the church and the state are still not separated and whenever a minister wants to speak about changing this, the church shamelessly makes threats to the state of Greece.

Quite a lot of Greek people do not want to eat what they do not know. Last week I gave a full bag of boletus to a friend who wanted to surprise her Greek boyfriend with a mushroom ragout. He refused to eat it and even called his parents about it. His mother yelled down the telephone that he must not eat it and even when he explained to his father which mushrooms it was, he was answered by: "they are edible, but we do not eat those mushrooms." So this guy who like a lot of Greek boys still lives with his parents, although he is in his mid forties, obeyed his parents and refused to eat the mushroom ragout.

The last time we went to the chestnut forest above Agiasos we were surprised when we thought we were being followed by a black BMW with a license plate from off the island. It is not easy to pursue someone on the quiet roads of Lesvos. There is no other traffic to hide behind and it is difficult to stay unobserved behind a car whose passengers stop in order to say hi to some turtles, who stop in order to photograph the flowering moor, who go for an hour shopping in Agiasos. So when we finally were back on the road going into the woods above the picturesque mountain village this black BMW passed us for at least the tenth time that day and then we became suspicious. Happily we managed to turn unnoticed onto one of the sandy roads leading into the forest. But even if he did want to follow our Sunny Nissan, he for sure would have destroyed his car's spoiler.

We knew for sure that we were being followed when we came back from a two hours walk and saw the black BMW waiting for us down at the main road. I even panicked a little and we decided not to gather chestnuts and skip the picnic we planned to have under the brightly coloured giant trees. It was the first time I was not so happy about the fact that we were in a wood that was deserted. Who knows what crazy person was in that car! Again we were lucky because we've started to know the roads around Agiasos and we could sneak unnoticed again onto another sandy road. But then we did not stop and drove over Olympos straight home. Our day was spoiled.

Coming home we talked about our adventure with some friends. They thought it might be secret police from Athens. At the moment there seem to be hidden weed gardens somewhere around Agiasos and so some secret agents are sent to the island to follow people at random and discover where the secret fields are. Any sane people knowing the vast network of sandy roads should know that when you really want to go everywhere on this island, you do not drive a BMW! You just have to watch a James Bond movie in order to know that a car in pursuit should be prepared for everything. And this in the time of those huge 4-wheeldrives! Well, we did not spot any black BMW in Eftalou. The only suspicious thing is a pretty big ship floating in the sea, not going anywhere. But that one cannot follow us because it seems that he got stuck on a big rock in the middle of the sea. We were also not followed going to the supermarket. And I hope that we will never be followed again. But still: what strange Greeks there are!

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

See, the pelicans are falling

The most clear sign of autumn here on Lesvos is not the falling leaves, but the nets which are spread under the olive trees. Of course you do have falling leaves on the island, but a lot less than in the more northern countries. This island has a lot of evergreen trees. The olive trees, the orange and lemon trees, the fir trees, they all stay green. It is only the earth underneath which gets black from the nets.

When you count all the olives in the trees it looks like it is going to be a good olive year. The olives already start colouring from green to purple to black. The strong northeastern wind which tried for a week to cool off the island makes that many olives fall into the nets.

But that is not all that is falling on the island. Pelicans also fall. Well, they do not just tumble out of the sky, although some of them literary fall down in the meaning that they do not survive their journey.

Last weekend we enjoyed a marvellous meal at the beach of Avlaki. On the deep blue sea some small fishing boats floated up and down, as well as a young brown pelican who was admiring the island and later on set out for the beach to have a little nap.

I was a little surprised because there are only two pelicans known on the island. One in Skala Kaloni and the big Maki who shuttles between Perama and Skala Loutra. The one in Skala Kaloni is a widower, his partner died in an accident some years ago. Stupid, because how can you drive into such a big bird... (*)

Two birds can make small ones, that I do know. With one of the parents in Skala Kaloni and the other in Perama, what does the youngster do in Avlaki... I was not thinking clearly enough, because birds can fly and pelicans can even swim. And autumn means as well: the migration of the birds.

After our lunch we decided to take a better look of the pelican. But the bird was gone. We could not find him anymore. The only thing we did find on the beach was another young pelican, but that one was as dead as a door-nail. His beak was gone and for sure he died a long time ago.

When we came home I phoned the Wildlife Hospital in Agia Paraskevi in order to inform them what we saw and to ask if they knew more. Joris was a little panicky because he just heard that in Turkey there was a probable outbreak of the bird flu. 250 km southwest from Istanbul, which is pretty close to our island. Earlier this week Joris picked up a pelican from Anaxos beach. The bird was really ill and did not survive many days. Did the pelican have the bird flu? And would Joris be contaminated?

Joris probably paid for it with a sleeplessness night. The next morning he phoned all his colleague veterinarians and finally there was only one conclusion: the young pelican which died in Agia Paraskevi did not die from the bird flu.

We all got a little scared. Especially Joris. Besides the risk of a deadly flu for humans it must be horrible that so many birds must get killed just for prevention. And how can you protect a bird island like Lesvos? The migration in the autumn is not that famous, but the migration in the spring means that thousands of birdwatchers come to the island. Is it possible to shoot all those flying and migrating birds?

Today Joris was called out again to pick up a pelican. This time it was found in Skala Sykaminia. It had big holes, which looked like there was somebody who did not like him. I presume that when Joris makes his monthly report for his site on the internet, he will describe it with his usual strong words.(*)

In these precarious times there is only one thing left: keep your fingers crossed or pray and burn a candle in one of the many chapels in order to please the Greek gods. The bird flu on Lesvos could become a real danger because of all the migrating birds coming from Turkey and Russia. We should keep our eyes open. That is why again I give here the website of the Wildlife Hospital. When you notice anything unusual, please contact them or a local veterinary surgeon.

(*) News about the pelicans from Joris (Wildlife Hospital): The Pelican in Skala Kalonis is a young bird (female) which we delivered THIS year ourselves, after she recovered from shot-wounds and now misses one wing. So this is NOT the last bird (who was found dead last year) and who was AS WELL a female (who got a male name, well, we are on Lesvos here!!) Concerning the pelican from Skala Sykaminia: the holes in the bird will not say that those are due to human practice. We are also known with crashes into trees what can cause the same injuries. And by the way, there was a whole 'bunch' of pelicans seen nearby Skala Polichnitos. It was a Dutch man reporting this from Lisvori.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 3 October 2005

Tzeli Katzidimitriou

Last week I met Tzeli Katzidimitriou, a writer and photographer from Lesvos. It was an exceptional meeting because this Greek woman was so open minded that in ten minutes I had the feeling I was talking to a friend I already knew for years. Tzeli was very busy because she had to travel from one part of the island to the other part, from Eftalou, Petra to Eresos to meet people for her work. She is working on a book on Lesvos and that does not progress as quickly as she wants because at many points she has to make choices about what she will write about and what not. When you know the island as well as Tzeli does, it is difficult to know what is interesting for people who do not know the island.

It will not be the first book Tzeli gets published about Lesvos, although it will be her first written book about the island. Two books already published by her might be known by visitors to Lesvos: '39 Coffee Houses and a Barber's shop' and 'Sacred Water, The Mineral Springs of Lesvos', which are two tasteful photo books about kafenions and a barbershop on Lesvos and about the hot springs of Lesvos.

The photographs are taken with a strong feeling for colour, composition and especially with warm feelings. Tzeli presents a piece of the timeless life of the island. Who does not know the small coffee houses on the island? There is no village without a kafenion and for a lot of Greeks there is no life without a kafenion. For many old men these coffee houses are like a living room. They love to sit whole days long on the front step in order to see the village life passing by, commenting on it and feeling their life fading into eternity.

Kafenions are coffee houses and no place to booze, although that may pass once in a while because of course you can get ouzo there. A kafenion is a common living room where you can dwell for hours with one drink, where commentating on the television programs is a national sport, where you can take all your time to spell out the papers, where politics are discussed with the other villagers but where first of all you can get all the hot gossip about the village.

Tzeli did not photograph the usual clients, but she immortalized the interiors of many old kafenion. Maybe at first sight these drinking quarters all look the same from the outside, on the inside you will see that all of them have their own characters.

They have sparkling blue, rose or other bright colors. They have walls full of old fading pictures of family or old Greek historical people. Some walls have shelves full of bottles from exotic brands. They have wooden counters which look like Turkish doors or showcases with articles that are not touched for ages. Their tables can have fine embroidery or just have funny plastic cloths. As well as some barbershops which can look like small museums.

Lesvos is known for its' ouzo, not for its' kafenions. Those you will find all over Greece. Lesvos has something else which is not that typically, but certainly very special for the island. They are the hot springs you will find in several places on the island.

Do not think that these are luxurious spa-centers, or big health resorts, because in Greece still nobody got the idea to commercially exploit the hot baths. In the pictures from the photo book 'Sacred Water, The Mineral Springs of Lesvos' by Tzeli you can see how picturesque these springs still are. Some are in decline, some may not look that attractive, but they all are warm and when you have been enjoying their hot mineral water you certainly come out purified and healthy. And that is the idea of a hot bath.

Funnily enough these baths are not too popular with the islanders. Maybe that is due to the old life when going to the springs was part of the Turkish life, a life that most Greeks want to forget. So only a few Greek people take advantage of these hot springs and that is maybe why they are still not only a blessing for your physical health but also a heaven for the mind because it is always quiet and peaceful there.

Tzeli's website has the name 'odoiporikon' what means 'always on the move'. Tzeli is always travelling. She moved from the island to the big city of Athens where she made a living with photographs of modern architecture. She went abroad to Italy where she studied and she travels to countries like India, Egypt and Korea. In between she returns to her island where she gets inspiration from the quietness, the stillness and the places where time seems to have stopped.

Tzeli's photo books reveal a part of the secret life of the island and not many people notice that these are so characteristic for Lesvos. When you open her books you will immediately recognize the atmosphere, even when you do not know the kafenion or the hot spring she captured on her photographs. Tzeli's pictures are as food for the soul. Check it out on her website:

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Thursday, 22 September 2005


Slowly slowly Lesvos glides into the autumn. The thermometer stays below 30°C, sometimes we have rumbling clouds, a pissed off shower or some drizzling rain and for sure in the evenings it is time for a light jacket. Juicy green grass stems appear everywhere, the yellow crocus-like sternbergias come up very hesitatingly, as well as the purple cyclamen. That all means that it is time for walking.

This enchanting island is full of walking paths. We now go where we can find walnuts, blackberries and rose-hips. And that is nearly everywhere. I do not know why but I suddenly really long for the good old rose-hip marmalade. It is not definite that we will manage to produce a pot of it, because the rose-hips on the island are far smaller than they are in Holland. It is probably going to take a long time to pick them and cut them and prepare them for a marmalade.

Our latest walks go straight through the old village of Chalika (old Leptimnos), among heavy fig trees, we pass fat blue berries and still wonder about the gorgeous bunches of grapes floating high in the trees. We climb towards a country road that seems to go all the way to Vigla, the highest peak of Lepetimnos as well as the highest point of the island. A stiff climb that we still did not manage to bring to an end because the road is climbing and turning and climbing and turning and then we have to go back. I love to do walks but my condition is not that good that I will survive walks of more than two hours of just climbing up and up. On the way back my knees and calves are crying and I wish I were a hedgehog who can roll itself up into a ball and just roll down the mountain. So making these kinds of walks is hell for me. But we are just at the beginning of the walking season. Who knows, maybe one day I will reach the top of Lepetimnos...

The scenery on this walk however is one big party of stately views over the blue sea and Turkey, besides unbelievable thick and old plane trees which are bent over starting waterfalls, elegant chestnut trees full of light green prickling fruit, rampant ferns, music trees (flowering ivy that climb into the trees and give place to thousands of humming bees) and some trees we still have to identify. Like the one which is losing its rose red fruit at the moment. The fruit is smaller than prunes, bigger than cherries and nowhere in our modest collection of botanic books to be find.

The 'Chrysanthemum' tree, which I called it when I first saw one, we finally defined what it is. It is an oak tree which has soft yellow chrysanthemum-like flowers. Which actually is its' fruit bed from where an enormous acorn will emerge. That is the holly oak. I never knew that there were that many species of oaks.

For example you also have the 'Christmas oak'. This is a jolly fellow with shiny red and yellow balls, but he is pretty dangerous. Those Christmas ball look-alikes are gall apples or nests for the gall wasp. It seems that every oak can become a Christmas Oak because the gall wasp does not care if he is delivering his little ones in a holly oak, a cork oak or an American oak, although he seems to prefer the summer oak.

So, you meet some animals as well on the way (however the little wasps are hidden safe and sound in their Christmas balls). Besides birds the small game you meet on the island consists mainly of light- footed squirrels who hop and skip away when they spot you.

Maybe to compensate for those rare small game animals last week we got a special show from two tortoises. Thanks to the still hot weather they performed in a peepshow. To gather the public the small male with his shield rammed the bigger female and then took his position on her behind. He started miauling and sang his song. That he really gave everything he had you could see as his tongue hung far out of his mouth. And the further it went the more he had to gasp. Anyhow, my ears got red from hearing them. The peep of the show was difficult to see. I suppose that the male has a sting-like member that he has to put under the shield of the female. And what is there to be seen, I'm afraid, will always be kept hidden under the skirts of the mother.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Fish and snails with balls

Last week I wrote about the most popular fish you can find here in the restaurants. There is another fish that gets photographed a lot, but you will not find it in a regular restaurant; the rofos which is actually a grouper. This monster from the sea can grow far more than 1 metre and I really do hope you never catch it with a fishing-rod, otherwise you will have nothing left to fish with.

Swimmers who do not like fish do not have to be afraid of a confrontation with this fish because it likes to dwell over a muddy and deep sea floor. It is one of the favorites for game fishers, who dive from a boat into the water in the middle of the sea, armed with a harpoon. When you do some surfing on the internet in order to find out something about this big fellow, you will find triumphant photographs of fishermen posing proudly next to a rofos. Sometimes the fish is as big as the fisherman himself (a small fisherman can be as big as a large rofos).

Last weekend our neighbour Zina from Mytilini came with just such a whopper to Eftalou. It was a pretty one being more than half a metre. Her son Antonis, who is a game fisher, caught it and gave it to Zina to bring it to the lunch what is given each Sunday by Yannis and Marianthis. Normally all neighbours and their guests who are in Eftalou are invited.

Yannis and Marianthis have an old brick kiln here on the land. You light a fire in it, let it burn in order to heat the kiln, then you empty the kiln, put food in it and close it so that the food can cook. A stuffed lamb needs an entire night to cook there, the big grouper was more modest and needed only two hours to get ready. It was prepared with some herbs, tomatoes, a courgette and a smaller fish and I do not lie when I say that it was the best fish I ever tasted.

The Greeks, especially on the islands, eat what is around. Sometimes I miss my supermarket in Amsterdam, but mostly not. The food you get served here is fair and very fresh, and there are things you will never find in my Dutch supermarket. Because of this way of eating, some meals can be pretty surprising. So when there are snails around, a grouper and some sheep balls, they are all served together in one meal.

I know now that a lot of people start to shiver at the thought, but I started my lunch on Sunday with sheep balls, a delicacy for those who like organ meat. Just like a rofos you will not find those vital parts on any menu. When slaughtering a sheep the farmer mostly keeps the balls for himself. Just like the sweetbread. Sheep balls have a soft taste in between sweetbread and chicken meat. In Greece they are a beloved mezès, they have become one of my favorites as well.

Last Thursday night it rained a little and on Friday we got a heavy tropical rainfall what came pretty quick over the sea from Turkey. There were buckets of water emptied, many people were taken by surprise and got totally wet and also many a house did not keep dry. After 10 minutes the sky was as blue as it was before. We had to mop the water and find our way through the mud, otherwise you would have thought that nothing happened.

Rain in September means snails. They come out of hiding (not out of their houses!) where they have tried to survive the dry season. They feast upon the rain, like we in our turn feast upon the snails. The Greek kitchen has a different way from the French of preparing snails: for a few days they are put into flour where they clean themselves and then they are prepared with onions, quinces and some tomatoes. It is a very fine recipe and the French with their garlic snails really should try this way of preparation.

So that was my second dish of that Sunday lunch. Where after came the divine rofos. All these plates are wonderful with a glass of ouzo. I do not know how many I drunk, but I do know that I ate quite a lot. And that after this meal fit for a king I needed at least 2 hours of sleeping in my hammock to recover.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 12 September 2005

Here come the fishermen

Finally the big mass of tourists has gone. The island is recovering in the still warm weather, but at sea it gets busy. Medium sized fishing boats go back and forth and you ask yourself if there is anything left to fish because there are so many boats. Lesvos itself does not have a very large fishing-fleet. It is again the people from the cities that bring the turmoil: fishermen from Athens and Thessaloniki come here to fill their boats with palamidas which come in big shoals to the waters of Lesvos in this season.

In whichever restaurant you go to near the big fishing harbours like Plomari, Mytilini, Molyvos or Petra, you will find palamidas. In the months of July and August you can be sure to get sardines, of which the most famous are fished out of the Gulf of Kaloni. September seems to become the Month of the Palamida, although you still find some lost sardines, like my favourite dish sardelles pastès (salted sardines which taste a little like the famous Dutch Herring) which is a perfect side dish to eat with a palamida.

In Molyvos and Petra it is difficult to buy fish because there is no fish shop. You need to keep your ears open to hear where the mobile fish shop is and then you have to take a run to it because you never know if he will continue to drive because there are not enough customers. Or you have to keep your eyes open in order to see the fishing boats coming back into the harbours.

In Petra the fishermen stop at the little jetty in the centre where you can buy whatever they've caught. Then for sure there will be a disturbance with wild gesticulating Greeks and pushing women who all shout for the best fish. In Molyvos harbour you will find the same scene, but in the winter there also come big fishing boats at night which bring part of their catch to the very small fish auction where you can shop in a more relaxed way. The other part of their catch is driven to Mytilini at crazy speed to fill up the shops.

It is not easy to know all the names of the fish here. When you want to eat fish and the owner of the restaurant pulls you into his business in order to show you what he's got for that day, the fish will stare at you and seem to say: I've been already so stupid being caught, so it does not matter if you choose me. Most of the times I have no idea what fish they are. The man of the restaurant will help you by saying their names, but that is in Greek so you still do not have a clue.

The sardines (sardelles) do not need any explanation of how they look. The smaller fish are marides, small anchovies which get fried and are eaten with the head and tail. Gavros are other anchovies, but bigger than the sardines. They get a little red when fried. There are some kinds of bream which are silver, flat and of average size, but do not ask me their name, they have several. A popular fish is the barbouni what is a red mullet and that one is easy to recognize because of its red color. Mackerel (skumpri) are regularly found and sometimes you will even find swordfish (xiphios). And then there are palamidas.

It took some time to find out what palamidas are. But I found it: they are bonitos, which are part of the tuna family. They look a little bit like a mackerel, the same size, but they have juicy white flesh and they are a pure sensation, especially after two months of eating sardines.

The research however resulted in another interesting find. Palamides (one letter different from the fish) was a hero from the Trojan War. He was buried on the (nowadays) highest mountain in Lesvos, Lepetimnos. Troy is opposite the north of Lesvos, just around the corner in Turkey and according to the writing of Homer it was Achileas and Aeas who buried this Greek hero. When the beautiful Helena of Sparta, wife of Menaleus, got abducted by Paris of Troy he took her to his hometown and married her. All previous lovers of Helena were summoned to fight against Troy. Amidst them was Palamides, a son of Poseidon. He found out that Odysseus was pretending to be ill because he did not want to go to the war and that is about all the feat of arms I could discover about this Palamides. Except, according to some writings on the internet, that he might be the inventor of letters and numbers.

In the Iliad of Homer there is the extensive story of the Trojan War with all the Greek Gods and big heroes. A lot of people think that this Trojan war is one of the many mythical tales from Greek Antiquity. But recent archeological finds in nowadays Troy prove that in the times of Homer's Iliad there was an extended war going on and that around 1200 BC Troy was that big that it was worth a big war. So scientists now speculate that the Iliad of Homer is not just a fantasy tale but based on historical memory.

While eating a palamida, I can look over the sea and the Turkish coast where once Homers heroes went by. I look at a mountain where once there was a temple dedicated to Apollo, where the observatory of the astrologer Matriketas was and where a real hero got his grave. All ingredients for an even more divine taste to that fish...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Tuesday, 23 August 2005


Did you know that there are well over 600 kinds of figs? Well, I did not know and I have to disappoint you because I do not know one of them. I only know that there are green and blue figs, but I have no idea what kind they are. I just know where to find the fig trees in my neighbourhood.

Anyhow, that is far more than a lot of people know who visit the island of Lesvos (and probably people visiting Greece in general). Because there is a big group of tourists who only knows dried figs from a package and have not the slightest idea that visiting the island at the end of August means that they probably pass trees with ripe figs more than ten times a day.

Even though a fig tree is easy to recognise. Its green leaves are like a big spread hand with fat round fingers. And everybody will remember a picture of a shy looking Adam covering his under parts with a fig leaf. And yes, that famous covering fig leaf also comes from the fig tree.

Late in August, early in September, you will find the ripe fruit in these trees. In the beginning they look perfectly round and green. Then they will change into the shape of a small pear, some colouring into a deep purple. At their bottom there is a tiny spot that will open once the fruit is ripe. Or you can touch it in order to know if they are ripe. When the figs are soft they are ready to be eaten.

This delicacy is one of the oldest cultivated fruits in the world. Some 3,000 years old fossils bear traces of figs and on many old frescoes there are fig eating people to be seen. It is not entirely clear from where the fig comes although it is probable that they were first cultivated in Arabia and Egypt. From there, around 1600 BC they were brought to Crete and then on to the rest of Greece. The fruit was sacred to the Greeks and it was prohibited to export it without authorisation. As well as Homer, Plato, Aristotle and Theophratus wrote about figs. Then the Romans came and introduced the fig to their empire where the fruit enriched their bacchanals. For them the fig became the symbol of the God of food and beverage (Bacchus).

Charlemagne had figs in his garden and with all the historical conquests and smart traders the fig was soon known in the whole of Europe. In the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors took the fig tree over the sea to South America. And then it was not long before there were also fig trees in what is now North America. Especially California did well in growing fig trees. They now are even that famous for it that Greek cultivators have been importing an American variety to cultivate here in Greece.

In Greece the fig was called 'the bread of the poor'. And even animals were fed with it, like pigs and geese. And what came out of these geese? Goose-liver! That delicious product nowadays so much cherished by the French. Which was original a Greek product. But where is the goose-liver now in Greece? There are enough geese hidden on the island but I never saw goose-liver on a menu.

Yesterday we were originally on a search for blackberries. We drove into the mountains towards the deserted village of Lepetimnos. In this once so fierce village there are still plenty of fruit trees and in between the ruins the blackberries have plenty of space. They were juicy big specimens, thanks to the rains of a few weeks ago. As well as branches full of thick fat figs smiling at us. They asked to be picked, otherwise they would end as dinner for the pigs. A smart farmer has made a pig stall from one of the ruined houses, under a large fig tree, beside an enormous walnut tree. Can you imagine how good these pigs will taste once their life is over?

We had more surprises that afternoon. We discovered the 'grape trees'. In the wild gardens the grapes were free to grow wherever they wanted. And they do like to climb trees. So it is quite crazy if when you are picking a fig, you encounter a big bunch of sweet blue grapes. Enormously big bunches slowly floated through the air on a little breeze, high and unreachable in the tops of walnut trees and hidden behind the big green leaves of the fig trees.

This abundance of fruit did hurt a little bit. When we left this Garden of Eden along a small old path partly covered with rolling stones, we came upon a lane which was full of chestnut trees. The chestnuts had to wait another month before falling off the tree, the grapes which lived in those trees were ripe. We came home that night with plenty of bags filled with fruit. Which meant: work.

To clean the blackberries, make shakes of blackberries and yoghurt, make liquor with blackberries and cognac. Dry figs, bake bread with figs, prepare meat with figs, cut the figs open and fill them with chocolate, over a month brewing fig syrup. Wash the grapes, bring some to the neighbours, make grape jelly, cook fish with grapes. And this is only the beginning of the autumn. Collect almonds, picking apples, conserving pears, looking for pine nuts, making pesto with the rest of the basil. Hammering, hacking, peeling, cooking, baking, preserving, drying. And if it could be just a little bit cooler for all this work...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Tuesday, 16 August 2005

Heavenly busy

The Assumption Day of Maria on the 15th of August is in all ways the peak of the Greek Summer. Around that day a real migration takes place in Greece. Islands are boiling over with tourists, cities are left empty. On television they showed a nearly deserted street in Athens, one which is normally pretty busy. Only two old grandmas were sitting on a bench drinking coffee from a thermos. You really felt sorry for them, being left behind by all those citizens. To complete this desolate picture a cat crossed the pretty large and empty street as if he was taking a stroll in the park.

Cats here on Lesvos should wait another month before they can behave like that. These days crossing the Boulevard of Eftalou is very dangerous thanks to the cabs hurrying up and down, the lounging Greeks in their cars, the racing motorcyclists who did not learn anything from the motor accident two weeks earlier between Molyvos and Petra where two young boys died.

Even the Kenderi, the fast boat that races twice a week along the island, is slowing down. Nowadays it is even a few hours late because it has to minimize it speed. There were not only big complaints from Lesvos, but also from Chaldiki, Chios and Turkey.

It was good that this boat was as late as half past six last Sunday. At the usual hour it should pass (2 o'clock in the afternoon) the normally quiet beaches of Eftalou were overflowing with sun umbrellas, Greek and foreign tourists, masses of children playing in the sea, yelling mothers at the water line. If the Kenderi had found this crowd there might have been victims.

There were enough victims already that weekend due to the biggest crash in Greek aviation history when a Cypriot plane went down 40 kilometres north of Athens. So this year on television there were not so many images of the Maria pilgrims and the celebrations. And believe me, there are many of them, pilgrims as well as churches.

Around Assumption Day it is custom to make a pilgrimmage to a church which is dedicated to Maria. This year it will not have been easy because the thermometer in daytime still stays between 35 and 40°C. The distance of the walk varies between some metres, when you are lucky and live next to such a church, or a lot of kilometres when you want to go to the most popular Maria Churches which are on Lesvos, the Panagía Church in Petra which has an especially difficult finish consisting of the many steps you finally have to climb up the Rock of Petra, and the Panagía Church in the mountain village of Ayiasos, which attracts pilgrims who mainly start walking the previous night. Some people say that these pilgrimages have to be done on knees but that is bullshit. Only the most fanatical believers or the worst sinners do the last few metres on their knees. It is the use of the car that is becoming more and more popular.

Most Greek people love crowds and therefore they gather in the popular coastal villages like around Mytilini and all the Skala's. In Petra, which each year turns into an Assumption Amusement Park, you could not see the beach anymore so many people were there. In the Harbour Street in Molyvos it was that busy that it was hard to turn around, especially by car. And even on the tiny beach of Kalo Limano there was no place left for your beach towel. Only the large beach of Kampos seemed to be impossible to change into Brighton beach on a hot summer Sunday. It was as empty as if the Holy Virgin never took off to heaven.

I always give a large sigh on the Assumption Day of Maria. I am sad because this day means the beginning of the end of the summer. Also because I am glad that those masses of people will leave the island. Until the 3rd of September you cannot find a ticket to leave the island, not by plane or by boat. It needs such a long period to get rid of all those Assumption people. And then finally the island will be itself again, the paradise it is for the rest of the year.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 8 August 2005

New supply for the 'How to say it in Greek'

Although the temperatures last week were sometimes a little too high, we have nothing to complain about this summer. Ine zesto (it is hot), we say in Greece when it is hot, as in the past few weeks. Poli vrochi (a lot of rain), we say when it is raining cats and dogs like last Saturday when heavy rain finally put an end to the 3 weeks of heat wave. When you were frightened to death by a big thunderclap that made you sit right up in your bed like people in Molyvos did on Sunday morning at 6 o'clock local time you say: poli boom boom (a lot of boom boom), which is not entirely Greek because the Greek verb for thundering is boomboonizo, but that is a little similar to boom boom, so all the Greeks will understand you.

When your name is Ella you are not supposed to look around when a Greek is calling ella. That word means 'come here' or 'listen' and it is one of the words most used in the Greek language.

On ti kanis (how are you) you should answer kala e si (good, and how are you?), even if your room is not cleaned, your hotel overbooked so that you are banished to the other end of the island, even if you by accident have a room next to the local disco or even when your bathroom runs full of water every time you flush your toilet.

Asto diablo (go to the devil) you shout when Greeks from the big city in a full restaurant are loudly making problems in order to have the exclusive attention of the waitress. They make her run ten times for new water, they send a tomato back because it is wrongly cut, they will not accept the aubergine when there is cheese on top, they do not want a Greek salad with onions in it or they demand the bread poli grigora (very fast) because they think they are the only ones who are hungry.

Etsi ine y zoï (that's life) you say when you want to take the ferry from Athens to Lesvos, but the boat is having problems and does not sail so that you have to wait 24 hours on the quays of Pireaus for a ticket for another overbooked boat and you are getting sunstroke.

Ti na kanoume (what can we do) is your complaint when it is that busy that in the whole of Molyvos all cars and motorcycles are rented out so that there is nothing for it but to spend your holiday at the pool of your hotel or in danger of being roasted daring to take a walk to the village.

Yalia mou ine sti thalassa (my glasses are in the sea) you say when you forgot all about the fast ferry Kenderis that races past the island on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons and which causes a small tsunami half an hour later that makes many towels, mobiles or sunglasses disappear into the sea. Make sure you do pronounce this correctly because when you say "Yaya mou ine sti thalassa" the coastguard will rush out to look for your grandmother who vanished into the waves.

Katze is said when the Greeks want you to sit down. Many times this means an invitation for a drink or something to eat. "Katze" says a bus driver who only speaks Greek to a tourist rep on his bus full of tourists who does not understand any Greek. She keeps on walking through the bus without knowing that the driver prefers driving when everybody is seated. "Katze!" says the driver again when it happens that the rep thinks she understood a word of German and starts looking for a cat in the bus causing more walking. "Ella, Katze!!" the driver will then shout and the rep will take the intercom in order to ask all passengers for help to look for the cat in the bus. Which makes it even busier in the aisles. They will never find 'Der Katze' but for sure katze is the first Greek word this rep ever learned.

Yamas (cheers) you say when you finally reach your balcony to drink an ouzo, after you have managed to make your complaints to an overcooked rep and after you finally explained to your car renter that you just had to avoid a cat when you bumped into a wall with his car. Yaamaas you say when you drink your second glass of ouzo to celebrate that you discovered your wallet on the pedestal cupboard, after you had been looking the whole night for the police station because you thought you lost your wallet in the tsunami wave. Yaamaar you say at your third glass of ouzo because you had to walk all the way back to your hotel after waiting for an hour at the cab-stand without seeing one taxi appearing. Yammie you say drinking your fourth glass of ouzo because you feel so well sitting on your balcony deep in the night in the cool breeze. Yaya you say over your fifth glass of ouzo because you think you saw a falling star. You whisper ya at your sixth glass because there is nothing else to say. You should say Kali nichta (good night) pouring out your seventh glass but then I think you already nearly fell off your balcony.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 1 August 2005

Cowboys in the sun

In the same weekend that the Dutch Ankie van Grunsven got gold for breaking in with her horse Salinero, the Molyvos Cowboys (and one cowgirl) also attempted to break in their horses. It was the annual festival of Agia Theoktisti, a little church next to the Alonia restaurant. It is celebrated by the Pegasus horse club in Molyvos and starts on Friday night to collect money for the party by having a procession through the village. Quite Greek because the band that was supposed to participate in the cortege of the four legged animals was late by one hour, which gave the horsemen plenty of time to bring their horses close to a nervous breakdown.

The procession with the hot-blooded horses went in the direction of the harbour with a big cow in front. The main thing was to impress the unsuspecting passersby. The riders were dressed like stout cowboys and most horses were hung with colourful halters, neck-chains and other decorations, even the frail foals had necklaces. The cow in front was bearing a garland, at the back it had a thick pack of mud. Many a horse showed off dangerously so that the tourists had to back off. It was a restless procession that ended at the starting point at the restaurant of Alonia where there was plenty of ouzo to continue the night.

Saturday was the Holy Day. A mass was celebrated at the little church of Theoktisti and then the traditional dish of 'kiskek' was prepared in big kettles. The food was to be distributed to everyone who seems to be hungry. Nobody knows why this little Molyvos church has three days of celebration with the horses. Molyvos is known for its tourists and not for its horses. One could suggest something about another procession on the same weekend: of tourists. In the high season the Harbour Street is already a big parade every night. But maybe with some garlands, some traditional clothing - so that we know what foreigners they are - and some free glasses of ouzo it will be an even better parade.

The Horse Days ended Sunday night at the horse track. The horse track is above the Garden Village of Molyvos. It consists of a gate and a track for the horses. Some policemen were trying to keep the public on the right tracks, but a Greek is a Greek and does not listen to a police officer. They parked where they thought it would be a good place and they walked wherever they wanted, even straight over the horse track. Which was all well because each race was run by only two horses who reared more than they ran. So the people just stepped away when it was necessary.

For the outsiders it was hard to make a distinction between all categories, but finally many prizes were awarded. Maybe one tried to copy Anke van Grunsven, only the horse could not control his legs, maybe another horse should have run as fast as he could but was not in the mood because of the still high temperature. It was the usual Greek Chaos.

At the end some horses ran overenthusiastically down the road back home. Two ladies just escaped from being run over and jumped in the bushes beside the road. They were thorny bushes and they had to be saved by the people from the ambulance who were already there for emergencies.

The quietness returned, also for the horses in the meadow in front of our house. They were not allowed to participate in the festival and were therefore pretty cross. Officially they have no names but I call them Toto, Tristan, Tarzan and Troy. Troy is a sweet grey horse with big eyes and he liked to take some walks on the Eftalou Boulevard. He stepped over the wreckage that is supposed to be a fence and made a parade on his own along the fence. Toto, Tristan and Tarzan encouraged him from the meadow like a bunch of naughty children. Then Troy thought about going on to the beach and that was a sign for the bystanders to try to get the horse back into the meadow. You do not want a car to run over the horse!

Troy is as pigheaded as the farmer who did not repair the fence. So that was done by a couple of tourists on Saturday. Thank you, folks! So you see that even when it is too hot to move, there are still plenty of things going on.

Thanks to the endless heatwave the water is becoming scarce, also the electricity company is having problems. Sunday night for one hour it was pitch dark on the entire island. I seated myself in the middle of our road and admired the stars. Amongst all the falling stars there was one with a big flickering tail. I was so surprised that I completely forgot to make a wish. Otherwise I might have wished that next year Ankie van Grunsven would come here to teach a lesson to the Lesvian Cowboys. Some of them really do need some discipline.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 25 July 2005

A beastly mess

It is hot in Greece, very hot. We are lucky to live on an island at the seaside, but still here it is pretty warm. Even in Eftalou the thermometer is trying to reach 40°C (in the shade). It is wise not to move too much, or just to forget about your clothes always wet with perspiration and take a cool shower more times a day. Because cooking goes on, work does not stop and especially: cleaning has to be done.

The cats are most hours at their last gasp, the flies bite the whole day through, the moths are still clustering around the lights and the mosquitos whisper without mercy in your ear: I'm gonna bite you! The tree-frogs seem to live off the hot air. The warmer it is, the louder their screaming sounds. As well as the birds who are not bothered by the heat and go on with their twittering and chattering as second voices.

The wasps sing victorious war songs when they have managed to enter another ripe pear in the pear tree. What makes them thirsty. The moment you put a glass with refreshment to your lips, they arrive as fast as flies smell honey. So we offered them their own drink. You cut a plastic bottle in two, put the upper part where you take off the top in the under part, make some strings and hang the bottle in the tree. Pour some orangeade in it, because that is what is said they like best. And that is right, because in some days the yellow fluid will be brown with these thirsty animals.

This week we had to deal with another problem: the ants. Here you have ants of all sizes. From the big 2cm ones to the tiny-tiny ones you can hardly see. Our troublesome ones were those of the regular size. They decided to attack our bathroom. After they send out some scouts, they opened a highway straight through the shower. That was not very clever because our shower these days is doing overtime and before each shower the cabin is thoroughly cleaned.

You ask yourself what they have to find in our shower cabin. And why they think it necessary to make holes in the wall, so that the shower is turned into a shoot. But we found a solution: to fill all the cracks. It looked like that was going to help.

At the same time they ventured into our pantry. No ant spotted our jars of beautiful sweet jam which are in between the pots with capers, olives and liqueurs. Our jars with jam are very well closed, so no ant can smell them. But we did forget the packs of sugar. We enveloped them carefully in layers of plastic bags. But the ants were happy to discover those ones and they secretly managed to make holes in the plastic, into the packages and one very hot morning when I opened the pantry I was surprised by a waterfall of sugar and ants.

Then there is no way out but to get wet. The sugar has to be swept and dusted off, the whole pantry has to be emptied, all has to be thoroughly cleaned with soap, mopping, sweeping, to be short: everything you try to avoid to do on a day when the temperature indoors is above 40°C.

But that still was not the end of our suffering. Jan already complained that he was bitten in bed by an ant. And on this same day the ant scouts delivered their reports and it was decided to open another highway through our bed!

What to do with a column of ants, coming out of the wall, climbing determinedly on the bed, crossing our sheets, climbing down to the floor again to disappear in exactly the same wall as they came out? We were very damp with perspiration thinking of a solution.

I know that you have sprays against all vermin, but sleeping in that toxic shit, no, thank you very much. And then it was Sunday, most shops were closed. So this first day there was no other solution than to go to sleep elsewhere: we were chased from our bed by the ants! While Jan slept in his work room, I took the couch. With a snoring cat on my belly I was thinking of revenge.

The next day I read some useful information on the internet: "Ants are exterminated, when you wet a sponge with sugar water and lay it down. The ant will go into the sponge and you kill them with hot water." Well, with all those columns of ants in the house, I will clean forever.
"Ants can be terminated, if you mix fresh chervil or potash with sugar and this mixture is strewn about." Mmm, I do not know if they have chervil here and what is potash...
"Ants can be expelled by mixing sugar and petroleum, put it in the spots where the ants are and light the fire." Great, then we also have a house on fire!
"Ants are killed when weak beer is poured into a saucer which is placed near the ants". Yes, that one I know already for snails. Then 2 snails come to drink the beer, the other ones want whiskey!
"A dark glazed jar is half filled with honey, syrup or sugar water. Close the jar with dark paper and make a hole in the middle as big as a pea. All ants will go into the jar and be killed." Well, that sounded attractive, especially that last sentence. I made a hole in a top of a coffee jar, I made sugar water, put that into the jar and put that next to the bed. In no time the jar was black with ants. They disappeared into the hole, but seemed to run out as fast as they entered. After some hours, just a few of them died in the sweet liquid.

In the mean time we put a cup with orangeade in our pantry. That seemed to work as well. Just a cup of lemonade made the ants crazy and by thousands they tried to climb into the cup. Without swimming- belts they were lost and hundreds of them died in the yellow fluid. At all strategic points we put cups with orangeade.

For an unknown reason after some hours all ants disappeared from the bedroom. Were they defeated by our attacking strategies? The highway was closed and in the jar with sugar water only a few black bodies were roaming the surface.

It looked like they withdrew themselves all into the pantry where they kept busy with climbing the cups of orangeade. It looked like we had to be patient. At the same time they again forced themselves into the shower. We served them orangeade to encourage them.

That night we took our bed back and slept very well, without one ant disturbing us. Next they also had enough of the pantry. The sugar was gone and still no ant discovered the jams. They had enough as well from the shower. As real soldiers they now march around the shower. As long as they do not tear the house apart and they stay marching on in a straight column I leave them doing so one more day. And then we will spray them away. But first this terrible heat has to go out of the house...

Copyright © Smitaki 2005

Monday, 11 July 2005


As many people who regularly visit the island or this column know, there exists a Wildlife Hospital on the island. Do not think by wildlife we mean elephants or zebras, those animals are not to be found here, even when you go on safari, the most popular excursion of Lesvos.

The biggest species of wild animals on Lesvos are the foxes who drive the farmers to desperation by attacking their innocent lambs. But also on Lesvos, foxes are protected animals. You have a lot of birds ranging from pink flamingos, some pelicans, big birds of prey, the common or garden ones to minuscule owls. And then you have small game like tortoises, field mice and squirrels.

The Dutch couple Joris and Ineke Peeters-Lenglet have created this centre. For some years now they have run this first-aid and reception- for-animals-center in Agia Paraskevi. They were given the central park there to transform it into a small zoological garden, but since the last elections of 1.5 years ago and hundreds of man hours to build cages and footpaths, the new mayor decided to claim back the park because he said it was a fire risk. Now the park is empty again, no regular visitors anymore and they think the fire risk is over...

Joris and Ineke managed to get their neighbouring building in order to house the homeless animals. Again they had to build cages and cages and felt just like Hercules. What happens in the Wildlife Hospital and what animals are brought in there, you can read best on their website. Joris writes monthly reports on their daily life and a medical diary. Do not be afraid that it will be too boring to read. In spite of the hard fight against the cruelty to animals and the hard work Joris has a remarkable humour in describing all the sad things they encounter.

The Animal of the Month for Athens was a dolphin who got lost in the Harbour of Piraeus. For the first time in history the port stopped all traffic on the water for one hour in order that people could lead the dolphin out to open sea.

The Animal of the Month on Lesvos was the Caretta Caretta, a turtle found by a fisherman from Panagiouda (near Mytilini) in open sea. It is not such a big event finding a turtle in the sea, when you are lucky you even see dolphins dancing around the waves. What the fisherman found was a Caretta Caretta who kept on swimming in circles. And unlike cats who can endlessly chase their tails, for a turtle it is no normal behaviour. So the fisherman called the Wildlife Hospital, but they only own an old ambulance which is not exactly seaworthy. They managed to get the coastguard to pick up the animal. I leave the rest of the story to Joris. You can read what happened with the Caretta Caretta on their website in the report on the month of June 2005:

The only thing I will add is that this sea creature of over 100 kilos was that big that they had to remove the door of their consulting room in order to examine the turtle.

Dogs and cats officially do not belong to wild animals, although you find a lot of cats and dogs who are left on their own and so are half wild because they have to survive in nature. These animals also are brought in big numbers to the Wildlife Hospital, mostly in awfully poor condition. There are Greeks who consider these animals as throw- away-pets. I will not describe the atrocities Joris and Ineke see, just read their website.

Since last winter we have a doggy named Rocky. It is half Poodle and half Pekingese. Friends who know us will have a big laugh about this: what will we be doing with such a lap-monster. But Rocky has grown into a very lovely ball of black wool. He could do with an under brace but his black sweet eyes immediately make you fall in love with him. His hair growth although is reason to worry because most of the times Rocky is a 'chorta'-dog, which means that he drags fields of grass with him. Everywhere he has those mean sharp grass tops on him, a certain crop that grows abundantly this summer, because also Ineke and Joris have plenty of patients with the same complaints.

These thorns not only stick into the hair but settle as well in the folds, ears, eyes and nose, which creates inflammations. In May we had to take Rocky to a vet in Kaloni because he had ear pain. He was immediately sedated with drugs and I was taken aback when the vet tore complete grasses out of his ear. Now the poor doggy is somewhat anti-chorta, but still we have to grass-control him and make sure that he has no inflammations.

It drives me crazy because each day again he is full of it. And those nasty things not only settle on the dog but climb into your clothes as if they were real vermin. Before you know you are on a consulting table, stuffed full of drugs. So you see, meeting a big turtle at sea is not so dangerous as meeting such a stupid little grass top.

Copyright © Smitaki 2005