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