Monday, 28 August 2006

Falling stars

Greece is a country of sun, sea and many islands which are the playgrounds of the wind. That is why we have to wonder why Germany, a country not really known for its sunny days, produces far more solar energy than Greece. And that such a small country as Denmark produces a lot more wind energy than all those thousands of Greek islands and the mainland, which is a pretty big surface.

The Greek electricity system is a little outdated and each time a peak is expected, like high Summer Season or like two years ago for the Olympic Games, many a Greek is afraid the whole system will collapse when there are so many foreigners visiting their country.

On Lesvos this high season passed without too many problems. We only had a blackout a few times, although the water supply got a nasty shock from it. Even though Lesvos has some flapping windmills between Antissa and Eresos, these cannot provide enough electricity for the whole island.

I am used to it. Candles are always ready, just as a torch has its place right next to the front door. The high season is over. As well as the high temperatures in the heat wave: they went a little bit lower and today the temperature even dipped below 30°C. But still something went wrong with the electricity and the island was pitch black again last night.

Probably more than once the Turks on the other side of the sea will have a good laugh about the island. Their lights continue to twinkle and in all the years I have lived here on Lesvos I've never caught them with a 'blackout', an English word that the Greeks now frequently use.

Yesterday night I missed the open fire that spreads such warm light when the electricity blacks out in winter time. The blackout yesterday evening gave me a good opportunity to look at the stars. The month of August is well known for its falling stars and in the two hours I stared at the twinkling lights in the heavens I saw seven falling. And I made the same wish seven times, so I'm pretty sure my wish will come true.

I know that a falling star is a meteor falling through our atmosphere before it disappears. In ancient times such natural phenomena were explained by myths. Asteria, which means star in Greek, is also the Goddess of falling stars, of oracles and of visionary dreams. When Zeus once bothered her, she escaped him by jumping from heaven into the sea on earth. There she transformed herself into an island, the island that is now known as Delos (next to Mykonos). After this Asteria's sister Letos put her son Apollo on this island.

Another story about falling stars is that at such a moment the Gods are curious to see what is going on beneath them on earth. They open a bit of the firmament to peep through it and sometimes a star escapes that will fall down. This is the right moment to make a wish, because you know then that the Gods are close and looking at you.

The ancient Greeks believed that these falling meteors were human souls travelling to and from the stars. The ancient Jews and Christians thought they were falling angels or demons.

I sometimes think: if it is right that the wish you make comes true if you see a falling star... How many wishes could you make? Yesterday night I saw seven falling stars in two hours. Calculate for yourself how many stars will fall in one month! If all those wishes came true, I am sure that the world would be a happier place.

It is not that I complain about Lesvos. Well, they could make some improvements in managing their environment, or have more respect for animals... But those blackouts at least make sure that something is happening on the island. As you can see, this week I have nothing special to report.

There is even no news about the Anatoli restaurant. Except that a lot of people from all over the world sent very supportive mails. This week they are handing over a petition to the mayor. Let's hope that Angelos (the owner of Anatoli) sometimes has the time to watch the merry stars. And that he believes that the Gods can do something, so that he will not forget to make his wish, seeing a falling star...

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Cooling coffee

Friends of mine started asking if the Greek alphabet is really short, because the Kitchen-ABC of Lesvos has not been continued. Well, no, dear readers, at the moment it is so incredibly hot that even thinking about the Greek alphabet will cause me to overheat. First I have to think about which dishes, then I have to find out the right spelling and then encoding all the Greek letters for the internet causes another effort of searching and thinking. Do not worry, the follow up is coming.

This week my sister brought a digital thermometer which shows the inside and outside temperatures. So you'll understand why this week you get a lot of numbers. At this moment the outside temperature in the shade is 38.2°C and inside 30.4°C. We could have used an air conditioner in order to get cool, but I prefer not to have such big temperature changes going in and out. A few times already I was in an air conditioned ice cold car and when you open the car door you get an incredible wave of hot air that makes you gasp for air. I think these changing temperatures are not good for your health, so air conditioners, we do not use.

You're better to cool off at the seaside, although the seawater is sometimes that hot that it not always cools you. Instead of writing about Greek dishes, I'd better write about a cooling drink.

Coffee is one of the important things in Greek life. Passing a kafenion you always see somebody sipping at his coffee. Greeks do not make themselves crazy with all those fancy new machines for making all kinds of coffee, they do not like filter coffee or espresso, but stick with their traditional cup of Turkish coffee called 'Greek coffee' (kafé hellenikos). The only new style that has conquered the Greek market since 1957 is frappé, iced coffee. This is made with the famous instant coffee Nescafé. Do not make the mistake, when you want to order this iced coffee to order a Nescafé (in short: nes). Because then they will serve you a hot cup of coffee: a splash of hot water with Nescafé.

While I think and write this, the temperature outside has gone down to 38.0°C (the sun moves, so you have a deeper shadow). Inside, the temperature has risen to 30.9°C. My sister says that smoking a cigarette will also cause an increase in the temperature in a room. So I will try to smoke less, although it is difficult to write without a cigarette between your fingers.

It is not that simple to order a coffee here in Greece. First (being a foreigner) they ask you if you want a hellenikos or a Nescafé. When you want an iced coffee you order a frappé. Then the question follows how you want your coffee. There are three possibilities: 'skèto', which means with no sugar. 'Metrio' means that you get as many spoons of coffee as sugar and with a 'gliko' you get more spoons of sugar than coffee. These terms are for all 3 kinds of coffee (hellenikos, nes and frappé) Ordering a frappé or a nes you can also ask for some milk: mè gala (with milk).

The traditional coffee is made with a warm hearth. They use a small pan with a long handle called a briki. Water is poured into the briki, then the coffee and finally the sugar. The briki is heated above a gas stove (traditionally above hot ashes) and when the coffee boils foam rises out of the briki. That is the sign to take the briki from the heat source, let the foam settle and repeat this another two times. The coffee is served in very tiny cups. In Turkey and some Arabian countries they also add some cardamom.

The coffee is always served with a big glass of fresh water. This not only helps you to digest the coffee, but it rinses your mouth, so with the next sip you can better taste the coffee. The Greeks use a very fine ground coffee which also ends up in the cup. You slurp your coffee and use your lips as a filter. The sediment that stays behind in the cup is perfect for fortune telling, but that is another story.

Frappé is usually made in a shaker: put 1 to 2 spoons of Nescafé in the shaker, the amount of sugar you like and a little bit of water. Shake it for a few minutes, but take care that the lid is firmly closed, otherwise you will need an hour or so to clean your kitchen. You pour the foam into a long drinking glass, add ice cubes and fill it up with ice cold water.

You would think that writing about such a cooling delicacy would decrease the temperature. But no; the inside temperature has risen again and is now 31°C. If I were to wring out my dress I could not only fill a cup for hellenikos coffee, but even fill a cup for nes.

Nowadays they sell a very handy little mixer for frappé. In under a minute this little machine makes a delicious foam (ideal for these temperatures: just thinking about shaking the shaker will make you hotter). This machine is not only perfect for making frappé, but also for turning a hot nes into a nice cappuccino. The risk of filling your kitchen with coffee is also less, you must be really clumsy to manage to do this with the small mixer.

The recipe with the mixer is the same: put coffee, sugar and/or milk in the glass. Pour three fingers of water in the glass and mix until everything has become a steady foam. Fill up with ice cubes and water. This coffee is especially good on hot days.

But you can make an even better frappé: real iced coffee, This recipe comes from my own kitchen, so do not order a frappé with cappuccino ice sitting in a kafenion, or whatever flavour you fancy, but experiment at home. When you pour the foam in a glass, add vanilla ice cream on top. Then you fill up with ice cubes and water. You serve it with a straw and a long spoon.

For some unknown reason this year I have not been able to get vanilla ice cream in the local supermarket. It is either sold out, or people have gone crazy for all those fancy new brands with exciting flavours and nobody asks anymore for normal ice creams. So I was forced to do some experimenting with chocolate ice, ice with caramel and nuts, butter scotch, tiramisu with real pieces of chocolate and so on. The result was smashing but not good for the budget because the best ice has the highest price. But the coffee hour has become a real treat.

Do carefully read first what flavours are in the ice. Strawberry ice cream gives your coffee a pretty strange taste. I did not check out the lemon ice yet, but I can imagine it that will not be a big success. For the people who do not drink coffee: the Nescafé can be replaced by decaffeinated or cocoa. Who knows maybe strawberry ice cream will go very well with a cocoa frappé!

I am now writing at such a speed about such a cooling and fine tasting glass of coffee that the temperature inside has reached 31.5°C. Outside the temperature continues to increase: 37.1°C! It really is time for a nice cool glass of coffee!

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 14 August 2006

High season

Other years around the Ascension of Maria, on the 15th of August, the island has often been cooled by a shower. This year it looks as if the Weather gods will let Maria go to heaven in rather higher temperatures. Although last week there seemed to have been a disagreement on this typical weather: parts of the island were very happy to get a cooling shower. Other parts like Eftalou did not get one drop, while the far part of Eftalou, near the Eftalou restaurant, the one of Manolis, enjoyed ten minutes of heavy rain!

The island really needs all this water. Last week the northern part of the island, Molyvos, Petra and Anaxos, had serious water problems. This resulted in tourists fleeing their hotels and some even left the island. Only after some hotel managers complained to the island's government, the army was send out to transport water from springs to hotels and a day later there was running water again in the bathrooms of Molyvos. Only Anaxos, whose water problems were different, is still said to have some problems.

Well, these days there are enough angry tourists. They complain about all kind of things. They get bored, there are not enough glasses in their room, their toilet is not well enough cleaned, they think the salad is not properly washed. Tourists seem to not realize that they have travelled to a Greek island, where it is Greek High Season and everybody is worn out, because it is so busy and so terribly hot.

Let me give you one good piece of advice: Do not come to the island around the 15th of August. Unless you like to force your way in the midst of thousands of screaming Greeks shambling slowly towards the harbour. Unless you want to enjoy a noisy Greek family which seats itself just next to your towel on the beach. Unless you like to philosophise on the waitress who takes one hour to bring you your beer. Unless you are happy to have to end your romantic dinner because a whole Greek family takes possession of the dinning hall where you are eating. Unless you like to rediscover the old bread because the fresh is now always sold out. Unless you embrace some stress being on the road because so many Greeks seem to have never learned their highway code.

And when you want to make complaints about all of this, do not go to your tour leader! They arealready up to their eyeballs in the problems their bosses cause: overbooking, flight delays, bankruptcy. Realize that the hotels do everything to make your stay as comfortable as they can, but sometimes they have such little money that they are also facing a mountain of problems.

For example. Did you know that a lot of hotels who last year had guests from the Dutch tour operator Belair never got paid, because that company went bankrupt? And for sure you know that most of the hotels on Lesvos are family affairs. So that whe such a travel company does not pay it brings them huge financial problems. Last week the same happened to a Scandinavian tour operator. It went bankrupt but still had some guests on the island who were scheduled to go home with the last flight. Well, people on Lesvos learnt their lesson from Belair. The Greek travel agent told the hotels to hold onto the passports of their Scandinavian customers until all hotels and tour leaders were paid. And it worked. Everybody got paid and the guests could go home without any delay. It is said that on Crete they were not that smart and they will probably face other debts.

Tonight and tomorrow the Greeks on Lesvos will all visit a Church of Maria. Especially the churches in Mandamados, Agiassos and Petra. Some will make it a pilgrimage: crawling on hands and knees, some on foot and others by car. On the sea delayed ferries will race to their destinations and in the blue sky planes hurry to transport other Greeks to their holiday islands.

Tomorrow it is Ascension Day of Maria. At noon the Greeks will celebrate the day with an extended lunch, after which they will lie down for their well deserved siesta. Then their vacation will be over, they will pack their belongings and leave. But such a mass cannot leave the island on one day. So slowly, slowly the island will become itself again, being friendly to the guests and the people working at the restaurants will even remember how to smile. But do not be amazed, if on a deserted beach, you see a big Greek family approaching and of all the places to sit down, they will put their umbrella right next to your towel. I have yet to have anybody explain to me this Greek sociable behaviour, which also means that Greek people like to make busy restaurants even busier and will never sit down in an empty restaurant. Somewhere there must be an island that is so quiet that no Greek will ever put a foot on its soil. I am wondering where that can be...

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 7 August 2006


Lesvos is an island full of water. Thanks to the snowy mountaintops and slopes where you find plenty of woodland, especially in the winter lots of water is flowing down the rivers. Even when it does not rain during the summer months, the island has plenty of wells and natural springs and you can always find a small stream of water gurgling through the mountains.

The Romans liked building because during their history they left lots of buildings all over the world. When they conquered Lesvos around 88 BC, they started building here as well. They made huge aqueducts so that cities like Mytilini and Molyvos (formerly Mythimna) could have running water. The water came from the springs on Olympos and Lepetimnos. It is even said that in this way they even got hot water from the hot springs. Imagine, Molyvos might have had city heating at that time!

Remains of this glorious time rich with waterworks can be found everywhere on the island! First of all there is the huge aqueduct near Moria. It has its 12 pillars firmly on the ground and amazing arches, consisting of huge stones which were placed there in the second century AD, curling themselves in between. The aqueduct was 170 meters long, it originally had 17 arches, of which 7 are still left and the structure was 23 metres high. The waterway was maybe 22 kilometres long.

A second aqueduct, which was part of the same waterway, is hidden close to Lambou Mili. This neglected Roman structure is now in a breathtaking landscape and can only to be visited on foot or by jeep. Only a few walking guides give directions how to get there. But when you find it, the view from this amazing aqueduct, that barely can hold its stones above the tree tops, will pay back all your trouble to reach it.

Molyvos also got water from these sources. Only one pillar which once bore the waterway remains: a lonely tower on one of the hills at the back of the city, the so called loutra.

That this system became dilapidated and disappeared, is a shame. Now you have to get in your car to go to the spring. Which is badly needed these days. Since the high season started a few days ago, masses of Greek tourists have come to the island. The hotels and apartments are full and all holiday homes are bursting with large Greek families. The beaches are crowded, and all these people have to shower. The temperature does not want to go below 30°C, so all air conditioners work overtime. Telephones have to be recharged, water boilers work all day, electric cookers are used the whole day through and who knows how many children still hang around the television. The electricity company is having hard times. So we were not surprised when last Friday night the island became pitch dark. Well, there remained some light from the moon and the twinkling stars.

Saturday morning again there was no electricity and this time no water was coming out of the taps. The pumps distributing the water got crazy from the electricity cuts. So now forlarge parts of the day we are without water. Not funny, because it is at the times that people come back from the beach, want a shower and want to cook.

But how can you clean your just caught fish or wash your salad? You have to wait for hours before some drips of water are available. And when your salty skin starts feeling scratchy, there is no other way than to wash with water from a bottle.

We are in the luxurious position that our fields get water from a well. Yesterday after I waited for hours to get a shower I finally ran into the fields in a bathing suit under the water sprinklers. Great fun because it was like being a child again, jumping in the jets of water and getting a cooling shower this way.

In the Valley of Ligonas, behind Petra, around 1940 the 18th century mills which used to work all year around were closed. In the past you took your corn by donkey or horse to the mills in order to get flour. Now the mills are ruins in a beautiful landscape and can only be admired by walkers. Everywhere on the island you will find ruins of old watermills. There is plenty of water on the island. It is only that the modern system cannot assure that the water is reaching you. Or is it the increase in the number of tourists that causes these watercuts...

I am wondering if in the times of the Romans they had the same problems, because in that time Lesvos was also a pretty popular holiday destinations. Or that the mills in Petra stopped working in the 20th century because too many tourists visited Petra...

Fact is that thanks to the high season I now water my plants daily around 1 o'clock at night. Then I still have to wash the dishes, after which I have to wash some clothes and fill up spare bottles with water. When it is finally time to wash the sardines, I sigh. Maybe this time the cats can have a great meal. I'd rather like to go to bed.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006