Tuesday, 24 October 2006

The new Mayor

It is WARM again on Lesvos! The cold north wind has given way to a gentle breeze. Although there are always clouds clinging to the mountain tops, it is blue skies everywhere else. Even the evenings are that warm that they tempt you to sit outside. The autumn dampness and the rising temperatures make huge mushrooms leap from the earth. Autumn really has started this time.

Last Sunday we had a picnic to celebrate a friends purchase of a new piece of land. The site has a fantastic view. To one side you overlook Lepetimnos. First the village of Vafios, then some lower mountains and finally the tops where the clouds try to roll over. On the other side you can see the small town of Molyvos and its bay, where on that day no wind disturbed the blue surface of the water. When the sun set over the sea and we re-lit the barbeque because of the dampness, no one wanted to go home. You slowly saw all the lights of Molyvos appearing, then the spotlights around the castle, and finally we had a perfect sky above us full of twinkling stars.

Around eight o'clock we were startled by some shooting in the village. Well, when there is a new pope white smoke comes from the chimney. Here in Greece shooting means that there is a celebration and on this Sunday it was because a new Mayor had been elected. A few people immediately took to their telephones and the news was brief: Stelios Karadonis is the new Mayor of Molyvos. Maybe he was not our first choice, but we drank another retsina to his victory. After that our mood was fine, we searched for wood with a torch to light the fire and it was some hours before we decided it was time to go to bed.

Yesterday we were discussing the island and some tourists complained about all the rubbish you find everywhere, especially on Lesvos. Just as in others countries, in Greece every region has a saying about other regions. They say about the people of Lesvos that they are farmers, they spend all their money as soon as they get it and they have no idea what a tidy countryside should look like. Even Cretans come here and complain about the dumps everywhere. The people of Lesvos are also known as the men with pickaxes. This is because they had to clear away all the rocks when they built the airport. They all had to be removed by hand!

I don't know if Stelios Karadonis knows how to educate his people not to throw away their old household wares in the beautiful valleys, hills and mountains. Or if he knows how to stop people throwing rubbish out of their cars while driving. Fortunately there is a municipal council that has a say as well.

Building a new central rubbish dump was no false promise just for the elections. They have started building this near Agia Paraskevi. But they still haven't decided on a site for a new power station. So the main power station in Mytilini has to be enlarged, which is bad news for the people living nearby (near the MINI plant). More households will not be able to hang their washing outside. It is so bad that white washing immediately gets dirty again.

It will take a few more years on Lesvos before they realise how they can have a clean environment. And when they do they'll probably have to deal with other problems: town planning. At the moment all nice spots like fields and hill tops are sold to people who want to build houses. Never mind if they spoil the view for the area or obscure other views. I understand that a lot of people want to come and live here, and are hunting for the best places with the nicest views. But I am sure that when you come back here in ten years time you will not recognise the small town of Molyvos: a clean city full of suburbs with a view of... houses!

NB: There will be no Lesvos News next week, because I am on holiday.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Tuesday, 17 October 2006


It is COLD here on Lesvos! It is not a nice autumn here; all too suddenly the summer finished, giving way to wintry weather. You may think that's pretty normal for October. Not here. In October on Lesvos there should be plenty of warm autumn sunshine so that the countryside will be brightly coloured. In the daytime you should have the time to say goodbye to the hot sun while picking up chestnuts and enjoying lunch outside. In the evenings you should sit outside enjoying a soft night by a fire. Now slate grey skies cloak the island and a cold and sharp northern wind howls over the mountains and through the valleys. I must admit that we were waiting for black clouds. But the idea was that they should bring rain and not just fly over the island. Why else would we want dark clouds?

The island is still very dry, unlike the rest of the country, where floods and other watery disasters are daily news. The few drops which have fallen on Lesvos were just enough to grow some meagre grass and for the autumn crocuses to sprout, but the environment here needs a lot more water.

Yesterday we were surprised by a sunny day with nearly no wind. We took the opportunity to go for a ride, because the weather forecast was not good for the next few days. We went to Palios, where even in summer small pools are filled with water where frogs and turtles have a merry life and where the unique Ruddy Shelducks have their home. They were not there this time, because the pools were nearly empty. Some of them still had just a little bit of water while others were like an African landscape with the dried earth full of cracks. Very sad.

The strawberry trees though didn't look too bothered by the drought. The round strawberry balls they carry as fruit were already cherry red and tasted lovely. The sea was soft and warm from the sun. Today I cannot imagine that yesterday I swam in the blue waters of the Bay of Palios, looking out to the mysterious White Islands (Nissi Aspro), shining brightly against the background of the Turkish mainland. At the end of the afternoon the beautiful weather suddenly stopped, as if the good weather was a mistake. The wind got up, speeding up during the night. Today it is a stormy grey day and it is that cold that you steal looks at the mountains, wondering if some snow may already have fallen...

The municipal elections also didn't bring any sunshine. In Molyvos, just like 4 years ago, they were won by the parties of the present Mayor Lefteris Vogiatzis and that of Stelios Karadonis. This Sunday the elections will not be so exciting; I think the most interesting parties are already out of it.

In Petra it was more exciting. First here is the report of Karin Haake about the first night, when the Speakers Corner was set up in the main square in Petra: "A huge movie screen was set up and was attached with ropes to the wooden electricity masts at the other side of the street. A first check was done, the microphones and cameras etc. were checked. While the promoters, the official representatives from the church and the army and the public were watching and waiting on the nearby terraces the unexpected happened: A tourist bus came from the direction of Anaxos not expecting any problems. The driver, who did not see what was happening (there were no warnings at all), continued as usual. So all the spectators watched while the bus, which was pretty high, drove through and took all the ropes with it. You saw in slow motion, like a house of cards collapsing, the fall of the movie screen, the spotlights which crashed and the cameras which fell to the ground. Then, as though on purpose, a few minutes of silence... And then the big drama unfolded: men waving their arms in the air, shaking their heads, some nearly lying on the floor in despair, shouting and screaming. The bus was already gone, the driver probably pretending not to have noticed. One policeman joined the chaos, but there was nothing left to be done. Harsh Greek discussions started and within half an hour they started rebuilding, so that the speeches could start just on time."

This was only the start of the election hassles of Petra. Now they say that people in Skoutaros perpetrated fraud on the first Sunday of the elections, so they'll probably have to do it all over again.

Nothing new either with the secondary school teachers, who demanded a 45% rise in their salary and to get it went on strike just one week after school started in September. They're now on the 5th week of their strike and everybody is complaining. Not only mothers, who do not know what to do with their children, but also people who get annoyed by the children hanging around on the streets and being so bored that they harass passersby. While in Athens tough confrontations take place between the police and the striking teachers, supported by the parents, in Molyvos all complaints are about the teachers who fail the children so easily and for so long.

So nothing is new under the sun, which doesn't even shine here on the island. Everybody gets bad tempered and that is maybe why they forecast a cold winter. It is like the olives feel the same. They started colouring too soon and are already falling from the trees. This has nothing to do with the weather, but with insects which infect the olives. Because nearly everybody on the island now grows organic olives, they're no longer sprayed with pesticides. So the flies have the time of their lives attacking the olives and the olive presses will have to open a month earlier.

Or do the olives have a premonition about the weather and should we expect a hard winter? I will get out my winter clothes. Kalo Chimonas!

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 9 October 2006

Election Fever

Just like everywhere in Greece the village of Molyvos is full of election fever. Every night there are gatherings where people try to raise votes for a new Mayor. Next Sunday will be the first round. Then all the Greeks have to vote. And they all have to be sober. Officially, selling alcohol after midnight on Saturday is forbidden. So that will be a really cozy Saturday Night.

You have to vote where you are born or registered, which means this coming weekend a large migration will take place in Greece. A lot of people have to travel back or forth from Athens and so on, wherever they come from. Let's hope the weather will be better than last weekend. Lesvos was lucky with all the rain, having just a few showers. But in the North of Greece and around Thessaloniki there was a state of emergency because of all the flooded houses and floods destroying roads.

On Sunday 15 October you can vote for 2 members of one 'mayors list' for the municipal council (you vote for the people, not for a political party). The two parties with the most votes then compete the next Sunday for who will become the new Mayor.

In Molyvos there are five candidates: Nicos Molvalis, Dionisis Karatsalis, Kralli Raloe (short: Raloe) Konstantellis, Stelios Karadonis and the actual Mayor Lefteris Vogiatzis. If you asked a candidate from a Mayors party a week ago what the programme was of the candidate Mayor, they would not know. So finally last week all the manifestos came out, and I assure you, they are all pretty promising. Molyvos is going to be paradise on earth, if you really believe all the future Mayors.

Dionisis Karatsalis is the candidate for the communist party, short: KKE (spoken: koukou-aa). As a real red rascal he is against the capitalist state of America, Europe and NATO. According to the KKE the money from Europe only goes to the big industries, the wages are too low in Greece, the taxes too high and there is too much unemployment. In local matters they think the 5 euro entrance for the Hot Springs is too much, the 2% tax each restaurant and shop has to pay in Molyvos is too high and the power of the tourist operators needs to be smaller. Dionisis wants a museum, a better library and a better exploitation of the Hot Springs.

But to be honest, everybody wants the same. And Dionisis did not read the manifesto of the actual Mayor Lefteris, because in there he explains what he did in the last 4 years. Besides the improvement of sewage, drainage and roads, he got money from Europe to improve walking paths and their signs (44,000 euros) and he got a 1,625,000 euro European subsidy to renew the main street of Molyvos going to the harbour. I understand now why everybody in Molyvos was so annoyed the whole winter long by this big project. You do not spend that amount of money in just one month. Another creation of Lefteris is the Molyvos kafenion (there was no kafenion anymore in Molyvos). I call that one the Living Room of the Mayor because each night you can find him there. Lefteris' impressive program has full colour pictures of other things that Mayors should usually do. But I have no idea what his plans for the future are. They cannot be much different from what the others want. Everybody wants the best for this municipality.

The list of plans from Nikos Molvalis is extremely long and I think that even if he were Mayor for a hundreds years, he would never be able to realise all those projects. Every idea you ever heard seem to be on his list. Most remarkable projects are: bringing hot spring water to the hotels, a foot path from the harbour to the beach of Molyvos, the organization of the Tourist Office (I thought there already was one), taking part in tourist exhibitions (I am wondering what he means by this...), opening a school for tourism, getting a movie theatre, the re- opening of one of the two old tunnels going from the castle to the beach (at the disco Congas). Wow, that sounds exciting!

However, Nikos Molvalis wants the best. He wants more excitement for the local people, more culture and more education. He wants to protect nature, he wants more money from Europe for agriculture, he wants more sports for the locals. And he wants a day care centre for the children, a thing Molyvos really needs because in the summer the mothers work their socks off while the tourists and their children are enjoying themselves.

The only female candidate wants about the same as Nikos, but she knows better how to bring it, also she is the only candidate who has vision. She is a lady who used to be a member of the KKE light (light version of the communistic party), but has now joined PASOK. She first wants to have a good look at the future for the municipality, before planning projects. Just like the others she wants more culture in all the villages, to protect the environment, a better exploitation of the Hot Springs and other tourist attractions in the municipality. She wants a review of the planning laws for building, she thinks about what tourism could be best in the North of the island (she is against all inclusive hotels), she want young people to take an interest in agriculture and she want to create more educational and cultural events for the local youth.

The biggest point on all lists however is the rubbish dump. They say that finally there will be a central place for waste treatment near Agia Paraskevi. Stelios Karadonis is the man for the middle class and he is full of personal promises for his direct voters. He had the brilliant idea to relocate the actual refuse dump 3 kilometres further in a deserted valley (where a river runs...) where nobody would be disturbed by it. In Holland we say: from the sight, out of the heart. I am wondering how many right thinking people will vote for this great idea...

So you see, it is happy hours in Molyvos. It bristles with new ideas and especially all the old ones which are to be aired once again. The electors are summoned to participate in gatherings maybe not every night but certainly every other night and the candidates on the lists travel through all the villages in order to get votes. Petra does it better than the municipality of Molyvos: in the central market place they created a kind of speakers corner where every night everybody can say what he wants.

It is going to be a tight race, because there are clearly two opponents: the more traditional Greeks who consider the problems the way their ancestors did and like to work with favouritism (Stelios and Lefteris) and the group who is open to new ideas, like those of the European foreigners living here (Raloe and Nikos). Maybe the choice seems to be easy in a tourist city like Molyvos, but one should not forget that the villages of Vafios, Argenos, Lepetimnos, Sykaminia and Skala Sykaminia, where most people work in the agricultural sector, also belong to this municipality and they would probably not be happy with a woman as Mayor or foreigners in their municipal council.

The elections are alive and well in the villages, for young and old, for local or foreigner. Even without the villages plastered everywhere with election bills where you can admire the future Mayor (it is said that, in the Greek way, this will happen at the last moment) election fever is high in the streets. Even though most tourists are gone, Molyvos is still very much alive. And if everyone keeps their word, it will be the best place on earth with only happy and bright people...

Copyright © Smitaki 2006

Monday, 2 October 2006


The Weather Gods amused themselves for a few days on the island. Plenty of rain was falling and thunder deafened the ears. So I became troubled. All those showers drove me crazy, besieging the island in the afternoons or during the nights. I was constantly busy plugging and unplugging all the electricity cables and the telephone. And each time I thought: did I forget one? So the time I did forget one I was immediately punished. Last Thursday I forgot to unplug the telephone cable and BOOM! Lightning struck. I didn't even notice it, because I was listening to Haris Alexiou (Oops, I forgot to unplug that one as well) and she just continued singing, so I assumed that because the electricity did not go off, nothing else was wrong.

Only later in the afternoon I discovered that the telephone didn't work anymore, neither did the internet. Because none of my neighbours had the same problem I did not think it was a lightning strike that had killed the line. At a neighbours I phoned a Greek friend who has connections at the OTE office (Greek Telephone Company). I've started learning how to live in Greece: you have to do everything with the help of some friends, to be sure that something gets done. For example I heard a story about a foreigner living here who had to go to the hospital in Mytilini for a small operation on her tongue. She went all by herself and got treated by a junior who made such a mess of the operation that the patient left the hospital screaming, before everything was finished. So even when going to the hospital you'd better make sure you take your best relations in order to get treated by a serious doctor.

This time my friend could not say for sure if OTE would repair the problem as quickly as I wanted. They would see if the problem was in their equipment, otherwise they had to fix it at my house. When, they were unsure, because the repairman was too busy on Friday and if he didn't work on Saturday, he would come on Monday. My mobile phone was also out of order, so there I was without any modern communication. Greece is a country where you need some patience, and know how to use the right people. Early the next morning a car arrived from OTE. I would have thrown myself into the arms of the man getting out of the car, but I withheld my enthusiasm, better not to kiss a strange man. The problem was found within 2 minutes: lightning had struck the cable and the telephone.

Now the showers are gone and the sky is as blue as it can be. The island, which last week was still yellow because of the dryness, had that much rain that the grass grew like lightning and coloured the island green again.

I never imagined Greece this green. When thinking of Greece I only saw bare rocks and a blue sea. When I was young I even thought negatively about Greece. I read the book 'A Man' by the Italian writer/journalist Oriana Fallaci. This was about her relationship with a Greek member of the resistance Alexandros Panagoulis who was tortured during the reign of the colonels (1967-1974). This book impressed me so much that I decided never to go to Greece, a country that behaved so badly against its people...

Pretty soon after this I discovered that the Greeks put their bad times very far behind them and are a very friendly people. Oriana Fallaci continued her career and interviewed the Important People of the World like Henry Kissinger, Ayatollah Khomeini, Omar Khadafi, Deng Xiaoping, Yasir Arafat, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Nguyen Van Thieu and Haile Selassie. On September 15th she died of breast cancer.

When I read this sad news and some comments on her latest work (she was criticized for her harsh opinions about Islam), I thought again of this book 'A Man', which not only depicted the time of the colonels regime, but was also a great tribute of love for this man who had to endure such atrocities. It is one of the most impressive books I have ever read.

Now I have already live for some years in the country where once Alexandros Panagoulis fought for freedom. Since 1974 Greece has again become a democracy where life is good and people can vote. In about 2 weeks there will be elections for the municipality as well as for the mayor. In a village like Molyvos everybody knows all the candidates and now that the season is nearly finished, it seems that everybody keeps busy with politics. They even try to win foreign votes. As a registered resident all foreigners may vote.

Now the telephone doesn't stop ringing, bringing invitations to political meetings. Sometimes I think it would have been better not to have bought a new telephone. Then I would not have to explain each time why I will not vote. I really do love this island but I am afraid that I am still not Greek enough to vote. Politics are not my favorite subject and especially not Greek politics. But I think I am making progress, I certainly know now how to deal with favouritism.

Copyright © Smitaki 2006