Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Alkionides Days

If I write that the Alkionides Days have a little drawn out, my corrector would probably correct me. Yes, I have to admit that my Dutch is far from correct and I'd probably score far below average if I participated in the Dictation of the Dutch Language (a popular annual event in Holland, broadcast on television).

My corrector not only corrects my language, but sometimes also corrects what I write about. Like he did with the Boulevard News 105, where I wrote about the traditional small summer in January. He told me that those were the Alkionides Days, or the Halcion Days and that the small summer is more like the Indian Summer, in the autumn. I promised him a correction.

Alcyone, the daughter of the Wind God Aeolus, married a mortal king called Ceyx. He drowned during a storm and Alcyone was so sad about this that she threw herself in the sea and drowned as well. The Gods took pity and changed the two lovers into sea birds (kingfishers). Aeolus kept the sea calm during two weeks in January, in order that the birds could build a nest on the rocks and lay eggs.

So the warm and windless Alkionides Days are in January, when the weather is supposed to be cold and windy. This year they were at the beginning of January, or was it the end? It's a fact that this winter produces one warm day after the other. There are so many that you can no longer call them the continuation of the Alkionides Days.

In the rest of Europe it is raining cats and dogs. On Lesvos any showers trying to reach the island are driven away by the sun or by the playful clouds. There is concern in the whole of Greece. If the winter drought continues into summer, the Cycladic islands will have to bring in water by boat and in all parts of Greece there will be days when the water will have to be cut off for hours.

The director of the Greek energy company is extremely worried. He not only has the approaching water shortages, which might cause problems running power stations, but since the beginning of the year he's also had to face a reduction by 77% of electricity coming from Bulgaria. Two nuclear power plants near Sofia have been closed by the EU, because they were not safe.

Greece is enjoying an increasing number of tourists visiting the country. The energy manager just has nightmares about these numbers. He has already calculated that during the peak days he will not be able to supply enough energy. This means that this coming summer we will not only face a water shortage, but we'll also be in the dark.

Our only comfort here on Lesvos is that the power station is under good management. Last week in Lidl, Jan met a young Dutch man who was pretty surprised to find Greek speaking Dutch people living on the island. He has not seen anything of Lesvos yet and stays secure near the power station in Mytilini, which he will be running until the end of the summer. Good for us! When the hard times without power are here, we can complaint in Dutch!

Greeks are a little afraid of change and therefore not very open to alternative ideas. If you look on the internet (which is not yet very popular with the Greeks), you will wonder at how many alternatives there are for producing energy.

For example in 2005 England exported 280,000 tonnes of rape seed, with which you can make bio fuel. But also vegetables waste can be made into fuel: America produced 11 billion tonnes of waste vegetable oil, mainly produced by potato processing plants, snack food factories and fast food restaurants. Unhealthy food is at least good for something!

This month the Greek government gave the green light to investors in zones with wind energy. Everybody knows how Greece works: it will take a long time before those projects can be realised. It will be the same for Christos Zafiris, manager of Renewed Energy Sources. He declared that Greece annually produces so much animal waste that this can run several power plants. I do hope the manager of the power net read this article as well... But I doubt that Greek farmers will start collecting the sheep shit and shipping it...

Greece has plenty of alternative energy sources. Hot water bubbling out of the ground in many locations, olive oil, rape seed fields, animal waste. It would be even better if plastic bags could be transformed into fuel: a car running on plastic bags! The car would also need a kind of sucker apparatus, collecting all the plastic bags while it is driving through the polluted Greek landscape. Greece has plenty of waste. It just needs to find an economical destination.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Monday, 19 February 2007

Whisky on the run

Today is Clean Monday, or, as they call it here in Greece, Kathara Deftera. It's the final day of the carnival and the start of Lent. Today the carnival parade will pass through Molyvos. This year the theme is the mayor. Not as colourful as prevoius years, but no doubt the creative minds will make something good out of it.

Greek families are gathering to celebrate this day and they will just eat vegetables and shell fish. Products from animals which have a blood system are not allowed.

Today the cold North Eastern wind doesn't show his anger. Good, because the temperature will rise to fine spring levels and the people on the carnival wagons will not turn blue from the cold. On the other hand it will cause the children problems to get their kites in the air, an old tradition still very popular on Kathara Deftera.

Worries about the dry winter can be put aside on this joyful day. We will see how the summer fares with so little rains. However, my worries are not so easily put aside every time I hear barking coming from the garden. Deserted Eftalou is full of life this weekend, because all the Greeks came to their holiday houses and even the hotel is having guests.

The dogs have to get used to hearing voices around again: crying and laughing children, screaming adults, women who pass by to pick chorta. And then our dog team is reinforced with an old member of the gang: Whisky.

Yes, sorry about the name. But when she came to our house last winter, her black & white fur immediately made me think of Black & White whisky. Although she is not a black & white Scottish terrier, she is more like an English sheepdog, a border collie, who like a well trained sheepdog, can drive Greek donkeys out of your garden.

So, Whisky didn't get her name because I like whisky. Well, I like the dog, but not the drink. Last year, we had too many dogs. So we were very happy when in May a friend of ours wanted to adopt Whisky. I thought that Whisky needed a home. A place of her own to sleep and a lot of attention, something I have no time to give with 15 cats and 4 dogs. So Whisky went to Plomari where she became a real dog lady. I thought she was happy there.

But I was wrong.

Last week our friend from Plomari phoned me to tell me that Whisky had disappeared. He left his front door slightly open and for some unknown reason, Whisky went on the run.

You know that here on Lesvos cats and dogs disappear all the time. It's even very difficult to remember who lost a pet or not. Last week a friend told me that his dog was poisoned in the centre of Kaloni. And the stories about a bunch of cats all poisoned in one day are too many to tell.

For days our friend in Plomari looked for Whisky. But understandably we soon thought she was a victim of poisoning, or had a road accident, or ran into hunters who always think that dogs are foxes in disguise. I really thought Whisky was already in heaven.

Six days later we came home late at night in Eftalou and I could not believe my eyes: amongst all the dogs running to the car, there was Whisky, as if she'd never been away. How the hell did Whisky travel from Plomari to Eftalou?

When I looked at her feet she seemed to have walked quite a bit. I don't know how many kilometres it is from Plomari to Eftalou but for sure I know it's about a 1.5 to 2 hours drive. In one way or other Whisky managed to find her way to her old home. Over the mountains to Kaloni and then again over the mountains to Petra, Molyvos and Eftalou. How did she do that? I don't suppose she hitchhiked...

So we think that Whisky was a little homesick for her old house where she had the freedom to run all day and play with her pals. She prefers her freedom to all the attention she got in Plomari.

I was very happy that Whisky was alive and well. On the other hand we still have too many dogs. So it makes me laugh and cry at the same time. I don't want all these animals! What canwe do with such a smart dog who clearly showed what she wants? We will not send her back to Plomari. What else can we do?!

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Sex on the island

Last week in Athens, Vartholomeos, the 66-year old manager of Greece's biggest social security company (IKA) was found murdered in the hall of an apartment building. A few days later a 59-year old man confessed to the murder. He suspected Vartholomeos of having an affair with his 56-year old wife.

Not such a strange idea because according to research, Greek women over 40 become more sexually active. And believe me, that is not due to their husbands. According to this research, the sexual life of younger Greek women is pretty low scale. So no wonder that their husbands are always on the look out for an affair.

Especially on Greek tourist islands like Lesvos, these men have plenty of choice in the summer. Plenty of women from many countries. There are even women who come to Greece on purpose because they want to have an affair with such an Adonis. It doesn't matter if he is a simple fisherman or a well built doorman from a disco, the important thing is to get sex and that is what they get plenty of. Taxi drivers have many stories of women looking for men. They're even no longer surprised by a woman who wants to pay them in kind. Some women are that hungry for sex that they cannot keep their hands to themselves.

In the winter there are no tourists to conquer. However, nowadays even out of the tourist season men can seduce women, because there are so many women from Eastern countries to fulfil this need. Russian and Bulgarian women especially work in clubs where they charge for sex. The island does not have a Red Light District, but in most parts of Lesvos you can find such clubs. In Petra and Kaloni you can go to an erotic club and the night bars along the highway to Mytilini also provide women. No night life on the island? When you drive around at 5 o'clock on a Sunday morning you will meet all these people having a night out.

As far as I know there is no trafficking of women going on here. The prostitutes make their money of their own free will. Most of them are looking for a husband who will come with legalisation papers. Which means that the Greek women have another big group of rivals. More than once a Greek man has got rid of his Greek wife to marry a Russian or Bulgarian woman.

Some of these prostitutes then give up the oldest profession, some, married or not, just continue 'to make some extra money'. So the Greek women are not in a good position with all these merry man eaters. Not fair competition, because according to Greek culture women are not allowed to throw themselves alone into the nightlife and housewives should stay at home to watch the children. Another piece of research published recently in Kathimerini, a Greek English language paper, says that 4 out of 10 Greek women are unhappy and have no idea how to escape from this unhappiness. What it doesn't say is that Greek women aren't all saints.

Greek women also know how to get what they want. If you keep your eyes open, you will discover how they fool around: breaking into a holiday home to meet their lover next to the fireplace. And then they think nobody will notice, with smoke coming out of the chimney and two cars parked in front of the house!

A favourite place for people having an affair, or prostitutes who operate on their own, are the several hot springs on the island. This winter a friend of mine is taking care of the hot springs at Lisvori and you don't want to know what she sees going on. Not long ago she had to throw a woman out of the bath, who came regularly but always with a different man. She loved to stay for hours in the bath, while her clients had enough of it after about an hour. Then the men had to wait for her in the coffee room, where my friend was supposed to entertain them for hours!

The capital of the island is also a nice meeting place for people having an affair. In Molyvos when you see housewives with their shopping bags getting onto the bus to Mytilini, don't think all of them just go for the shopping. Some of them are met at the bus stop in the capital by their lovers...

Another piece of research published in Kathimerini says that Greek women spend at least 4 hours a day on housework. They say they keep fit doing this. Visiting gyms is not one of their favourite pastimes. They don't say what they do for the remaining hours. I have my own ideas about those hours...

It's often said that having an affair is the number one sport on the island. Didn't a former Greek prime minister give the best example by divorcing his wife and marrying a young stewardess? If you keep your eyes and ears open you will know that many a Greek marriage is not as good as it seems. On Lesvos you don't need to watch 'Sex and the City' on television. There's enough 'Sex on the Island' going around!

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

Sunday, 4 February 2007


Last week many a Greek must have thought: EUREKA! Thanks to a talkshow on television the new medical hype struck like a bolt of lightning: curing cancer with leaves from olive trees. Late at night some olive-gurus said that a thick green drink made with olive tree leaves and a glass of water mixed in a blender, was the ultimate cure for cancer. Several people with cancer were brought to the television studio to tell their success stories.

The whole of Greece was enlivened, because every Greek has at least one olive tree. Lesvos could also have a golden future. The millions of olive trees here on the island can produce I don't know how many kilos of leaves. And in the heat of the moment they were offering 60 euros for a kilo of olive tree leaves. That is far more than you will ever get for your olive oil. The government tried to calm public opinion by warning that scientifically nothing has been proven yet and that certainly nobody should replace their medication with an olive-frappé (frappelia). The battle between people who believed in the holy power of olive leaves and those that didn't turned nasty when the first death had to be mourned. Two brothers fought about whether they should administer a frappelia to a third brother who has cancer. In the heat of the argument one stabbed the other.

It is common knowledge that consuming olive oil is very healthy. Only a few people know that the leaves of the tree also have health giving properties. The masses did not know until now. That changed last week and now every Greek harvesting his olives will not know whether to throw away the leaves that fell during the battering of the trees.

In ancient times the gods Poseidon and Athena quarrelled over a city they both loved. So Zeus organized a test for them: they each had to make something for the city and the citizens had to choose the best creation. Poseidon struck a rock with a piece of wood and a well sprung out of the rock. However, it was salty water that came out. Athena created the first olive tree and had it planted not far away from the Acropole. The city chose the olive tree which offered food, wood and oil. According to another version of this story Poseidon created the first horse. But still the Athenians chose the olive tree. And this is how the city of Athens got her name. Thanks to the olive tree of Athena.

If we did not live in a world without wonder, we would believe that the olive tree was a miracle tree. The olive tree has been cultivated for some 6,000 years and there has been a lot of experimentation with its products. Only in the last century scientists managed to isolate 'oleuropein', a substance that protects the olive tree against diseases. Later they discovered the anti-viral qualities of this substance. And even though nowadays we do not believe in miracles anymore, the Greeks did last week. What a talkshow can bring about...

It is good that the olive-gurus didn't also find out that the bark of the olive tree has health giving properties. Already now they are emptying the trees of their leaves. If they start cutting off the bark of these wonderful trees...

According to an old encyclopedia of medicinal plants, extracts from olive tree leaves made according to a certain recipe will be good against fever, rheumatism and high blood pressure. On the internet several people say that it helps cure diseases like cancer, a cold, fungal infections and fatigue. On certain sites you can even order capsules, powders, tea bags and drinks with extracts from olive tree leaves.

A few things are sure. Olive tree leaves are not a proven cure against cancer. And certainly putting leaves and some water in a blender is not the way to prepare them. The best way to get some olive juice into your body is to make an infusion from the leaves. They say that it won't hurt. Unless you drink those silly cocktails taking in mountains of raw leaves.

Another piece of advice: do not pick all the leaves from your olive tree. Without leaves there will be no olives and without olives there will be no oil. And that is the only point upon which everybody agrees: the health giving properties of olive oil.

Hippocrates once said: "Food should be your medicine, and if you need medicine, take it from food!" I don't want to say that olive tree leaves are a good ingredient for a salad for example. But these days I won't be surprised if I get olive tree leaves served in the green mixed salads which are more often than not decorated with all kinds of medicinal green plants. To be honest, I satisfied my curiosity by making a tea from olive tree leaves. I soaked some leaves from the olive tree next to our house in hot water and waited a few minutes. The light green water did not taste like anything. So do not be afraid that you will miss a new culinary treat by not eating olive tree leaves.

Copyright © Smitaki 2007