Sunday, 25 May 2008

Cavo Gavathas

Imagine: you are exploring the west coast of the island and when you arrive at Gavathas, you can't go any further because they've built a huge resort... This is going to happen on Crete when the Greek government, the Greek Church and the British investment Group Minoan get their way.

They want to change the westernmost point of Crete into Cavo Sidero, a huge holiday resort, that will be promoted as the biggest eco-friendly luxurious tourist project in Europe. The project will include villages built in traditional style and no less than three golf courses!

First of all, you should never trust something that is luxurious and eco- friendly. Eco and luxe don't go together. Like you can never fly eco-friendly, even if you pay a lot of money for your 'Green Seat'. Investment companies just put a green sticker on a project, call it eco-friendly and hope that people will believe them.

Take a look at the plans for Cavo Sidero. All scientists agree that Crete will slowly dry up thanks to climate change. Even a child can work out that such a huge project with 6 villages and 3 golf courses will use an enormous amount of water. Will Cretan agriculture have to stop because some tourists want to play golf on a bright green course? (Although it's the increasing Greek agriculture that is one of the causes of water shortages).

The project group says they respect the environment. But how can you keep the landscape green the whole year round? There aren't many landscapes on the Greek islands that remain green in the summer time...

There are many reasons to oppose this project, even if the only reason is that it's a shame that they will disturb such a huge part of the environment and privatise it. You can sign here ( a petition against the decision of the government, which sees Cavo Sidero as a prestige project and against the Greek church that sees money in it because they own the land and want to rent it out to the Minoan Group.

Moreover I think that mass tourism is out. Just like all those silly all inclusive hotels. Those are also pretty eco unfriendly. They waste too much food and they show no respect for the local people. Even on the big tourist island of Rhodes restaurants have had to close because the hotels want to do their own catering. Happily enough a lot of those all inclusive hotels are dominated by Russian tourists who are new to the international tourist scene and have no idea how to behave in public. Coming back from Turkey a lot of Dutch tourists say: never again on an all inclusive!

Lesvos knows only a few of these all inclusive hotels. When the first one opened in Skala Eresos the Greeks felt cheated: The English not only flew the working people to Lesvos, but also the food! So what are the locals getting out of it?

In the west of Lesvos is the little harbour village of Gavathas, not discovered yet by big groups of tourists. It's even prettier than Skala Sykaminia, which is famous for its little Church of the mermaid. Only in July and August will Gavathas have its share of Greek tourists. In the other months, when you are enjoying a meal in one of the two restaurants that look out over the harbour and the bay (there is a third restaurant without this magnificient view) or when you saunter along the street which most inhabitants view as their living room, you will think you have found a lost paradise.

It's as if investment people do everything to find places where they can disturb the peace. Because Gavathas has also been targeted by somebody who has plans that are too great. Between some houses they are trying to squeeze an all inclusive hotel. You won't believe it when you see how close the 5 or so buildings are to each other.

It doesn't look very spectacular and the buildings don't disturb the view of the village too much. But I still wonder how this hotel will change the lives of the small number of inhabitants. Most of them are fishermen and they always smile at the few tourists who visit their idyllic village. The doors of their small houses are always open and most of the day the villagers lounge on wooden benches on the street in front of their houses.

The sandy beach is still not spoilt by rows of sunbeds. That might change next year, if the hotel is ready. So let's hope that all inclusive tourists will not like going to such a little village where there is no shop or bar and you are far away from bigger villages and tourist centres.

At the end of Vatera beach there stands a huge concrete skeleton, like some warning fingers raised to the hills: here as well there was somebody who had the idea to build a big resort, but even before the place was ready, building stopped. Maybe in Gavathas as well, next year this project will still be just concrete. Then only the concrete makers will have made some money from it...

Copyright @ Smitaki 2008

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Welcome to Europe!

The Greek government wants to get rid of its phone company: OTE. For months now they have been in talks with the German company Deutsche Telekom which now owns the majority of OTE shares, the first step for a take over.

The Greeks were already angry because of the privatisation of the pension funds and about low wages, but are even more than mad now. Proof is the spontaneous strikes and demonstrations. Strikes seem to have become a common part of daily life here in Greece, but I must say, at least the Greeks hit the streets or take action to defend their national institutions.

I mean, look at the Netherlands. It's crazy that you trust your money to somebody and suddenly your bank is sold to a bunch of foreign banks! I don't want to go to Fortis, Barclays or the Royal Bank of Scotland. Did anybody ask my opinion? No. The same for my web hosting company that was suddenly bought by a company that I have tried to avoid for the greater part of my life. Does the customer get compensated when he moves? Is he getting something from the changes? No. Only Judas gets away with hundreds, thousands or millions of euros. There goes my money!

For Greece it's just the first big takeover by a foreign company. The money taken by the Judas is probably given in a sealed envelop under the table (Fakelos), as is custom here. In the Netherlands that happens in the open and each time such shameful amounts are published, the Dutch take a deep breath and ask questions in parliament. Then the prime minister shrugs his shoulders because he claims there's nothing he can do, or a minister says that the grab-culture has to be stopped and then our political heroes go back to their daily work, which is like a quarrel between neigbours. Is anybody taking to the streets because they feel cheated? Are there any spontaneous strikes? No. But it's about time. According to the Dutch paper Volkskrant, the difference in wages between senior managers and the workers have tripled in 25 years! Is it any wonder life gets more and more expensive?

In Greece they know this grab-culture in the form of envelopes (fakelos). When you visit a doctor, when you have a child or you have to make a registration with a lawyer, then you take a fakelos to be sure that everything will get done. A fakelos contains an amount with at least two zeros. And of course Greek politicians are not much better than the Dutch. This winter there was a serious investigation into who got thick fakelos from the German company Siemens to ensure they would deliver all electronic supplies for the Olympic Games of Athens in 2004. And there is always some inquiry underway into a minister who has received too much money or who has transgressed his own laws.

Life in Greece these days is much more expensive than in the Netherlands. Even though the people fight against it. Last week truckers were striking, so were the drivers delivering petrol to the filling stations. University lecturers were on strike and some of the Olympic Airways crew. I probably forgot many more. Just as some weeks ago the electricity company went on strike and stopped daily life in nearly all of the country, last week again daily life was disrupted because of fuel shortage and so on.

In Lesvos we were not troubled too much. The Lidl supermarket was empty, there were no herbs or olive soaps in the co-operative shop and here and there there was a shortage of some things. Some people were worried whether they could leave the island, but I never saw them come back, so probably Olympic Airways got them to Athens. And we didn't have any fuel shortage because the island has such a huge stock that we didn't have to queue in order to get fuel, as they did in other parts of the country.

There was quite a different strike on a small island in the Aegean Sea: 121 refugees, aged between 10 and 16 years, went on hunger strike on the island of Leros, which they reached illegal from Turkey. They are housed in a hotel and nearby buildings but the conditions are inhuman.

Leros is part of the South Eastern Dodecanese and has a little over 8,000 inhabitants. Since the beginning of the year some 860 refugees, amongst them a lot of children, have reached the island. In Greece it is reported that more and more child refugees travelling alone are reaching the country. The people of Leros don't know what to do now. They have no expertise with such big numbers of refugees and they have no infrastructure to accommodate them. They will probably have to collect a lot of fakelos, if they want the Greek government to help them with this problem. Pretty soon the summer season starts on Leros, but all the hotel beds are already taken...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Visit of an ex-princess

The start of the summer season this year was pretty sudden. Thanks to Easter the village was made unsafe (A Dutch saying) by not only foreigners-having-spring-holidays, but also by Greeks-having-Easter- holiday. Well, they didn't really make the village unsafe, we don't have those boozing-and-yelling-youngsters. Most of the tourists here behave well, except for some Greek tourists who shout in restaurants because they're always in a hurry to have their food served.

Suddenly the hotels were fully booked and the village opened the shutters of all the shops, cafés and restaurants so that the main streets of Molyvos became busy again. Going for a walk in the mountains it's not unusual now to meet desperate people who have got lost due to difficulties with the Dutch translation of Mike Maunders walking guide or because they have no idea how to interpret the directions in the walking guides from the Andersons.

On the busiest days like Easter or the First of May the local tourists also arrived in Molyvos and on these days it was difficult to get a table in a restaurant. It sometimes was so busy that even the main road was closed, mainly due to Greeks who refused to visit the medival village on foot. Molyvos was incredibly busy and cosy and celebrated with movies and music, fireworks and parades.

However animated the start of the season was, it was difficult to warm up. Weather kept the people cold. Sometimes clouds and a cold wind made sure that temperatures were pretty low for the time of year. While in Holland and Belgium beaches were overcrowded, here the people are not so keen yet to take a dive into the blue sea.

Thanks to the end of the holidays most people returned home, then on Sunday night Molyvos was surprised by a Royal visit. It started with a huge sailing yacht approaching the harbour and then armed police took up strategic positions on the quays. Then a small boat brought Queen Sofia of Spain to shore.

This was an unofficial visit, so no red carpet was laid out. When I asked people why Queen Sofia was coming to Molyvos, most of the people who saw her arrive answered: shopping!

Shopping? In Molyvos? I really had to laugh at this. I could just see Queen Sofia entering the dusty supermarkets and the souvenir shops that for years have sold the same stuff, probably no different from elsewhere in the country. Or did she come for the Lesvorian specialities that used to be sold only in the co-operative store at the Donkey Station, but can now be found in many of the shops in the Agora? Lesvorian olive oil, the preserved sweet fruits, ouzos, all products with increasing international fame. I wondered what the glowing Mayor of Molyvos told Queen Sofia, walking side by side through the Agora.

Anyhow, she just missed the local musicians by some hours. After seeing a movie on rebetica music on Saturday Night, they took their instruments and played, sung and danced until late on Sunday Morning.

But Queen Sofia will have seen enough Greek dancing and singing in her life. She was born in 1938 in Athens as a Greek princess and daughter to king Paul I, the then ruling king of Greece. In 1962 she married the Spanish Prince Juan Carlos who became king of Spain in 1975. Sofia however lost her title of Greek princess in 1967, when democracy in Greece was 'restored'. Well, democracy... It was the junta that ended the kingdom and threw Sofia’s brother Constantine, who succeeded his father in 1964, from the throne. And even after the junta the Greeks didn't want their royalty back. In a referendum held in 1974 the majority of Greeks voted against a monarchy.

The ex-princess is not from Molyvos, nor from Lesvos, which certain people were whispering when she visited the village on Sunday night. And she was not welcomed like a queen, but who ever she spoke to seemed to be so honoured that you would never guess that this anti-royal referendum ever took place in Greece.

So why was the Spanish Queen visiting Molyvos? Was it a sentimental journey because she met her husband on a cruise among the Greek islands? Has their love Lesvorian roots? Because somewhere by an island they must have exchanged their first kiss...

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Lesvians against lesbians

This week 3 inhabitants of Lesvos started a process to protect the name Lesbian. Lesbian is the name for people who come from Lesvos, but it's also the name for a specific group of women. The publisher Dimitri Lambrou has had enough of the misuse of the name and wants to get a ban on the name lesbian being used by the 'Homosexual and Lesbian Community of Greece'.

You'd think that all this fuss is just to get some publicity. Because how in heaven can you fight against a name that for decades has found its place in the world? Dimitri Lambrou declares that when he gets his right in Greece, he will fight the case internationally. Which will be great fun, because then he will get the whole of the lesbian world (and here I mean women who love women) against him. They're getting ready for it, reading about his case in Greece. Just google Dimitri Lambrou and you'll see what those women want to do to him! Mr. Lambrou is in serious need of some bodyguards if he doesn't want to get hurt.

You would say that Mr. Lambrou doesn't have a case. First of all the inhabitants of the island of Lesvos are more often called Lesviots or Lesvonians (see: And secondly, thanks to the new alphabet and translation rules an inhabitant of the island is not called a Lesbian, but a Lesvian. Just like the island is no longer called Lesbos, but Lesvos. Because the second letter of the new Greek alphabet β is not beta anymore but vita! That is what I learned at my Greek classes.

And that is not such a great burden, but a very nice change whenever you surf on the internet. When you type Lesbos, you get thousands of sites that have nothing to do with the island, because they are meant for these special women. However when you type Lesvos, you get all the information you want on all kinds of sites about the island of Lesvos.

Greeks really have problems with names. Just look at the political dispute about the name FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). The fight between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia about which name this quite young country (it was founded in 1993) may use has taken years now.

Mr. Lambrou could also have researched why the island of Lesvos has two names. There are many Greeks who call the island Mytilini, the same name as its capital. You see this name on maps and even in the old times references to this island used the name Mytilini (Mytilene). It would be the most simple solution for the island to be officially named Mytilini. Then you would not have to go to court and the inhabitants would just be called Mytilenians.

And by the way, not only the island has two names. The little town of Molyvos also has two. Greeks mostly talk about Mithymna and this name is written on many road signs. Many a tourist will get lost because they could not find the name Molyvos...

But the lesbians also do not have right on their side. They named each other after the island because Sappho once lived here. According to them, Sappho was the first lesbian. However, when you carefully read everything that is written about this great poetess, you will never find any proof of Sappho being a lesbian. Most stories about Sappho point in the opposite direction: it is said she had a daughter and Sappho jumped from a rock because of her love for a man. So why, women love? Is that only because of her poems that glorify not only men but also women like the goddess of Aphrodite?

Mr. Lambrou has a point saying that the name lesbian hurts the inhabitants of Lesvos because a reason not to visit the island is that many tourists still think that Lesvos is an island exclusively for lesbians. Most of the tourists here on the island are from both sexes. And of course we may have a slightly higher amount of female visitors, but most of 'those' ladies go to the west to Eresos, where it's claimed that Sappho was born. The island is so big, that no one can be offended by that.

So, Mr. Lambrou, you'd better look into the translation rules for the use of the letter β (vita) and you should find out what name officially belongs to this island.

But, ladies lesbians, you also should think over your name: nobody ever proved that Sappho was a member of your club (and why aren't you called sapponians?). And then, the horrible things you say on the internet don't suit you. Not against this poor Mr. Lambrou who at least started a very interesting debate, nor against this beautiful island that gave you your name.

Readers: beware of the name Lesbos!

Copyright © Smitaki 2008