Tuesday, 20 January 2009


You may think that your life here is so healthy: a lot of fresh vegetables, a lot of fish, biological meat, a lot of exercises and fresh air. But that does not stop the flu finding you...

I was lucky that this autumn I made a lot of fig-syrup: you are collecting lots of figs, you dry them in the sun and then you cook them for a day in some water. You strain the juice out and cook this until you get a syrupy substance and you have vrasma (as well called peti-mesi), a syrup that is a treat on a pancake but serves as well as a good and calming cough remedy. The flu started with a pain in the throat.

When the pain in the throat was more or less gone a real cold started coming through. Beside kilo’s of handkerchiefs I used a kilo (In Greece liters are said to be kilo’s; so you order a kilo of wine instead of 1 liter) of homemade thyme liquor (you put lots of thyme in a pot, you fill this pot up with cognac and you leave it for some weeks getting its flavor). Thyme kills all bacteria, so I guess it was a real battle, because the flu slowly disappeared. (Will Tieleman, editor: flu is caused by virus, not by bacteria, so thyme has no influence!)

The best way to fight against the flu however is to rest. And that is a point that I have a problem with. Because the flu got me just when the weather finally got better and then it is easy to think: let’s have a little walk with the dogs (and cats), let’s gather some wood for the fire, let’s sit in the sun for a while and so on.

While the sun outside let the trees and mountains glitter as diamonds, I put myself deep under a blanket before the television. I jumped channels and saw various programs, amongst others about Spain, France and Italy: all about palaces, castles, cathedrals and marketplaces. What beautiful cities and what a rich history!

I instantly got very homesick and I asked myself what am I doing on this poor island that has not even a handful of ransacked medieval castles, without any notorious sculpture or glorious interiors...

I asked myself what in heaven did the Greeks do during the last two thousand years. In France kings went out of their minds building as many palaces as possible and the Catholic church permitted itself to build superb cathedrals. But what did the Greeks do?

The foreign conquerors left traces in Greece with imposing buildings, like the Knights of the Cross in Rhodes. The most famous legacy the Greeks ever left in the world mostly date from the antique world: temples and statues and they barely survived.

I was fascinated by a ship that departed from Gent in Belgium, to go over the rivers to the heart of Burgundy in France, on its way stopping in small towns and villages looking for the Burgundian history. I saw beautiful buildings I never heard of.

That night coughing kept me from sleeping and there were palaces, patrician houses and churches floating through my dreams. The next day I still asked myself why I lived on such a culturally poor island?

Then I read an article in the Ekathimerini (English Greek paper) where the Greeks were warned that they chased the tourists away: the riots in Athens last month, the news that workers from the Akropolis Museum striked because they did not get paid, the abduction of mighty tycoons... It all does not contribute to a popular Greece for tourists.

Then I think the fever surrendered, because suddenly I came to my senses: this island has none of those problems that make Athens a troubled city. Here we do not live like millionaires who can be abducted, there are no extremists that shoot at the police, nor students that demonstrate for weeks. Maybe there only are some people not getting paid.

I looked outside and saw the sun, the sea and the mountains. No, indeed, you will not find strings of castles, cathedrals or palaces here on the island. Here you will find pure mountains, vast fields with olive trees, quiet roads bordered by old oaks, chestnuts or plane trees. In some weeks seas of colourful flowers will open. Instead of full ornamented houses we have century old trees, instead of cathedrals you will find petrified trees and instead of palaces you will find here picturesque villages that seem unharmed by the time. You think, now would I live in an old restored Burgundian village? No, I guess the flu made my head spin...

copyright @ Smitaki 2009

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