Thursday, 25 November 2010

Shall we skip winter?

(the gulf of Kalloni)

This beautiful autumn seems endless. You can’t call it an Indian summer, because the humid nights, the fallen leaves and huge numbers of mushrooms are clear signs that it’s really autumn. However, every day the temperature climbs above 20°C and people are still swimming in the warm blue sea. Having lunch in the sunshine is also a treat: lots of Greeks and a few tourists are taking advantage of the conditions especially on Sundays and all the outdoor areas of the waterside restaurants that don’t close for winter are packed with people.

The olive harvest started early this year and most trees have lots of fruit. Everywhere you hear the ‘rickety-tick’ of the sticks people use to knock down the olives, and around the trees, people picking the olives off the ground. On the roads you meet cars loaded with sacks full on their way to the olive press where you can see them stacked in huge piles waiting to be processed. Sometimes you may even hear a vacuum cleaner being used to suck up the olives - by someone too tired or unwilling to bend down any more.

The light has a warm glow and it is great weather for walking. The trees which are shedding their leaves are beautiful and so are the scenes made by the rays of the sun. Up in the woods above Anemotia or Vatera, or in the forests around Agiasos, you will come across more cars, full of families, or just men and women, who stop and race into the woods with baskets to collect mushrooms. Their tracks are obvious because when they stop to check mushrooms for worms they cut them and chuck away the bits they don’t want - so like Tom Thumb you can follow the tracks of rejected mushrooms, but you won’t find any for yourself.

When there is no wind the gulfs of Gera and of Kalloni are like turquoise mirrors, their surfaces disturbed only by fishes gulping for a bit of fresh air. Small white clouds are reflected in the water, and at the salt lakes of Skala Polichnitou flamingos have returned to walk proudly on their long legs through the shallow water.

There are no shellfish on offer because there’s a ban on catching them - too much cadmium - although levels of salmonella, coliform and lead are said to be okay. Both fishermen and people who love to eat shellfish are disappointed.

However, the splendour of autumn has been spoiled by a fire at the Molyvos garbage dump. Unlucky the houses that are in the wrong wind direction, they have been shrouded in an evil smelling cloud and people have had to keep their doors and windows tight shut and you wouldn’t venture outside without covering your mouth and nose with a cloth - in such fine weather! The Mayor said it was not his decision and blamed farmers for the disaster. Throwing earth on the fire didn’t help and so for weeks we’ve had this stench. The Mayor has promised that next year there won’t be a problem because there will be a proper waste disposal plant. But who believes him? He is the last Mayor of Molyvos whose position disappears in January, after which the whole of Lesvos will have one municipal council, and only one mayor based in Mytilini. These are the moments when you don’t want to live on this island, as such a beautiful place is ruined by people who have no idea what to do with their garbage.

Each time rain is predicted the heap spontaneously bursts into flames - like today. Even though the forecast was bad, the day was splendid, except for the foul smell of burning plastic. A southerly wind chased the clouds high above the mountains but the rain stayed away. Thankfully the wind was strong enough to blow away the fumes and smells.

While I was walking and looking for mushrooms, I suddenly spied a delicious fat shoot of asparagus. So instead of chasing mushrooms I went after more asparagus and, sure enough, found more shoots that were too impatient to wait for spring.

The anemones are also in a hurry. A week ago I saw some already opening their buds and there are little fields full of them. How can we cope with all these people impatiently setting fire to the garbage and an environment that won’t wait for spring?

I love the winter. I love to sit near the fire as the rain drums against the windows and the wind howls around the house. But when you see so many signs of a spring (I’ve even seen a Shaggy Cistus with an open flower) you have to ask yourself the same question as those asparagus shoots and early anemones: shall we skip winter?

(With thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010


  1. "...moments when you don’t want to live on this island."
    Please, do so and allow me to pay for your one-way ticket to the next miserable place which will be unfortunate enough to host your nagging, ingratitude and eccenticity!
    Bon voyage, my dear!

  2. How sad that you usurp the name of the great island poet & writer to make your nasty little accusations