Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Greek monsoon

(The lighthouse and unknown building in Hiyarlik Koyu, Turkey)

The monsoon is a wind that returns each year and is the announcement of the change of a season. When I think about a monsoon, I immediately see images from India or someother southeastern country where long and heavy rainfalls make humans and animals thoroughly wet and changes their world to a huge mud pool.

Here on the Greek islands we also have a yearly wind (sometimes called a monsoon) ¬ the meltemi, which the ancient Greeks used to call the Etesian winds. However, this northern wind that can blow over the Aegean from May to September is dry and brings not a drop of rain.

The Etesians are due to low pressure above Asia and high pressure above the Azores. The heat above Turkey reinforces this tension and creates the meltemi that can blow for days on end with a force from 6 to 8 Beaufort.

The ancient Greeks used to have numerous Gods who were responsible for the winds. They were regularly asked for help. When the island of Kea, was struck by a severe heat wave that made all crops die, the ancients accused the dogstar Sirius for this evil. This shiny big star is at its clearest during the Dogdays in July and August. Zeus decided to help out and sent the Etesian winds to cool the island for forty days. This brought about a new cult dedicated to begging for the yearly return of the Etesian winds.

Forty days? I would go crazy! In India people look forward to the monsoon. Equally the Greeks wait for their monsoon, because this wind is seen as a blessing: it chases away the heat and lowers the humidity.

Some days ago the meltemi came and I wonder who invited him, because we were not suffering from a heat wave. It was nicely warm. Of course, a day with a meltemi blowing can be a refreshing change from the usual heat — but please, not for so many days! After just one day, I am already a bit itchy because of the draught in the house. Even with the meltemi blowing the house becomes a furnace if you close all windows and doors; so you need to open them all, which means turning your house into a playground for the wind.

The Etesian winds are also fairly unpredictable. It slows down whenever it wants. Whilst there are some people who say that it always dies down in the night; I got blown out of my bed for several nights. On the sea it brings foam to the waves and in the water it shuffles the loose seaweed into moving clouds, which can be upsetting when you swim. Just when you think that the sea has calmed down and you go down to the beach, the waves start climbing again, the seaweed rises from the bottom and you have to think twice about entering the water. Another habit of the meltemi is to cool off the sea.

One advantage of the meltemi is that it clears the air. Sometimes during heat waves visability can become so bad, due to the humidity, that Turkey, which is opposite Lesvos, disappears completely from sight. But, when the meltemi sweeps through the air, you can start to see people lying on the beach in Turkey. Well, I admit that, is a little exaggerated; but you can clearly see the buildings in Turkey.

Just opposite Eftalou you can see a slim white tower. I thought that this was a minaret, but viewing the Turkish coast by Google Earth I learned that this is a lighthouse (if the picture is right). When the meltemi had chased away the hot muggy air, I discovered that behind this lighthouse there appeared another tower, a brown building covered in something red, twice as high and maybe three times wider than the lighthouse. I am intrigued because I cannot imagine why they built such a tower just behind (or beside) a pretty lighthouse. I think this mysterious building is at Hiyarlik Koyu, somewhere between Assos (Behramkale) and Koyunevi. Does anybody know what they are building there?

On the sea, when the waves appear with their white manes, sometimes you see the sail of a kitesurfer racing past. Surfers have the time of their lives during the meltemi. Other sailors are not that happy with this kind of weather; ferries sometimes have to stay in the harbour and it’s a treacherous time for sailing.

The meltemi announces the change of season, which makes me a little sad because it means that the summer is beginning to end. The dry leaves that fall because of the heat are the messengers and they dance in the wind, impatient to welcome the autumn. But we still have some summer weeks to go and it is not yet clear for how long the meltemi will rattle doors and windows. At least most people are happy that August is no longer ruled by the heat wave. So I’d better stop complaining.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2011


  1. Canan Ener Silay is saying on my FB wall:
    Hello Smitaki! (I don't know the author of the above article. He/she didn't put a byline, so I say Smitaki). The ugly brown building you mentioned in your article, just behind the pretty Lighthouse of Sivrice, in the vicinity beautiful Assos is the newly-built Radar which is suppesed to to scan the ships passing between the Turkish shores and north Mitillini! I and my neighbours (who have homes in and around Assos) are abhored by this eyesore and surprized too, as so few ships use this route, except a couple of small fishing vessels and a lonely tourist cruiser now and then. Somebody suggested that radar/watchhouse is put there to spot the boats carrying illegal immigrants from Asia to Europe. (I'll try to find out more information the next time I go to Assos.) The building is even uglier looking when you see it nearby from the land, obscuring the pretty old lighthouse which is now restored and used as a Library of sea-related literature. Just why that monster is built on that exact spot is a mystery to me. I'll say "na to kafa, na to mermeri" and leave it at that!

  2. Thanks, Canan Ener Silay, for your information. Why should a radar tower be so big? I can understand that living closer to it, it must be very ugly. And a tower to spot the refugees is out of time, they now mostly pass the border along the Evros in the North of Greece. So it remains a mystery, keep me informed.

  3. Neylan said: The name of the village is "Hisarlik" and not "Hiyarlik"--the latter is a slang term with all kinds of fun meanings...