Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Creative with firewood

(olive firewood)

Last September the Athenian firm McKinsky & Company published a report about how the Greek economy had fallen so low and what can be done, in the next ten years, in order to get the economy on a higher level again. Because Greece has enough potential to return to a healthy economy.

The report shows the weak spots like the investment climate of Greece that performs poorly because of complicated officialdom and laws. The number of officials should not only be reduced, but the whole system should be reorganized in order to work more efficiently, and old laws should be changed so that it is easier to start a business.

Greece should also be more commercial. For example: olive oil from Spain and Italy is famous, but when you enjoy an Italian olive oil it could be that you are using a Greek olive oil. Italy buys lots of oil from Greece, mixed or not with its own oil, and markets it as an Italian olive oil. So the Italians not only earn money but also get the credit for producing good olive oil, although more and more Greeks win prizes on international contests for having the best olive oil.

Greece is not only a country of sun and sea. Plenty of holiday islands have more specialities, like the sweet wine from Samos, more than one very good wine from Limnos, mastic from Chios and ouzo from Lesvos. Lots of islands – like Crete and Lesvos – produce tasty cheeses (amongst others feta), honey and of course olive oil. Lesvos also produces salt, sardines and shellfish.

For the last few days the island is under the spell of a cold northern wind and most people are sitting around their woodstoves. As I wrote a few weeks ago, lots of people have exchanged their central heaters or other oil and electricity consuming stoves for a wood stove in order to economize on their electricity and oil bills.

You can burn all kind of things in a woodstove, but it’s an art to keep the fire burning in the stove. The very first rule is that you don’t use fresh wood. Most wood must dry for about a year.

Looking for the best firewood on the internet, you will find many American websites (where they also still use a lot of woodstoves and open fireplaces) where they explain exactly which wood is best to use and how to store your firewood.

Ash, red oak, white oak, beech, birch, hickory, hard maple, pecan, dogwood, almond and apple are the trees that provide the best firewood. They probably do not grow too many olives there in the States (or don’t they use woodstoves in California where most American olives are grown?), because I could not find olivewood on any list.

I knew that the monks from Mount Athos (that monastery state in the north-east of Greece) are busy people but I did not know that they’re also wood tradesmen. They offer for sale oak- and olivewood, but also wood from the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), a wood that is much appreciated on the firewood lists of Greece.

On Lesvos there are also plenty of strawberry trees, but these are not big trees, they are more like bushes with rather thin, beautiful coloured red trunks. I am wondering how many of these bushes you’d have to cut in order to get a reasonable big stack of wood. You’d think they would cut the whole Mt Athos bald? But the olive wood they offer comes from Corfu. Because this western tourist island also produces and exports large quantities of olive wood, mainly to the neighbouring country Italy where the wood is used in the pizza ovens.

I wonder why Lesvos is not selling wood. Does the island of Corfu have more olive trees or smarter salesmen? Or have they not also returned to the woodstoves? I know that Lesvos has enough olive wood to provide for its own inhabitants. They don’t have to cut those beautiful strawberry trees. There aren’t so many oak trees left – the original vegetation of the island – and they should not be touched. Because the pinewoods still have plenty of dead trees lying around. Whilst pinewood is not the best quality of firewood – it burns more quickly – it still can warm you up. I note also that chestnut trees are not the best quality but I am sure that a tree from the chestnut wood above Agiasos could keep you warm for a whole winter. And what about those majestic plane trees? They don’t live forever. And then there are plenty of almond trees to be pruned and they also provide first quality wood. Only it’s a very hard wood, so be careful when sawing it. So there is plenty of wood here on the island, why not export it?

The search on the internet provided more surprises: how do you stack your firewood? You can just throw it on an unorganized heap or build a nice wall with it. Seeing all the other possibilities I now dream of mountains of firewood and being able to realise such beautiful creations. So be careful not to become a wood hoarder, because for these projects you need lots of wood:

How to build a wood stack?, A tree ‘in’ pieces and a firewood house, A cute house, A wood stack for Valentines day (see third picture), Modern furniture from firewood, Firewood art from Nikolay Polissky, A wood stack in the house, A decorative wall, A woodfire entrance.

So these are plenty of ideas to keep you busy during the winter. And there is plenty of wood to keep you sitting around the fire and thinking about new plans to get Greece out of its crisis.

(Thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2011

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