Sunday, 23 December 2012


(Love Ikona by Chantalle van Eijk)

Greek icons and Indian Gods inspired Chantalle van Eijk to make her Love Icona. With this beautiful picture I wish you:

Happy Holidays and a very good 2013

Chantalle van Eijk (born 1974) finished her study as artist in 1998, then she made long travels and got her inspiration from the faraway countries. In 2003 she fell in love with the Greek island of Lesvos where she stayed and since then lived and worked. The structures, colours and basic forms in the landscape and the sea are her main inspiration.

For more information:
Facebook: Chanti van Eijk

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

December 14 – I want a Hay-Madam!

Photo from  the  internet: Solar cooking at CantinaWest

While you can see snow glistening on one of the mountain peaks in Turkey and temperatures on Lesvos have dived, the sun is still trying to keep the frost out of the earth. But last night I put on my warmest clothes and sat outside to see the stars falling. Well, in fact it was not stars falling last night, but space debris, coming from the meteor Geminides. When I had lost track of the number of flares crossing the sky, I went back to my warm bed, not waiting for the highlight of this meteor shower, because it really was much too cold to stay outside.

And while I was sitting under those twinkling lights I thought that this sky is a world that could never be lost, even though so many stars or debris are falling out of it. And I do hope the same for beautiful Greece. I mean the Hellenic people have already existed for thousands of years. Now they are living through a black spot in their history: a crisis touching so many Greeks in their hearts and in their wallets. In Holland they complain that the Dutch are reining in their spending, here in Greece the people do not even have money to spend.

To economize is the big thing these days for everybody. Shops in Mytilini are barely decorated for Christmas and it is hard to find any luxury items in the food stores (or were they already sold out?). Here the wood stove does its best to keep the house warm. This way, I too I economize on gas, electricity and on fuel, which cost this year has risen by 50 %. Lots of people have already bought a woodstove and I am sure illegal logging will increase this winter. People have rediscovered using olive pits to heat, like they did in earlier times. They are now delivered as an alternative and cheaper fuel for central heating. They also sell olive pits compressed in blocks for wood burners and olive pits can be turned into a bio fuel for cars. Let’s hope that a smart Greek is buying all the olive pits at all the olive presses here on the island and starts a business with it. As far as I know at the moment there is only one business on the island selling these olive pits for the central heating and he sold out his merchandise pretty quickly.

A woodstove is a nice way to economize. Apart from it giving warmth, you can use it to warm up food; preparing food when you have a woodstove with an oven, you can bake bread, pizzas and cakes at any time of the day.

But there are more ways to economize while cooking. In the poor, warm third world countries (and Greece is on its way to re-enter this category) there is experimentation with solar cooking. With mirrors or silver plated panes the warmth of the sun is directed to a central place where you can place a cooker. Just imagine a satellite dish, plated with tinfoil, directed to the sun. In the middle an iron frame keeps a boiling pot and in it you cook. The solar cooking box does the same, but seems to me more practical: a box with mirror sides and the cooking pot is placed at the inside.

In the winter it may be that solar cooking is not possible. Imagine you plan a dinner and there is no sun for the whole day. Then you have to use an open fire, or the hot ashes in a firepit. The drums of old washing machines are easily turned into a fire pit or outside stove: just put an oven grid over the opening and there you can put your cooking pans. But make sure that this pan is fire resisting!

One of the eldest pans used to cook on an open fire was called a Dutch oven. These are heavy iron cast pans that could last for generations, made in Holland. In the nineteenth century they were indispensable and popular amongst the pioneers going to America in search of a new life.

People living in the city can’t always make an open fire, nor use a wood stove. But even without fire or sun it is possible to economize while cooking. The hay box is a box or basket where you place a pan with food in the middle, fill it up with hay and or woollen blankets and the food gets done because the hay and/or blankets will keep the warmth. In Holland they developed a modern hay box, a large upside down tea-cozy, which is a joy to have in the kitchen and is called a hay-madam.

This week I didn’t manage to experiment with young thistles, nor with mushrooms but I have some other Christmas menus which are composed of dishes from my cookbook Almost Greek. I am not sure if you can prepare them all in the above mentioned cooking fashions, because I imagine that these alternative ways of cooking need some practice. But there are enough ideas to set yourself to work. The vegetarian menu I gave in last week’s column Rain, mushrooms and a Christmas menu. Here are a meat and fish menu for Christmas.

Almost Greek meat menu for Christmas

Chestnut bread rolls

In between:
Peach in champagne

Main course:
Rabit with mushroom sauce
Vegetables with pesto
Potato pancakes with herbs

Mud from Heaven with figs

Finishing dinner with:
Quince liqueur

Almost Greek fish menu for Christmas

Spinach omelettes with shellfish ragout

In between:

Main course:
Pasta with asparagus-shrimp sauce
Carrot salad with almonds
Broad Bean Dip Sauce
Olive bread

Red jelly pudding

Finishing with:
Fresh apricot bonbons
Orange liqueur
(the recipe of orange liqueur is not in the book)

  • The cookbook Almost Greek is available through the website Smitaki (in Dutch, English and German), in the shop 1912 (Lisa) in Molyvos (Lesvos, Greece), at the bookstore ΜΟΥΤΑΦΗΣ at Ermou 11 in Mytilini (in English), the book can be paged through at Cafe Joke at Omirou 13, Athens and the Dutch edition is for sale in different book-and cookshops in Holland 
(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

December 9 – Rain, mushrooms and a Christmas menu

(Saffron Milkcap)

In the Wild Hunt for Saint Nicholas last week I mentioned that many thunderstorms had passed over the island, causing great lightshows. A reader mailed me, asking why I had written about the bad weather without mentioning how much damage it caused on some parts of the island.

It’s a big island; it can happen that such news does not reach you very quickly. When you don’t follow the national news regularly on television, it can also happen that, especially if you live in the countryside and you’re not regularly connected to the social gossip of a village, you may not be up to date with the news. So I have only just heard what damage these floods and thunderstorms caused in the centre of the island and in Mytilini. Mytilini, Agiasos and Ambeliko had so much rain, that roads flooded in Mytilini, mudslides came off the mountains damaging houses, parts of roads were destroyed in Ampeliko, churches (and other buildings) got flooded and a rapid fall  of water went straight through the theatre of Agiasos, see films on YouTube {the first 5}.

The colossal rains caused lots of damage on the island, but all that water also did some good: mushrooms are shooting out of the earth and even though the weather remains rainy and unpredictable, lots of people are going to the mountains and woods to collect mushrooms.

The ancient Greeks were familiar with all kind of mushrooms. But somewhere in history this knowledge got lost and modern Greece has just recently (since 20 years) regained interest in mushrooms. It was mushroom specialist George Konstantinidis, who started publishing papers and later books in Greek about the mushrooms of Greece and since then more and more people have been infected with mushroom fever.

It’s a similar story here on Lesvos. Some ten years ago most people only knew the pèperites (peppered Milkcap, Lactarius piperatus), that grow in the pine forests and some people were familiar with the meadow mushrooms. But when you showed them a mushroom that they did not recognise, the advice was always the same: “Don’t touch them, they are poisonous, throw them away!” Nowadays plenty of people, gathered in groups, roam over the island on mushroom hunts and even visit their fellow mushroom hunters in Turkey. And slowly the people of the island are learning that there are a lot more tasty mushrooms that can be turned into a meal when the rains finally transform the dry landscape into fertile grounds from which lots of delicacies grow.

Because of the wet weather and the muddy roads I have not ventured too far – for example to Agiasos or Klapados where I know there are ceps growing. I stayed close to home at a spot where plenty of the tasty sister of the peppered Milkcaps can be found: the saffron Milkcap (Lactarius deliciosus). Because these Milkcaps love to grow under earth and branches they are quite dirty and the easiest way (yes, I do know that you should not clean mushrooms with water) to clean them is wiping all the dirt off the upper cap under some streaming water. And because between the gills there is often some dirt, I loosen it with a knife, as I also did with the smudgy borders of the cap. This way you get very clean mushrooms to use for delicious dishes. Yesterday I cut them in small pieces and fried them in some butter. The orangey juice of the mushroom mixed with the butter into a delicate sauce, which I kept on boiling in order to reduce and then seasoned it with cream, salt and pepper. I then mixed this saffron Milkcap ragout with boiled red cabbage, which is an excellent combination.

Of course lots of other mushrooms grow around here, although I do not know them all and leave them, like the beautiful bright orange mushrooms that grow under the olive trees, and the small yellow ones with a crenate bordered cap or those parasol-like chocolate coloured mushrooms, who stand up straight out of the grass. The light brown boletus I do know, but since they are not so tasty I leave them and the time for the meadow mushrooms just has yet to start.

I my cookbook Almost Greek you can find the recipe for ‘Peppery Milkcap Fries’, easily to make with the peperites; because they are so big and sturdy they are easily cut into long sticks. You will also find a recipe for how to make a mushroom ragout or how to turn young meadow mushrooms into peppery snacks (‘Spicy Mushrooms’). This month I will remain in culinary mood and in the coming week I will experiment some more with the mushrooms and with the young Maria thistles, which, just like the mushrooms, spurt in big numbers out of the ground. I was surprised even to find some wild asparagus, normally to be found in March or April, which means that indeed nature is somewhat troubled these days.

For Christmas I will make some suggestions for three Christmas menus - vegetarian, meat and fish - composed of recipes out of the book Almost Greek. Here is the first one:

Almost Greek vegetarian Christmas menu

Greek croquettes
Spicy mushrooms
Filled eggs with asparagus cream
fig fingers

In between
Courgettetagliatelle with feta and mint sauce

Main course
Pancakes with mushroom ragout
wild spinach with orange juice


Finishing with

* The cookbook Almost Greek is available through the website Smitaki (in Dutch, English and German), in the shop 1912 (Lisa) in Molyvos (Lesvos, Greece), at the bookstore ΜΟΥΤΑΦΗΣ at Ermou 11 in Mytilini (in English), the book can be paged through at Cafe Joke at Omirou 13, Athens and the Dutch edition is for sale in different book- and cookshops in Holland

Saturday, 8 December 2012

December 4: The wild hunt for Saint Nicolas

(Thunderstorm approaching Petra; photo: Jeroen Koster)

According to Wikipedia the Wild Hunt “is an ancient folk myth prevalent across Northern, Western and Central Europe. The fundamentals in all instances is the same: a phantasmal, spectral group of huntsmen with the accoutrements of hunting with horses and hounds in mad pursuit, cross the skies or along the ground, or just above it.”, announcing a thunderstorm and mostly taking place in mid–winter.

People still believing in this old legend must have been pretty happy these last few days seeing plenty of the Wild Hunt here on the island. For days heavy thunderstorms passed and each day we could enjoy (or quiver) while seeing bright lightshows as lightning illuminated the clouds like light bulbs, or we could wonder about the freakish lightning that was sent straight into the ground or the sea.

Was it Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus that kept the rain away for a few hours during the Christmas market which was held in the schoolyard in Molyvos on Sunday December 2? Did they also delay the Wild Hunt, in order that the villagers could get in the mood for Christmas? Or was it both Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus — who are believed to be the same person (see: Saint Nicholas)?

In German mythology the leader of the troop of hunters who chased along the thundering sky was the old German god Wodan, but there are also people who believe that it was Saint Nicholas who lead this group of men.

Some people believe that there are connections between the rituals around Wodan and Saint Nicolas celebrated of on December 6th by the Dutch. They both ride a grey horse, Wodan through the sky, Saint Nicholas over the roofs; Wodan commanded an army of black soldiers, while Saint Nicholas is helped by black servants; Wodan used black ravens to spy for him, Saint Nicholas has his servants spy on the children for him; Wodan had an upbringing role in reprimanding people who were not living according to gods laws and Saint Nicholas puts naughty children in a sack. These and other similarities lead people to believe that a few of these old German stories about Wodan were the origins of some of the Dutch rituals around the Dutch Saint Nicholas celebration.

Here in Greece there are no similarities between Wodan and Saint Nicholas. December 6th in Greece is the name day for all people named after Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos), the patron saint of the seafarers. That is why there are thousands of Saint Nicholas churches to be found in Greece, most of them close to the sea. There is a Saint Nicholas church in Mytilini, close to the old harbour, an ancient mosque rebuilt in 1912 as a church. Another Saint Nicholas church on the island is the very old basilica in Petra, hidden under a huge plane tree, not far from the rock that is home to the famous Maria Glykofiloussa Church. In this ancient church you will find very old frescoes of a series of saints, amongst them of course Saint Nicholas. Some of the wall paintings are 3 layers thick, the eldest dating as far back as the 16th century. Beautiful woodcarving and a bishop’s throne 500 years old, complete the faded glory of this old basilica.

Certainly there will be more Saint Nicholas churches on the island; there are still plenty of small ports where fishing boats keep on coming in and out and they all need to be able to burn a candle for a safe journey. On December 6th all those churches will be lit with extra candles because all men called Nikos will celebrate their name day.

So Saint Nicholas exists in Greece. And it is generally believed that the Saint Nicholas so celebrated in Holland originally was the Greek bishop of Myra. This bishop was also buried in this area (near Demre, Turkey). Italian merchants believed in all the miracles Saint Nicholas did and when the muslims threatened to take over the region of Myra, they exhumed the remains of Saint Nicholas and brought them to Bari in Italy, where they built a basilica, and where his remains still rest.

I think that in Turkey they have no Saint Nicholas celebration, nor are people named after this saint. However, the Turkish government has more than once asked Italy to return the remains of Saint Nicholas: they claim that they belong to the Turkish heritage.

Maybe secretly Saint Nicholas is also for them a patron saint for seafarers. For days now, here on Lesvos as well as at the other side of the sea, intensive storms have raced over the area, causing havoc. The first winds came from the south, shaking the olive trees, causing garden furniture to fly through the air, walls to crumble and streets to flood. For two days there have been long, strong rollers from the west, making some coasts of Lesvos look like Hawaii with huge waves tumbling over the streets. It will be no paradise these days on the sea. May Saint Nicholas keep all seafarers safe.

(With thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

Friday, 30 November 2012

November 22 – Blues of Cats & dogs


Autumn is a marvellous time: the greening landscape, the yellow and red autumnal shades, summer-like temperatures, the smell of leaves and mushrooms and the beautiful light. But autumn has also a disadvantage: the stray animals that are abandoned.

I do love the autumn but I hate this other aspect of this season. You really have to cover your eyes when you walk the streets because everywhere you see cats (mostly) jumping in your way seeking attention and food. The season of tourists spoiling cats is over and suddenly these animals are confronted with a harsh reality: they are on their own to gather food.

Some cats are used to the difference between a cold winter with a minimum of attention and food and a summer full of delicious food and plenty of nice people spoiling them. But there are also cats who, when night falls, stay in the middle of the road. A friend coming back from Australia told me that kangaroos like to sit on the road at night because of the warm tarmac. So I wonder if these kamikaze cats remain on the road for the warmth or if it is a cry for attention. To me it seems like suicide, the road is not the safest place to sit.

Greeks have never had a special relationship with pets and especially not with cats. Cats were only kept to drive mice, rats and snakes away and they were even used as food for fighting dogs. The famous writer of comedies Aristophanes (446 - 386 BC) regularly used cats in his satirical plays, as a scapegoat: they were always the ones who did it: “The cat did it” became a popular expression in that time. Alternately, in Egypt, cats were loved so much, that when one died, all members of the household had to shave their eyebrows as a sign for mourning.

For dogs it is the same story: lots of strays do not know where to go, when most people have left the island and where life gets on but mainly inside the houses. Pups are dropped at the schools, in the hope that parents will take a dog for their children; other dogs roam along the roads, in search of food and attention.

Dogs were a bit more popular in ancient Greece than cats. Peritas, the favourite dog of Alexander the Great saved him once during a battle by biting an elephant on his lips. It is said that during this same battle Peritas got wounded and died in the lap of his master. And just like at the death of Alexanders beloved horse Bucephalus, Peritas had a city named after him, close to Bucephala, nowadays Jhelum in Pakistan.

Another dog known from Greek mythology is Argos, the dog of Odysseus. He waited twenty years for Odysseus to come back from his participation at the Trojan war and his long journey home. Only when his boss finally showed up, could Argos die.

Laelaps was the dog that Zeus gave to Europe whom he had abducted and taken to Crete. There the dog was given to king Minos, who gave the dog to Procris. Procris set the dog to hunting the big fox Teumessia, which led to a paradox: Laelaps was a hunting dog who always got his prey, while Teumessia was a very smart and giant fox who never got caught. Zeus, enraged by the constantly running dog and fox, changed them into stone.

Nowadays the most well known dog is Loukanikos, the Athenian stray that last year was always seen with the protesters in the riots in the Greek capital and will certainly have a place in Greek mythology in future. Loukanikos was amongst the protesters called by Time Magazine ‘Person of the year 2011’. The last I heard about him he had retreated, probably to an adoptive home where he gets spoiled, which is better than straying into the Molotov cocktails.

More and more organisations are trying to help the stray animals, also on Lesvos, and even individuals take action like selling calendars or to sterilize cats and dogs. The Wildlife Hospital in Agia Paraskevia has stopped its main activities, but work is still going on at the animal shelter EreSOS (in Eresos) and since last year there is an animal welfare organisation Tierfreunde Lesvos in the north of the island helping people with the adoption of strays and sterilization. (Friedrun and Inge: many thanks for what you and the other people helping you do).

Last summer there also was some fuss about some people trying to free all chained dogs. However well meant, these people should realize that many dogs still help the farmers with their cattle and are for this reason tied up. Lots of them are not as badly treated as it looks and we should not forget that decades ago in our western European countries, guarding dogs at farms were kept on chains or in far too small cages.

Animal love should not get exagerrated. And Lesvos is no supermarket where you can adopt each animal you meet. Last summer I heard stories about tourists taking animals away, even though they had homes on the island. My dog also had a tourist fall in love with him and she kept on begging me for the dog to take him away from the island. Albino in fact is a stray dog who lives in the summer in a hotel where he makes sure that he gets spoiled and in the winter he lives with me. I am sure he is the happiest straydog of the island.

There are lots of others dogs (and cats) who desperately need a home or attention. Just take a look at EreSOS, Tierfreunde Lesvos, or another organisation for animal welfare and see how you can help them.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Now life seems to turn around the olives: the nets are placed under the trees and olive presses are opening their doors. All artists working on this island will be inspired by the olive trees. Like Chantalle van Eijk who was inspired by the silver-green colour of the tree and the beautiful play of lines displayed in the olive wood: The roots.

Material: pastel pencil with Indian ink on water color paper, sizes: 24 cm by 31 cm, prize: 125 euro.

Chantalle van Eijk (born 1974) finished her study as artist in 1998, then she made long travels and got her inspiration from the faraway countries. In 2003 she fell in love with the Greek island of Lesvos where she stayed and since then lived and worked. The structures, colours and basic forms in the landscape and the sea are her main inspiration.

For more information:
Facebook: Chanti van Eijk

Thursday, 8 November 2012

November 5 – Weather report

(Sunset at the Gulf of Kalloni)

Last September the average temperature was unusually high in Argentina, Australia, Canada, Greenland, Japan and Russia. I would add Greece to this list, because it was pretty hot here too and certainly too warm for the time of the year. October was also unusually warm and might even have been the hottest October ever in Greece.

The summer weather was finally chased away by a heavy rain front with thunderstorms. A week ago, the day that the world was waiting anxiously for what Sandy would do in America, we were also waiting impatiently for the rain that was predicted. First we had to deal with a two hour power failure, then we were presented with an incredible show of lightning without thunder which forced the temperature up to 30 ºC and then finally the heavens opened with the roaring sound of thunder and rain — creating a deafening rock concert. In the north of Lesvos I guess enough rain fell for the rest of the winter and I could imagine a little how the Americans felt during Sandy. Elsewhere on the island, Lisvori for instance, not so much rain fell.

You could say that the summer is boring: no clouds in the sky, high temperatures and the only variations are presented by the wind, coming from this or that direction. It seems to me that the local Greeks have divided the wind directions only in two: here in the north when the wind blows from the sea it is a north wind, when the wind arrives from over the mountains it is a south wind. I seldom hear of the west or east wind. But after a recent storm from the south – that blew the rain clouds far away from the island - we did get an unexpected wind from the west. This is a rare and dangerous wind, producing large rolling waves, that swished noisily over the already damaged coastal road of Eftalou. I was afraid that it would take the whole road into the sea, but after a few hours the wind changed and the beach reappeared as brand new, and the freshly made holes in the road were easily filled naturally with a layer of sand and pebbles which were deposited by the sea on the street (a next storm probably will undo this repair, but that we will see another time).

The north of Lesvos is known for its sunsets and in summer you will see tourists positioned on the rocks between Molyvos and Petra in order to take pictures of this daily but romantic event. However people who really like sunsets should come in the autumn, when clouds aid the creation of a far more colourful sunset: a sun descending into the sea from an empty blue sky is not nearly as suberb as a sun plunging into the sea amidst fire spewing clouds.

For example yesterday in the morning the clouds mirrored themselves in the Gulf of Kalloni: the water surface was as smooth as glass. Humid air made the mountains look pretty mysterious and these two occurences promised very nice pictures at sunset. In the afternoon the wind came and all that magic ended. But the weather gods kept their promise: when the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the clouds exploded into bright colours and the waters of the Gulf of Kalloni coloured purple: a magic sunset.

Another phenomenon of the Mediterranean climate occurs at the end of the long hot summer with the greening of the dry landscape after the first rains. Mountains and fields will colour rapidly and if you observe it with patience you may see the herbs rushing out of the earth, growing a millimetre per minute. The water from heaven will dust off the landscape and the faded colours will be replaced by fresh green grasses and the yellow leaves of trees like figs or planes.

Even the moon seems to dress up for the season. Although not entirely autumn yet, on August 31st the moon made a special appearance: for the second time in one month it was full moon and this is called a Blue Moon. This may happen each second or third year and on this occasion Greece celebrated the Blue Moon with the opening at night of some 120 archaeological sites. Some days before the big storm a huge blood red moon appeared above the mountains and last week she was dressed with a rainbow coloured halo, announcing a second deluge from heaven. Although this abundant rainfall only occured two days later.

It took some time before the rain came, bringing the few flowers that add colours to the autumn - like the rose cyclamen and the yellow and pink autumn crocus – but only very few. The olive harvesters are waiting as well so that the olives can drink the water form heaven and I am wondering if the rain that has already fallen will have satisfied the mushrooms. Did they get enough to push their heads out of the earth or will it be – like last year – a pretty poor mushroom year?

So you see, autumn weather is far more exciting than the weather during the long and lazy summer days. It is clear that whoever wants to enjoy life on the island has to stay longer than the holiday season.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

October 27 – Hurray, the Turks are coming!

(The harbour of Petra)

Last week the last charter plane left the island, normally meaning that the summer season is over. Most restaurants and shops close their doors and the people start preparing for the winter. Before the real cold strikes, which is normally in January or February, most people want to have completed their olive harvest and that’s why they’re now going to their olive orchards and putting down the nets under the trees.

The hot and long lasting summer weather has finally been replaced by cozy warm autumn weather and even though rain has been forecast several times, only a few rain clouds succeeded in invading the air above the island, resulting in just a few drops of water. It still remains perfect walking weather and many people wonder why it is that the tourist season should finish at the end of October when the last charter plane leaves the island.

Okay, the sky may not be bright and entirely blue each day and in the evenings you need a thin coat to comfort you and in some places later in the evening it’s too humid to stay outside. But as long as it doesn’t rain, the island - with a temperature around the 25 ºC - remains a Mecca for hikers, nature lovers, car tour addicts, chestnut collectors or museum visitors. Let’s say it like this: the beach season finally is over (although last week you still could bake in the sun, lying on the beach).

There are however people who recognize that Greece is not only a summer holiday destination, but that there are places in Greece, like Lesvos, that are even more attractive after the hot season. And why not? Dutch people love to visit the Ardennes in Belgium, a place not exactly known for its warm climate, nor is England - where it always seems to rain - which is another popular holiday destination for the Dutch.

At the end of the season there always be some yoga courses, meaning that not all hotels close immediately, and there are the new tourists, not coming from far, but from the other side: the Turks. They are not tied to last charters and come – especially when they have more than one day off – by boat from Ayvalik or Dikili. And they come more and more often and their number is increasing.

Relations between Greeks and Turks were not always great. For centuries the Ottoman Empire occupied Greece and for hundreds of years, here as well as on the island as at the other side in Anatolia, Greeks and Turks were living side by side. After the Greek-Turkish war of 1919 – 1922 there remained tensions and rows over islands and the territorial frontiers on sea, there was the Cyprus crisis in 1974 nearly causing war again, and even later diplomatic conferences were often necessary to keep the two countries from war.

On some islands Turkish people still are not very welcome. When there were the big fires on Chios last August, it was said immediately that the Turks had set the wildfire (although later the culprit turned out to be a volunteer fire fighter). But Lesvos, whose last Golden Century (around 1900) was thanks to the trade with the immense Ottoman Empire and its close relations with the region at the other side, does welcome the Turks back on the island.

For years now trade has been restored, it’s mainly fish that is exported. And from Mytilini a few times a week a ferry goes over to Ayvalik or Dikili. Lots of Greeks use the ferries to go shopping in Turkey. Fresh food is not allowed to be brought back, but clothes (like wedding dresses), curtains, furniture and many more things are carried away to Lesvos. There is also an increasing number of Greeks that visit tourist attractions like Assos or Pergamon, along with a growing number of people travelling to Istanbul, in Greek still called Constantinopel.

Turkey is developing at high speed and the Turks who have discovered the Greek islands as a holiday destination do spend good money here, because to them Greece is inexpensive. So from both ways the number of tourists increases and last winter there was an attempt to have a regular charter plane from Istanbul to Lesvos for the summer period (a project that did not work out for some reason unknown to me).

Another project that has been discussed for many years is to have the boats to Turkey depart from the north of Lesvos. The one and a half hour drive to the capital from the north is a lot of fuss for tourists and inhabitants in the north. Molyvos wanted to have the ferries to Turkey departing from its harbour, but the narrow streets and nature of the harbour make this plan impossible. Petra however does have an ideal harbour for ferries to Turkey and has plenty of space for tourist bus access. It is now said that there is an agreement and that customs are organized: from January onwards ferries to and from Ayvalik may arrive in Petra, meaning that the weekends may become more busy with tourists.

There are still no plans for a boat trip to Assos, a little town situated opposite the north of Lesvos. It was built around 1000 – 900 BC by Lesvorian people and it does resemble Molyvos. In its surroundings there is a temple for Athena, offering a breathtaking view over Lesvos. It could become a popular excursion, just one hour by boat from Petra.

Friday October 26 started the Festival of Sacrifice in Turkey, a holiday and on October 29 it was Republic Day, and some 500 Turks took advantage of these holidays to visit Lesvos, meaning that several restaurants and hotels reopened their doors. The Greeks also had a holiday on Sunday: Ochi Day. This holiday has nothing to do with Turkey, it is the commemoration of the day that the Greeks said “no” to Mussolini during the Second World war.

Although Greece gets poorer by the day, there are places where some hope dawns and whilst the Greeks might once have said “no” also to the Turks, they now say: “Hurray, the Turks are coming!”

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@2012 Smitaki

Friday, 19 October 2012

October 14 – The last island

 Troika is a Russian word for a trio, a dance or a vehicle. The controlling team of three organizations – The European Commission, The European Central Bank and The International Monetary Fund – whose purpose is to ensure that Greece lives up to its agreements with Europe is also called the Troika. One would like to think that this team consists of intelligent people with a good understanding of the Greek’s problems, but some of their suggestions make you wonder if these people have not come straight out of the Middle Ages. A few weeks ago it was suggested that Greece should install a working week of 6 days, with 13 working hours a day!

Last week another of their stupid suggestions made it into the media: islands with 150 or less inhabitants should be evacuated so that the subsidised ferries that link these islands to bigger islands or to the continent, could be eliminated.

Many of these islands are still visited by tourists in search of ancient Greeks culture: for instance Delos (14 inhabitants) Antikythera (44 inhabitants where the existence of an ancient computer has been discovered), Telendos (54 inhabitants with beautifully unspoilt nature) Antipaxos (64 inhabitants), or Antipsara (4 inhabitants, and a place of pilgrimage). If these ferries were to end and you were on one of these island and wanting to depart you could find yourself in the middle of the newest novel of the Dutch writer Threes Anna: The last land.

The last land takes place somewhere on an island in the north of Europe, with a cold climate; winters with long dark days and summers where the sun barely stops giving her light. There are not many trees growing on the island and most farmers live from what their goats, sheep and the odd cow brings. One day an unexpected and heavy storm hits the island causing havoc and taking many victims. Whilst in the past, after heavy weather, it had often taken a long time to make contact by phone or internet and to secure help from the continent; this time it’s worse — no contact can be made and no help at all is coming. The island seems to be on its own. When fuel for the power plant and heaters is finished, when all gasoline is used up and all electric equipment becomes useless, hard times come to the remaining (in this case far more than 150) inhabitants. This number reduces to under 150 when it is decided that all fishing and motor boats have to be converted to sail in order to reach the inhabited world. Of the city and the village people who take off in search of the continent, none ever returns and the few people who stay behind have to survive in a very primitive way, living from sheep, goats, fish and the few herbs growing on the barren mountainslopes.
This is a fascinating book, obviously concerned with end of the world rather than the absence of ferries; although the situation may in the end be the same.

Lesvos has between 90 and 100 thousand inhabitants and so has nothing to fear from this dreadful idea to reduce ferry services and I presume this project will never get accepted. Lesvos also has sufficient trees to keep heaters and stoves at work, and its natural resources are much richer than the island from The last land. On Lesvos one could easily survive, should the shops no longer be supplied with goods.

However the number of inhabitants is reducing quickly, as more and more people depart for foreign countries, looking for a better life: here there are only a few jobs, a few customers, so no money. In The last land money becomes worthless because nothing remained to be bought and the only way to purchase something is through exchange. Computers, kitchen equipment, cars and telephones all become useless and only good for the scrapheap.

It is good that more and more often it is said that Europe wants to save Greece. So we don’t have to be afraid that Lesvos will become such an island, without all comfort.

One comfort against the harsh winter Greece is expecting due to the crisis is the warm lovely weather that keeps on coming. Very nice indeed, but the olive trees do need rain; since last May none has fallen. Because of drought and heavy rainfall in Spain the price of olive oil have risen and that could be an opportunity for the Lesvorians to earn some money. But lots of olives are already turning blue, a little too early for this time of the year and a sign of a lack of water.

Whilst it is to our advantage that we have not yet had to turn on the heaters, some people are starting to worry. As in The last land the weather can ruthlessly cause a drought or bring too much of rain or hail and regularly harvests can be lost. But Greece is still a long way from this situation and if it can depend on Europe, it can avoid the need to collect herbs to survive, to use the fat of sheep to burn lamps or to plunder empty houses for food and clothes.

The last island provides a scenario of what can happen when an island becomes isolated: a fascinating novel about the end of the world, not about the end of Greece. A great novel of Threes Anna, best to be read comfortably seated next to a purring heater. Kalo chimonas (good winter)!

(With thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012

Friday, 12 October 2012

October 9: No windmill park in a Geopark!

(A few windmills in the West of Lesvos)

UNESCO is the largest organisation that tries to preserve the world’s heritage, both cultural and geological. However last week they could not prevent the centuries’ old Bazaar in Aleppo (Syria) being burned to ashes, a victim of the civil war. It’s especially during wars that lots of world heritage gets lost.

Its not only buildings or towns that UNESCO protects, but also landscapes. There are 89 global Geoparks, situated in 27 countries, 52 of them in 18 European countries. According to Wikipedia: A Geopark is defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in its UNESCO Geoparks International Network of Geoparks programme as follows: A territory encompassing one or more sites of scientific importance, not only for geological reasons but also by virtue of its archaeological, ecological or cultural value.’

The country with most Geoparks is China, having 26 breathtaking nature parks registered with UNESCO. I wonder why none of the 41 national parks of Russia are on the list; but Greece has 4 Geoparks: Psiloritis Natural park on Crete, Chelmos – Vouraikos Geopark in the north of the Peloponnesos, Vikos Aoös Park in Epirus and The Petrified Forest in Sigri on Lesvos.

It is great that Lesvos has one of the 89 Geoparks of the world. Last September it was decided that the frontiers of the Lesvorian Geopark had to be enlarged: the whole island of Lesvos now has been declared a Geopark. So now I live in a geopark! And coming for a holiday to Lesvos now means that you come to a Geopark. It says something about the uniqueness of Lesvos with its petrified trees, its archaeological finds of very ancient settlements, its prehistoric bones and with its traditional villages in a differentiated and beautiful landscape.

Can the island remain a Geopark, I don’t know. Some years ago the 17 individual municipalities of Levos melted into one large cumbersome unit and the grapevine whispers that since then most money is kept at the capital of the island. Now the Municipality of Lesvos thinks it is time to industrialise the quietest part of the island – the west.

I thought that the time of industrialisation was over and that we now have the era of digitalisation. But nearly-broke Greece has another opinion and so most of the counsillors of the municipality will agree with the proposed project of the Spanish company Iberdrola to place on Lesvos (and Chios and Lemnos) an enormous wind turbine park.

I have already mentioned this project in DonQuiLesvos fighting the windmills.
It seems that the villages in this area expect more good than bad things from the plan. They probably don’t realise what implications this huge park could have for their silent and impressive nature that offers a home to rare birds and plants. The region will be turned upside down in order to make way for the 100 km of roads, each 5 to 10 metres wide, that need to be built to enable the installation of the turbines. Some mountaintops will also have to be flattened in order to make room for 153 wind turbines, each 67 metres high.

The west will be crossed by an electricitycable because the collected energy is not destined for the island’s use. The electricity from Lesvos, Chios and Lemnos will be collected here on the island and transported by cable to the mainland where the highest bidder can buy it. I assume that this cable will not be just the thin telephone cable they used to lay in the landscape going to a top of mountains so that firemen or other people could alarm authorities in the case of a wild fire (in the woods above Parakila you can still follow such a line for many kilometres all the way to the top of Profitis Illias [should you get lost, follow this line down the mountains!]). And whilst Iberdrola promises that the inhabitants of Lesvos will benefit from their business, nobody knows how: 1 or 10 euro reduction on the ever-increasing electricity bills? There is even talk that the inhabitants should pay in order to keep the wind turbines going.

I can understand, that because of the crisis, lots of people will like someone to invest in their region. The question remains if there will be any profit from a project collecting energy that is transported immediately from the island to the mainland. The windmills do not need big maintenance, so that will not provide much employment and the 100 km of roads will probably be built by the cheapest roadworkers: foreigners (just like the buildings for the Olympic Games in 2004 were realized).

I am not against green energy but now that the whole of Lesvos has become a Geopark I wonder if such a huge windmill park belongs here. I do hope that UNESCO can convince the Greek state or Lesvorian Municipality that a Geopark offers a more abiding future than a foreign company coming to earn money for some years. Wind turbines have a lifetime of about 20 year after which they probably will be left as shot-iron.
Greece has put 40 islands up for rent, so Iberdrola, please go with your projects to such an island: no windmill park in a Geopark!

You want to react? See the addresses at the bottom of this blog of Lesvos birding

(with thanks to Mary Staples)
@ Smitaki 2012