Wednesday, 22 August 2012
August 20: Fig and Fire
(A ripe red purple fig)
Sometimes I suspect time of secretly passing more quickly in Greece: before you know it summer is over. All village festivities, like the Sardine Festival in Kalloni and the Celebration of Teoktisti in Molyvos are over and even the highlight of the Greek summer, Maria Assumption has just been celebrated. These days are characterized by the shouting, pushing, illegal parking, making noise in-the-middle-of-the-night-home-coming, holiday-celebrating Greeks from the big cities and although they cause a festive atmosphere, there are people who hope that the quiet days will quickly return.
And that is what it does and as a bonus last week the long lasting heat also got chased away by a real thunderstorm with a refreshing downpour. Now there is a cool northern wind blowing, that has caused the temperature of the seawater to drop by many degrees.
August 15 also means that the figs start ripening, a festive event celebrated in silence: everywhere you see people savouring figs they have just picked. The first pots of marmalade appear and I myself have made a row of pots of Oriental fig marmalade (for the recipe, see: Almost Greek). Yesterday a friend passed by bringing bags full of figs, so I saw no other solution than to spend the day in the kitchen over a pan cooking figs.
Which was not bad at all because for two days now I have been following the Dutch music festival Lowlands, partly broadcasted live through YouTube. The music often made me dance in front of the stove. Isn’t it a miracle that from Greece you can enjoy the music that is performed so far away? Although my happiness soon diminished because of something happening closer to the island.
People in the south of Lesvos had to have seen it: dark clouds drifting above the neighbouring island of Chios because an enormous wildfire was raging through its south. Villages had to be evacuated, people who fled from the flames became stranded on a beach surrounded by the fire, other inhabitants had to fight hard to preserve their goods and an army of fire fighters, soldiers and volunteers are still trying to stop the fire with an extensive fleet of fire trucks, planes and helicopters.
The strong wind from the north made the fire mighty and swift, a tough adversary for all people struggling with the flames. Today (Monday August 20) the fire is ongoing and the wind still going strong, causing such high waves at sea that the planes fighting the fires could not take water and had to fly up and down to Lesvos to the more quiet waters of the Gulf of Kalloni (or Gera).
The fire is still raging around Anavatos, one of the locations of the James Bond-film For your eyes only. Anavatos was built on a steep mountain, with a near invisible access road so that the inhabitants were protected from the pirates. Flames however are licking this road and it is a miracle that the fire has not found the village yet. The few remaining inhabitants of Anavatos make their living from their olive fields, grow peanuts and raisins and have bees in the fields below. I guess there will be nothing left there and it is estimated that 60% of the beehives of the island are destroyed, a damage that will need tens of years to be restored.
At the south of the conflagration flames are threatening lovely villages such as Pirgi and Olympi, villages of the mastic region. On Chios for centuries now mastic trees have been cultivated to harvest mastic, one of the specialities of the island. It is a national disaster that huge parts of this unique area have been destroyed by the fire.
I regularly spent holidays in this mastic area where I used to pick lots of blue figs. There are many kinds of figs and I have no idea which tree provides which variety. On Chios you mainly find blue figs but on Lesvos they are green, which I thought to be very odd because I believed that ripe figs should be blue. Now I know better and I even know a few trees with blue figs on Lesvos, also a tree with purple red figs and one with nearly black figs and one with figs as big as an apple. I don’t think that there is a lot of difference in taste. As long as you pick them at the right time when they are soft and juicy, they all taste divine.
I divide the figs in four portions: one part lies in the sun to dry, another part I will use to make ice cream from figs and blackberries, another part I will turn into fig chutney and with the fourth part I will make some more pots of Oriental fig marmalade. While I stir a teaspoon of mastic through the marmalade, with pain in the heart I think back to this gorgeous mastic area, where the crickets were loudly singing, hidden in very ancient olive and mastic trees and trees full of blue figs. It has now probably turned into a blackened, dead silent eerie landscape. I cry for you, Chios!
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
@ Smitaki 2012