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The hot and long lasting summer weather has finally been replaced by cozy warm autumn weather and even though rain has been forecast several times, only a few rain clouds succeeded in invading the air above the island, resulting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

Monday, 1 October 2012

September 28 – Cricket-rush

(A field cricket)

On these lovely late summer days crickets are still singing a lot; the weather is magically warm and sunny. For most people a cricket is a cricket although, as with other animals, there are many different kinds of crickets: tree crickets, prairie crickets, bush crickets and field crickets. They all look a bit different, one resembles a grasshopper, another, like the field cricket, looks more like a black bug with long hind legs and small wings. It is easier to hear a cricket than to see him. When listening to their singing, it is difficult to detect this maestro.

Crickets are known for their singing. The Chinese especially love them. Chinese history can even be divided into dynasties­­– those without crickets, those with singing crickets and, later on, those with fighting crickets. I can’t believe that crickets are loved as pets because of their musical talents: the sound of a cricket close up can only hurt your ears. And I do believe that cricket fights can be better than bull fights; but as I don’t like violence, even between two crickets, I can’t see the fun in watching two animals fighting.

The general sound of crickets does give the landscape a nice atmosphere, as does the tinkling of the bells of sheep and goats. Technically speaking, crickets don’t sing but stridulate. By rubbing one wing over another they can produce a sound of many decibels. And some stridulations  are more melodic than others (see: Sample Songs of cricket and Katydids).

The Chinese put their singing crickets into small and elegant cages and in the Forbidden City those cages - made of fine bamboo or even gold - were far more beautiful than the crickets themselves. The Communists didn’t approve of this cricket business, as it was a bourgeoisie past time, so for several years the crickets were banished back to the nature. Nowadays caged crickets are back in the markets, not only for their singing or fighting, but for their cultural value: a cricket in a Chinese house brings luck. Not everybody agrees with that. In different regions in Brazil they believe that a black cricket in the house will bring sickness and in another region it can bring death. But there is also a Brazilian region where a singing cricket in the house might bring money and in another region it may announce a pregnancy.

I’m with the Chinese in believing that crickets in the house bring luck, because last week I had the Cricket Rush on my house, a phenomenon that also happened last year and for which I have not found a scientific explanation. On Lesvos it seems that each season brings a small plague. In the spring the house is attacked by thousands of caterpillars that climb up the walls, the mid summer heat waves can cause ant invasions, along the end of August a certain kind of beige spider runs around and now we get a Cricket Rush.

Last week when opening the door of my house, I was greeted by an army of black crickets ready to jump into the house. Tramping my feet and clacking and quickly shutting the doors could not prevent this rush: the house was invaded by crickets and some even had the nerve to start shouting: it was deafening!

In Zambia seeing a cricket may bring you luck, probably meaning that you see them not often. Well, I do believe that, because the ones in my house that started their song, remained invisible.

I think that these culprits were field crickets, fall crickets to be precise (there are also spring field crickets and, as you can guess, they are to be seen in spring). They were black, looking a little like cockroaches suddenly running and jumping around in the house. The rush took some days and even now I am still finding plenty of field crickets on their backs: stone dead.

‘Walking of the insects’ (Jing Zhe) is a Chinese expression for when the spring field crickets appear, explained by Chinese farmers as a season change. Can these fall field crickets also be announcing a season change? Since they ambushed the house the sun kept on shining all day long and the temperature kept on floating around the 30 °C. The Greeks (as far as I know) do not have a cultural value for a cricket, although tourists associate the singing crickets with happy holidays in warm and sunny regions.

The next plague has announced itself: flies. I have had to put some thought into what I did last year to fight the flies, but, as I remember, it was the first cold that stopped these nasty animals from flying into the house. But there is no cold to be expected: the weather forecast continues to be for sunny hot weather, and the crickets can continue their song, but not in my house!

There was one plague that did not come this year: the wasps in August. In the past wasps could spoil many dinners by aggressively begging for food and making you flee into the house. I do not know if the absence of wasps was only at my place (I have seen only a few), or in the north of Lesvos, or on the entire island or even in the whole of Greece. If there also were not many wasps everywhere, this might be a cause for concern. Bees are disappearing in large numbers and this phenomenon is considered by the scientists as a threat for humanity. Wasps have the same function in nature as bees: they fertilize plants and however awful a bee or wasp sting can be, without these insects there will be fewer flowers and less food. So really a wasp plague should be considered a healthy one. But even though the Chinese consider crickets in the house a happy event, I don’t see the advantage of these little monsters in my house.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2012