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

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