Wednesday, 23 December 2015
Sunday, 13 December 2015
(Saint Nicholas saving people; photo from internet)
Christmas on a Greek island still remains a bit odd. In daytime you can enjoy the sun in a Christmas tree decorated t-shirt. But once the sun kisses the sea, a wintry cold creeps up from the ground and then a hot spiced wine (glühwein) taste as sweet as a Christmas angel on your tongue, just like past Sunday, when hundreds of people came to the Christmas market in Molyvos.
You may throw a party on the 6th of December in honour of the little Holy Baby in his manger, but this day remains first and foremost the Names Day of Saint Nicholas, in Greek Ayos Nikolaos. He is amongst others the patron saint of children and of everybody travelling over water. I’m sure that all Greek islands have a church dedicated to him. On Lesvos you even may find a Saint Nicholas church in each harbour, and that is very much needed, because saving lives has become a daily matter here.
The Holy Nicholas originally comes from Patara, nowadays in Turkey. As the Bishop of Myra he helped poor children and saved people from the sea. Now that masses of refugees use Turkey to come to Europe, he will be the saint responsible for a safe journey over the Aegean Sea.
European politicians may have celebrated this childrens’ event (especially in Holland), eating lots of sweet and with their hearts at peace, because they shifted their guilt to Greece and they have dropped an enormous bag full of money in Turkey, so that no refugee dares to enter Europe anymore. Naughty kids in Holland can end up in the big bag of the coloured helpers of Saint Nicholas and I think that those Peters should cram those politicians playing Judas in their bag and transport them to Lesvos. There they will have to participate in a cold night wake in order to see what their faulty decisions have caused: devilish Erdogan has caused the refugee stream to dry up, just to show that he is the boss over Europe and that he has sent his smugglers for a Christmas Holiday. Those few not obeying Erdogan will have to play at being real smugglers, using the night as their cover: now the refugees do the crossing mainly in the pitch-dark, regularly choosing the longer route to Mytilini, which makes the journey even more dangerous.
As far as I can see Turkey does not have a patron saint, but Greece does: Saint Nicholas. Now look at the Greek people! Entirely in the spirit of their patron saint and with the help of lots of gifts from abroad, they are trying to give the refugees dignified shelter.
The patron saint of Lesvos is the archangel Michael (Taxiarchis), who normally is pictured like a fierce fighter out of a modern computer game. He regularly uses his weapon. According to believers the last time he took up his shiny sword was during the Cyprus crisis (1974), when his mural painting at the Mandamados Monastery disappeared. It reappeared within a week and several Greek soldiers vow that in the time between, they fought their battle against the Turks side by side with Michael.
This combative archangel also is no stranger to Muslims. Mikal is known to have fought against the devil. That he did not win that battle proves all the evil that still is around. Since the death of Mary (who died in Ephese, also now in Turkey) Turkey has been the centre of several powerful empires, like the Byzantines and the Ottomans. Today someone else is enthroned in Turkey dreaming of another megalomaniac empire.
These days feel like we are in the world of Game of Thrones, where rulers and politicians are blinded by wealth and trample their people; they play dirty tricks and fight each other, while in the background, not a new Ice Age, but the warming of the globe is the real enemy.
Jesus’ father Joseph is the protector of a long list of people, amongst them the refugees. But he has so many to protect that it seems he may not be up to his task. I think the refugees better stick with Ayos Nikolaos, who, believe it or not, was the precursor of Santa Claus. Lighting a candle for this white bearded man could be a good idea.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
© Smitaki 2015
Geplaatst door smitaki op Sunday, December 13, 2015
Sunday, 22 November 2015
Monday, 9 November 2015
Monday, 26 October 2015
Thursday, 1 October 2015
(Sunset in Eftalou)
How dangerous countries such as the Netherlands, France or England have become due to its extreme weather? In Greece we survived the past August full of dangerous high temperatures, far above 30 °C. Though it wasn’t really extreme weather because the mercury did not break any records.
High temperatures are one of the reasons for the Greeks to have a little sleep in the afternoon. According to a study of the Greek Asklipieio Voula hospital a siesta might lower dangerous high blood pressure. Another reason to encourage Greeks to go napping during the afternoon. I also cannot resist an extreme comfortable sofa in the afternoon, especially during the summer heat.
I think that some of those extreme downpours, which are a plague for other countries, can also increase the blood pressure of the Greeks: at the end of the season they dream of many centimetres of rain, because nature has completely dried out.
In the area I live Mary did not drop any tears around her Ascension. We had to wait until the end of September when the gods finally emptied some buckets of water. The traditional August shower however did come down on other parts of the island, like in Mytilini and Kalloni, and blessed the rivers with so much water that already in August they formed a nice paddling paradise for the black storks.
Kalloni is the most dangerous place on the island due to extreme weather conditions: there you will always find the highest summer or the lowest winter temperatures. If the gods decided to pour some water from heaven, it mostly will fall around Kalloni. In the summer the rare showers are received with lots of joy because it means a temporary relief from the heat, in the winter the rains are cursed because of floods.
I have a stunning view over Turkey from my house, where even more extreme temperatures can occur. This summer I observed that the Turks were also spoiled with lots of unreliable clouds. I often saw pitch black masses hanging above their mountains, promising a fantastic Sound & Light Show. I prayed to Maria to push those dangerous looking, thundering clouds towards the island. You saw curtains of rain and sizzling lightning slashing on hill tops and then on sea: you could smell the sweet perfume of this heavenly water, but over and over again those hydrogen nests fell apart to dissolve into the blue sky. So disappointing that high blood pressure could cause your heart to stop.
During the last days of September Turkey again is regaled: enormous white bulging cauliflowers grow and threaten the frontier. I am wondering how the refugees deal with bad weather. They travel through extreme hot Turkey to cross the sea in dangerous boats, even during siesta times, and when heavy weather bursts out they have no homes to shelter.
Would smugglers take into account dangerous weather? Last month there was a strong wind blowing: no extreme force, but I would have let out a weather alarm for those flimsy dinghies they push the refugees on. At least three people that day did not reach Europe.
Now again those cauliflower clouds start colouring black and I am wondering if the refugees are already soaking wet before they even take place on these frightening and overloaded boats, which continue to make perilous journeys.
The nice weather this summer did not care to stop, just like the high temperatures. Until Monday September 28, a well known day for moon lovers and croakers: that morning you had to get up extremely early to see a rare phenomenon. When yesterday evening I looked at the grey sky there were no stars to be seen. Only a small spot of light betrayed where the moon was hiding behind the clouds. But it should have been the shadow of the earth making the moon invisible instead of humid clouds on the brink of bursting into dangerous tears. I was very disappointed, went to bed, closed my eyes and travelled far away behind the clouds to dreamland where I could not see the eclipse of the moon.
The next day the media presented lots of sensational pictures of a blood red moon, the colours she takes when an eclipse occurs, an event to be seen again only in 2033. I have been praying so often for dangerous clouds to come over. But on the island of the sun, on a day that an extremely rare phenomenon could have been visible, a cloudy lighted spot, not even colouring red or pink, was the only reward for a nearly sleepless night.
In Turkey, during the last weeks, a oneway ticket by dinghy to Lesvos has become extremely ‘cheap’. The price sunk from 1500 to 300 euro. It must have been Big Sales Days in Izmir: even in this smuggling business they know when a season ends. But as a bonus the shelters on Lesvos have much improved: rescuers have landed on the island as a flock of birds. Refugees no longer have to endure long walks in rain and darkness, because busses and other transport now finally has been provided for. And if pressure of blood because of dangerous travelling has been risen too high, plenty of medical posts also have been installed in different places.
I wondered if smugglers charged extra money for the fare during the Night of the Superbloodmoon: on such a rickety and dangerous dinghy you were seated first row under the heavens to see this Moonshow. But I guess that even the refugees that night will have been extremely disappointed when arriving at the Lesvorian shores.
Most refugees come from countries where in the coastal region reigns a Mediterranean climate and where in the outback rain and cauliflower-clouds are not a daily phenomenon. They are not used to rain and cold. Most of them want to go to the North of Europe, but they have no idea to what places they are heading: to countries with dangerous and extreme weather conditions and where no siesta regulates blood pressure.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
© Smitaki 2015
Geplaatst door smitaki op Thursday, October 01, 2015
Friday, 25 September 2015
Sunday, 6 September 2015
(Red socks, Albert & Victoria Museum, London)
Did you know that one of the oldest examples of knitting is a pair of red socks from the period 250 – 420 AD? These feet warmers were found on an archaeological site in Egypt, in a onetime Greek settlement. So we could say that this was possibly the first pair of Greek Knitted Socks. They are made to be worn with sandals and they have space for incredibly large and long big toes.
According to Wikipedia the English word knitting comes from the Dutch word knot. So in Dutch the actual word breien should be knotting. The knitting started with one needle and making knots (nålebinding) and is said to have been invented in the Middle East. The Muslims brought it with them to Europe and European colonists took their knitting needles with them to America.
Around the 14th century knitting became fairly popular, proved by several paintings depicting a knitting Virgin Mary. Or maybe it was a campaign to get the women to take up the needles. Watching such an industrious Mary calms you down, so much that you immediately start looking for your knitting gear.
The first knitting machine appeared in 1589. But only in the mid 19th century did industrial machines take over the woolly handwork business. Now knitting is seen as a hobby. I took up the knitting needles again when I saw what beautiful and colourful wool they make nowadays. In one winter I can now fabricate a total new winter collection. My hands must be busy doing something while watching a movie or reading a book and I am now as hooked to my knitting needles, as some persons are to their mobile phones.
I mostly only knit in the winter, in times that the weather gods have cooled off a bit. When you work with wool threads in the heat, your hands get sweaty and the knitting stiff. The warm climate of Lesvos might be a reason that there is no great knitting tradition on Lesvos, even though there used to be plenty of sheep and goat wool. The women preferred to make embroideries and sat down at their looms. Besides wool they also used clothing and drapes, torn in strokes, to weave into colourful carpets.
Like centuries ago when the knitting works came to Europe, there is a new run from the Middle-East to Europe. The refugees now use Lesvos as a gateway to Europe and the stream of refugees is like a dam that broke; there is no way to stop the flood of people. This year the number of refugees has largely surpassed the number of inhabitants of Lesvos (about 85.000) and last week the daily arrival had risen to 2000. Sheltering those people is still done by volunteers, helped only by a number of officials that can be counted on one hand.
When those refugees step out of their rickety dinghies, they get wet. Result is that on places where they take a rest fences are modified into clotheslines, just like the lines where normally the squids are dried. The hot sun is a super dryer, but when the winter comes, the washing program will have to be changed and wet clothes will become a burden. Had Europe at the beginning of the summer put tills on the Greek islands, now, one season on, it would not be surprised and overwhelmed by the number of refugees knocking on the doors of the ‘ruling’ European countries. Unlike the politicians, I do look forward and this summer I started to knit.
When I was young there were plenty of faraway aunts who gave me the most poorly created handknitted sweaters which I had to wear. I hated them so much that until now I have not dared to surprise a friend (or a refugee) with a handmade sweater. So I knit caps. One evening I realised that it will take some time before I can make enough caps for the passengers of even one boat (on average 50 people) and I will never have enough for a one day arrival (50 – 70 boats), so I called in help.
I have found an organisation for the elderly that organises knitting clubs all over Holland (Samen breien). There the wise and old people teach their tricks to the young ones. They want to help me, knitting for the refugees for the winter. It would be fantastic to create a television show like The Great British Baking Show. In the Netherlands this show is called: Holland is Baking. Imagine if the whole of Europe sets out to knit again: Europe is knitting. Making caps and shawls is a relaxing pastime, so come on, take up those knitting needles and help.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
© Smitaki 2015
Geplaatst door smitaki op Sunday, September 06, 2015
Monday, 31 August 2015
During Greek summers sometimes it is hard to make conversation or read in silence. And it is not screaming children at the beach, nor the boom-boom sound of a disco, nor bleating donkeys that make concentration difficult. The higher the temperature, the more this creature is doing its utmost best to tear your eardrums: crickets are the biggest plug-ugly nuisances during the hot days.
It is incredible what hard noises these chirping insects can produce, sometimes well over 100 decibel. The scientific name of this phenomenal is stridulation, a word that makes me think of a violin, although crickets do not sound at all like a string orchestra, more like a staggering motor. The sound is produced by the wings that scrape over each other’s comb-like edges, a bit like a musical saw, so a cricket indeed is a kind of string instrument.
I reread the fable of The ant and the cricket written by La Fontaine. In the summer the ant works hard for its winter stock, while the cricket sings its best songs. When the winter arrives the ant is prepared and the cricket has to visit the ant and ask for help, which is refused by the ant.
I see the fable performed in front of me. The male crickets talk the loudest, while hiding in trees (sometimes in your living room) and flirting with the poor females who cannot answer their calls (only the males can stridulate). The ants, ready for months, are busy cleaning, dragging objects sometimes twice as big as themselves, building nests and I do not know what else they do, but they are always working.
Since spring they have occupied my house. Although they are very tiny, barely visible, their presence is obvious. It is an uneven battle: I really do everything that I can to keep the house as clean as possible, especially in the kitchen where you cannot drop one crumb or an army of ants rushes to the spot of the offense to take away the mess. I really cannot keep up with their speed of cleaning, and certainly not at all during the hot days that have put the country in slow motion during the last few weeks. I now even see bigger ants, also trying to invade the house. You have no idea how many ants I already killed this summer.
The good news is that this summer the ants came concurrently with the hornets. I am not really happy about their arrival: they are among the biggest wasps of Europe and their red colour is pretty intimidating. But after some years of barely being seen, this threatened insect seems to be back again, which is good for the environment. So where the ants have spotted a nice delicacy, the hornets also rush to the spot to eat it. Long live the revolution!
This year the Greek ants – I assume that they have not travelled from Turkey with the refugees – are particularly busy. Do they foresee a long and cold winter? Or do they collect for charity? Nowadays there is a difficult choice to make when making a donation: for the refugees or for the Greeks who, especially in the cities, can barely survive.
The Greeks – just like the crickets – love to sing, especially in the summer. But now that the Greek economy is in bad weather, arrogant Europe refuses to help them (and the refugees) like a haughty ant. The Greeks have stopped singing: there is no money left to go out to the tavernas where they used to sing their popular songs of love and life, a once so great Greek tradition.
The coming winter is going to be very difficult. Although most of them will be deep in the shit, I am sure they will take up singing and dancing, if only to keep warm, just as the ant advised the cricket.
(with thanks to Mary Staples)
© Smitaki 2015
Geplaatst door smitaki op Monday, August 31, 2015
Tuesday, 25 August 2015
Why do you see so many horses on Lesvos? You see them everywhere, pottering about in little fields; but seeing horse riding is far more rare. The time that they are let out of their normal meadow habitat is during the panayeri’s, small local festivals.
In ancient Greece horses were mainly associated with the Gods. The rulers of the heavens (and earth), like Poseidon, used them to pull their chariots but they were also used as a reward for mortals. In ancient times riding horses was only for the Gods, royal children or famous warriors.
It is said that the Greeks were one of the first peoples who rode horses into war. Not only could horses pull heavy war equipment to the arenas, it was also soon understood that sitting on a horse on the battlefield made you faster than the infantry. Achilles went to the war against Troy with two horses who spoke: Xanthus and Balius. Bucephalus, the legendary horse of Alexander the Great, had a city named after him when he died.
A horse in Greece was a sign of wealth. I understand that very well, because keeping such an animal costs a lot of money. But what is the use of a horse nowadays? The horse owners that I know on this island own more than one horse. They are mostly poor people who have to struggle to earn a living. When you ask them why they keep horses the answer is simple: “ I’m crazy about horses.” And what do they do with them? Well, one or two times a year, they show off the animals at festivals.
These poor show horses will be kept at leisure during the year and then some days before the panayeri will have a crash course in order to build up their condition and then they are beautifully dressed-up and then thrown in the midst of the partycrowds.
Most of the panayeris take place in the summer months and nearly all the villages on Lesvos have one; so mostly any weekend you can find one. The best known is the Party of the Bull in Agia Paraskevi, where a bull is sacrified and where it is said that the horses get served ouzo, in order to come in the right mood to celebrate. Also Molyvos has a fancy decorated bull marching in front of its annual parade, but this one goes safely home at the end of the party. Although in Molyvos at least one animal gets to be killed, because, just like in Agia Paraskev, at night big kettles are put on fires in order to cook meat, wheat and herbs for the so-called Kiskeki, that is served to everyone who participated in the festivities. I once tasted this gunk, but like many other traditional Greek festivity dishes (like the majeritsa, a fresh soup made of offal during Easter night), it is hard to swallow.
Goats provide milk and meat, sheep are also eaten (sheep used to be kept for the wool but not anymore, since cheap wool now comes from even poorer countries), chicken lay eggs and also may end up on a plate. But what use is there for a horse? In Greece no horsemeat (nor donkey meat) is eaten. Do you somehow feel royal when you own a horse that you can barely look after and that is just left to meander around in the fields? There are some people who have given up their horses and set them free. Somewhere high in the hills above Mandamados there is a herd of wild horses, totally free and looking for the Horse Heaven.
Lesvos is rich with organisations that aim to better the lives of poor dogs and cats. They for example save chained dogs, which are kept by the farmers in order to keep away foxes from their sheep. I am wondering why there is still is no organisation that will protect the wellbeing of all those horses that are only used during the panayeri’s. During the rest of the year I regularly see them, stashed-away with legs shackled, all on their own. Is that a dignified horse life?
(With thanks to Mary Staples)
© Smitaki 2015
Geplaatst door smitaki op Tuesday, August 25, 2015