I am proud of most of the Greeks.
Proud, because they are the first Europeans who have chosen change: they voted
for Alexis Tsipras, who tries as long as he can not to
bend his head to the European dictatorship and to the banks. He also dared to
install a flamboyant minister of Economic Affairs: Yanis Varoufakis, who made a show, not only with his unorthodox style of clothing and
behaviour, but also with his ideas about economics.
I am not a journalist, nor a
scientist, a politician and not at all an economist. Nowadays when reading
about banking business you need to have some knowledge of all those complicated
processes, otherwise you cannot understand it. It is no wonder that most of the
people have no idea how we landed in a crisis and for that reason believe
without questioning everybody who seems to know, like the media.
According to Yanis Varoufakis (not
only a minister but also a professor in economics) economy is no exact science
but a philosophy. He explains that in a little book addressed to his daughter
and for nitwits like me: Μιλώντας στην κόρη μου για την οικονομία(The book was recently published in Dutch:De economie zoals uitgelegd aan zijn dochter). After reading it, my thoughts were
confirmed: the banks are the biggest criminals of our time and politicians have
forgotten that one of the roles of a government is to protect the money of the
The text is clear and describes how
we ended up in today's predatory economy, where banks and big industrials make
bigger and bigger profits at the expenses of the people who become more and
more poor. Varoufakis explains the complicated matters with examples from the
history of England, like the introduction of sheep rearing which made the
farmworkers lose their jobs and thus caused the first huge changes, and later
on the industrial revolution. He even speaks about movies like The Matrix, Blade Runner and Star Trek, to make everything more explicit.
The beautiful novel Harvestfrom the English writer Jim Crace just received
the prestigious prize of IMPAC
Dublin Literary Award. It tells about the extinction of a village of farmworkers, because
wool will bring more money.
I am not sure if here on Lesvos many
farmworkers lost their jobs when sheep were on the rise in the Lesvorian
landscape. It is a fact that the island used to produce far more agrarian
products like tobacco, cotton, pulses, wheat and grapes (Lesvos once was famous
for its wines). Sheep and goats still dominate the meadows and mountain slopes,
but are no longer kept for their wool (that is now disposed of in deserted
places), but rather their milk is used to make cheese.
The industrial revolution on Lesvos
was marked by the introduction of steam presses that streamlined the production
of olive oil and by steamships that speeded and cheapened transportation. And
so around 1900 Lesvos was a pretty prosperous island, also having at the Gulf
of Yera the biggest tanneries of the region. The now dilapidated buildings (eg.
in Perama) still are an impressive sight.
After centuries of Ottoman rule in
1922 Lesvos returned to being Greek, but that destroyed the industry. This had
nothing to do with economics, but with politics. Some agrarian activity like
tobacco and resin remained, but olive oil and cheese became then
the main export products, with ouzo in third place as an export
After the Second World War the
western countries of Europe developed quickly. Not Greece however. This country
first had to face a civil war and later the colonels took power. Not really a
climate for investment. The colonels lost power in 1974 and left Greece as an
For Greece joining Europe meant
hope, and when they did, Europe offered so many cheap loans, that for a moment
the Greeks felt like living in paradise. We now know what an enormous price the
country now has to pay for it, because even not half a century after the Greeks
finally gained their freedom, the country again is on the brink of a steep
And maybe this is also true for the
whole of Europe, which now shows more and more signs of failure: daily it becomes
more clear that politicians act according to what the big industrials and banks
want. For instance permission has just been given to the big dangerous wolf Monsanto to operate in Europe. This industrial giant,
famous for its chemical pesticides and Agent Orange, buys patents of vegetables (and tries to take over the wine industry
After Monsanto gets what it wants,
in a few years you can forget about your choriatiki (Greek salad) because you will only
get Monsato salads. They will have patented all the tomatoes and paprika. On
Lesvos most people have a little vegetable garden where they grow their own
food and in many restaurants you also get those homegrown vegetables. Most of
the tourists love Greek tomatoes, because in the summer months they get so much
sunlight. But if Monsanto will rule the markets, we will be left with only
manipulated tomatoes who will taste the same in the whole of Europe and who
knows, it might even become forbidden to grow other vegetables and even eat
other than those of Monsanto.
When you see how Europe holds a
knife to the throat of one of his members, how it tries to discharge the
problem of refugees to three of its members and do nothing to reform the
banking system, it is clear: Europe has failed. No politician ever learned a
lesson from how Iceland dealed with its bankruptcy, no leader of government seems to
think that refugees also may contribute to a solution of the European crisis and nobody
dares to stop the money makers. In my eyes west-Europeans look more and more
like the machines in The Matrix, like Varoufakis mentioned in his book: they
obediently agree with all new laws, just squirm a bit, but nobody dares to take
That is why it is good that -
whatever happens next - Greece opposed Europe and its money wolfs. The New
Europe - just like democracy - will be born in Greece. And when you want to
learn more about our turbulent world, Yanis Varoufakis’ ideas are a real must for a first
Whilst in Molyvos, volunteers
prepare sandwiches for the two hundred refugees who arrived this morning in the
village (who knows how many on the island itself), I am asking myself who these
people are. According to the refugee organisation UNHCR 60% comes from Syria, and the others mainly are from Afghanistan, Iraq,
Somalia and Eritrea.
What food were they used to eating
before they left their homes and kitchens? For centuries now refugees,
immigrants and guest workers have changed culinary habits. Who in the
Netherlands, England or Germany still eats traditional Dutch, English or German
dishes daily? Who doesn't regularly eat pizza, souvlaki, spring rolls, satay,
couscous, shawarma or hummus?
That the Greek and Italian shores
are now the recipients of large flows of refugees is no novelty. If you take a
look at the history of refugees, you see that there have always
been refugees somewhere. The many people who fled their countries or were
displaced – especially in the 20th century – caused enormous human migrations that had its
impact on the culture and the culinary uses in nearly all countries involved. I
happen to think that most of the traditional Dutch, German and English dishes
are pretty boring. But when I check out some recipes coming from Syria,
Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia or Eritrea then I immediately want to start cooking
and try out those wonderful combinations of ingredients. The food in those
countries also has been influenced by lots of other cultures and it offers
I think Greece is at the crosspoint
of the North European and Arabic/African kitchen: it still has that temperate
character of the Northern kitchen, but at the same time has a rich tradition of
seasonable vegetables and fruit and uses a modest range of herbs. The more
southwards you go from Greece, the more spices are used in the food.
This article was published some six years ago
and is about an American journalist who, together with Anissa Helou, a famous
Arabic cook, strolls around in Aleppo and Damascus (Syria). They taste and talk
about Syrian food. The colourful markets were full of people and hospitable, as
there was no war going on, which now is destroying completely the country. This
still was beautiful Syria, where people went out for dinner, where women in
their kitchens cooked the most scented dishes, where – just like in Greece – courgette flowers and cabbage leaves
were filled with a spiced mixture of lamb meat or/and rice and where hummus was
placed on a plate in a special way. Now these women arrive here at the beaches
in wobbly dinghies without even a pan to cook with.
Even though after years of warfare
the Afghans are left poor and broken, their dishes still come from a pretty rich kitchen, influenced by Mongolia, China,
India, Europe and the Middle East. For example they like to eat a kind of
and they prepare their meatballs (koftas) with more spice than the Greeks use in their keftedes.
Next to my house is an orange tree
that grows bitter fruit: nerantzia they are called in Greek. As far as I know the
only use they have is to cook them into a slightly bitter marmalade. But
looking for some recipes I found an Afghan one: Norinj Palau, or rice with oranges: a dish made
with bitter oranges, almonds, pistachio, rice and chicken. And all the
ingredients are available in Greece.
The Iraqi kitchen differs very
little from that of other Arabic countries. The exception may be that the
mighty Euphrates and Tigris run through their country, providing them with lots
of sweet water and thus giving them the opportunity to have fresh water fish on
their menus. But just like the Greeks they also enjoy filo rolls (börek) filled with goat cheese, meat, vegetables or
nuts, they serve tsatsiki as cacik, they call all stuffed vegetables (as well as
tomatoes, courgette as vine leaves) dolmas, they eat shawarma calling it kass; and like everywhere in the Arabic
world they love the divine, honey-sweet baklava. The beautiful and interesting blog
of Nawal Nasrallah,My Iraqi kitchen, proves that the Iraqi kitchen has roots deep
The Eritrean kitchenhas also known plenty of
influences: Ottoman, Italian and Ethiopian. And did you know that (according to
Wikipedia) 62.9% of the Eritreans are Christians, of which most are orthodox?
And that they also, from time to time, like to have an ouzo? Well, that aniseed
beverage in Eritrea is called areki. Both in Eritrea and in Somalia lots of
pancake like bread is served with the meals, like injera which is made with teff flour, that comes from a grass with the beautiful name: Williams
Lovegrass (Eragrostis abyssinica). Both these cuisines have a lot in common.
The Somali kitchen knows the same influences of that
of Eritrea and just like in so many African countries one of the best known
spice mixes is berbere, a spicy blend that gives your food
an excellent Eastern scent and taste.
Can you imagine how it hurts to
leave your own herb collection and pantry, your herb and vegetable garden and
your apricot and almond trees, which for years have helped you feed your family
and friends! How bad can it be that for days, weeks, months and even years you
will not be able to cook your favourite dishes, or even enjoy a proper meal?
Most people arriving here have lived through such hell they are actually happy
when being served a sandwich.
If I was able to, I would start a
road restaurant between Kalloni and Mytilini, where many of these refugees pass
walking and where I then will cook and distribute those universal dishes like
tsatsiki, stuffed tomatoes, lentil stew, hummus or souvlaki, which I will spice
with their national blends, so that on their way to a new life in an uncertain
future, they might smell the scent of home and renew themselves. For most
people Lesvos is just an inbetween station on a very long long journey towards
a new home and kitchen.