Sunday, 29 July 2018

July 28 – Tourism

(Sunset Eftalou, photo: Savvas Samaridis)

Tourism has become a plague. I am wondering what’s pleasant about standing like a huge flock of seagulls to stare at the sunset on a rock in the sea, or being surrounded by masses of people visiting an old temple while the sun mercilessly burns legs, necks and noses. Most people nowadays just want to take a picture, even though the internet is already filled with the same photographs. 

Whilst one part of the world’s population is, by foot or by wonky boat, trying to escape wars and other life-threatening events, the other part flies unconcerned to those regions not yet touched by misery. It is a strange world, with people who do not mind waiting for hours to catch a glimpse of Holland’s most famous painting De Nachtwacht, who parade in swarms over the canals of Venice and who wait patiently for hours to enter the Notre Dame at Paris.

Packed camping sites, overcrowded beaches, miles of traffic jams, entry tickets that have to be booked years in advance: what makes people want to waste their free time amongst so many other people? Some cities and other hip places now are fed up with the masses. Not only Amsterdam, Venice or Paris, but also the Greek island of Santorini has called out for change: millions of people last year visited that small once ‘fairy tale’ island. Now it must be hell because of long queues, slowly shuffling through tiny streets and places packed with people trying to take ‘romantic’ pictures of a sunset. All in the blistering Greek heat. 

It is not only Europe that has problems with too many visitors. In Thailand Maya Bay has been closed temporarily, because 3000 to 4000 people flocked daily to this beach (known from the movie The Beach). In the Philippines the entire tourist island Boracay has been closed for some time for reorganizing and the old Inca village Machu Picchu in Peru has become only accessible to a restricted number of people. This is only the beginning of a long list.

So you might say that the not-even-a-century-old phenomenon of mass tourism is derailing. In past times traveling for pleasure was for the rich. It was at the middle of the 20th century that the working classes finally were able to go on adventures in the world. Not having the money to go far, they were happy to spend a day at the beach or elsewhere in nature. The Sixties brought cheap flights and so began tourism by plane: now at risk of going too far.

Nowadays, for the average European it is normal to travel many times a year by plane. Thanks to Airbnb and far too cheap air fares, city breaks have become a normal time-passing for weekends. This brings extra problems to the heavy polluting aviation industry and sees air space slowly silting up. Airports like Schiphol (Amsterdam) just keep on growing, no matter that security comes with greater risk.

Greece always has been a holiday country. The islands Rhodes, Crete and Corfu were, along with mainland Athens and Delphi, the main attractions and for centuries were part of a tourist travel route, thanks to their archaeological treasures.

Mostmodern tourists no longer like to stare at old stones. They prefer to settle down in an all-inclusive resort, where they can enjoy themselves the whole day around the pool, getting served free food and drinks. They do not care where the resort is: at the Turkish Riviera or on any kind of island. As long as the sun shines and where there are drinks a plenty.

It is only for some decades that Lesvos has been on the tourist map. It’s an island that does not offer famous ancient sites. In the eyes of the Lesvorians the crazy numbers of people visiting Santorini (and other islands such as Crete) would be a dream. Thanks to the refugee crisis the island of Sappho has been somewhat left alone; even though the sunsets can be as spectacular here as on that extinguished volcano with white villages.

But times will change: once tourists become allergic to the other vacationers and the uniformity surroundings many holiday locations. Soon there will come a time when it will be ‘hot’ to travel to quiet places, to worlds that turn around their inhabitants and their life-style and not around tourists. Then Lesvos will be the most authentic Greek island.

However, I fear for the time when this mass of visitors, now terrorizing other tourist locations, discovers Lesvos. The quietness found here on Lesvos, disturbed only by chatting crickets, is an experience many people have lost. However it may only last until the tourist tsunami also reaches Lesvos.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

©Smitaki 2018

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Summer 2004 - Help, tomatoes!

Each August it is the same story over and over again: I cannot see anymore tomatoes. Maybe you will ask: how come you have had enough of the wonderful tasty tomatoes they have in Greece? Well, in August I am fed up with these little red rascals.
In winter and in spring you eat a savoury green salad called marouli: a spicy mix which is perfect with a tomato, mind you, only one! In summer all dinners include the famous choriatiki- tomatoes, cucumber, feta, onion and green paprika. Greeks serve them in the afternoon and again in the evening. Of course, you needn’t eat it - there’s always plenty of other food on the table. The strange thing is every time you intend not to eat tomatoes, your fork automatically wanders to the choriatiki to take a piece of tomato, and I have to admit they always have a refreshing taste.
All summer long tomatoes grow in the field next to me, so I have heaps of them in the refrigerator, in the vegetable basket beside the kitchen dresser; or because there’s nowhere else to put them, even on top of the fridge. When I see how many there are I can’t decide what to cook with them.
It would be a terrible waste to let them lie so long that they rot, so I try to include at least one from the tomato mountain in every dish I prepare: with breakfast a tomato under the egg sunny side up; for lunch, bread with cheese and tomato, a club sandwich with tomatoes, baked eggplant and octopus with tomato. Later with a drink, tomatoes with a lick of pesto or a slice of salami rolled around a piece. For dinner tomatoes go with chicken, with shrimps, in the rice, the paella, the couscous or pasta (with lots of tomatoes). And before you go to bed a glass of vodka with …
I am glad Greeks don’t like mixing up ingredients. There will never be any tomatoes in your tzatziki, no fried tomatoes amongst your fried patates, or tomato balls (although I have found out later that indeed they do exist); they don’t put tomato slices on the souvlaki skewer nor is feta served with tomatoes.
The only way I can seriously reduce the huge red deluge is to make tomato sauce. I am even happy to have found a recipe which involves removing the peel and all the seeds, a lot of work, but it needs so many tomatoes it’s a good way to be rid of them. Its taste is very concentrated and in just a few hours the bottom of my vegetable basket will be visible again.
I am aware that my tomato aversion is temporary, and that as soon as they disappear from the field - they will keep coming until November - I will once again long for the taste of a lovely fresh red tomato.
So, I am trying to make as much sauce as possible, which means we can eat pasta all year round. I try different versions: the concentrated sauce without too many chilli peppers, (Greeks do not always like spicy food); a spiced up variation for foreigners who like it hot; tomato ketchup, tomato-paprika sauce, tomato salsa, preserved cherry tomatoes, tomato chutney, tomato marmalade, everything you could possibly make with tomatoes.
There is one Greek who likes to follow my culinary experimentations, but when I mentioned jam made from tomatoes he thought I was crazy. He could not believe such a sweet concoction could be edible, and yet Greeks preserve both fruit and vegetables in sugar, so any fruit including tomatoes done that way should be very tasty, so why not as marmalade?
Another summer binge has also started: karpouzia. Watermelons are everywhere and although I am not too keen to eat them after every meal, I know it’s healthy to eat fruit and I do rather like a slice or two after a nice dinner. However, afterwards when I lie down for a siesta I might dream of large chocolate balls filled with white cream, or an enormous lake of chocolate mousse, or maybe a huge cream cake with chocolate and fresh strawberries, or just a simple mocha pie.
To forget such sweet dreams I make myself a luxury frappĂ©: cold coffee with big blobs of vanilla or chocolate (if I can find it) ice cream. Mind you, even though I really don’t want to complain about the food here, sometimes I should be allowed to scream: I AM FED UP WITH TOMATOES! Please can I have a green marouli with corn, pickles, mushrooms, blue cheese and croutons?

Monday, 16 July 2018

Mother Molyvos

Ai, mother Molyvos
please stop complaining
because you seriously
chase your last clients away

Your bumpy little streets, centuries old
Your ancient houses well anchored
on the proud rocky mountain
that once gave you life

They saw a lot of history
but never let you down
agitation, war, doors closed
you survived with you head held high

A new wave of troublous times
no need to let the head hang
it is not the world that rules you
but your back that lets you down

You always rode the storms
your back like a solid mast in choppy times
now full of rheumatism
not knowing how to move

It is not Achilles who stands before your gates
but the sad illnes Me, Me, Me
of people that do not understand
that the world keeps on turning

the managers far away
no vision nor plans
they will tear down your walls
filling their pockets just for themselves

You, magnificent lady of Molyvos
where did you leave your pride
you let yourself under the command
of stupid and loud screaming

You know that your blood not only comes from the island
but also from the other side of the sea
you always helped in difficult times
but now you seem stiff frozen

A cold and pitiless heart
does not suit you at all
that is no way to save the world
nor your own beloved town

O, Mother Molyvos
dust is piling up
do not be seduced by too big dreams
but clean your own street first

As sparkling and beautiful you dress up in August
when shiny pianos and violins
do revive happy times
under the stars at the castle

You didn't forget
how to touch the hearts of the people
so do the same during the other months
with your head held high.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018


It is about a year ago that the Donkey King of Lesvos died. I do not mean that he was as stupid as a donkey (are donkeys really stupid?). He might have been stubborn, yes. But he embraced life as it came, loved to have a filled glass to hand as well as a woman to flirt with. He was a Greek like Zorba, a character never to forget. 

It’s not only Michalis who is missed: but also his donkeys who used to ride with tourists on their backs into the mountains or cause traffic jams on the boulevard of Eftalou. The clappetyclap of their hooves now died away.

The horses have another story. They seem to be pretty busy on the island. The garbageman in Molyvos for example tromps his donkeymulehorse early each morning over the cobbled streets, there where no car can pass. The same for the olive harvest: in the areas difficult to reach, horses are used as pack mules. In the summer horses are fully booked for the many traditional celebrations. Every village and each church, even those far afield, organizes a yearly festivity, some even have exciting horse races. For a small group of horse lovers, the tradition is to attend all those small festivals on horseback. 

Lesvos does have a tradition with horses. Its capital Mytilini is named after the sister of the legendary horse rider Hippolyte, queen of the Amazons. There are archaeological finds proving that once the island was part of an Amazon Empire, where the women, who ruled without men, were skilled in making war and love. 

More and more myths seem born out by real history: it can no longer be denied that there once existed women tribes. Some think the Amazons once drove their horses around in Libya, or in Anatolia or in some of the eastern Greek islands like Lemnos and Lesvos. An archaeological site in southern Ukraine, where they discovered the remains of female warriors who rode horses, may prove that the Amazons came from there. Or maybe in ancient times you had more than one state, where women after emancipation, took up all the roles of men.

So it is possible that once, many centuries before Christ, an approaching cloud of dust on Lesvos meant that men had better hide - because the Amazons did not care about the '#me-too’ rules and just killed men right away or towed them away as slaves behind their horses. If a man was handsome enough, before dying he might have been given the experience of a good shag. Those sturdy women did need men for their propagation.

Clouds of dust now follow 4WD's, driving on the dirt roads, trying to get a glimpse of history. They might meet an Amazon, but those are mostly not-so-dangerous tourists who have rented a horse at Ippos in Molyvos or in Toumba, high in the mountains above Plomari.

For sure Lesvos is one of the most authentic islands of Greece, but also here history is advancing slowly, burying donkeys and Amazons under its dust. At Thermi there is the biggest excavation that proves that once this mythical tribe of women lived here. The city that now arises from the dust thanks to careful digging has lots of parallels with the Amazon town on the neighbouring island of Lemnos. This fortified city, dating from the bronze age has been named after another notorious Amazon: queen Myrina. She ruled over an invincible army of women warriors, that even defeated more than once the mighty army of Atlantis. She came and conquered all the way to Turkey, further even than Ephesos, a city which is said to have been built by Hippo, another Amazon.

Last weekend Agia Paraskevi celebrated its controversial bull festival, where the only bull participating was 'sacrificed' and eaten. I am not sure if they still butcher the bull in a ritual way in public. In any case it is more of a horse festival, where most horses of the island and even some from neighbouring islands, come to participate. Beautifully decorated, they thunder through the streets, have a drink at terraces, try to win some of the many games and they do dance, just like the people.

It is here that new Amazons will be born. More and more women come on the back of a horse to share the festivities. Beautifully dressed, they mix with the excited horsemen. The women of Lesvos slowly emancipate. Be careful, gentlemen: when they start liking what they do, maybe, just maybe, they might set up a new army of Amazons. 

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2018