Saturday, 29 September 2018

September 27 – Where have the olives gone?

(Olive trees)

September 27 – Where have the olives gone?

These days the Greeks mainly talk about the medicane, a rare hurricane on the mediterranean sea. Just a few days ago a big storm prevented the ferries from functioning and, in a few hours, blew the summer completely away, while temperatures dropped considerably. Combined with a warm sea this makes ideal circumstances for the birth of a storm -like a hurricane. 

Crete and the southern mainland (including Athens) got code red weather alarm, but also here in the north of Lesvos the wind keeps on blowing, contrary to the weather forecast. They also predicted rain that has not fallen. The island is longing for some water from the heavens, but except for a little local shower, all serious black clouds sailed across the island in search of the land of the sultan (where, for the last month, there was a lot going on in the sky). 

At least the storm blew all the almonds out of the tree, save me the trouble of batting the poor tree in order to get the nuts. Now I just have to collect them from the ground. However the rain for the olives will be too late, because most olive trees have already lost all their fruit. There are only a happy few that wave in the wind with branches filled with light green olives. Lesvos awaits another crisis: an olive crisis.

For centuries olives and olive oil provided the main income for Lesvos. Until the Ottoman Empire fell, there was lively international commerce in olive products, but since then the island is only an empire with small farmers, who manage thanks to the olives to survive the Greek crisis. Now they do not have one olive!

Most owners of olive fields I spoke say the source of the empty trees was the mediocre summer without a real heatwave and with some serious rainfall in July. Ideal weather for the dakos, a fruit fly that prefers to lay its eggs in the olives, this way killing the fruit. These insects had the time of their lives last summer, without being killed by high temperatures or without dying from thirst.

At least the island is not besieged by the olive pest Xylella fastidiosi, a bacteria causing great havoc in the olive grows of Italy and Spain. This bacteria comes with a spitting bug and prevents food and water from reaching the branches. Entire groves have been dug up because of this lethal illness. This pest-epidemic has not yet reached Greece. Which is lucky because the island has even more olive trees (12 million) than Greece has inhabitants (nearly 11 million). Imagine how the island would look without the green silvery trees. 

Although there will be not much to harvest this year, some people still have olive oil — last year having had such a good harvest — the price however was so low that lots of people did not sell their oil and kept them in their containers. Anyhow, the mayor of the island has already asked the government for compensation for the farmers who will see their income decline this winter due to the lack of olives. Likewise, there will be a minimal number of people hired to harvest those rare olives, a number that already decreased because of the crisis.

In Europe you can find several very old olive trees, some said to be thousands of years old, like The Olive Tree of Plato, in a field a bit out of Athens. According to the story this was one ofthe twelve direct ascendants of the first olive tree that the goddess Athena gave the capital. Plato settled his academy under this huge tree where he taught his pupils. Last century the tree was a kind of tourist attraction, until 1976 when a bus ran over it. Part of the large trunk was acquired by the agricultural academy of Athens. The lower trunk remained in the soil and even grew new roots. In 2000 when the price of heating oil was so high due to the crisis, many people took wood illegally, including the trunk of this famous trees, now disappeared into thin air.

Lesvos does not have such a famous tree, but some parts of the island have trees that certainly are hundreds of years, maybe even thousands of years, old and will have much to tell, if they could only talk. Lesvos without olive trees is unthinkable. It must have been a horrible sight when in 1850 most of the trees died during the Great Frost (when, in just a few hours, the temperature dropped below zero). The island overcame this disaster quickly by importing and planting many new trees.

However we can live with a Lesvos without olives for a year. The owners of the trees will have time to clean their olive fields: repairi walls and fences and dig over the surrounding land. A friend has even said that it is good for the trees to not have fruit for a year: this way they have a rest, which can only lead to a better harvest next year. But then they certainly don’t need the medicane raging over them. The hurricane (now called Xenophon*) seems to be heading towards Lesvosin the direction of Turkey, but hurricanes are impetuous and difficult to predict. So now we can just wait for this rare Mediterranean phenomenon.

*The hurricane now has become a cyclone called Zorbas)

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2018

Sunday, 16 September 2018

September 14 - The small dependance of the Open Air Graffiti Museum of Vatera

(The Smoking and Drinking Octopus at Eftalou)

After the refreshing rain I took a walk along a little road that I hadn't been on for some time. Shimmering in the distance I saw an enormous red octopus. For a few seconds I thought I was hallucinating, because I have often passed the little old deserted military camp and there was nothing to be seen. But now on one of the buildings there was a huge fat red octopus with a cigarette and a glass in two of his hands.

The dilapidated hotel Sarlitza in Thermi, the ruined Hotel Arion at Molyvos, the nightclub at Skala Sykaminia and the never finished hotel in Vatera are icons in the Lesvorian landscape. Not such good ones, because they all are reminders of a tragic story.

I do not know the story of the night club at Skala Sykaminia. In the Sixties the Hotel Arion had been open to clients for one year and then the bank took it because of bills not being paid. Hotel Sarlitza was a Turkish spa hotel and I guess that after all Turks were thrown off the island in 1923, the hotel started to slowly die. Now the beauty of the building is being recognized and there are calls for it to be restored. Each year I read in the papers that the building will be put back to its glorious old state, but each year nothing happens. Then last week I saw a photograph of the garden being restored. But I wonder if we will ever see a time when the lights will be lit again in the Sarlitza.

Lesvos Palace has another tragic story, showing how the island ‘welcomes’ grand hotels. In the Seventies Aris Skafidas bought the land at the end of the long beach of Vatera and started building on this dream location. Sometime in the Eighties the 1000 bed hotel was nearly ready: missing was a proper road, that would cross the river (that is very full in winter) and link the hotel, some two kilometers away, to the main road. Building a road and a bridge is peanuts for someone who was once a friend of Onassis and had built plenty of buildings on the Greek mainland. But first the road needed a permit from the municipality. However, no license ever came and even when Skafides’ company offered to build the road and bridge no papers ever showed up. And again the same situation recently when a Swiss, German and Chinese consortium tried to lay hands on the buildings. Lesvos Palace has never opened. 

The only time the hotel has been used was during a music-graffiti festival, a few years ago in Vatera. Artists from all over the world created a tribute to Theophilos and painted great art on the naked walls of the spacious, empty lower floors. The artists also had a great time putting paint on the walls in the upper floors. I now call this hotel the Open Air Graffiti Museum of Vatera.

According to the organizers the festival was ready to take off another year. However they did not get renewed permission and the second event had to take place in Mytilini: not such a success - because the graffiti was spread all over the city. Now the festival has disappeared, but has left a great amount of beautiful wall paintings, which is better than the numerous modern Greek ruins we see, of which the most ugly is to be found at Gavathas. I do not know the story but I am amazed that somebody got the permission to squeeze a hotel complex between a few houses at the entrance of the beautiful village, buildings that – by accident? - resemble anotherlost building complex on the Petra boulevard, in the direction of Molyvos. 

I am honoured that now we see the legacy of the Vatera Graffiti Museum in Eftalou on a deserted military camp. Along with the smoking and drinking octopus in another little building there is a beautiful white horse lead by two doves, on its back a sleeping girl. On another shed there are two signatures. 

Graffiti has been used to communicate since ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman times. In the Seventies when the punks stood up, graffiti became very popular and was recognized as art. I hope that graffiti artist soon will go to Gavathas to turn that ugly concrete building into lively art. These days there are messages enough to be distributed, even if it is to tell the municipality of Lesvos that they should reconsider their licensing policies around hotels, that could - or not? – bring more allure to the island. 

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

©Smitaki 2018

Thursday, 6 September 2018

September 6 - Night fever at Eftalou

People cheering, people chanting
on a merry Greek evening
crickets chirping in the trees
the moon hiding in the dark

The song Night fever loudly
gliding over the hills
people celebrating and cheering
dancing the night away

the music echoing in the night
along with the crickets
while a string of lights
glitter far away on the Sultan's land

Dark are the hills and the sea
against a starlit sky
people sitting on the street
chatting the quiet night away

A war ship, his motor joining
the rhythm of the lapping tiny waves
as a black sphinx anchored in the sea
to wait and to watch

it's every day now on duty
running the motor all night long
fuming fuel like toxic clouds
guarding the island or the sea

Out of the endless blackness
settled over the seven hills
suddenly steps a group of people
good evening to you all

as if they stroll each night
along the paths of a Greek island
pushing a wheelchair with a women
wearing a decent scarf around the head

You realize where they came from
they slipped silently over the water
passing that noisy fuming sphinx
so big she clearly saw nothing

Escaping war and bombs
now quietly walking through a black night
along a dark seaside
as on a sunny afternoon

No people for them waiting
when they stranded alone and unseen
all ending dry and safe
the wheelchair still rolling

walking through the night
towards the night fever song
towards the lucky people
not born amongst the bombs

I wonder if they know
about the next hell to come
a camp totally forgotten
with far more people than it should

too tight is the space for living
for enemies and friends alike
too small for decent people
to deal with what they have lived

A beautiful night in Eftalou
a safe heaven for tourists and alike
night fever all over the place
a Greek night in peace

They call it also Europe
but Europe is not here
Europe still chooses to ignore
what fever takes the Greek night

Well, it does not make a noise
the people silently walking
towards their destiny
the wheelchair rolling on

They come by sea daily
they are thrown into the camp
an island prison in Europe
with no night fever in sight

I wonder how you dare
a woman amongst men
how terrible life must have been
to take your wheelchair and run

Welcome, Lady on the Wheels
and all your travelers that night
Europe will not be found
but I wish you well and sound

I did not see you well
but I will remember you, mylady
rolling into safety
in the night fever night