Monday, 21 January 2019

January 20 - The battle of bottles

(The spring at Ypsilometopo)

Humans have always carried water. In ancient times it was in braided baskets or animal skins, and then there were bottles. In 1622 the first bottles with water were sold commercially. That was at the Holy Well in England, because it contained so many minerals that it was thought to have medicinal properties. This is when we started to drink water from bottles.

Mister Schweppes added some carbonic acid, and so began water with bubbles. About a century ago bottled water still was a luxury. In 1970 the first drinks began to pour into plastic bottles, alsowater. This was the explosion in the use of plastic bottles and bottled water. Now bottled water seems to be a primary need in life. First mineral water was seen as a medicine and you’d drink it to get well; then it was seen as healthy and you should drink it to keep healthy and now most people drink it because they have been fooled by the water industries that speak badly of tap water, so now we have all turned into plastic-water-bottle-junkies.

Lesvos is an island that floats on a subterranean network of rivers and lakes with sweet water. You can still admire the grandeur of the now dilapidated, but once luxurious spa hotel from the beginning of the twentieth century, the Starlitza in Thermi. In those days people came to Lesvos to enjoy its spa's. Nowadays only a few people come for the hot springs, and they don’t evenknow that Lesvos also has many cold water springs, that produce water rich with minerals, just like the Holy Well in England. Except for my own bottles that I fill with spring water, I have never seen a bottle with Lesvorian spring water. What I have seen are lots of, mostly old, Greeks who patiently fill bottles at the springs, even though their numbers have decreased rapidly. That may be because the quality of tap water these days is good, but I presume it is more likely because people have become lazy: it is easier to buy a bottle at the store. Old people still may believe in the medicinal properties of mineral water while the young are more seduced by the consumer dictators, who make big business out of bottled water.

I haven't seen any scientific reports on the spring water on Lesvos, but years ago I went for a tour around the island, to taste the water of a lot of springs. The journey wentthrough Vafios, Sykaminia, Mandamados, Agia Paraskevi and Agios Dimitrios (the hamlet with the most and tastiest springs) to Karini, where there is always water and loud quacking ducks. It is surprising how many different flavors of water there are: bitter, a small bouquet, full, sweet, soft, round, fruity or no taste at all (see: Empire of water).

The invention of plastic was a big event in our history, along with the advent of indestructible plastic bottles. Now they have become a plague. They are like an aggressive vegetable invader not to be stopped. Though you can do lots more with a plastic bottle then drink from it. You can build glass houses with them, fill them with sand and build walls, construct houses, refugee camps and even boats or whole islands. The sad story is that people thoughtlessly throw them away into nature or the garbage. We have plasticized our planet so thoroughly that when the time finally comes that a little plant can be made to survive on the moon - we will have to move there, becausePlastic Planet Earth will be a planet where life will no longer be possible.

Until that time we have to make-do with how the earth is now and make the best out of it. Various countries have already started banning plastic bags. I hope soon those bans will also include plastic bottles with all their caps that hide everywhere.

Lesvos should noted more as an island rich with medicinal water, not only to drink but also to bath in. Instead one after another hot spring isbeing closed. Years ago the always welcoming hot spring in Lisvori was closed after some improvements went wrong, some months ago the hot water spring of Polichnitos was closed and recently Filippos, who with his wife managed the spring at Eftalou has died: what will become of that popular one? Only the spring at Gera remains. Therma Spa Mytilini it now is called, after it has been so modernized that it has become one of 'the places to be' on the island, with a lounge place overlooking the Bay of Gera.

Cold water springs are a lot more difficult to close. The municipality should have all springs analyzed and then have a publicity company promote the medicinal and tasty mineral water of Lesvos, that with only some effort to get, doesn’t cost a dime. It is a shame that on the island so many plastic bottles water are sold when there are so many springs that keep on spewing healthy water. Even if you really do not trust spring or tap water, you can always buy a water filter: get away from plastic bottles and their nasty caps!

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

©Smitaki 2019

Monday, 7 January 2019

February 6 – Lesvos: a winter sport destination

(Snow on Lepetimnos; photo: Els Maes)

The sun kept up tradition by shining on January 6, the day that the Greeks stream to coasts and rivers to celebrate Epiphany. The priests lead the procession, followed by the notables and thereafter the rest of the village. With a cross and a bunch of basil everything that floats onthe water is blessed, where after the cross is thrown into the water. Even though the sun appeared, it was freezing cold in Molyvos. The Lepetimnos, dressed in a white fur coat, smiled upon the village. I think the boys who dived into the water on this particularly cold day were pretty sturdy.

The winters I’ve spent on the island have not all been mild and rainy, like this season on Lesvos is being described. Nearly every year the highest tops of the mountains got a bright snow cap and on two occasions I was able to build a snowman in Eftalou, which was a wonder according to the locals, who had never (or only once in their lives) seen this happen.

The first two winters, some 15 years ago, were pretty rough, wet and cold and Molyvos got more than once covered with thin layers of snow. I didn't believe the inhabitants who said that they never seen this. I listened with a bright smile to stories about warm winters when you installed the barbecue on the beach and you even slept the nights away on the beach: I didn't believe it. It might be that I lived through one of these magical warm winters - there always are days that the sun is so strong that you can imagine it is summer - but most winters were as cold as in Holland. 

There are lots of scientific reports saying that even Greece cannot escape global warming. In the coming decades temperatures may rise some degrees. Then they mostly talk about warmer and longer summers. I haven’t read much about the winters. Could it be that the summers get warmer and the winters colder?

Once on Lesvos, on a January day, in the year 1850, within one hour the temperature dropped some 13 to 15 degrees to far below zero. The juices in trees and plants, who were just preparing for spring, froze and even enormous trees broke like tiny matchsticks. Also lots of animals died. That winter with most trees and plants dead was then followed by famine, causing an emigration wave.

You do not want to experience such a phenomenon. Until now this winter has not been so harmful, even though it started too early. The inhabitants of the mountain villages on Lesvos had a white Christmas and when they woke on the very first morning of the new year they were again in a Winter Wonder Land. Today, whilst those boys dived into the freezing water, merry sun rays lit the surrounding snowy mountains (even in Turkey the snow on high tops radiated like diamonds) and gave the feeling of a winter sport atmosphere.

Imagine if this this trend were to continue, then we could organize on Lesvos an Eleven-village-tour: from one mountain village to another through the snow, by ski, or sleighs tugged by dogs or just by foot. Even now all Lesvorians are hurrying into the mountains to experience the snow. Just think about it: Lesvos as a winter sport destination. 

It would revive the villages around Lepetimnos and Olympus. A cable car from Agiasos to the top of the Olympus, or one from Vafios to the top of Lepetimnos would be a tourist attraction even without snow. You could also build a spectacular bobsled track, winding down the mountain slopes while offering super views over the cold blue sea. Besides ouzo there could appear on the menus hot chocolate and Lesvorian cheese fondue. The sheep wool could be preserved again in order to knit warm sweaters to sell to the tourists.

It really is a pity that nobody can definitively predict what the climate will do. Yes, warming up. You can see that in the Netherlands. The memories of the Eleven-city-tour, a very popular ice skating tour in the north of Holland that took place nearly every year in the past, now takes on mythological proportions. And the summers get warmer and dryer. I do not feel that summers here on Lesvos get warmer, only that winters get colder.

If they would be sure that winters here will get colder, then we can start designing tourist friendly bobsled tracks and environmentally friendly cable cars. And of course start arguing who would be responsible for the ski slopes and the youngsters can start practising snow boarding. So, are the winters getting colder on Lesvos or not? That is the question.

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

©Smitaki 2019