Monday, 21 September 2015

A storm in the Greek islands as the election result is announced

It’s breakfast time in Fiskardo, Kefalonia. There’s been a massive thunder storm in the night and now it’s pouring with rain.

And Alexis Tsipras has just been re-elected, with Syriza taking just over 35 per cent of the vote and its coalition partners, New Democracy, not far behind with 28 per cent.

Nikos the waiter doesn’t think much of the result. But, then, it was a poor turnout for what, looking through European eyes, seemed a pretty crucial election. Only 56.5 per cent bothered to vote, the highest abstention rate in the history of Greek parliamentary elections following the fall of the dictatorship in 1974.

According to
Voting in Greece is mandatory by law, however, it is rarely enforced. This year’s low turnout rate potentially reflects that Greeks did not believe that their vote would make a difference, since any government would have to enact the policies of the new Greek bailout agreement that was singed in late August. In addition, this is the third time Greeks have been called to the polls this year. The first time was in the January elections, that were followed by a second vote for the July 5 referendum.
In many instances Greek voters must travel to the district where they are registered to vote and that could involve expensive trips far from where they reside. Some Greek analysts also noted that many citizens distrust the country’s political system to the point that they don’t even want to vote.
Yesterday, I asked the proprietor of a gift shop what he thought about the election.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “They are all liars. It will be the day after the election which is important because of what happens next.”

Syriza is again forming a coalition with New Democracy, a marriage of convenience between left and centre right. In a country littered with corruption and red tape and years of financial mismanagement, the new Greek government has a huge job on its hands.

Nipping at its heels are the bad guys, Golden Dawn, who are Nazis, pure and simple, but still took seven per cent of the vote.

In the misty hills, scarecrows are strung up, ominously, next to a political flag. But which party it represents, I don’t know, it’s too tattered.
The sun shines as the rain falls, which is rather ominous or possibly hopeful, depending on how you interpret the signs, because, in Greece, a sunshower  means ‘the poor people are getting married’. It could be worse. If the sun was shining and the moon was out, it would mean the donkeys were getting married. Hee-haw.

Greece has so much going for it as a country. Sunshine, sea, snow, mountains, plains, culture, food, history (ancient and modern), hospitality, generosity. How did all go so wrong?

Meanwhile, on the islands, the storm clouds are receding and there are just weeks to go before the holiday season comes to an end.
And what then?

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Refugees and the view from Corfu

Living in Greece for the past couple of months, I've been asked what the refugee situation is like here.

Well, to be perfectly honest, apart from scenes of chaos I see on television and long threads of polemic discussion on social media sites, I'm probably as well informed or as ill informed as the next person.

Corfu, you see, is in the Ionian Sea, on the west coast of the mainland, a long way from the Aegean, the place to which many of the refugees make their way from their homeland via an already circuitous route.

The only thing I have heard about here is the work of a Corfu doctor who is taking donated supplies such as fleece blankets, nappies, wipes and baby food to the Macedonian border to give to the refugees gathered there.

This is an unprecedented situation as hundreds and thousands of people try to make their way to countries who want them and where they feel safe. It's complicated, things aren't black or white, good or bad. The solution probably lies somewhere in between the two. In the meantime, people will die, individuals and nations will argue about it while Rome burns.

Everyone here has a view, as in the UK, where there is currently a crop of social media posts calling for UK to support its ex-servicemen and women first before even contemplating opening 'the floodgates' [sic] to refugees from Syria and other countries, as if the two aims were mutually exclusive.

Questions are being asked why the wealthy gulf states are not accepting refugees. This article goes some way to explaining that.

There is fierce, polarised debate on the Europeans Standing By Greeks! Facebook page in particular. The page admins are making up the rules as they go along, partly to keep users on-topic and also to stop 'hate or fear-mongering posts'. Although the Greek election is imminent, over the last week or so posts have been dominated by conversations about the effect this influx of people is having on islands like Lesbos and Kos.

John Dymond, reporting for the BBC in Lesbos, where thousands have gathered in tents in the hope of travelling on to Athens and northern and western Europe, says there is no sanitation and healthcare, with one aid agency is warning that the situation spells 'a humanitarian disaster".

A friend of mine asked her backpacking son, who has been island hopping around Greece, whether he had seen many refugees. This is what he told her: "It's pervasive but totally f***ing ignored. Every ferry to Piraeus is packed with the wealthier Syrians who can afford the trip.

"From what I've gathered the Syrians are processed for free but have to pay their own way to Athens and from there are given a six month visa and a blind eye is turned on the northern border to filter them out.

"Met a big group of guys in the port who we hung out with for a while, very nice people who all seemed quite excited to talk to the only Europeans who'd sit with them. People really avoid them round here. I'm fairly sure every port in the Dodecanese has put up some out-of-the-way holding pen to stop them being seen by the tourists. At least that's how it seems.

"Anyway, they all made rings out of cigarette papers to half-jokingly propose to Ana. We traded cigarettes (they hadn't seen roll ups before) and spoke about where they were from and going. Many sad stories. There wasn't much we felt we could do but give them some tobacco and wish them luck."

Greece is a country knee-deep in its own humanitarian crisis and can't cope.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 30 August 2015

How to stop a dog chewing through shoes

Artemis the Dog should have been called Chewy, really.

Not as in Chewbacca, although she looks very like a Wookie.
But Chewy as in, well, chewy.

These were my best boots. Lovely.
 Now look at them, along with Mr Grigg's best shoes.
At eighteen months, she's still a puppy.

'They take a long time to mature, Korthals Griffons,' says the dog trainer.

'How long?' I ask.

'Oh, about ten years.'

Even here, perched in our eyrie on our Greek village (cue excuse to show photos of Agios Magikades), she is still up to her old tricks.

After an encounter with a pair of my grand-daughter's beautiful golden butterfly sandals...
...we've improvised a storage place for shoes. It's one of the door grilles, which we point out to everyone who comes to stay.
When things are out of her reach, she just can't be bothered.
She'll sit in the plateia, the locals making a fuss of her. 'Artemi, Artemi,' they say.

And then she goes home, and tries her luck on a ten-litre box of white wine given to me as a birthday present and left on the floor. (They're generous, these Greeks. It's all about filoxenia).
Luckily, she doesn't break through the inner sanctum. Otherwise, we would we have to rename her Dionysus.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Xronia Polla on this very special day in the Greek Orthodox Church

The incense hits my nostrils as soon as I enter the church.

We're at the back, listening to the chanting. The candle-style light bulbs in the chandeliers overhead give the interior of this church an ethereal glow. The air conditioning's on and it's much cooler in here than it is outside in the plateia.

Just before nine, big blotches of rain turn into a downpour. The people who, seconds ago were sitting on the kafenion tables around the plateia, huddle inside and under the awning. And then the rain stops, the bells clang and the parade through the village begins.
Up to the next church we go, in one door and out the other side, and then up to the top church and the cemetery. Votive candles glow in the churchyard and people peel off from the parade to pay their respects to family buried in ornate graves.

And the parade returns, past busy tavernas and open-mouthed tourists who can't believe their luck in coming across such an interesting tradition.
We sit outside the kafenion and plates of food arrive, unbidden, at our table.

'You are welcome,' village friends say. 'We have plenty to share.'
In the plateia again and the men shut themselves in the syllogos to mix the sperna, a concoction of boiled wheat, raisins, almonds, sugar, pepper, aniseed and cinnamon. Known in some regions as koliva, this ritual food is meant to symbolise death and resurrection.
Earlier in the day, the wheat slowly softened as it bubbled away in great cauldrons on fires built in the school's covered play area.
Now, it's the women's turn as the doors to the syllogos open. They gather around the table and make quick work of bagging up the sperna, ready for the church service in the morning.
It's the Festival of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, one of the most holy of holy days in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Today, the church is full and hot - no air conditioning on - as the congregation comes and goes throughout the service. After two hours, the man goes up the ladder to clang the bells one more time.
The people emerge from the church with sprigs of basil and bags of sperna. The collection plate is taken around the plateia for donations from those who have missed that part of the service. And then sperna from a large basket is distributed.
Children and adults tuck in.
There are smiles, kisses and hugs. Girls and women stroll around in smart clothes usually reserved for Sunday best. An old man beams and makes a beeline for us to shake our hands.
'Xronia polla,' he says, the greeting for the day, which literally means 'many years'.

We feel privileged to be part of this very special village on this very special day.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Varkarola: Bravo to the good people of Paleokastritsa

We've got a table reserved for four and we're in poll position. Once we've feasted we'll be out of the starting blocks and sitting on the wall overlooking the beach.

We're in Paleokastritsa in north west Corfu and we're getting ready for the Varkarola. I've blogged about it before and all the background you need to know is right here.

I am a sucker for ancient mythology and the story of Odysseus is one of my favourites

Tonight, it's a re-telling of one of the hero's many adventures on his ten-year journey from Troy to the kingdom of Ithaca. In the bay at Paleokastritsa, to the soundtrack of 1492: Conquest of Paradise by Vangelis, he has a massive fight with Poseidon, the god of the ocean, played by a diver who pops up from nowhere out of the sea and then sets Odysseus' raft alight.

Odysseus is shipwrecked and surprises the Phaeacian princess, Nausikka, who had been playing on the shoreline with her handmaidens after doing their washing.

The kind King Alkínoös provides Odysseus with a boat so the wily hero can return to Ithaca after a twenty year absence.

The event celebrates the 'miracle' of Saint Spyridon whom the Corfiots believe saved the island from Turkish occupation on 11 August 11, 1716.

A few weeks ago, even the locals couldn't tell us if the  Varkarola was going to happen in these cash-strapped times. There wasn't a poster to be seen.
But with sponsorship and fundraising, this incredible event went ahead. Bravo to the good people of Paleokastritsa who put their hearts and souls into one of the most amazing and moving spectacles I've ever seen.

I hope businesses throughout the resort reaped what they sowed.

This is a fantastic video from last year by John Lanasis.
No doubt there'll be another film from last night: we saw a drone overhead, following Odysseus out to sea before the most amazing display of fireworks and then the thump, thump, thump of a beach party.

Here's a few of my photos. They don't really do the event justice but you get the drift.
Some passing Scherians have a beer and then pose for a photo.
There's tat and food from stalls in the street.
And a diabolical balloon seller.
Someone's mode of transport propped up outside a hotel.
And then Number One Son and his girlfriend wind their way back to the car. 
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Down came the rain in Corfu

It's been hotter than a hot thing in August since we arrived in Corfu.

I don't like moaning but it's been too hot. Some of the time, there's just been no air. The pressure's been closing in on my head. It felt like a balloon in a vice. I didn't like it.

Then yesterday morning, as the sun came up over the olive groves, you couldn't see the sky, just the outlines of cypress trees on the horizon.
Storm clouds were gathering.
We had a quick frappe in an empty plateia while Arty gave the local cat population a good talking to.
Two friends didn't have much to say to her though when we came home.
Arty could tell there was something in the air.
And then it came.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 24 July 2015

The heat is still on in Greece

In front rooms and in coffee bars, on sun loungers and all through the internet and the media, there is confusion and differences of opinion.

There are so many aspects to this crisis.

If I hear anyone nod sagely that the Greeks are at fault ‘because they are lazy’ I will personally insert an Olympic-sized discus up their rear end.

Read more on The Lady Shed, for which I'm writing today.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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