Archive for July, 2011

Leros – lazy, lush and lingering – my Greek island of the year

Leros, one of the Dodecanese islands, lies between Kalymnos ( a tiny island famous for its spongers ) and Patmos (the island of the Apocalypse) in the South Eastern part of the Aegean.
The sea trip takes from 8 to 12 hours depending on the boat and the stops it makes but it is so pleasant at this time of the year to sit on the deck and just relax that nobody really minds.
Not one of the most popular destinations for a long time Leros has kept its character and special characteristics much better than most islands.
Under Italian occupation up to 1947 it boasts a good road network (compared to the Cyclades mind you not to modern cities) and a coastline unspoiled by the modern monstrous hotel complexes. After the end of World War II and the civil war the Greek governments seem to have decided that the Dodecanese Islands did not deserve much attention. Thinly populated and far from Athens they were left largely to their own devices with some exceptions: Ikaria received the political exiles and Leros the mentally ill: both sectors of the population being stigmatized as shameful and “dangerous” for the rest of society.
The infamous Leros psychiatric clinic has provided jobs and income while at the same time has discouraged tourism. What seemed like a handicap actually helped the island of Leros to have a more balanced development. Unlike other islanders the Lerii as they are called continued to cultivate their lands, keep their animals and go fishing instead of going for the easy money of the tourist trade. During the tourist industry curb Leros did not suffer as much as other islands. Some of the unique local products are “ladotyri”, a special cheese which matures in oil, excellent honey and salted mackerel
The natural port of Lakki, one of the largest natural ports in the Mediterranean, is shadowed by an impressive castle which houses a Madonna church as well. Nearby you can visit the war museum, an interesting stop for anyone interested in modern history.

In the north of the island, in Partheni, one can visit a church that has been re-painted by the political exiles of the Junta period. The camp is mentioned in one of Theodorakis songs.

The deep religious feeling of the locals is expressed in the vast number of small chapels in the most unlikely places. We visited a tiny church dedicated to the Crab Madonna (Kavourina in Greek) which is a Madonna icon that was found by a giant crab and brought to land in its claws!!
Friendly and relaxed, warm but not servile, genuinely hospitable and devoted to their island the Lerii are one of the big incentives for visiting Leros.

The heat keeps rising in Athens and I am soooo grateful to be in Leros, a Dodecanese island right next to Turkey. Not a very well known or popular one (I’ll tell you all about it in the next post) but definitely one of the most pleasing in the eye and most genuine islands I have been to. Good beaches, clear seas, with its locally made specialties like hard white cheese, salted mackerel and capers preserved whole in salty water – add to it a very interesting background of Italian occupation and political prisonners like the world famous poet Ritsos and you have an island worthy of a visit.

Whether you just want to swim and tan or see some sights Leros could be your spot.

Double trouble -heat wave and strikes

In addition to the 40 degrees of today temperatures rose due to the taxi drivers’strike which continues tomorrow. According to television reports taxis blocked Piraeus port and Athens airport to protest against the “opening” of their profession to all and sundry.

Taxi licences cost fantastic amounts until recently. The Greek government decided to open the profession to everyone who could afford the 3000 euros to buy a taxi licence. Taxis have been a good investment proposition in Greece because due to their low fares and the poor and ill organised mass transport system they were very popular. Now, Greeks faced with their own shrinking income are reluctant to take a taxi, the fares are still relatively low and the competition is increasing.

The Government claims that the right wing opposition is supporting the strike but New Democracy rejects the accusation.

Revolutions cannot be square – but Squares can give birth to revolutions

The enraged of Pyrgos - capital of the province of ancient Olympia

The enraged of Pyrgos - capital of the province of ancient Olympia

In its 45 days of existence the Syntagma Square “enraged protest” is doing remarkably well. This must be seen in conjunction with the heat wave that has been going on since yesterday with temperatures reaching 38+ degrees. But what is more remarkable is the speed with which this spontaneous movement is spreading in Athens neighbourhoods while it has already done so to almost all the provincial towns.
Greek citizens are reclaiming the public space of the Squares to discuss their situation, make proposals, listen to economists and debate but also show solidarity to fellow citizens: in addition to the free meals served in Church Halls but provided by the congregation, they organize groups to help with the kids of working parents, teachers give extra lessons to weaker and poorer kids for free , well known singers and bands play at free concerts and so on.
From Thessaloniki to Heraklion in Crete, from Lamia to Patras the Squares are meeting and coordinating their actions. While it all started from the Spanish indignados through the internet and sms messages now it has reached all ages. According to one of the enraged I spoke to “the worst case is the crazy fifty years old: they are not only struggling for themselves but for their kids and their future”.

Santorini a sure winner

Santorini has always been a favourite destination. Its haunting past, its impressive location, the mystery that surrounds it added to warm, genuine people and exquisite food and wine make it a real jewel of the Aegean.

This year it was voted the best island by the readers of travel + leisure magazine and its inhabitants are understandably proud.

Prsonally I visited Santorini a few years back and while I enjoyed every minute of my stay I would visit in July and not August when it gets really crowded. Famous for its “black” beach – a memory of its volcano- its arty atmosphere and the high quality of its night life Santorini beats Mykonos hands down.

A special night out – Lisbon via Athens

Tonight was a special night out. Miracles never cease in big cities. I heard on the radio about the MUSEUM OF GREEK FOLK musical instruments and its daily June-July concerts.Most of my friends knew of it already so I felt once more like a diaspora Greek or a plain tourist.
An expected leafy yard in an old house in Plaka is the background to an evening of Fado music. A big moon, a palm tree that seems to be floating like an umbrella above us, the sweet smell of jasmin and the melancholy, soulful music of the Mediterranean. What else do you need to fill with beauty?
The concert is called Lisbon via Athens and we remember again that before both forming part of PIGS Portugal and Greece had the experience of a military dictatorship (the Portuguese lasted more than ours but their revolution much more impressive) and a democratisation period and what is more important we share the same sea and many legends.
Andre Maia has managed to incorporate greek folk instruments in his songs and the ensemble is a real pleasure.
Athenian evenings can still be magical and enchanting.

Greece in (hot) turmoil

Temperatures are rising in Greece. The thermometer in my balcony shows 33 degrees in the shade!! The political thermometer is reaching unprecedented temperatures too. PASOK members of Parliament claim that they are attacked and humiliated whenever they go into public. The Government blames the left for these incidents but noone is convinced.

Mr. Athanassiadis, Member of Parliament for PASOK, claimed that he decided to vote for the 2nd Memorandum despite his doubts and criticism because he was threatened over the phone!!! His claims have not been investigated so far.

All this is going on during a period of high unemployment, precarious working conditions for the majority of the people and a continuously changing tax system. A retired civil servant confessed to me: “I do not even know what my pension amounts to anymore.They keep cutting a bit here for solidarity assistance to the unemployed and a few Euros there because some of the benefits that I paid for are now considered redundant!! I am too old to immigrate otherwise…”

Needless to say that the younger generation is leaving the country en masse. Some of the older ones who were studying abroad are now staying on and helping the new arrivals. Worse is expected as from September when the private sector will also be hit, when schools will open and parents will be forced to face more expenses together with more strikes since both University and High School teachers are up at arms against the education reform.

In the meantime, the Syntagma Square “enraged” are organising a coordination meeting with the Assemblies of other squares in Athens’neighbourhoods and other towns all over Greece. 8 and 9 July they will meet in Syntagma under the shadow of the Municipality’s request that they evacuate the Square.

At a time when normally people would be discussing their holidays now they get organised to visit their families in the village or their friends who have a seaside house since they cannot afford hotels anymore.

On the other hand, the open air cinemas have started working, providing a much needed relaxation; new take away cafes are operating on the beaches where you purchase your coffee and drink it walking by the seaside.

The silver lining in this cloudy atmosphere is that the majority of the citizens is becoming aware of the corruption of the ruling parties and the way they and their needs have been exploited.