So this is Greece and this is my village. I want to
introduce you to some of the people here and explain a little about
our life. A fishing village in Greece is the dream of urban people
everywhere, supposedly timeless and unchanged, as if these were
Traditional dress for the name day of a local church.
Maybe such places exist, but only in
the barren dreams of people made impotent by the thirst for money,
youth and success. We are not like that here. Maybe we are unique,
but I feel that we are real,that we have found something about the
possibility of living in harmony with a difficult landscape in a
I have tried to portray our community as it comes to
terms with change and deals with the burden of history. Wherever
possible I have tried to allow the people to speak for themselves.
If there are mistakes in style, or in substance, then the mistakes
are mine, for I am restricted in technique and running out of time
The visitors' perception of our village is limited.
To them it is always hot and always sunny. The smarter ones recognise
that it is nearly always windy too, but not much more. Those of
us that live here have to be more observant. We have to travel by
boat so we care if the wind is north or northwest, or even north
northwest. We know it is often calmer in the morning than in the
afternoon when the weather comes from the south and that, when it
is from the north, there is often a lull around dusk. We inform
our neighbours and ask for advice before we set off on a long journey
by sea. We do this because our weather can change in half an hour
and we know that if something goes wrong then someone from the village
will look for us if they know where to look.
In the winter, if we are lucky, it will rain. If we
are very lucky it will rain early and several times. Then we say
that the rains are useful and we know that our crops will grow and
there will be green across the island throughout the year. Two crops
are particularly affected by rain: wheat and olives. In many years
the winter rains are so poor that nobody plants wheat at all. A
whole cycle of traditions are held in abeyance; the ploughing, the
sowing, the reaping and the separating of the wheat from the chaff.
Of course, the flour made from our own wheat and ground in our own
windmills makes the bread baked in our ovens that much tastier.
|The Village fountain. Designed by the villagers
themselves, its painted ceramic tiles show scenes from life now
and in the past.
Each of the stages of growing and harvesting,
processing and baking is accompanied by its own traditions, with
its own songs and words. Many of these words and traditions are
known only to the women and it is always with great pleasure that
we see young girls learning from their mother, grandmother and sometimes,
sitting in the shade of the oven, learning from their great grandmother
too. Good winter rains bring us good harvests and at the same time
our culture and our knowledge of the old ways springs up from the
soil anew. If it rains in late October or early November
we are especially pleased because the rain cleans the olives before
we pick them and that makes life easier. Our olives are small and
bitter, but they make fine olive oil and we produce soap too. Some
olive trees have their own names. We know when they were planted
and we know which of our forebears planted them and we talk to them
as we pass by. When we had the big fire and the pine forests and
olive groves burnt, we had problems with women who went into the
fields clinging to loved trees that were doomed. We had to drag
them screaming and weeping back to the village. We did not lose
any women, but we did lose many olive trees. Over the years we have
planted them again. A sign of renewal and hope and a wish for subsidies
from the European Union.
Through the winter we are fearful of the Sirocco, the
south wind that can do so much damage to our boats and even to the
houses in the village. Many times we have sat in the cafe watching
a storm when a big wave has come over the mole, over the beach and
the road and dumped water, sand, stones and muck right among us.
We lift up our feet as the water swirls under the benches and tables
and then it subsides and Anna comes, waving her broom and shouting
at us for being so stupid and at the sea for being so evil. It doesn't
take long to brush away the stones and at least the toilets get
cleaned. Winter here can be cold; not every day, but for days on
end. Our houses are cold too. Not many of the new ones
have chimneys and concrete is not as good an insulator as limestone
or slate. When the sun shines the women sit outside and the men
fight in the cafeneion for the next sunny spot, otherwise doors
are closed and the village too. Much work is done in the winter;
building, carpentry and farming too, but there are not so many of
us here to do the work. Much of the village is empty, as our children
go to school, or to university, and their families follow them to
the south of the island or to Rhodes or Piraeus, or maybe to the
United States. Grand parents and great grand parents follow too
and visit hospitals and old friends in far away places. I have never
been to Baltimore, but it must be strange to the people there that
Greek restaurants open in the winter and close in the summer so
that their owners and their families can come here to swim and fish
and have fun.
Springtime can be the best season. The sun starts to
warm our backs in the fields as early as February and within a few
weeks our fields and mountains are filled with flowers; green leaves
appear and herbs as well. There are red poppies and white neragoula
and narcissi too and those of us who walk in the forests marvel
at the tiny bee orchid, its flowers mimicking the bumblebee to attract
pollinators. Migrant birds appear; the small passerines, beeeaters
and rollers, hoopoes and birds of prey. From the cliff tops it is
possible to see eagles pass by; beating a passage over the sea,
heading north against the wind, flying close to the waves to give
Booted eagles, short toed eagles, golden eagles come
to join our resident Bonelli's. We see black kites and longlegged
buzzards and once, huge and beautiful, an eagle owl heading north
to the Russian steppes. Cuckoos pass by and swallows, swifts, alpine
and pallid, and then we wait for the first tourists. These always
catch us by surprise. The rooms have not been cleaned since October,
the sheets are not washed, we have only half painted the house and
of course the rubbish brought by the winter storms has not been
cleared from the beach. But we are glad to see tourists;
they bring laughter and fun and sit in our cafe and our restaurants
and we renew old friendships and start new ones. Springtime is a
season of change for us.
Springtime can be the best season.
The sun starts to warm our backs
in the fields as early as February
By mid May the last Sirocco has ceased to blow and
the summer wind, the Meltemi, is blowing strong from the north.
The artichokes are ripe by now and the beehives double in population
every week or two. But it can be hot, far too hot. So we work in
the early morning, when the sun is not strong and the tourists still
asleep and the women bake bread at five in the morning and their
low voices mix with wood smoke as we sleep on roofs and balconies.
The summer wind is always from the north and it never
rains, but you will not see us working in the fields. There is some
activity however on the mountains around Avlona or in Saria, as
bee hives are moved to catch the thyme as it blooms. A good season
will bring reward and in this part of the island more than ten tonnes
of honey is produced and tourists can buy the real thing rather
than the cheaper varieties imported from Crete, or Denmark, or China.
In the cafeneion Anna will advise on the coolest place to sit and
where to catch a cooling breeze. But by August there is no room
for any of us in the cafeneion as the village is full of visitors;
Italians and French and Germans too, as well as our own people returned
from exile. So the hotels are full and most of the houses are occupied
and doors and windows that have been closed for months, or even
years, are open once again. Lights are on at night all over the
village and there is a smell of mothballs and sun tan lotion. Guitars
are played on the beach until the early morning and it could be
anywhere but here. So the people, who come for something unique,
find only something recognisable all over the world a holiday atmosphere.
Perhaps they are satisfied.
No matter, this time passes quickly and by the middle
of September the crowds have gone and the restaurant owners are
pleased to see you and we can go diving without being followed by
a flotilla of Italians hoping for us to lead them to the big fish.
And now there are kingfishers, a pair on each bay, speeding back
and forth exactly half a metre above the sea. They sit on rocks
and dive, neatly to seize atherinos, the little fish that cling
to our shores in late summer. Where kingfishers come from and where
they go I do not know. I have asked ornithologists and they cannot
tell me. I have never seen a nest, but I think they breed here,
late, in the rocks and in the cliffs. Soon they are gone too and
the passerines pass by at night, hunted and harried by Eleanora's
falcons as they hug the coast heading for Africa. The swallows head
south in late September and October and then the eagles and falcons
arrive in Saria and seek ever more powerful thermals. They go higher
and higher until they can see the weather to Crete and even Africa
and then they are gone. Herons and egrets stay for a while, then
one late evening, or on a bright night, we see the silhouettes of
skeins of birds going south and summer is gone.
We are back to autumn again and peace in the village,
but the olives need to be picked and crops planted and there are
ripe figs to be gathered and so much fruit. We need to fish to fill
the freezers, for the winter storms will come again from the south
and deprive us of sea bream and silver bream and red and grey mullet,
palamida and tuna. And of course we must fix that room and paint
the house to be ready for next season.
As for me, the time I like best is the onset of winter.
Sometimes, when the rains come, it is still warm enough to sit on
my balcony at night, in the dark and listen to the drops singing
on the roofs outside and smell the freshness of the pine forest,
a glass of whisky in my hand and a head full of memories. Or it
can be cold and windy and then it's time to go to Anna's and squeeze
through the door and sit inside and watch the men playing cards,
or tavli. An ouzo is called for now and I listen to the shouts of
the men and the storm outside and watch moisture trickle down a
windowpane. Then I know that I am really in the first chapter of
a fine novel by Kazantzakis and I am glad.