Sunday, November 26, 2023

In Greece Where There's Smoke. . .

The old adage, 'where there there's smoke, there's fire' takes on a different meaning in Greece. 

Olive harvest and burn season in Greece.

Because in Greece where there is smoke, it is likely from a cigarette. 

Our recent house guest was the one who called it to our attention as he viewed our world from the perspective of a first-time visitor to Greece. 'Don't they worry about lung cancer?' he asked, as we approached an eating establishment. Then reminding us of the impacts of secondhand smoke he directed us to areas where we might least be impacted by the neighboring table's smoke.

The ubiquitous ashtray 

While smoking inside public facilities is illegal and punishable by fines, it is okay to smoke outside while seated in restaurant and bar patios, waiting areas at bus or train stations, and outside of airports. 

What gobsmacked our guest was the numbers of people smoking. 

What gobsmacked us was the realization that it didn't bother us anymore - in fact, we hadn't paid it any mind until it was pointed out to us. 

Smoking is a tradition, a part of Greek everyday life. They smoke packaged cigarettes, they roll cigarettes, they vape. A survey a couple years ago showed that nearly 37% of the population regularly lights up. In fact, Greeks aren't the only ones. Many of our fellow expats and tourists who hail from countries on this side of the pond also smoke. 

Cigarettes and coffee cups a normal table next to us this morning
Each time our guest pointed out instances of smoking, we thought about how little attention we pay to it and behaviors that once could have caused us great concern and consternation.  

Mom and the kids 

Smoking is simply such a part of the fabric of Greek life that despite the implementation of a spate of laws and fines to curb it within the last decade, there appears to be little desire or peer pressure to kick the habit. 

It got me to thinking about other behaviors we have come to accept as normal, but which are bona fide health hazards. Things like not wearing helmets on bikes or motorcycles, transporting multiple people onto a motorcycle or scooter at a time, or riding in the back of a pickup.  We see them done all the time.

Helmet-less in Greece and having a good time

Don't get me wrong. There are laws and fines concerning smoking and they have - generally -succeeded in preventing smoking inside public venues.  Greece has a helmet law, dictating a 350 euro fine for failure to wear them on motorized bikes of any power. (Once we laughed at an elderly man who zipped past bareheaded on his scooter, but he stopped and put on his helmet before pulling into his driveway. He was more fearful of his family's reaction than getting a ticket, we speculated.) 

Tourists travel the main highway to Kalamata with helmets

You can tell a tourist on a rental bike by the helmets he or she wears. Helmets are recommended for bike riders but not required. Despite our narrow roadways and uneven surfaces, there is a slew of locals who ride bikes but don't wear helmets. 

Harvest time vehicles at the olive processor

It isn't illegal to ride in the back of a pickup.  From a practical standpoint in our area, that is the way many olive harvest crew members get to a grove and back. It is normal to see workers seated in the bed or a truck atop nets and holding onto equipment. Sometimes they ride atop the load in the small trailers pulled by tractors. 

Making a right hand turn after stopping for a red light is illegal in Greece. Maybe it is for safety, maybe not. But it is done so routinely in the United States that we have to think twice when the light is red, and we stop then start to make a righthand turn before it turns green.

Annual equipment tests are mandatory.

Wearing a seat belt is compulsory inside a car but some of the vehicles driven here are so old I doubt they are even equipped with seatbelts. It is interesting, though, that all car owners are required to have an annual vehicle test; one year it is for emissions and the other year for brakes, lights, shocks and a number of other parts. We suspect few of the old beater cars actually are tested by their owners.  

The law requires child restraint seats and the young parents we know adhere to without question by young parents.

A new way of life

In our area of the Peloponnese, we have two police officers and one patrol car. Sometimes we see them on break at a local taverna having a coffee and cigarette, other times patrolling the area. We suspect they don't spend a lot of time monitoring smoking in local establishments nor making stops for minor traffic offenses. If unhealthy behaviors are going to change, it will need to be from personal choices. 

Frankly we like this somewhat contrarian approach to life. While we haven't taken up smoking or riding in the back of a pickup, we certainly don't find it objectionable. It is a part of the culture of the community in which we've chosen to make our home. Sometimes we find the lack of laws and government enforcement refreshing. Here you take responsibility for your own actions and can't blame someone for not warning you of hazards. 

Wild boar warning sign in the Mani

A goal of our expat life was to experience a new culture, even adapt to it.  And after nearly a decade of cultural emersion -- without even being consciously aware of it -- I think I can safely say we have adapted to much of the Greek lifestyle.

Yet, if this post has made you think we are living somewhat on the wild side of life here. . .let me assure you that we probably aren't. Because here they do warn us about the wild side of life. . .the wild boar warning sign pictured above is case in point.

How about your travels? Have you encountered any local behaviors or traditions you found objectionable? Or which you thought of as a health hazard, but the locals didn't? 

We thank you for your time and send wishes for safe and happy travels to you and yours~ hope you'll join us next time when I ponder the question of being too old to be an expat. . .

Sunday, November 5, 2023

In Greece: The Real Game of Chance

Greeks have spent 22.7 billion in the first eight months of this year . . .gambling.

The rather staggering figure comes from the Hellenic Gaming Commission which monitors our adopted country's gaming industry. It is an industry that includes land-based casinos, lotteries, horse racing and chance games organized by the Greek Organization of Football Prognostics (OPAP).

Stone House on the Hill olive oil

Yet, those numbers don't include the biggest game of chance that Greece has to offer: growing olives for olive oil.  

After the olive season we've just had at our Stone House on the Hill, I can tell you there is no bigger game of chance around than producing those little buttons of olive oil!  It is nothing short of spinning a big ol' Roulette wheel in the early spring and waiting to see where the harvest ball will land come late October. 

A bit wrinkled this year

We harvested early this year, within a week of the oil processing plants opening. It was a race against time for us if we hoped to have anything to harvest. Our olives were shades of green, purple, and black - all looking withered and worn. They were beginning to drop - and that is something you don't want! 

Lady Luck smiled on us and kept most of what there was of them on the trees long enough for us to get them harvested in late October. For many of the large producers whose groves stretch from sea level up into the hillsides of the Taygetos Mountains, it will be December or January before the harvest is complete.  

When city supplied water dries up, you buy water to use at home

This year the odds were against all Mediterranean olive oil producers; our area was no exception. A combination of high temperatures in the summer and a continuing lack of water combined to turn what should have been plump little oil laden nuggets into raisins. The same problem existed in Spain and Italy as well, both, along with Greece are major producers of the world's olive oil.

I won't even venture into all the ways insects and disease can skew the odds against growers. Suffice to say if the pesky Dako, a fly the specializes in destroying the flesh of the olive and degrades the olive oil by making it acidic, doesn't get you, there's a new menacing bacterium out there destroying olive trees in Italy, Spain and parts of Greece.  It clogs the tree's lifeline so it can't absorb water and it dies.

A Toss of the Dice

Olives begin to form in the spring

We had high hopes in the spring when the miniscule white flowers began developing into olives. Barely the size of a grape seed, we start monitoring their growth. There is little else to be done until harvest. We don't water and we don't spray.

Very few growers in our area - no matter the size of their groves - have formal watering systems. Of course, it wouldn't help if we did as we don't have enough municipal water to have a steady supply for use in the house, let alone watering a grove of trees. (And this year our municipally supplied water has been laden with salt, so it wouldn't have been good for the trees anyway.)  

We spin the wheel of chance each spring

We didn't spray our trees this year; not because of bio and environmental concerns, but because the guy who sprays is building himself a house and was not available. And they say when we do spray, it is bio spray. Who knows? Many told us it was so hot this summer that we didn't need to spray anyway. Basically, no self-respecting Dako wants to destroy raisins. They prefer the juicy kind of olives as we all do.  

Greek Olive Oil Production

Those are this year's olives going to press

Greece comes in third in the world's olive oil production with 80% percent of its orchard land growing some 117 million olive trees.  Fifteen million olive trees are planted here in our Messenian region.  

These bags are filled with our olives - the Stone House on the Hill

We have just under 20 trees.  Ours is a good-sized hobby grove - big enough to produce more oil than we use but not considered industrial sized.  Our grove, as long-time readers know, carpets a terraced hillside making it a difficult one to harvest. We hire people who have the equipment and knowledge to conduct the harvest. On harvest day we do as we are instructed by them.

We've been made redundant by mechanized harvest equipment

In the past we've had a cadre of friends who've volunteered to help beat and rake the olives from the branches and crawl across plastic nets on hands and knees gathering the fallen fruit into gunny sacks. This year our grove was draped from top to bottom with enormous nets and a crew of three used motorized harvesters (think pitchfork with caffeine jitters) that shake the olives from the tree.  The small crop and experienced crew made the workday for us easier, if still long.

Win, Lose or Draw

Memory of previous harvest yields

Our harvest was less than half of last years in terms of kilos harvested; 407 to 187. However, those scrawny, wrinkled looking olives had far more oil in them than we imagined possible. We had 33 liters of oil, down from the 59 of last year, but respectable. The good news is that olives are in short supply, so the price paid us for our excess oil was more than double the per liter price paid two years ago. 

Olive oil production. . .what a game of chance. . .what a win!

We'd call this year's game of chance a win!  However, the real win is that we get to participate each year in a ritual that has gone on for centuries in this adopted country of ours. I recall at the time we purchased our house trying to imagine what in the world we would do with the small olive grove that came with it. . .now I can't imagine life without it. 

That's it for this week.  Autumn has been glorious in our slice of Greece - so much so, we've had no desire to travel. I'm sure we'll be bitten by the bug again soon though. What about you? Where have your travels taken you or where will your travel plans take you?

Hope you are back with us soon. Safe travels to you and yours~


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