Showing posts with label Greek life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek life. Show all posts

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A Greek Spring: Carnivale, Coronavirus, and Conflict

Bucolic scenes are almost common place this time of year in our slice of the Greek Peloponnese.  Wildflowers are carpeting the olive groves while oranges and lemons ripe for the picking hang like Christmas decorations from the trees. 

Springtime at The Stone House on the Hill

This may be - in our collective opinion - the best season of the year here because the countryside's  idyllic scenes are a backdrop to villages coming to life with celebrations and events leading up to  Lent, or Sarakosti, as it is called here.

Lemons and wildflowers mark spring here
Lent comprises the 40 days leading up to April 19th, Easter, Pascha, in the Greek Orthodox religion.

Yet, the beautiful scenes and festivities are being a bit overshadowed by events putting a different spin on the season this year.  And it all seemed to start during Carnivale. . .


Kalamata Karnivali banners decked the streets

Carnivale, Karnivale, is the jubilant period leading up to the start of Lent; a time of celebrations involving eating, drinking and dancing. A time when cities and villages are as decked out and as festive as the party-goers themselves.

The Karnivale decorations were up and posters announced upcoming events in Kalamata on the day we chose to run errands there. By happenstance our trip to the big city fell on Tsiknopempti, 'Smokey Thursday'.  Tsiknopempti always falls on a Thursday 11 days before Kathara Deftera ('Clean Monday' the official start of Lent.).

Streets decorated for Karnivale

Tsiknopempti ( tsika - the burning of food and pempti, Thursday in Greek) is the day when all of Greece it seems lights up the barbeques and cooks meat. It is a day for carnivores; a time those observing a meat-free Lent can stuff themselves without guilt.

Sidewalk bbqs in Kalamata for Tsiknopempti
Restaurants and tavernas on every block -- even a car wash -- had the barbecues going and meat grilling as we made our way through town.  Back in the villages streets were being cleaned and preparations made for scheduled celebrations.

Karnavale cookouts

Karnivale spans three weeks in Greece: Profoni, or prelude; the second week Kreatini or meat week (during which time Smokey Thursday happens) and the third week is Tirofagou, or cheese week.

Coronavirus arrives in Greece

The bus comes through the village twice daily

Shortly after Tsiknopempti, the celebrations it came to an abrupt halt.  It was because the Greek Health Minister - in a televised news conference -- confirmed two additional cases of coronavirus in Athens. He then announced the government was cancelling all remaining large-group Karnivale celebrations.

That announcement, last week, seemed a bit of an over-reaction at the time.  Two days ago when I started this post there were still only nine confirmed cases of the virus in all of Greece and 13 hospitals throughout the country designated as treatment centers. By this weekend though the number of confirmed cases has jumped to 45.

Wildflowers carpet the Mani in March

None of those individuals with the virus are from our area. A majority of the COVID-19 victims seem linked to a tour group that had traveled in Egypt and Israel. The three regions in Greece in which those travelers live have pretty much shut down all activities and events. Residents of those areas are not being allowed to travel internationally at this time.

Ironically, our former home in the city of Kirkland in Washington State, was labeled by the Washington Post newspaper as 'the epicenter' of the virus in the United States. The first U.S. death from the virus was in Kirkland. Several more COVID-19 deaths have occurred there. The state has been hardest hit in the U.S.- so far.  Media reports say shelves have been emptied in grocery stores as people stockpile for a possible quarantine, workers are working from home, rush hour traffic jams have disappeared and events are canceled. Friends living there describe the atmosphere as 'freaky'.

Our village Agios Nikolaos at night
In our area, The Mani in the southern Peloponnese, we are going about life in quite a routine manner. No one is - yet - rushing out to stock up on food, cleaning supplies or toilet paper as they are elsewhere in the world. We still kiss each other's cheeks in greeting and hug frequently. We do talk about the impacts of coronavirus on travel and are keeping watch on its spread.

I'll admit though after having read so many articles about supplies disappearing from shelves, I did decide to buy a box of disposable gloves at our local supermarket.  There were three boxes of them (a full stock) and all were dust covered.

The Scribe and The Scout after being held in Greece last year while awaiting our residency renewal, vowed we'd travel more this year. Our first outing is to France the end of April. If we cancel our week's reservations we lose the week - no refunds or changes are being allowed. At this point, we don't plan to cancel and The Scout has plotted four options for getting there and back.

Conflict at the border

We also have in Greece the matter of  an increasingly tense conflict with Turkey, our neighbor to the east. These two countries haven't been getting along well for sometime and headlines often call out air space violations and oil drilling concerns.

Islands mentioned below and our home near Kalamata are some distance apart

 But the current tense situation is caused by the overwhelming flow of immigrants and migrants into the two countries as they flee their warring homelands and seek asylum in Europe. The route to freedom takes them through both Turkey and Greece. My brief  recap below doesn't do justice to the situation - full reports can be found on most European and Middle Eastern media. I used several of those media to compile this synopsis:

Turkey is reportedly hosting 3.6  million registered Syrian refugees and immigrants from other countries like Afghanistan.  The Turkish president recently announced he was opening the border for them to the European Union - their route via Greece. He's quoted as saying he'll allow 'millions' of refugees and migrants into Greece.

Immigrants  have risked their lives on small boats trying to reach Greece

Greece, however, is at maximum capacity for housing refugees and has said, 'no more'. The few camps created since the exodus began five years ago are already far in excess of the numbers they were designed to hold.Thousands of men, women and children are being held on three Greek islands -- Lesvos, Samos and Chios -- per a European Union containment policy, while awaiting the processing of their asylum requests.

The migrants are saying 'enough'. Reports of growing vandalism and theft by some of those held in the camps has prompted the Greek island residents to also be crying, 'enough'.  Residents for years have rallied donations and care for those who've arrived on their shores over the years.

In January this islanders held protests, demanding help and support from the Greek government.   Media report that local vigilante groups are being formed. That was before the Turkish president announced he will allow even more migrants to enter Greece.

This week the American Embassy in Athens and the US Consulate in Thessaloniki issued travel warnings to Americans who are or who are planning to travel to those islands and the mainland's northeastern region of Evros, near the Turkish border.  It was reported that the US Embassy had received reports of violence against Americans trying to travel in Lesvos.

Springtime in Greece

As I said in the opening, it is a slightly different spring. We hope that wherever you find yourselves this week that you are healthy and untouched by conflict and Corona virus.  Wishes for safe travel if you are traveling and wherever you are: remember to wash your hands!

Thanks so much for the time you spent with us today ~ let us know in the comments below or an email how life is going in your part of the world ~

Linking this week with:

Mosaic Monday
Through My Lens
Travel Tuesday
Our World Tuesday
My Corner of the World Wednesday
Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Kali Mina ~ It is December Again in Greece ~

  “Kali Mina!” is the greeting called out to friends at the start of each new month in Greece. It means basically, “Have a good month”. It is just one of the many things we do in this new-to-us culture that we didn’t do ‘back home’ in the United States.

Agios Nikolaos, village, December 2015
This month, even though we enthusiastically used the greeting, we ask ourselves, 'How could it be December already?'  Way back in September when we shifted from our suburban Seattle life to our rural setting tucked away in an olive grove, it seemed we would have such a long stretch of time to experience ex pat life in Greece.

“We’ll be here until December,” we announced with finality to friends both near and far.

December display at a grocery store in Kardamyli village, 2015
This is our third December at our Stone House on the Hill; a hill that overlooks the small villages that dot this small section of the Messinian Bay coastline that rests in the shadow of the Taygetos Mountains. This month marks our second full year of home ownership in Greece's Peloponnese and our 'part-time ex pats' life.

The Stone House on the Hill, far right
Those of you who’ve been with us since that first December recall that at the time we said we’d caught our daydream but we'd give it 'five years' to become reality. We’d give ourselves five years here and if it didn’t measure up to that daydream, we’d put it up for sale. We don't talk of selling or five years these days. Just as we’ve changed our little stone home, we’ve changed our attitude about time.

The Stone House on the Hill, December 2014
And much has changed at the rather bland little house we purchased and occupied during that rather bleak first December. Our time spent here has been dictated by doing the ‘Schengen Shuffle’, 90-days here and 90-days out dance step set forth in our tourist visa. The Schengen Treaty covers more than 20 countries on this side of the Atlantic and dictates the length of stay in them, either individually or as a whole.

The Stone House on the Hill, December 2016
With each stay, siga, siga, or slowly, slowly, the house has been changing, as have we. Living life in 90-day segments has given us a new appreciation for time and its passage. 

Our lemon tree frames Agios Dimitrios and Agios Nikolaos villages in the distance

We are just beginning to let go of that American approach of timelines and deadlines (something we both lived by in our professional lives and therefore struggle with giving it up). Things here get done when they get done.  Days may pass while we wait for that promised mason, electrician, plumber or delivery of materials. . ..then as if they were falling dominos, one thing trips another and within an hour or two, suddenly everything is done.

PicMonkey Collage
We've added color to The Stone House on The Hill
Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold your life in your hands, all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.
                       -- Hannah Arendt

Petro's and Irini's tavern in Trahilia - one of our favorite spots on earth
It is an unhurried lifestyle that slowly wraps you up in its embrace.  A dinner out at any of the small nearby tavernas could take hours. You begin by visiting awhile – often with others at nearby tables whom you may or may not know or the owners - you soak up the atmosphere, enjoy a sunset, some wine, and then the food begins arriving.  Even running over to the neighbors ‘for a minute’ could result in staying for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and a bit of visit time which could easily fill an hour.

Time isn't segmented with the hourly precision that dictates American life. We seldom make ‘plans’ in advance of a few hours here; a quick phone call or text suggesting an evening out together or alerting someone of a visit is the norm. No calendars or 'day-timers' needed.

PicMonkey Collage
October far left, November, and December
Back in the States it's the retail stores that contribute to the feeling of seasons rushing past us; giving the sense of urgency with their October Halloween merchandise displays going up in August and Christmas in October. Here it is Mother Nature who alerts us to the seasons. They are clearly and unhurriedly defined by the olive and citrus groves, the gardens, the produce sold in the public markets.

Olive harvest at The Stone House on the Hill marks season's end
“When abroad, boredom, routine and ‘normal’ cease to exist. And all that is left is the thrill and the challenge of uncertainty.”
                                                             -- Reannan Muth

The normal way to buy vegetables in the village is from the traveling produce seller
The one thing about time that we’ve learned is that 90-day segments of life are simply too rigid.  If the devastating September storm that hit this area had damaged our Stone House on the Hill and required us to return sooner than we had scheduled, we’d have thrown our ‘Schengen Shuffle’ out of sequence and wouldn’t be able to still be here right now. Ninety days within each 180 days is cumulative. Hit the mark and you are out until another 90 days pass. Miss it and you face hefty fines and you can be barred from entering the country for up to five years. If we stayed our full 90 days in Greece, they could deny us entry into another Schengen country even if our only purpose there is to transit the airport as part of our return to the U.S.

Doing the Schengen Shuffle at London Heathrow's airport
The only way to add flexibility is to obtain a 'residency permit' which would create a resident status, allowing us the flexibility of date-free travel in Schengen-governed Europe. We could come and go as we wanted. Obtaining such a permit isn’t simple nor inexpensive.  Yet, it can be done as other Americans here have proven.

So on this third December at The Stone House on the Hill, we’ve just started the journey through the permit bureaucracy. . .it is a journey that will take us to Olympia, our Washington State capitol, then to San Francisco to meet with ‘our’ West Coast Greek consulate. If he grants us an 'entry permit' we can pursue a resident visa the next time we are here. . .90 days from now!

As you’ve probably gathered by now, we are packing up and closing this chapter at The Stone House on the Hill. The Scout found us a great airfare back to Seattle from Cairo. So we are off to Egypt (not a Schengen Country) this coming weekend.  We appreciate the time you spend with us and so enjoy hearing from you!  Until our next get-together, safe travels to you and yours ~
The loneliness of the expatriate is of an odd and complicated kind, for it is inseparable from the feeling of being free, of having escaped.
                              -- Adam Gopnik

Linking up with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday
Photo Friday
Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Greece ~ Siga, Siga; slowly, slowly . . .

“Slow down, you move too fast,
gotta make the morning last. . .”
                                             -- Paul Simon, The 59th Street Bridge Song
I regularly meet a fellow writer friend for coffee and chitchat when I am in the Pacific Northwest. We schedule it early in the day so as to fit it in to our schedules, which in itself could be a laugh as we are both retired. I mean, really, ‘schedules’ when you are retired??

We never worry about overstaying the 1.5 hour free parking limit where we rendezvous because frankly, we don’t have time to exceed it – there’s always another appointment or commitment that one of us needs to get to.  We sip steaming beverages served in paper cups imprinted with Starbucks logos, giving little attention to our surroundings.
We aren't quite as hurried as others who rush in and ‘grab and go’ –  we can now use our mobile device to order our coffee prior to our arrival at this coffee shop chain. No waiting. In and out and on our way. Who has time to linger?

That rushed approach to both having coffee and living life seems normal, the ‘American way’.

Coffee on the island of Poros, Greece
And, I've come to learn, it is a stark contrast to the Greek approach to meeting for coffee. The difference between the two is nothing short of a cultural caffeine jolt. In Greece meeting for coffee is a long, lingering event, not limited to any particular time of day: morning, afternoon or long into the evening, people come together over coffee. 

PicMonkey Collage
Coffee shop corner in Heraklion, Crete

It has taken a bit of time to adapt to this cultural phenomenon of relaxing and slowing the pace over coffee.  I mean, sitting at a table, long after your cups are empty, sipping a glass of water (that is always provided with the coffee in Greece), just isn’t the norm in the States. Yet, here, it seems almost an insult to the establishment to rapidly consume your beverage and then jump up and leave.

Kafenion in the Greek Peloponnese
This ‘long-linger’ over coffee may have gotten its start at the old style kafenions, those tiny shops where a small group of elderly Greek men visit while sipping their strong-enough-to-put-hair-on-your-chest coffee and downing an ouzo chaser while twirling worry beads. Where ever the tradition began, it is insanely popular at cafes and coffee houses throughout the country.

Maestros café - Kardamyli, Greece
During our early stages in Greece we used that American approach to ‘going out for coffee’ in our village. Sip quickly, check messages on our phones, then be on our way.

Siga, siga, (slowly, slowly) that is changing.  After all, what did we really have to do in Greece that would cause us to rush off from anywhere?  And why is it that ‘busy’ seems the acceptable by-word in the States, but here we are learning contentedness in sitting and smelling, the roses,  the coffee, in this case, and watching the world go by?

Kaefenion - Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnese, Greece
We began slowing our pace one Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago when The Scout and I headed to our nearby village, Agios Nikolaos for coffee ‘at Freda’s’. That means Gregg’s Plateia – a small cafe run by Gregg and his mom Freda.  This popular eatery is an ex pat gathering spot, post office, bus stop, and serves as host site to any number of fund-raisers.

An added bonus is that Freda always has an answer to our questions, of which we usually have a few.

An afternoon at Freda's - siga, siga
As we lingered at our table for nearly two hours sipping a cappuccino and a ‘press’ coffee on that warm afternoon I realized we were conquering the cultural coffee divide. During that time, we browsed through her furniture catalog, picked up books from her mail table that I had ordered from the U.K.'s  Book Depository and purchased oranges from the fruit vendor – never going more than a dozen steps away from the table.

We buy from this fellow as often as possible
We’d visited with a couple of folks who were walking past, waved to others and simply watched others go about their rounds, like our village pappas, making his way to the church around the corner – after he’d made a stop at the coffee shop across the way.

Watching the street scene - Agios Nikolaos, Peloponnese
By lingering, we had a treat as a ‘new’ fishing boat was spotted in the bay and crew were shuttling its catch between the boat and the harbor fish scales. Amazing all the things there are to watch and learn while sipping a cup of coffee – if  you give yourself the time to do it.

PicMonkey Collage
Agios Nikolaos - Peloponnese
Our timing was off that day – even with our lingering – so we didn’t get to watch the bus from Kalamata stop in front of the cafe and deposit passengers prior to threading its way down the village’s main street to its next stop at the other end of town.

The bus comes through town three times a day - Agios Nikolaos
You, who follow our adventures on Facebook, know that one of my most favorite pastimes (and unexplainable) is watching the bus that serves this region crawl through town on its way north or south and then posting FB photos like the one above.

I was glad to learn I wasn’t the only one who enjoys that bus. The photo below was taken on another afternoon coffee outing, when we had new friends who were visiting from the United States join us for an afternoon coffee at another favorite hangout of ours, Molos Bistrot, next to Freda’s. It was the oncoming bus – not the caffeine – that jolted them out of their seats with cameras in hand.

Here comes the bus!
I took the photo below a few years back in a cafe where we sipped coffee during a stay in a village on Crete’s southern coast. Back then, we had a limited amount of time for travels in Greece and wanted to see as much of the country as possible.  The message didn’t ring as clear then as it does these days.


We thank you for being here with us for another serving of Greek tales and hope to see you back again. Until then, safe travels to you and yours.

Linking up this week with:

Mosaic Monday – 
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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