Small island manners

It struck me on Sunday as I went on a little walk to Delfini beach how people are a little kinder and helpful on a small island.  It was a little walk – it takes less than 25 minutes from to spiti mas (our house) to the paralia (the beach). Yet in that short amount of time 2 cars stopped to offer me a lift. I know what you’re thinking “stranger danger” and accepting lifts is so unheard of these days. This isn’t just because we have lost trust in our fellow humans and been programmed that everyone out there is set to rob or murder us, its endemic of how we fear things we don’t know. I was a woman alone walking in the heat of the sun.  I mean the path is hilly, there’s a couple of steep climbs as you near to the bend before reaching the bay – but I like to think in my sporty trainers and hiking backpack, I totally looked like a typical thing for me to do. But I think it comes down to the fact that it isn’t common to see people walking to the beach here – so a nice thing to do would be to stop and offer them a lift as it’s a dirt road that ends at the beach, you know anyone going in this direction is heading to the same place. When the first car stopped, I said a simple “oxi, efharisto” and he waved and went on his way. But when the second car stopped merely a few minutes later on the ridge of the steepest hill, I started saying no and he waved and smiled, then his slightly worse for wear car started struggling to keep going and started to splutter and stall. I thought, now if I have to help him push the car up the hill that will be just brilliant timing! Man stops to give woman lift on midday sun – and she ends up pushing his slightly worn out car up a hill like a superwoman. His ego would probably never survive!

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But that’s just a more chivalrous way of life here. I’m not saying I like it – it is just different and something you notice in the older generation more often. I was in the post office last week when an older man ahead of me offered to swap tickets. It has the same system as back home where draw a ticket from the machine and ait to be called. He probably made a judgement at my blonde hair and flip flops, realising my need at the counter would likely be a swift transaction to buy stamps, rather than his complicated pension forms or some other administrative red-tape that would take time to get stamped and approved. It was very kind of him and I thanked him in my best formal Greek.

Not that this happens everywhere, but it does happen more when I am without G, evidencing the lone female theory, but I certainly don’t have a free pass to universal  kindness! But I’ll certainly try to reciprocate it. On ferries, busses and ticket counters I have been shoved, pushed in front of and tutted at for being too orderly and well, darn-British for following a sense of THE QUEUING SYSTEM. The hallowed order doesn’t work here, it has no currency.

Anyway there is a sense of neighbourly kindness and community in Greece – I won’t make a sweeping statement and say it just so much better here, but it is different from what I have been accustomed to. At home having an elbow shoved into the ribs and overhearing the swearing pent up anger of fellow commuters was a good day in London.  Here it’s old ladies pushing to the front of transport and traffic jams caused by runaway mules. But I can forgive all of this – when I’m 70+ I want to be first on the bus too. It’s just mellower and friendly, it seems customary to speak to strangers, offer words of kindness or give welcoming gifts.

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Our landlord stops by with fresh eggs, an assortment of veg from his plot. He brought beetroot over and I made a delicious panzarasalata (beetroot salad with garlic and yogurt) I met the lovely Jacky and Flora who run the Syros Cat charity last week and somehow left with a box full of ripe strawberries. Well, at least fruit requires less responsibility than a cat! Our neighbours have left us bags of lemons which G made into Lemon Curd. I’m starting to worry that I need to return the favour but haven’t got anything to give! (well let’s hope the garden gets productive soon – the pressure is on!)

We are on the wonderful island Tinos at the moment. G has been here all week volunteering with Paths of Greece. He is walking an average of 20k+ a day to map out the paths. He’s having a great time. I arrived yesterday and have been taking it easy. Guiltily of course.

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I spent a while wandering the picturesque streets of Pyrgos in the north of the island while they were off hiking a trail. This is one of the well preserved and pristine examples of a traditional village whose main industry is marble. It has a great museum of marble crafts, which was sadly closed. But I managed to peek in to one of the workshops the students from the college were sculpting marble in.

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The main square is entirely made from marble slabs and has statues, hand carved adornments above windows and doorways everywhere and even the bus stop is made of marble.

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It is quite honestly the most picturesque little place to while away the hours – hardly any tourists around at all.

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After lunch I was pointed in the direction of a nice easy trail from Vlakos through the ancient boulders to Koumaros and back to the rural village we are staying in, Skalados.

After admiring the old abandoned houses in Vlakos, which have hand written memorials, poems and stories about their inhabitants, I set off along the road to the boulders.

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All of a sudden I heard an old lady calling me, from the churchyard I’d just passed. She was waving a broom at me and I was scared! What had I done, offended someone on a holy afternoon? After a few minutes of shouting Greek words at me, none of which I could fathom, all I could say was ‘then katalaveno – signomi’ (sorry I don’t understand). She then took the broom in her left hand and made a waving movement with her right arm and said in a French accent (most Greeks here seem to also have a grasp of French too as plenty of tourists visit from there) “Serpent, l ‘attenzione, serpent!” Now the penny dropped, she was warning me about snakes, that hand movement was a snake not a ‘rollin’ with the homies dance‘ which had thrown me! I replied, “Nai, Nai! Efharosto para poli” (yes, thank you very much) and I mimed back a gesture of keeping my eyes on the path. Phew! The lady was just being kind to me and letting me know there are snakes around. Yes, snakes. Another thing to add to my fears; heights, rabid dogs, spiders.

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Well at least I was warned, now I could be fully prepared. Well I’m pleased to say I enjoyed the walk and wasn’t victim of a snakebite (only very few are poisonous and they are the patterned vipers). I made it through Kamouros, admiring the sweet little honesty café they have there where people can help themselves to drinks and leave the correct change.

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That’s a nice neighbourly thing to do – creating a little place people can drop in and have a space for the community of 20 or so houses of the village.

These reminders of the kindness of strangers and trust are all things I am finding different here but certainly are welcome views of Greek life.

The weekly shop and meeting goats

Life has started to form a routine here, not just work, but also the domesticity of living in a little house and doing all the regular things in a highly modern way (read: back to basics) So we don’t have a washing machine, a microwave, a heater or TV.  Life without TV is actually blissful given the current state of global news and politics– (don’t get me started on the election palaver). Although we obviously consume most of our news online, so we aren’t totally living in a bubble. But we agreed not to have Netflix or watch TV shows and stuff online. A good break from entertainment overload. Which is the best excuse to have a packed kindle reading list and various books to get through. (Please send recommendations!)

Our two ‘luxury’ purchases were a battery operated FM/AM radio to listen to local radio (6.99e– looks like it was made in the late 80s). I love Greek music, like Rembetiko and just having it in the background when cooking is my little piece of heaven. The second item was a cafetiere – such a common item back home actually took a while to track down here. Mainly because, the Greeks are fond of making their traditional ‘Ellinko Café’ in a briki (which is a small pan to boil the sandy fine coffee grounds in). But I was overjoyed when I finally found a ‘French Press’ in a cookshop as the lady described it. Here we are drinking fine coffee and scrubbing our clothes by hand.

Luckily Graeme loves washing so he has dutifully taken a lead on this. Hand washing takes exactly the same amount of time as using a washing machine, the only snag is that it is you that shoulders all the hard work. Equipment needed: 2 large buckets, a pair of washing up gloves, and hand detergent. We now have it down, which is exactly what happened to the washing line in the middle of hanging white sheets on…an almighty PING and the whole load went down. Everything had to be rinsed as they were covered in pine needles and dust! The rinsing and wringing is the real physical labour. Guns of steel in the making!

The other big differences here are felt in the buying food. Kini has a mini-market which gets bread delivered every morning and stocks the basics. In Ermoupoli, which is a short bus ride away, there are 3 big-ish supermarkets, one of them being a Lidl. None of them huge hypermarkets like Tesco. But they stock most things, but you do need to also go to the butcher shop (kreopoleio) and the greengrocer (manavis), as well as the bakery (forno). The real beauty is seeing how everyone shops around, and gets the best price, buying everything under one roof just isn’t possible here unless you ignore what everything costs! So when I get the bus in to do a ‘big shop’ it is at least 5 shops to get the basics and many ins and outs to get other stuff. Yesterday, after waving Graeme off on the Blue Star to Tinos, I hunted down blue tack (3 shops to find it) and a trip to the post office to get stamps, then butchers to get meat and then the greengrocer, with whom I had a hilarious Greek-lish conversation when he asked me whether I was here on holiday, he soon twigged he’s spoken to Graeme the week before. “Oh you must know the man with the moustache” i replied “Yep that’s Graeme, andros mou (my husband)”. “Ah send him my regards, he likes the football”. Then proceeded to ask if we had children and why not, “you make great babies”…yep, no subject out of bounds while buying red onions and a melon.

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We also have a close-ish AB Supermarket in walking distance from the house, it’s a hilly 35 minute walk there as its half way between Galissas and Kini. I am sure we get a few looks of humour at us walking there (you see it is rather weird for us not to have a car or moped, but hey, we are walkers and like it that way!). But what a walk it is! Once out of Kini, the road ascends high up the hill to Danakos and through pastures of farmland, passing green fields of cows, sheep and my favourite, goats. On a walk there on Monday morning to get milk and bread, we passed by a lady Goat-Herder walking her flock of 10 or so goats from one field to another. She just sat there peacefully serene in the morning haze. She waved and we waved back, a cheerful “Kalimera”. After a quick whizz-round the supermarket, and loading up our rucksacks with goodies we set off again. As we neared the turn down into the village, the lady was crossing the road with her goats, two kids bouncing around and not following her orders! We waved again and I said “mou resi katsiki” (I like goats). She beckoned us over and picked up one of the little ones so I could say hello. There I was stroking a baby goat on a Monday morning, life dream achieved! He was so cute and happy to see us. We passed a few words in Greek and then went on our merry way home to log-on and start work.

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I can honestly say the food shopping used to be such chore back home, but here you never know what you’ll run into and how it might just brighten up your day.

My love of goats. To be continued….