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ANTIQUITY IN OUR BACK YARD

Ancient ruins are literally everywhere in Greece. Every where you walk you are treading on the ruins of an  older civilization, probably rom...

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

ANZAC

ANZAC    (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp)

ANZAC Day on the 25th April was originally to honour those who fought in WW1 at Gallipoli in Turkey.  Now it commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who took part in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.




Almost 10,000 ANZAC soldiers fell during the campaign at Gallipoli, along with British, Irish, French and Indian troops.  The objective was to knock the Ottomans (Turks) out of the war and capture Constantinople (Istanbul).  They spent 8 months in brutal conditions before the remaining men were withdrawn.

100 years later in 2015 thousands of New Zealanders and Australians travelled to Turkey and the now renamed Anzac Cove for the commemoration services and passes to attend had to be allocated by ballot.


25th April is a public holiday in New Zealand.  Thousands attend dawn ceremonies  wearing the symbolic red poppy.



In Athens there is a morning remembrance service at the Faleron Commonwealth War Cemetary on the coast just out of Athens.  This year it was attended by the Greek Minister for National Defence and Ambassadors and Heads of Missions of 15 countries.  Usually the ceremony gets some television coverage but I haven't seen any today.

Services also take place at the Commonwealth War cemetaries on the island of Rhodes and at Souda Bay in Crete.

17,000 NZs and Australians served in Greece, including my father and my uncle George.

Last night I received an email from my cousin Jenny in NZ which gave me a moving picture of the day and what it means.


.....  it's 7 o'clock on Anzac Day. Wellington has turned on a superb morning. Windless and cloudless. I'm watching dawn parades on Tv. Services  from Wellington, Auckland, Sydney Australia  are being broadcast live. There are moving moments, and very large crowds everywhere.  Our little choir will meet at 9.30 wearing black and a knitted poppy, and sing at our own service of readings, hymns,and remembrance ...... 

Personally, l find it a difficult day, bringing back many memories of my father who never got over the the battle of El Alamein and how my mother reacted to learning of Uncle Frank's death while we were living in Nelson.

There will be Tv coverage all day, on a beautiful autumn day.  I'm remembering Harry's* great remark, what it was like in his little boat in the Mediterranean  during the shellings. He said his crew of cockneys went below deck, covered heir ears with their hands and called 'I want me mom'!   A lovely memory.

* My father




Sunday, 23 April 2017

St George - Agios Georgios

April 23rd

Fiesta day of Agios Georgios
Saint George Patron Saint of England
The dragon Slayer

Name day  in Greece of any male named Georgios or female with the name of Georgia.




Usually celebrated on April 23 but if this day falls during Lent the fiesta takes place on the Monday after Easter.

The first church on the island is dedicated to St George so it is decked out in flags and inside there are lace doilies and flowers decorating the icon of the Saint and the church.  This morning the icon will be taken outside with pomp and circumstance and paraded around the Mitropoli (cathedral) accompanied by the municipal band, the usual bigwigs, chanters and half a dozen visiting priests.  The bells will peal joyfully and can be heard over most of the island.

The church will be open all day and anyone who did not attend the morning or previous evening service will pass by to light a candle.

Our oldest grandson and many of our friends celebrate their name days today.  The older generation will go to church this morning and take with them a loaf of bread with the Holy stamp which will be blessed in the church and handed out in small pieces after the service.  They will probably also bring along five sweet loaves (representing the miracle of the five loaves, without the fish, which fed the five thousand) which are also blessed and handed out.




Our young teenage George is still sleeping on our couch after a long night of computer games and an overdose of ice-cream. 



This is what happens when a teenage boy doesn't know his own strength and can't wait for the ice-cream to soften a little.  Fortunately it wasn't a family heirloom.

Life lesson - use a sharp knife to cut chunks of super hard ice-cream, not your Grandmother's silver salad server.


This evening K will go and visit two or maybe three of his friends who celebrate today.  Two of them are roasting lambs on the spit once again.  It is going to be a long night.

On name days there are no invitations.  Friends and relatives either phone with a 'Kronia Polla', literally 'many years' or just turn up at the house bringing a small gift.  In the olden days the right gift to bring a man was a bottle of whisky.  Now it is often a bottle of ouzo or maybe a box of sticky cakes, and flowers for the Georgias.

Any villages named after the Saint will have two or even three day celebrations with dancing, singing, a communal feast and a market around the edges of the panagyri (festival).




Friday, 21 April 2017

Stuff Greeks Eat

Taramas


This is a lump of salted fish roe, Greek caviar.   These are the tiny fish eggs, from grey mullet, that are the base of taramasalata, mainly eaten during Lent.  The best taramas is a dark pink bordering on beige. The cheaper it is the brighter the pink, due to artificial food colouring.

Fish eggs are a terrific source of Omega-3 and when mixed with virgin olive oil it becomes a super food.  My father-in-law made taramasalata with the roe, lots of olive oil and lemon juice, all pounded in a pestle and mortar.  Strong flavours, very salty and acidic. We now use a blender and add lots of soaked bread or boiled potato as well as some onion.  The resulting puree is agreeably smooth and mildly fishy. 



Moray Eel

This fish in Greek is called a 'smyrna'.  I'm pretty sure in english it is a moray eel.  It certainly is a fish to keep clear of and not one that many people like to eat.   It has a long eel-like body and a mouth full of very sharp teeth.

Often other fishermen will give one to K because they cannot sell them.  We chop them into slices and fry them till the skin is very crisp.  They are a great tasting fish but have a sort of jelly-like substance next to the bone which some find a little unpleasant.




Chook's Feet

Yuk.  Searching in the freezer today for some cuttlefish I came across something wrapped in supermarket paper.  I opened it up of course to see what it was.  I shudder even now.  Look what I found.  Two chicken feet.  They are absolutely disgusting, yellow and scaly and with what looks like long fingernails.  They were speedily rewrapped and returned to the back of the freezer.

I may take a photo when K eventually gets round to cooking these but it will be a very fast photo and a swift retreat!

My father-in-law used to enjoy eating chicken heads and feet, at the dinner table.  Not an experience I want to recall.


A sink hole, the Grand Canyon, the black hole of Calcutta.

I baked a cake yesterday, a lemon cake, a cake I've made a dozen times with great success.  In the middle of the baking our neighbour popped in to say 'hi, what's going on?" We had the Albanian cleaning the garden.  I should have spat three times. I should have crossed myself, turned around  and shaken the evil eye out of my clothes.  I should have at least crossed the cake when I put it in to cook.

The cake sank.  As I took it out of the oven it gave up the ghost and collapsed in the middle.  It was perfectly cooked.  The cake was one of the most delicious I've ever made.  It didn't really matter that it sank.  But that's the 'evil eye'.  Believe it or beware!!







Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Looking up

Poros is actually two islands connected by a very small bridge over a sea canal.  Sphairia is the name of the smaller island where the main town is located.  It is volcanic, formed by the volcano of Methana 45 minutes down the road.  Last eruption 300 years ago.

The main town is built around the harbour with picturesque tiers of houses above connected by  narrow streets built for donkey traffic, flights of very uneven steps often made from the volcanic rock and alley ways which are sometimes just a track between houses, used by locals when taking a shortcut.  

These are photos of the main town looking up from the harbour.



Looking up from the yacht harbour and the 'Green Chair' cafe


This is the view coming in on the car ferry looking up to the Old Mill (behind the trees on the top of the hill) and the small church of St Athanasios.  





There at the top is the church, a perfect place to sit and enjoy views of the mainland and savour the quiet, broken only by the eeyore of a donkey or the bark of a dog.





This time we are looking up to the blue and white clock tower.  It is quite a steep climb up there but the view is awesome.  You can see the harbour down below,  tiny yachts and taxi boats and the houses of Galatas across the strait



 

A photo taken from the car ferry, once again looking up towards the clock tower





These steps climb up to a road above, a road without cars or motorbikes, accessed only by foot.  Imagine living up there, or even higher, carrying up bags of groceries and life's esentials.  You'll see a lot of the older women have bent legs and aching knees after many long years of scaling these flights of steps hauling heavy bags.  And still they scramble up to their houses uncomplaining even in old age



Another flight of endless steps.  In the last few years the council has at last provided handrails







Looking up to one of the impressive neo-classical buildings, flying the blue and white greek flag.   




Monday, 17 April 2017

Easter - photo reportage

It is over.  Never again.  We say this every year.  Days of preparation.  A day of celebration.  Days of cleaning and picking up the pieces.  This time I mean it.  Next year I'm going to sit at someone elses feast.  I'm going to dress up in my best clothes, arrive in time for the food.  Eat, laugh, drink, toast the hosts.  Then I'm going home to my nice clean house and my empty fridge.  Maybe I'll even go out for coffee after the feasting.  Maybe I'll join the throng on the waterfront in the evening for a g and t.  Roll on next year's easter!

As usual when a family of greek extroverts get together the air was fraught with friction.  Everyone yelling instructions, a few retreats with mumbled threats, dishes slammed down and small conclaves of grumbling serfs .  Once the celebrations began, with the first tidbits from the lamb and a few glasses of wine all was well with our world again.   

Next year.......





Blackening our doorway for another year.  That must be eight years of crosses up there.  




A little girl's fancy lambatha  for midnight mass


Playing conkers with the red easter eggs.  


A bottle of fancy wine for the end of Lent.  Two of us drank this nice bubbly Asti.  There wasn't all that much wine in the bottle though.  It was a thick heavy bottle, very deceptive.



Basting the lamb with an oily rag on the end of a stick




The lamb is off the spit.  Great smiles of anticipation!


Alas poor Yorick.....


The head of the lamb ready to go


Yum yum?


The first wave of visitors have a snack and a glass of wine before moving on to their own easter feasting






The potatoes were forgotten in all the chaos and were burnt to a perfect crisp.  We'll do the same next year....oops, no we won't!!!!




As well as easter we had a very important birthday to celebrate. This was a mosaic refrigerator cake, one of many desserts. We all made one and visitors brought boxes of sticky syrup cakes and milk pie (galaktobouriko) . Kids went home sugar happy

Elli my dear, thanks for the mountain of dishes you washed, the armfuls of plates you carried to and fro, the bags of rubbish you removed from the table and the house, the dirty plates you scraped, the fatty baking dishes you scrubbed, automatic smile you had for everyone and your presence which gave me courage to continue.   Danae thanks too for your support and all the clearing up you did too.  So who's place are we all going to next year???

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Easter Saturday

Saturday

All the chores and preparations must be finished today. The offal soup to break the fast at midnight must be cooked. The lamb must be trussed, the spit of offal rolled in the long string of intestines. The wood and coal bricks for the fire must be in place. The tzatziki should be maturing in the fridge, the Easter loaf with its red egg (baked this morning) should be on show in the middle of the table, a table laid with best cloth and service ready for the family repast just after midnight.




19.30pm and the lamb still has not arrived.  It is the first time we have waited so long for it to be delivered.  Usually the lamb (or goat) is already hanging in the shed by Good Friday.  The boys have gone to collect it from the water taxi.  The shephard across on Galatas has been busy and hasn't had time to send it down to the waterfront. 



This is kokoretsi, a spit of offal wrapped in intestines.  All ready to go on the spit tomorrow morning.


Elli and I are waiting with sharpened knives to cut up the innards to start the mayeritsa which is the soup we eat at midnight to break the fast. 

 The lamb has to be prepared and wired on to the spit so it can go over the coals early tomorrow morning.

The mayeritsa is made of the lungs, heart, kidney, liver and other bits and pieces from inside the lamb.  We cut it all into small chunks and saute these with a big pile of spring onions.  I pour in a glass of wine and then a little water and it is stewed slowly for about an hour.  Then we add two big lettuces sliced quite finely, a big bunch of dill and some salt and pepper.  All this is stewed slowly for  another hour and then I add a wine glass of rice.  At the very end the soup is thickened with beaten egg and lemon juice.





It might sound alarming to some but the flavours blend in so well and that last addition of egg and lemon just makes it rich and savoury and fit for a king. 

This is what we eat after the midnight church service when 'Christ has Risen'.    There will also be fresh bread on the table, feta cheese, salted sardines and lots of red eggs.

Just before midnight at the church all the lights are turned off and the priest lights a candle with the Holy Light brought all the way from Jerusalem in the PM's airplane.  From the airport in Athens it is flown (free by Aegean Airways) all over Greece.  Our light goes by speed boat to the Bishop's Monastery on Hydra and then on to Poros where it is greeted by the Mayor and taken to all the big churches on the island.  

When our priest emerges from the sanctuary holding his candle with the Holy Light the light is shared from candle to candle . This is carried carefully home to make a cross three times over the front door of each house.




19.48  The lamb has arrived.  Action stations!

10.45  everyone has gone off to church and I'm left to lay the table and heat up the soup.   



A sharp, tasty english cheddar given us by our English neighbours.  We also have feta on the table of course



Happy Easter everyone. Kalo Pasca kai Kronia Polla


Friday, 14 April 2017

Good Friday

A day of mourning.  After the morning church service Christ is taken down from the cross and placed on the flower decorated bier in the church and the bells toll the slow death knell all day long.

Offices, banks , shops and businesses don't open till after the church service.  Today is a day of rest.  No making cookies, dyeing eggs or doing housework.  The most faithful will only eat a soup made of tahini (sesame paste) and water and will avoid eating anything sweet.

We used to take the children from church to church to see how each had decorated their bier.  The younger children gleefully crawled three times underneath for good health.

In the evening each church carries their flower bedecked bier of Christ out into the streets followed by the faithful carrying lighted (brown beeswax tonight) candles.  The three big churches on Poros plus the church from the Navy base will all meet in the centre of town for a short combined service and then each procession returns to their church.




                   Two of the flower decorated canopies 
     


 Many of the congregation will return to the church passing underneath the bier for good luck.  Then there is a scramble as the flowers from the bier are taken down and handed out to the people.  These flowers are used to decorate the icons in the house.



Down in the harbour there were loads of boats letting off flares

In some places the procession is only around the outside of the church. When we lived in a small village in Crete the young and fit priest galloped all around the village at top speed with all of us galloping breathlessly behind him. On the island of Salamina the procession went for miles on mainly unlit roads. Not easy following in your best high heels.




The big church down on the waterfront loaded its floral canopy and congregation into fishing boats and water taxis and sailed along the harbour to the main square. A wonderful candlelit parade of boats on the water.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Red eggs on Thursday

Thursday is the day for dyeing red eggs.  We have dyed 60, ye gods and little fishes.  Most will be given away but it is still too many.  'But you never know who might pop in and they can't leave without an egg or two', says the traditional person.

I hard boiled the eggs last night and today they only have to be dipped in a pot of dye and left for three minutes. 






When  dry they are polished with a little olive oil on a cloth and gleam and glisten.



Like the koulourakia they won't be eaten till after the midnight Saturday church service.  

In the evening there is the very long service of the 12 Gospels.  After the service the women will stay till the early hours decorating the bier of Christ (the Epitaphio) with fresh flowers.  There is a lot of competition between churches as to which is the most beautiful.   The women gossip and bicker but it is a community effort.  The older women dictate and the younger ones string long garlands of flowers, listen, laugh and learn.

Quite often in the wee hours when the  work is finished groups of women will go off to the  nearby churches to check-out the other's handiworks.  My two girls used to go with their aunt and soon it will be the turn of my grandaughters.

Ferries out of Piraeus are full as the cities empty and anyone from an island returns to their island, their village, their family.

Buses coming into Athens are full, full of slaughtered lambs, tins of village feta, crates of Easter goodies, presents for the children, being sent down from the village family, to those that cannot leave the city.


Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Holy Wednesday

Today is the day our family give the traditional easter presents to our god children.

Traditional presents are a pair of new shoes and a coloured candle decorated with ribbons for the midnight mass on Saturday.

Nowadays the candles are attached to big boxes with Power Rangers or Barbie dolls and there is usually a large chocolate egg and maybe a  sweet bread called tsoureki.





My girls were often given lacy frilly dresses and pink jackets or coats.  They wore these to the Friday and Saturday church services holding their pink sparkly candle.  Boys were given long trousers and matching jacket and a plainer blue candle.




These days the rules are far more relaxed.  Mothers and Godmothers chose the latest fashion from an online store and the child will most often have  a say as well, even the boys.  Spiderman might have been ok a few years ago but  now it is, heaven knows what.  I'm out of that loop.  We have three Godsons, all grown up.

When you're becoming a Godparent you must stick with either boys or girls, never both.  It is not done for two God children of one God parent to marry.

There are church services every evening this week, ending with a candlelight parade on Friday night and midnight mass on Saturday night.  Churches are full.  People come and go all during the evening.  Young children wander around from parent to aunt to grandparent.  Small boys scream around outside.  Men disappear outside for a chat and a cigarette.

Everyone entering the church will leave a few coins and pick up a small brown beeswax candle which they light from other candles and push into a container of  sand.  They will usually then kiss one or two of the icons and during easter file up to the front to kiss the feet of the icon of Christ, crossing themselves each time.

In days of old there was a rule that women sat on the left hand side of the church and men on the right.  This no longer applies.  Also you should not sit cross legged in church.  Why,  I'm not sure but my mother was told off by an old man once for doing so.

K goes up to the Monastery where the service takes place earlier, there is plenty of parking and he can probably find somewhere to sit.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Easter bickies

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more

Pascha (Easter) comes but once a year
When it does we all know it's here
Housewives working with twice the zeal
Courage, girl, keep good cheer
Easter comes but once a year
(apologies to J.S. Bach)

All this week important preparations are being carried out.  Crucial discussions take place on the size of the animal to be sacrificed.  Lamb or goat?  Who has the fattest, the cheapest.  Where did they graze?  And the wine!  Whose harvest was exceptional this year.  Who puts sugar or additives in their wine and who doesn't.   Sunday we will have the Mother of all Greek feasts.

  Today is Holy Tuesday.  Time for easter koulourakia.  Cookies/biscuits.  I could put up last year's photos and the year befores and so on.  But  the grandchildren have grown a year so here is what happened in our traditional greek house today.




Koulourakia are large sweet biscuits eaten all during the year.  At easter there are special recipes for Pascalina Koulourakia and they are not eaten until after the midnight mass on Saturday night, because they have eggs and butter.  All these years I, the heathen, was the only one allowed to taste them.



First make a long cord of dough.  Then play with it


Traditional shaped koulourakia


Other inspired efforts, some traditional, some not.  They all tasted fantastic with aromas of butter, vanilla and orange.


Koulourakia....................

500 grams butter
500 grams sugar
zest from 3 oranges
vanilla
mastiha  pounded in pestle and mortar or cinnamon 
1/2 tsp salt
4 eggs
120 grams fresh orange juice
10 grams baking powder
1350 grams flour and maybe more

Beat the butter and the sugar till light and creamy.  Add mastiha and orange juice, zest, salt, vanilla, then the eggs, one by one.

Now add the baking powder and the flour slowly, cup by cup using your hands.  Depending on the brand of flour you may need less or more.  The dough should be soft but not sticky.

Take a handful of dough, break off a small piece and roll it on the bench till it is a nice long but not too thin rope.  Shape it into spirals or plaits.  Just make sure they are all more or less the same size and need the same baking time.  Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper, not too close together.

Beat an egg and brush each koulouraki with an egg glaze.

Cook about 25 minutes at 160oC till golden brown.

        





Most of them were eaten on the spot by seven hungry children but a large plateful was left to give away to friends and neighbours.