Category Archives: The Crisis

An update on the Crisis – rape and pillage.

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We are often asked by visitors and friends from abroad about what is happening here in Greece as regards the economic situation and related economic and social conditions and rather embarrassingly, the truth is that we don’t know! Living where we do in a small village in relatively prosperous Crete, we have only anecdotal evidence to go on and so we end up giving a rather lame response.

I was reminded of this last week when we met up with a young Greek friend, his wife and their very young son, for coffee in Ierapetra. The purpose of the meeting was to check out the new baby, offer up the presents and see how our friends were coping. Well, in that respect all seems to be well. The young lad is a very good baby, appears to have two of everything he should have and ten of everything else, sleeps a lot at the right times and the parents are very proud, as indeed they should be!

After the initial baby talk, the conversation turned to politics and the economy. Our friend is trained as a teacher of Greek but has been told that it will be 2025 before there is a job for him within the State sector! As a family, they get by financially but life is clearly difficult and their situation sums up life here for the young professional. If you have transferable skills, the temptation is to emigrate because in Greece, there is little work but Greeks are generally proud and understandably, want to stay and bring up their families among their own culture.

Our friend is of the left but clearly disillusioned both with politics and the EU and in this respect, he seems to reflect what we see about us. The Greeks see little hope for improvement, no way out of the mess and irritated that the increased taxes (as they see it) go straight to Germany without doing any good to help anything improve here!

Anyway, as a result of this conversation, I decided to find out more about the current situation, so in future I can answer the perennial question more informatively!

Facts and figures (Source: FOCUSECONOMICS)

Greece Economic Outlook

July 26, 2016

Greece’s GDP contracted significantly in the first quarter of the year and recent economic indicators suggest that a recovery remains elusive. While some improvements have been recorded in economic data—the manufacturing PMI returned to expansionary territory in June—overall the picture is bleak as high unemployment persists and austerity dampens consumption. In addition, the Brexit vote has sparked concerns over the implications for one of the Eurozone’s shakiest economies. A large share of incoming tourists to Greece are from the UK, which is expected to face weaker growth prospects following the vote. On a positive note, fears of a near-term Grexit have been dispelled as the country has made over EUR 2.5 billion in debt repayments in recent weeks and its international creditors gave the green light to ease capital controls in mid-July.

 

Greece Economy Data

                                                                                2011       2012       2013       2014       2015

Population (million)                                               11.1       11.1        11.1         11.0       11.0

GDP per capita (EUR)                                        18,613   17,190    16,306     16,152  16,028

GDP (EUR bn)                                                           207        191         180           178       176

Economic Growth (GDP, annual variation in %) -9.1        -7.3        -3.2             0.7       -0.2

 

Exports (G&S, annual variation in %)                     0.0         1.2         2.2             7.5      -3.8

Imports (G&S, annual variation in %)                   -9.4        -9.1        -1.9             7.7      -6.9

Unemployment Rate                                              17.9        24.6      27.5           26.6     25.0

Public Debt (% of GDP)                                            172        160       178            180      177

 

Greece Economic Growth

July 26, 2016

The economy is expected to remain in a deep recession this year amid fiscal tightening and poor confidence levels. On top of this, downside risks to the outlook have increased against the uncertain European backdrop following the Brexit vote. The FocusEconomics panel sees the economy contracting 0.8% in 2016, which is down 0.2 percentage points from last month’s outlook. For next year, the panel sees the economy rebounding to a 1.2% expansion.

So there you have it! I am not an economist but even I can see that these figures do not make good reading and whilst there some indications of a small improvement, as the commentator concludes, the outlook is bleak.

Is the medicine working then? Well, even the IMF who were and remain, one of the instigators of the bail-out apparently accept that they knew from the outset that the programme would not work, at least for Greece!

Commenting on a recently published report by the IMF’s Independent Evaluation Office, the Telegraph journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writes:

“While the Fund’s actions were understandable in the white heat of the crisis, the harsh truth is that the bail-out sacrificed Greece in a “holding action” to save the euro and north European banks. Greece endured the traditional IMF shock of austerity, without the offsetting IMF cure of debt relief and devaluation to restore viability.”

 “The International Monetary Fund’s top staff misled their own board, made a series of calamitous misjudgments in Greece, became euphoric cheerleaders for the euro project, ignored warning signs of impending crisis, and collectively failed to grasp an elemental concept of currency theory.”

So what of the future? If one reads Yannis Varoufakis, the ex-Finance Minister then more of the same just means that things get worse.

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Understandably he is bitter that the Troika refused to listen to him and finally forced his resignation but he argues forcibly that debt relief for Greece and extended terms of debt repayment are the only solution.

But and here is the rub, it seems that unless and until Greece rejects its left-wing Government, a Government, it must be remembered, which is heavily criticised by its erstwhile supporters here in Greece, for slavishly following Troika demands for more cuts and discounted privatisations, there can be no such debt relief available to the Greek people. This is an intensely political decision on the part of the power brokers in Europe to support the right wing administrations (particularly in Spain) who support the Schauble line. Evidence for this less than even-handed approach is shown in the ‘relief’ allowed by the German Finance Minister recently, to Spain and Portugal who were in breach of EU budgetary deficits and liable for a fine. German magazine Der Spiegel criticized Schauble for his double standard approach: treating Spain and Portugal mildly, while he pushed for tough austerity measures that strangled Greece’s economy and people. “In case of Greece, Schauble vehemently rejected any proposal for mild treatment.” The reason? Mariano Rajoy is one of Schauble’s political allies and he is at the moment facing difficulties in forming a government in Spain. On the other hand Greece’s SYRIZA government is not favoured by Schauble who has openly expressed hostility against it.

Our new bougainvillea

Our new bougainvillea

How is all this gloom reflected in lives of ordinary folk in Kavousi, Crete, you may well ask? Bear in mind firstly that Kavousi is a fairly traditional Greek village with an ageing population. Most people have some land on which they grow fruit and vegetables, largely for their own consumption. They are not self-sufficient but with their pensions can get by. However, their pensions have been cut by upwards of 25% and taxes have gone up too. Everything in the shops including food has gone up in price. Belts are being tightened and there is less money around but here in Kavousi at least, it does not seem that folk are starving or losing their houses.

Contrast this situation with Athens and other large cities and there is a stark contrast however, assuming that press reports can be believed. Here there have been huge increases in unemployment and resultant hardship but we have no direct experience of this except to see on TV the crates of fruit and veg being sent to the Capital from generous farmers in Crete. OK this is probably surplus produce but it would not be going unless it were needed.

Greece has largely disappeared as a news item on foreign TV screens because it is no longer news. The German and French banks have been saved, largely at a cost to the Greek National debt and so the richer countries of Northern Europe have lost interest. Those responsible at the IMF have been promoted or have moved on but none of this means that the problem for Greece has been solved. It has not!

IMG_20160729_132951Don’t let anyone tell you that the European capitalists have done anything good for Greece. They have not. The country has literally been raped and with the forced privatisations is now being effectively pillaged in a blatant exhibition of mainly German economic imperialism. Perhaps the worst example of this that I read about somewhere, is the case of the Greek State Oil Company which apparently the Germans are trying to get their hands on. As yet unproven reserves of oil and gas have been identified under the Aegean which if reports are correct, would more than clear the Greek debt. Such assets are held by the State Oil Company and Schauble and his chums are apparently trying to buy it for a song as part of the privatisation process! How true this is, I don’t know but based on the last eight years, anything is believable of these people.

On a lighter note, the sun continues to shine, the sea is warm, the food delicious and the wine tasty. The Greeks as always, argue good-naturedly with one another, are interested in the wider world and drive erratically. Oh and the beer is cold!  We love it.

John

EU blues, summer hues and good times in paradise

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People ask how the referendum result will affect us and I just say that I don’t know. And more worryingly, I don’t know that anybody knows what it is going to mean for individuals and communities in the UK. But I don’t think it is going to be good!  I voted for the UK to stay in the  European Union. I never thought David Cameron should have agreed to a referendum on this issue. I hated the Brexit arguments which seemed mainly to do with immigration, not about what it actually means to be in or out of Europe. I am an immigrant in Greece, and I have been treated by another European country with kindness and respect. Kindness and respect are not part of Mr Farage’s or the Sun’s vocabulary .

But I was sad also because a lot of people in the UK clearly don’t acknowledge any financial or social benefit from being part of Europe. That could be because there is still a view in the UK that it runs the world or it could be that the political parties have essentially ignored the lives and the views of many of its own people.

But we are where we are and I am trying hard not to get too involved in discussions about UK politics. One of the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease which I now have, is anxiety. It is an extremely unpleasant feeling and so I try to avoid issues or situations which exacerbate this feeling. Accordingly, I continue with simpler and more positive observations!

Back in Kavousi, there has been a lot to be positive about.  The temperature is at a constant high and it is a joy to sit outside in the evening on our terrace and watch the light on the mountains,

the moon coming over the hill

and admire our bunches of grapes in the darkness.

The down side is that there is a lot of plant watering to be done but last week I was rewarded by the flowering of the hibiscus plant.

And to be honest, I find it extremely pleasant focusing on the needs of our plants, rather than considering the bigger issues of the day!

As John said, in the last post, we now have a Greek Will for our possessions here. But what he didn’t include was a picture of our dear friend and neighbour, Maria who came to Sitia with us as a witness for the Will.

After the signing of the Will, we went to a taverna on the waterfront of Sitia and enjoyed lunch of kalamares. It was the first time that we have spent time with her out of Kavousi. She has many family responsibilities here and so it was a real treat to go for a little adventure with her. Recently, she indicated that she would like to go to Spinalonga as she has never been there. It will be arranged!

On the 11th June, 2016, my parents would have been married for 70 years. I had a reflective moment thinking of them and wondering what they would think of my life here. I know my Dad really liked coming to our small-holding in the north east of Scotland from their home in Linlithgow but Crete might have been a step too far for him. On the other hand, he and Mum had holidays in Greece and there was one, in particular, when they came to Crete. The holiday was advertised through ‘The Scotsman’ (it is funny how my very erratic memory comes up with a detail like that!) and they spent a week in Hania and a week in Sitia. They enjoyed it hugely. My father was a not a fan of ‘fancy food’ and really liked souvlaki and chips and grilled chicken. So while I know he wouldn’t enjoy the heat in the summer, he might well have made the journey at other times of the year.

Our friends, Hans, Hanneke, Walter and Brigitte and ourselves had a day out to the island of Koufonisi, south of Makrialos.

It was a well organised, delightful day with good friends. First we sailed east along the Crete coast. The wind blew down from the hills and the waves were big.

We turned right towards Koufonisi and it was calm. We swam in this beautiful bay,

looked into a cave and then had a nice picnic on another wonderful beach.

There was a bar and music on the boat and on the way back, some dancing on the rough seas! I would recommend highly the cruise. The website is http://www.cretandailycruises.com

Our good friends, Sarah and Mark came for the week that co-incided with the referendum. They were looking for relaxation

and so we enjoyed lying on a number of beaches, swimming in the nice warm sea and going to nearby tavernas, including the ones at our plateia in Kavousi.

Some of the children in the village were just round the corner from us, minding their own business.

One day I played tennis at Mochlos and afterwards we ate and admired the light of the dying sun.

The relaxation was interrupted by the referendum result but that was completely out of our control, unfortunately. But on the last night we did have some food with Walter and Brigitte

and music to lighten the gloom when we went to Μύρτος to see our good friend, Nikos, play with his band, Φε’ρ το Φοκο (Hand me the lighter!).

Nikos has just become a father so there was much to celebrate. The band had to contend with very strong winds but provided some great, uplifting, rock music

Another highlight of the month was the final lesson of the Greek classes before the summer. Helene and Bernard, from Brittany hosted it at their house and it consisted of checking our homework, conversation and then eating Breton crepes and drinking wine.

It was delightful. Lessons start again in September but Μανώλης, our teacher, has agreed to meet just John and me, once a week in July for speaking practice. Hopefully with this and the fact that our little part of the village is now very lively because our neighbours families have returned to Kavousi for July and August so there is plenty opportunity for practice!

The month has slipped by with John doing some DIY, making fly screens for the windows,

and picking up the guitar again.

I have been playing tennis and meeting up with my friend, Margarita who gave me helpful advice about living with Hashimoto’s disease. I also finished reading the Odyssey by Homer (not in Greek though) which I enjoyed and a book by an English travel journalist, Christopher Somerville called ‘The Golden Step’ which is a very interesting read of his walk across Crete and the people he met and the culture he encountered.  John and I have ventured into the world of considering a new bathroom for the house and bought a new microwave and kettle for the kitchen.

What was more exciting was that on Saturday we travelled to Exo Lakonia,near Ag Nik, to hear the very well known Γιάννης Χαρούλης (Yannis Xaroulis) and his band play. We have heard them before and enjoyed them but this time, the band were playing in the place where Γιάννης Χαρούλης grew up.

It was held in a stadium with thousands of people there. It was wonderful to be there and the music was just fantastic.

But I finish with politics and immigration. There was much publicity about the referendum here, comments even reaching the front page of the local paper in Ierapetra. But maybe of more concern to the people of Greece was a report by the Bank of Greece, announced on Saturday, saying that since 2008, half a million Greeks have left the country in search of work. The population of Greece is only 10.9 million people now and this is a very worrying trend for the country. Apparently the current exodus is being led by young professionals and graduates, going to Germany, the UK and the United Arab Emirates. Discuss!

Sheila

Don’t count your chickens!

Working out on the Spa Day!

The title of our last Post was ‘And life goes on’ and for those of you with good memories, you will recall that the piece ended with a reference to an upcoming trip to the UK, the main purpose of which was to attend a Memorial Service for my sister.

With the advantage of hindsight, I can now attest to the fact that it is not a good idea to offer yourself as a hostage to fortune with a title such as that ascribed to this last Post! My sister died of a massive stroke last year and the day following her Memorial Service at Mells, I had a mini stroke (TIA) just after we had arrived in Cornwall for a short holiday! Whilst my life was never seriously in danger, I now appreciate what a fine line we walk between life and death and that it could so easily have been different for me, just as it was for her!

The service itself went very well and it was good to see so many family present from all over the world. Thanks to Tim and Liz for organising the event, for hosting lunch the next day for close family and for putting us up! Thanks also to Liz Turner for her hospitality. Good to have Rosie and James there too.

Graham was unable to make it because he was in China but he came down to Somerset later in our trip. He came by train for the day and arrived in some style! The train pulled in, a few folk got off and the train departed. No sign of Graham! A few moments later, Sheila’s mobile rang. He was on the train but the doors in his carriage did not open and he went on to the next station where we had to pick him up!

Meanwhile, it is still not clear what caused my TIA, although a spike in my cholesterol level clearly was a significant factor. The NHS in Cornwall was fantastic and if anyone ever had any doubts as to the justice of the ‘junior’ doctors case, take it from me, they do a marvellous job. I cannot thank all the staff – medical, nursing and administrative, both at Truro and Penzance, enough. The care that I received was special.

It was good to have our daughter Rosie on hand while all this excitement was going on and she lowered our anxiety levels with a visit to (blustery) Land’s End

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and to the Minack Outdoor Theatre to see ‘Oliver’, eating out at local pubs and restaurants and for Sheila, a Spa Day at the sister hotel to the one where Rosie works. Thanks Rose for looking after us so well!

 

Thanks also to Bill and Ann in East Grinstead for looking after us both so well at short notice, particularly after Aegean Airways had refused me permission to fly after having previously agreed. Bill made four trips in all to Gatwick, before we finally got away!

 

 

Life since our return to Crete has been pretty much along normal lines. Greek lessons are often now held outdoors as Summer has clearly arrived and a recent welcome development has been a change of venue to a taverna where we get free coffee!

 

And now finally, we have moved on to passive verbs – B2 level!!!

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We are back in swimming mode too and although the water is still a little chilly, it feels so good to be able to cycle down to the beach, have a quick dip and then (electrically powered) zoom back up the hill to the village – maybe to a waiting cold beer! Sheila has also found a group of local ex-pats to play tennis with every Tuesday afternoon, who are about her level, so she is really chirpy.

Last week, we had our first multi-visitors of the year – Phil, late of Midmar in Aberdeenshire and fellow goat keeper

and mutual friends John and Nicky from Petersfield in Hampshire, where apparently there is a fantastic museum!! Whether there is anything else there of note, remains unclear! The more perceptive readers amongst you, will suspect that there might be an in-joke here somewhere. Thanks to Stan and Jan (whom we look forward to welcoming back to Kavousi next week) for the use of their house for the overflow guests.

We had a fine time with our visitors, which included a couple of walks, (including the lower gorge), the Παναγία Κερά church at Kritsa, the Dorian fortress at Lato and a trip down memory lane for John and Nicky to Agios Nikolaos where they stayed in the mid-1970’s. We also took them all for a long day-trip to Toplou Monastery, Vai Beach (of Bounty fame), Itanos, Zakros and Xerokambos on the east coast of the Island. They also helped with putting up the cover for the pergola. Great to catch up with everyone and hope to see them all again soon.

We are following the media accounts of the Referendum Campaign with growing anxiety. Whichever way it goes, it looks like a close run thing and whist we are keen, for obvious reasons (we do live in Greece after all) that Britain votes to stay in, we hope that if this is the case that it will play a more positive role in European affairs in future. We can but hope! From our perspective, we cannot understand how Britain will survive if the vote is to leave. Any number of jobs which are connected to membership – just think of all the factories belonging to foreign companies which are only in the UK because of Britain being in the EU – must be at risk. Anyway, we can vote and we have registered so we are keeping our fingers crossed that common sense will prevail.

And whilst on political matters, particularly ones that seem not to be getting any coverage in the British media, there is increasing concern here relating to shenanigans in Europe over the next payment of the Greek bail-out money, with the IMF apparently at odds with Europe over what might happen in 2018 if Greece does not manage to hit an unlikely target for a surplus in the economy. In theory, this could bring the Greek Government down and throw the country back into political turmoil. The dead hand of Christine Lagarde seems to be at work again!

But enough of politics. I am as you all know, officially retired from all that nonsense. That said, I have just finished reading Paul Mason’s magnum opus ‘PostCapitalism’. I cannot in all honesty say that I recommend it unless you are already well-versed in economics, especially of the Marxian variety (which I am not). It is probably however, an excellent way to get to sleep at night if you are an insomniac! Fortunately, that is not a problem I usually have and as a result, it did take me rather a long time to finish it.

And now I am looking forward to reading something lighter – ‘Counting chickens for beginners’, perhaps?

John

 

Brinkmanship, barbecues and bodies beautiful!

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It has been another busy month here in paradise. It started with the Referendum on the bailout ‘offer’ from the EU that never was and ended with a heatwave, with lots happening in between.

The Referendum and subsequent negotiations with the EU reminded me somewhat of the Scottish Referendum last year, in that whilst the latter was ‘lost’, the losers sort of ‘won’ while in Greece, the result was different but again, the losers ‘won’! We are still trying to make sense of it all and it is hard to know whether Alexis Tsipras simply ‘bottled it’ or realised that doing any deal was better than ‘Grexit’. What is clear is that for a variety of reasons, most Greeks, even though they voted ‘No’ did not and do not want to leave the euro, so I have reached the conclusion that Tsipras being essentially a canny politician, did the only thing a politician can do and reached a pragmatic deal with the creditors, which kept the bulk of his Party together, the Opposition on side and his support among the population at large, at record levels.

Of course, our one-time super hero, Yanis Varoufakis, the now ex-Finance Minister was and remains implacably opposed but he is essentially an economist and while he is almost certainly correct in his analysis of Greece’s economic woes and how the ‘new deal’ with Europe will fail to help, his proposals were never going to find favour with the likes of Schauble and Dijsselbloem. So, we live in hope that the IMF and perhaps the Americans can put enough pressure over time on the EU and in particular, on the German Govenment, to cut the level of Greek debt either by means of longer repayment periods or a straight ‘haircut’.

In the meantime, the people here are hurting, especially the poor and elderly. We have direct evidence of this because we were talking to one of our neighbours a week or so ago about these very issues (in Greek of course!) and she showed us how much money she had in her purse – just a few coppers. That night, she and her husband were eating potatoes and onions and we felt very guilty as northern Europeans, while our pork chops sizzled on the barbecue! Her husband worked for forty three years in a local quarry and his small pension has been cut by more than a third. They can see no hope for improvement as Schauble and Dijsselbloem look for still more cuts. The Greek debt crisis was not caused by our neighbours and it is hard to see how they ever benefited and yet they pay, while the ‘guilty’ bankers and ex-politicians enjoy their ill-gotten gains abroad.

Meanwhile the weather here has warmed up considerably. Indeed, as I write this, we have had three continuous days with temperatures (in the shade) in excess of 30C, so officially we have a heatwave (ένας καύσωνας), although in fact we have had very hot weather for most of July! This means that not only do we swim frequently, we also spend as much time outside of the house as possible and avoid cooking inside when feasible. So the cheap barbecue which I bought last year has come into its own, with barbecued veg, Canadian style a special favourite closely followed by baked potatoes with rosemary and a fantastic chicken recipe I found on the internet. In addition of course, there are the usual sausages, burgers and pork steaks. Somehow, cooking seems not to be a chore when done outside with a nice cool Fix (Greek beer)!

Our latest visitors were Sandy and Fiona from Edinburgh who were with us for a week earlier in the month. I have known Fiona through the Labour party since our earliest days in the North East of Scotland and it was good to catch up on the news, gossip and to repay in small measure the generous hospitality which we always enjoy when we stay with them in Edinburgh. They fitted in to our lifestyle here very smoothly, enjoyed the swimming and we managed to fit in a few trips, including Spinalonga.

After we dropped them in Heraklion, where they stayed on for a few days, we took ourselves off for a short break to the south coast to stay at a beach-side taverna at a small place called Triopetra. We often refer jokingly to Kavousi as paradise but this place really is a contender. Our room was just across the road from a beautiful beach and next door to the Απανεμιά Ταβέρνα which is run by a delightful family and staffed by very amusing waiters who really make life such a joy.

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We stayed three nights and never went near the car. We found a quiet beach a short walk way, where we were virtually alone, so the tans were toned up and dare I say it, we went skinny dipping in the beautiful clear blue sea!

Can life get any better?

However, it was over all too soon but with batteries refreshed and bodies beautiful, we returned to Kavousi at the weekend to cope with the soaring temperatures and a very hot house.

Perhaps we do need to think about air conditioning after all?

John

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

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I did think that before I wrote this I would know whether Greece would still be in the eurozone or not and maybe make a comment or two about this. However, it appears that one of the rules governing the Euro Zone operation is that there are interminable meetings and if in doubt, have another one. In former years, I might have thought this was a pretty democratic way of operating. Now I know differently. It means that the most powerful countries have not got their way and in the end they will bully you into submission by endless meetings. I used to work in an environment like this. In the end I resigned. Life is far too short and fortunately, I had the choice to get on with things. So I think maybe I will just get on and write this!

Walking is a wonderful activity. Not only does it give you physical exercise, it is also good for the senses and the mind. At present, It is very hot here by 9am. So one day last week, I set off about 7.15 am to walk for a couple of hours up behind the house. And while I have done this walk a number of times, each time it produces different scents, different light, different experiences and different thoughts.

On the first part of the walk I admired a number of pretty, blue flowers with spiky leaves. There are not so many flowers now which can deal with the hot sun so this was a real treat.  I wasn’t sure what they were but later, my neighbour, Nikos, told me they were a kind of thistle, in Greek it is called ενα γαϊδουράγκαθο. Not so easy to remember as thistle!

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Then, Ι arrived at the ancient olive tree and found it shimmering in the early morning sunshine.

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It was a delight to watch and my camera only gives a hint of what it looked liked. It is even more amazing to think that this tree has been there for over 3000 years and it still has the power to impress, to encourage you to think about the past and to feel very privileged to see such a wonderful sight.

Then, I walked up to a small church,

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above the olive tree which has a wonderful view of the Mirabello Bay. I walked into the church, immediately felt peace and then I lit a candle

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and wished good things for the Greek government and its people.

Then on past Azoria, where for a month, students from the University of North Carolina have been carrying more excavations at the archaelogical site.

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It’s hot work so working in the early morning has to be better than later. I then met a number of goats and was reminded of our own goats at Sunnyside. Good memories!

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I turned left down the Kavousi gorge but had a quick look upwards to the next gorge which is a very fine but longer walk. Not for this day though.

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One of the most wonderful aspects of Greek holidays was the smell of herbs. At this time of year, thyme and sage are in abundance and the strength of the scent and the colour of the thyme is a huge joy.

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Later in the week, our neighbour, Yianni, came over about 9pm carrying a bowl of wonderful potatoes, fried in oil and rosemary. It was a lovely surprise and it meant two meals that night as we had already eaten! We drank raki and learned more about his family and himself and he gave us a great Greek lesson as well! I now intend using my neighbour’s expertise as to maximising the use of own rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, basil and parsely plants.

I continued down the gorge and paused to admire Kavousi and it’s beautiful setting.

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And then our house came into view.

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It’s the yellow one, right in the middle at the front of the picture to the left of the tree. I could see our new pergola, the closed shutters of the spare room, keeping as much heat out of the house as possible and the small shed at the back! It is not the best view of the house but it provided me more happy thoughts.

But my last thought was of Bonnie. She died a year ago and has been missed greatly. She would have loved such a walk – so many smells and while she would have been hot because of her thick coat, she would not have wanted to miss it. Recently we visited her grave at Hans and Hanneke’s house

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and thought again of what she contributed to our lives.

Whilst the walk was a delight for me, John and I have also enjoyed a number of social occasions with our Greek class. The first was at Helene and Bernard’s house

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eating fine salads and strawberries.

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Then we went to Shona and Rich’s house and enjoyed a great selection of mezes, washed down by white wine, with a wonderful view of the sea.

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It was nice to get to know people a bit better away from the pressure of remembering whether the Greek verb is simple or continuous!

We also enjoyed a game of boule at Hans and Hanneke’s, together with Walter and Brigitte.

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Walter was the winner but maybe next time………………..

We have enjoyed a quiet couple of weeks at the house. The bougainvilla is flourishing.

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and the barbecues are wonderful.

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We have been cycling to Tholos to swim, wonderful on the way down but a bit hot on the way back!

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but there is always a beer to look forward to.

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John has been doing a bit of DIY (note our wonderful vine in the background)

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and he made and put up two fly screens on the window in the bathroom where you can see our mandarin tree

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and in our bedroom. They fit beautifully and now it means we can have some air as well as no bugs!

We wait with some anxiety for the discussions going on today in Brussels, not for ourselves but for the Greek people. They, in my view, correctly supported their Government last Sunday and now all the parties, except two, have joined up with Syriza to provide a united front in terms of negotiations with the European Union this week.  The government has accepted cuts that the European Union wanted but it wants a programme of debt relief as well, now accepted by the International Monetory Fund.

In the meantime the banks are shut and we know this is very difficult for people locally running businesses. It appears that the Greeks are being punished by the European Union both economically and psychologically for trying to put forward an alternative approach to dealing with their debt and for trying to have some kind of dialogue on the subject. At present my candle ‘wish’ in the small church near Kavousi remains a wish.

Sheila

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Crisis: an update from Kavousi

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Yesterday, I went to Ierapetra to do a few small things and was struck by the sight of queues at every ATM in town. They were however, short (perhaps half a dozen folk), very orderly and literally policed by a member of the local constabulary. Whilst in town, I met one of our neighbours who later told Sheila that she had been there to draw out the 60 euros which is the maximum daily amount Greeks are allowed. This brought home to me that even here in Kavousi, ordinary people are not immune from the events which have dominated the headlines for weeks.

The Referendum tomorrow is likely to be tight so it is doubtful if it will solve anything one way or the other but at least it gives Greeks ownership of the process. Tony Benn once said: “Fear is the prison in which you put yourself” and it is clear that many people are frightened and the right-wing media here is having a field day fuelling these anxieties. Despite this, the ‘No’ vote seems to be holding up well and this in part seems to be because the average Greek is proud, fed up with being pushed around and resent what they see as a less than thinly-veiled attempt at regime change. Remember this country is the cradle of democracy.

Nonetheless, there is an air of weariness about the people which is almost tangible. After years of austerity, it seems to us that they have had enough. In January they elected a new Government for which here in Crete particularly, there were high hopes but despite not asking for the debt to be wiped out (or even for a ‘hair-cut’ at that time), there has been no movement at all on the part of the ‘Troika’ on this central issue. They just seem to want more of the same failed policies.

Only last week, Christine Lagarde was arguing for more austerity and that debt relief could only be addressed at a later date. Now we find out, that the IMF officials in fact agree with the SYRIZA line and are recommending that any future bailout must include significant debt relief.

As usual, Yanis Varoufakis, academic turned Finance Minister, succinctly sums up the issues raised by all this and explains it better than I could ever hope to do! Follow this link if you want to know more:

http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/07/03/imf-backs-ever-so-peculiarly-the-syriza-governments-debt-assessment/

Perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of the whole miserable affair is the ‘attitude’ of the Northern European right-of-centre politicians. I don’t want to dwell on this, except to say that most respected economists disagree with their view that Greece must be taught a lesson. In this respect, the following is worth a read if you want to see some of the more common myths exploded:

http://wire.novaramedia.com/2015/06/in-defence-of-greece-6-myths-busted/

(Thanks to Mary for sending this through)

I find the approach followed by the majority of German politicians, particularly unfortunate. They appear to have learned nothing from their own history. In this context, many observers would argue that the rise of National Socialism was directly related to the harsh economic terms imposed on Germany by the peace treaty which ended the First World War. There are of course no direct parallels here with Greece but, the ultra-right in Greece in the form of Golden Dawn is waiting in the wings, should the opportunity present itself.

Secondly, the London Debt Agreement of 1953 cancelled 50% of German debt, which was a key element leading to recovery from the devastation of the second world war and paving the way for the so-called German economic miracle. Perhaps the most innovative feature of the London agreement, however, was a clause that said West Germany should only pay for its remaining debts out of its trade surplus and any repayments were limited to 3% of exports earnings every year. This meant those countries that were owed debt had to buy West German exports in order to be paid. It meant West Germany would only pay from genuine earnings, without recourse to new loans. And it meant Germany’s creditors had an interest in the country growing and its economy thriving. (Guardian article – 27 Feb 1953)

And it is worth mentioning, one of the signatories was – Greece! Would that we have some leaders today with this view of the World, clear purpose and a dash of common humanity!

Despite all this gloom and doom, I would like to end with the other part of Tony Benn’s call to arms; “Hope is the fuel of progress”. We can’t vote but if we could, we would vote ‘ΟΧΙ’ (no) because you have to hope.

Full marks to Thom Feeney for starting the Greek bailout fund (see link below) which at the time of writing has raised over £1.6m. OK he is a long way from the £1.6bn needed but it demonstrates that people do care. Dig deep!

https://www.indiegogo.com/greek-bailout-fund.html#/story

Further, the sun is still shining, the sea is warm and blue, the fruit and veg are abundant in the gardens and the vines are ripening nicely. No one is starving and the hospitals are still operating. Our neighbours are not rich by any standards but they are keeping us provided with excess vegetables from their gardens so we are not going hungry either. Their generosity is astounding. In other words, paradise is still in business!

Oh and the cover photograph? It’s a picture of an inspiring 85 yr old γιαγιά (grandmother) who will vote ‘ΟΧΙ’ tomorrow and whose story you can read by following this link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/07/02/greece-austerity-germany_n_7716490.html

John

Getting on with life

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Unfortunately even paradise does not run itself and so, around and in between visitors, we have been getting on with the daily details of life and house ownership, as well as dealing with the added pressure of having two Greek lessons each week.

In fact, although we don’t feel that our spoken Greek has improved that much, we do now manage to converse with our Greek neighbours much more easily than when we first arrived and Sheila in particular is able to visit the ‘ladies of the Parish’ (well Maria) and keep her end up for half an hour or so over coffee and cakes.

It is still difficult to conduct an ordinary conversation with most Greek people however, simply because most of them speak English much better than we speak Greek, so ‘important’ matters such as the Bank and the Car Repair Shop tend to be carried out in English. Still, σιγά, σιγά (slowly, slowly) as they say here!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur friend Rich has set up the new TV to show all manner of films which he has provided on a beast of an external hard drive. He and ‘Fifer’ Shona (whom we got to know through our Greek class) came over a week or so ago and Rich also got the 3D films to work, as our TV came complete with two sets of 3D glasses. Of course, we both look like a couple of prats with the glasses on but ‘The Lion King’ was a completely different experience with butterflies scooting around our sitting room!

The new garden furniture arrived yesterday, at some expense, from a local company (English run!) and we are very pleased with it. Although readers may feel that I am not quite so sure! The truth was that the sun was in my eyes or was it the new haircut?

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow, all we need is the sail-cloth cover for the κρεβατίνα (literally vine-arbour!) and we shall be all set for summer. Thassos has already been to fit a bracket to the chimney, hopefully to prevent it blowing away again and we are meeting him in town tomorrow morning to meet his friend who deals in sail-cloth!

The aim eventually, is to persuade the vines to grow up and over and to provide shade in the summer months as well as to produce grapes for eating – perhaps even for our own wine!

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Well, no, actually but it is a nice thought. With local wine costing 2.60 euros in the supermarket for one and a half litres it is hardly worth the effort. Anyway, the demi-johns all went to the charity shop in Kirkcudbright.

 

 

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The weather has improved significantly over the past ten days or so and we have begun to swim regularly, if not every day.

My niece, Heidi, stayed with us for a few days over last weekend en route to an academic conference in Heraklion and she braved the water a couple of times and even felt the need to shelter from the sun on one such occasion.

All that hard work then deserved a cool beer!

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All the rain and now the sun has encouraged the weeds to put in an appearance, so last week I turned to and set about them on our front path. Perhaps swimming trunks were not the best gardening gear but I certainly kept cool!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnder Sheila’s green fingers the plants have recovered from the winter storms and are beginning to look good.

April has also seen the return of various friends from Northern Europe – the Cretan equivalent of bird migration! So, we have welcomed back Peter and Hilda and Walter and Brigitte, all from Germany and look forward to spending more time with them over the coming months. Sheila was back playing tennis this morning with Brigitte and although it did not go entirely satisfactorily from her point of view (ie she lost!), they are playing again next week, so it was clearly an enjoyable time. Meanwhile, Walter took his car to the garage, as indeed, did I. Is this a men’s thing, I wonder?

Unfortunately, the car, which was in for its service, is not in great shape, even though it seems to be running rather well (or so we thought). So, it returns on Monday to have the front brakes done and various other matters attended to, such as a new timing belt – whatever that does? They made it sound serious (or at least predicted serious consequences) if it were not attended to, so there goes another three or four hundred euros. Still, with the pound riding high against the euro at present, not only is it a good time for Brits to come here but we also get a lot more for our pension. There are some upsides to the Crisis!

With all this extra money, I have decided to replace my ageing computer. Manos is on the case at the local computer shop but there doesn’t seem to be a computer to be had in the whole of Greece at present – something about stock problems over Easter! It sounds unlikely, I know, but  to use our favourite Greek phrase – Tι να κάνουμε; (What can we do?). Sheila thinks that it is a refreshing reflection on Greek attitudes to life. Me, I would just like my new computer!

Gifts of food continue from the neighbours. Maria’s brother brought fresh sardines last week which needed to be gutted and scraped! Fortunately, Maria arrived as we were looking bemused and sorted them out. I found a recipe in our Cretan Cookbook and despite not liking fish very much, even I had to admit that they were quite tasty.

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Vegetables and fruit also arrive daily and of course life would not be the same, if Nikos did not turn up with yet another pumpkin – this I think was because one day I described him, in Greek, as the pumpkin man, which he seemed to take as a compliment.

John

Postscript – we now know that the cover for the pergola is going to cost 280 euros – somewhat more than the 30 euros that Thassos had predicted!