Wednesday, 23 October 2013

October Magic

October Magic

In October a platform is built beside the road along the sea front; the school children start marching, while their teachers blow whistles to keep them in time; and resident soldiers produce instruments and practice marching with their band. And on the 8th October, all over Lemnos, bells ring out and the first of the two big October celebrations begin. 
The first celebrates the liberation of Lemnos from Turkish occupation on October 8th, 1912. Each year the whole island has a holiday on this day and after the parents have watched the parade proudly from the sidelines, and listened to the speeches, the families decamp to a local taverna for lunch.
The platform is not removed because shortly after, on the 28th of October, bells ring out again and there’s another march along the seafront, this time in memory of  the day in 1940 when the then Prime Minister said Ochi (No) to the Italian generals, and Greece entered the second world war.
There are not many tourists here to observe these memorials. In fact I have come to think that there are three kinds of Australian-Greek returnees, those who come in July-August, those who come June and September, and those who come early and are still here in October and see more of the local activities.
The Greek-Australians that come from mid July to August are Greeks but tourist-Greeks. They are looking for sunshine, warm beaches and friendly tavernas. They don’t mind the crush on the beaches; that you can hardly reach the waters for people playing beach tennis and lying on lounges with coffee and cigarettes to hand. They don’t mind the hoards in the streets; that you can’t find parking places, or that driving on the roads means taking your life in your hands. In fact they love all the heat and drama.
Those who come in June or September are the Greeks who travel. They may often go abroad and though they return to Greece they choose to see the country when it is less packed. They want to walk, to go to museums, to take photographs of interesting sights. They get some very interesting photos, but they still have not captured the whole, the Greece of the real locals and Greece in winter.
Then there are those, like ourselves, who are returnees who see the country from spring to autumn. These are more nearly repatriated Greeks, as they have put down roots in Greece. Some may even stay longer than six months, but remain ‘inbetweeners’, who would hate never to return as much as they would hate to go a whole year without seeing their families on the other side of the world. 
We belong to this last group, we are long-stay resident, but we still have not been here for a winter. We are always being asked by the locals if we will ever stay for the whole year, and we say yes. And we mean it we would very much like to see a whole year through on our island. This year, however, we will again be leaving at the end of autumn, sad to leave but looking forward to seeing again the family in Australia.
Meanwhile I want to describe to you why autumn is such a unique time to be in Lemnos, not just because of the special celebrations but because of the beauty of this season on our Aegean island.

   An Empty Beach

Empty Beaches

The heat has gone
And autumn’s here;
Tavernas empty
And beaches clear.
One line of ‘brellas
Along the shore,
And lonesome lounges -
Tourists no more.
Two heads bob
Out in the sea -
Too cold to swim
For those like me.
The sun is pale
And mists hang low,
The sea is grey
And surf’s like snow.
The year’s not spent
But summer’s gone,
The few that swim
Will leave ‘ere long.
And lounges and ‘brellas
Will be packed away
‘Till summer next
When tourists stay.
October is beautiful in Lemnos. The weather is perfect. Perfect for gardening, walking and watching sunsets. Though this year it still has not really rained, after four months of dry! We’ve only had one day of steady rain, a week ago, plus one or two cloudy days. We’ve had sea mists though, which brought the humidity up, but mostly it’s been dry and warm. And cool enough at night to just need a light done.

     Mount Athos on the Horizon


Much of the year you cannot see Mount Athos, but when the winds come from the west as they often do in October it shows up on the horizon.
Out and about the roads are quiet, with much less need for aggressive waving of arms! There is plenty of room to park your car in the town, and when you wander down the Agora the shopkeepers are relaxed; sitting outside in the autumn sunshine with their cups of coffee, calling out to passers-by they recognise.
Then there are the beaches; empty of lounges, with wide stretches of sand to be seen. There will probably be one or two going for a swim, not minding the slightly cooler seas (after all, even if it is cooler for the Med. it is much warmer than the Atlantic). And out in the bay in the morning there are youth in canoes, and in the evening the fishermen will go out, drifting towards the horizon and the sunset.

October Magic
Trees drop yellow and green
Beside the road,
Sweet scent of old figs hangs low,
The bald hills soften and shift,
Or disappear completely as sea mists
Roll over the island, and only
The sun sets over a sharp line
Where a glittering path ends;
But on either side the mystery deepens
And between sea and sky boats float.


Sunday, 20 October 2013

Assessing the Project

Assessing the Project

I had previously been able to imagine Takis at a certain beachside tavern, for being a foodie he’d often spoken about this particular restaurant down by the sea not far from the house. He’d told me that at the Argo meals were made from seasonal produce and that if you let the chef know what you wanted the day before he’d have it ready for you the next day. He’d talked of the spaghetti marinara made with local lobster, and of the fresh prawns served a la Greka, as well as the newly caught fried calamari. He’d raved about the sweetest moussaka made with eggplants from the owner’s garden, and also their imam baildi (slowly cooked-eggplants with onions, garlic and tomatoes), and then the local cheeses and wines or, if you preferred, Mithos (a Greek beer). If there is a paradise it did appear this taverna in Greece was a reflection of it for Takis.

                                   A Taverna in Lemos

Takis had said little about the house, even when he came back from that notable holiday. And when he got the idea of turning the house into a hotel he was cautious about telling me too much about the scope of the project or the house. After I’d asked him a few times about the condition of the house he told me it was pretty bad, explaining...

It all started with a watermelon   

The house is in a shocking state, but I didn’t know how bad it was till I saw it. Zoe and Costa only live in two rooms on the ground floor – a bedroom and the kitchen. You can’t use the top floor at all now, because the roof leaks. Something should be done.’
 ‘When you say the house is in a bad state, just how bad is it?’

‘Well, there’s a hole in the roof, and even parts of the middle floor get wet when it rains. One sister was sleeping up there and was OK, but my cousin was in another room and she had to move out into a hotel because there was a summer storm, and the water came pouring onto her bed from the floor above.’

But then came even more shocking news.

 ‘On the plane on my way home I was considering the idea a bit further. I’d immediately thought it could turn out to be a very good business scheme, but I realised it would only work if I could buy out all the other family members. To develop the property I’d need to have full control of the project. It might present difficulties, to buy them all out, but as most of them don’t visit the house anymore, and anyway do nothing to maintain it, several may be willing to sell. As well, by buying them out I’d be able to assist those members of the family who might need some financial help.’
‘How many people are we talking about?’

‘Probably about thirty or more by now.’

I took a deep shaky breath.

‘You see the house is on a land title called exathieretou, meaning that everything is passed on to the children and by them to their children. You see, Papous had nine children and since then these have had children. This is the way property is usually passed on in Greece.’

 After I had recovered from that news he resumed his campaign to persuade me that it was all a good idea. He said that I should go with him next time to see the house and the island and I would be completely won over.  It was 2002 when I went for my first visit to Lemnos and got my first view of the house. It was winter when we arrived by taxi at the front door.
‘Most of these old Venetian houses are empty now,’ Con our taxi driver told us, ‘but in July and August the owners will come back for their summer holidays.’ Then getting out of the car and opening my door he announced, ‘We’re here; this is The House.’ He pointed to a flight of stone steps rising from the pavement. At first glance the building looked imposing, but on closer inspection the ‘mansion’ turned out to be less impressive. The stucco was stained, all the windows were boarded up, and a very dilapidated balcony hung above the front door.’

However, I needed to put any misgivings aside for I had pledged that my first job, when assessing whether we should take on this assignment, was to measure the rooms and do a photographic survey inside and out.

‘So out I went, through the now open back door and onto the terrace. Here I took photos of the terrace’s huge uneven stone paving slabs. Then, going out onto the rough pasture that was the garden, I stood near an old stone shed and looked back towards the house. I took some more pictures. I could now see that, though the house had a strong square shape, there was little symmetry about the placing of the windows. Perhaps the three floors had been built at different times. Also there was an obvious later addition on one side. As a consequence the house looked less classically proportioned than some of the others in the street. Its exterior mouldings were less defined and its shutters were plainer. One might say that these differences added character, but there was no getting away from the fact that, with its stained stucco and broken shutters, it looked very run down. I shook my head. This was more than a ‘Grand Design’ in waiting.’

I took photos and measurements but the house was not an encouraging sight.

 ‘Peering up the staircase we were troubled to see that the top newel post was badly bent, under pressure from a sagging ceiling above. We cautiously ascended the stairs, and in order to better see what we were doing Takis opened the shutters in a couple of the rooms. Now we had enough light to make out the litter in each room: old furniture, battered pictures and broken ornaments. The house had three floors, so we climbed the second flight of stairs and found ourselves in a lofty top-floor apartment. With its higher ceilings, these larger rooms gave more of the feeling of grandeur one would expect of a ‘mansion’. Each of the front rooms had three or four large windows, and I could imagine that once opened up the rooms would be filled with light. But right then, shuttered and gloomy, and with floors that sloped precipitously towards the centre of the house, they didn’t offer an inspiring sight.’
The roof had a hole that let in the water into the top two floors. The garden was a playing field for local children and dogs.


 ‘Carefully we walked towards the shuttered double doors that led out onto the balcony above the front door. These doors had an extra seal, so that no one would inadvertently exit onto that precarious ledge. However, Takis managed to open one, and immediately, there before us lay an enchanting view. What a great outlook these rooms would have if renovated, overlooking the red-tiled houses of Myrina, the old Venetian fort and the blue waters of the Aegean beyond. '

 The only saving feature was the views from the top floor. 

‘We retreated, closing and re-barring the balcony doors, and in order to feel more secure we clambered downstairs to stand again on the ground floor. However, we’d glimpsed that view, and now, excitedly, we discussed the wonderful living space that top area could be if restored. '
This had once been a family home. Could it be that again?
‘On the other hand, as I wandered around, I was interested by the evidence of this having been a working home for a large family. Behind the house were two ruins, one of them revealing an old, very large, brick oven. The chimney of the oven appeared to be still intact, though a tree was growing up through the roof of the room next door, and most of the outer walls of the structure had tumbled down.
I could imagine what the house could look like clean, gleaming and loved. But could we bring it back to that state? Before we arrived, my imagination had been filled with images from magazines. I’d pictured a house rustically decorated in country-colours. I could even imagine a Mediterranean terrace outside, and a garden filled with paved paths and olive trees. But now I’d seen the reality, and I was not an incurable romantic. It would take a lot of money, time and effort to bring off that kind of restoration.’

Books to interest those visiting Greece for the first time

Charmain Clift’s, Mermaid Singing (Indianapolis, 1956), tells of living with her husband, another Australian writer, and her children on the island of Kalimnos in Greece, with a sponge diving community.

Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek, translated by Carl Wildman (Faber and Faber Ltd.,1961). In some ways this book shocked me, but it did prepare me for what it might be like to live in a small very tightly organised Greek community.

Vanishing Greece (Conran Octopus, 1991). This is a photographic essay on Greece by Clay Perry introduced by Patrick Leigh Fermor who, like Clay Perry, had conducted a passionate love affair with Greece over many years. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, another philhellene, has written the text. All three are aware that by the end of the twentieth century the landscape and the traditional way of life may have changed irrevocably.

Greece Text by Simonetta Crescimbene, Design Patrizia Balocco, (Tiger Books International, 1994).  Many beautiful pictures that inspire admiration and give pleasure, but sometimes emphasising its ‘unspoint character’ unlike the sadness that visits the text of Vanishing Greece’.



Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Setting: Northern Aegean

The Setting: Northern Aegean

The romantic stereotyped idea of Greece is of beaches lapped by warm seas, with brightly coloured umbrellas and lounges on the sand, and nearby tavernas staffed with friendly waiters. Is Lemnos like this? When I first came I decided to do a bit of research and I found that whereas some Greek islands offer busy tourist spots, Lemnos, positioned in the northern Aegean, is one of the quieter Aegean islands.

In the waters around mainland of Greece there are over a thousand small and large islands, with about 150 of them inhabited. On the whole the soil on these islands is poor, rocky and waterless, and so probably in each only about twenty per cent can be cultivated. It is where there are valleys with better soil that farmers grow olives and vines and keep sheep, pigs and goats.


However these islands are not all the same. Nigel McGilchrist has written a 20-part series of guidebooks on just the Aegean islands and in these books he is at pains to show how each of the 70 Aegean islands is very different. He writes that that they have been separated by fate and history as well as by the sea. Also, some are flat while others are mountainous, one may be filled with olive trees while others have only thyme bushes on rolling hills, and that even the native flora and fauna varies from island to island.

Highlighting this he writes,

The islands are so different in character... Some, like poor Mykonos, have their own airports and tourists in the tens of thousands. But others are totally unspoilt, with primitive roads and very few inhabitants.
Consequently, as McGilchrist points out, while national and religious holidays may be kept in a similar manner on each island recipes and local rituals will differ widely.

Two Northern Aegean Islands
Lemnos and Lesvos have a special connection many of the islanders in one are related to islanders in the other.  And, they are both basically farming islands. These two Aegean islands are known for their agricultural products and it is the production of wheat, olive oil, cheese and honey that provides most of the income for the islanders. There are The rounded hills of Lemnos and hotels in both islands, but if the tourists stopped coming the local farmers would still be producing their crops.

Because of this these islands, from September to June when the tourists leave, can still sustain themselves. Their people eat well from seasonal produce, plus from crops that have been dried or preserved in salt or sugar. It is this ability to sustain themselves that has acts as a buffer even in the current situation of economic restraint.

                                                The Rounded Hills of Lemnos

A Sense of Place – Lemnos
The island of Lemnos was constructed during a period of intense volcanic activity many thousands of years ago. In some rocks you can find fossilized sea creatures, and in some places on the island you can find fossilized semi-tropical trees like cedars, palms and cinnamon trees. As an old volcanic island it is indented with a great number of large bays. In the centre there are wide valleys and some modest hills. Amongst the hills and around the coast are a number of villages and some archaeological sites.

Lemnos has an area of 477 square kilometres. There are two towns, Myrina and Moudros, and 33 villages, with each village having an approximate population of 300.

The population of Lemnos today is about 18,000

There are about 15,000 Lemians living in Australia today

The main town of Myrina has about 4,350 inhabitants.


                                    The Main Town of Myrina


 A Sense of History - Lemnos
The island has always been known for its cultivation of wheat in its wide open valleys, which are a unique geographical feature. On the tops of many hills are the ruins of the old windmills used to grind the wheat. Wheat was once produced and exported to the city of Athens during its golden era, and later to the great city of Constantinople (Istanbul today).

                                            A Valley in Lemnos

Lemnos may have got its name from an ancient word meaning white due to the light colour the island seen from a distance, though it may also come from the Greek word ‘Liion’, meaning a field ready for reaping, or from the words  ‘liis’ and ‘milon’, meaning a herd of sheep. However, yet another idea, it may be that Lemnos was the name of the Great Goddess worshipped by the first peoples who came to the island.

Some have said the island looks like a butterfly. In the past some thought the island was shaped like an ox, but I think it looks like a small fish with a large tail, swimming at the top of the Aegean Sea – like that cartoon fish in the film Searching for Nemo.

Another old name for Lemnos was Dipolis, meaning ‘having two cities’, and sometimes Lemnos was called the island of Hephaestus after its resident god, though today I’ve sometimes heard it called The Windy Island.
Because of its position, guarding the waters leading to the straits of the Bosporus, in the past many different peoples have conquered Lemnos. Mainly this was in order to use the island as a guard post and port for ships travelling into the Black Sea. Spartans, Macedonians, Persians, Athenians, Venetians, Turks, and many others have past this way. Nowadays the newcomers tend to be summer holidaymakers, tourists and returnees like ourselves.

There have been good times on the island when the resident became rich from their trade in wheat, or when providing a safe haven for passing ships. But, there are also stories of bad times, of invasion, pirates, plunder and famine. Famines were been the reason island women have learnt to scavenge for wild food and weeds, and to preserve and carefully use the island’s crops. So most of the older housewives can preserve olives, make tragana – a type of pasta made from local wheat – and find wild greens for horta. And the local farmers produce the island’s notable products, Lemian Yea, a white wine from the local grapes and  Kalathaki, a local cheese made from sheep and goat’s milk.

                                           Lemnians watching a parade

More about Houdini the Mouse


We did manage to catch the mouse the next night. We had put out a trap with cheese inside and he had entered and could not get out. However it was late at night and Takis put the trap plus mouse in a plastic bag and carried it downstairs only to find that it had found a way to get out and chew a hole in the plastic bag. It had escaped again and was now somewhere in the kitchen! I might add we never found it, and hope that it got out when the door was left open.

And more books

1.     About The Northern Aegean

Mark Mazower’s book, Salonica: City of Ghosts (Harper Perennial, 2005), gives a detailed  history of the city of Thessaloniki between 1450, and the arrival of the Safaric Jews, and 1950, and the aftermath of the World War 2. I found it to be one of the most informative books I’ve read about recent Greek history.

Victoria Hislop, The Thread (Headline Publishing Group, 2011). This novel tells the story of a family living in Thessolinki. It is based largely on Mark Mazower’s book, however the novel involves a family with multi-racial connections telling their story, and that of Saloniki, from 1917 to 2007.

Betty Roland, Lesbos; The Pagan Island (F. W. Cheshire Pty Ltd.,1963). In 1961 Roland spent a year on the island of Lesbos. This Australian author spent an interesting time on this island, one of the closest islands to Lemnos. Lesbos houses the municipality of the Northern Aegean, and so is more politically important than Lemnos however there are close ties between these two island, and many Lemians marry folk from Lesbos.

2.     About Lemnos

Christos A. Kazolis, Lemnos; view to the North Aegean (Terra Lemnia, 2009). A forward is written by Christos Boulotis, a Lemnian and now an Archaeologist at the Academy of Athens. Boulotis states that everyone who comes to the island will have their own images but those gathered in this book, in the three sections, shown us much about the Lemnos we know and love.    

Theodoros Dimitriadis, Lemnos (self published, 1995) includes many interesting historical facts not mentioned in other guide books. Theodoros lived on the island for a number of years and he details the stories he heard about the island’s history.

Maria Lampadaridou Pothou, Byzantiuum: The Fall, an epic novel, translated by Theony Condos (Terzo Books, 2001). This is a novel that tells, almost minute by minute, of the involvement of a Lemnian who was present at the fall of Constantinople. 


Sunday, 13 October 2013

Hyphenated Citizens

Hyphenated Citizens

As I’ve mentioned, my husband Takis and I were born in Europe, he in Egypt and I in England. And, as of 2004, we’ve found ourselves living for months at a time in both Australia and Greece.
This has meant having to interact with family long-distance; for instance, here is a digital photo of me holding a card with birthday greetings written on it – to be sent by email to my granddaughter. (I do not have an iphone and so still operate in this old-fashioned manner. Also ignore the date, as I haven’t managed to work out how to erase it!).

A Greeting to be emailed to a Granddaughter

I mentioned in my last blog that one of the problems of our new itinerant lifestyle was that we’d be taking up a long distance project. We’d not only be living a long way from our family when in Greece, but we’d have to put up with lengthy journeys each time we returned to Greece. And, as we did not plan to live permanently in Greece, we would have to accept and ‘in between’ lifestyle; and all that means. We would once again be emphasising that aspect of ourselves that has been called ‘hyphenated’. Have you heard of the title ‘hyphenated citizen’? I had not until I read an article in Melbourne’s Greek newspaper, Neo Cosmos. It resonated immediately with me. 

See on webside of Neos Kosmos, Australia’s leading Greek newspaoper,

Historically, often due to war or crop failures, Greeks have left to look for a better life in other countries.  I had previously considered the word ‘Diaspora’ was one that applied mainly to the Jewish race, but now I read that it is an old Greek word. In Greek it is mostly applied to those who have left the country and live overseas. In the ancient past the Diaspora set up Greek centres around the Mediterranean – nowadays the Diaspora live mostly to Australia, the United States or South Africa. And what strikes me about these ‘hyphenated citizens’ is that often the first emigration results in the possibility of further emigrations, ‘back to the old homeland’, or ‘back again to the new homeland’.

In one article I read a writer objected to the idea of anyone being a citizen of two countries, who he presumed would not be committed to either. He is right this does happen to a degree. I think the deciding factor for the two of us, as to which we will finally call ‘home’ will be the country where our families reside. And meanwhile, if you can call it an advantage, living the hyphenated life does make us more alert to disadvantages of each place and also to its benefits.
The current economic situation in Greece has meant that many Greeks are dissatisfied with their life in Greece, and so there has been a new wave of emigrants leaving. This,‘re-return’ of many hyphenated Greek-Australians to Australia, has recently been highlighted on Australian TV. 


From the Australian Broadcasting Commission interview by David Mark

DEMETRE KATSIKOPOULOS: It's strange. I'm still trying, you know to, trying to get used to Australia because two different countries. 
LOUKIA KONDOU: I don't know how to live in Australia yet, and I don't know how we will live. But I feel that Demetre wants some time, I want to make this for him.
DEMETRE KATSIKOPOULOS: I'm waiting to see, you know, I'm curious how it is going to be my future here. I didn't come to Australia to be rich, you know, I just came to live with dignity.

Even in 2010 wrote in Neos Kosmos of Greek-Australians who had left Australia to return to Greece only to find that the old country didn’t feel like home anymore. Yet one cannot deny ones place of origin. Both of us, for instance, count three countries in the list of countries that are to a degree ‘home’ to us, (one where we were born, one where we have worked, and one where we now live for much of each year). What it takes is an understanding that to a degree we will always live in a ‘hyphenated state’ and that each country is important.
We wryly laugh at the choice we make when our countries are facing each other in a sporting competition, or enjoy the competition when Takis and I are opposing each other! Because cultural difference is something we’ve lived with for a long time, this need for understanding is now a part of our marriage.

It all began with a Watermelon                                  

My husband is generally known as Taki, a very common Greek nickname. However I perversely always call him Takis, as ‘Taki’ sounded too much like ‘tacky’ to me. On his arrival in Australia he’d wanted to assimilate quickly so he’d exchanged his Greek name, Panayiotis Statiras, for a more Anglicised name, one that the locals would find easier to pronounce. Hence to most people here in Australia he became known as Taki, using his Greek nickname and, for a new surname, he ran his finger down the ‘S’ names in a telephone book and chose Stanton. When with trepidation he informed his father in Greece about his name change, his father wrote back saying the name he’d chosen was very acceptable.

Though a naturalised Australian, Takis often revels in his Greek nature, and as a reserved English woman I was surprised when once he sobbed uncontrollably after watching the death scene during a film about Beethoven. And I had to get used to those times when he waved his arms and hurled abuse at another driver who was obstructing his path. However, life was always interesting, and I enjoyed the way my acquaintances broadened as I was introduced to Greek, Italian and Russian business partners and associates, and to Greek and Italian factory workers in his food factories.

Cross cultural confusions

I had expected that, as in most cross-cultural relationships, there might be a few communication problems between us, but I soon came to see that even a simple communication could cause problems. My first lesson came when he gave a wordless response to my question about whether he wanted a second helping of dessert. It wasn’t a vigorous headshake, rather an upward tilt of the head with raised eyebrows. At first I thought that this might be a Greek gesture of disdain, about the meal or perhaps an uncertainty as to his state of fullness. So had he not liked the sweet? Perhaps he needed to be encouraged to take another serve? Gradually I came to understand this culturally codified non-verbal ‘no’ response and I’d pack the dishes away.

Another frustration came whenever he jumped in with a solution before I had even had time to finish the sentence. For instance if I said, ‘Tomorrow, before the guests arrive, I’ll get...’ he would immediately jump in and tell me that he would get the food from the freezer, though I was about to say I’d bring in some extra chairs. We had a few arguments about this with me snapping, ‘Let me finish the sentence and then you’ll find out what I want to say!’ Finally I realised that his response stemmed from another cultural habit; that it was more natural for him to state an intention before filling in the when and where details, whereas I’d naturally do it the other way about.

There were, of course, problems for Takis too with my English way of expressing things. I came to realise that often I’d make typically ‘English’ – roundabout and sometimes ambiguous – statements. For me turning a statement into question opened up the possibility of negotiation, but for Takis this apparent uncertainty indicated a frustrating lack of clear purpose.

 So, before setting out on Our Big Greek Adventure we had already experienced the cross cultural confusions, not only in front of a sports-cast on the TV.  It was a situation that we anticipated would continue exist for us in Greece.

Dreams ........of a Big Old House

While I had been homesick for England, a longing to returning there was not such an issue for me once I was married and had children and grandchildren. Though I will admit I did hold onto some of my childhood dreams, one of which revolved around the image of a large old house somewhere in England, or perhaps France. I had this picture in my mind of me as a housekeeper carrying a large bunch of keys at my waist (perhaps after reading Jane Eyre).
It was when we finally both retired from full time work and at the same time the opportunity arose to renovate an old family house in a Greek village it seemed that we might be able to fulfil a joint dream – that of acquiring a large old house and live in Greece. It was this opportunity that initiated...   Our Great Greek Adventure

 The Reality ........of a Big Old House

Currently it is October, and autumn in the northern hemisphere. It is the time of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’.  Today we had baked pumpkin for lunch, two small ones from the garden, and we talked about the huge orange ones we’d seen for sale in some of the island grocery shops. They were large enough to carve pumpkin faces, as they do in the States.
It is however also the time for the mice to make their first forays into old houses, and the other day I was sitting at the computer when I heard one dancing across the ceiling. The scampering noises were heard, by me, the next day too. Takis however refused to believe me as he was sure that he had all holes covered. But last night confirmed it. I went to the bathroom, for midnight relief, and with the light on and the door closed my suspicions were confirmed. I suddenly found I was not alone a mouse was running circles around the room. I yelled, but with no answering forthcoming from the bedroom. So I rushed out and slammed the door. The mouse was locked inside.
The mystery is that this morning when Takis, assisted by Anestis with a broom, entered the bathroom (that has no holes and was soundly locked) there was no mouse. If ever there was the plot for ‘how the offender got out of the locked room’ this was it. We still have not solved the whodunit. However I think Takis now believes me, and tonight we set traps.

A book: 

that has really helped me to understand a little more about being a hyphenated citizen...

Pico Iyer’s book, The Global Soul (Bloomsbury, 2000), explores the situation of those who live in more than one place, and who manage to feel ‘at home’ in more than one place.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

A Long Way Back

A Long Way Back

There are two big problems that will face anyone in Australia who wants to return to Europe for a short or long term visit.  One is that you are now no longer ‘English’ or ‘Greek’ you are a hyphenated citizen. The second is that, living in Australia, you are almost as far away as you could be from Europe. That last problem was the one that first loomed large.
I am English born. I flew to Adelaide in South Australia as a young teacher as ‘ten pound Pom’. This was a scheme put in place to encourage skilled workers to emigrate from Europe to Australia. It meant that I travelled to Australia for just ten pounds, and two days after landing I was teaching in a secondary school in that city. My grandfather, who had been a merchant-mariner, had sailed the clipper ships that brought wool to England from ports South Australia. It surprised him to see my wanderlust taking me to some of the places in Australia he’d visited as a young man.

At first I was often homesick for England I found but I found it wasn’t easy to return, especially once I married and had children. I was not to see my grandparents again. After a divorce I moved from Adelaide to Melbourne with my three children and, with over half a million Greeks living in that city, it wasn’t surprising that my new partner was a Greek.

Population of Melbourne – 3.5 million

No of Greeks in Melbourne – 600,000

My second husband, like me, is a hyphenated Australian. He thinks of himself as a Greek-Australian though he has a more complicated relationship with his native country. The problem is that he was born in Egypt of Greek parents so Alexandria is his birthplace. He holds special memories of his place of birth and he’d love to return to the bustling and cosmopolitan city of Alexandria – as it was in his day.
He’d love to visit again the French and Italian bakeries, at whose windows he once stood drooling over pastries. However he knows that conditions have changed so that the place he once knew no longer exists. Now most foreigners have left Alexandria and the local population has grown from one to five million. It is probably because of the impossibility of returning to that past that his nostalgic longings are stirred by the country of his parents, the Greece of their stories and memories.

This longing was not so obvious when I first met Takis for we were both busy working. He was an Australian businessman and enjoyed life in Australia, with occasional travels back to Europe for business purposes, and I was an academic.

When I did find out that he harboured thoughts of retiring to Greece (where ‘the sun shone all year, the sea was warm enough to bathe in without any shivers, and there was always a plate of fish cooked in olive oil in a tavern nearby’) it came as a bit of a shock.  For now our combined family included six children and six grandchildren, and because we were all living in Australia I had not even contemplated that Takis and I might go to live half of every year on the other side of the world.


Nowadays travellers don’t have to suffer in the manner of early travellers, like my grandfather sailing in a merchant ship for three months, however to cross the globe by plane is still not an easy feat. (And, if you have a house in one country and family in another, as we do now, you do quite a lot of flying back and forth.) So Takis and I have found the trip needs a lot of mental and physical preparation, to cope with what is still for us a long and cramped journey.
The trip from Melbourne to Athens takes over 24 hours when you include the stop-over time in Singapore or Dubai. It also involves joining hundreds who waiting to enter the same plane and, when on board, enduring on-flight meals and planned toilet trips. Of course many take the trip from Melbourne to Athens every year so it is not a Herculean task, however...

No of kilometres between Melbourne and Athens: 14938
No of miles between Melbourne and Athens: 9282

No of hours’ flight from Melbourne to Athens: approx 20 hours plus

Surfing the Globe

To surf the globe from Melbourne to Athens you cross the whole of Australia, much of Asia, cross the top of India and fly over the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.
And then of course there is for us another hour, flying to the island of Lemnos (12 hours by ferry)

                                                                 Lemnos Island

Having once made the decision to take up this lifestyle, to mitigate the fatigue, we have tried various routes and timetables. We found that on Emirates Air the amount of flight and wait time was approximately 28 hours. On Singapore Airlines the amount of flight and wait time was approximately 26 hours. This sounds a though Singapore offered a better deal. BUT in recent years Singapore airlines decided to travel to Athens via Istanbul, adding an extra hour onto the journey, and then the airline decided not to go to Athens at all!

We have also tried going to Athens via London, but this route meant we had stop-over waits in Singapore and Athens, and the amount of flight and wait time for the journey from Melbourne to Athens was about 32 hours

However one of the advantages of being retired and taking up a roving lifestyle is that we have been able to take our time and explore various options. So we have also tried breaking the journey.

We’ve enjoyed staying for one or two nights in Singapore. And another time we took nearly a week to arrive at our destination with three stopovers. This was not a bad idea as stopovers offer not only rest but the chance for further adventures and it’s good to find out more about a country than just the dimensions of its main airport (like  walking through the orchid gardens in the Singapore National Park).

      Singapore Botanic Gardens

We also now prepare ourselves and get through the ordeal moderately well (ear plugs and ipod for me, noise cancelling earphones for Takis, as he watches all the films; nuts and dry biscuits for me, and all the meals being offered for Takis). And travel by air, though seemingly unending at the time, is a short term problem and after a week you tend to forget it even happened.

There is, however, that other overriding problem for, whether you have come back to your home land as a returnee or a retiree, that does not go away. You are still a hyphenated citizen. Thus you find (as Takis has found in Greece and I have found in England) that you are not quite as ‘at home’ as you might have expected to be.

Some Books...

Here are three books written about the Greek Diaspora – past and present.

Arnold Zable, Sea of Many Returns (Text Publishing, Melbourne Australia,  2010) In this book the author discusses the seagoing life of many who live on Ithaka. He draws on his own experiences of returning to Ithaca with his Greek wife over the years. Although this island is far from Lemnos, and set in another sea, this story reveals how many Greeks journeyed past Lemnos on their way to trade around the shores of the Black Sea.

John Boardman, The Greeks Overseas (Penguin Books Pty Ltd, Australia, 1964). This book offers a very precise and functional history with references to the artefacts, language and archaeology of the areas around the Mediterranean where the early Greeks settled. 

Dominique Francoise De Stoop, The Greeks of Melbourne (Transnational Publishing Company Pty Ltd., 1996). The author writes about immigrants from Greece who settled in Melbourne and includes lists of those who came after World War 1, between the wars, and later.