Sunday, 30 August 2015

Typical of Our Village

Typical of Our Village

One cannot say there is a typically English person, or Australian or Greek, as we all vary, but we do often vary from a norm. And it is the norm I’m writing about in this blog, the normal behaviour found in the two villages I live in.

I’m thinking about this now that I’m back in Australia again, and as I find myself checking out Lemnian behaviour against the behaviour of folk I meet in the Dandenong Ranges – specifically those in Emerald against those I’ve meet in Myrina.

Lemnians watching their local band

Folk from Emerald listening to an army band.

 What also prompts this speculation into village behaviours is that at the moment I’m reading Jan Morris’ Venice, a wonderfully descriptive book about that city and the people that have lived there.

Having done quite a lot of study in sociology (which included observing the behaviour of people in five different communities) I am fascinated by the way some studies, by sticking to statistics to find ‘norm’, miss asking some questions though I have to add that I can see why academic sociological studies, while often revealing the political pressures that maintain ‘norms’, often avoid delving into the history behind these norms. 

For example, from a description of another village not so far away from Emerald I read

Smalltown’s ethnic homogeneity is on of its most striking features. Less than 5 per cent of Smalltownites were born outside Australia (most of these are of British descent), whereas 25 percent of Victoria’s population were born in other countries.’
‘Given its Anglo-Celtic origins it is not surprising that over 90 percent of Smalltownites describe themselves as Christian and claim that they belong to a particular Christian denomination.’
Ken Dempsey

It’s not really fair to compare a book written for research purposes to a travel memoir but it does illustrate something missing (some perhaps sometimes questionable facts) that when I wrote about our experience in Greece I wanted to include. Subsequently when I wrote ‘It all Began with the Watermelon’ I wanted to include some psychology, some history as well as some sociology!

I included my own and my husband’s story, plus stories of the family that build the house, and even stories of long ago that I felt shaped the place we were living in. Thus it was such a pleasure to see this ‘wholeness of experience’ in Jan Morris’ Venice. 

Here is just a taste of Morris’ lovely descriptive writing from chapter two, The Venetian Way, where he describes the meeting of two women shopping. You already know they are in a Venetian street and you can almost visualise this event. And then in the same chapter he proposes some reasons for both this ‘hard-faced’ intent, and the seeming ‘commiseration’ of the meeting where both show a willingness to share ‘tender’ and ‘protracted’ exchanges of greetings.

Observe a pair of Venetian housewives meeting, and you will see reflected in all their gestures the pungent character of Venice. The approach each other hard-faced and intent, for they are doing their shopping, and carry in their baskets the morning’s modes purchases… But as they catch sight of each other, a sudden soft gleam of commiseration crosses their faces, as though they are about to barter sympathies over some irreparable loss, or share an unusually tender confidence. Their expression instantly relax, and they welcome each other with protracted exchange of greetings…’

Ways of Doing Things

Without her skill I’m now looking at my two villages, to discover more about the ‘Emerald’ and ‘Myrina’ way of doing things. I might even write a follow up book to that first one comparing the these two villages, that have many similarities, but whose differences highlight behaviours of the other. While it may seem that I’m generalising I like writing from my own experience and as one sociologist wrote,

Experience becomes a mode of testing and exploring the ways in which our experience conjoins or connects us with others rather than the ways they set ups apart.’
Michael Jackson

And if we watch and think about the way people move through their village we can learn a lot about that village. And as another writer put it

No one like to be thought of as ‘typical’, yet everything we do reveals something about human nature that is common to us all. The citizens of Southwood (his imaginary village) are unique individuals, of course, but they are also members of a community that is, in many ways like human communities everywhere.’ 
Hugh Mackay.

Folk from Lemnos and the Lemnian Way

I sometimes think I can tell a Lemnian by their face. I’m not good at facial recognition and because of this slight similarity I often nearly respond to someone I meet on the street and then realise it is not the person I thought it was.

Of course there are many new settlers on the island, later arrivals from nearby parts of Greece. Takis often says the blue-eyed men he sometimes encounters probably descend from the shepherds from north, from the mountains of Macedonia. And I know from experience many from other Northern Aegean islands marry Lemnians, but I think I can often pick out the true-born Lemnian.

 Lemnian Women

Coming home from church

Visiting with Family

Taking a Morning Walk

The women are short, with a short torso, and have soft rounded faces, with a pleasant aspect. 

Lemnian Men

At Work

At Play

The men are short and stocky with a good head of hair that turns white with age. They do not usually go completely bald, and if over 50 will be clean-haven. These men are often bow-legged and both sexes tend to walk with a sway, somewhat splay footed.

The men have a gentle and reserved manner, they are sociable and love to gather in tavernas and joke mildly about the foolish ways of mankind. The women too are sociable but less given to sitting together in groups unless it is a meeting of a club. 

Dressed for a National Celebration

Meetings on the Street

Men and Women will greet each other with a number of sympathetic enquiries when they meet in the street. These will be shorter in the summer, when there are many strangers around, and not include those asking about husbands, sons, daughters etc. and may then be only a slight wave and a couple of general questions, but always ending with a wish for a ‘Kalla’ day/ lunch/afternoon/ evening/ week/ month/year, which ever is appropriate.

But always there will be that complacency that comes from knowing they are Lemnian, and know just how a Lemnian should behave.

A Local Picnic

Folk Dance Concert

Monday, 24 August 2015

Birds in Winter

Birds in Winter

I’ve sometimes thought, when walking through the mists and trees of the Dandenong ranges, listening to bird songs that are so different from European songs, that this might have been what the world sounded like many eons ago, when pre-historic birds filled the skies.


When walking on a misty winter morning the Carrawong’s musical songs echo through across the valley. (The name they are given is after the sound of their song.) There must be something about that weather that increases the echo, and their harmonious calls resonant back and forth and let you know that there is an orchestra of them out there somewhere. They often come in a group to the garden and one is brave enough to squeeze through the gaps and onto my bird-feeding tray that is protected to keep larger birds like these away.

You know if there is a flock of White (sulfur crested) Cockatoos nearby by their screeching. This is the bird I do not want to come and eat from the bird tray, it is a pest and the local council tries to discourage folk feeding them. When they find you have sunflower seed or dried corn seeds they arrive and call all their friends to join them. And if they hang around they like to peck the woodwork, widow frames and balustrades. To discourage the larger birds I have surrounded the tray with wire netting. And should they arrive I rush out, wave and yell, and throw oranges at them! The other deterrent is to hang my shirt over the table sometimes with my hat on top.  This does not discourage the rosellas, but it seems to let the Cockatoos know that I’m around. Plus, I usually only use the seed for smaller birds its the parrot seed that attracts the Cockatoos.

 Rosellas crowd the seed table whenever I put out seed. I don’t keep the tray always full of seed as I think they need to do some of their own foraging, but I often feel sorry for them at this time of year . These birds I can watch from my kitchen window and I have noticed they have a serious hierarchy, with a dominant male who takes possession of the tray if he can. The male will then often encourage his partner to join him, but the kids and other families have to wait for their turn, lining up along the edge of the roof or pecking up the seed fallen on the ground.

A couple of King Parrots come to feed at the bird tray now and then. These are very friendly birds and once tapped on the window to let me know it was time to feed him. Or he has flown down onto the barbeque table to ask for food. Their colours are astounding, bright red and green. And though larger than the rosellas they are smaller than the cockatoos and can squeeze onto the bird table.

There are many Eastern Spinebills dipping through the garden. At the moment they are sipping the last fuchsia nectar in my garden and the honey from the early native flowers in the garden next-door. These are pretty little birds, and hard to photograph. One hit the window the other day and lay on the verandah for a while. I thought it was dead, but when I went out it shook itself and flew up onto the balustrade before taking off again.

There are many Brown Bush Wrens in the garden. I’m not sure which they are, probably fairy wrens. Like the spinebills they are hard to photograph, all you can catch sight of is a shadow, twittering as they dart past. You wonder if you’ve just seen a butterfly until you hear the twitter. But now and then a crowd of these small creatures come dashing through the barbeque area, hop about on the ground for a moment or two, before disappearing again.

Kookaburras are cuddly looking birds, though they do have a more somber reputation and are not past swallowing the young of other birds! They wake you early in the morning, beginning their distinctive laughing call as the sun rises. When I go for a walk I’ll see a Kookaburra swaying on the power lines overhead watching me, perhaps keeping his feet warm. They are territorial, and my neighbour is very familiar with those who visit her garden, she has names for them and even knows the various generations. I don’t know those that come to my garden as well but they know me. If I’m burning off they come flying up and sit on a nearby tree. And if anything unusual is going on, like digging over a patch, or spreading compost, you can be sure they are watching. I’ll occasionally throw out some left over raw scraps of meat and it soon disappears.


Under the bird table as soon as there is business above there will be some Bronze Wing Pigeons. They always amuse me. They can fly but are heavy and usually stay on the ground. They’ll come bouncing down the steps and waddle to eat the fallen seed. The other day, looking out of the kitchen window, I was giggling as a male bronze wing began chasing a female around and around the rim of the large bay tree flowerpot. They went around at least three times before giddily flying off. These birds have a strange booming call and a new neighbour wondered what power tool someone nearby was using, insisting was too regular to be a birdcall.

These are some of my common and local bird visitors, and I must add one more, the Black Bird. This bird is shy, and flighty. It comes to feed now and then but more often is shrieking warnings and flying off into the bushes. And I think that most of the nests that the grandchildren discover are blackbird nests. I remember from my own childhood that they do next in foolishly visible and lowdown places. And once I saw that wicked Kookaburra stealing the nestling from a nest in the garden.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Grown-up Game of Politics

The Grown-up Game of Politics
We came back from the hot-bed of politics that was Greece last year to the political game playing happening in Australia. In many ways this game was the same as that played in Greece, even though the Greek government is left wing and the current government in Australia is right wing.


But it made me think how much of politics is a game. And, having once been a sports teacher (before all the other things I took up later) I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing, as long as the game is played well and the rules are kept.

A game is a shared human activity. It is set up with rules in order to throw light on facts that are integral to that game.


Do our politicians, when they enter parliament,

 Represent Us?

They were elected by a large group but not by all possibly supporters. And even if we did not vote for them are they ready to include us, as we will be affected by the outcome of their ‘game’?

Are they playing for a specific audience?

Having gained their position on the main team, do they show sensitivity to local habits, or are they now playing only to get the support of a special audience.

Are appointees, the referees, impartial?

Are the judges, the speaker of the house, acting in a short-term fashion, and showing biased in the game this team are playing?

Are they truthful?

Do they honestly tell us the costs as well as the benefits of the polices they promote?

Do they try to bamboozle?

‘If we don’t know what is said seriously and what is said in jest, we do not know the meaning. We have to know what is said lightly and what solemnly, where a remark is prompted by a play on words, if something is ironical or a quotation, an allusion, a pastiche, a parody, a diatribe, a daring coinage, a cliché an epigram or possibly ambiguous.’ 
Martin Buber

Have they forgotten we will enventualy know the score?

‘It is because action speak louder and more ambiguously than words that they are more likely to lead us to common truths’
Merleau Ponty

The Political Game going on in Australia right now:


Conservatives are called ‘Liberals’ This is the main party in power at the moment. Though in fact Liberals are more often known as ‘The Coalition’ as they have united with the National Party (a countryside based party) which also conservative. This party supports ‘development’ and ‘free enterprise’ it could not be said to be progressive.

The Labor party is currently in opposition, it can either be seen as socialist and very progressive, or as high-jacked by unions, and thus limited in its ability to be flexible and develop.

The Greens are the other party. The party you vote for if you can’t stand the other two. It has some good environmental policies but has never had to promote them country-wide, and see if they can work in a competitive society.

The Political Game going on in Greece right now:


Under the supervision of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition agreed with New Democracy, “To Potami” and PASOK to cooperate with a negotiated proposal with the EU. (The Greek Communist Party (KKE) did not agree and reiterated its long held position that it rejects any bailout deal with austerity measures.)

Syriza’ is an acronym meaning the ‘Radical Coalition of the Left’.

The ‘Independent Greeks’, a right-wing, anti-bailout party, formed as a ‘New Democracy’ splinter in 2012.

The River, ‘To Potami’ is a moderate centre-left party formed in 2014

Feared by many as neo-Nazis, ‘Golden Dawn’ nevertheless gained substantial support during the economic crisis.

Weeks before the election, the Movement of Democratic Socialists ‘Kinima’ was formed to contest the election separately from ‘Pasok’

The Communist Party of Greece (KKE) and it was banned from politics until 1974 but now has a sizable support.

As citizens we hope, we believe, that the rules of the political game, though filled with drama along the way, will eventually lead to the outcome of good governance for all.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Winter Flower Arrangements

Winter Flower Arrangements

Flowers for the House

‘A very few flowers can be made to look well if cleverly arranged with plenty of good foliage; and even when a hard and long frost spoils the few blooms that would otherwise be available, leafy branches alone are beautiful in rooms.’

Gertrude Jekyll


This is a good buy at this time of year. I had a pot of cyclamen in the house last week. They can wilt quickly in the heat of the house but last for weeks if you put them outside in the cold overnight.


I’ve been talking about the joy of seeing daffodils in my garden blooming for the first time. I can’t bear to pick them though, so I bought a bunch from a roadside stall.

  I wandered lonely as a cloud
  That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
  When all at once I saw a crowd,
  A host, of golden daffodils;
  Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
  Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

From a poem by William Wordsworth 


The Dandenong hills are alight with golden acacia bushes, known as wattle trees in Australia. I’ve not been here for so long at this time of year (I’m always in  Greece in July and August) so that it is a joy to drive past these bursts of colour. I picked a bunch for the house three weeks ago and have let them slowly dry out in the vase. Like hydrangeas they have dried beautifully, keeping some of their original colour.

 From, The Wattle Tree by Dora Wilcox

Winter is not yet gone - but now
The birds are carolling from the bough.
And the mist has rolled away
Leaving more beautiful the day.
The sun is out - O come with me
To look upon the wattle tree!

White Plum Blossom

A tree I’ve never seen in bloom in my garden is the plum tree. (I never got any of its fruit either as the parrots get the plums before me.) I was not sure if the flowers would fall if I brought a spray inside but five days later they are still looking fresh.

Floating Camellias

This is the only way to have camellias inside. The heavy blooms fall off the stems (in the garden too) but they look wonderful floating in a dish of water.


Infrequently I look at a book of Flower Arrangement by Betty Massingham published by Homes and Gardens in 1976.  It is old but the flower arrangements illustrated do not age, and they always stimulate me to try something different. It’s so easy just to get out the same old vase and thrust what you’ve found in the garden into that, but on recently revisiting this book I noticed in one illustration the same white dish that I own was filled with fuchsias, and so I thought I’d give it a try – not very successful. But I found another, more steady vase, and that was better.

(When my nasturtiums bloom I will definitely try an arrangement on another page that puts a bunch in a blue and white Chinese vase.)

 A Still Life Painting


One Winter Arrangement I still want to make

A Moss Garden

I used to play with my grand daughters making fairy gardens out of moss and tiny stones with flowers. I want to make one of these for the house, with a little more soil and plantings some small flowers blubs in with the moss.

And I have another arrangement of orchids I'm still waiting to open.

 Meanwhile Spring is on its Way

This is a time when one can almost hear an awakening happening in the garden, under the top layers of wet leaves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his poem ‘Flower Chorus’,

‘O such a commotion under the ground…

Such spreading of rootlets far and wide…’

 ‘I’ll promise my blossom’ the Crocus said,
“When I hear the blackbird sing.’
And straight thereafter Narcissus cried,
‘My silver and gold I’ll bring.’
And ere they are dulled,’ another spoke,
‘The Hyacinth bells shall ring.’
But the Violet only murmured, ‘I’m here,’
And sweet grew the air of Spring.