Tales from the Kantina - July at Eristos beach, Tilos

For those who think Eristos beach is for hippies, meet Nikos: a clean-cut, middle-aged mechanical engineer (now an out of work mechanical engineer, but that’s Greece in 2013). This is his second time in Tilos, and he comes for the tranquillity (Lisa, stop barking), the nature, somewhere peaceful to read a book. He learned English during three years of post-graduate studies in Ottawa; he says it’s rusty, but by the time we’ve discussed Nobel Prize-winning poet Odysseas Elytis, the Antikythera Mechanism, Plato’s dialogue on etymology, theories on the Fifth Element… I’d beg to differ.

He’s been reading my book, and mentions that they now believe the Santorini volcano erupted earlier than previously thought; he says he likes the quotations at the beginning, and has translated the following lines from Elytis’ great work ‘To Axion Esti’ which he’s written down for me:

Then He spoke
And the sea was born
And in its midst he sowed small worlds…
Horses of stone with manes erect
And serene amphorae
And curved backs of dolphins…

Somehow, I’m not sure how, we get onto talking about the Antikythera Mechanism, an ancient Greek device like an analog computer built in 100 BC. It combined the Egyptian solar and Greek lunar calendars to forecast the stars in the sky for many years, thus being an invaluable aid to navigation. It was only the size of a book, and although its wooden exterior had rotted away when it was discovered by sponge divers a hundred years ago, its intricate metal parts were still intact. They don’t make computers like they used to, eh?

Until recently, no-one knew what the strange object was – until advance X-ray analysis was done in Britain. Nikos draws me diagrams to show how the various cogs and wheels measured the orbits of the planets. They already knew the sun was the centre of our solar system, something we were taught was discovered in the 16th century. Nikos says the Ancient Greeks had also built the steam engine in Alexandria around that time, but it was destroyed when the Romans invaded. 

‘Imagine,’ he says. ‘Three hundred years after the steam engine was re-discovered in England, there was the industrial revolution. If an industrial revolution had happened back then… Man could have conquered space in 300 AD.’ This launches us into a discussion on the merits and demerits of so-called progress.

But I shall leave you with a joke, which Nikos told me to add to my Greek jokes collection:
What’s the most efficient way to stop a Greek from talking?
Tie his hands behind his back.

We've had some beautiful times at the kantina recently - evenings with cool breezes, cold wine, warm company. Friends from Austria and Sweden are back, camping on the beach or staying in the nearby Nitsa Apartments or Eristos Beach Hotel. And there are new friends from Athens. Andreas, who has brought along some good music to play. Christina, who spent hours playing with Lisa. 

Kostas owned a wine shop in Athens for seven years and has just had to close it as the restaurants and bars he supplied were no longer able to pay their bills; he's now out of work. Stavroula has work as a junior school teacher, but she's finding it harder to explain to some of the children why the school has to provide lunch for them. The couple will camp on Eristos with a budget of 15 euros a day for as much of the summer as they can. Psychologically, says Stavroula, it's good just to feel the ground beneath your feet every day. The area of Athens where they live - Exarchia, where I used to go for nights out when I lived there - is losing its spirit these days. She hands a posy of thyme she's gathered to Christina. 

The other Kostas and Koula left last night on the big ship back to Athens, so unfortunately we'll have no more of Koula's amazing desserts. We'll miss seeing Kosta going out snorkelling every day, and Koula creating beautiful things out of tin cans. But she's painted this fabulous sign for the new shop at the entrance to Megalo Horio, for a women's co-operative selling local products, opening soon:


The latest on FALLING IN HONEY - please share it around if you can! Fab coverage in the Mail on Sunday's You magazine:


Interview on Female First:


And a wonderful new cover for the US edition:

The Chicken and Egg Problem

There’s been debate here for a little while about why our chickens haven’t produced any eggs yet. I was researching online to see if there are things missing from the kotetsi, the coop. I wondered if they might be sick, as they’ve been losing feathers, especially one of them – but as Stelios advised, it is July and pretty hot. Then there was the other possibility…

Finally I bit the bullet and asked Grigori, who has a farm close by, if he wouldn’t mind, erm, coming to have a look at them when he has time. He stopped off while driving by and strode across the field.
He scanned the six of them quickly. ‘Jennifer, you’ve got five cockerels.’

That would be why we haven’t seen any eggs yet. It would also explain why they've been fighting. I went home and told Stelios his suspicions had been right. Apparently, when chickens are small it’s hard to tell if they’re male or female, and since ours are different breeds, they’re different sizes anyway.
‘But why’s the one hen not laid any eggs?’ asked Stelios.
‘Well, she’s probably quite tired…’ I guessed.
So, the only question next is – to borrow an old Young Ones line – who’s for the pot?

The Kantina is of course up and running and Lisa the Labrador cross is loving all the attention. When she’s not meeting new people, she’s doing important work digging holes.

And just when I thought a Tilos summer couldn’t get any better, having people coming up to me to say they’ve read my book and/or blog makes it super-special. A bit like one of Stelios’s hamburgers. So - thanks to everyone who's come up and said hello. You're the best. 

Tales from the Tilos Kantina - 'Dromografos'

One evening in early June, Stefanos was in his tent on Eristos beach in Tilos as usual, where he’s come to camp every summer for the last ten years from his home in Athens. But on that evening, he wasn’t just enjoying the peace and quiet, the sound of the sea, the stars above. From his little tent, he was involved in a group effort to keep the signal of the Greek national television station alive.

The softly-spoken 43-year-old tells me over coffee that he was working last year as a computer and website programmer, but the work dried up as a result of the economic crisis. ‘I was politically active before but I felt I had to do something more. When I didn’t have a job anymore, I had the urge to do something about it.’ So he started taking photographs, recording what he saw happening on the streets, and posting them online. He calls himself Dromografos, a play on words meaning something like street reporter.

'It’s an ugly situation in Athens, worse every day, thousands without work. People are tired - so much has happened, it leaves them in a state of shock, they're being hit from every direction. 

'The protests have achieved something but the state is fighting back with such force… Four thousand municipal police have been transferred to the main police department, giving them the power to have guns. It’s like a police state in Athens, the police being used like an army, similar to a junta. The constitution means nothing; the government has passed over 20 laws without going through parliament, saying it’s a “unique situation” so they only need the president’s approval – parliament is just decorative.'

One of those laws, says Stefanos, was the shutting down of public television. The Greek government claimed ERT, the state channel, was a ‘haven of waste’, and to save money they were going to shut it down.

'And sure, it was wasteful. But TV is the most powerful weapon. Public television is the only medium that’s unbiased. The government announced at 6pm they were shutting it down at midnight.'

Stefanos, along with other journalists protesting about what this meant for the country, tried to maintain the signal of the TV station online.

'For young people it was very important. The signal never went down on the internet.'

The journalists who have banded together during this time call themselves Media from the People (in Greek, Media Apo To Kato). Their main target is to form a news agency that’s not controlled by anyone, and to set up a website by the autumn that will be the most reliable source for learning what’s happening in Greece; European news media have expressed interest in using it, and they have the technology for web TV. The team of around a dozen groups of people includes some currently employed by mainstream press, working anonymously through social media.

‘What happened with ERT was actually a chance to promote what we are doing. We were interviewed three times on television. Whatever happens with ERT in the future, whether they do put it back on air in a different form, it’s a good thing that all these TV and newspaper guys came together to build something new.’

If they manage to make it happen, he says, people won’t have to search twenty or thirty sites to find out what’s really happening. As Stefanos sees the current Greek government acting more like a junta, it’s important for people to have access to real information, unfiltered by the controls of the privately owned media, in the lead-up to new elections.

What does he see in the future for Greece?

‘There are two possibilities. The first is continuing the current route with the IMF, Troika and so on. Most economists, even the capitalist ones, think this is leading to destruction, that there’s no way Greece can develop in a way it can pay back the loans. The new loans just pay the interest on the previous loans.

‘Then there's the other scenario. The main opposition party, Syriza, if they managed to make a government, would have to agree to co-operate with the communist party, which wouldn’t be easy but it could happen. They would try to re-negotiate with the EU so Greece could not pay the interest on the loans for 20 years until we can grow the economy. It would put money back into the market. If the EU didn’t agree to this and Greece left the EU, it could trigger an exodus from other countries in similar positions – Ireland, Spain, Portugal.

‘The next years in Greece will be hard – but most people think there is nothing to lose, that the situation can’t get any worse. At the beginning of this crisis, Papandreou said "we will do our best so that every family has one working person…" We thought at the time it was a mistake – how could there only be one person in a family working?! But now it’s come true. People who’ve lost their jobs receive welfare from the state for six months only, then they have to go back to their villages to live off a parent’s pension to survive. Properties are left empty, shops close, streets are deserted.’

As for Stefanos, although he sells his photos whenever he can to foreign media (usually when something major makes international news), he offers them for free within Greece – ‘for the cause’ – as long as others don’t use them for profit. And he’s found his new way of life incredibly rewarding, even though he’s surviving on a minimal income.

‘There was something missing before. So many people were struggling and there was no-one to cover it, to say what they wanted; no-one knew the people who lost their jobs were demonstrating and asking for something. I’ve learned many things I didn’t expect. I’m on the streets from morning til night, and try to post photos immediately.

‘There’s stress, but I feel great about it – when I get up I think wow, what do I have to do today, and when I go back at eleven or twelve at night I feel very tired but very happy, it fulfils me.’

In the meantime, he's monitoring the news from Eristos Beach, Tilos.

Find Stefanos at www.dromografos.org, @dromografos