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submitted by Anna Cominos on 29.06.2008

52 Weeks In Tsirigo – Up In Smoke

Recent experience allows me to earnestly confirm that Kythera is an Enigma! Just when you feel you have a handle on the island’s machinations and have ‘it’ all worked out. Realising a deep sense of how the complex social, earthly and spiritual stratospheres co-exists (relatively problem-free), existence blows a fuse and it all goes up in smoke – literally. Such has been the unfolding of the events the past week as we helplessly watched as a red-hot wall of flames rage just behind Agia Pelagia, endangering homes and estates, all saved primarily by the arrival of the surreal water-planes and a bucket helicopter.

In my first blog on 03.12.2007 I wrote with ladidaness, ‘the olive-trees are talking to us, meaning they need a 'klathema' (a pruning). Today they are mourning, burnt to a black crisp, consumed by fire in the Agia Patrikia area (coastal between Agia Pelagia and Karavas), completely burning out a large rich olive grove district, that included my 127 olives trees, four figs and six pear trees.

It is obvious to speculate that both the fires could have been the handiwork of some calculating arsonist (a touch of the lone-gunman theory). But it is most probable that it was due to an electrical short-circuit, considering that the underwater electrical cable that provides electricity from mainland Peloponnese to the island runs directly through the burnt-out area and that DEH (the Greek Electricity Co) sub-contractors where working directly on the poles.

My terraced olive-field was originally gifted by my great-grandmother Georgia (Vayena) Crithary to the first grandchild to return from Australia, fortunately that was my Dad Nick. Vayena was a fierce Karavitissa from another era, having seen photos of her in her fifties, she had the proud, sun-baked features of an American Indian. She was indigenous, Kytherian indigenous. She had grown-up on the island and never left it though many in her direct family had. Family legend has it she once walked to Agia Pelagia and knocked on the door of her younger sister and dragged her to the very field by the hair, for cutting down grapevine……ok so fierce may be an understatement.

I have these vivid childhood memories, from 1970, of my dad Nick and maternal papou (grandfather) Georgios (Sarantakos) Zantiotis, hand-digging these deep holes in the terraced earth and carefully planting each young olive tree. After a ten month stay in Kythera, we returned to Australia and my papou continued to lovingly tend the trees, becoming the fertile symbol of our ‘impending’ return. My dad gifted me the ‘field of hope’ in 2006 and I often go there to walk the stone-terraces and contemplate. I am not embarrassed to say I have even hugged a couple of olive trees. (Never on a full-moon, but that’s another story).

The fire was extinguished in the first few hours (the hypothetical scenario would have been disastrous for the northern part of the island). But credit where credit is due, cement lord Vlakras, mobilised domestic and industrial water-vehicles in record time ( Even sought the raw sewerage trucks carrying water…
now that’s Kytherian spirit). Co-ordination of local, state and national resources appeared to come together painlessly and widespread damage was avoided.

But it is all gooooood!!! Olive trees grow back (it will take about 6-7 years to fruit again), no one got hurt and no domestic farm animals were sacrificed. All is settled in Agia Pelagia again. The icy-frappes flow freely, while the fire-trucks are stationed on lookout over the blackened moonscape. Strangely it is only in the field’s destruction that the sum total of its dramatic symbolism is now obvious. Here is a photo I took today of the area.

PS. If you are wondering whether the electrical fire could have been averted with the construction of windmills on Kythera, the answer is NO! In fact in a general power failure they will not work, plus they cannot not supply power to the island, it all planned to be sent off-shore.

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