submitted by James Victor Prineas on 01.02.2008
Dear Friends of Kythera
I'm in a plane again, this time flying back from a short stay in Athens. I spent most of the day making kourabiethes with my Aunt in Maroussi. Cooking with your Greek relatives is probably the best way to spur on their memories. So many interesting recollections are associated with food and its preparation. I found out why my Aunt's step-grandmother would always chop the almonds in 4 and not 3 pieces and how nasty she was to her step-children; how a great-aunt of mine once caught my great-uncle - 8 years old at the time - lighting a fire to fry eggs while the rest of the house was having their siesta; the reason why my grandmother made her vegetable pies high and not low and why almost no one makes them high any more. So next time you're visiting an old Greek relative and the conversation gets stuck, ask them if their mother put vinegar in their pita-dough or not. That should get things going.
Our Famous Thrift
While in Athens in December I had lunch with my good friend Vassiliki Chrysanthopoulou. She’s not Kytherian but she probably knows as much about Kytherians in the Diaspora as anyone living. As a research fellow and anthropologist at the Hellenic Folklore Research Center in Athens, her area of expertise is the relationship - both physical and emotional - of Diaspora Greeks to their family’s place of origin. If you’ve been receiving this newsletter for a few years you might remember the survey we did about how Diaspora Kytherians relate to the island. Well, Vassiliki penned most of those questions and has been using your answers in various papers she has since written.
During lunch and the subject somehow got on to the Kytherians notoriety for thrift. First of all she told me this anecdote: at a dinner party in Canberra a few years ago, with guests of Castellorizian and Kytherian parentage, the hostess brought out an old amphora - a vase-shaped vessel with a long neck which was used to hold the wine or oil given as a libation at the temple of one god or another. The hostess asked the guests to guess how much the amphora - about a foot and a half tall - held. Various guesses ranging from a half to three litres came back. The hostess then proceeded to pour the contents of a full wine-glass into the empty amphora and before the glass was even half-empty the amphora was already overflowing. She tipped the wine back into the glass and showed the puzzled guests how the amphora had a false bottom quite close to the spout. That way the person offering the libation could save on wine or oil. One of the Castellorizians burst out: “it must have belonged to a Tsirigotis (Kytherian)” and all the guests, including the Tsirigotis among them, fell off their chairs in laughter.
One of the interesting aspects of the story, Vassiliki told me, was the way Kytherians themselves can laugh about their reputation for thrift. She has seen Kytherians passing the restaurant bill from one to the other giving tongue-in-cheek reasons why they shouldn’t be the one to pay this time. My father has even told me that my grandfather was famed for preferring to walk a mile and a half from Central Station in Sydney to Wynyard rather than spend the penny on the tram. Perhaps you too have an anecdote or two about the care in which Kytherians spent their hard-earned money? If so then send them to me and I’ll reproduce them in the next newsletter. (Don’t be shy - thrift is a virtue!) One thing that I’d like to add before I go on to the next part of this story: it is my experience that, while many of Kytherian descent felt real physical pain when parting with their money, I have never seen one being stingy with it in relation to their immediate family. Children were sent to the best schools, musical instruments were purchased for enthusiastic offspring, and the food on the table was always in generous supply.
Vassiliki and I pondered the roots of this tendency towards thrift. Vassiliki is also an expert on the Castellorizian Diaspora, so we had a comparison group. Castellorizians are well known for flaunting their wealth, whether or not it exists. At a Greek function you could often tell who came from which island depending upon how much jewellery the women were wearing. Vassiliki believes that thrift (or lack of it) is learnt in the community: Kytherian role models were those who made the most out of the little they had (and most had little). And their conduct was thus copied. I, on the other hand, pleaded the case of natural selection. My case was based on the fact that those with the “thrift-gene” were more likely to have more children which survived childhood. People with money “in the bank” were more likely to be able to put food on the table in hard times, keeping their children healthier, and, should a child be seriously sick, would be better positioned to afford professional attention and the necessary medication. Those with savings would also be able to offer a more generous dowry for their daughters and in turn be able to hook a wealthier husband for her. The result: more children reaching child-bearing age and in a better position to bond with a family of similar levels of thrift. The island Castellorizians on the other hand, generally well-off as a result of their success as merchants (until they revolted from the Ottoman empire in 1913 and their main trading partners were lost - that’s when they started coming to Australia...), were more likely to catch an optimal spouse by the open display of wealth and the accentuation of beauty. Vassiliki did stress though that the display of wealth went together with class stratification on the island and the existence of the wealthy classes of merchants and of trader captains. Women, in particular, symbolised the rank of their families by carrying a lot of wealth about themselves in the form of jewels. She did not, however, imply that Castellorizians were careless with regard to economy. They considered it as a virtue, as in the case of men's and women's good management of business and home resources, but they also projected generosity in public and in the private arena. Displaying your wealth was associated with the value of personal and family self-sufficiency among the Castellorizians. The sub-text of such displays of wealth was: "We have enough, we do not need your help, there is enough for us and also to give other people."
If you have any thoughts on the matter, or just wish to trash my (or Vassiliki’s) theory, don’t hesitate to send me an email or, better still, put your thoughts on the new “Blog” area on the site:
James Prineas, KFN Team Leader Europe
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Here, from our Blog page on the website, the last three instalments of her now classic articles "52 Weeks in Tsirgo" by our intrepid reporter on the island, Anna Cominos.
4. January, 2008
52 weeks in Tsirigo - Happy 2008
Kalli Minia ke Kalli Hronia (Good month & a Good Year) to all and May peace and humanity prevail and above all good health. The sea is swelling and the bright wintery days of the yiortes (holidays) have been replaced by overcast, bleak rainy days and chilly nights. The bitterness of heemona (winter) is exacerbated further by Tsirigo's isolation.
What you ask Kythera isolated? Yes, since late September we have been plagued by the terminally painful and tedious Boat Syndrome. Initially, the island's smaller ship that connected the Peloponnese (Neapolis) to Kythera -The Andreas - was supposedly sold off to an African nation so one fine day in September it just stopped.
That left the Tsirigotes (Kytherians) with the antiquated Myrtidiotissa (named after the island Patron Saint "Our Lady of the Myrtle") as our only sea connection to the known world - I write "known" because I think even the Minoan colonies that lived in ancient Skandeia (Avlemonas/Paliopoli) had more regular sea connections.
Since then the Myrtidiotissa has monopolised all sea connections, performing ... well let's just say less than par. Beginning with the ship's crew occupying the Myrtidiotissa to retrieve their substantial unpaid wages. The ship almost went under the hammer. (Sincerely, Greece has some cool labour laws left that the rest of the world can only admire). Once those delays were cleared up came the rumours about the back door being problematic. And once the delays began they kept up their rhythm.
And so the talk in the kafenions (cafes) turned away from how much had been gambled illegally in cards and dice to "Pote tha erthi to karavi" (when would the ship come). Randomly ask anyone and everyone is in "The Know" (my cousin's god-daughter's sister works in the same supermarket as the Phillipino woman who iron the shirts of the neighbour of the Purser's .Reaaaallllly!!! Now after a week-long absence and with the 'show' back to normality on Monday, it supposedly leaves Saturday morning but I wouldn't put my Euros on it.
But enough naval contemplation (sea-pun)!!!
2008 is as ripe as any time for serious environmental considerations and action in Kythera. It might be a "paradise" retold a million times in stories in the back rooms of cafes in country Australia or other remote hotbeds, but Kythera is also a living thriving reality that accumulates garbage and sewerage and that is experiencing a building-boom that has never been seen here.
What Kythera needs in 2008 is a global brains trust, Rather than re-inventing the wheel daily, major issues - social, environmental and more - can be put forward and various solutions offered by our Diaspora family. 2008 marks the exact time when the exchange of ideas and the sharing of professional knowledge can overtake the donation of dollars to rebuild crumpling churches and sofathes (cement rendering). Kythera-Family.net has proven that kythophiles can share precious intimate connections - we are already thinking outside the box! Let's take a further step into the future in 2008. Feel free to email on email@example.com regarding forming a Kythera Brain Trust.
Have a great 2008 and speak to you next week that is if I haven't succumbed to the urge of to build a 'Gilligan's Island' style cane windsurfer and go hear Woody Allen play jazz in Athens!!!
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17. January, 2008
52 weeks in Tsirigo - Kissing the Crucifix
Will the Gods of Kytherian Weather make up their minds up or what?????
Just when the body and soul become accustomed to the cold of winter and olive wood is collected to stoke the wood fires, the sun peaks out behind the veil of clouds. And while it is chilly in the shade, the sunshine is gloriously warm. Like the rest of the planet, Kythera suffers from 'climatic schizophrenia' - the flowers are blooming out of season. There is a sun-soaked melancholy afloat as the Yiortes (holidays) draw to an end. In Greece the final day of holidays is marked by the religious ritual of Theofania (the Epiphany) with young men plunging into the icy Mediterranean waters to retrieve the blessed crucifix.
Theofania in Kythera became like a mobile Circus with the ritual performed initially at Kapsali then Diakofti and finally Agia Pelagia accommodating the mesa and exo (the Northerners and Southerners) and even the mesei (the middletons, not Masai)
Always late for the party, I attended the afternoon Theofania ritual in Agia Pelagia, held at the Molo (wharf). Over 300 locals dolled up in their Sunday best, gathered to share in the celebrations, The event was presided over by local Archbishop Serafeim, flanked by the Mayor and all the political hobnobs. Pater Seraphim blessed the waters and the symbolic crucifix (honouring the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist). The Archbishop then made several (comical) attempts to throw the wooden cross in the sea but was faltered by the microphone stand. Once the technical issues were resolved three men stripped to their bathers and swam out to the cross.
While the fashionably attired crowds squirmed with each free-style stroke the brave men took, the crucifix was finally retrieved by young local lad Panayiotis Tambakis who in his relief and as tradition has it, held-up the cross and kissed it. (It is commonly thought that retrieving the crucifix will bring with it a Blessed Year). In a blind act of faith Panayiotis passed the cross back to other two swimmers who too kissed the cross. But in a fit of mean-spiritedness, the third swimmer refused to give the cross back and he handed the Crucifix to the Archbishop. (where is the replay button when you need it). Only here in Kythera folks!
On a more sincere note the heart saddens each time a Kytherian elder dies. It is like an encyclopaedic book closes tight, all knowledge disappears and we have no window to the past. Such was the bitterness felt when Mitata personality Theia Eleni Prineas (Revithi) passed away at the beginning of 2008. Born in 1917 the youngest of eight children to Adoni and Maria Prineas, Theia Eleni was a forthright and opinionated firecracker who had something to add to whatever was been discussed. Her internal strength and physical capabilities seemed connected to her birthdate of March 8 (International Women's Day). Sadly for this proud Piscean her final years were spent in the local Old People's Home, where she prayed to escape her confinement.
Her funeral in Mitata was held at the school as the Church in the Plateia (town square) remains earthquake ravaged. What was most touching was the sisterhood of Theia Eleni's elderly girlfriends who had turned out to honour their neighbour fresh flowers in hand.
PS The boat has arrived and like a straying spouse taken up its rightful place without an explanation or sorry for the inconvenience. HURRAH!!!
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27. January, 2008
52 weeks in Tsirigo - The Winds of change are a Blowin'
Some weeks living in Kythera is like watching non-rating television - your kind of trapped in Groundhog Day, the same day in day out, except everyone has a few more wrinkles. And other weeks it seems you are on the front-line of existence. Everything appears life and Death. Such is the past week in Kythera.
Firstly locals of all walks of life gathered in Chora to protest the lack of daily shipping services. It was rousing to see hundreds of Kytherians (from all political persuasions and industries) coming together in sheer desperation to bring a collective resolution to this age-old problem. Considering that hundreds of people included the seriously ill have had to taken to mainland on caiques (fishing boats) just as 50 years ago - Sigginonea (transport) has become the number one problem facing the island.
While it has been confirmed by the Maritime Ministry, that the regionally subsided service The Mirtioditissa is here to stay, it has been statistically proven that it was the local daily services to the mainland that created the rising stream of visitors. The argument for a local daily service, such as the Martha or the Andreas II is economically powerful. Kythera and that translates into local jobs and a future.
Unlike the last 100 years that saw more than 60,000 young Kytherians travel to the four corners of the globe to survive and prosper, over the past decade (with the assistance of various EEC-funding grants) we have witnessed the unique phenomena of a generation of young local people staying on Kythera.
The second issue to vex the locals is the sudden decision by the Mayor and the Local Council to allow wind generators on the island, without any public discussion, debate or insight. While most Kytherians are only too aware of the global environmental issues, we also have TVs and see the docos and when your olive trees flowers 3 months early, you ‘get’ the Greenhouse effect, there appears to be nothing in this ‘greening’ for Kythera…… not even a watt.. Basically and from the little information that has been leaked, the 60 or more wind-power towers would be set-up by a company to generate and sell all the energy off-shore... Not one kilowatt of power would stay on Kythera, in-fact if there is a black-out the wind towers cannot even power themselves. It is said that island only needs 3-4 wind-towers to meet all local demands including the heavy demand placed in the summer tourist season…….so why 60???????
The wind-towers would be between 60-110 metres high and placed 200 metres apart and here is the big banana friends………they each need between 500 and 1500 cubic metres of cement in their foundations to strengthen against the winds. Now each Cement truck takes approx. 10 cubic metres…you do the numbers. That is between 50 -150 cement trucks x 60 wind-towers…….that is a lot of cement and a lot Euros. There has got to a 'greener' way.
Something rotten in the state of Denmark my friend???? And it stinks to high-heaven of money-laundering, back-patting and a heavy dose of concrete. It is heartbreaking to see the daily desecration of our common inheritance – Kythera/Tsirigo, irreversibly prostituted by a few short-sighted buffoons in places of power.
Finally I take heart from the local groundswell of opposition that is moving beyond the kafenions (cafes) and into the auditoriums with clear, concise agendas…..ACT NOW!!!!!
More to come on this subject.
Anna "don't spare the syntax" Cominos
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