Back From Greece

Mark and I have just returned from a much needed month in Greece. People keep asking me what we did while there. Well, other than seeing a couple of ruins, we did little other than eat, sleep, drink, and see family. I really wish I could give a more exciting synopsis, but that is truly all there was.

We spent a few hot and polluted days in Athens, checking out the Acropolis and taking care of some paperwork (I’m working on getting my Greek citizenship – EU Passport BABY! – and as a digression, Mark won’t be getting his citizenship anytime soon since all men under the age of 45 must serve military duty).  Then a couple of relaxing days on the island of Samos, just off the coast of Turkey.  Our final resting spot was Ikaria, the mothership, the place where my entire lineage on both sides of my family are from.  Hey, it’s not incest.  It’s pedigree.  There are about maybe 2000 people on the island year round, and that number swells to about 10K or 15K in the summer.

Ikaria island has been the subject of CNN’s recent series on Blue Zones – places in the world where people consistently live to over 100 years old.  For Americans, this is a fascinating topic, one wrought with mystique and envy.  Here, I can sum it up pretty quickly why they live so long and are so youthful into such late years.

  • They eat what they grow.  Nothing in packages, boxes, or cans.  And they don’t use fertilizers other than goat shit and food scraps, and no pesticides.
  • They walk EVERYWHERE.  Seriously.  You try hiking an hour down a mountain then 2 hours back up it twice a day for your whole entire life and see what kind of shape you’re in when you’re 95.
  • They work to live.  They’re all farmers, so the work they do supports their life.  But they aren’t working 18 hour days and come home to lists of crap to do.  They have less stress in their lives.
  • The elders have purpose.  They don’t sit in their house and watch TV while their brains rot.  They have to feed the goats, harvest the crops, water the fields.  If you show me an 100 year old in the US that still has a job, I’ll show you someone that’s still happy.

One notable thing we did while there was go to a Panayiti – this is a village’s annual celebration.  It’s a little fundraiser for the village, but it involves food and wine and as much dancing as your legs can take.  They usually start around 10pm, and this particular one didn’t wind down until about 9AM the following morning.  The band played continuously that whole time – fantastic.  The dance of choice in Ikaria is called the Ikariotiko, which is basically the island’s dance.  Each island has it’s own dance.  This dance can last 20 MINUTES if the band is feeling tortuous, and you’ve never been so tired and sweaty after a dance.  For Ikarians, the Ikariotiko isn’t a dance, it’s a calling.

We left at about 5:30 in the morning, which is really when the party got started.  It was a mercy escape really, as I was sleeping in the back of the car by this point (pregnancy will do that to you), my dad and husband were drunk beyond comprehension, and my poor mom was sick of babysitting the two of them.  They came back RAGING, and I spent the next 10 minutes laughing so hard because my dad could hardly stand and my husband was singing the Ikariotiko out the window.  At some point I had the werewithall to record his rantings… shared for your listening pleasure here.  We’re driving down a very dark and winding road at 6am at this point, so the screen is dark except the occasional view of the road.  Mark, when drunk, gets very philosophical, as you’ll see.  You can imagine the Greeks LOVED that about him.

Anyway, we’re finally back and settling into life in these United States.  We’re missing our naps at 3pm every afternoon, missing the fresh produce daily, and the nightly sunsets on the balcony with fresh grapes, wine, my Aunt Nota’s goat cheese, and some olives.  It’s life back to lists and to dos.  But my head no longer hurts from trying to speak Greek, my back no longer hurts from sleeping on a psuedo mattress, and I don’t have to wash dishes outside in a bucket anymore.  Coming home is such sweet sorrow.

A huge thank you goes out to my Mom and Dad for spending the month with us.

Ikaria, Greece (my nationality) turns down a paid day off?

For those that know me, my family is Greek. Half of my family still lives in Greece, on a small island called Ikaria. If you’ve heard of the legend of Icarus and Daedelus, where Icarus flew to close to the sun and the wax from his home-made wings melted, plummeting him into the earth, well, that’s our island. Yup, descendants of a legendary testosterone-ladden teenager that died a young and embarrassing death.

Well, Ikaria marches to the beat of it’s own band. Here’s an example.

A small group of civil servants on the Aegean island of Icaria decided not follow their colleagues in the rest of Greece and take the leave the government had offered for the funeral of Archbishop Christodoulos on Thursday, it emerged yesterday.

The vast majority of public services in Greece were shut for the funeral but the public officials on Icaria, an island known for doing things its own way, took a stand against the decision to give bureaucrats the day off.

“Civil servants are the employees of the state, not the Church,” said the municipal staff in the village of Raches in a statement. “The death of a Church leader cannot and should not lead to a holiday in the public sector.”

The mayor of Raches, Fanourios Karoutsos, insisted that the employees made the decision on their own. But he supported their stance.

“There are some serious questions: Why should only some people have the chance to mourn? Why should you have the day off if you cannot go to the funeral?” he told Kathimerini.

“The decision [to give civil servants the day off] might have some logic in Athens but in regional areas, it has none.”

Icaria’s residents are renowned for keeping unique business hours that see all kinds of stores and services open at night instead of during the day. Although the sight throws visitors off, locals say it is part of their way of life.

“We are not slackers, as some people try to portray us,” said Karoutsos.

“It’s just that we are at the opposite end of being vain. We do not believe in stress for its own sake nor in catering to artificial needs.”

More than 8,000 people live on the small island, which is known for its rare flaura and fauna as well as its thermal springs.