Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Girl in a Steel Tank

Living on Ikaria, especially during the dry summer months requires one to be duly concerned about water conservation and usage. The fresh water supply is controlled by the local entities and in our situation by the village water authorities. As such, they try to regulate and conserve as much water as possible during these arid periods. Most locals have some kind of water reservoir placed on the roof of their homes.These reservoirs can hold anywhere from about fifty gallons to several hundred gallons of water, depending on their size and shape.

We also had a reservoir perched on top of our roof, one made of metal, painted bright green (I don't know why) by my father. The life span of such a metal box before it tends to rust out and leak water all over the roof is determined by how well it is maintained. Since the water entering the reservoir comes directly from the mountains, it is unfiltered and contains small amounts of dirt and sand, that through time accumulate at the bottom of the cistern. About once a year or so this sediment needs to be removed. One would assume some kind of flushing mechanism would be installed in the water tanks, but no, that was not the case with our tank, that would be too convenient. In order to clean out the insides, the flow to the tank would have to be turned off, and all the retained water would have to be drained, leaving a few inches of water in the bottom along with the build-up. This presents a problem of how to remove the accumulated watery grime.The top opening of our tank was no bigger than the size of a regular manila folder. It would be pried open then someone would stick a mop in thru the opening slush around the remaining water and sediment and hope that most of it would exit out the outflow pipe.

This was not a very effective way of debris removal as my plumber, Niko remarked the day he came to clean out the tank. Jokingly, he suggested a better way would be to have a small person in the tank with a mop and sponge to soak up all the water and sediment. Taking his peculiar suggestion literally, my mind immediately flashed to the only individual diminutive enough to fit through the small opening, my eight year old daughter, Andrea. It took some coaxing and assurances that there were no snakes, lizards, or other such creepy monsters inhabiting the dark and spooky water tank.I reassured her the plumber and I would be outside the tank at all times, holding flashlights and shining the way for her. After a few moments of deep thought and the possibility of acquiring another Barbie doll for her collection, Andrea gallantly agreed to this unusual plumbing experiment.

Lifting her up over the metal opening I slowly lowered her into the foreboding, green, watery repository, while the disbelieving plumber shined a rather dim light into the cavernous tank. I handed her a bucket, a sponge, and a mop. Cautiously, I coached her to crawl from corner to corner removing the damp sediment. In less than fifteen minutes, either out of fear or claustrophobia, she emerged clutching the bucket in her little hands, and reeking of dampness. Her bathing suit, once a brilliant Barbie pink, now crusted over with mud, was the shade of bubble gum infused with chocolate syrup. Happily though, she acknowledged the bravery she exhibited in the daunting feat of cleaning out the disgusting water tank. It wasn't till later that same afternoon that she emphatically swore on a pile of Barbies that she would never go into that tank again. 

To this very day in the kafenion around our village, the story of the brave eight year old girl,who was lowered into and cleaned out a damp, dirty water tank is still being told by a retired plumber, while thinking out loud to himself, "What is wrong with her father?" 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Stubbed Toes, Bruised Egos

Topping off the list of natural wonders on Ikaria is the diversity of beautiful and exotic beaches. Some are tucked out-of-the-way secluded beaches others are umbrella laced sandy beaches stretching for several kilometers. The north side of the island has the fine white to gray sandy beaches, that one can find in semi-tropical places like Florida. The south side however, is rutted with numerous beaches made up with everything from giant boulders to small pebbles. They are round and smooth, made of quartz, basalt or marble. Negotiating such a beach setting becomes quite a Herculean effort for those used to granular type beaches of let’s say California or the Great Lakes. One fascinating activity for me to watch is the first time beachgoer getting around the slippery rocky beaches.

What follows is a typical entry and exit into and out of the Aegean waters. Leaving the cool shade of the sea pines, the first obstacle one faces is how to overcome the scorching heat radiating from the stones that have been baked all day by the Greek sun. Some sort of footwear is definitely required as to not burn one’s feet. As one carefully walks to the water’s edge, the footwear is removed, and immediately one is confronted with the wet, slippery rocks. Now, extreme balance is required to enter the water without falling on one’s face, or turning an ankle in a desperate maneuver of water access. There are only two options for this tricky entry. Very popular with the young is the macho dive, in which one takes running leaps to the edge of the water. They run so fast that their feet never seem to touch the hot rocks. When the water looks barely deep enough to be safe, they dive head first into the chilly Aegean. Using this technique one avoids having to traverse the rocky bottom.
Then there is the exact opposite, the calculated creep, usually employed by the older crowd. Here one cautiously and methodically approaches the water, gingerly enters while trying to maintain balance on the treacherous rocks. When comfortable enough, one submerges their torso into the refreshing water, trying desperately to dodge splashing children and knock-you down waves.
After enjoying a cool swim in the Aegean, the arduous task of exiting commences. One’s first attempt might be to waddle out of the water like a duck, pushing up the rocky incline. With arms flailing wildly, one quickly realizes walking on just heels makes one slip back in the water, with no traction, and  guarantees the of stubbing of a toe or two. Another type of exiting is the salamander walk. Basically this requires one to bend over and crawl out of the water on all fours. This makes one look like an early amphibian crawling out of the primeval ooze. This technique, ungraceful as it is, will work if there are no waves, or else one will be repeatedly pelted in the face by the constant watery action. Sometimes walking backwards out of the water works, but then not being able to see behind oneself is a hazard. Slipping on a slick, algae covered rock and ending up on one’s derriere is a high probability.

The best way of exiting, to me, seems that one should stand erect, slightly bent at the waist, using only the toes and balls of the feet, with arms spread out for balance. Take small steady steps towards dry land, while looking down in front to navigate around any obstacles. Once on shore, one’s immediate instinct is to dart quickly back to the shade of the sea pines. Moving expeditiously over the searing rocks you arrive at your sheltered destination only to look around, realizing disappointedly that your sandals are at the edge of the water, twenty-five scorching meters away.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Lady Buys a Weapon

Enter any small Ikarian grocery store, the kind that resembles a glorified hole in the wall, and you will find surprisingly large variety of food and non- food items. Among the fresh fruit and vegetables you will find shelves crammed from ceiling to floor with a vast collection of canned, wrapped and boxed items, and usually one or two articles that will leave you scratching your head as to "what is this?” The day I went shopping at my favorite grocery store in Agios Kirikos turned out to be a busy shopping day for locals.  I found myself impatiently waiting in the check-out line behind a rather plump but pleasant elderly woman, buying her daily goods. After paying for her groceries she suddenly realized that she needed one more household item, a fly swatter. Immediately she let the store owner know that she wanted one that would not break on the first swat on those pesky Greek flies, like the last one she had, but one that was sturdy yet flexible and strong enough to last a full summer of fly swatting.          
        The grocery owner, listening intently to her request for such a fly swatter, quickly reached behind the counter and proudly produced the exact item she requested. Not to be bamboozled, the doubtful senior citizen wanted to see this promoted fly swatter in real action. The grocer, eager to make the sale, pointedly replied, “Just see how effectively it kills flies.” Hardly were those words spoken when he spotted the nearest unfortunate fly buzzing around the Turkish delights, behind him. With one swift, deadly motion of his wrist, he smashed the fly up against the wall, leaving a dark smudge on the newly painted surface. The customer impressed, but still not convinced of the over- all quality of the fly swatter, needed additional evidence of its destructive force. Leaping over the counter, like Superman, the grocer spotted two other possible victims flying around the store. Stealthily tracking them from the fresh fruit stand to the back of the store by the soap display, he methodically in a matter of a few seconds, proved his point twice over.
        Finally convinced of the fly swatter’s overall value and construction, the customer plunked down her one Euro, and proudly marched out of the store holding her groceries in one hand and brandishing her new weapon of destruction, complete with dangling parts and guts of the unfortunate flies in the other.       

Monday, April 20, 2015

What a Day

     It was one of those perfectly unblemished summer days that we freely imagine and wistfully long for, when the mountain winds caress the warm, sun-baked rocks on a quiet beach. There, gently rolling in, are the waves rising from the dark, cerulean sea tumbling upon the receptive shore. Then the rocks, the rocks that have stood eons as a garrison lining the shore, having withstood both tempest winds and crashing waves, provide a respite for weary wayfarers. 

     It was during this perfect summer day the three major players the wind, the rocks, and the waves, each gave testimony as to why their presence made it so. The wind, huffing and puffing, and always in a hurry, spoke up first, "It seems to me, that to have such a day, my wind needs to be at a certain speed and with just the right amount of force. Otherwise there would be no gently lapping waves, and with too much wind it would produce a blustery day."

    "Well, your winds might blow both strong and weak," replied the rocks in a tarry voice, "but we are the ones, large and small that deflect and direct the winds around this beach. We offer shade and protection from the gust. Without us, there would be no perfect summer day."

    Finally, the waves in a rumbling voice spoke up, "You both have good points about your contributions for such a splendid summer day, but don't forget, it is the force of the waves that can move you, rocks all around this beach.  It is I, who really generates the perfect summer day." With that, all three dramatists once again, resumed claiming credit with slightly elevated voices as to who makes the perfect summer beach day.

    As this cacophony continued, a faint and distant voice could be heard. A fatigued human voice, pleading for help far out on the wide- spread horizon, was noticed first by the perceptive waves. The wind, also sensing danger, alertly looked around and immediately detected a tiny fishing boat. The fisherman waving his arms in desperation, was floundering in the sea. Rushing to the boat, the wind saw it was in disrepair and full of smoke.

 Calling upon his companion the waves, together they cautiously escorted the speck of a fishing vessel towards the shore, where the rocks were waiting for the boats' arrival. Seeing the shore quickly approaching, the fisherman made ready to disembark. He flung his line over the nearest large rock and secured the boat to the boulder. Scrambling to shore the exhausted fisherman looked up at the wind, over at the waves, and leaned feebly against a rock.

    He cocked his head back and was heard to say in a crackling voice, "Thank you, if it wasn't for you waves who first saw me, and you wind who helped steer my boat to shore, and you rocks who secured my boat, it would only have been a matter of time before I would have perished on the open sea. I know that the three of you working together saved my life, thank you, thank you, thank you," said the grateful fisherman. 

    In a flash of realization, the wind acknowledged that just as the three elements collaborated together to rescue the man they also together create, the optimal beach day.

"If one of us is missing, then there is no perfect day," chimed in the waves.

"We are all important and play a role," said the rocks.

   So, next time you are outdoors to appreciate such an occurrence, know it is nature working all her elements in harmony resulting in those perfect summer days.      

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Ikaria July 1970

                                                                        Ikaria July 1970

There exist an island eight to eighteen hours from Athens, but in my mind no distance exist between us. We approach her cautiously, huddled tightly together on a wet deck of a slow churning ship. She rises majestically in the distant cerulean pelagos, delicately shrouded by the dawn’s early mist. Her ghostly presence stills my thoughts and races my heart. The morning fog, the temptress wind, the asperity of the mountains make a grand entrance fit for the noblest and virtuous of kings.

Shaped by the hands of nature a collage of air, land and water, she plays, she teases, she torments the inhabitants of her body and calls out to them. “Come play with my body and I will play with your souls”. She will not forsake them but in the end, survival is justified only for the living.

                                                          On the left there’s the sea

                                                          On the right there’s the land

                                                           And in between can be found man

Her winds whistle through the pines and race down her lonely rocky roads. Yes, I will not forsake you she whispers but in the end. Man will struggle and he shall survive with his plot of earth all within the face of time.

The village, nestled warm and snug, half way up the mountain side, revealed as a pattern of white specks, specks you could brush off your shoulder with a swipe of your hand. Your feet sing along on the winding road and in the night it becomes your captor. “Follow me,” it says, “Your destiny lies in me.” You follow one step after another, one thought after another, wondering about the scenes  your captor has witnessed and knowing for the moment you are part of them.

The light shines, it shines low and dim in the old house with the fading whitewash. The ancient stones planted in the patio greet your weary body and lead you towards its’ haven. First, the kitchen, filled with countless aromas seemingly still drifting from the cooking pots  carefully arranged in the fireplace . Solid wooden benches along the walls seat visitors coming to narrate the news of the day. The three tiny bedrooms, all with icons, closely watching and protecting their human spirits, providing respite for the slumbering souls. The store room, dark and dusty, permeated forever by the scent of olive oil. On its’ wall dangle the implements of survival, massive amphoras for oil, wine and water, a handmade wooden loom, and the universal tools used by farmers eons ago.

Here on this mystic isle you find love, you find hate, as you search for the dreams of man. So, in the end you too can say, “I played among those gods of the heart.” The sun is always high, the moon is always bright, and the stars parade before you every night. This island my friend is your world and you shall be all right.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Swallows don’t just return to Capistrano, they also return to our little seaside eatery in Xilosirti, Ikaria. Earlier in the summer, a pair of swallows found themselves flying through the wide open windows and doors of our local restaurant.

 As they flew nonchalantly in and out of the dining room, to their feathery amazement they discovered the ideal perch on which to build their snug little nest. This perch just happened to be located on top of a light fixture that was hanging precariously in the middle of the restaurant. Oblivious to the noise and crowds of the restaurant, the unconventional birds arduously built their tiny mud nest, and quickly produced three bird eggs. Within weeks three diminutive chick heads were seen bobbing up and down in the nest with their beaks perpetually wide open.  The parent swallows continued to make frequent forays in and out of the restaurant gathering sustenance for their young stock.

The owners of the restaurant, as well as the customers became quite accustomed to the new tenants and their low flying aerial antics.  Tourists and locals from all over the island came to eat at the restaurant just so they could witness and take pictures of the frolicking birds. Many of us became bird watching addicts, popping in every day to get the latest report as to the health and well being of the chicks. Quite often we noticed one of the bird parents stoically perched on top of the huge flat screen TV that was fastened to the wall at the far end of the restaurant. The bird casually observing the hustle and bustle of the busy eatery as patrons filtered in and out till the early morning hours. To protect customers from the bird droppings, tables were re-arranged and a large piece of cardboard placed on the floor under the light fixture that supported the celebrated bird nest. Customers and wait staff avoided that part of the restaurant, but during one exciting Euro Cup match, a patron celebrating the winning goal in his enthusiasm, stood up, jumped around, stepped on the bird poop laden cardboard and slid half way across the restaurant. Customers witnessing this amazing gymnastic feat applauded his dexterity and keen sense of balance thunderously; all the while the birds seemed unimpressed by the wild gyrations of the soccer fan.

By the end of the summer two of the three birdies survived and fledged, hopefully to return the next summer and roost in the same nest, still attached to the dangling light fixture, and once again to entertain and delight customers with their aerial acrobatics.

I couldn’t help but wonder how quickly the swallows, their chicks, and their nest would be forcibly evicted if this aviary incident took place in the States. No sooner would you utter the words, “Big Bird”, than the health department would materialize with hazard suites, oxygen tanks, and gallons of disinfectant to rid the Aves intruders. Ikarians for the most part take a more amicable St. Francis approach towards birds, sympathetic and compassionate, that’s why I hope to see swallows flying around my neighborhood for a long, long time.

Where's The Money From?

International money conspiracies, real or imaginary, seem to pop up on a regular basis like wild fires in the mountains of Ikaria. A recently uncovered banking ploy involves the rise of the new affluent Russians and their attempts to money launder their Rubles, Euros and U.S. dollars primarily in Cyprus and in Greece. Getting money out of Russia seems to be an ongoing and lucrative activity since the time of the Russian Czars. Wealthy Russians noting the somewhat lax banking laws and regulations in Greece and in Cyprus have established both real and bogus accounts in both countries. It has been rumored, and there is some credence to this rumor from the U.S. Treasury department, that there are more U.S. counterfeit one hundred dollar bills circulating in Russia than anywhere else in the world. This rumor certainly hasn’t escaped notice with our provincial banking institutions on Ikaria.


Arriving in Ikaria from the States during the summer of 2012, with a handful of one hundred dollar bills fresh from Chase bank, I was anxious to exchange them for Euros before the inevitable summer swoon of the dollar against the Euro occurred. Clutching dearly on to my American passport I entered the diminutive, but highly air-conditioned Alpha bank at Agios Kirikos, capital of Ikaria. I looked around somewhat warily and noticed there was little customer traffic in the bank, so I confidently figured this was going to be an easy in easy out banking transaction. Then I quickly recalled past banking experiences and remembered, not too fondly, there is no such thing as easy in easy out in Ikaria.

Immediately, as I handed the teller my freshly minted hundred dollar bills, she looked up at me with a suspicious glare undoubtedly trying to figure out what ruse I was trying to perpetrate. To ease the situation I promptly produced my American passport which she grabbed with both hands and proceeded to closely examine the outside cover. Once satisfied, she opened it to the identification page glancing at my prison mug shot type photo, then at me during what seemed to be several uneasy moments. Finally, she picked up the hundred dollar bills, rubbed each one gently between her thumb and forefinger, then she held each one up to the light examining them all for any tell tale sign that they might be counterfeit. Suddenly, with one harried scoop she picked up the bills along with my passport, stood up, turned and walked to a copy machine situated at the back of the bank. In no time she zeroxed the main pages of my passport along with both sides of the one hundred dollar bills. Returning nonchalantly to her desk she proceeded to copy down by hand all the serial numbers of the bills onto the official exchange form. Giving me a copy of the form, she then stapled all the zeroxed pages to the exchange document and filed them away, along with the hundred dollar bills in a large coffee stained manila folder. Seeing the muddled expression on my face she calmly reassured me, “We have to do this because of all the fake hundred dollar bills coming out of Russia.” Nodding my head with approval I understood the ramifications to a small bank on Ikaria if it was to get stuck with a manila folder full of counterfeit one hundred dollar bills.

So, thanks to this new crop of Russian counterfeiters , next time I try to exchange my American dollars who knows what the bank might require for such a transaction, fingerprints, eye scans, signed affidavits, oaths of perpetual truthfulness, my computer passwords? The answer seems to be ditch the U.S. hundred dollar bills and enter the 21 st. century by just carrying an ATM card, but this being Ikaria I am left wondering what are the chances that any one of the four ATM machines on Ikaria might be working on the day I need one?