Friday, October 21, 2016

How the other half lives...

It's getting cold here in Naousa, and that's no joke.

A visit yesterday to my favorite "cava" -- wine store where wine can be bought by the liter -- provided comfort beyond excellent retsina.  I also got some validation for constantly feeling cold, especially at home.  As winter seeps in, most Greeks are very worried about keeping their families warm when money is scarcer than ever. 

I had responded‎ to the  usual "How are you?" with "COLD!" -- having spent recent days not feeling well, holed up in my apartment where the temperature hovered around 60 degrees (Fahrenheit)...and also wondering if I was just being a Miami Lightweight. But Naousa is at a relatively high altitude -- think nearby ski resorts -- and gets cold early. My wine seller replied: "No kidding. I wear a sweater to bed." Wow, I'm not the only one!

I not only felt vindicated, but determined to find a solution beyond a simple electric heater someone had given me that wasn't doing the trick while pulling costly electricity. Yes, my studio apartment does have central heating, but it is dependent on heating oil that has risen in cost by over 20 percent since April and is not yet available to us. My space is small, but If the average household here needs 200 liters a month X 93 cents and is living (like half of all Greeks) on a poverty level income of 600 Euros a month --  well, you do the math...

More and more Greeks are being forced to find other solutions, like converting to wood stoves in villages and big cities. Or buying 1-2 small heating appliance and toughing it out with heavy clothes 24/7. Schools are not escaping this growing problem. The Greek People are living an economic nightmare and are now facing yet another "austerity measure" winter.

‎Yesterday I finally invested 80 Euros in what is essentially an "electric radiator," even though I will soon be returning to the USA (to vote!). The new models don't use as much electricity and have an automatic thermostat.  And wow again! My apartment is now at 66-68F, though I can't yet be sure of the electricity expenditure or how I will fare when it gets much colder. And I'm not sure when my building might get organized to buy heating oil to rev up the system. Or how much that will cost.  Or if when I return, I will just limp along without central heating, wearing sweaters to bed again when needed just like many others here in Naousa and thoughout Greece. 

So if you don't have a heating (or AC) problem, be grateful. Because this is how the other half lives -- in Greece and too many other places. ‎

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Naousa Independence Day (for real!)

Yesterday I shed a tear singing "Tin Ipermaho," for real -- not like when we sang it on March 25th during a church play in my hometown of Stockton, California. Then we had some stereotypical/idealized idea of Greek Independence Day circa 1821. I memorized quite a few patriotic poems in those days, and can still see my mother Angeliki proudly decked out in a traditional Greek costume.

But yesterday was October 17th, the day that Naousa was finally liberated from the Ottoman Empire. Naousa did join the revolution in 1821. But the local Turkish ruler responded by killing 10,000 Greeks and burning the town to the ground in 1822 -- think "scorched earth" in overdrive. About 1500 captives (women/children and priests) chose suicide rather than change religions and live with the Turks‎. For those reason, Naousa was renamed "Heroic Naousa" by royal decree in 1955.

In ensuing years‎, the Greeks in that area (i.e. Naousa, Edessa, Veria, Alexandria, etc.) did their part to undermine Turkish rule. Southern Greece won independence circa 1821 and the north finally caught up in in 1912-13. Makedonomachi (Macedonian Freedom Fighters) like Zafeirakys and Karatassos were among those remembered and honored yesterday with the somber laying of wreaths in the town park.

But be‎fore that came a special church service ("Doxologia") in Naousa's Mitropolis Church -- replete with numerous crown-wearing bishops and a gaggle of  local priests. Not to mention elected officials, representatives from all the schools, and members of the military. (No Separation of Church and State here, even though the current leftist government has caused a firestorm by proposing the removal of religious classes from school curricula. They think religion should be taught in churches and at home...)

Meanwhile, Greek flags were raised high, and led by candle-bearing bishops we sang "Tin Ipermaho" and the National Anthem -- for real.‎ 

My kind of holiday!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Naousa Great-Grandmother back in the news!

‎Still searching for paperwork that proves my father was born in Naousa, so a few days ago I went back to the Town Hall to ask again. I say again, because last year I was told that all the town documents were burned in 1949 during the Civil War. But I decided to try again, what the heck. These administrative chores here in Greece often take hours if not days, so my strategy was let's get started...

The office staff was both cordial and patient. Again I was told that there would be nothing, but make an application anyway in case the head archivist can find something. Then I noticed that on the same application you could also seek a death certificate. So I added the name of my father's grandmother, Aikaterina Koutsiouki. She died in 1955. 

Bingo! Her death had been recorded in the book, and her death certificate was in the computer. Within minutes I had a copy of a document that recorded the date and time and also verified the address that I had come to know -- even though the home was bought subsequently and torn down to be replaced by a new one. The doctor of record was her grand nephew Giorghos‎ Koukoulas (now 91), who noted that she died at 90 of old age. 

My pro-yiayia's birthplace is Pyrgos, Kozanis, known then as Katranitsa. Her father was Georgios Lalas, paterfamilias of a large clan still thriving in Naousa. And Her husband Kostantinos was a Makedhonomachos (Macedonian freedom fighter) who died in an Ottoman prison in 1904. They had four kids: Antonis (Tony Gust), Eleni (Huntalas), Paraskevouda (my Yiayia), and Maria. All except Maria went to the states. She married Nikos Theofilos, a soldier from around Corinth who subsequently became mayor -- only to be asassinated by Communist guerillas in 1949 and hung in the town square (as reported by TIME Magazine). They named a street leading to that square after him. I come down that street often...

Here's a photo of "RiRi" Koutsiouki circa 1924 with her grand children Georgios and Soula Theophilou. Yes, the Soula that we in the family know as Thea Soula in Paleion Faliron (Athens). She has lived there since 1949 except for a few years‎ in Salt Lake City and LA where her late husband Mario -- also a soldier stationed in Naousa who fell in love! -- studied and worked. She is my favorite Greek relative in Greece, and I have quite a few. 

Before I left the Town Hall, I also had a letter to prove that there is no record of Efstathios ‎Xanthopoulos because the town records were burned. Not sure how that helps -- but I do now unexpectedly know more about my great-grandmother  to help trace back to my grandmother and then my father, as I build my case for a Greek identity card.

And the whole transaction took only about 45 minutes, surely some sort of Greek bureaucracy record -- opa!

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Day 5 of Thessaloniki city bus strike, is any help on the way?

I go online to get my news here in Naousa -- no TV at home! -- but I obviously need to do a better job. When I arrived at the Thessaloniki bus station Saturday AM, there was no #12 bus waiting to take me to my destination. Not a single city bus in sight. The drivers were on strike -- a good thing for taxis, even though the 23-year-old driving me did not not see the situation that way. "Rather not get a ride than benefit from others' misery." They call that "filotimo" here.

2300 bus drivers are not so sympathetic, as they have not been paid for July or August. The bus company is privately held, but receives a per passenger subsidy from the government which I heard had been cut.  The matter is apparently in the courts. Mayor Ioannis Boutaris is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Here hard to know anything for sure, that's how complicated and depressed things are. ‎ 

Sunday being the last day of the 81st Thessaloniki International Fair‎, city officials put some buses into circulation. Traffic was a mess. Thankfully I was in the village of Koimisis, near Serres. Nice long, quiet walk around town Sunday night -- which is one reason why I love villages. Women were chatting at a gyro sandwich place. Men were quietly watching a soccer match on TV. But Monday it was back to reality, and the strike continues.

Thessaloniki is a town of a half million people. It's not clear what tomorrow will bring for working people and students struggling to get places. ‎Who wants to drive their own car with gas at about $6 a gallon? Thursday and Friday the ferries will also be on strike, while the Shipping Ministry is deploying a vessel to Lesvos to provide housing for some of the migrants again homeless after a bad fire in an overcrowded hot spot. Many Greeks meanwhile are not taking kindly to the assimilation of so many foreign kids into the already stressed public school system. There are still over 60,000 refugees in Greece, including 20K unaccompanied children. ‎ Prime Minister Tsipras just made his case at he UN, but will anything immediately tangible come of it?

Oh, did I mention that the Egnatia Road -- one of Greece's biggest and newest highways, which cost 6.5 billion Euros to build & has 50 million Euros in annual revenues -- is on sale for 100 million Euros? It's part of the deal with the infamous Creditors. ‎ Nothing big financially can happen without permission from THEM...not even, I might add, promises made by the New Democracy opposition party a few days ago.

Maybe those Creditors can get Thessaloniki buses running again, if you know what I mean. Why not?

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Lekani, village of refugees also in need of Family Trees!

(NOTE: Clean-up/repairs are well underway in flash flood impacted villages. And people are abuzz analyzing Prime Minister Tsipras's annual address Saturday night opening the 81st Thessaloniki International Fair. He said, amongst other things, that: there is light at the end of the tunnel, thousands more doctors/nurses will be added to the nation's hospitals, and the Thessaloniki Metro would be done soon...But is there now another EU loan crisis on the horizon?)

Per my previous post I made the bus to Lekani, Kavalas, but it was packed...and my hostesses were waiting as planned in the town square to show me a good time. (I just continue to wonder how exactly I earned VIP treatment every time I visit Girls School graduates 45 years or so later. But I digress...)

Many have noted that the Greek people have been amazingly kind to the Syrian refugees even as they are in dire straights financially. It's because many come from refugee families -- especially during the Exchange of Populations in 1922. Lekani was a Turkish Village, so the Turks went to modern Turkey (remnant of the Ottoman Empire) and Greeks in Turkey came to Greece‎. Many were Pontian people from the Black Sea area. Sofia Makridhou's father came from Trapezounda when he was 7. She herself spent 15 years working in Cologne, Germany, after graduating in 1970.  Then back in Thessaloniki as a single parent, Sofia worked for 24 years in a hospital taking food trays to the patients. Stability is a hard-won attribute in these parts, but resilience is rampant.‎

Currently only a few hundred people live in Lekani full-time, where the mai‎n crop is potatoes -- and like many places, the younger people have left and visit during the summer or special holidays. Another Girls School grad said her grandfather was a teacher; there were then over 500 kids in the grammar school, many speaking only the Pontian dialect and trying to learn Greek.  It was recently reported that 1.5 million Greeks have left the country since the financial crisis began, the "brain drain" (in English!) frequently referenced as seriously hampering economic development.

On the September 4th, Lekani celebrated it's annual "Potato Festival," created some years back to bring people to the village to both eat and buy potatoes (10 kilo bag for 6 EU) -- and to celebrate the Pontian Heritage, which goes back to the Ancient Greeks. I was blown away not by just the dances -- my absolute favorites! -- but by the town's junior dance group. They were totally amazing, right down to the 5-year-olds at the end of the line. It was a very good day.

At lunch with the Makridhous, I started on the topic of Family Trees and how much I lamented not having asked my grandparents the salient questions. At which point, Sofia's mother Zoi ("Life") -- who had pictures from my 1969 visit stashed in her plastic photo box -- chimed in, "I didn't ask my parents/grandparents those questions either."  More information lost!

Ask those questions of your parents/grandparents immediately and write the names‎ of your ancestors down for your kids and grandkids...have I said this before?

Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the Verizon Wireless 4G LTE network.