Feels Like Autumn

It is the first of October and the edge has gone off the heat. Overnight temperatures have dropped to the pleasant low twenties and the breeze is refreshingly cool rather than akin to the blast from an open oven door. The air has cleared and visibility is infinite. Walking to St Nicholas, some of the thyme bushes have started to flower again and the sage bushes are greening over. The stones on the quay are wet in the morning, slick with the mist that settles on them overnight. The second spring is on its way.

In the fields the new agricultural year has begun. Potatoes, cauliflowers and lettuces are being planted in anticipation of the first rains. The pomegranates are ripening and the first quinces have already appeared in the shops – an ephemeral and delicious fruit if you know what to do with it.

There are a few cruising yachts swinging to anchor in Pedi – all with EU flags as the border with Turkey is still closed to yachtsmen. German, French, Dutch and British flags are the dominant ones at the moment, driven eastwards by the storms over the Ionian and in the Cyclades in recent weeks. The Dodecanese is the turning point, the end of the line unless one is over-wintering in Cyprus. Wintering in cheap marinas in Turkey is not an option these days so decisions are no doubt being made as to whether to head north to Kos or south to Rhodes.

It is very dark in the mornings now. This was the scene at 5 a.m. yesterday morning, 30 September, as people waited to board the Blue Star to Rhodes.

By now you may have heard of the appeal to raise funds for Symi’s music school which is struggling to survive in the present economic climate. If you haven’t, I could not put it better than James Collins does in his Symi Dream blog. Just because children live on a small Greek island on the edge of Europe does not mean that they should be deprived of the opportunities to develop their talents. A team of dedicated music teachers comes over from Rhodes every Saturday to teach guitar, piano, violin and other instruments as this is not provided for in the school system but this needs funding. Usually parents are able to contribute to support this but with many of them out of work or struggling due to the virus and limited tourist season this year, these lessons are in jeopardy. Please go to the two links above to find out more about this worthwhile project and how you can help.

Symi April Blues

 

Human tourists might be unable to travel but the migratory birds have no such problems.  The barn swallows are nesting in quiet corners of Pedi and every evening we hear the owls calling across the valley.

As 1 May is a big holiday in Greece and falls on a Friday this year, once again a strict vehicle curfew will be in place for that weekend to prevent people leaving the cities to head for country houses and islands.  Effectively the lock down definitely remains in place until at least 4 May for this reason.  We are, however, expecting an announcement, either this evening or tomorrow, outlining the proposed stages for re-opening the country. Starting with easily controllable businesses such as bookshops and hair dressers and, eventually, seasonal hotels.

We have already been told that the most we can hope for is a 3 month tourist season, from 1 July to 30 September, with various restrictions in place concerning which country nationals will be allowed in and what measures will be taken to ensure the safety of both the tourists and the locals. This is all being hammered out with the EU as a whole to make a co-ordinated plan.  Proposals including opening up the larger hotels first but reducing the number of rooms occupied as it is easier to impose social distancing in larger premises, replacing buffets with table service, changing bars so that drinkers sit at spaced tables with table service and so on.

It will be interesting to see how the airlines tackle the issues of social distancing, disinfection and hygiene and still keep their planes in the air.  We saw huge changes in the travel industry after September 11 but this is going to be even more momentous.  Even if people like Mike O’Leary of Ryan Air complain about the costs involved and refuse to fly within the limitations unless the state picks up the shortfall, the reality is that airlines are going to have a hard time persuading people to travel on their planes unless they feel safe.  With awareness of the importance of hygiene at an all time high, the average person is more likely to be conscious of just what might be lurking on armrests, tray tables, back rests, upholstery and the like, not to mention plastic bins at security checks, airport seating and so on.  It is not just the recycled air which people have been complaining about for years.  Now the threat is not just catching a cold or flu. Unlike trains, buses and other forms of public transport which are a daily necessity for many people to get to and from work, it is rare for flying to be essential so consumers have the luxury of the last word.

We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Adriana

 

 

October Postcards from Symi

St Nicholas, Symi
The sunbeds and umbrellas have been packed away at St Nicholas beach in Pedi. They won’t need them to celebrate the Feast of St Nicholas at the tiny chapel on 6 December.

balcony
The salt-laden sea air is nibbling away at the terrace of this neglected Art Deco waterfront property in Pedi.

bird on a wall
Invisible bird.

bougainvillea with butterfly 30 Oct 2019
Butterfly and bougainvillea.

Camo cats
Camo cats.

classic yacht
 This elegant Canadian beauty was anchored in Pedi for several days last week.

Crocuses 2

crocuses
The squill flowers have faded away, replaced by ghostly drifts of pale autumn crocuses and other tiny plants.

Elegant lady
Another classic, this one with a Maltese flag.

fan
There has to a story behind this carefully placed ceiling fan blade, resting among the herb bushes in the Pedi valley.  Look at how green the sage bushes are after just a little rain.

from beach to boatyard
Apostoli is switching from beach mode to boatyard mode.  The sledges and skids are being positioned to start hauling out boats.

Gone fishing
The fishing season has started.  This small trawler will be away for days at a time, if not weeks.

kamares
That fragment of shadow is cast by the meander-pattern railing of the Art Deco house you saw earlier.  This dilapidated colonnade was once the Kamares taverna in Pedi.  

mimosa
Mimosa

misty morning
A misty morning in the valley.  The yellow nets on the left are to protect vegetable seed beds from birds and cats.

new green
We have only had two rainy days so far but they were enough to wash the dust from the trees and set the grass growing again.

On the skids
This method of hauling boats up the beaches for the winter dates back to Homeric times.  In Greece there is a strong sense of continuity. Why change something if it still works? The underwater profiles of the boats haven’t changed much over the centuries either and they are still built the old-fashioned way at the Haskas boatyard in Pedi, wielding an adze to shape the wood into ribs and frames.

Pedi beach hotel
The last guests have left the Pedi Beach Hotel and the staff are systematically packing everything away for the winter.

Reeds
If you look about you, there are a lot of reed beds down in Pedi, despite recent developments in the area.  Unfortunately on an island that is more vertical than horizontal, level building ground is in short supply and Symi’s precious wet lands are under threat. That’s the road to Panormitis zigzagging up the hill in the distance.

Road access
By Symi standards, this counts as ‘has convenient road access’.  Mind the step!

sage
Sage, oregano and thyme – the Symi trinity that scents the island’s hillsides every summer.

solar power
Solar power.

 

 

Greek Island Herbs

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The butterflies are enjoying the thyme as much as the bees.

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The path from Pedi to St Nicholas beach, fragrant with thyme, oregano and sage.

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On a more prosaic note, the new recycling bins have appeared in various places around the island. These ones are in the commercial port in Yialos.

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The Nissos Chios, the big car ferry that serves Symi on Wednesdays and Fridays during the summer.

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The wall is old but the tree is older. As the tree grows the dry stone wall is adjusted and modified to accommodate its changing shape and dimensions.

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Harani at dusk.

Symi has turned into a garden this year.  Those long soaking rains for months on end during the winter gave us a spectacular spring and the mountain herbs are putting on a show for far longer this year.  Even people who usually come in June are commenting on how bright the thyme flowers are this year.  While other countries may be worrying about their bee populations, Symi’s bees are absolutely wallowing in thyme pollen at the moment and the hills are humming.

Recycling has been a big topic for all parties involved in the recent elections.  In reality, the bins have obviously been in the pipeline for a while regardless.  Rhodes has had them for some time and this is not the first time we have seen bins for collecting aluminium cans on Symi – we covered the same story in the days of the Symi Visitor newspaper, more than a decade ago.  The crucial thing is not so much encouraging the locals and tourists to use them but that the contents are then actually taken away and recycled in a sustainable way.  Greece has very few recycling facilities and they are all on the mainland, a 17 hour ferry journey away.  Rubbish, whatever it is, tends to be high volume, so a cost effective way of transporting paper, bottles, cans, plastic and so on has to be provided to form the next link in the chain.  Otherwise we will see yet another recycling initiative fall by the wayside as the contents wind up in a landfill somewhere.  In the long term the real solution lies with the packaging industry finding better alternatives that are still effective for their purpose but without the negative environmental implications.

As many of you probably know, I look after holiday homes for various people and provide the services they need to keep them running smoothly.  Recently I received a consignment of all the sheets and towels necessary for one particular house. Three sets of everything.  They were ordered from an on line source by the owner of the property and arrived in big boxes by courier. Every single individual item, whether it be a sheet or a pillow case or a towel, was folded around a piece of cardboard to give it a neat shape.  It was then encased in a printed paper sleeve, giving details of the item.  Each of these was then in a separate resealable plastic envelope. That means that for each item of bedding or towels there were 3 items of packaging. What kind of madness is this?  Even if those separate pieces of packaging are recyclable, in a place where those particular materials can be recycled, bearing in mind that facilities are not universally available, is it really necessary to fold a pillowcase round a piece of cardboard, wrap it in a piece of printed paper and then put it in a plastic bag?  Many of us are old enough to remember when someone would have counted out the appropriate number of items. Laid them on a sheet of brown paper, wrapped it up into a parcel with tape or string and that would have been that.

Simples, as the meerkat says on the BBC!

 

 

April Postcards from Symi

blog 22 April 2019 a
Having a little Cape Town moment, the Vigla sports a rare ‘tablecloth’.

blog 22 April 2019 b
A goat on a mission.

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She went over the old call box, along the colonnade, hopped over the wall and disappeared up the alley.

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Feline supervision is essential to ensure that all is perfect for the new season.

blog 22 April 2019 e
Yum. Broadbeans.

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A mother and child moment.

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A tranquil Pedi – before the sunbeds and parasols are packed out for the summer.

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The ghost of a cake shop long gone.

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Poppies on the Pedi road.

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Free range, Symi style.

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Symi colours.

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Apostoli’s taverna, still in boatyard mode.

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There’s wild chamomile everywhere down in Pedi at the moment. The smell is like Golden Delicious apples.

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Cock of the walk.

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A sledge, waiting for a boat.

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Wheel barrow hitching a ride on a quad bike.

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There has to be a logical explanation for three taverna chairs balancing on a boat in a yard in the Pedi valley, but I really don’t know what it is.

blog 22 April 2019 q
All tied up.

Pedi in the Poppy Season

blog 3 April 2019 a
Even churches need spring cleaning. St George’s church in Pedi.

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Designer flocks with ear tags take the place of lawnmowers round here. Well, why waste good food?

blog 3 April 2019 c
An orderly view.

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A disorderly view.

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The end of the road.

blog 3 April 2019 g
Villa Jasmine, the house with the blue shutters, was a popular Symi Visitor property. You can now book through AirBnB.

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Pedi bay

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Wet lands in Pedi.

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This seasonal pond in Pedi is swarming with tadpoles. We hope that they reach maturity before the pond evaporates completely.

blog 3 April 2019 k
Reflections

blog 3 April 2019 l
This was supposed to be a marina in Pedi but something went a bit wrong with the dimensions so it is a haven for small boats instead. Yachts can moor on the outside. Unfortunately there are no actual shoreside facilities available as yet.

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Checking out the food chain. Pedi cats are generally very well fed, even in the winter months.

Pedi Peregrinations

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Nets

blog 12 March 19 a
This home owner has channeled the seasonal stream that passes his house.

blog 12 March 19 b
In a courtyard by the sea.

blog 12 March 19 c
Moss, weed, water grasses and algae are all flourishing in the flooded areas of Pedi bay.

blog 12 March 19 d
A fig leaf for spring.

blog 12 March 19 e
Sunlight catches wet rocks on the slopes above Pedi.

blog 12 March 19 f
Revealed.

blog 12 March 19 g
One of the places where the fresh water is seeping out of the rocks and into the sea.

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Boat-painting season on the beach at Apostoli’s in Pedi.

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The truth about crop circles.

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Clearing the football pitch and running track after the flood of 13 November 2017.

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Does blue suit me? Even the local livestock are doing their bit to clean up the sports field.

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Rural idyll.

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Twins!

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Clean Monday sky

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Early morning view.

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This was the island’s only bus when I first came here. Thanassis who is now a taxi driver was the bus driver. It was just narrow enough to make it down the steep short cut through Chorio and drop people off at the Chorio Hotel.

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The calm before the storm – Clean Monday afternoon.

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Considering the lilies of the field.

Rainy Days and Cyclamens

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The Greek Island cliche of the tourist brochures is blue skies, calm seas, endless sunshine and idyllic beaches. That is only part of the picture.  Greece, like all the other countries in the Europe, also has winter.  While it seldom involves metre deep snow drifts – unless you live in northern Greece – but it does usually involve a lot of wet stuff and that, in turn, translates into a lot of green stuff.  The Mediterranean climate has two defining characteristics – long hot dry summers and relatively mild wet winters with high rainfall.  Spring and Autumn are such short seasons, only 2-3 weeks between Summer and Winter that they hardly register at all in Southern Greece.  We would not survive those summer droughts without the winter rains and on naturally arid islands like Symi which have no springs or rivers, harvesting the winter rains in cisterns has been a way of life for thousands of years.

If you have only ever been to Greece in the popular summer months of July, August and September you may find it hard to imagine a landscape of wild cyclamens and silvery asphodels, bright green annual grasses and waist high corona daisies.  The first rains usually fall sometime in October, around the same time that the squills start punching through the sunbaked earth to remind us that Persephone is on her way back to Hades. Within a day or so a delicate green bloom tinges the rocky landscape as dry scrubby herb bushes regreen and grass seeds germinate.  The wild cyclamens poke small heart shaped leaves out of stony terrace walls and rocky hillsides.  The delicately scented pale pink flowers follow later, in February and March.  By April the country is a riot of flowers as nature pushes to complete complex life cycles before the first heatwaves of May and June bake the earth.

It is quite possible to see no rain at all between mid March and early November but most years the drought on Symi lasts from April to late October.  A long time without water.

The next time you look at a photograph of gleaming white Cycladic houses against a brilliantly blue sky and sea, remember the other Greece. The wintry green one of rain and cyclamens.