Wednesday, February 29, 2012

GTS - The Greek Tragedy Syndrome

GTD is a serious condition that affects most people with Greek roots. In the acute phase, the symptoms consist of drama scenes created in public and witnessed by a great, involving audience. In normal stages it implies the dramatization of small, everyday life details that may end up haunting you for the rest of your life by becoming whole theater plays.

Variations of this syndrome can be found in all the countries around Mediterranean Sea. A slightly lighter and more sparkling version of this syndrome can be found in people with Spanish and Italian roots. The GTD’s symptoms that we have noticed in these specific areas imply being more expansive and loud but they lack the depth of the real Greek Tragedy.

When Greeks are being melodramatic you can hear the violins, the sound of all 1000 pieces of their heart getting broken against the cruel destiny’s wave and the earthquake of their forever crushed hopes and dreams, and all that because you didn’t ask them how their day was or you forgot how warm they like their coffee.

The causes of this condition are veiled in mystery to these days. We are not excluding the possibility of a long term water contamination but we consider probable that the causes might have deep roots in both social and familial environment. Overexposure to sun may also be a cause or a symptom amplifier.

GDS is not a contagious affection; it’s more an addictive one but fear not for there is treatment for it. It involves the periodical administration of small doses of reality.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The ancient world revived: Today's Dionysian Procession in Greece

Unlike the carnivals from the big cities of Greece that are, noways, cosmopolitan and void of meaning, the ones in the country are reminiscence of ancient Dionysian processions. 

Many people know Dionysus as the god of wine and wine-making but he is also the god of ecstasy, fertility, orgies and everything that exceeds the boundaries of the conventional society and is repressed by it.

The Dionysian celebrations were best known for their phallic processions (called phallika in ancient Greece) and were characterized by obscenities and vulgar speech.

Today the festivals are not that... explicit let's say. They only place where the  phallic procession is still part of the carnival ( Dionysys celebrations) it's said to be Tyrnavos ( in the municipality of Larissa).

In Kozani, where I've been, the tradition is kept but in a somehow tamed manner. There are fires (called "fani" - lamp)  in different plazas of the town where people dance, sing, eat but mostly they drink.
The wine is free for everyone during the festival and so are the special cheese pies made for this occasion.

We were lucky enough to witness a contemporary version of a dithyramb, a hymn dedicated to Dionysus that is sung and danced during his festivals.

Dithyramb are sang traditionally by chorus of fifty men dancing in circular formation. In the contemporary version though, everyone could join the dance. 

The lyrics of the hymn were sang in vlahika, a Greek dialect, and it contained more or less explicit sexual references.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thessaloniki's Taxi Drivers

Taxi drivers are a breed apart in every country and Greece is no different. While I might have got use to their tricks in the country where I come from, in Greece everything is still new to me.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is that the concept of competition is unknown to this area of activity. Well, if we are to split hairs, competition is barely known in other more important domains in Greece also, but let’s not goes there just yet.

The price is unique for all the taxis and dare I say uniquely high also. If you order a cab you are going to pay an extra tax. Why? I haven’t figured that yet. I strongly doubt there is logic behind it. It just IS.
Taxi driving is not a free profession in Greece. There are a certain number of taxi driver permits allowed to function in the area of a city, which is normal. What’s interesting thought is that permits don’t expire. The person who has this permit is allowed to sell it and the prices reaches as high as 100 to 150 thousand euro or why not, leave them in their will to their grand kids.:))

It’s not cheap to be a taxi driver in Greece but it pays to be one.
Last year they’ve tried liberalizing this domain but taxi drivers demonstrated for their rights of “monopole” so in the end nothing happened.
Another thing, and this one really drives me crazy, is that taxi drivers in Greece take more than one passenger per route. Most of the times they don’t even ask you if you are ok with the idea. Confused? That makes two of us.

I was in a cab going home when, at some traffic light, a lady came, asked the driver if she can get in as if I wasn’t even present and got into the car.  First I thought he knew her and he wanted to give her a lift but by the time I reached my destination one other guy joined us.
Later I found out that is a common practice of taxi drivers in Greece. They get the start tax (1 euro) from each of the passengers and then they get paid three times the value of their route because most of the client’s routs overlap. Aren’t they smart…? What I don’t understand is why people put up with it? I guess I’ll never know.
To finish in a lighter note, taxis in Greece are not the same color everywhere. In Thessaloniki for example, where I live, they are dark blue. Being used to seeing yellow cabs, the first time I came to Thessaloniki looking for a cab proved very difficult because I was looking for yellow cars – which are not that many in traffic - and I was missing the taxis which were the dark blue ones since they didn’t attract my attention in any way.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Sweet Part of Greece

One of the things that make you remember Greece even a long time after you left it is the sweets. Most people say that you can't just like them a little; you either love them or hate them, there is no middle ground. Although I must admit that most of the people I know love them
So, let's start with my all time favorite:

Galaktoboureko - milk pie with syrup.

The name comes from the Greek word γαλα which means milk and the Turkish word "burek" meaning pie.

The sweet lemon or orange flavored milk cream is covered in Phyllo dough or it can be rolled in it.

 Kourabiedes - almond biscuits
They are usually made for special occasions like baptizing or Christmas. It is not uncommon to for the recipe to be improved from time to time with  Metaxa.
The most popular flavors are vanilla and rose water.

Revani - Semolina Cake

The main ingredients for this cake are semolina and a lot of strong syrup. The main flavors could be rose water or orange water.  It may also contain coconut.

A place renown for it's Revani is a town called Veria in the northern part of Greece, Makedonia.

Loukoumades - honey donuts
They are made of fried dough soaked in syrup or honey or why not both because they are very sweet.
The traditional flavor used for loukoumades is Cinnamon. After being fried they are rolled in either nuts, sugar or sometimes sesame. 
Vasilopita  - The New Year's Cake
The name comes from Ag. Vasilis (Saint Basil) who's anniversary is on the 1st of January.  The cake is traditionally round and it contains a hidden coin.  After midnight, on New Year's Eve, people cut the cake and whoever finds the coin will be lucky the whole year.


Is a sweet made of Phyllo dough filled with crushed nuts and strong sugar syrup or honey.  The traditional flavor used is vanilla.  Crushed pistachios are also used in the recipe. 
Baklava is known all through the Balkans and every country there has a variation of the recipe as a traditional sweet.

Melomakarona - Biscuits with walnut syrup

The main ingredients for this sweet are flour (or semolina), olive oil, honey and of course walnuts. The recipe may be improved and it typically is with orange zest, orange juice, brandy or Cinnamon.
after baking they dive for a few seconds in warm syrup made of a combination of sugar and honey and covered with pieces of walnuts or dark chocolate.

The list is obviously incomplete, there is also halva, tzoureki, milopita, kolokithopita and so on. But I guess the best way to know them is to actually try them so stop drooling now, go to the nearest Greek cookie store and start tasting. If you can't find one let me know and I'll send you from here:))))
Bon appetite!

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to successfully plan a medical emergency in Greece

Last Saturday I must have made a very unfortunate food combination because in the evening my stomach started hurting. We didn't have any medication in the house so, as much as I didn't feel like it, we had to go out and look for a pharmacy. And thus the quest begins...
In Greece, pharmacies have the same schedule as stores, some days they are only opened in the morning, some other days they are open in the morning, close at midday and the reopen in the evening for a few more hours. After 9 PM and on Sundays you have the overnight pharmacies. 

The overnight pharmacies are never the same ones. There needs to be a certain number of opened pharmacies on every area but they rotate. Some pharmacies have the mercy of showing you a map with the location of the nearest opened pharmacy, not many though.

So you really need to chose carefully when you're going to get sick and plan it ahead. It would be wiser to Google the locations of currently opened pharmacies before going out and start to looking for what you need.

By the way, English key words don't work on this search. I tried it. You need to look for εφημερεύοντα φαρμακεία followed by the name of the city. The obvious result of that search is, of course, links in Greek that contain the necessary information but they are slightly in a different language. Translate page might work though. 

God forbid you ever need to visit the emergency room. First thing you need to know is that in Greece not all hospitals have an ER. Further more, as in pharmacies' case, hospitals take turns in covering the ER service. And for as strange as that might sound, emergencies are categorized by conditions. So, if you have a heart condition emergency and you are close to a hospital that, by fortune, has an ER but it is only for orthopedic emergencies, you cannot go.

So, think ahead and plan your medical emergency thoroughly :D Search online for εφημερεύοντα νοσοκομεία followed by the name of the city you are in. That will give you the list of the currently opened hospitals. Translate the page then start looking for the hospital that has the medical specialty that you require and only than you can start feeling sick. Good luck!

Lately though, even the ones that are supposed to be opened aren't. The crises hit bad all the sectors in Greece and hospitals are no different so , every now and then, the doctors strike also. This is another step you should add the your medical emergency planning. Before searching for opened hospitals, take a news paper and see what strikes are in town. If the doctors are on strike it will be wiser to postpone your heart attack, broken leg etc.

In other words: "Welcome to Greece, have a pleasant stay and pray to God you don't have a medical emergency!"

Friday, February 17, 2012

Mad as a March Hare

Though we are technically still in February that didn't seem to bother anyone.

Yesterday was the beginning of the the Carnival in Greece. The first day, wrapped nicely in a christian meaning, was Tsiknopempti (Τσικνοπέμπτι) which literally means "Grilled Meat Thursday" (Tsikno means the smell of grilled meat while Pempti means Thursday) in other words the last day before Easter when christians are allowed to eat meat. After that is the 40 day fast or so the theory goes. 
In Greece, fasting starts with 11 days of carnival followed by 40 days of hangover giving them thus a very good reason to fast. :)
As far as I know, the most famous carnival in Greece is the one that takes place in Patra. This year though I followed the one from Thessaloniki. 

It is the third year in which the carnival in Thessaloniki starts with a bicycle parade. People dressed up, took their bicycles and joined the parade that started  around 7 PM. What they didn't count on this year was the weather. In the center of Thessaloniki there was a real feel -10 degrees and a wind that would freeze your soul and yet a lot of people came.

It was an explosion if life, joy, colors and last but not least madness, considering the weather. The streets were filled with people whistling, cheering or dancing.
In case you didn't have a costume or you just wanted to improve it, there were stands selling colorful wigs, witch noses, hats, spiders or swords. And talking about stands, let's not forget the meat stands selling souvlaki and suzukaki freshly taken from the grill that spread a mouth watering aroma all over the center.

  The plaza in which the open air concert took place was overfilled with jokers, nuns, cats, super heroes, indians, fish, cowboys, anything you can think of, anything your imagination could create and more. I even saw the Sailor Moon team. Amazing costumes! In case you don't remember the cartoons here is a picture.