Tuesday, 30 July 2013

greek taxation office take four

Ok. I'm back at the taxation office in Athens. I got to Athens late on Sunday night, or early on Sunday morning depending on which way you like to look at things.

I set the alarm for 7am, got up after not nearly enough sleep and a headache to rival all headaches, and went down to the tax office for greek citizens abroad. Which is where I'm registered.

I have to be cause even though I don't earn any income in Greece, the government would find a way to tax me if I wasn't registered as living abroad.

I was told they open at 8am. I got there at 8.10am I think. It was open and it was packed. I think there were 2 employees each on each of the 4 floors. Not really sure as they were doing their best to hide cause greek people are very good at hounding the ones they can find.

Anyway, after making my way up through each floor and not finding anyone to ask where I should actually go, I found myself in the 'director's' office where the poor man was sitting behind a desk surrounded by angry people yelling at him about numbers and how far they'd come and how much they needed 'this' done and what they'd do to him if they could get their hands around his neck.

Never let it be said that the greeks haven't moved into the 21st century. They now have queues for everything plus priority numbers! Gone are the days of pushing and shoving, arguing, no respect for personal space and no privacy where mobs would descend on bank tellers and bureaucrats with their demands.

Now they get numbers and then push and shove and argue.

I think I figured out the system.

You arrive at 4am or so, then you can get a number under 10. At least that's what a man was telling everyone yesterday. I got there at 8.10am and they were already up to number 150.

The director was saying they give out the numbers at 7.45am and that you have to be there then to get a number.Uhuh. Not what they were saying on level 3. And that they only give out 130 numbers. During the day, to avoid being suspended by his thumbs, he gives out more numbers.

I had a few choices:

Get a number around 156 and wait and see if I got in to see anyone before they closed or went for a long break. ie spend the entire day in the tax office.

Poke myself in the eye repeatedly with a pointy stick...

Or go home and come again today.

I chose option 3, the least painful of the lot.

So I set the alarm for 5.30am, got ready and was out the door in 10 minutes. Then discovered that my aunt Xeni had locked the front gate.

After climbing over the fence, I got a taxi and went down to the tax office. Again.

I know this part of Athens better than most taxi drivers now.

There were already 20 people there ahead of me. I put my name on The List and I have to be back at 7.45am to get my actual number. To be honest I'm afraid I have to be there even earlier just in case....

On the way here this morning I saw people lining up outside the bank in our neighourhood. it was 5.45am.

I've never seen anything like it. Who ever heard of having to be somewhere 3 or 4 hours before opening time to line up to get on a list in order to get a number to be served?

They blame cutbacks in the public sector... I don't know. Last time I was down at the tax department for 'residents of abroad' a man was complaining about strikes and how often they're closed. They were on strike the first time I went with my brother Petro. The guy was saying "When will you be open? Is Monday still a strike day? Tuesday? Or will you be closed on Tuesday too cause its the day before Wednesday?"

That seems to be more or less how it goes.

And then, if you do get in to see someone, its like "You need a form HGIH2234. Fill that in and come back".

"Where do I get it?" panic in your voice.

"Upstairs on the 5th floor", said between a cigarette in the lips, indifferently, while shuffling papers on the desk or answering a phone and chatting about the last haircut she got.

You go to the 5th floor, wait in another mob queue and when you finally get to the front, you're told you can't fill in a form HGIH2234 till you're sworn a statement as to what your mother had for breakfast on the morning you were born and wherther the doctor who delivered you was glasses or not, then send you off to find out that information and come back next week....

Its now 7am and I'm thinking I better pay for 2 euros for one hour internet usage after using 30 minutes and go cause in the greek way of doing things anything can happen.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

food glorious food

Vegetables grown in the garden at Souvlia.

There is one thing that Merrill said on the last trip to Greece which I've only now started to believe... She said that the food tasted so much better here.

I thought she was exaggerating. I mean, its almost all home grown here on Paros. If its not grown here at Souvlia in our own garden, Mom gets her vegetables from family or friends.

The woman knows or is related to everyone on the island, after all.

So, basically, of course it tastes better than supermarket strip-mined vegetables.

A vegetable dish made with all home grown vegies. And feta. Naturally.
I now know that she meant more than that. Home grown is home grown. We have our own vegie patch in Tasmania so we don't lack fresh vegetables. And our tomatoes are way better than the tasteless immitation tomatoes we buy in the supermarket.

But the tomatoes grown on Paros are something else entirely. I mean wow. Taste explosion.

Its not just the fact that its home grown, its the soil here on Paros. The sea air and the soil. It has to be. Why else would things just taste better? I can grow the same things in Tasmania, make the same foods using the same recipes, but it just tastes different. Still good... but different.

One thing I learned on this trip is that Paros actually produces a whole lot of stuff. For instance, Paros produces tons of wheat every year. Tons of olives and olive oil. Obviously the marble - Paros has the purest white marble which was used to build the Acropolis.

As part of the cultural events happening on Paros this summer, there was a Festival of Bread.

There were stalls from bakeries all over Paros with their products and demonstrations on how bread is made. Some of the bakeries on Paros produce their own wheat and flour and use woodfire ovens to bake their bread. Yum.

Of course there were tastings too, with lots of things on offer. This is called 'dakos'... dried bread rusks with tomato, olive oil and mizithra (a locally made cottage cheese or ricotta).

When we were kids my grandmother used to make this for us. She used the big HARD rusks you have to dip in water before you can eat them. She'd put the dipped rusk on a plate, drizzle olive oil on it, cut a tomato and empty its guts all over the  rusk. She'd then add olives, capers, feta cheese and oregano.

We used to call it 'to kolatsio tis yiayia's' - grandma's snack.*

Another way to eat mizithra: on a light rusk with honey and cinamon.... 

This holiday has become not only a family and friend catch up time, its become a taste sensation time as well.

To start with all I'd eat was greek salad... the real greek salad: tomato, cucumber, olives, feta,peppers, capers, olive oil, oregano. Notice the abscense of onion. I hate raw onion.


No meal is complete without tzatziki though... I think I've spent the entire holiday with garlic breath.

Souvlaki. Its a complete food group in itself. There's nothing like a real greek souvlaki anywhere but in Greece. Forget those kebab pita bread things they masquerade as souvlaki in Australia. This is the real thing.

The best souvlaki on Paros is at Zorbas near the port. Be sure to visit when you come here!

My problems started when Inge and her daughters were visiting. I was being really good till then. I'd eat at home and watch what I ate.

(That means I'd look at it closely before I put it in my mouth.)

Anyway, when Inge came I had to take her and the girls out to try different things. Souvlaki naturally, but they wanted to try some greek sweets. We'd go to cafes and order a greek coffee and then a few sweets and share them so they could try it all. I think we tried about 5 different types of baclava, galaktoboureko, ravani... all greek sweets with nuts and syrup.

Greek coffee in a larger cup.
Ravani, a cake made with semolina and doused in syrup, served here with sour cherry.

What is it with mother's though? From the day I arrived in Greece my mother has been a ball of contradictions. She asks what food I've missed, what do I want her to make me. Then she rations the bread, giving me ONE slice. If I dare to take another she'll give me the evil eye.

She'll tell me off for going to the bakery and buying a bag of greek cookies (kolourakia) cause they're fattening, yet she'll come home with some cake that some friend made for me.

"Don't eat sweets. You don't need them."
"No. Do not buy a bag of pumpkin seeds."
"I brought you this nice piece of cake from my friend's. She made it herself. Have some."
"You didn't eat the cake."
"I got you these biscuits from another friend."
"Eat the cake. Its so nice. I brought it for you."
"Baclava? You ate baclava? Why my child? Why?"
"You haven't eaten the cake. Its going rock hard. Its a waste!"
"Don't eat a lot."
"What about the biscuits? Aren't you going to eat the biscuits?"
"Oh, you're home. The clothes are still on the line."


She is spoiling me however. She's bought greens for me cause I can't get them in Australia. She's making me yiovetsi cause its one of my favourite dishes. She made imum for me twice.

I love my mom.

Octopus drying in the sun in the square in Naoussa.

Its not all traditional greek food. When on Paros we all have to visit Nicks for a hamburger.

The Big Nick. Big Mac eat your heart out.

My brother's friend Michali bought Nicks Hamburgers about 20 or so years ago. He still makes the best burgers on Paros. And he's a really cool guy. I'm trying to start a tradition here: every girl who orders a burger has to give Michali a kiss.

 I thought I'd share a photo of some greek beers.

Fix is a beer that was around when we lived here many years ago. The factory closed and it went out of production for a very long time. Its now back. Notice the label.

Is it a coincidence that the beer is out now and that the label reads "Fix Greece"?

Its not all food, sweets and souvlaki. I'm eating tons of figs too. Mom, bless her little cotton socks, has been stealing figs all over Paros for me.

Lastly, here's a gratuitous shot of spices, pretty colours, a pretty display in a shop in Naoussa.

* I'll finish on a thought... People always say greek names are too long. Well, its not just names that are too long. Words are long and sentences are longer. Greeks are of the 'more is better' school of thought.

For instance, when I shut down my netbook I get a message which reads "Saving your settings..."

When I shut down my brother's netbook (which has its OS set in greek) the message took me five minutes to read and took 2 lines.


dragonflies on paros

I wanted to show off another hanging thingy I made out of found objects. The rusted lattice thing was found by my cousin Zefi's son, Giorgo. He's turned into quite an asset as a scavenger! Plus he's interested and quick to learn anything you want to teach him. 

The shells and stones were in a basket in Zefi's small garden area, the beads came off a broken bracelet my aunt Marisa had kept. The dragonfly is made of a rusty bolt I found in the garden, a shell, a button and wire I'd bought at one of the local hardware stores.

Trust me, I've explored every single hardware store on Paros!


The rusty washers came from the traditional bamboo cane trellis which blew off over winter. It was replaced by timber boards painted white. It looks amazing.

The old traditional bamboo roof was dark but this has brightened the place up, allowing more light into the house (which is a converted old garage) and providing good shade for sitting during the day.


Wednesday, 24 July 2013

making do and interesting things

 My cousin Zefi's house in the commune that's known as 'Souvlia' used to be the boat shed and garage. It was built on a slope so the front is a couple of steps down. As a result its darker than most of the houses on Souvlia, but no cooler. In fact, being at the back of the block, with other buildings as windbreaks, it doesn't get the full force of the wind - great when you want to sit on the porch for a drink, terrible if you want a cool breeze to cool down.

Despite that, Zefi has made it into a gorgeous place. Thanks to her mom's fossicking, her husband's good taste and Zefi's practical mind, the place is pretty, traditional and totally user friendly.

I love her old island couches. I've tried to find this type of couch in Australia as its the ideal outdoor couch. Its not so comfy as a living room couch, but so pretty.

I love the big dresser as well, in the traditional dark timber. Zefi's grandfather on her mom's side used to be a carpenter and he made some beautiful pieces.

 I love the lace on the shelves inside the glass cabinets.  My aunt Dora has it in her kitchen in her house as well.

 One thing I love to do when I'm here (or anywhere for that matter) is look at shops. I love looking at shops. Sometimes I see things I want to buy, something I see things which inspire me. Whatever. I love to look at shops.

In the market street in Parikia there's a traditional old homeware/grocery store. Its been there as long as I can remember. They now sell more stuff to tourists than to locals I'm sure, but its the only place I saw one of these:

 Its apparently a dough bowl of some sort. You put the bread dough in it to rise. I find myself needing one of these... I never make bread, but I'm sure I'll find a good use for it.

I also love these things:

Sieves of all sizes with all different wire thicknesses... from flour sieves to lentil and bean sieves. Pretty cute.

At the other end of the shopping scale are the home decorator stores... not very different to the type of stuff I see in Australia. Still pretty displays and colours though.

Colourful outdoor cushions with jute and bling tassels and fish, naturally.

Burlap mini cushions and a jute string bowl on a lace table runner.

A beautiful simple white bowl.

A rope and sailcloth lamp.

Table centre piece of sea urchins minus spikes, shells and starfish.

I found an antique/second hand shop which has some beautiful things in it but this one was right up my alley: old windows with photos in them.


I even found a shop which sells marble things. Like a marble sink... why have a ceramic butler sink when you can have the real thing? And this slab of carved marble which you can put in your garden and run a tap through.

 A tap like this! Isn't this a beauty?

Or, if you prefer, you can buy marble columns. Cause no house is complete without marble columns.


 Of course, there are tons of places which are done up beautifully whether they're shops or cafes or restaurants. Sometimes its something simple like these fish at a taverna by the sea:

Sometimes its way more elaborate, like the boat/couch at this bar in Parikia.

And these door coffee tables.

There just aren't enough door or window signs though, like this one on a closed antique shop.


And I love this sign on a cafe.

I haven't been inside many hotels, but the couple I have been into have some interesting items in their lobbies and bars. Like this lamp ...

This wooden trough is now a frame for a wooden boat.

Obviously made by the same artist, this boat wall clock at the Paros Bay Hotel.

And a ton of these fishing boats.

This is my favourite. I love the humour in the little paper sailboats.

A couple of little shops in Naoussa, a small town on the other side of Paros, have gorgeous displays. Right up my alley.


Closer to home, I found some interesting ways to deal with the small issues life throws at you. This is my uncle's solution to the wind taking his umbrella along with the small table.

It might take up a bit of table space, but it works.

My fish bowl has a new spot among the shell collection in my aunt Flora's kitchen.

The oven in the main house has a dodgey door, so the kokones (a name we call the aunts) have found a simple solution.

Aunt Marisa has found a cute way to cover the electricity panel in the hallway using a hand woven mat.

In her house a little down the road, my aunt Dora has a small corner where she keeps her ancient sewing maching, which she still uses, and a few items from her mother's house.

You can always tell a greek house, cause there is always an icon somewhere in it. I now have my own icon, my very first. My aunt Xeni gave it to me. I'll have to find a spot in my home for it when I get back. My decor will be shabby-greek...

Love the old irons with the big base to hold hot coals.