At last some glorious sunshine after weeks of rain and grey cloud filled skies but a bitterly cold wind blowing down from the north and the courtyard littered with fallen oranges. Algeria has seen quite heavy snow and when last did snow fall in North Africa? The wood stove in the breakfast room has been going all day, previously unheard of, being lit only in the evenings, and the central heating has been switching itself on all night despite the thermostat being turned down another coupe of degrees. I have never known Crete to be so cold so my prediction some weeks ago of a hard winter has come to pass. In the old days before modern heating when there was probably one fireplace in the house I believe if a Cretan felt the cold all he or she did was put on another sweater. That might warm the body a bit but would have no effect on the damp and it can get very damp, especially after days of rain. An English friend visited our lovely Doctor Elizabeth as he was suffering from bronchitis, something he had never experienced before, and she said chest complaints are common among northerners this time of year being caused by a combination of the damp and an allergy due to spores from the olive trees as the fruit is reaped; the branches being thwacked quite violently so that the olives fall on to the nets spread out below.
The chest specialist at IKA (National health) Doctor Vilgarides, who I see once a month for a check-up, is a delightful bundle of charm, always full of high spirits. ‘That’s what you came to Crete for,’ he said with a laugh, ‘the climate.’ I must admit that despite all the current woes created mainly by the short-sighted corrupt ones and the financial situation, petrol has gone up dramatically by 10 cents a litre in a matter of a couple of days and now stands at nearly two euro! Which means everything else must go up. Going into Souda yesterday to see Doctor Vulgarides there was hardly a car on the road and despite being Friday when people do their shopping for the weekend, the supermarket and Kalyves town were practically deserted as everyone pulls in their horns. This does nothing for the Greek economy. It is a never ending downward spiral unless the stupid politicians which include the French and Germans change their tactics and the banks are made to pay for their incessant greed. The Cretans on the whole though are a philosophical lot. When there was a bank strike and we had no cash in hand our vet said, ‘What do you want money for? You live in a village don’t you? You’ve got a garden haven’t you? Keep chickens, grow potatoes, grow tomatoes. You have friends you don’t need money.’ I think I have mentioned before how in circumstances like this, not being in a position to pay, the usual reaction in the village where people know you is pay when you can. And indeed the garden has over the years, while I was still capable of working in it, provided us with a variety of vegetables, and of course masses of fruit. Oranges and lemons at the moment (humongous lemons, bigger than a cricket ball and juicy) and we have just reaped our first olives from the six little trees I bought some years back. They have at last taken off. Eggs we sometimes get from a neighbour when her chickens are laying well and I can’t remember when last we bought olive oil as friends who have olive trees constantly supply us with all we need. I remember in England how sparingly we used olive oil and how here we go through litres of it every year: virgin, cold pressed and pressed and it is all delicious.
All right, so it is not the country we came to fifteen years ago but the world is not the same world, is it?