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Try the stewed bat

sunny 28 °C

I suspect that many more people have died from eating food than from going without. Starvation is much rarer than heart attacks, poisoning, gastric ailments and all the other nasty things that occur from imbibing. This thought occurred to me one evening as we stood in the kitchen of a remote rural Peloponnese restaurant. The proprietor was proudly lifting in succession, the lids off 5 large pots that were simmering on a large greasy metal plate with no visible means of heat. I think he stoked the fire from outside. My second thought was, “The trustees of our wills are not going to be happy about this decision”.

The owner was a jovial rotund businessman who recognized a captive market and was prepared to take advantage of it. We now remember him and his establishment as “The Greasy Greek”. Not original but very apt. As we peered through the steam into each pot he waved a big dripping spoon and identified the contents. Now, Greek is not our strongest suite but I attempted to translate for Flypaper who is a culinary expert but was looking mystified on this occasion. Pot 1 – “Stewed Bat” I suggested. Pot 2 – something with a furry tail – “Looks like cat. Poached in oil”. Pot 3 – same as Pot 2 but with more fur and some potato. “Could be a Squirrel”. With a flourish and a look of great pride he whipped the lid off Pot 4 and said, “Geot”. I know that’s Greek for Goat and this was confirmed as we could see 3 goats’ hooves laying contentedly in bubbling yogurt. Given all the goats we have met had 4 legs, Flypaper announced that this looked promising as someone else had tried it and we hadn’t noticed any distressed or unusually still customers out front. The final pot obviously held tomatoes that were stuffed with rice and again accompanied with potato. All except the hooves were floating in oil that was well above the plimsoll line.

Flypaper chose the goat that happily arrived without the really hard bits. The meat was minced and wrapped in oily cabbage with soggy oil impregnated chips. I had the tomato which was smothered in yogurt and accompanied with 3 slices of oily potato. Together with fresh bread and the obligatory ‘Greek Salad’ it was … um … filling. The litre of local rough white helped.

Greek food is generally very predictable. The restaurants could easily swap menus without their regular patrons noticing. Every meal is started with lots of bread and a large Greek salad. Tomatoes, cucumber, onion and (surprisingly) an occasional olive – all smothered in olive oil and topped with a huge slab of crumbly white cheese of dubious origin. Good creative food may be available in the Peloponnese but we never found it. Our 30 Euro per night budget (3 courses with wine) may have been a factor. It’s not due to a lack of resources but our wish to eat with, and the same as, local people. Our choice of 2 or occasionally 3 star hotels ensures we won’t be tempted by flash tourist western food. In some locations we visit, only the most basic accommodation and eating places are available. Flypaper arranges this to ensure I appreciate her home efforts. We never have gastric problems and often drink local water - which in the Peloponnese is excellent. Many years ago I explained to Flypaper how the really bad pathogens are large, heavy and cannot swim well so they sink to the bottom of the glass. If she just slurps the surface layers she’ll be fine. It seems to have worked. She agrees she’s fortunate having someone to really care for her.

Greeks eat late – seldom before 8am, 3pm and 9.30 in the evening. I believe it’s only the copious olive oil that halts the onset of rigor mortis and stops me falling facefirst into plate of sheep byproduct. The lack of olives being served is puzzling. Perhaps these are being saved for the infirm or disturbed – or exported to a more generously funded market. However, the reason for the lack of fish around the Southern Greek coast is well known. It’s an ecological disaster. Like the Black Sea and the Turkish Mediterranean Coast, overfishing and destruction of spawning habitat has virtually wiped out all the fish. Generally the only fish available in restaurants are small, like sardines. This is tragic. It’s changed the whole commercial basis of southern Greece and left the fishing / boat industries destitute.

For a couple of days our GPS urged us on towards “Calamitus”. It sounded like a Greek destination and many locals we had spoken to had used the word to describe the financial devastation experienced last year. Flypaper wasn’t enthusiastic. She recalled a number of other times we had visited places that could be described as calamitus and suggested we look for a destination called “Beneficial”. We never arrived at either.

The ‘mature’ people we spoke to about their recent financial losses told us with great disgust about the reduction in their pensions. They are now down to about the same level as New Zealand. I didn’t think it would be too difficult to live of that in a half finished house eating oily squirrel sandwiches – but I did accept that it would be impossible to continue to drink 28 cups of ice coffee each day on that budget. The Greeks are continually clutching takeaway containers of disgusting black fluid covered in whipped cream. It may be a cheap anesthetic. Life is certainly tougher here now.

Following disappointing exposure to intense commercialization of the ruins at ancient Olympia, we continued up the eastern and along the northern coast of the Peloponnese. The things that made the biggest impression were …
-the tolls being charged on existing roads to raise funds for future improvements. You can imagine the skeptics who predict the toll income will far exceed the expenditure on their new motorway. Their fears are well founded in other previous ventures.
- the electioneering being undertaken at the toll booths. What a perfect opportunity for the politicians who can give their message to every motorist forced to stop, open the window and wait until the barrier is raised.
- the Corinth Canal. This is worth further study. It’s not comparable with the Suez or the Panama efforts as its only 6.4km long and 23m wide. But it is spectacular. Briefly, The canal was first considered in classical times. Back then when the Romans wanted to attack the Greeks at Athens they had to row right around the Peloponnese. This really annoyed the Galley Slaves who asked their union reps to petition the guvmint to find a shortcut. It never started as the brains trust said the higher water level in the Gulf of Corinth would flood the Saronic Gulf. (Huh? They hadn’t noticed it was neither uphill nor downhill when rowing the long way around.) An effort was made to build it in 67 AD when the megalomaniac Nero turned the first sod with a gold hoe. Serious construction finally commenced in 1881 but the geological and financial problems bankrupted those builders. It was completed after about 2,000 years effort in 1893, but due to the canal's narrowness, navigational problems and regular closures to repair landslides from its vertical walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic anticipated by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic. It’s also perfect for Bungee Jumping off one of the bridges. Look up some pictures on the net for yourself – quite amazing.

It may sound profane to suggest that we have become rather tired of visiting ruined castles, ruined churches, ruined theaters, ruined …. You get the idea. Especially as they always seemed to be located somewhere along a ruined road and often in a hot dusty place … which means Flypaper must wash her hair far more often than I prefer. There have been times I’ve wanted to get on the road, and also times I’ve wanted to use the bathroom for more urgent activity. I put it to Flypaper to explain the difference between a rock from a castle lying at summit of a sweaty hike, to a rock from a church protruding from a weedy field. After contemplation she replied, “I’d like a G & T on the rocks”. I rest my case. Given mankind has individually placed millions and millions of rocks into patterns over the past 5,000 years – and did so without a big digger or even a building permit – why doesn’t each country collect all their ruins and place then in one place. They could even amalgamate some of the ruins into something more like it was 2,000 years ago. It would be a magnet for tourists who could get the cultural stuff over with and quickly move on to the shopping. Commercially I think this is worthy of consideration and it would also help the ‘baby boomers’ who now make up the majority of travelers. Put the rocks on the coast so they can see them from their cruise ship as they sail up to the duty free area.

On the subject of construction, I am perturbed to observe that the Greeks have the same attitude to maintenance as most other countries between the Equator and the tropics of Capricorn or Cancer. I appreciate that these places are generally hot and work is a tiring activity. However, the future is not good for these locations. ‘Developers’ have rushed about creating ‘environments’ that seem to be badly designed and built of inferior materials so that they can buy a super-yacht and sail to a cooler climate where the rubbish is collected regularly. Those remaining will discover, and indeed, have discovered, that all of these places will soon fall into disrepair. Sadly there is no enthusiasm or expertise to repair anything. A traveler with a multi-tool is quit busy just servicing the needs of his companion without considering city infrastructure. These thoughts evolved because, earlier today, our 2WD car had to navigate 4WD terrain and now our toilet is blocked.

As our time in the Peloponnese nears end I have finally accepted that our Toyota rental car is haunted. The various controls alter without my input. The air-conditioning mysteriously changes, the windows sneak down just a little, the handbrake ratchets up a couple of notches, the radio volume decreases and so on. I asked Flypaper if she noticed these things and she said, “I’ve been asleep”. I can imagine it is haunted – a previous driver probably died of boredom.

Finally, after 3 weeks research I feel qualified to report that more people die on the Greek roads during Sunday than any other day of the week. The reason is Lycra. Particularly the Lycra worn by cyclists. On Sunday everyone who owns or can steal a bicycle is out on the city streets and country roads. It really annoys motorists for whom the roads were created. Men, who would normally be sleeping until midday then going to a bar with their mates to watch a replay of the previous nights football, are somehow influenced to wear this bright stretchy material inevitably covered by ego boosting graffiti. When they have the kit they hit the roads every weekend. The deaths occur for various reasons. Some are appropriately run over by motorists, others ride over cliffs or become forever lost in Olive groves. All predictable. The big tragedy however is the heart attacks suffered by out of condition riders and, (this is where my research is more thorough than others) the heart failures suffered by middle-aged men motoring along behind the female Lycra clad riders. They don’t seem able to pass and are eventually overcome by the stress. Flypaper noticed I was falling into the same trap and cunningly started pointing out all the ruins. Ruins are everywhere in Greece – these are the ladies that are well past their prime.

Posted by Wheelspin 11:11 Archived in Greece

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