As I was walking through the village the other day, Niko called me over to the junk filled shaded space across from his house, where he hangs out with his cronies. They were discussing electric drills. Niko is thinking of buying a drill to which he can attach an agitator, so that Frosso, his ailing wife, can stir the big milk pan more easily when she is making cheese. The family make a lot of cheese from their sheep, for themselves and to sell.
What she needs, he says is a drill that will go slow as well as fast. They tried a high speed drill and there was milk everywhere.
When I appear a couple of days later with a cheap, variable speed drill from the supermarket in Kalamata, Frosso is not impressed. A wooden stick from the mountains is better for this work, she says.
Oddly emblematic of the changing times, this episode. The old ways are evolving, being subverted by the culture of the commodity. Take Kosta, for example, their grown up son, a nice man of about thirty with a slight congenital jaw defect. (This is klironomia again, heredity, the legacy of generations of intermarriage between cousins, when the village was more isolated from the world at large).
Anyway, Kosta has lived in Kalamata for years working for the law courts as a repo man, a bailiff, we might say, reclaiming cars, houses, etc, whose credit payments have fallen into arrears. He’s a good man and I imagine he does his work as humanely as possible, but again, it’s somehow symbolic: a Greek village boy making his living among the debris of consumerism.
Here, on the edge of the gilded dream world of the European Union, it’s hard to know what to think. The old life is being replaced by something else, something which blots out the connection with the past. Past poverty was a bad thing, clearly, but prosperity has a double edge.
The gilded dream world of the European Union…
I wrote this only a few years ago when times were good and confidence was high. No one predicted the travails that were to come so quickly for Greeks. They say unemployment here is currently running at around 27%, and maybe one in four of the shops in Kalamata is empty.
One thing that you do notice, though, in these hard times is the sense that people are reclaiming their vegetable gardens. Around the village we see patches of vegetables in previously uncultivated plots. Giorgo at the kafineion has begun breeding rabbits and roosters for the table, which he sells around the village.