It’s been some two and half years now since we relocated from the UK to our dream island of Paxos and the two burning questions from friends and family are repeatedly asked – ‘What’s it like in the winter?’ and ‘How is the economic situation in Greece affecting Paxos’.
Well as it happens, the pre Christmas weather was extremely good with lovely warm sunny days ideal for dog walking through the olive groves and even a charity swim in Loggos harbour on Boxing Day. Yes it has rained [and rained], with dramatic electrical storms and fallen trees knocking out the electricity supply; but the problem was fixed, [surprisingly quickly once we tracked down the workmen in the cafeneion!]. As a result of the rain the land is lush and green with an array of spring time flowers beginning to carpet the ground.
It’s a busy old time in the winter, peaceful but not always as quiet as you might think; not because of discontented locals protesting against the austerity measures, [the only military uniforms seen here are the camouflage jackets worn by the locals out shooting birds for lunch], but it’s a really busy time for socialising.
Many locals celebrate their ‘Name Day’ in the winter, so for example in February we were expected to visit the homes of any of our friends called Babis or Haroula as it was the Name Day of ‘Haralambos’ [from which their names are derived]; we attended Haralambos church in the morning, and then armed with gifts and sweet things duly made our house calls. The generosity and warmth of the Paxiots never ceases to amaze us and so we accepted graciously the drinks , mezzes and hospitality offered at each home as they held ‘open house’ for the afternoon and evening. It’s amazing how many friends one can squeeze into a small dining room or lounge and the atmosphere was definitely celebratory with much fun and cheeky laughter, not least from the Papa!
The laughter continued through the preparations for ‘Kathara Theftera’ [Clean Monday] which begins the season of Great Lent. On 27 February the community organised its Clean Monday celebrations in Lakka; the party began late in the afternoon and no-one can quite remember what time the following day it ended! It’s always a fancy dress bonanza and this year was no exception with men dressed as women, wigs and masks galore and a wonderful carnival atmosphere; the locals really do let their hair down before fasting for lent.
alk now is of ‘Pasca’ and ‘Megalos Evthnomada’ [Big Week’] with the locals and fellow expats all looking forward to the Easter celebrations, it’s such a big time here in Greece and the Paxiots love it. Lambs or goats are roasted on the spit and the outside kitchen comes into its own, friends and family share food, homemade wine and good company; there will be special church services and firework displays, and then the icons [which are particularly active at this time of year] are celebrated and paraded across the island, being carried from Ipapandi through the olive groves and villages to the next church. Lanes and roads are decorated with flowers to honour the saint and gunshots fired in celebration and reverence if the parade passes your home.
Of course the economy is of great concern and belts are being tightened; of course the locals are worried that ‘the visitors’ [holiday makers] might not come this summer, but that’s the same every year. Some things are a little different though as generally preparations for the season are very last minute, [usually best for the first visitors of the season to check for wet paint in their accommodation!] but this winter there seems to have been constant activity all over the island. Surprisingly instead of businesses closing down [as in some parts of Greece], here in Paxos new premises are being built or renovated – there’s a new supermarket due to open on the port road out of Gaios and a second pharmacy for the island based in Lakka!
Most Paxiots own land and houses passed down through the generations and many this winter have worked hard on ‘cleaning’ their land and harvesting their olives, [the expats too]. It’s back breaking work, strimming the undergrowth, laying the black nets and then sorting and picking the ripe olives which fall. Once bagged up the bags are taken to one of the local olive presses where your oil is pressed, so satisfying to use your own oil.
The noise of chain saws has been relentless as overgrown olive trees are being cut back; the wood being stored for use next year in our ‘sobers’ [wood burning stoves] found in most Paxiot homes. Four mules have been brought to Paxos for the winter from Metsovo, [a mountain a ski resort on the mainland] and they pass by our house daily to work on the land transporting wood through the groves, so it’s certainly a trip back to traditional methods of transport here; but don’t worry the taxis are still running; the hire cars are available for rent; the sun will still shine, the sea is still clear but most importantly of all the warmth, generosity and friendliness of the Paxiots continues to abound and yes for us this means we continue to ‘live the dream’.
Tracey Spencer Tootill