Letters to the Editor April 2006

April 2006

Dear Yannis,
Thanks for daring to raise a voice of protest about the ‘development’ in this area. As an expatriate lover of Crete, and recent home-owner in Apokoronas, I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice.

I have to say I am not sad about the development, I’m desperate. Not just because the restored old house among green wooded hills I moved into 6 months ago is now surrounded by building sites that rape the peace of the valley for 12 hours a day, and have already drastically altered the skyline, but because I am assaulted by a speed and quality of house construction in the whole area that is frankly terrifying. It’s a nightmare. I’ve been visiting Crete for a quarter of a century, and I don’t believe I saw an estate agents until about 5 years ago. Now their billboards are every few yards, hard selling a dream of perpetual holidays to every tourist that arrives for a fortnight.

While cynically and with incredible speed destroying the landscape and seascapes the tourists have come to enjoy.

Last month I went to Kera beach, which has always been the quietest in the area, a narrow strip of white sand and beautifully sculpted pebbles under a cliff. Until a couple of years ago there was one small apartment block set on the hill above the beach with a steep footpath winding down to the sea. Idyllic. Now there are apartments and a pool right on the beach, but far worse is the army of huge detached concrete houses above on the main roads, that completely disfigure the landscape. Anyway it was February, and I had the beach to myself. Something felt different about it. A lot of winter refuse, of course, but where were the piled up big white pebbles I had always loved to beach comb among. Along the beach, I found the answer, and lost my cool. A young man with a machete and a big bucket was actually digging in the damp sand, dragging out stones like clams from deep in the under the cliff. I realised the beach had been denuded of its treasure by professional thieves. Despite the paucity of my Greek vocabulary (I am trying!), I demanded of the man what he was doing, carrying the stones from the beach by the bucketful. ‘Piscine’, he replied, puzzled. I tried to show him my feelings, and my sense that this was not allowed (is it?) and in the end I climbed up to where he was piling the stones by a track to be collected by a truck no doubt, and started throwing the stoned back onto the beach to drive home my point. The poor guy was baffled and got quite exasperated, and I left after my symbolic protest feeling quite powerless and furious that the very beaches are being destroyed to decorate the private swimming pools. What an irony!

What’s to be done? Virtually all environmental concerns are being being ignored on this once beautiful and most sacred of landscapes. Layers upon layers of history and pre-history are in danger of being laid waste. A unique and most fragile ecosystem is endangered. And few voices are being raised. ‘You can’t stop progress,’ I hear every other day. But on the other days and just as frequently I hear the stories like the retired man weeping because his dream home has becomes engulfed in a concrete sea, the jerry built apartments flooded by sea and sewage, the villages of Gavalochori and Drapanos going without water when the swimming pools are filled…and on and on.

So what’s to be done? Lovely though it is to imagine the Greek State stepping in and embracing the notion of planning and conservation, it’s not gonna happen unless those of us affected get our heads out of the sand and shout our mouths off. Much of the development is illegal, even by the standards set by the government. I know a lot of people, Greeks and expatriates, are deeply upset. It’s a daunting picture, but worse scenarios have been turned round. I try to take courage from the determination of movements the world over that have persisted in challenging the forces of corruption and cynicism to protect their natural and human environments. It’s still happening in England where ‘eco-warriors’ have succeeded in changing some significant planning decisions in recent years. And of course it’s also a global issue. But even self- interest should make those in power realise that’s what happening here may be for short term gain but can only be medium and long term disaster. When we say, ‘I love Crete’ are we describing a feeling or using an active verb? Or are we still too comfortable to do more than grumble to each other, and take the ‘not in my back yard’ view until it actually IS?

It’s scary as an expatriate to think of taking action or raising a voice in a foreign country. But I get the feeling that most of the people here are too scared or feel too powerless to feel it’s worth it. I’d like to be in touch with people who care enough to do something about saving the beauty of the island we’ve come to love. And not only the natural environment. Where change happens so rapidly, much that is worth preserving in a society breaks down. Crete used to be incredibly safe. Tradition would never have allowed a xenia, or foreigner to be exploited let alone hurt. I’ve always felt safe travelling alone in Crete, have often left house and car doors unlocked, and never so much as had anything stolen. Then security firms started advertising their wares to new residents, spotlights and electric security gates appeared. And now the first ghastly murder just down the road from me. It’s all part of the same picture.

Of course it’s easy to find scapegoats. It was chillingly inevitable that Albanians would be pre-judged as the culprits. Providing the manpower behind Crete’s economic miracle, the Eastern European immigrants are not just poor relations here, but made prime suspects for any wrong doing. No one wants to think Cretans could do such a thing. But Crete has changed. Cretans are selling their family homes and lands for fast profits, and the glue of traditional society is loosening. Whoever committed the crime, the cause of it is something bigger, of which we are all part.

Best Regards,
Cora Greenhill

Dear Cora,
thank you for your letter. I think you have said it all in the best possible way and I share your fears and worries. Crete has managed to resist and absorb various cultural influences over the centuries, but the changes were never so fast before. I am afraid this is just the beginning though, as every corner in Crete is ‘for sale’ at the moment.

Best Regards,

Dear Yannis,
I was fortunate to see your publication on the internet particularly the article The New Landscape of Apokoronas. It reminded me of the Greek-Germans and our picturesque villages in Greece where my husband said they had taken over.The Cretan houses are a sight to behold.Great Images.

I would love to see a future article on some of the viewpoints and reflections of the second-third generation in your gazette.Our group have discussions regularly on the attitude and moving away from their roots/heritage on some of our Greek friends in the diaspora.

Here in Sydney, they seem to want to remain as far away from their culture and for a small minority, it is a challenge to get them to be involved in any activites that are remotely related to our precious heritage.

Could you do a vox-pop amongst your group and see what the attitudes are with your children and extended family?

Best Wishes,
Jenny Batesman

Dear Jenny,
I assume that when you refer to Germans taking over our villages, you refer to the peaceful “invasion” of German people buying property in Greece, not the WW2 invasion. It is inevitable that people from other countries move to Greece and in many cases they help to maintain the traditional old houses they buy. If they hadn’t bought and restored them, then most old houses would be a pile of stones in a few years. However, as I write in my article, it is our, Greek’s duty to protect and maintain the traditional architectural style of our country. I would say that it is even more than that: we need to protect and maintain our customs, traditions, identity, landscape, environment and language. Today an increasing number of people seem to realize that and their efforts have already brought the first positive results.

Your idea for an article about the views and relationship of the 2nd or 3rd generation Cretans with Crete is interesting and it is in our future plans.

Best Regards,

Hi Steven!

Just wanted to tell you that I really enjoyed March 2006, Crete Gazette, article on Cretan Sparrows. I found it to be very informative and just plain enjoyable to read. Like most, I am not a bird aficionado but enjoy informal bird watching. I live in Somers, NY and, of course, we have sparrows her too and they are very active and entertaining. We have many other birds here too but my favorite is the red cardinal. I’ve been told that according to American Indian folklore (do not know which Indian Tribe) the cardinal came about as a result of the Sun seeing so much fighting among the various Indian Nations sent his daughter in the form of an Indian Princess to show the warring Nations the way to achieving peace only to be slain and her blood ran red in the soil. So the Sun decided to return his daughter in the form of the red cardinal to remind the Indian Nations of their foolish ways.

I was in the US Air Force stationed at the Air Base outside of Iraklion for eighteen months circa 1964-1966 … a very long time ago!! I happened upon the Crete Gazette in September of 2005 and have been reading everything in each months issue ever since. It has been and continues to be a very rewarding experience that I look forward to each month!

So thanks again for the article and I wish you well in your new venture on the Island of Crete!!

Walter R. Pearce

Hi Walter
Thank you for your email. I’m glad that you enjoyed the article on Cretan sparrows and that you find the Crete Gazette informative and entertaining. I found the story of the red cardinal fascinating (the more so as according to my grandmother I have Algonquin in my genes from a few generations back). If you ever come back to Crete for a holiday and visit the south coast drop me an email and maybe we can go birdwatching.

Best regards,
Steve Daniels

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