Sunday, 2 June 2013

Ouzo and dereliction

Sitting sipping ouzo outside the Mikro Cafe on the waterfront here. Sixties music a speciality but not to deafen, starlit sky, lights twinkling from the tavernas round the bay and on the island-hopping yachts.

This is the life.
Behind us is one of the many grey, brieze block and concrete aborted buildings on the island. In very recent years people have embarked on various building projects, from small extensions to modest homes to entire glossy and glassy hotels with incomplete electrics and still barren gardens. Money obviously ran out. The hotel sign, with its ironic name, remains unconnected.

Another abandoned block of holiday apartments lies yards away.

I think the devastated island agriculture is relevant here. Tilos' verdant beauty springs from the terraced strips that ascend every hillside to the foot of high cliff faces and rocky crags (I've mentioned them before), an enormous feat of agricultural engineering over centuries that employed and fed a large population. Nowadays, since the massive depopulation that followed WW2, virtually all the productive land here lies unused and locals prefer – or are obliged – to cater to tourism. This activity is only really getting going now after a very poor May, with empty tavernas beginning to be less common of an evening and more people coming off the ferries. By the end of September it will be getting quiet again and the resident islanders will have to live on their modest store of fat till next May. Or do what the majority do, and simply lock up and leave.

And they will continue to import almost all their fruit and veg and cheese and milk by ferry from Rhodes. Apart from honey (where the bees do most of the work!) they will have grown nothing for themselves. I'm surprised that people from elsewhere on Greece, let alone the rest of Europe, are not leaving unemployment and misery behind them to come and cultivate the derelict fields here. Or that the island itself seems not to see a future for itself outside tourism. EU money went into infrastructure such as roads (there are almost no vehicles on them) and someone funded the creation of a national park and conservation project (the explanatory leaflet cum guide in English ran out a year ago and has not been reprinted, presumably for lack of funds).

Civil servants have taken a 50% salary cut. Householders paid a 'tax' of around €300-400 to the government on their electricity bills (clever: if you didn't pay, your electricity was cut off). This was to be a one-off but I'm told its now being collected for the third year running.

There is something terribly wrong.

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