July 2006

Country walks in June

Summer is here and the temperatures are rising, so my littleSpanish Broom dog and I take our walks in the early morning or after 6 pm to catch the cool of the day.

The countryside is beginning to look brown and dry now under the olive groves, partly due to some of the farmersí fondness for herbicides. But many people have ploughed up some of the flatter pieces of ground to grow vegetables for their own use, and fodder crops for the sheep and goats.

The potatoes are ready for cropping, so the foliage looks a little Caper plantsad, but the rows of silvery onions, big healthy red tomatoes, and green shiny courgettes, look to me just as beautiful as the brightly-coloured spring flowers that grew here earlier in the year.

As we climb the hill the Spanish Broom Spartum junceum is still in flower, filling the air with scent, and the sun brings out the pungent smell of sage. And it seems that every dry stony bank is covered with creeping tendrils of the Caper plant Capparis spinosa, with its big pink flowers.

The spiky, ground hugging leaves of spiny Bearís Breech Bear's BreechAcanthus spinosus are also appearing everywhere, and some lower down in the valley are already flowering.
And - although it is common on every roadside - I really like the plate-shaped bloom of the Wild Carrot Daucus carota: each bloom looks at a glance as if it has an insect sitting in the centre, but in fact it is a single, tiny purple floweret.

Farming activity is minimal in the olive groves now. The main Wild Carrotsound on our evening walks is the gentle drip of water from the hundreds of black irrigation hoses that trail among the trees.

We did have another sound recently: of the digger that was clearing the dead spring foliage and mini-landslides caused by the heavy winter rain, off the agricultural roads. It squeaked and clanked among the trees, sounding like a rusty Second World War tank.

The dog and I are grateful for its activity however, in spite of  View from the top of our hillthe noise. Our walks are made more comfortable, not to have to wade through prickly dead plants dropping spiny or sticky seeds that stick between the dog's toes and make her lame. Now, she's able to happily bounce along and chase the little coffee-brown lizards that scuttle away at our approach. These at first look unremarkable, but if one sits still long enough you can see they are rather pretty, with a darker stripe down each side and a jade green tail.

At the top of the hill I pause for breath and enjoy the views. To Oleandermy left I look back to the village on the opposite hill, and ahead straight down the valley I can see the Gulf of Kissamos, with the sea looking silvery under the heat haze.

Down the other side of our small hill we come to the river. The Silkweedwater poured down it in torrents in January and February, but now it is just a trickle, dotted with a few pools that contain late-hatching tadpoles. From the bridge, you can see that the river bed is lush with vegetation.

Chaste TreeThe bright green leaves of young Plane trees, and shrubs in flower such as pink Oleander Nerium oleander, creamy-coloured bristly-fruited Silkweed Gomphocarpos Fruitisosus, and Lilac Chaste tree Vitex Agnus-castus, all intertwined with vines, brambles and other climbing plants.

What a pity that someone has dumped a load of builderís rubble off the bridge amongst this beauty! But the problems of waste disposal are a subject for another day ...

Education reforms

The newspapers at the moment, are full of the educationStudents rioting in Athens ministerís proposals for reforming higher education. The Karamanlis Government want to introduce such things as: a systematic evaluation of individual faculties and professors; a limit on the number of years a student can enrol before earning an undergraduate degree; and a plan to let private universities operate in Greece from 2008.

They would also like to have libraries on campus with aRiot officer hit by yoghourt variety of books without relying on just the one set course book, which is often written by the tutor! Furthermore, when necessary, the police will be allowed on university campus, without seeking permission from the universityís own staff/student committee.

To us these proposals seem far from radical. In fact, it is Police attacked by firebombs in Athensstrange to our way of thinking that a university does not have a library but only one course book, and that students can remain students for years -  reportedly up to fifteen years in some cases.

These same people are then absorbed into public service jobs for life, so they do not need to strive for excellence or, in some cases, even competence. Surely, a meritocracy is vital for the running of a modern efficient economy! The Greek government is aiming to raise standards to the level of European Union countries, because they fear that in the future, Greek degrees may not be accepted by fellow EU members.

The present batch of students, however, are not in the least bit grateful and in response, they have staged sit-ins to take over university and technical college faculties, and organised protests that have ended with street riots. Meanwhile their professors have also gone on strike.

However, as the English version of the Kathimerini newspaper reported on June 24: "These strikes will end by July 1. Why, you ask? Have the government backed down? Well no, but university holidays are due to start and these cannot possibly be disrupted by protests!"