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Donousa > Facts and figures about the island June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Distance > 120 nautical miles from Piraeus.

Inhabitants > 120 people (2001 census).

Villages > Stavros, Mersini, Kalotaritissa.

Schools > Primary school with six pupils, junior high school (5 pupils) with senior high school classes (2 pupils).

Healthcare > A regional surgery but no specialized doctor or nurse have been found to fill the posts and in reality it functions as an Agrotiko (rural surgery).

Economic activities > Livestock, farming, tourism; some community and civil service employees.

Transport > Blue Star Ferries runs a direct service from Piraeus Mondays and Wednesdays, from June to September the service will be three times a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday the Skopelitis Express runs a ferry service with stops at Naxos, the Lesser Cyclades and Amorgos.

Tourist infrastructure > 120 rooms for rent, 2 travel agencies, 7 cafe-tavernas, 1 minimarket, 1 kiosk-newsagent, 1 bakery, open summer only.

The Mayor > Yiannis Prasinos > The community president is a cheerful person who has focused his efforts on the infrastructure works required on the island: the water supply network and the cistern that is to be constructed later to store water. “We were once completely forgotten but over the last 15 years things have been better. We get some funding, they didn’t used to give anything to these islands before.”

Together with his fellow islanders he is trying to find a way to prolong the tourist season. He wants the island to be known for quiet holidays and attract people who want to relax and swim in crystal-clear water.


Donousa > remote and barren but the islanders love it June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Residents derive pleasure from the beauty of the Aegean that surrounds them > The houses at Mersini look as though they have one foot in the sea and the sun and wind make their presence felt > The ruggedness of Donousa is also its charm

We reached the island on the new subsidized service of Blue Star Ferries, which sails between Piraeus and Donousa twice a week. Another service is run by the Express Skopelitis but this has recently been reduced to three times a week so as to avoid delays at the other islands it serves. The island therefore has to depend on supplies shipped from Amorgos and Naxos islands. The reduction in ferryboat services is indeed a setback for the islanders, in particular in the winter when gale-force winds often prevent the ferryboats from sailing.

Left to its own devices to fend against the strong winds that blow in the area, Donousa is more isolated than before. “Naturally I gave in my notice,” said the island’s Mayor, Yiannis Prasinos, on his recent resignation from the Association for Cooperation and Development of the Amorgos Municipality and Communities of Donousa, Irakleia, Koufonisia and Schoinousa.” His wife, Chrissi Prasinou, said, “Donousa is barren, wild and harsh, but it survives.” Her words aptly described what we discovered on our arrival: waves, rain and wind.

The island is now making preparations for the tourist season. Some are whitewashing the walls, the tavernas are getting ready to open and the works for the water supply network are moving at a faster pace. The first cash point, ATM of ATEbank, recently installed, awaits custom. Michalis Prasinos and his brother Vassilis are organizing summer cultural events together with the islands of Folegandros and Sikinos. Nearly all of the island’s 120 rooms have been booked for the month of August. Gradually the rooms are also being taken for July.

The islanders are well aware of the implications of tourist development. They do not like the numerous constructions and many are already unhappy with the two-story buildings that have sprouted on the island, which they see as a blot on the traditional one-story architecture. However it is difficult to earn a living from a little farming, stockbreeding and fishing.

“Before the war there was a metal mine at Kedros and enough work. We did all the jobs then. We were construction workers, farmers and fishermen rolled into one. We were poorer then but it was better. We would all gather every Sunday here and celebrate,” reminisced Costas Kovaios. “Tourism is an easy solution,” the islanders maintain. Livestock breeding is still possible but many have abandoned farming because of insufficient rainfall. Giorgos Markoulis remembered when it rained continuously for three days 30 to 40 years ago and the water flowed down to the sea. “We used to produce 150 tons of onions. We sold the produce to Chios, Lesvos and Kalymnos but now we have to buy from Naxos. At Mersini, tons of peaches were grown.”

The small dry plots that many of the islanders still cultivate are now for growing crops for their own consumption. Agritourism, however ideal it might sound to a community that has strong ties with farming traditions, does not appeal to the inhabitants because of the red tape. They worry about commissions demanded by middlemen and the lack of information. Thus every islander builds five rooms or opens a taverna and they all do what they can to bring up their children.

Manolis Markoulis has chosen to follow his father’s profession, a fisherman on a small caique. “We go out at 5.30 in the morning and return at 8.” Athens and its frenetic life style is not for him. The young that have remained on the island are mainly men. The few women that do stay on Donousa often marry men from other places, enriching the list of surnames which are considered to be typical of Donousa, such as Markoulis, Sigalas, Kovaios, Venetsanos and Roussos. Dimitris Missiris from Athens has not regretted following his wife to live on Donousa: “In Athens I worked from 7 in the morning till 8 in the evening and could never put any money in the bank. Here I provide for my family, I run a store and I am gradually investing in the island.”

The people on Donousa are calm, cheerful and tolerant. They have their disputes and problems but they manage. The island has even won over the doctor, Leonidas Zografakis. “On my very first day I had an urgent case to deal with. Because of the rough sea and strong winds I couldn’t find transportation for my patient. We managed to move the patient on a small boat from Amorgos and when I returned I wanted to hand in my resignation,” a common remark from doctors unprepared for islands such as Donousa. “Now the island has won me over and I have already applied to extend my stay by six months.”

Donousa has preserved classic Cycladic qualities: tranquillity, unassuming beauty, clean air and good food. The red mullet smells of iodine and the fishing boats are a perfect setting for a hot fish soup and fresh lobster.

An ancient settlement of the Geometric period at Vathi Limenari is evidence that the island was inhabited as early as the 9th century BC. The century-old juniper trees, whose shade is much sought after by campers, add their own timelessness to the setting, while the graceful palm trees are striking. The play of light and shadow in the water at Fokospilia is also charming.

The island is just 13.5 square kilometers and the only asphalt road starts from the port and reaches Kalotaritissa in the north. The village is inhabited by three or so old people. The village of Messaria was abandoned about a year ago. Mersini is the second-largest village on the island after Stavros, with a population of 13 people all of whom share two different surnames. Despite the villagers’ weather-beaten, sunburnt and deeply wrinkled faces they have a sparkle in their eyes. The houses are without railings and fences while there are verses by Elytis inscribed on the walls. At Mersini, the water spring and plane tree come as a surprise, for it is one of the few plane trees to be found on a Cycladic island. In a school environmental project all the primary school children wrote that they would not like to see it ruined.

The children are at the center of the Donousa community. The whole island belongs to them and, without the restrictions typical of a city, play never ceases, offsetting any disadvantages encountered at the small primary school which has only five girls and one boy. In the junior high school the situation is more difficult: There are five pupils and there is one senior high school student. It is impossible to do group work and competition is lacking. During the university entrance exams they have to compete on unequal terms. “I lead a different life. I have always been alone at school,” said Evangelia Prasinou, who is in the second grade of senior high school. “It’s nice here on the island. But it would be better for me to leave and study elsewhere and then return.” None of the children want to leave Donousa for good.

The children also help their parents in their tasks. Sofia Mavrou, the eldest in the family, has worked in the family’s grocery since the age of 8. “Then I used to do the sums on a calculator but now I use the cash register. I’ve got tired of it though. I see kids sitting around all day in the summer and I wish I could too, even for just a week.” Her friend, Sofia Skopeliti, helps out in her father’s taverna. They have both gone to the port to pick up new supplies from the Skopelitis Express, which hastens to leave for its other island destinations.

‘Apollo Delios’ on historic Cycladic isle June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Ballet Dance Opera.
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There’s an exciting sequel to the exceptional event being organized by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation on Delos island on September 1.

“Apollo Delios,” a music and ballet event featuring the orchestra and soloists from the ballet of La Scala with principal dancer Roberto Bolle, conducted by Daniele Gatti, will be performed at sunset on Delos.

Not only will that performance be broadcast live by state TV channel NET in Greece, but it will also be recorded and broadcast by Net-World to the Greek diaspora. Greek Radio and Television ERT will also offer the show to the European Broadcasting Union to be shown abroad.

At a press conference Thursday, the Foundation’s President Antonis Papadimitriou thanked State Minister Theodoros Roussopoulos and praised state-run television for promoting the event abroad and attracting visitors to Greece.

Only 500 people will be in the audience on Delos and HMN, heaven willing, will be among them. On September 3 the performance will be repeated at the Herod Atticus Theater in Athens. The proceeds will go to the Hellenic Society for Disabled Children, ELEPAP.

No man is an island, as the poet said, and Delos is not just an island. It is a living myth.

Gennadius Library honors Peter Brown June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Every year in June, the Gennadius Library honors someone whose work has made a contribution to Greek civilization.

This year, on June 11, the person honored was Peter Brown, who is Philip and Beulah Rollins professor of history at Princeton University.

Professor Angeliki Laiou of Harvard gave the introduction and Brown gave a speech on “The Sense of Space and Time.” A dinner followed in the grounds of the library. Among the leading lights at the event was former US Ambassador to Athens, now Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, who went from table to table greeting old friends.

Al Gore’s message at IDKK event June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Environment.
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‘This is our generation’s Thermopylae’

Speaking at the Grande Bretagne in Athens Wednesday, former US Vice President Al Gore proposed that we become ‘active citizens.’

Al Gore’s message at the IDKK event was > “This is our generation’s Thermopylae. We must become active citizens if we want our planet to have a future.” Former US Vice President Al Gore took a realistic approach in his speech Wednesday at the Constantine Karamanlis Democracy Institute (IDKK) as he emphasized the seriousness of the environmental threat facing the planet.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis spoke first, noting that Greece had ratified and complies with the Kyoto Protocol and that it would ask the education minister to distribute the DVD of Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” to every school in Greece.

Applause interrupted the Premier’s speech several times, indicating that the crowd that packed the Golden Room at the Hotel Grande Bretagne was not only partisan, but also environmentally aware. Besides, they had come to hear some grim truths about climate change from Gore, who has made the point repeatedly on his tour that if major political parties and economic decision-makers do not take drastic action, “Planet Earth is doomed.”

A charismatic, experienced speaker, with a gentle expression that endears him to his audience, Gore is himself a creation of globalization. The problem is global and he is its global herald. Referring to the presidential election he lost by a few thousand votes in 2000, Gore introduces himself with dry humor as “the former next president of the USA.” It was his wife Tipper who urged him to get involved with the greatest problem facing humankind, climate change, which is melting polar ice. Since then he has traveled the world with film crews to record the changes, floods, drought, unsettled weather and the slow but steady rise in temperature. “Katrina came, New Orleans was flooded. Trouble came knocking on our door and forced us to face the truth. And the truth is that our planet is being continually overheated by gas emissions, excessive energy consumption, rising population and corresponding environmental problems. The planet is our home and it is seriously ill. In 35 years’ time, if we don’t take measures now, there will be no North Pole. The ice will have melted, the oceans will have risen, with unforeseeable consequences. This is the slogan of my world tour. The climate change that has begun demands that we all become active citizens if we want our planet to have a future. Like the 300 Spartans of Leonidas, we must guard our Thermopylae. This is our generation’s Thermopylae. This is our time to act,” he said to warm applause.

Earlier Karamanlis had spoken with equal eloquence on the great problem facing this generation, the four seasons that have dwindled to two, just summer and winter. The Greek Premier was resolutely upbeat, however, insisting that optimism is more effective than pessimism. Gore recommended seizing the bull by the horns before it gets into the china shop. “They say I am a voice crying in the wilderness, but it is not a wilderness yet,” he said, adding that our children will either ask why we adults didn’t do something while there was still time or praise us for finding the courage to save the world.

Greek Government’s plan to introduce new income tax plan June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Living.
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Greek Government mulls flat 25 pct income tax rate

The government is studying a plan for a flat 25 percent rate on all personal incomes as of 2010, sources said.

The measure, which was initially to have been applied to 2009 incomes but has proved technically difficult, will be accompanied by the abolition of tax exemptions or the taxing of certain incomes at special rates. The package is said also to include changes in the taxation of real estate, with a view to its simplification.

At present, incomes of salary earners and pensioners above 13,000 euros annually are taxed at 30 percent, and above 23,000 euros at 40 percent. The types of incomes which will no longer enjoy exemptions or special rates include bonuses for hazardous work, special bonuses for members of national sports teams, the remuneration of soccer and basketball players and some bonuses paid to local government officials.

Supermarket chains brace for more intense competition June 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Shopping.
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Private-label products are becoming increasingly popular in Greek supermarkets and cash-and-carry chains. Turnover in the sector rose by about 6.5 percent last year, compared to 2005, to total 8.37 billion euros.

After a good year for their sector, supermarket chains have turned their attention to autonomous growth through investment to expand their networks, either wholly owned or with franchises, as well as the creation of logistics centers, according to a report by Hellastat. Data analysis shows that last year’s acquisitions involved only small and regional chains, but this does not rule out the possibility of a major deal in the future.

Sklavenitis and Masoutis have created a joint group for their supplies, following Metro’s example, in order to respond to escalating competition and to strengthen their position against their suppliers, due to the competition pressures from multinational groups in Greece such as Carrefour-Marinopoulos and AB Vassilopoulos, and discount stores such as Dia, Lidl and Plus. Private-label products remain a central pillar in the strategy of the main chains, in response to their cut-price rivals.

The dynamic expansion of discounters with an ever increasing number of stores and the presence of brand-name products on their shelves are putting further pressure on profit margins in the sector. Pressures will increase in 2008, when German chain Aldi is expected to enter the Greek market. Aldi has announced it will not stock any brand names, relying instead on its private label.

Another common practice in the sector is the creation of shop-in-shop spaces, as supermarket chains adopt foreign patterns in leasing out parts of their stores to third companies. This is aimed at strengthening the finances of the chains by securing regular income from rents, while supporting sales by offering consumers the opportunity for one-stop shopping. It is mainly the largest groups such as Carrefour-Marinopoulos, with 287 such leasing contracts, AB Vassilopoulos and Veropoulos that enter into such partnerships.

In the area of franchising, the market is eagerly awaiting the decision of the Competition Commission concerning the imposition of prices and profit margins by Dia on its franchise network, as the company may be breaking free competition rules. If Dia is found guilty, then other franchisees will have recourse to the Commission, changing the balance in this segment of the market.

Hellastat’s survey of financial reports in the sector showed that total turnover of supermarket and cash-and-carry companies reached 8.37 billion euros last year, which is 6.5 percent higher than the previous year. The positive year for the sector meant 56 of the 65 companies improved their sales against the previous year.

Even more positive is the picture for operating and net profits: Total operating figures came to 303.4 million euros against 279.5 million euros in 2005, a rise of 8.5 percent, while net pretax profits rebounded by 20.4 percent to 130.4 million euros after a decline in 2005.