European Mobility Week - Greek Immobility Week!

16 - 22 September is European Mobility Week. Hundreds of towns and cities from countries across Europe are participating, except for - Greece! Well, actually, one town is participating (in a half-hearted way) - Lamia. But apart from that, the traffic in Athens will most likely be like the photo below - immobile! 358 towns from Spain, 375 from Austria, 155 from France....and Greece?? Perhaps their minds are all on getting votes at the upcoming national election!

Athens traffic

During European Mobility Week people are invited to participate in a wide range of activities promoting sustainable mobility. The campaign theme this year is "Improving City Climates", underlining the importance of local level efforts to tackle climate change and improve quality of life through the promotion of alternative transport modes to the car such as cycling, walking, and public transport as well as clever car use schemes such car-sharing and car-pooling.

By adopting "Improving City Climates" as the 2009 focal theme, European Mobility Week wants to establish a link with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December 2009 in Copenhagen by demonstrating that citizens and local authorities have a key role to play in the fight against global warming by fostering a radical change away from private car use and towards more sustainable travel. By doing so, they also help to improve the quality of life at the local level.

Stavros Dimas (ironically, a Greek!), Commissioner for the Environment, stated:
"Private cars are large emitters of the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. They also seriously affect the quality of urban life. It is therefore important for public authorities and citizens throughout the European Union to adopt more sustainable modes of transport. Doing so would help reduce the impact of climate change and improve the living conditions in our towns and cities."

Last year, Budapest received the top award for its activities in European Mobility Week 2008. You can see a short video about it here.

Socrates Would Definitely Be Turning In His Grave

I previously posted about education in Greece here, but some recent reading has made me want to post again. The reference to Socrates is because 2.500 years ago he was teaching people by asking them questions and encouraging them to think and find the answers for themselves. Something which, ironically, is the opposite of what is happening in Greece today. I say ironically, because we are so proud (rightly so) of him and the other great Greek thinkers of the time and yet are doing completely the opposite. As I said, Socrates would be turning in his grave or, as we say in Greek, 'his bones would be creaking'.

The great Greeks from ancient times really were great minds and thought 'out of the box'. Their legacy can still be seen in so many areas in our life today - medicine, physics, mathematics, education etc. And yet that 'thinking' is the very last thing that children are encouraged to do nowadays.

I was reading an article in a British newspaper which was putting forward the claim that children in English schools are not being taught to think. Now this may or may not be true (I'm sure it probably is), I am not familiar with the English school system, but I thought to myself - if this writer saw the educational system in Greece, what would he say!

Learning as a child to question and to think will help us when we are older to have a society where common sense and intelligence prevail. At the moment, children just learn things parrot-fashion and with a view to just doing what it takes to pass exams. This cultivates a society of people who have learnt either how to just work in the system or how to beat or cheat the system.

The second piece of reading I was doing was from the latest report from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) on Doing Better For Children, including the data Comparative Child Well-Being across the OECD. This shows Greek 15-year-olds third from bottom (above Mexico and Turkey) in literacy and mathematics. They are also third from bottom in the percentage of 15-year-olds who have at least 4 of the basic educational tools (a desk to study, a quiet place to work, a computer for schoolwork, educational software, an internet connection, a calculator, a dictionary, and school textbooks). Greece is bottom in the state financial support of families with one person working and two school-age children.

The education - or rather 'non-education' - system needs a bomb under it. In order to qualify for university or college, nearly all schoolchildren have to go to evening classes or frontistiria. Not only is this wrong because they should be taught what is needed in the school, but also because it means children have hardly any free time and have ridiculous pressure to do homework. It also means that most families in Greece have to spend large amounts of money (which they don't have) every month for something which should be needless.

I cannot believe that people are not out on the streets every day demanding the abolishment of these frontistiria! In a time of such financial difficulty, to have to spend so much money every month for something that shouldn't exist is not only ridiculous but obscene! But people don't do anything - they just accept that it is necessary.

Schools are told by the state what books they should use - nothing is done to develop the creation of a variety of materials for the schools to choose from for themselves. Exams encourage pupils to just learn specific sections by heart and then regurgitate them. You may as well just answer like this - Q1. - Answer: page 34, para 5; Q2 - Answer: page 46, para 2 etc. You can get full marks (20 out of 20 in Greece) for composition/essay and history. How can this be? Is you essay so good it cannot possibly be improved on?

Facts, now more than ever with the internet, can easily be found - it's learning to use them that is not so easy. This is what needs to be encouraged - thinking. This is what made great thinkers in the past great. They took themselves beyond the barriers, they thought 'out of the box' as I said above. If we are so proud of the ancient Greek thinkers, then the best way to express this is by trying to do the same and encouraging young people to do the same.

Corfu Prickly Pears

In a previous post - 10 Corfu Trees - I mentioned the Prickly Pear Tree. We are now busy eating the prickly pears here! Prickly pears here are called either Frangosyka (Frankish Figs) or Pavlosyka (Paul's Figs). The latter name is used only in Corfu as far as I know and, though it is not certain, I have been told that the name comes from Pavliana, a part of the island where they were originally prolific. If anyone has any more information on this, then I would be glad to here from you.

Although we say 'tree', it is really a cactus plant and grows easily and prolifically in many areas in southern Europe. In Corfu you can find the plants all over the island. The name 'prickly pear' comes from the fact that the fruit has large, sharp thorns which make it difficult to handle. The photo above is of a large, sprawling cactus on our neighbour Soula's land.

You can see in the photo below how the fruit is picked. The tin-shaped part at the top of the long handle is hollow so that you can enclose the fruit in it and then twist and pull it off and put it straight into the bucket or basket. This means that you avoid having to handle the thorns. You'll notice it has two sizes to accommodate for different sized fruit! This is the cutting edge of village technology!

This is Soula showing the fruit that she's just picked.

These are some of the Frangosyka that we picked.

Again, when you are peeling the fruit, you have to be careful of the thorns. As well as the large, obvious thorns, there are tiny little hair-like thorns that take an age to get out of your fingers - ask me!

You can see one way of peeling in the photo below, using a fork to hold the fruit and a knife to peel it. The final photo shows the fruit as it is once the skin has been removed. I can tell you it's definitely worth the effort! The juicy fruit is definitely one of my favourites and especially if you keep it in the fridge before eating.

First, cut off the end.

Slice the skin lengthwise.

Peel off the skin to reveal the inner fruit.

The fruit ready to eat. You can see the seeds here as well. Delicious!

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