An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Sunday, October 15, 2006


Over the long years we have been coming here we have witnessed many elections. Almost biblical in their nature: hundreds of thousands of Greeks transport themselves back to the villages of their birth to exercise their franchise. Planes and ferries are full. Transport systems creak and many local businesses close completely to allow people to vote. Among Greeks voting is seen as a civic responsibility rather than as a right and you must remember that these are a people who have, in recent history, been denied the vote.

And so this time around being entitled to vote ourselves felt something like a privilege. How different to the meaningless (in terms of required outcome) process that voting in the UK had become. To vote or not to vote had been a difficult decision for us. As relatively recent full time arrivals we were anxious to understand both the system itself and the perceptions of locals as to us voting. On the latter point we were surprised: every local Cretan we spoke to applauded the idea. Some even went as far as to say that it should be mandatory: as part of the community it was important, almost mandatory, they said, that we vote.

Registering to vote was, as are all things bureaucratic in Greece, complex and form laden but register we did: with 3 days to spare. Trying to assess what was on offer and from whom was more difficult but suffice to say that last evening we had a phone call from one of the mayoral candidates asking whether we wanted any part of his programme explaining or expanding!

After a week of rain, today dawned dry and with the sun playing peekaboo throughout the morning it seemed as though the old gods were smiling on the election. As in London our polling station was the local school - if only education and politics were more regularly linked than just at election time. And so - although the polling stations are open, literally and biblically, from dawn to dusk we drove off up to Kournas around one this afternoon (the local school is a good few kilometres away - and up a mountain).

We parked up by the church and as we left the car we noticed that everyone was in Sunday best rig. The smell of roasting lamb filled the nose. A middle aged man dressed head to toe in black stood on his drive. We had parked opposite his drive and when we checked politely whether it was OK to leave the car there he assured us that it was and enquired whether we were going to vote. Our answer clearly pleased him and he pointed the way down a steep path toward the school but not before telling us who we should vote for.

As we reached the foot of this steep and precarious descent the smell of roasting lamb grew more intense and a background hubbub of voices came to greet us. Men and women stood beside the path to the school talking in properly animated Greek fashion. Voices were raised and hands flew hither and yon in making points political and personal. Friends and acquaintances popped out of the huddles to welcome and congratulate us. Someone offered lamb - another a slice of pizza. Much shaking of hands and slapping of backs: much advice on how to vote and for whom.

Our names symbolically lined through on the very short page of xeni registered to vote and, our passports returned only after casting our secret votes, we left to much good humour and more congratulations. And somehow it felt, for the first time in a long while, as though we had done something both politically meaningful and civically responsible.


  1. And indeed you had.

    However, I hope that the quality of the candidates and what they stand for is better there than it is here, otherwise it becomes extremely difficult to exercise one's rights and responsibilites at the ballet box.

    But yet another thing stands to your credit, the fact that you are an immigrant there, yet you took the trouble to involve yourself in their community and showed that you were willing to integrate. My experience of many Brits who retire abroad is that they treat the locals as if they are some sort of caricature or joke, and that they make little effort to integrate into their host society.

    Well done you.

  2. derek, i love this story...thank you very much for sharing it...a totally enjoyable read and a delight to vicariously walk along side you



  3. I cannot in all honesty say that either the quality of the candidates nor their policies are any better than you have elsewhere in the much lauded western democracy. I admit that I was dealing with the illusion and not the harsh reality of politics in my piece.

    As someone once said: there are only 2 things wrong with western democracy:
    the people they allow to vote
    and the people they are allowed to vote for


  4. a book by neville shute (real name neville shute norway) who wrote On the Beach and A Town Like Alice, explored an undemocratic method of voting. I don't like it, but i think it's interesting. The book is titled In the Wet, again set in australia

    the protagonist is a pilot and is awarded the rare Seventh Vote by order of the Queen. The book is set in some unspecified future.

    The franchise in australia is such that any individual can have as many as seven votes. I'm not sure I can remember all the criteria:

    1. a citizen
    2. education or commission in military
    3. earning one's living overseas for two years
    4. raising two children to 14 without a divorce
    5. an official in the church (i know, i know)
    6. having a high earned income
    7. awarded by the soverign of the commonwealth by royal charter

    much to be derided there, but it has some interesting elements too...i don't care for the non egalitarian ideal of democracy...but the book posited the need for reform of democracy