- A modern Greek poet has called the Cretans a people of stone — but he didn’t mean stony-hearted; one must remember that the crop-area of the island amounts to only three-eighths of the total space, and that the remainder of the country is unsuitable for any sort of cultivation. This bony land, with its uncompromising mountain slopes, pastures three-quarters of a million sheep and goats, which forever scramble and munch among the rocks of the thin garrigues. Hence overgrazing with all its dangers, and whole sectors of good land invaded by unpalatable spiny plants and shrubs. The high mountain pastures cannot be used in winter because of the snow, so that lowland grazing is obligatory. In addition to the half-million flock animals there is a further quarter-million of domestic sheep and goats, approximately three per farm family. These chosen members of the caprine world are, by contrast, cosseted; they shelter under the family roof at night, and by day they are towed about by the children and fed upon whatever greenery comes to hand. Hence the enormous damage they inflict upon the land. However, they provide enough milk to meet the family requirements in dairy products like cheese and yoghurt. It is a tragic situation, for the goat is the scourge of Greece, and there seems no way that it can be abolished. At any rate, just after World War II, I saw a re-afforestation plan for Greece which was, I think, sponsored by UNRRA or some such international body. It was an extremely comprehensive study; it clearly promised that the Greek forests could become as they were in ancient times within the space of some eighty years, and the plan argued great financial prosperity for the country if carried out. The only proviso was that the goat must go but the Athens Government could see no way of bringing this about without risking trouble with the public.
- As for drink, the controversial rezina has been discussed so often that it seems invidious to do it again. Rezina may well taste ‘like pure turpentine which has been strained through the socks of a bishop’, as someone wrote to me; but it is to be recommended most warmly. You should make a real effort with it, but be warned that it is never as good bottled as it is fresh from the blue cans of the Athenian Plaka. It is a perfect adjunct for food which is oil-cooked, and sometimes with oil not too fresh. Its pungent aroma clears the mind and the palate at one blow. Yet it is mild, and you can drink gallons without a hangover; nor does it ever provoke the disgusting, leaden sort of drunkenness that gin does — but rather, high spirits and wit. If you drink rezina you will live for ever, and never be a trial to your friends or to waiters.