When I started to outline some posts about the week we just spent on Ikaria, I was astonished to discover that I have written only once about the island in the eight years I’ve kept this blog. Since moving overseas I have visited the island with Andreas four times that I can think of, and Andreas has traveled there at least five more times on his own. Looking back on it, I think I avoided posting about Ikaria because I didn’t want to repeat myself, not realizing that I’d never actually written about it.
I had another blog before this one, back in 2009-2010. It was called Foodlandia, and it was mostly about food but with lots of digressions. I didn’t visit Ikaria even once myself during that period (Greece is a long way from Oregon, and we didn’t travel much in those days) but still I wrote six posts about the island that year. If you care to check them out – some of those Foodlandia posts come with recipes! – you can use the search box in the old blog to find Ikaria.
This week I will probably overcompensate for the lack of Ikarian posts on lornaofarabia. Ikaria occupies a lot of real estate in the hearts and minds of my family members, and in recent years it has taken up a lot of time as well, as some of them try to legally claim their Greek citizenship and reestablish a foothold on the island. At a future date I’ll add a few family history posts to give the Ikarian connection some historical context.
It’s a beautiful island and we don’t require a special reason to visit, but our trip this week had three pressing objectives. The first was that we were meeting our daughter Alekka there; she appeared to be in the final stages of establishing Greek citizenship, and it would be helpful to have her dad present as a witness during her interview (this story will need its own post, later… it is quite the saga).
The second reason we needed to go there now is that after several years of dire warnings, Greece is finally cracking down on property tax collection. There have been property tax laws in the books for a long time, but in practice – at least in the boondocks, like the island of Ikaria – a lot of people didn’t actually pay them. A big obstacle for the government has been that many people’s land is not registered with the state. Instead of deeds, for hundreds of years villagers have relied on the long memories of elders for details like “from the third olive tree past the well to the corner of the old Papadopoulis farm” to track ownership. Sometimes property lines are marked with “synera” (a word I can’t find anywhere in any online dictionaries, but is commonly used on the island), thin sheets of rock planted deep in the soil.
Those deeds that are registered are filed in binders and folders in local offices, not digitally or in a central location for Greece. Because of the way inheritances and dowries are handled, many individuals own tiny plots of land in several villages, and other parcels of land belong to groups of siblings or cousins. Also, many properties are held by the descendants of people who left Greece decades ago for different continents whose right to it exists only by collective agreement of elderly neighbors.
At any rate, in the interest of alleviating the current debt crisis, the government is changing these these time-honored procedures. Everyone needs to get their land registered with the government using GPS coordinates and then pay the tax. Special offices have been set up in the main towns where people have to bring all their papers – wills, sworn statements, bills of sale, etc. – or (in some cases) live witnesses to testify to what is theirs. Surveyors are doing a booming business.
It all has to be recorded by the end of September or you forfeit your property to the government who will put it up for sale. It’s a bit of a mess, with old ladies showing up at the office carrying stacks of folders to prove rights to not only their houses but their garden plots, water sources, olive trees, and grazing land. For many relatives on his father’s side, Andreas lives the closest geographically to Greece, and he has been charged with arranging the survey and registration of properties belonging to his immediate family as well as those of several cousins.
The third reason for this trip, related to reason #2, is that for three years we have been working toward building a house on the island and Andreas needed to complete the registration of that property. He also needed to light a fire under our contractor. Things move slowly on Ikaria, which is one of the things that is so charming about it (and probably one of the reasons Ikarians live so long), but it can be frustrating. It always works better when you are there in person, and we aren’t there enough.
In the end, we didn’t completely meet any one of the three goals. But that gives us a good reason to go back soon.