Saving the seahorse

Diver Vassilis Mendoyannis was part of an archaeological team making an underwater inspection of the mining port in Stratoni, on the Halkidiki peninsula. Taking a detour to come out of the sea, he suddenly came upon a seahorse.
‘I was ecstatic,’ he says, ‘since, despite many years as a diver, I’d never come upon one of these creatures in the sea. Then we saw a second, and a third… The place was full of them! It was amazing.’




Seahorses are fish. They live in water, breath through gills and have a swim bladder. However, unlike other fish, they have an exo-skeleton. They eat small crustacea, sucking up the food through their snout which is like a mini vacuum cleaner. An adult eats 30-50 itmes a day. Baby seahorses, which are amusingly called seahorse fry, eat a staggering 3000 pieces of food per day!

Mendoyannis returned to the spot a few months later, and again met with a plethora of seahorses. When he asked local fishermen about it they confirmed their presence in the area, showing him many that had got caught in their nets.
This was an important discovery, since seahorses are a vulnerable species, despite being masters of camouflage: they’re able to change color almost instantly and can grow appendages which make them resemble seaweed. However, they are slow swimmers and are easily entangled in nets, and their numbers in Greek waters have been steadily dwindling. So, researchers at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research were interested in finding out how that particular spot supported such an important population.

Then, in 2010, a bad storm resulted in tons of silt being deposited on the area due to the flooding of a dry stream, burying the eco-system of the sea bottom. After that, the seahorse population was reduced significantly. Being poor swimmers, seahorses use their prehensile tail to grip onto eel grass and other weeds in order to prevent themselves from being washed away by strong currents and waves. All this seaweed had now disappeared.

Mendoyannis came to the rescue. His team created an artificial environment, putting a metal grid on the sea floor to which were attached ropes and fake aquarium plants, giving the seahorses the means to anchor themselves. Results were impressive: the seahorses quickly adopted this artificial sea garden and their numbers started increasing again.



Today the area is still monitored by the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research and the seahorses are being photographed using a special, digital method which allows individuals to be recognized, despite their minuscule size. This will allow for various studies to be conducted, and a special documentary Is planned about the presence of the species in Greek seas.

‘Seahorses are are attractive and romantic creatures,’ says Mendoyannis, whose friends tease him about having fallen in love with the species. He believes that is why is why the local fishermen reacted positively to the idea of protecting the area.

The Greek name for a seahorse is hippocampus (ιππόκαμπος) which is a combination of the word ‘hippos’ (horse) and ‘campos’ (Campi in Greek mythology was a sea-monster, whose body was half human, half snake.) Ancient writers like Pliny thought the hippocampus had therapeutic properties, and, to this day, the traditional medicine trade (TCM) industry takes approximately 150 million seahorses per year from the wild for use mainly as natural aphrodisiacs.  There appears to be a new trend for dosing Chinese children with seahorse pills in the belief it will spur growth. Seahorses have also been proven to have high levels of collagen, which is encouraging Chinese women to use them as a substitute for Botox. All this, as well as the capture of seahorses to make tourist souvenirs and to display in aquariums, has been endangering the survival of the species.

When I was a child, I had a dried seahorse given to me by some fisherman. It was one of my most treasured possessions. Seahorses are unique in that the female transfers her eggs to the male, who thus becomes ‘pregnant’ and gives birth to loads of tiny offspring. Below I’ve included an amusing and rather astonishing video.


October Q&A – the Chef

Petros Koryzis came to cooking in a rather roundabout way. At the moment he is working in the family pastry shop, Cake & Cookie Co., who are famous for their 100% homemade goodies. They sell out of their tiny shop, but work mainly on orders, and cater events such as kid’s parties or christenings. Petros also does catering on his own or with friends, for parties and events of all kinds.

Tell us a little about yourself

After school I went to college in the United States, where I studied Italian and Economics. Then I went to London and worked for Starbucks for almost two years, completing their management course. I decided that the service sector was something I liked, but not that specific job. Brainstorming with friends, I realized the restaurant industry was what I was most interested in, so I went to the Cordon Bleu London school where I acquired the Grand Diplôme which included cooking and patisserie.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking. The hardest part to control in a restaurant is the kitchen, so I decided to start there. I spent about 7 years working in various kitchens in London, starting with an internship at Hybiscus Michelin star restaurant. I then moved around, getting experience in bistrot-style, Italian, and Mediterranean food and ending up at Buddha-Bar, which specializes in Pacific Rim cooking.
At some point I decided to come back to Greece to help my mother who had opened a pastry shop, which has now become a mother-and-son affair! Once here I also developed a catering side-line with other friends.

What were the major difficulties you’ve faced in the last five years?

Returning to Greece was something I’d always wanted, although London afforded more immediate possibilities. Despite Greece’s problems I always felt there was the potential to do something in the food industry. After all, it is my home, and my life here gave me an edge. In London the competition is vast and it’s a hub, where you get the best of the best. Here I have personal contacts and even today many of my clients are people I went to school with and their friends and families, and I’ve met many more through them.


Did anyone help or inspire you?

At Cordon Bleu they kept telling us that our choice of career was hard and offered little financial benefit. They taught us a lot about discipline and organization, which was useful as I’m not usually one to take the difficult route! Also one of the hardest kitchens I worked in taught me that this job can be a test of humility. Like in any job 90% is difficult and boring and it’s the 10% which makes it worth it. In my case the 10% makes it really worth it
A major inspiration were  Peter and Hiili, the couple who were executive head chef and head chef at Buddha-Bar when I worked there. They’d met at Nobu, stuck together and risen together. They loved their job and managed to make it work. They were the chefs that opened Buddha-Bar London, and are now married with a lovely little girl. Having a woman head chef was a best case scenario for me because the kitchen ran very smoothly.

What are your hopes/plans for the future?

Ideal scenario would be to put together a group of chefs and build a team which would enable me to partly move out of the kitchen and have a choice in the catering jobs I do personally. I’d like to groom and grow others to do it properly. I think that Greece has excellent chefs who are highly skilled but perhaps do not have the disciple to offer what abroad would be seen as upscale catering. An example being the state in which some leave the kitchen at the end of the night. I’m not interested so much in the grand scale of things, but in private ‘cheffing’ at a normal price. To provide a level of quality which would be consistent and ensure repeat customers.
One of the difficulties to be faced, for example, are the waiters. There are plenty of waiters in Greece but it isn’t considered on the whole a respected profession. They are mostly people who do this as a stopgap, or a stepping stone. Having met a few who are truly professional, I’d like to form waiters who know exactly what the clients want and how to provide it.
One of the most interesting things in catering is that I get to go into houses and take over! I get to see people in their family environment, with the kids the dog, and I love being part of this, as well as delivering the food.

What are your hopes for Greece? What changes do you hope /would you like to see?

I hope that Greece will manage to get through this period of turmoil and unrest, although I fear the unrest has not reached its climax yet. My main hope would be that we all together start thinking as a group, instead of as individuals.
In Greece we have the classic example of ‘envying the neighbor’s goat’. I don’t think this is wrong per se: people should want to acquire a goat like the neighbor’s, or a whole herd of goats, in the sense of bettering themselves. To make and have more, we have to understand that we all need to benefit, and we need to work together, in order to better the current psychology, and so that the markets and infrastructure pick up..


Petros with his mother in their shop, Cake&cookie Co.
Petros with his mother in their shop, Cake&Cookie Co.


Have you considered leaving? If so, where would you like to go, and why? If you have decided to leave what would make you stay?

I think of leaving every day! But I don’t think it would make a difference to my situation at this point, unless I get a very well-paid job. Leaving the country wouldn’t solve anything. Staying here and fighting for what I believe in and working with others I hope I may even, in a small way, be able to help.
If I left the obvious place would be London, because I know it well and I could get a job tomorrow. However I would love to work in France for a while.

Are you actively doing anything to help with the situation? Is there something you would like to do?

I’d love to think that just by going to work every day and doing my best I’m helping! I do believe that by staying and working with others I give something to the whole.
Would I like to do something more? Yes – my problem being I have no idea what that would be. I’m not one for taking to arms or politics.

How do you see Greece in 5, 10 years?

I don’t see much happening in five, to be honest. In ten, I’m hopeful we’ll be able to see some positive change.

How do you cope with obstacles and frustrations in your everyday life?

By venting! I have discovered in the last 5-6 years that I have a short temper, which, growing up, I never did. So I vent, not always on the right person. And by dancing! Sometimes out with friends, sometimes alone in my room.

What are the positive sides of living in Greece? Have you had any good experiences lately?

Not to sound corny, but I still believe Greece is one of the greatest countries in the world. Geographically and geologically we have everything, mountains and sea and climate. However, I also believe that we have good people in Greece.
Something my job affords me is to see people as they are at home; they are fathers, and mothers, and hard workers.
Thanks to the store and the human contact we have with the customers, I experience  the everyday reactions to the ongoing problems and I see that everyone has to wake up in the morning and smile. There’s still good in Greece – people who want change, people who enjoy the good things going on in their life, like births, marriages… I love to travel by car, and all you need to do is go into a small village anywhere in Greece and you’ll see what Greek hospitality is all about.

For those of you living in Greece, Petros can be contacted on: or the numbers +30 210 8078169 and +30 6946468882

Although I’m sure he’d love to be asked to go and cook in Australia or elsewhere, as long as he gets a plane ticket (first class, of course!)

Inside The Well-Traveled Sketchbooks of an Artist

The ALK3R blog showcases many interesting artists. I have reblogged this because I find the work of Dina Brodsky absolutely enchanting. Wish I could draw like that!



Artist Dina Brodsky has many focuses to her practice, painting in miniature on canvas and paper, and recently turning to her family, friends, and Instagram community to submit trees for her to reproduce in a drawn project titled “The Secret Life of Trees.”

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Aubergines – the new super food

The English call it aubergine, the Americans eggplant. We call it melitzana. Well, apparently this glossy purple vegetable has now outpaced kale, avocado and broccoli to become the new ‘must’ in healthy eating.

Aubergines have always been a favorite in Greek cuisine. Fried crispy and sprinkled with salt, they make a delicious (if not super-healthy) starter in tavernas.
Braised with tomatoe and onions they become imam bayildi, a recipe we share with all our neighbors in the eastern Mediterranean: the name in Turkish means ‘the Imam fainted‘ – presumably due to the deliciousness of the dish, or, in another version, because he was horrified at the amount of oil used to cook it. An old folktale relates that an imam married the daughter of an olive oil merchant, whose dowry consisted of twelve jars of the finest olive oil. Each evening for twelve days, she prepared for him a succulent eggplant dish with tomatoes and onions; but on the thirteenth day, no dish appeared at the table. When informed that there was no more olive oil, the imam fainted.


Purple aubergines
Purple aubergines


Puréed and paired with stewed beef or lamb aubergines make the ultimate comfort food, Hünkar Beğendi, an inheritance from the Ottoman cuisine. There are two different stories surrounding the name of this dish, which literately translates as “the Sultan liked it.” The first one is that the dish was created for Sultan Murad IV (1612-1640) – either in the palace kitchens or in the kitchen of a house where Murad IV spent a night on his way back from a hunting trip – and he adored it. The second rumor is that the same dish was served to Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, in Sultan Abdülaziz’s Beylerbeyi Palace in 1869, and she liked it so much that Abdülaziz promised to ask his chef to give Eugenie’s cook the recipe, something he was reluctant to do!

Layered with other vegetables, and topped with béchamel sauce, aubergines make up the ubiquitous moussaka. Another version is the very popular Italian melanzane alla parmigiana.

All the above recipes, though delicious, are hardly the stuff of a ‘healthy’ diet. For simpler dishes, try melitzanosalata (eggplant dip), a Levantine dish known in the Middle East, where they add tahini, as baba ganoush. The Arabic term means “pampered papa” or “coy daddy”, perhaps with reference to a member of a royal harem.
Aubergines soaked in ice water (otherwise they absorb too much oil) and gently braised in a covered frying pan with a clove of garlic, then sprinkled with basil leaves, make the ideal vegetarian lunch or an accompaniment for meat or chicken.




So, how healthy are they?

Purple fruit and veg in general – think beetroot, blueberries, plums, red cabbage – are beneficial because the anthocyanin that provides their colour is a powerful antioxidant. Aubergine skin is also high in phytonutrients and chlorogenic acid.
Aubergines are an excellent source of dietary fibre, of vitamins B1 and B6 and potassium. In addition they’re high in the minerals copper, magnesium and manganese.

Aubergines are a member of the nightshade family; centuries ago, the common eggplant was referred to as “mad apple” due to belief that eating it regularly would cause mental illness. The vegetable produces glycoalkaloids, bitter compounds which are there to defend plants against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and insects. Glycoalkaloids are found throughout the plant, but their concentrations are especially high in leaves, flowers, and unripe fruits. They are known to overstimulate the nervous system, and have had deleterious effects in laboratory animals, however they are found in aubergines only in negligible amounts. So they are pretty safe to eat.

As to their relative merits, I think all vegetables are good for the health as well as delicious, so it boils down to a matter of taste.


Stripy aubergines
Stripy aubergines

Prophecies of doom

Prepare to be scared.

Most of us realise we live in a dangerous world – every day we wake up to news of one catastrophe after another: bomb explosions, rampaging gunmen, coups, forest fires etc. Where the cause of these disasters is natural (earthquakes, floods) there is not much the authorities can do about it, appart from taking some preventive measures. But in the case of man-made catastrophes, such as terrorist attacks, cataclysmic economic failures, the refugee crisis – it is amazing that every single time the authorities appear stumped and stupefied. They seem to find even perceptible problems impossible to predict; and, when something does happens, they try to bolt the stable door after the proverbial horse has fled, making speeches of regret and apology, and promising to alleviate the victims’ sufferings (unreliably) and manage things better next time (improbably).

To my knowledge, nobody had predicted the three major disasters of the last fifteen years (the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001, the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and the Arab Spring uprising in 2011), despite the existence of (highly-paid) analysts and think-tanks. On the other hand, when people make predictions, they often prove unfounded. For instance, P. Kennedy in his book The rise and fall of the great powers’, had foreseen the decline of the USA. Instead, Russia disintegrated, leaving the USA as the dominant world power.


Soothing swan photo
Soothing swan photo


In an article written for the Books’ Journal, Greek professor P. K. Ioakimidis points all this out, and goes on to anticipate some possible major threats for the years to come:

The disintegration of the EU, which is experiencing an unprecedented crisis, enhanced by Brexit (see J. R. Gillingham’s ‘The EU, an obituary’).

An attack from Russia on Europe. Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible (given Putin’s exploits in the Ukraine, Crimea and Georgia).

Nuclear war involving the US, Russia and China. A nightmarish scenario, but can an accident be precluded?

Use of the atom bomb by terrorists. Another apocalyptic development, should they happen to get hold of a dirty bomb and unleash it on a major capital city.

Revolution or civil war in China. China is going through a difficult transition, with all the dangers this entails. And the country is too big to be totally controllable.

Civil war in India, between Muslims and Hindus. This would cause huge repercussions worldwide because of the enormous population.

Revolution in Saudi Arabia, which is a very closed society with hidden undercurrents.

The globalization of the Islam conflict with the West.

A major technological accident either in the sector of physics or in the sector of biology.

Autumn bounty
Autumn bounty

Hopefully, none of these fears will come to pass. Or, maybe something completely different will happen, with unforeseen consequences upon the world as we know it. As we speak, the increasing shifts in populations and the spread of terrorism, whether we want to acknowledge it or not – whether we believe it is our problem or not – are two things that have already had a major impact on most of our lives.

In Greece, at the moment, we are experiencing at first hand two potentially life-altering  events:
The first is the changing in the climate. All the Mediterranean region will eventually become sub-tropical. This apparently is due less to carbon emissions by cars, cows farting, aerosol cans, etc than to the effect of all the wars in the Middle East.
The second is the influx of a huge amount of foreigners, of a totally different culture, religion, and language, upon a population of eleven million, of which one are already immigrants. These have been remarkably well assimilated, so far, but there will soon be real issues of percentages, as well as of limited resources.

I wonder what everyone thinks about this – perhaps I am exaggerating, but it does frighten me to see how relatively little is done about all these issues. And history is not very reassuring, either.

A short meditation on walls

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

From “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost (1875-1963)




I have always loved walls. Beautiful stone or aged brick walls enclosing secret orchards.



The awesome Cyclops walls at Mycenea, built of huge hand-hewn blocks.



The great Chinese wall – it’s been on my bucket list for ages.



Walls protect, from the wind, from predators. They were used to defend cities. They retain mountains from sliding down, or rivers from flooding their banks, or the sea from encroaching on the land.

But walls can also be divisive.

In Berlin after the war, people woke up one morning to find out they’d been cut off from their neighborhood.

Photo from 1988
Photo from 1988


On a visit to Cyprus some years ago, a friend took me down a busy road lined with shops and cafes where people sat having a drink and a chat. Shockingly, the road was blocked by a wall cutting straight across it – a wall on which was written OCCUPIED TERRITORY. A guard stood watch on top, holding a machine gun. My friend said: ‘Our house was a hundred meters further down this road. We lost our house and half our friends, who were Turkish Cypriots.’ Interestingly, a few years later when the crosspoint was partially opened, they went to visit their old house, and the people who’d taken it over – complete strangers – gave a party for them. Which made me think that, for the amount of suffering caused to both sides by a political maneuver, there was zero benefit.


A city cut in half
A city cut in half


Governments continue to build this kind of wall. The kind of wall where people are always trying to get to the other side. After the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall, there were about 16 walls blocking borders around the world. Today there are some 65 walls, built or under construction, according to researcher Elisabeth Vallet of Quebec University.


Israel West Bank Barrier


History has shown us that there are always those who wish to expand their borders to include additional territory, and those who wish to close them to preclude immigration. Today more walls are being planned to keep out migrants. Donald Trump wants to build a wall to stop the Mexicans. Soon, at vast expense (around $3 million), there will be a new wall in Calais, France: it might protect the trains and the road, but will it stop migrants from getting into the UK? There is always another road, another way…


Non sequitur comic strip
Non sequitur comic strip

Superhuman stories

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Having watched the Paralympics in Athens in 2004, I remain in awe of these people – they are real heroes. Read this post by Anne Lawson.

Anne Lawson

You may have already seen Channel 4’s ad for the Paralympics…..if you have, watch it again, because it is worth it. If you haven’t watch it to be uplifted, inspired and listen to a fantastic song.

Now find out more……..

As Alvin Law says, there are no disabilities, just people with incredible talents!

[Thanks to everyone who taught me how to imbed videos. It worked like a charm. I think I was overthinking the whole process!]

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