Category ►►► Dastardly Demography
May 16, 2009
Our Big Fat Greek Wedding Party, part β
We got home before sunset (just barely, about 8:30), and we decided to eat some more of last night's fried fish. For some reason, I was totally drained; despite my firmly announced intent to stay awake until 10:30 at least, I fell into bed about an hour before that. But Sachi was disturbed by a raucus celebration next door. When someone opened the gate of our villa and parked his car directly in front of ours, she decided to march out and find out what was going on.
She returned excited, urging me up and into outdoor clothing: "It's Tadis... his son is getting married, and they're having the wedding party right now! -- and they've invited us!"
Grumbling, I scaled the side of the bed, dressed, and headed after Sachi, who was tugging me forward like an anxious Akita at the end of a leash (what will she say, I wonder, when she discovers I analogized her to a dog?) But it turned out to be the highlight of the trip so far.
It was an honest to Artemis big, fat Greek wedding feast. All the women had gathered in Tadis' house and cooked up a number of dishes; prominent among them, though not exhaustive:
- Wild goat stew;
- Roasted rooster (I hoped it was the damned thing that had awakened us every morning at 4:00 since arriving);
- Rice cooked in the fat of (surprise) goat and rooster;
- Spinach pie;
- Broadbeans and steamed sprouts;
- Home-baked Greek bread (pretty similar to Italian bread);
- Figs in heavy syrup (seems to be a staple);
- Some sweet pastry I can't identify;
- Lots and lots of home-fermented wine, one bot of which had been aged since the birth of the lucky son, thirty-eight years ago.
Bizarrly enough, the talk in our section of the table swiftly turned to a discussion of Greek contributions to philosophy three thousand years ago and a comparison of sixties rock to seventies progressive rock (I held out for the primacy of the latter, to general derision).
One point that struck me is hinted above: The groom, Manos, is 38 years old, and he's just getting married now. The marriage and children culture of Greece, in fact all of Europe, has changed so radically, it's virtually unrecognizable. The wedding feast comprised two types of guest: the very young, from childhood until early twenties; and the old, sixty and more. I don't recall seeing a single "middle-aged" person in his thirties or forties (Manos himself was off with his new bride).
I believe this points out the tragedy of Europe: It is dying. More precisely, it's committing suicide by demography. Mere replacement fertility rate is about 2.1 live births per female, but Greece has 1.36, just over half; thus, each new generation is about half the preceding... a cultural death-spiral if ever we saw one. If they don't reverse this trend very quickly and begin breeding at least as fast as the Moslem immigrants in that country, Greece, cradle of Western civilization, will become a Moslem nation in 20-30 years.
I hate the America Alone imagery of the Mark Steyn book, but it's tough to argue with the facts. My only caveat is that I believe the West will awaken before the terminal phase, while Steyn believes the last throes are already upon them.
In any event, we ended our day happier and more wistful, full and yet drained. Just as we were drifting off to the Land of Nod, the real celebrating began: The guests and host began firing rounds into the sky to celebrate renewal of life... a custom that long predates the Moslem invasion of Greece. The only thing we have done today (Sachi had to work in the evening) is lounge around the beach and swim in the Med; though we did have a miraculous lunch of Cretan rabbit stew, a porkchop the size of Delaware, more stuffed grape leaves, and a dish that neither of us had ever imagined before: boiled cucumbers and steamed spinach in olive oil and lemon juice.
Tomorrow, it's ho! for Iraklion/Heraklion, the city of Herakles (Hercules to the Roman upstarts), and the adjoining major Minoan archeological site of Knosos, capital of Minoan Crete and legendary site of the palace of King Minos -- and the labyrinth below it which contained the Minotaur. The Crete chronicles shall continue...
Our Big Fat Greek Wedding Party, part α
Crete is a sympony of thundering dogs, tumpeting roosters, yowling stray cats, baying fishmongers, and loadcasting Greeks gathering with friends to discuss the day's triumphs and defeats over homemade Greek salad, heavy bread, and handrolled cigarettes. At this season it's chilly in the dawn, steamy in the sultry afters, noisy and cool at night.
There is no morning; or if there is, nobody observes it. The day begins at noon, as the restaurants open and the stores flip their signs. Even the shade is bright, caroming off the cushion of brightly painted buildings (primary colors) to sink in the eye pocket. Greece is a typical Southern European country with lusty men who yet produce few children, hot-tempered men and women who yet don't fight: It may be too hot, or else it's too humid, or then again it may be too cold.
Picking up where we left off in Chania, after leaving the internet cafe, we set off for the inner harbor -- past the Mosque of the Janissaries (with its hideous concrete dome, it looked less like a house of worship than a kiosk dispensing travel insurance), hooking east towards the restored arsenals. I was hot to see a promised carefully reconstructed Minoan galley (ca. 1500 B.C.); but we had to wait... for a reason never clearly explained, the museum opened at 10:00, closed at 3:00, then reopened at 6:00 and closed again at 9:00. As we were still in the window of darkness, we decided to eat dinner first.
Taking the advice of the Rough Guide to Crete, we dined at Apostolis 2 (just three doors down from the original, Apostolis 1). There we split a fried-fish platter and the omnipresent Greek salad (tomatoes, cukes, and a feta cheese much looser than I'm used to having). Everything was excellent; and as with the lunch restaurant, they served free and unexpected dessert. This time it comprised two items (mixing and matching was in order): figs preserved in heavy syrup, and yogurt accompanied by a different syrup, this one made of rose petals. Each was more delicious than the last. Raki -- brandy-like wine fermented from the skins and stems left over from grape pressings -- was also freely handed out (as at nearly every Cretan restaurant, taverna, and cafe).
Every meal we've had in Crete so far has been accompanied by fried potatoes (we would say "steak fries"). The waiter at Apostolis asked Sachi if she wanted fries; always wanting to know her options, Sachi asked what the choices were besides fries. "Fries or no fries," explained the waiter succinctly.
We had plenty of fish left over, so we had it for breakfast next day. I should take a moment to describe it more fully (if it seems I'm dwelling on the food, that's only because it's one of the facets of travel I love best). The basket contained a mix of shrimp, squid, red snapper, sardines (sardella), and a slightly larger fish than the last, with an orangish tint. There was also octopus, but that alone was grilled instead of fried. The snapper had bones that required surgical extraction; but for the rest, one simply pops the entire beast into one's mouth -- head, tail, gills, suckers, tentacles and all -- and grinds away with one's molars.
In the morn, we decided to do some local exploring. We had noticed a sign in the village from which the mountains of villas sprout; "Ancient Aptera 2 km" it read. Since a major reason to visit Crete is to ponder the Ozymandian collapse of ages past, we decided to see what Ancient Aptera entailed.
Driving through scenic, rolling hills of scrub and some greenish-purple, heather-like plant, past the modern Aptera (relatively speaking), we eventually found the archeological site in question. What astonished me was the aeonic range of architecture. The oldest ruins were from the 8th century B.C., before the Hellenic period of Greece; but there was also a monastery dating from more than a millennium later at the same site! Shortly thereafter, Ancient Aptera was destroyed by an ancient earthquake... else I'm sure it would still be there, its taverns asking customers whether they wanted fries or fries with their mousaka.
The site includes Greek burial chambers; a Byzantine fortress; a Persian fortress; Roman sisterns; Christian churches dating from when Arthur War Duke still reigned over parts of England; Venetian and Florentine coins; Ottoman cannon emplacements; and Nazi pillboxes. It was well worth our expedition (we could even have walked from Villas Manos), but our presence was required in Chania once more.
For lunch, we returned to the scene of the crime, Apostolis, with a couple of Sachi's accomplices and had temera -- I think -- which is a porridge of yogurt, fish roe, and olive oil, along with souvlaki -- shish kabob, more or less. After some more sight-seeing (while I was at the internet cafe again), it was time to drive back to the villas.
Driving in Crete is a true adventure, particularly in the cities. First off, in Greece generally, speed limits are what separate locals from tourists, and the center line is only a suggestion. One drives at the right edge of the lane; when a car inevitably races up behind, one pulls further over until the right wheels are actually in the emergency lane. I think the reasoning is that the impatient chap is going to pass you anyway... so you might as well make it quick and painless, with a minimum of driving on the wrong side of the road, by giving as much room as you can.
In general, Cretans seem to be good (or at least skilled) drivers; but today, en route to the small town of Kalive, the cops went roaring past us on the National Road; a kilometer further along, we saw a car flipped upside down in a ditch along the right side, with police trying to extract the driver -- or at least ascertain whether it was a rescue or a recovery. So it goes. Sachi was nervous behind the wheel for the rest of the day.
It appears impossible to obtain a proper street map of any Cretan city, likely because the streets change names every couple of blocks (like in Ireland). But it would be useless, since next to none of the streets have visible steet signs anyway. Those few that do are sometimes labeled in both Greek letters and Roman script; but the most important always seem to be the former only. While I can usually sound out Greek words in peace and comfort, I require less pressure than while trying to navigate through a city of back alleys and narrow closes at breakneck speed, and more time than is available in the fleeting flash I get as we roar past.
The only way to get to any "there" from one's current "here" is to look at the larger map, note the general direction of travel -- Chania is northwest from the Souda Bay/Chania exit off the National Road, for example -- and then combine ingenuity, a compass, and brazen ruthlessness to stick to that course (ignoring do-not-enter signs as required). Eventually, one should reach a part of the city one recognizes.
To be continued...
January 16, 2008
Kids... Those Darn - Kids!
I was reading a piece on AP which reported that in the United States, births are significantly up; fortunately, AP gave us the benefit of its anointed, elite-media analysis of the looming catastrophe -- a rising fertility rate -- that will positively dwarf the pending disaster of global climate change:
Bucking the trend in many other wealthy industrialized nations, the United States seems to be experiencing a baby boomlet, reporting the largest number of children born in 45 years.
The nearly 4.3 million births in 2006 were mostly due to a bigger population, especially a growing number of Hispanics. That group accounted for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. births. But non-Hispanic white women and other racial and ethnic groups were having more babies, too.
Good heavens! More children; don't these people know that we're destroying the Earth as it is? What can be causing this aberrant behavior?
Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty.
Zounds, have things gotten so bad that women are forced to start having babies again? Quelle horror!
One of those religious fanatics might suggest that more people are simply deciding to have more children, perhaps because they believe in the future here -- as they certainly do not in the socially conscious European countries. (Since there is no future, believing in one is a sign of desperation, delusion, or senility.) But even if the religious explanation is true, it just proves what unsophisticated boobs red-state Americans are:
"Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, 'Let's have another kid,'" said Nan Marie Astone, associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.
Those crazy Americans. Don't they understand the danger the human population poses to this planet? And will this boomlet continue? AP turns to the most appropriate subject-matter expert to ask about this freakish rise in childbirth:
Demographers say it is too soon to know if the sudden increase in births is the start of a trend.
"We have to wait and see. For now, I would call it a noticeable blip," said Brady Hamilton, a statistician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yep, when I want to learn more about the causes of an inexplicable increase in fertility, my first choice would certainly be to contact the Centers for Disease Control. And Prevention.
At least there is a dark lining to this silver cloud:
To many economists and policymakers, the increase in births is good news. The U.S. fertility rate - the number of children a woman is expected to have in her lifetime - reached 2.1. That's the "magic number" required for a population to replace itself....
But the higher fertility rate isn't all good. Last month, the CDC reported that America's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years.
Aha! So the increased fertility rate reflects nothing more than rampant unmarried teen mothers. We always knew the evil of the anti-family Republican regime would eventually catch up with us; this must be the explanation for the putative "boomlet." Oh, wait:
The same report also showed births becoming more common in nearly every age and racial or ethnic group. Birth rates increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, not just teens.
Oh. Ah, nevermind.
Demographers say there has been at least one boomlet before, around 1990, when annual U.S. births broke 4.1 million for two straight years before dropping to about 3.9 million in the mid-1990s. Adolescent childbearing was up at the time, but so were births among other groups, and experts aren't sure what explained that bump.
It's just totally counterintuitive: Why on earth would anybody want to have children? For God's sake, a Republican is in the White House! Shouldn't this be a time to protest by refusing to have babies, thus denying the regime the cannon fodder it needs to threaten the world?
Unless... maybe it's a result of all those union-job-stealing illegal immigrants swarming in with their crazy foreign ideas that there's something good, in some mysterious way, about having a family:
The high rate probably reflects cultural attitudes toward childbirth developed in other countries, experts said. Fertility rates average 2.7 in Central America and 2.4 in South America....
Some complain that many illegal immigrants come here purposely to have children.
"The child is an automatic American citizen, thus entitled to all benefits of American citizens. This gives a certain financial incentive for people coming from other countries illegally to have children here," said John Vinson, president of the Virginia-based American Immigration Control Foundation.
There you go: Even those hardline, anti-immigration, militia-joining, federal-building-bombing, Buchanan-supporting, white supremacist, hood-wearing members of the Taliban wing of the Republican Party agree with us that having kids is unAmerican.
So what can we do about this scourge of spawning? Isn't there some sort of international "Protocol" we can join against childbirth? One must exist, because the European Union and Japan have clearly negotiated just such an agreement. How else to explain their refreshingly low fertility rates?
Here are some possible solutions we can consider:
Fertility levels tend to decline as women become better educated and gain career opportunities, and as they postpone childbirth until they are older. Experts say those factors, along with the legalization of abortion and the expansion of contraception options, explain why the U.S. fertility rate dropped to its lowest point -- about 1.7 -- in 1976.
Sadly, however, it appears that the contrarian American public just doesn't get it, like they just don't understand the peril of unbridled Capitalism and the immorality of having a strong military:
But while fertility declines persisted in many other developed nations, the United States saw the reverse: The fertility rate climbed to 2 in 1989 and has hovered around that mark since then, according to federal birth data.
Kohler and others say the difference has more to do with culture than race. For example, white American women have more children than white European -- even though many nations in Europe have more family-friendly government policies on parental leave and child care.
More proof, as if any were needed, of the greater enlightenment of women on the other side of the pond.
Finally, there is one other dark side to this that we will never talk about. Except we have to let you know about it, because how else would you know what we're not going to talk about?
The influence of certain religions in those latter regions is an important factor, said Ron Lesthaeghe, a Belgian demographer who is a visiting professor at the University of Michigan. "Evangelical Protestantism and Mormons," he said.
Either Professor Lesthaeghe was cut off in mid-sentence, or else Catholics have finally come to their senses. Maybe next they'll go all the way and start supporting a woman's right to choose!
In any event, surely you can see the dilemma here: How on earth can we cure this problem of excess births? What external controlling factor is forcing more and more women back into the baby quagmire... women who should be in the vanguard of freeing themselves from biological servitude?
It's a serious problem. We'll need some major research grants to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to finally reverse this epidemic of new life.
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