So. There’s a global fish shortage? Well that was easily confirmed when I was in Greece last week where smack in the middle of the blissful Aegean the only fresh seafood consisted of sardines, squid, cuttlefish – and sardines again. But thank god for the Greek spirit that even after decades of mass tourism can still lob a joke and a large dose of charm – even if the waiter turns out to be Albanian.
I had already encountered the fish shortage about six years ago in the Peloponnese, then again last year (see blog passim). This time it was on Skiathos, an island of the Sporades group which shudders as yet another planeload of Brits and/or Germans lands directly at the airport. In fact I’ve never spent a better pre-departure afternoon as we sat at a restaurant terrace jutting out over the bay, sipping retsina and devouring platters of succulent grilled seafood – all fresh – while watching plane after plane fly low over the harbour to the runway barely a kilometre away. Strolling from restaurant to airport terminal was sheer pleasure – and of course by then we were late. But last to arrive for check-in also meant no queuing – cunning.
Back to fresh food though, it was enlightening to discover that even the divinely grilled lamb wasn’t local – New Zealand we were told. “But what about all those happy herb-fed lambs gamboling over the inland hills?” I spluttered. “Not enough of them” said the restaurateur. And that’s what it’s all about. With a population of 11 million, Greece isn’t exactly overpopulated: 84 people per sq kilometre compared with 246 in the UK – that’s about a third. But then count the hundreds of thousands who pour in every summer and all presumably demand seafood or lamb. There was plenty of other fabulously fresh fodder though, including countless variations on the melitzanosalata (the Greek version of baba ghanoush) theme, so we hardly suffered. And once we’d definitively registered the name of the unbeatable table retsina, Malamatina, then we were up and running.
It’s hard to believe but I didn’t even realise that the blockbuster film Mamma Mia! was filmed on Skiathos and on neighbouring Skopelos. It’s not my kind of film – Meryl Streep leaping up and down on a springy bed in dungarees? it just didn’t entice me to the cinema. But I quite understand why they chose these islands. Even 20 odd years on from when I first visited them, they are still incredibly green, unspoilt and even dare I say it, low-key, though I’d hate to be there in high season. From the main road hugging the south coast we followed a track through pungent pine-woods to beaches on the north coast which at 10 am were deserted. A few more bodies arrived, but the sands were generous.
Then those transparent cobalt – turquoise liquid depths. With barely any fish – it is indeed worrying. But the mystery for me is how do the Libyans on the other side of the Mediterranean manage such an abundance (see previous blog on Tripoli)? It just doesn’t make sense.
Even the squid laundry-line looked distinctly bare.
But perfumed air and dramatic skies compensated – at least they can’t be destroyed by man – or can they?
ADDENDUM. I’ve been requested by my faithful travelling companion Jessica (she of Mexico and Costa Rica days) to add her own pic of a plate of grilled squid.. so here it is