Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Here and There

Further musings over our ten years here on Rhodes. I've been thinking a lot lately about the major differences - and indeed some of the unexpected similarities - between life here on Rhodes and life there in the UK. So I may (covering myself in case I don't bother after this one) post a series of observations over such things. Here's one anyway, it's all about...

You know you're living in Greece when you've asked an artisan to come and do some work at your house. It may be a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, a tree surgeon (where did that come from?), whatever. It's invariably the same. The conversation will go something like this:

"I need a new flippety drangle dobbit fitted and I don't think it's something I can do without the proper tools. Would you come and have a look at it for me?"

"Yes, of course. No problem. Where is your house?"

"It's down there, up the road then right at the old taverna sign."

"Ah, yes, that's near where Manolis used to keep his pigs and Takis has most of his olive trees. Stefanos - you know Stefanos, he's the one who married Vaggeli's ugly sister and has been hardly seen inside his own front door for several years now - well he keeps his tractor in that shed up the back of Taki's olive groves. That is right isn't it?"

"Close enough. tell you what, you tell me when you can come and I'll keep an eye out for your truck. Maybe call me if you're in the area and not sure where I am." You rather hopefully give him your mobile phone number, which he scrawls on the back of his current cigarette packet (which rather ominously has only two of the original 20 offending health-damaging products remaining inside), after shouting to Giorgos the bar owner for a pen or pencil to write it down with. Giorgos has come over, whipped a two-inch long HB from behind his ear and hovered to make sure he gets it back right away.

"Why not put it straight into your phone?" you tentatively reply. 

"S'in the car. No problem, I'll do it when I go."

You now have to wait while the two men have a five or ten minute animated discussion about politics or some snippet of gossip from the nearest village. Tapping your fingers on the table and sipping at your drink, you sense your opportunity and jump in with...

"So, anyway, when can you come?"

"What day is it?" 

You tell him it's Tuesday, adding "all day" with a slight smile to inject a degree of levity. He looks at you as if you've just taken leave of your sanity.

"OK, Tuesday, eh? I'll come Friday."

"You can't make it tomorrow, then."

"Tomorrow I go to Rhodes Town all day. I have to go to the dikastyrio [court]."

"What's that for then? Have you been accused of something?"

"No, not me. It's complicated."

You don't press it. You want to get home before dark and it is 11.00am. So you reply with gratitude, "OK, so I'll expect you Friday morning then, what time?"

"I didn't say Friday morning, I said Friday. I'll do my best. I have to take the pethera [mother-in-law] to the yiatro [doctor] first."

"And you can't do that Thursday?"

"Of course not, it's Thursday."

Aah, you think, fair enough. 

Friday morning rolls around and you keep glancing down the lane for any sign of a cloud of dust that may indicate the approach of the man's pickup. By 3.30pm you want to call him but you realise that he'll probably now be sleeping, so you wait until 5 and then do it.

"I thought you were coming today. What happened?"

"Don't worry. I'll be there. See you soon." He helpfully hangs up.

The following Monday you stroll into the kafeneion and there he is, sitting at the same table, pulling a fresh cigarette from a brand new packet. He's about to imbibe his first frappé of the day. You go straight over and start:

"Hey Lefteri. Where were you on Friday? I waited in all day."

His answer neatly sidesteps the issue of Friday. "You going to be in this afternoon?" You nod, "Good, I'll be there this afternoon. I may need to borrow a twin-sprocket-whipshaft extractor from Anastasias."

You walk off vainly hoping that this time he'll arrive as promised.

Two weeks later when he's called you to say he can be there in ten minutes, but now you're forty kilometres away in Rhodes town on a few errands, you almost bust a bloodvessel.

See, the thing is, a Greek will promise you anything and it's infuriating when they don't deliver. But what you have to remember is this: when he makes the promise he thoroughly means it. He does really mean it. It's just that no Greek that I've ever met seems to be able to plan anything more than a few minutes in advance. There have been so many times over the years when I've been phoned by a Greek friend to invite the two of us over or to meet them somewhere with some more friends for Parea [company, fellowship] and it's - say 6pm - and they're talking about that very evening. We've had something else planned and so miss out on the good time that may have been had.

If I say in response, "If you'd told me a couple of days ago we'd have loved to have come." It doesn't compute. They'll think "That's daft. Who'd have known a couple of days ago what they'd be doing today?" So, when the plumber turns up a week and half after the day he'd first promised that he'd come he'll be genuinely mystifed if you're annoyed.

"I've come haven't I?" He'll say. Then probably add, "You know me, Gianni, I always keep my promises."

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Reflections (10 Years After - part 3)

Marmalade started out in the sixties as a pretty sugary band, but in fact ended up as a pretty credible soft-rock outfit. I still have "Cousin Norman" and "Radancer" on my iPod, but the song that they are probably most remembered for, and rightly so, is "Reflections of My Life" which is a tremendous ballad that never ceases to make me go a bit goose-bumpy.

It came up the other night while I had the player on "shuffle" and, as always, it had me doing just that, reflecting. I suppose we do tend to section our lives into decades after all and, as you probably know, August 23rd saw the tenth anniversary of our move out here.

The previous two posts went on about a couple of things that happened in the first year or so that we lived here. This one though is photo-heavy. I've garnered together a bunch of shots taken over the first couple of years and here they are, along with captions where I can think of something to say about them...


The stuff we dug out of this area. White stuff, yellow stuff, all kinds of builders' stuff in fact, much of it doubtless poisonous to plants. Yet we were determined to make this into a bed, situated as it is right in front of John and Wendy's patio doors.

The local inhabitants often came a calling at the house. As you can see, they may be Catholics (get it?). Those little terrors used to run riot up and down the valley and used to squeeze through the gaps in the pigpen fence at will. The damn things were dead cute, but boy could they eat plants when they wanted to.

Behind that row of roof tiles was my first attempt at growing lettuce. Should have known what would happen though. I wrote the whole sordid tale in chapter 8 of Feta Compli!. Let's just say that the previous photo hints heavily at what transpired. Pretty wicked washing lines too eh? Those welded poles had originally served as our wardrobe!

The driveway when it consisted of only the edging blocks. The rest was sand when this was taken.

First attempt to mark out where a future vegetable patch would be. No point planting at this time though, since no fence and no gates equals Fast Food joint for goats ...and pigs.

Sampling the local beach for the first time.

This was the very first plant we ever put in. An Agave Americana. We'd gone and had a drink around the pool of a hotel in Pefkos with some friends from the UK who were staying there. As we sipped our gin and tonics, I noticed a huge Agave with lots of "babies" growing out of the soil all around it in the bed beside the pool terrace. Quick as a flash I nipped out to the van (we hadn't yet bought the car at this point), grabbed a trowel (what? You mean you don't travel with a trowel in the vehicle?) and we were soon driving home with this in the footwell. It now looks like this...
That's it, just to the left of my head. Agaves grow for about twenty to twenty five years before thrusting those great "poles" twenty feet into the air, which then sprout a huge spray of flowers before dying off, wherupon the whole plant dies and has to be dug out. We've still got at least a decade to go with this baby then.

It wasn't long before we had a few more plants to put in. This was in April of 2006...

Fortunately, a Greek friend told us before it was too late to ditch the one on the left, but not before they'd fallen about laughing at our poor judgment. We'd dug it up in the wild, but were told that it stinks like rotten flesh when it flowers. It didn't stay long after that.

May. And we actually put our hands in our pockets and (gulp) bought that hibiscus.
July. First attempt at a woodstore.

October. That's my dad, who helped me build that gate in what was to become a picket fence between the garden and the orchard. The man was a genius at DIY. I didn't have a "square" so he quickly cut a few pieces of wood, screwed them together and showed me, saying "Now THAT's a 90 degree angle." I still have that home-made wooden square in the shed.

Yea, I'm reflecting all right. We both are. Tell you what though, that song says "the world is a bad place, a terrible place to be, oh but I don't want to die." In view of the stuff we see on the news nowadays one would have to agree that the song was right on the button. But how good it is to still count one's blessings, assuming one has any to count. 

We do and we're losing count.

Monday, 24 August 2015

"I Have No Thought of Leaving"

Further reflections on the first ten years of living on Rhodes...

Can't get "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?" out of my head at the moment. It's not such a bad thing anyway, since it is, as I mentioned in the previous post, a very beautiful and dare I say haunting song. If by any odd chance you are not familiar with it, please do take four or five minutes to listen to it here. It's arguably one of the best vocal performances of Sandy Denny's all-too-brief career.

In July 2005, this was the scene outside our house in South Wales. One newly acquired 15-year old van and one soon-to-be-sold (boo hoo) Mini. There's plenty about the van in "Feta Compli!" so I won't go into that here. Fact is though, it got us to Rhodes without complaint. Apart from one fairly unimportant exhaust bracket, there were no mechanical calamities during the whole four days of the trip.

Of course, while we were busy preparing the van for the journey, this was what the house was looking like...

Tell you something though, this house is that tough, if we had an earthquake of even a massive 12 on the Richter scale, I reckon the house would still be intact, granted it maybe a half a mile or so further down the valley, but we'd still be able to carry on with our breakfast while enjoying the trip down.

Of course, not long after arriving we had to sort out a car and ended up with a nippy little Suzuki Swift...

Third week of October 2005, we became the proud owners of Stelios. We always give our cars a male name, dunno why really.

...and thus had to learn all about the legalities of running a vehicle here. I remember that we'd had the car a couple of months when we sort of noticed the little stickers in car windscreens with the year printed on them. Little blue squares with 04, 05, etc. adorned most front windows. Not all though, it has to be said (ahem!). Ours did have an 05 on it and we hadn't given it much thought until, toward the end of December I finally remembered to ask someone about renewing the "Road Tax". In the UK the system was based on whatever month the car was first registered, thus there was never any bureaucratic logjam, since every month of the year there were owners renewing their tax disc. Routine and easy.

Of course, I had absolutely no idea how the system worked here, until I asked Adonis, the mechanic who'd looked over the car before we'd parted with the cash for it. I had, however sorted out the legalities of ownership, which in itself is a rigmarole far more complicated and much more antiquated than the system in Britain. If they tried to run the "log book" (or, to give it its correct name, "Registration Document") system in the UK that prevails here, it would be complete and utter chaos, which is almost what it is here really.

Try to imagine it. In Britain, you have the Registration Document, over a nice friendly cup of tea in your own kitchen you and the new/previous owner both fill out the relevant details in the space provided, tear off the appropriate section, pop it in the post to DVLC Swansea and a week or two later your new document drops through your letter box. Job done.

Here? Well, both you and the previous owner have to pay a visit to the KTEO office, where you are led along a paper trail of various desks and documents until you finally arrive at the last desk in the series, where some bloke or woman will take a long sip from the straw of their frappé before their hand flies around with the ubiquitous rubber stamp and you're finally ready to leave with a couple of dozen (well, it felt like that!) photocopied sheets of A4 paper in your sweaty palm and a promise that the new "Log Book" would arrive one day before you die. When I say "arrive", let me qualify that. you have to ring the office until they eventually tell you it's come and you then go and collect it. I'm not kidding. Imagine every time a car changed hands in the UK both the seller and the buyer having to visit some government office or other to get the paperwork organised. No don't, it's too much of a nightmare.

If you have an accountant, which anyone who owns a car or a house in Greece is required to employ (it's THE business to be in folks), regardless of whether they pay tax or not, you have to add to the equation the "Solemn Statement" which the local KEP (Sort of "Citizens' Advice") office has to issue, and which both parties are required by law to sign and which the local Police also have to endorse with yet another rubber stamp and a dated signature. Yes, you've guessed it, it's another photocopied A4 sheet and - once it's signed and rubber stamped - you have to give it to your accountant, who'll probably mount it in a glass case and throw sugar at it. If that last statement makes no sense to you then you obviously don't live in the UK and have never heard of Terry Wogan. I've no idea why he used to say that, but it always sounded sort of appropriate.

Oh, and of course, both the seller and the buyer need their own versions of the "Solemn Statement" thus requiring four signatures and two Police rubber stamps. Small wonder that a lot of Greek islands are running low on trees these days.

Now, all the above having finally been sorted, we now received the answer from Adonis that we needed to renew the road tax before the end of December, and the chance of doing it at a post office had now gone begging since it was Christmas Eve and only about three working days remained until January 1st. Oh joy, another visit to the tax office in Rhodes town loomed large. Another round of queues up stairwells, along corridors and around in circles in stuffy offices until we eventually reached a glass screen with a hole in it where a very bored-looking woman took some money off us and handed us the coveted little sticker. I have to confess to stifling with great difficulty the urge to skip and dance out of that office waving my little blue sticker in the faces of the woebegotten folk who still had a mere two hours or so to wait until they finally got to the front of the queue.

If you don't get your road tax sorted in time, there are fines which crank up with the passing of time until you get it done. Of course, with all the austerity and the government having to find ways of saving cash, for the past couple of years the system has been different. They've done away with the screen stickers entirely. Now you just go to the government website, download a PDF, print it out and trot off to the National Bank of Greece or a Post Office some time during early December, hand over the cash and walk out with half of the document (the other having been retained by the clerk), now rubber stamped (you just knew I was going to say that, didn't you) which you must keep in the vehicle for potential Police inspection should you get stopped, which we have been ...twice.

The fact still remains though that every single vehicle registered in Greece has to renew its Road Tax at the turning of the year, thus placing a huge logistic burden on the system for just two or three weeks and that in the run-up to Christmas, when no one's very busy are they? (insert ironic laugh there).

Am I complaining? Well, oddly enough, no, not really. See, here's the thing: you get into the swing of it. You get used to the amount of time you have to spend pursuing the annual photocopied bits of paper and the annual this, thats and the others. You kind of accept that this is how it is. In Greek civil service offices all over this wonderful land there are civil servants staring at computer screens wondering exactly when they're going to be able to use them to the extent that is truly possible and thus cut down on the sheer volume of A4 photocopies that this country produces regularly. Mind you, they'd all need a wealth of extra training to get any new streamlining up and running I suppose, but then, hasn't that happened the world over?

I would have it any other way, sure. But I wouldn't let all the foregoing make me want to leave either. It's kind of quaint in a niggling sort of way. It gives you something to talk about when you're sat in the café of a morning sipping your frappé, so there's a silver lining right there eh?

Plus, yesterday, a day that I passed most of on a boat doing the Bay to Bay excursion again, we celebrated our anniversary, having arrived on Rhodes on August 23rd 2005. I took these...

...and you know what? I was asked for the umpteenth time, "Why did you make the move?" and "Would you ever consider going back to the UK?" I never, ever tire of holidaymakers asking me these things. Why? 'Cos it makes me count my blessings.

The better half and I stopped off at Afandou beach for a cold drink on the way home with our shopping on Friday too...

I'll be honest, I can think of much worse places to sit when we have half an hour to spare. All that stuff, the sea, the sun, the people, the food, the lifestyle, the learning all about how to live at a completely different pace from that which we'd lived in our previous life - all that confirms that, as I said before, "I have no thought of leaving."

Next time I'll post a whole bunch more captioned photos from the first 10 years.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

And then one day you find...

Sandy Denny once sang "Who knows where the time goes?" in what is one of my favourite songs of all time. It's a song of great beauty and melancholy, tracing the migration of "your fickle friends" the birds, as they become so familiar to someone observing them, only to see them leave come "time for them to go". She goes on, "But I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving, I do not count the time, for who knows where the time goes?" In the last verse she again refers to the birds when singing "So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again, I have no fear of time."

Yet the underlying current of the song hints that she does actually fear time, because she is musing over the fact that it slips through our fingers to who knows where.

And here we are. It was August 23rd, in 2005, when we first drove up a dusty track in south Rhodes in our trusty old Mitsubishi L300 van and arrived to find this...

Yea, I know. Doesn't look much like a home does it? To say we were apprehensive when we first clapped eyes on it would be a huge understatement. The original plan was to move out here in May, but eventually that was postponed to August and even then John and Wendy, our close friends and soon-to-be landlords had been leaning on the builder to get the job done, since we'd had to book our ferry crossings and hotels along the route. Plans had to be made, a 2,000 mile journey accomplished and - for our part at least - a new life begun. John and Wendy were driving over with us, and they had a boat in tow for the entire journey too.

Here we are, just about to commence our eleventh year living here and every August we are reminded of just how primitive our original living conditions were. There was no electricity, we had to rely on a generator, two in fact, the first of which was an old noisy thing that only ran for two or three hours before needing more fuel. The second of which would at least run all day, but eventually blew up and needed major repairs before, four months after we'd moved in, the electricity company finally completed the job of running poles and cables the one kilometre up the valley from the road below and enabling us to pass a night without having to use oil lamps or torches to make a successful visit to the loo.

This was generator no.2, on its last legs. It would only work at all towards the end with a battery charger permanently attached. The charger eventually caught fire. Happy times. The panels round it were a feeble attempt to reduce the noise level while the thing was chugging away from dawn until after dark every day.
Looking at that photo, you notice how the designers of this generator, in their practical wisdom, placed the fuel filler cap right slap bang in the middle of the top panel, instead of near the edge or on the side. I was paying a visit to the local filling station every few days to fill a plastic drum which was about the same size as the generator itself, which meant that to fill the fuel tank I had to lift a very heavy weight and direct the flow from its opened top through a funnel and into that flipping hole. Of course, you had no idea how full the tank was and so, usually, the way I knew to stop pouring was when diesel fuel was running all over the casing and soaking my Marks and Spencer's slippers. Had I been able to telephone the device's manufacturers at the time, the conversation would probably have been a lively one.

Look at the garden now, though, ten years on...

The water supply when we arrived consisted of a translucent tank on the bank behind the house, barely higher than the house's eaves, which was situated under a sunshade of sorts. The pressure in the taps was meager to be charitable and we got quite used to moving around in the shower to ensure even coverage. Of course, since sunlight penetrated the tank, the colour of the tank's internal surfaces soon began to take on a greenish hue and we asked the builder, who was still working around us with his gang of two for a further 18 months after we arrived, if he would consider fitting a filter so that the water coming out of our taps might not kill us. A fairly serious intestinal disorder seemed quite acceptable when one considers the alternative. 

Eventually a decent sized opaque tank was installed underground on the hilltop fifty metres higher than the house and we were finally provided with the kind of pressure that we'd become accustomed to in the first world, ie: back in the UK. Not to mention the fact the the quality of the water was improved a hundredfold. In fact, since our water supply originates in Asklipio, the village about 4km up the mountain from where we live, we can now be thankful for the fact that our tapwater is eminently drinkable, something which cannot be said of the mains water in quite a few villages not that far from us. History reveals that Asklipians have a longer life expectancy than the rest of the island and some experts put this down to the springwater that originates in the village. 

Of course, much of the ups and downs that we experienced in the first couple of years of living here are well documented in the "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books, so I'm not going to relate too many anecdotes in this series of posts. But when we muse now on the difficulties that we encountered, we do give thanks for the fact that we are both still just about sane. Well, close enough so as for it not to be too noticeable. 

I mean, when you first get here you have to get yourselves a tax number. That involves, for someone living where we do, an hours' drive up to the tax office on the edge of town and then a rather pleasant (full irony engaged here) few hours queueing on stairs, in corridors, along walls and then back along the opposite walls until you eventually got into the room where it all happens. When you do reach the glass screen over the desk behind which sits the clerk who you hope is going to sort it for you, woe betide you if one document is missing from your arsenal. You must have your passport with you of course, but also a few other things that I won't go into now. Fact is, I can't rightly remember all of them, but you'd be fairly safe if you included your inside leg measurement.

If you were missing one element, you weren't going to get your tax number during that visit, nope, no way, not at all. We witnessed one poor soul losing it completely when she was told that her papers weren't complete. Oh yea, there was something needed from your Greek bank too, I remember now. Anyway, whatever it was this poor woman just ahead of us hadn't brought with her, the prospect of another few hours in the queue during a subsequent visit evidently didn't fill her with delight and so she erupted and had to be escorted away in a fit of apoplexy so that the now very trepidatious couple behind her - us that is - could approach the counter like lambs to the slaughter. It was only a few weeks after we'd by some miracle accomplished this particular mission that we were back there again, enduring a similar queueing experience while we attempted to get our car tax sorted out for the following year. More on that in the next post.

For the time being, here are few photos from our 10 year archive...

Our first meal in our new home. August 23rd 2005. Fetching furniture, eh? You can just see the sheets (and towel) on the right hand side, under which were hiding all our goods and chattel, still in boxes. The only thing's we'd placed in the room were the cricket table and lamp in the other corner. That was because when we finally opened the back door of the van, those were the things that almost fell out on top of us.

November 15th 2005. The better half gets stuck in to help the lads who were laying the driveway. Anything to speed things along a bit. You'll notice the homely atmosphere developing within, with one of my bass guitars now on its stand and a repro-pine clock now hanging on the wall, to remind us that 'who knows where the time goes?'

The "garden" and "orchard" on Sept. 9th 2005. Goats were our constant companions for months.

Sept. 11th 2005. Three weeks after our arrival we had to vacate the place and stay out while the screed on which the tiles were eventually going to be laid was drying. The polythene sheeting on the roof did an excellent job of cranking up the temperature in the house. Remember, no mains power meant no air-con. Temperatures in the 30's C and full sunlight beating down all day long. Hot? There are no words...

Tiles now laid, November 7th 2005 and a neighbour comes a calling.

...and this was how the place was looking in January of 2005.
Just a few shots taken more recently, lots more will follow of course...

July 25th 2008. No, this is not doctored, that was how the sky looked during the terrifiying fires of that summer. They reached within 1km of the property. Had the winds changed direction, the house would have been history. This is taken at John and Wendy's end.

July 22nd 2007. The garden takes shape. Note the fig tree to my right and to the left from this perspective. It's the one you can see in the third photo counting from the top, which I took this week. That fig tree now produces all those gorgeous figs I've photographed numerous times. There's even a shot of a bowlful from this past week in this post.

April 17 2006. Work on the garden under way in earnest. Still didn't have a complete perimeter fence though, thus you'll notice that most of the plants are oleander, poisonous to goats!
Sandy Denny asked "who knows where the time goes?" David Gilmour sang something that kind of harmonises with that too. He sings the words of another of my all-time favourite songs, "Time" from Pink Floyd's 1973 album "Dark Side of the Moon". The lyric goes like this: "And then one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run. You missed the starting gun."

People do ask us, as I've said before on a number of occasions, "Would you ever leave? perhaps go back to the UK?" The truthful answer is, as Sandy Denny also sang in that wonderful song...
"I will still be here, I have no thought of leaving. I do not count the time."

More to follow. 

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Point and Click

Well, it's a bunch of photos again this time, starting off with a few from the Old Town taken last Tuesday. Here are a few more corners that took my fancy, like the one above, which I came across while navigating my way to check out the location of the Hotel Andreas, which is run by Constance Rivemale, who's originally from the San Francisco Bay area in the US. Having checked out the location with the hotel's website, I found it easily enough. Here's the front entrance...

 Having been in touch with Constance and agreed to drop by some time, I simply made a reccy on this occasion after finding that I didn't have enough time to make my presence known. Constance, if you are reading this, I shall ring the bell next time! Frankly, I loved the hotel's location, situated as it is in the elevated part of the Old Town a little away from the hubbub and thus the perfect place to unwind with a splendid view over the rooftops of the World Heritage Site that is Rhodes Old Town.

Having established that I'd now know my way to reach the Andreas, I wandered about snapping this and that. Turning a corner I ran into a very personable American lady who introduced herself by telling me that she was quite lost. She wanted to find her way back to the harbour and so I was only too pleased to walk with her whilst showing her the way. Turned out that she runs a very special bookshop in Santa Barbara, California. It's called Chaucer's and that's the link to its website right there, you just passed it.

As we walked we talked about a lot of stuff, predominantly our love of books, of course. She told me that they'd decided on using a "dirty old man's" name for the store as a laugh. If I remember correctly, it was also because Chaucer had been considered too risque for the students when she'd been at school, so it was a spot of revenge too. I rather like it though, don't you? As we approached the main square we parted company, but not before I'd given her a card about "Ramblings From Rhodes" [ever the opportunist] and promised to take a look at her website.

Back home and this photo below, taken in our kitchen just yesterday, shows you just how many figs we're picking on a daily basis at the moment. It seems that ours here in Kiotari are a good two weeks ahead of most trees in the area this year. We walked past a few in Pefkos yesterday morning and they were only just beginning to turn. Dont' forget though that, if you're out here any time soon, there are some varieties of figs that remain green even when ripe. You just have to test them for softness. If they're soft, a gentle twist will separate them from the tree and you can then shove the whole thing greedily between your jaws and sample the absolute delight of the sweetness that is a fresh fig from the tree.

Ok, right. So where's this then? I'm referring to the next two photos below. Rhodes residents need not answer. I'd be interested to hear if anyone living elsewhere in the world who visits the South of the island can identify the place though. It's surprisingly close to quite a lot of development, yet an amazingly photogenic spot, don't you agree?

And, finally, last night was the August "blue" moon. The moon is full still as I type and the last few photos below were taken just a few hours ago on our local beach. We decided to go down there at around 6.30pm and stay until dark, while watching the moon rise over the ocean. It was quite magical.

We'd decided to take a picnic, but my better half really surprised me by pulling out all the stops and producing a wonderful potato salad, along with a Greek salad and some mini cheese pies. Also in the cool bag was a chilled bottle of white wine and thus we enjoyed a perfect al fresco meal, on a beach that was gradually becoming deserted as the light faded.

Is my better half a wizard or what?

Once the moon had cleared the horizon, we packed up our stuff and wended our weary way home. All in all, it had been a blast of an evening. Good craic as they say in Ireland. 

I dunno, living out here is a bind, eh? Can't quite believe it, but as we move into August, we approach our tenth anniversary on Rhodes. Yea, I know of some who gripe, but it's all about your attitude both to life and to people. I'm the first to admit that I can put my foot in my mouth rather too often for my own liking. But I usually try and right the wrong if at all possible. Generally though, if you look at life with a smile, people smile back at you. 

Haven't you found that?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

A Mix of Midsummer Musings...

First and foremost. Yippee. Our fig tree has now begun producing in earnest and it's looking like a bumper crop this year. I picked this lot at dawn this morning and there were more ripe figs on the tree but I couldn't get any more into the bowl...

This amazing tree, which goes from strength to strength, will go on producing well into August and I'll be taking bags of 'em on my Bay to Bay excursion as usual to offer the guests. It's always fun seeing who'll take the plunge and try a fresh fig when they've never eaten one before.
Thank goodness something's working out right in the food-producing stakes in our garden. We put in about eight tomato plants a while back and now, whilst we gaze enviously at other people's vines looking all lush and luxuriant, ours look like a few withered up twigs, from which we managed ( a few weeks ago now) to harvest four modest tomatoes. I say "modest", I mean they weren't hanging there fluttering their eyelids and asking to be taken into consideration for picking, but rather they were about the size of the biggest marble I used to have in my marble set when I was a nipper.

On the Greek night excursion last week we had an interesting situation on the way home after the evening had come to an end. There are usually four of five coaches in the parking area and one by one they'll fill up with their slightly inebriated revellers and slip away into the night. On this occasion my coach was the last one in the parking area and as I was about to board, having waited for yet another guest who'd decided that a trip to the loo before we departed would be a smart move, a fairly distinguished-looking couple approached me with some degree of anxiety and told me that their coach had apparently left without them. Dear dear, the rep or driver (or both) on that bus hadn't done a very good job of gathering their sheep had they. 

"Where are you staying?" I asked,  
"At the Sunrise Hotel, Lothiarika," they replied. 
That's a good 45 minutes down the road and it was approaching 11.30pm by this time. After having a quick word with my driver we let them on to our coach as we knew that we were going right past the door of their hotel. It's not one we stop at, but we regularly pass it. Most of the guests there this year are from France and it just so happened that this couple were British, but had lived in Paris for many years. Chic or what?

The story wouldn't be particularly noteworthy had it not been for the fact that, as we were passing Arhangelos, we came up behind another coach. My driver said, 
"Gianni, that's the bus that left without this couple we're giving a lift to."
Of course, that's something a driver would instantly know, since the drivers all hang out together while their passengers are pacing the floor learning the simpler version of Zorba's dance.

We followed the negligent bus all the way through Kalathos and as far as the left-turn for Vlicha beach, which the bus in front took, thus ensuring that we'd now be passing the hotel in question about fifteen minutes before it did. It seemed pretty obvious to us that the driver and his rep didn't realise that they were two people short, and so we decided not to try contacting them. After all, the couple now stood to get back slightly faster than they would have done on their own coach.

But here was where I had an idea. I trundled back along the aisle and explained to the couple what we'd seen. I said:

"Now, when you get off the coach, wouldn't it be a blast if you didn't mind hanging around just for a few moments, so that, when your coach turns up and slows to a halt and the driver is opening his door in the expectation of seeing you two come along the aisle to get off, he'll instead be a bit fazed when he sees the pair of you standing there glaring at him?"

I sooo hope they decided to implement my suggestion. I'd love to have seen the faces of that driver and rep.

For a few weeks now we've been following our normal pattern for the high summer months of walking down for a swim at around 6.00pm, when the temperature drops to an almost bearable lower 30's. Our route follows a dusty track which drifts alongside the "allotment" as we call it, of Agapitos, an old fellow who farms an olive grove within as well as a pretty impressive vegetable patch too. Don't even ask me how good his tomato plants look.

Every morning and most evenings his old white pick-up will be parked outside the gate while he tends to his plants and animals. In there he has a caged area containing a half a dozen or so dogs, and another with chickens and a cockerel. The dogs amuse us because, on the occasions when we go past and Agapitos is not there, they'll howl with enthusiasm as we pass - some thirty metres from their cage - and each of them will do something different to attact our attention. They vary in size and shape enormously, but six tails will be vigorously wagging as they go delirious with hope. One large black hound in particular we always look for. He'll jump on top of a makeshift wooden hut that's been fashioned to keep them out of the sun if they want it and he'll always be sporting a large battered aluminium bowl in his mouth, while he gazes our way vainly hoping for something to be put in it.

Now don't get me wrong here. I know that there are many Greeks who keep dogs chained up 24-7, but this isn't Agapitos. He really loves his dogs and when he is present, they'll be running all over the compound as he lets them roam free. He'll also take a couple of them out for a walk a few times each week, which we know for certain because on more than one occasion I've been staring eye to eye at one of the mongrels as it's bounded up to me and placed both huge paws in the centre of my chest.

A couple of days ago we were wending our sweaty way back along the track after a swim in the sea, which is now a gorgeous 28ºC by the way, when Agapitos spotted us and hailed us with a "Hold on!"

Rising at his leisure from his bent position as he'd been tending some plants, (of course, such a Greek will never do anything like this in a hurry. Having lived here long enough I fully understand why too. It's usually too flipping hot to move with any despatch. You'd need another shower ...every five minutes or so) he strolled over to a large white plastic paint pot, the kind with an aluminium handle for carrying it, and rummaged inside with his hands. Lifting something from the pot, he then trotted sedately over to his block-built shed with the corrugated iron roof which is quite near to the gate where we were standing, casting us a smiling glance in the process, while we stood and perspired in anticipation.

After having ducked inside the shed he emerged with both hands cupped around a couple of cucumbers of exhibition quality girth and a few eggs of varying sizes. You always know when the eggs are fresh, 'cos they'll be all different sizes. He came over to the gate and proffered his gift which we accepted eagerly, of course.

"There," he said, "Those are real eggs. Not like you get in these big supermarkets. You'll find the yolks are yellow. Not red."

Now, when he said 'red' he almost spat the word out with disdain. Of course, for 'red' read 'orange'. You know how some egg yolks are more orange than they are yellow? Well, now we know why. Agapitos continued,

"No farmaka! [chemicals]. My chickens eat natural food and the egg yolks are yellow, like good egg yolks ought to be. You see a red yolk, you can be sure there's farmaka used in the breeding or farming those hens. Antibiotics and stuff. Not mine!! These are organic eggs. delicious, you see of they aren't."

You know what? those yolks were truly yellow and those eggs were delicious. My gratitude for the excellent and as it happened timely-provided cucumbers knew no bounds. 

It was only slightly tinged by envy at the pathetic state of my own vegetable patch though.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

So, Where Are We Now?

Look at that folks. Let's be honest, with all that's been going on of late, the scene above, which is the Il Porto Café/bar/restaurant in Kiotari by the way, is still looking the same. Good eh? A few more people might be nice though.

Just read some news this morning about Mr. Varifocal, sorry, Varoufakis, and his views about the deal they're putting together. Now, as you'll know if you visit this blog with any regularity, I tend to steer clear of politics and stuff. But this time I'm going to make a few observations. 

But first let me establish some ground rules. 1. I dont' do politics and 2. I don't pretend to understand the workings of the international banking and political systems, except to say that they're all probably riddled with - let's just say "irregularites" shall we? 

Right, good. That said, I'll make a few observations as a layman living and working in Greece.

I have read with interest and some bemusement hundreds of comments from folk who don't live in Greece yet seem to know what should be done here. I've lived here for ten years and so can claim to have a fairly good idea about daily life on an island in Greece under the current crisis.

It seems to me that loads of people didn't want Mr. Tsipras to do this deal. All kinds of expressions like "betrayal", "blackmail" and the like are being bandied about. Now, I'm no expert, but one thing that's patently clear to me is that politics is about compromise. All those folk clashing with police in Athens, or spouting on Facebook, expressing their view that Mr. Tsipras shouldn't have done this deal, what alternatives would they suggest? It's always been easy to protest. 

I have been championing the message for months that the situation on the ground on the islands is such that tourists can still come here and probably spend a couple of weeks having as good a Greek holiday as ever without even noticing that there is a crisis going on.

But that was about to change. If this deal hadn't been struck then we most certainly would have been facing a lack of literal cash circulating among the populace, a shortage of fuel and a virtual halt in imports, all of which would have had catastrophic effects on tourism, which is of course Greece's main industry bar none. Now as someone living and working among Greek people I talk to them all the time about how they're reacting to all that's going on. You know what? At grass roots level it seems to me that most people just want the uncertainty to end. It has been affecting tourism, since people believing all the media hype in the UK, Germany, Lithuania (I talked to some Lithuanian friends just this week) and elsewhere have been cancelling their holidays, however misguidedly.

But if this deal hadn't been struck, then in very short order tourism here, not to mention normal life, would have been hit with a brickbat within weeks. I have no idea how many people work in tourism on the Greek islands, but it's got to be hundreds of thousands. Before very long there would have been massive lay-offs, meaning no more wages, meaning rents not being paid, shops not taking as much over the counter ...the domino effect would be huge and incalculable.

I know people who own tavernas, excursion boats, apartment blocks and cafés personally and by and large they are sick of months of arguing and ever increasing worry and anxiety. Now they just want to know that the banks can open and the tourists can still come, knowing that their holiday is still going to be a good one.

 It's reached a point where many Greek folk don't care any more about how it's done, as long as a degree of normality can be resumed in their daily lives. This deal which - as I understand it - Mr. Tsipras himself has said he doesn't like, but is pragmatic enough to know had to be struck for the reasons I've referred to above, will at least restore some immediate equilibrium here, which is vital to the income and wellbeing of most of the populace.

All around me here on Rhodes I hear audible sighs of relief. So, where are we now? We're awaiting the arrival of you Mr. and Mrs. Grecophile, or simply Tourist, to come and enjoy your Greek holiday, which once again I can say with a degree of confidence, will be brill!!

(No I am not a supporter of Mr. Tsipras, or anyone else for that matter. I don't pretend to understand a lot of things. But when something or someone looks reasonable to me, I say it!)