Saturday, 21 February 2015

Nice Piece of Furniture

Mini photo courtesy of:

I recently came across this photo on Facebook and it reminded me of a funny routine by a Greek-American comedian called Basile, pronounced as any American will tell you, Bay-zil. It seems to me that our American cousins will never use a short vowel when a long one will do instead. Another fine example of this is the name of the most famous village here on Rhodes, Lindos. I've yet to hear an American call it that. They always prefer Lin-dose. I'm sure you know what I mean.

Anyway, no offense intended, just observing. After all, you say tomay-to and we say tomah-to and all that stuff, right? I mean, here's Bazile, a Greek by descent after all, and he knows full well that is real name is Vasilis, yet he calls himself Bay-zil! Ah, well then, best left as it is I suppose. He is very funny though, especially if you "get" the whole Greek culture thing. Try some of these for size…

I've watched a couple of his DVD's and believe me, you will cry laughing if you know anything at all about Greek culture and customs. I have mentioned him before, but it was a couple of years ago now I think. He has a basic website if you fancy checking him out, it's here (

The routine he did that I recalled was one about Greeks and their furniture. He makes the point that his ya ya would never throw out a piece of furniture, even if it was actually an old TV set. I'm old enough (sadly) to remember when you would buy a TV which was built into a heavy, polished walnut cabinet with two doors on the front that could be kept closed when the TV wasn't being watched, thus concealing the fact that the cabinet was in fact, basically a TV set in disguise. Mind you, the screens in those days were very convex and always a pale grey colour. They weren't much to look at out of their cozy wooden homes.

Something you'll doubtless have deduced is that in a traditional Greek home there are lace doilies all over the place. If there's a horizontal surface larger than a side plate, there'll be a doily on it.
For one thing you can work this out from the fact that no self-respecting souvenir shop even today in Greece is complete without its section of "locally hand-crafted" crochet doilies, right? Yeah, you've been there I know. Our old friend Gilma down South even has a doily over his telephone, which is one of those that has a handset in a cradle beside the keypad. When the phone rings he carefully lifts off the doily, folds it up and places it to one side before answering the call. Once he's "hung up" he'll unfold the doily and place it carefully over the phone again.
Doily Photo courtesy -

I can't have them anywhere near me and it's basically because they so remind me of a bygone era and huge old dark pieces of furniture that clogged up every room in a senior citizens' home. Basile's routine involved the fact that his ya ya had a huge dark wooden cabinet in her lounge for years, with a white crochet doily on top of it, and the cabinet was in fact an old TV set that had long since ceased to work, yet, owing to the fact that it was such an impressive piece of furniture, she wouldn't entertain the idea of throwing it out, oh no. Instead, it stood in a corner of her lounge, with this white doily spread over the top and - sitting on top of the doily - a brand new colour TV!!

Y'know, we have a Greek friend in a village not far from here who has no less than four TV sets in her sitting room. The first time we saw them we were reminded of the wonderful scene from the great classic UK TV comedy "Only Fools and Horses", where Grandad was sitting in his armchair watching two different TVs, the one on the left only had a picture and no sound, while the one on the right only had sound, but no picture. Well, our friend's comment, when we tactfully asked why she needed four TVs was, "Well, you never know, I might be able to get one or two of them fixed some time."

So, the doily on the Mini is a pretty sharp way to observe a classic Greek custom.

Well, I can't sit here blogging all day, I'm off to flose my teeth and trote off to my bed!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Not Quite Mount Kilimanjaro

Reports of our imminent demise from hypothermia grossly exagerrated!
Here I go again folks, humbly debunking another myth about Rhodes!! By and large we're having a mild winter but, as usual, we've had one or two cold snaps, although not as many as some other recent winters here on Rhodes. The most recent was last week, when from Wednesday night thru Friday morning the overnight temperatures did drop quite dramatically and Mount Attavyros, the highest peak on the island and not more than 20k from our house, was capped with snow. 

Attavyros is just under 4,000 feet [1215 metres exactly] in height and, purely due to that altitude, very often gets dusted with white at the summit for a few weeks each winter. This past week, owing to the sudden cold snap and a very cold air mass coming down from the area of the Black Sea, much of the Aegean experienced snow the like of which it very rarely sees. Samos and Naxos, as two examples quite far apart, were very snowbound for something like 48 hours, Naxos experiencing arctic conditions for a while. Of course there was the usual clutch of photos on the social media sites showing the snow here on Rhodes, but it was very limited in location and that was more or less the area around the mountain. It seems that the village of Empona [phonetically pronounced: EH'bonna] was white for a while, which, although situated on the northern slopes of the mountain, is nevertheless much, much lower than the peak and rarely sees ice and snow on its streets.

Prompted by the photos I'd seen on Facebook, we took off in the car on Friday afternoon to take a look for ourselves, not 36 hours after several Facebook posts had given non-Rhodes residents the idea that we were all out there shovelling snow for all we were worth to cut a path to the woodstore and thus keep alive!!!  Here in Kiotari we saw nothing whatsoever, just had a couple of chilly nights, so I was somewhat bemused by responses from some UK residents to the effect that they thought we were all gripped by the ice and snow. I wanted to snap a few photos myself, since it would have been quite fun as in almost ten years of living here I've never seen snow. The nearest we've ever been is the occasional hail storm.

So, we set a course for Agios Isidoros, a delightful village on the South slopes of the mountain, from where we then skirted around at least 50% of the mountain's foothills to Embona (alternative English spelling, don't they all have half a dozen versions?), where we took a walking tour of the village. Guess what folks, there wasn't a single snowflake in sight, not even on the mountain's summit!! Talk about a let-down. Mind you, it was a superb drive and thus I shot a few photos and scanned the map so that I could share the route with you if you feel like a dramatic scenic drive next time you're here for a visit.

Here goes then...

The route basically begins in the village of Lardos, from where you take the Laerma road, which leaves the village from between Valantina's Taverna and Il Gelso Italian restaurant. The road soon rises steeply as you leave the village and, once you've crested the first rise the scenery already begins to exhibit the "wow" factor. The quality of the road surface for most of this excursion is excellent by the way. The exceptions being actually in the village of Laerma itself. When you go through Laerma you need to simply follow the road you're on as it snakes through the village and drops down into a valley the other side, where it's signposted for Agios Isidoros and Embona.

Eventually you approach the mountain and it is quite impressive, if, in this case, rather disappointingly completely devoid of snow!! See first photo...

You eventually arrive at a T-junction, where you take a left to visit Ag. Isidoros (highly recommended). It's only 1Km to the village, from where you have to double back to come back around the mountain to get to Embona. This nice little place was right in the village itself.
A lot is made on Rhodes of the village of Seanna, and OK, it is a nice place. But for my money if you're looking for a pretty village relatively untouched by tourism, then Ag. Isidoros wins hands down. The people here are famed fo their hospitality too. This doesn't surprise me, since we only drove up and down the village briefly, stopping only for a couple of photos, yet an old ya ya seated against a sunny wall on an old stool and sporting the regulation headscarf tied tightly under her chin waved and smiled as we crept past. Incidentally, on the weather theme, when we left home in Kiotari it was 15ºC outside, with a real-feel of more like 19 owing to very light winds. Here in Ag. Isidoros it was reading 9.

Another snap in Ag. Isidoros

Same spot as the one above, just a different angle.
Heading back the way we'd come, we passed the turning for Laerma that we'd recently emerged from and continued around the mountain to Embona. Parking up at the edge of the village we took a stroll...

We'd eaten at this taverna some years go with our landlords John and Wendy. It was during a bad bout of Sciatica for me and so I ate kneeling on the floor since it was too painful to sit in a chair. Boy did I get some odd looks.

The beloved with her new boots. She was so looking for an opportunity to wear them, bless her!! Dammit though, still not a snowflake in sight.

On the edge of Embona, that's Mount Attavyros. See, no snow!!
On the way back we decided to snap a few scenic shots. These are taken on the road back down to Laerma, which starts from just outside Agia Isidoros...

In summer  this is a refreshment station that also sells Souma and honey etc.

This is the view from the wooden shack above. The lake in the distance is Gadoura (shown on the map scanned above), where one can visit the fairly new dam, which we did almost precisely a year ago. See this post.

And this is taken from where we were standing in the shot above. This perspective makes the lake look deceptively near to the sea, which in reality it isn't.

Click on this one for the larger view and you'll be able to make out the road as it snakes up the far mountain and through a shallow pass. The road is almost new throughout, albeit extremely "curly" in places.

Well, as you can see from the above photos. we aren't about to be buried up to our goolies in snow any time soon. It does amuse me though how deceptive reports on the internet can be to those not actually here on the island. Take Mount Kilimanjaro as an example. It's only (so I found out by Googling it!) about 300km from the equator, yet owing to its altitude [over 19,000 ft] it is always capped with snow. Here on Rhodes, Mount Attavyros is similar, although not to the same extent obviously, as it's somewhat smaller height-wise. Yet it often has a white dusting in wintertime, which from a distance is very picturesque anyway, yet because for a couple of days last week that dusting crept a bit further down the slopes, there were folk in the UK worrying about our survival!!

Just yesterday, walking the beach road here in Kiotari, which as you'll know we tend to do rather a lot, there was a bloke shovelling cement in the Petalas (formerly the Paralia) Taverna with nothing on from the waist up whatsoever. Can't quite see that happening back in the UK during February eh?

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Proving a Point

In the recent post "A Surfeit of Suggestions" I mentioned the fact that most Greek homes seem to have their own blood pressure apparatus. I also said how weird that would be to most of us Brits. I don't think I've ever known anyone in the UK to have their own blood pressure monitor/machine, whereas here, you only have to mention your health during a leisurely coffee morning with friends and they'll whip it out of a drawer and have it strapped around your upper arm before you can say Doctor Kildare (or maybe these days "House"?).

I shall proceed to prove the point with the photos below. Take a look at these, peeps...

Now what's that all about you cry? I'll tell you. Those snaps were all taken during a recent episode of ΜΗΝ ΑΡΧΙΖΕΙΣ ΤΗ ΜΟΥΡΜΟΥΡΑ, a popular sitcom currently running three nights a week on Greek TV. That title translates into something like "Don't start grumbling" - or as we'd probably say in current UK-speak - "Don't START!"

Actually, I still have to say that most Greek TV is awful by comparison with the quality of drama and comedy in the UK. "Mourmoura" though, is the exception. It's excellent, brilliantly well acted and also extremely funny. It's basically three different couples, each of a different generation, who never actually meet eachother, in fact they don't even know eachother, but the viewer is a voyeur into their domestic situation. 

There's the young twenty-something couple (Vaso and Hari), living together in an Athens apartment. She works as a nurse and he's basically a house-husband with vain aspirations of becoming a successful musician. There's a retired couple (Mina and Voula) who constantly disagree over the wife's desire to travel and the husband's reluctance to do so. The third couple is the one I photographed above. That's Ilias and Marina, she's a neurotic houswife who's basically going through a perpetual mid-life crisis and he's an accountant with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He also constantly chides his wife Marina over the credit card bills he receives. What makes it sharp is the writing, since it is really keen observation of every couple's regular niggles and narks and thus every viewer watches and squirms, seeing their own lives played out by the three couples. How often when my dearly beloved significant other and I are watching it do we cast surreptitious glances at eachother along the sofa as we see ourselves in the scenes we're watching. Squirm city folks, trust me.

The episode we were watching just last week, though, really had me shouting "THERE! See? What did I TELL you?" at the screen as Ilias is all wound up about something and so Marina flips open a kitchen drawer and whips out the blood pressure machine and takes her husband's blood pressure, like it was the most natural thing in the world.

If that doesn't bear out what I said in the other post folks, what does, eh?

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Word Gets Around

I did say in the post "Sunday Lunch at La Strada" that I'd report back once we'd made a return visit and I'd ordered the Tsipoura (Sea Bream). Well, last Sunday we arranged to meet a few friends down there for a repeat visit, since the weather was once more great for walking.

Those dining with us went for various dishes containing chicken (one of which is chicken done with a yogurt sauce (which does sound very nice) and the two of us almost had a duplicate of the previous lunch from a couple of Sundays ago except for the fact that I ordered the Tsipoura, chargrilled, as in my humble opinion it always ought to be. 

If you know anything about ordering fish in a Greek restaurant you'll know that very often the menu will only show a price per kilo for most fresh fish. This does put some people off, since they'll read something like €40 in the price column and don't realise that it's the per-kilo price and that they just need to get the proprietor to weigh a fish of their choice and then negotiate a price which will more than likely be something like €10-15 for the selected fish, which often will feed more than one person anyway. One reason why I very often go for the Tsipoura is because it's invariably priced by the individual fish on the menu from the 'off' as it were and thus you already know how much you're going to pay for one, without the need to barter, which can be intimidating if you worry about the language problem, which shouldn't really be a worry since the staff almost always have enough English to make that a straighforward process. I go for it anyway simply for expediency and the fact that I really like that fish.

Over the past few years the price for Tsipoura on most menus has risen from what was about €9 - €10 Euros perhaps four or five years ago to anything from €12 - €15 these days. In La Strada at the moment, the price for Tsipoura on the menu is surprisingly a very acceptable €10, a price which I haven't seen for this fish in a very long time. Of course, one could thus expect it to be a disappointment when it arrives, perhaps owing to it being a bit smaller than you'd expect, yea? Nope, no sirree bob.

The food arrived gradually, as before, and once again was all cooked fresh. My Tsipoura was the last to arrive, which is as you'd expect since it's being grilled over the charcoal and can't be rushed. Even though we'd been well impressed by our previous lunch here, I admit to being a little expectant that the fish would be slightly below par, whilst probably being OK for this lower price level. I'm delighted to report that this was most definitely not so. I'd enquired when I ordered it from Eleni what it came with, and was told that it would be served with a side salad and fresh 'spitika' [homemade] chips, so that meant I'd probably not have to assist my wife in her attempts to get through what she'd ordered as well.

When it came it looked wonderful and appearance-wise most definitely as good as any I'd ever ordered anywhere. Plus the accompanying chips and salad arrived on separate plates and were both good-sized portions too. I didn't take any photos this time folks, sorry, but take my word for this - my fish was excellent. It was done to perfection, so I squeezed a little fresh lemon over it, ran my knife along its length to enable the extraction of the main backbone and ribs and tucked into the perfectly cooked succulent white flesh. I am not just saying (well, OK, writing) this and I have no previous acquaintance with Eleni or Mina, this is straight up. That Tsipoura was as good as any I've ever had and at a price that would have been about right four or five years ago. You can't say fairer than that, right?

Of course, ever the gentleman, I still found myself expected to help my dearly beloved polish off what she'd ordered as well, so ever the martyr, I obliged. We once again had the house white and were brought a modest lttle freebie at the end. Our friends had ordered red wine by the glass and all ate to satisfaction and agreed that we'd had a splendid lunch. Our bill (for five of us) came to €70, so we split it at €15 a head to give a €5 tip and concluded that we'd well and truly had our money's worth.

Interestingly, the place was much busier by the time we were ready to leave than it had been a couple of weeks ago. Apart from one couple, the rest of the clientele were all Greeks, which has to tell you something, right? Right. It does appear that word is getting around and we were extremely happy to have made a return visit and still enjoyed the food as much as we had the first time. How often do you eat somewhere and then go back, only to be disappointed for some reason or other?

Our friend, who we'd bumped into the first time we'd come to La Strada, has also since told us that she's been back too and once again had a very good lunch there. Looks like we may just be getting into a habit here, albeit not a weekly one, yet regular nevertheless.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

April in January

Before I proceed with this post, I simply must share with you a little ditty that my Dad used to say when I was a young nipper. I still remember it word for word and as yet haven't ever met anyone else who remembers it, so I've no idea where my Dad got it from. Anyway, it goes like this:

In the middle of September
In April, last July
The sun lay thick upon the ground
The snow shone in the sky
The trees were singing gaily
The birds were in full bloom
When I went down to the cellar
To clean an upstairs room
I looked out of the window
And had a fearful fright
For there, 10,000 miles away
A house stood ...out of sight
Its doors and windows open
Its front was at the back
And believe me when I tell you
its walls were whitewashed

So, why did I think of this? Well, the answer has to do with the fact that here on Rhodes we so often get the kind of weather that the UK experiences in April, only in January. This current run of weather is a good example. It's a changeable week, with heavy showers and rain, then bright sunshine in equal measure. When the sun's out it's pushing 20ºC, when its cloudy it's the lower teens. 

My Greek friend Mihalis, who features regularly in the "Ramblings" books, and lives in Kalathos, has often told me that he wishes it would rain for the entire winter, November thru March. The fact is, we always need whatever rain we can get to avoid running out of the ever-dwindling water resources we have here during the summer months. As I've often said, and at the risk of boring you on this one, we've never in 9 and a half years of living here had more than 9 rain-days in any one calendar month during a Rhodean winter, but of course it comes in fits and starts, never all spaced out like it was scheduled for regularity. This week, then, it's like a British April, as stated above, with lots of cloudbursts and then bright sunshine. We had to go to Arhangelos today for a few odds and ends and so I decided to drop by Haraki on the way home to snap a few shots (especially for you, Porridge Oats!) so you can see Haraki on one January weekday. On weekends, of course, some of the bars are open, but during the week, it looks more like the photos below will show. 

All the way from home on the way to Arhangelos it was raining, occasionally heavily, but as we got out of the car it stopped and by the time we were taking some well-earned (well I think so anyway - and whose blog is this?!) refreshments, the sun was shining brightly. It shone, in fact, all the time until we got home, locked the gate, parked up the car and let ourselves in, wherupon the clouds gathered and the rains began again. Fab! Couldn't have timed it better.

Inside the nicest café in Arhangelos, the Greco

The view from the café's window while the 'fish-man" was out there doing a brisk trade, double parked as you'd expect!

It's amazing how the most unexpected occasions can make you feel like a "real Greek". For instance, just as we were opening the car doors to get back in for the drive back, a friend from another local village honked and drew up alongside, effectively blocking half the street in the process. She wound down her nearside window, oblivious to the chaos which was starting to ensue, so that she could have a nice little chin wag with us. It's an essential you see. Of course, my car was neatly parked up alongside the kerb in a completely legal manner (I couldn't be a real rebel if I tried), but there we were having a nice little chat as though we had all the time in the world, while the whole street was becoming a war-zone around us. 

Boy did I feel like a local then! Not that this didn't prevent me from getting rather anxious about the situation, but when she was good and ready - and not before - our friend bade us cheerio and proceeded another couple of hundred metres along the street to the bank to which she was intending to pay a visit, once again stopped right outside, alongside the cars that were legally parked, switched on her hazards (ah, so that's all right then) and shot into the bank leaving the rest of the road users on her side to tear their hair out yet again.

Ah, don't you just feel assimilated when that happens, eh?

So to the Haraki shots...

There you go folks. I'm off to learn a Gene Kelly routine...

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Just The Ticket

Sometimes things go so well you have to pinch yourself. From experience you kind of expect the worst. If you've read chapter 2 of "Moussaka to My Ears", you may recall the story about the UPS that went wrong. It's not entirely unusual, when you buy an appliance or a gadget here, for there to be all kinds of complications if the damn thing goes wrong. In the case of the UPS I took it back to the shop and they gave me the old "Well, it'll have to go back to our service depot in Athens. Once they've had a look at it they'll say if we can replace it with a new one or not" routine, which is not uncommon here.

So, it was with some dread that we took our brand new kettle back because it was leaking. Only a few days ago we finally laid to rest a really good and not particularly cheap electric kettle by accidentally placing it back on its cradle wtihout any water in it. Oops. It had lasted us 7 years, which we reckon is pretty good going nowadays. So, not at all happy with trying to rustle up a cuppa using a sauepan to heat the water, not to mention getting piping hot water all over the place while trying to fill a hot water bottle, we remembered that our local branch of Carrefour Express, literally five minutes away by car, sells electrical appliances.

Of course, we weren't going to buy something by some unknown manufacturer, you know, usually the ones with serif typefaces for their logos. We've all seen them, names like Royale and Tra Shie, Crown Ningglory or suchlike. Nope, if they didn't have a known brand it would be the saucepan for a few more days before we got the chance to go to town. As it happens, in we walked and saw that the store carries kettles by none other than Black and Decker, a tried and tested brand familiar to all of us Brits, right? Right. Thirty six Euros lighter we headed home eager to make our first cuppa with our brand new kettle. Which we did. No problems there then. We congratulated ourselves on having thought to look in the store just along the road. A result. Great. Super.

Now, those of you that read these mumblings with any degree of regularity will know that I'm a bit of a nightbird, often not sleeping too well, If I were a better sleeper, this blog would be only half as big and informative as it actually is, truth be told. So, during the first night after we'd bought the new kettle I was in the kitchen at 2.30am and I thought to myself, I'm gonna make myself a nice hot cup of green tea with lemon and eat a slice of my dearly-beloved's really nice moist cake. Anticipation at unheard-of heights, I lifted the kettle to facilitate refilling it, only to find a lake of water beneath it and all over its circular cradle, which was still plugged into the wall socket. Yipes and all that, yea? Yea.

Sure enough, rocking the kettle this way and that I saw a steady drip, drip, coming out from the bottom, and this from a kettle less that 24 hours from the shop. Out came the trusty saucepan - again.

Next day,after having dried the kettle out and re-packed it in its box we trotted into the store, fully expecting a hassle about it having to be sent back to Athens and envisioning weeks of boiling hot water for our Earl Grey tea in a pesky saucepan, and approached Georgia, the girl who'd sold us the appliance. Well, she'd taken the payment at the till, let's put it that way. To be fair, she's a cut above yer average supermarket checkout girl in the IQ stakes I'd wager. She's very erudite and evidently doing this job purely from the lack of any other to which she may be much better qualified. No sooner had I explained the situation she'd taken the kettle back, rustled up some exchange paperwork and told me to nip over to the relevant shelf and help myself to another one, same make and model. Minutes later we were driving back home after having received the assurance from the very helpful Georgia that if this one leaked we were to bring it back right away and we could do yet another swapsies. We congratulated ourselves on having bought it locally. Imagine the hassle if we'd had to take it all the way back to town, an hour's drive away, to see about a replacement. It would have made it a very expensive kettle by the time we'd done two trips.

Like I said, sometimes things go so well you have to pinch yourself. Life's full of surprises.

So, there we were relating our positive experience to a couple of friends and they told us their recent experience in one of the banks over here. I'm sure you've come across these ticket systems. You know, you walk in and there's a little machine, you have to press a button and it spits out a numbered ticket. You then sit for about three years waiting for the digital display to flash your number and then you bolt for the teller, arms flailing in all directions to fend of competitors. By this time your bladder's full to bursting and your car is parked somewhere where it's now due a parking fine. Either that or it'll have perished tyres when you get back to it, it'll have been parked for so long. 

Well our friends said they they entered the banking hall to an almost unheard-of scene. Probably owing to some wormhole having opened up in the space-time continuum, there was not one single customer in the hall. Plus, there was this teller chap, sitting there with no one to serve!! No one to keep hanging around while he stared pointlessly at his monitor for five minutes, or got up and walked away carrying a sheet or two of paper before returning to his seat with a frappé on the go. Nope, he was sitting there with no one to be miserable to.

"Well," thought our friends, "this is our chance!" heading straight for the staff member in question they reached his position and spoke through the glass screen. He just stared back and said, "Ticket?"

They looked this way and that, as if to remind him that there was no other customer in the place, before looking back at him and saying, "We didn't see much point, since there's no queue anyway. There's no one to worry about queue-jumping, which would be why we'd have needed a ticket, wouldn't it? You know, to prevent any disputes about who's turn it was."

He just stared back and, lifting one arm and pointing to the ticket machine with his finger, said, ...well, nothing actually. He just disdainfully made it clear by gesture that no ticket - no service. Take it or leave it. After a couple of exasperated sighs and lifting of both arms, palms out, our friends trotted back across the hall to the machine near the entrance door and dutifully punched the button and tore off the little ticket that spewed out. They marched back to the friendly (not) teller and thrust the ticket under the glass  at him, whereupon he lifted both hands in non-acceptance, assumed a frown and said, then pointing downwards, "In there."

Sure enough, at their feet was a metal waste bin, into which he wanted them to drop the ticket. "What's the point of that?" they cried? His answer was a shrug of the shoulders. He then sat there and waited while our friends, well one of them in this case, looked at the hand holding the ticket, back at the teller, then at the ticket again, before dropping it into the waste basket as directed.

No sooner had the numbered ticket floated down into the mouth of the bin than the man behind the counter assumed a smile and said, "Now, what can I do for you?"

Of course, they knew exactly what they'd LIKE to have told him he could do at that point, but thought better of it. After all, they wanted to get out of there on the same day as they'd gone in, didn't they.

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Surfeit of Suggestions

Something that never ceases to both dismay and amaze me about the locals, and I rather think that this applies nationwide too, is their preoccupation with things medical. Not health, oh no, don't try getting most Greeks to think about eating healthily, giving up smoking or exercising, but as soon as the slightest ailment rears its ugly head they're simply delighted to get into the subject of how to treat it.

I've mentioned on a few occasions how it first bemused me to find that most Greek housewives have their own blood pressure machine. C'mon guys, you know what I mean here, can you imagine your average regular household in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, having one of those in a kitchen drawer? The conversation has only to veer in that direction, maybe someone (or their child) locally has come down with something, is feeling a little below par, maybe planning for their diabetes years (you know how the Greeks love their sweet cakes and syrupy stuff, don't you) and the householder, quicker than you can say "snap elections" has whipped open that drawer and is strapping that thing you pump up on to one of the neighbour's arms, or perhaps her own, just to check if she's about to peg out. She'll be vigorously pumping at that rubber bulb-type thingie while she's saying something like "You must have the πίεση' [the pressure, meaning blood of course], I can see it in your cheeks."

I'm not exaggerating when I say I am quite sure that local women gathering for coffee in someone's house probably have regular blood pressure parties.

Something else which every home here has is a medical thermometer. Now, if you've read the "News and Stuff" page lately, you'll know that I've had a touch of the - I hesitate to say it - flu. I don't know what these bugs really give you, but I do know that, when I was a kid, if you had a cold you had a snotty nose for a few days, during which time you still went out to play and carried on with all the normal stuff, but you did it while sticking your tongue out and licking that snot from your top lip that had run down from your nose while you were playing football, right?

Now that was a cold.

What I've had this past few days has been a "rocking" head, a sore throat and chest, catarrh (is that how you spell it? What a ridiculous series of letters…) and an intense desire to stay in bed with a hot water bottle. Of course, you may still class that as a cold. I certainly, as stated above, would hesitate to describe it as full-blown flu, but it's certainly somewhere between the two.

Anyway, my other half, being as yet unsmitten, has been out and consequently talked to a few of our Greek friends, who, of course asked, "Where's Yianni?" Once the response is, "Well, he's in bed ill, he's got a…" you generally don't get much further than that before the suggestions begin pouring in.

In fact, last night a good friend from Rhodes Town called on the phone to ask how I was. Nice thought, granted, but it does seem like there is an official list of things you have to cover if you're a Greek and someone you know isn't well. So, if you wanna be like a Greek and someone you know is slightly unwell, this is what you have to cover:

Have you a temperature? [Whaddyamean you don't know? How can you not know? You WHAT? You don't have a thermometer? Poh Poh! …and so on.]

What did the doctor say? [What? you haven't been to the doctor? It's amazing you're not dead already…]

What are you taking? [Now this one of course is often connected to the "Doctor" point, since they're dying to know what he prescribed, so they can tell you that they wouldn't take THAT if they were on their own death bed. What he SHOULD have given you is… and so on. It also gives them the opportunity to tell you all the things you really ought to be imbibing if you expect to live. These things include a lot of pills I usually can't even pronounce, plus a whole raft of herbal things. My friend who telephoned asked, "Have you got plenty of oranges?" for example. That's OK actually. Then there's the dreaded "chai voonoh" (Mountain tea), which is made out of a selection of herbs you pluck from the mountainsides out here. The main ingredient is sage, but there are a few other leaves in there too. Each time I drink it - and you simply HAVE to have honey in it to avoid gagging as you sip - I fully expect to begin hallucinating quite soon afterwards. Add to the foregoing a whole cornucopia of other drugs that every Greek friend will insist you need to help you get through this and you begin to get the general picture.]

• Assuming you've fended off most of the above, they then crank it up a gear. "If still you have a temperature (assuming of course that you know you have one) after a few days, you make sure you get to the doctor's," And that's said in a manner that suggests that they believe if you don't get there quick enough then you'll run the risk of dying in the car on the way.

See, now, maybe it's just the way I was brung up, but I was always led to believe that if you had a heavy cold (let's settle on that as a description, yeh?) you sweated it out. There is no cure. The best you can do is alleviate the symptoms and wait for it to pass. That's why, despite the constant insistence from well-meaning Greek friends that I'm quite mad not to be taking a cocktail of drugs and also visiting the doctor several times, the only thing I've done by way of acceding in the past few days is take a couple of soluble aspirin in a glass of water to ease my throbbing head, once. Of course, to each and every Greek friend I know that's exceedingly reckless.

Going from past experience, next time I do get out and about and visit with our Greek friends, they'll be astounded to see that I survived. Of course, they'll still want to take my blood pressure no doubt.