Friday, 12 September 2014

Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick, Slow

One of the best things about living out here is that nothing is done in a hurry.

Of course, that's one of the worst things about living out here too, it all depends on what it is you're doing at the time.

I'll illustrate.

When you're sitting in that water-side taverna, having just finished a sumptous lunch and still with half a jug of the house retsina to go, you're lazily throwing breadcrumbs into the crystal blue water that's lapping just feet away from your flip-flops and enjoying watching the water boil as hundreds of little fish appear seemingly out of nowhere to feast on your offering, you're feeling extremely mellow and the table is littered with the debris of a lunch well-enjoyed and you're in good company too; when you really don't have anything else to do for the rest of the afternoon apart from possibly drag your tootsies back to your sunbed, where you'll drop off for an hour before having another dip in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea, it's then that you don't really want the waiter turning up and clearing your table of everything except that jug of Retsina and perhaps your wine glasses. You don't want the staff making it patently clear that they'd like to prepare the table for the next set of diners, or perhaps simply to close up for the afternoon, hence the implied pressure to make you ask for the bill, pay up and leave well before you really feel like bringing this exquisite little interlude to an end...

...At those moments, you're glad that a trad taverna will never rush its clientelle. Incidentally, if ever we eat in a Greek restaurant where they do the above, we never go back there on principle. In Greece, to eat a meal is to take as long as you flamin' well want to about it. Dining in Greece is an art form. Especially if you're in good company and you're putting the world to rights in genial conversation. Yes, slow is good.

So, in summary, it's at such moments that you're glad that nothing's done too quickly in Greece. 

On the other hand, when you simply want to pay a utility bill, you want to get it done and dusted so that you can get on with doing something you actually want to do. OK, so in the past year or so I've finally been able to set up the paying of our electricity and phone bills on-line, which is quite a quantum leap for a Greek island. Yet I am aware that lots of folk I know still traipse to a bank or Post Office, perhaps a particular store, in order to pay their electricity, phone, Satellite TV contract, mobile phone and a few more types of bill besides.

Up until a couple of years ago the water bills here were all handled by the local "Dimos", or Municipality. It was and OK system. Once or twice a year a battered pickup truck would charge up the lane below us, leaving the usual smoke-screen of fine dust behind in its wake, screech to a halt at the "spitaki" or small breeze-block shed a few hundred metres below us which houses the electric pump that sends our water up the hill for us and a woman would leap out of the passenger side with a notepad and pen and she'd read the water meter that's down there. Having done this she'd jump back into the cab, the driver would engage gear and they'd charge up around the remaining couple of blind bends in the lane to our front gate, where once more they'd screech to a halt, the driver would perform a three-point turn whilst the woman would leap out and rattle our front gate to gain our attention. I'd saunter out there and she'd wish me a good day and thrust a small post-it note at me with the current reading scribbled on it in ballpoint pen.
Some months later we'd receive a bill, which in those days was an A4 printout, prepared by the local Council, to whose office we'd have to go in order to settle up. Since our local "Dimos" is at Gennadi, that meant a trip of only 3 km or so, where we'd go in, stroll along a corridor and around the corner to the desk, then pay the bill whilst chatting to Yanni, who not only worked for the Council, but also ran (and still does) the Ekaterini Hotel just down the lane from us and sings every Friday night at their low-key but extremely acceptable Greek Night...

That's a rather blurry Yanni standing by the doorway, awaiting his next cue...

My better half giving it large on the floor

Yanni's wife and sister plus a selection of locals get jiggy with it

...So, anyway, that was all quite straightforward and fairly quick really. Of course, you always ran the risk of arriving at the Dimos to find that there was a strike on, or perhaps a 'yorti' [religious holiday, of which there are far too many and often!!] or someone had forgotten to turn up with the front door key - that kind of stuff; and you'd have to go away and come back another time. But by and large, notwithstanding the fact that the bill could come anything up to a year after the woman had handed me the post-it with the meter reading on it, it worked. The bill would always display the same figure that the woman had scribbled down for us and everything was hunky dory.

Last year though, what with all the 'rationalization' that's been going on, they've 'centralised' the water bureaucracy haven't they. Now there's a national water company with its main office all the way up there in Rhodes Town and no longer can one pay one's water bill just down the road. 

So, there I was, having received the first water bill in something like eighteen months [slow, or what, eh?] a few weeks back, and opened the envelope in trepidation at what I was going to find within, only to see a bill of, ...wait for it, €10. Yup, I kid you not. It even said on the bill that the meter had been read. But how the princely sum of €10 was arrived at I haven't a clue. The fact was though that it was going to need paying and, at least doing an excursion to Rhodes Town every Tuesday, I was not going to have to drive all the way there to pay the thing. The only trouble was, I hadn't a clue where the Water Company office was.

Enter me friend and colleague John (yup, another one. Avoids any confusion I suppose. Remember the Monty Python Auzzie sketch in which everyone was called Bruce?), who, bless the little chap, knew exactly where the office was and thus told me. Tucked away in a back street beside the Police HQ and the main Fire Station, there it was, one little doorway with a new sign above declaring that this was indeed the Water Company office, a result!

Of course, if you want to visit your bank in Rhodes you do have to be aware that you should have at least an hour (preferably two) to spare. Many's the time my dearly beloved and I have taken our passbook with us to town, approached the main branch of our Greek bank and peered through the double security doors at the huge queue in the banking hall within, only to look at eachother and say in unison, "another time, eh?". 

I'm quite bemused by these double security doors they have on all the banks now. They seem to me to be the kind of airlock you'd expect at some germ warfare establishment, to contain the environment within and not let any nasty strains out into the atmosphere. They're that solid. You know the form, you have to press a little red button and a voice says, "wait until the light turns green and then open door". Why is it that I always push when I should be pulling and vica versa? Plus, they have such a strong return spring on them that you really have to exert yourself so as not to seem like a wimp to the person standing behind you and also wanting to enter the inner sanctum of the banking hall. There's never enough room between the two doors for more than two people and how anyone with a baby in a stroller manages I've no idea.

Anyway, armed with this knowledge, plus with mental pictures from Greek TV News that almost every night seem to show footage of great long snakes of people trying to pay their car tax or their electricity bill in Athens, many of the men in which will probably need another shave by the time they've reached the desk, I popped my head into the Water Company's door fully expecting to see a long queue of folk trying to pay their water bills.

To my amazement and delight, there was only one man at the desk and no one, repeat no one queuing behind him. For a moment I told myself inwardly, "You chump, Johnny boy. You've come to the wrong place." But no, for there in the hands of the bloke behind the desk, as he handed it back to the customer, was a water bill exactly like mine. Oh joy!! I strode in, went straight up to the desk and thrust the fella my €10 note along with the bill and - before you could say "rubber stamp" the man had rubber stamped it, printed the proof of payment (which when you think of it, kind of invalidates the need for a rubber stamp. But then, I don't think a Greek would feel right without one) and handed it back to me. I don't think I spent more than 90 seconds in that office.

Of course, discussing this later back at the Top 3 with fellow reps Tim and John I learned that just about everyone had received a bill for a trivial amount, in essence, simply to get the new system functioning. The given wisdom is that probably toward the end of this year we're all going to be receiving huge bills catching up our water charges for at least a year and a half. 

What's the betting that I'll be queuing for a while then, eh?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Picture Postcard

Yet another post of photos, primarily of the Old Town. See, the thing is, I just can't resist pointing the lens when I see these scenes. 

So, once more, hope you like 'em...

All the below photos were shot on Tuesday September 9th 2014.

OK, detectives among you, where's this then? And Trevor - don't give it away! Let some else have a go first!!

The moat (which was always intended as a dry moat, not a wet one) is very impressive and well worth walking around. It certainly gives one an idea of how intimidating it would have made the Old Town to would-be invaders.


And, as I've said before, these last few well demonstrate that the old town is in no way completely spoilt by tourism.

More tales of quirky goings on will follow soon...

Friday, 5 September 2014

This, that and ...well, let's just leave it at that.

Couldn't resist this. An old oven in old Pilona just after sunset one recent evening.

Me and the chaps on the "Lindos". Kostas left and son Dimitri, right

 Just decided to chuck a load of photos on this time, so I'll simply caption them where necessary.

Hope you like 'em (and that you'll remember how to get a good larger look at each one).

Know where this is then? Rhodean regulars will have no trouble.

As always, during my Excursion to town last Tuesday, I went awanderin' and shot away with the iPad  just to prove how quiet it is once you get off the main tourist streets in the Old Town. Do I tire of it? Never.

This is probably not the building you may think it is. It's another one in a much quieter part of the town.

...and this is the rather lovely cafe/bar just behind it (see previous photo above)

"Oh, I don't know. No. 27 is really letting the neighboorhood down these days. I mean, what does a lick of paint cost?"

What amazes me is this: every time I go wandering in the Old Town I deliberately try and take turnings I haven't taken before. And every time I do this I find little hidden gems like this. Not five minutes from here it's heaving with visitors browsing the tourist shops, drinking in the bars on the main throroughfares, dining in the restaurants, yet look! Isn't it just delightful? Bit hot though.


And now for something completely different...

Above is the new sign declaring the presence of the recently opened cafe/bakery on the main road just near Lardos, right opposite the furthest South road into the village of the three from the main road (a bit clumsy that, but I hope you get the idea!). It's also beside the top end of the lanes leading down to Lardos Beach (one of which passes the Olive Garden Hotel and another I can't remember the name of now, sorry).

 There are a few cane tables and chairs outside and inside you'll find Nicoletta ready to serve you. She's a very sweet and hardworking girl and we've been there for a frappé several times already. If you're on the hoof and want a frappé to drink in the car, or you have the time to sit outside and enjoy it along with a cake or something, I can recommend it. Her prices are very good and her frappé too is as good as anyone's. We had a couple of naughty cakes and a frappé each recently, plus collected a loaf of delicious, fresh bread to take home for lunch and I thought that she'd made a mistake with the bill, it was that reasonable.

The building has been a bakery for many years, but up until recently it was only a bakery supplying bread and cakes to the surrounding area. Lately though it has opened with an actual storefront and seating area plus ample parking for retail customers. It deserves to be a success and, judging by the locals we've seen sitting outside, it will be.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Post About Post

If you may have, ooh, about an hour and a half to spare, then you might consider going to post a letter at the main Post Office in Mandraki Harbour. In town on an excursion on Tuesday I had a fairly important envelope to post to a UK address, so at around 11.00am I tugged my ticket from the machine in the foyer and went through the revolving door into the main business hall. 

I don't know what it is about revolving doors, but they tend to strike terror into me. I get visions of getting a foot stuck in one, or of it seizing up and grinding to a halt just as I'm in that curvy glass bit where you're not quite in and not quite out. I've never considered myself claustrophobic, but it makes me feel kind of, well claustrophobic. 

Anyway, somehow I managed to negotiate the glass vortex and quickly found myself staring at the condemned, as they sat around forlornly clutching their numbered tickets and looking like they're posing for a Vermeer. I'm sure you know what I mean. If not, just look at the expressions on the subjects of his paintings. The main thing they all have in common is they don't have any facial expression to speak of. It's like they're all thinking "what's the point? I'm gonna die some day and so I may as well wait it out with resignation." I suppose when you consider how long they'd have had to sit for the picture I'm not far off the point. I dunno though, maybe they've all (the customers, not Vermeer's subjects) just come from an audition for extras in "Night of the Living Dead 7" or something. Curse my vivid imagination.

Around 8 people sat in the few rows of plastic "school assembly hall" chairs, all staring hopelessly (the people, not the chairs. The chairs were staring at nothing in particular) at the arches before them and to their left, the six arches which have been turned into serving desks, all helpfully numbered from 1 to 6 and all, except one, displaying no signs of life whatsoever, and still others stood around looking bereft...

Desks 2 and 3, the second of which (No. 3 that is, to the left) sits darkened and bereft, whilst the hopeful, or rather the hopeless, would-be customers sit further off to the left, out of shot.
Actually, desks 1 and 2 were at least illuminated, but only desk 1 had a woman sat behind it, trying to speak German to a bloke who wanted I've no idea what, but it needed to take about half an hour or so to get sorted. He stood there in his shorts and t-shirt, occasionally gazing at those waiting behind him as if half expecting to be set upon at any moment by the ravenous crowd of be-crazed, frustrated customers for taking soooo long with his business at the desk. He had those shorts on that sport huge pockets down on the sides of the legs and each pocket looked as though he had half a ton of stuff rammed into it. Maybe his tent was in one and his wife/girlfriend was secreted in the other, I wouldn't have been surprised, really I wouldn't.

That's the thing about having to wait for ages when there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, right? You start studying things that you normally wouldn't cast a second glance at; like, for example, see the glass cabinets that are positioned in front of each column in the above photo? Well, the one to the right is full of a rather weird display of all things religious, icons of various shapes and sizes mainly, on glass shelves. There were ones you could attach to your car fascia, ones you could stand on a shelf and others that could be hung on walls and all at ridiculous prices, like €50 for an A5-sized for example. Can you imagine such a display in a public store/shop/whatever in the UK in the 21st century? I've noticed this even in the small rural Post Office down the road from us in the village of Gennadi too. Must be a pretty standard fixture. I suppose there must still be old folk who say, "I'll just pop down the Post office to draw my pension and get a new icon, shan't be long."

So anyway, I was sitting there studying such things and occasionally glancing at my little ticket, which displayed the number A117, and also now and then glancing at the LED displays high on the wall and also above each desk which announced which ticket would be the next one to be served when I noticed that the current one, which I presumed must have been this German fella, was A113. "Can't be so bad then," I thought. "Mine is only 4 away from that one, so I ought to get served pretty soon." Woo hoo, eh?

But then I counted the people who'd all been in here when I walked in and their number didn't tally at all with the ticket number I'd collected from the machine in the lobby. Very strange. I was only four away from being summoned by the LED display, yet I counted at least 12 people hanging about the place, 8 of which were seated and playing (as one always does these days) with their mobile phones and the rest of which stood around in various positions, sort of exuding the air of "maybe I'll just nip in first when the desk becomes available. After all, there is a hospital on the island so my injuries would be treated fairly promptly."

Behind the counters there was a walkway that stretched all the way around beneath the arches and now and again a staff member would appear from some dark recess further back, usually carrying a package, I presume so as to announce to all observers that they were already well occupied and couldn't possibly entertain the idea of actually serving any of the miserable wretches who gazed expectantly at them from out in the waiting area. What would further exacerbate the frustration would be the fact that when these people did appear, they'd stop right behind the only woman who was actually serving and engage her in a five-minute chat, thus further lengthening the amount of time that our German customer was destined to spend getting his business attended to.

After what was probably about twenty minutes of waiting, and having finally seen our German man with the well-stuffed leg-pockets finally take his leave, the number on the display changed to A114 and I looked around, hoping that maybe customers 114-116 had decided to end it all or something and I could get straight to the desk to send off my one solitary letter, only to suffer immense disappointment as a young woman in impossibly short shorts and hundred-metre-long legs arose, stuffed her mobile phone into her bag and marched to the desk determinedly, with that air of "no one's pushing in before me, I've been here since last Thursday" about her - at least, that's how I interpreted her body language. It certainly would have been mine. As she made her move a dozen other people, myself included, emitted an audible communal sigh and went back to studying the lines in the marble on the floor.

As the girl approached the counter, a woman of around sixty appeared from a corner, I assumed a corner where staff members could go in and out of their inner sanctum, and made for the counter too. This woman had her chin kind of tucked into her upper chest, like as if she had some problems with the bones in her neck or upper back, she wore a dowdy off-yellow sun dress and carried a shabby linen shoulder bag. She immediately engaged the woman serving at counter number 2 in conversation, quite loudly. Her hair was very obviously dyed a reddish brown and she gave me the impression that there was definitely a brick missing from her wall as she said something like, "All right my lovely? You doing good? Family all right too are they? I'll be running along. All the best now." This elicited a response from hundred-metre-legs girl and also from the woman serving. Hundred-metre-legs girl looked at the woman daggers and sighed, whilst the serving woman gave one of those patronising smiles and replied totally insincerely, "All the best, love. You take care now, hmm?" Reading between the lines I think she added inaudibly, "Phew, she's finally going. There is a God after all." But of course I may be quite wrong.

After what was definitely the best part of an hour the LED display showed A117 and I almost missed my slot, I was that far away. The buzzer that accompanied the change of number just managed to register in my brain before someone assumed that A117 had topped himself and I leapt up like a man possessed and dashed to the desk triumphantly. As I mentioned above, I only had the one letter to send and so I was turning around and beginning to make my exit within about ninety seconds when the buzzer told whoever held ticket A118 that their number was finally up. I could have sworn that had I not exited pretty sharpish the girl behind me would have thrown herself at my feet and kissed them owing to how quickly I had concluded my business at the counter. This was her lucky day!

It's a bit odd really. I mean, since the "austerity" hit Greece there have been all kinds of "rationalisations" in the civil service and local councils and stuff. But I was under the impression that the Greek Post office (ELTA) was actually turning a profit. Yet in every Post Office on the island the staff levels have been cut and some sub-post offices have been closed (as you'll know if you follow this blog, since I talked about our own Agapitos taverna losing its sub-post office status a while back now). Thus it's pretty much a given that if you have any business to conduct with the Post Office these days, you'd better take a flask and some sandwiches, 'cos you're going to be in there a long time.

Still, at least it brings home the truth of the way they measure time out here. Everything's GMT. Greek Maybe Time. As I type this I'm wondering if half of those people I saw are still waiting there in that Post Office. My imagination's now running riot and I'm envisioning a Post Office version of that movie "Night in a Museum" where all those icons come alive and terrorise the hapless customers spending the night here in the hope of getting served early the next morning.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Ripening Nicely

Yippee and yabadabadoo!! September is with us and the temperatures are dropping to somewhere near "simmer" rather than "bring to the boil". Just had a shufty at the olive tree and it looks like this year it's going to do us proud. The olives are a good size and ripening nicely. A drop of rain toward the end of this month and a few more times before November and they'll turn a gorgeous black and we may well have some of our own oil yet.

We haven't been up to much of late, so not much to scribble about really, except to mention that last weekend was the annual Wine Festival in the village of Embona. Every year they have a bit of a shindig as the grape harvest begins and there's all kinds of stuff going on all over the village. Of course there's the usual dancing in the square and lots of tables and chairs everywhere as the revellers get down to the serious business of having a good time and why not? It's a joyous occasion and the resultant wine produced will bring in much-needed income in the coming months and years.

It's worth noting too that the quality of Rhodean wines is getting more and more notice these days. It's no longer correct to joke about them, as there are some really good wines which have won some awards produced right here on Rhodes.

If you'd like a brief taste of the wine festival, check this link out. The text is in Greek, but there are loads of photos and a cool video showing the dance where the women tip the grapes into the barrels where the men tread them as they dance, wicked! You may just want to ask the violinist to check his tuning toward the end of the clip though...

No good going along if you want to get to bed much before the following dawn I'm afraid.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Searing Heat and Some Skulduggery

If the weather forecasts give us mid thirties then we know we're in for trouble. Put simply, for every temperature that's forecast you can usually add four or five degrees and that's what we actually get. For the BBC's website, make that ten. We'd been warned to expect a few days of really high temperatures and, since yesterday turned out to be a day when we were both off together, we decided to pack up a small picnic, stuff our towels into our beach bags and head down to the beach for the day. Best place to be when it's reeeeally hot, so we thought.

We arrived at about eleven, got ourselves "camped" with the appropriate quantity of our "stuff" arranged all around us under the parasol and settled in for the day. A quick swim to set us up and cool us off and then it was back to the sun beds to read or listen to some music. We'd even stopped by the Gré Café on the way down for a couple of take-out frappés, so we had those to sup too, bliss. 

On the subject of music for a moment (ever the man to look for an opportunity to digress, me), I'm entirely into Van Morrison's live concert of Astral Weeks right now. He recorded it at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original album's release. I've got to say, I'm completely gone on it. The man's a genius. You either "get" him or you don't, but if you do, what an experience that album is. 

The other half? George Mazonakis was her choice for the day.

The fact is though, by three o'clock in the afternoon we were laying under that parasol suffering. I know, I know, ought to be grateful and stuff, but every point at which one area of flesh was in contact with another, for example the legs, the armpits etc., was totally soaked in perspiration. The towels on which we lay were drenched too. The sand was so hot you had to run across it to keep the burns on your feet to only 3rd degree instead of 2nd or 1st. The breeze that we'd hoped would be the key benefit of being down there instead of at home was actually hot, not just warm, it was hot. It was like permanently standing in front of your mum's fan oven with the door open when she's cooking the Sunday roast. Yes, one could argue that going in the sea would cool us off, but that would have meant our heads and shoulders being in full sun, so it was only a temporary fix. There was nothing for it. We packed up our stuff, ran across the beach on tippytoe to keep the burns to a minimum and piled back into the car, which for once we'd brought with us instead of walking down. Plus I'd been able to get it under the best tree at the back of the beach so it wasn't like a furnace when we got in, phew.

Driving back up to the house the car showed an exterior temperature of 42ºC, which is a whopping 107 in the old money, or if you're American perhaps. That's the hottest day we've ever had in nine years of living in Kiotari. In fact, today is the 9th anniversary of the day we arrived, yay!! If we have 42º here in Kiotari, I dread to think what it must have been in Lindos and Pefkos, where it's always a few degrees hotter than here, owing to the rocks and stuff.

Once back home we had an outdoor shower, drank copious quantities of iced water and took a cup of Earl Grey tea to bed, where we lay in total darkness with a fan running and mercifully fell asleep. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's really amazing how a house with the windows all closed tight and the blinds likewise, will stay at a constant temperature, despite what it's doing outside. For example, as I type this today the thermometer in our kitchen reads 29, whereas outside the three thermometers we have positioned strategically read from 39 to 42. The indoor temperature never exceeds 29 if we keep the place closed up tight and in darkness. OK, 29 may sound a bit on the warm side, but if you set foot outside and then come back in it's positively chilly, take it from me. At least it's tolerable. 

"Why not just use the air conditioning?" yoy cry? Why not indeed. Well, we're all different it's true, but air-con is responsible for more summer colds than any other single cause. Plus it dries out the room so much that your throat soon resembles emery cloth and your eyes persuade you quite wrongly that you have developed conjunctivitus. How did people in hot countries manage for all the ages before the invention of air-con? They closed the place up and kept it dark. Plus it's not very "green" to be using air-con all the time. I know, hobby-horse and all that...

Anyway, changing tack slightly, I mentioned that we'd taken the car to the beach whereas we usually walk down. The route we follow when walking it is a dusty lane that's been a public right of way for decades, at least since the Italian occupation back between the two world wars. It's on this lane that we pass the fenced-off plot of land that is farmed by our old friend Agapitos, who has some olive trees and a respectably sized vegetable patch in there, alongside the concrete water cistern that feeds the surrounding area with drinking water. Walking back from the beach a few days ago, at around 7.00pm, the usual hour for Kyrios Agapitos to be tending his patch, we noticed some newly posted and slightly bemusing signs along his fence...

As we reached the gate, his ancient, but well preserved pickup truck was parked outside and so we knew he had to be in there somewhere. We called out and, sure enough, he emerged from the thick of vegetation about twenty metres away and strolled across to meet us. 

"So, what are these signs all about, then?" We asked him, "We thought you'd suddenly developed a liking for the RAF or something."

He smiled, but it was a smile of resignation, of exasperation, and replied, "Kyrie Yanni, Kyria Maria, I had to put these up to warn Mr. ______________ that he has no rights to infringe on my property. As you know, he has already attempted to change the course of this lane, which runs right past my gate here. Fortunately, Kyrios _________________, whio owns the land next to mine that Mr.______________ wanted to re-route it through said no. But he wants to do more development up here and I'm in his way. So these signs are to tell him where my land legally ends. That wooden one, see where it says 40m, that's because my land goes beyond this fence right to the edge of the lane, where you see I've placed one of the markers, showing where my land ends, 40 metres from the wall of the water cistern. He's already made it plain that he wants to move my fence BACK a few metres."

The man he's talking about already owns several large hotels around here. We have nothing against him, in fact some of his employees who we happen to know tell us that he pays the wages of his staff. There are other hotels around here where the workers haven't been paid since June. These things the tourists often don't know about. To be frank, I've always tried to keep the blog positive, but sometimes it seems right to mention some of the slightly less attractive things that go on here. It wouldn't do for the tourists to stop coming, because that would only make the workers' plight worse still. Quite what the solution is I don't pretend to know, but I do know that many hardworking night porters and room service maids are living on fresh air at the moment. Such is the way where you have the "haves" who have it all and the "have-nots" who are basically slaves. there you go, I've said it now.

So Kyrios Agapitos is sad that he seems to have a fight on his hands with an old neighbour who's become much wealthier than our friend. When you have such clout it often seems to others that you are above the law, since the old "brown envelope" gets anything you want done when you want it, allegedly!

Agapitos simply wants to carry on as long as he can, harvesting his modest few olive trees and growing vegetables to feed his family and to give to friends and acquaintances like us. This apparent "adversary" is of a similar age, which makes it all the more sad that he seems to want to continually expand his commercial empire, extending existing hotels, building new ones and trying to infringe on land belonging to what used to be an old friend and fellow villager.

It'd be nice if the man in question were to think about being satisfied with what he has and perhaps try chilling a little more, maybe passing a day on the beach now and then. Maybe not when it's quite this hot though, eh.

Monday, 11 August 2014

While The Cat's Away...

Talking to a couple of friends the other day, Jilly told us a tale concerning a past visit to Crete. It made us smile and reminded us of just how much the culture here differed from that of the UK just a few decades ago, in the 1970's.

In chapter 13 of Feta Compli! I related the story of how my wife's cousin's husband went off with a few cohorts under cover of darkness to gather grapes to make retsina in a manner that wasn't altogether "kosher". Well, Jilly's husband Ted had a similar experience whilst they were staying in a modest studio in western Crete. Having visited the same accommodation several times they'd (as one does) become 'part of the family' that owned the rooms and frequently found themselves involved in activities that they hadn't planned. These were things that the landlord, his wife, or some other near relative had schemed up and - of course - Ted and Jilly would be doing it too, like they didn't have a choice. Well, the fact is, they didn't really.

Ted said that the landlord and a few other family members were planning a nighttime sortie to pick grapes for the making of Raki, that stuff that's so strong you could use it as barbecue lighting fluid. Ted was instructed that he'd be going to help out and, unlike yours truly who didn't want to sample Greek prison cuisine and so made my excuses and suffered the ridicule that followed, Ted just acceded, donned his fatigues and woolly hat, blacked up his face with camouflage paint and set off with the expedition. OK, so I may have exaggerated about the blacking up his face bit.

Aha! Said Jilly and her sister, since then men are off galavanting and we're going to be left alone for an evening, we'll have a G&T on the terrace, put on our glad rags and hit the local bars and discos.

A couple of hours later (you know women, eh? Yeah I know, dangerous ground, but you have to live dangerously now and then) they were all ready to set off along the street, party dresses on, high heels clicking and clacking on the paving slabs and make-up all sorted. They hadn't got more than three metres from the front gate when they heard the landlord, whom we shall call Stelios, calling out, "Where you going ladies?"

It seems that Stelios had organised the Raki expedition, but then commissioned his son Dimitri to lead it, whilst dad stayed home to read the paper and watch TV. Of course, as is so often the case during a Greek summer, folk can sit out on their terrace beside the oilcloth-covered table on which sits their drink, ashtray and possibly reading material, and watch the TV in the lounge from outside. It's cooler. It's only a simple matter of positioning the TV correctly and fixing the correct angle for the patio chair. Simples!

Jilly and her sister turned and gazed back over the oleander bushes to see their very protective landlord, now standing, awaiting their reply. "We're off out for a few drinks, maybe a dance. After all, the men have deserted us for the evening!" They called back.

"You WAIT! PLEASE!" Called Stelios.

"What on earth can he have in mind?"
wondered our heroines. They didn't have long to wait to find out. Perhaps he was going to come out and pin a lovely fragrant gardenia as a kind of natural brooch on each of their dresses, or was he going to thrust a card or two in their hands advertising some bar or other run by a relative. None of those.

After they'd waited five minutes while Stelios, who was probably about 70 years old, although pretty spritely still, ducked inside the house, he re-emerged in a white shirt, black trousers and his greying yet still thick mane of hair combed back with a liberal helping of hair cream to keep it in place and came out into the street where his female guests were waiting.

"I take you dancing!" Declared their host. He would brook no argument, although none was forthcoming anyway from his stunned charges, and set off with a woman on either arm, strutting for all the world like a cockerel in the chicken run. After a soft drink in a fairly sedate kafeneion, Stelios took the sisters to a taverna where there was a modest dance floor among the tables and a small raised platform in the corner, on which was positioned a whole load of sound equipment, chairs and musical instruments, awaiting their owners to come out and put them to good use.

Some time after 9.30pm the two-man band on the stage set off with gusto, playing a selection of old traditional Greek dance tunes and Stelios was one of the first on the floor. All the while he was ensuring that our two heroines were well supplied with drinks. He didn't ask them what they wanted, he just kept the lemonade, fruit juice and water coming!! There was no sign of anything alcoholic, much to the dismay of Jilly and her sister. After a first couple of forays out on to the floor he was dragging Jilly and her sis up too, both of which would have found it much easier to comply had they been allowed to imbibe a couple of G&T's first, rather than lemonade, water and fruit juice, none of which have the same effect at relaxing the brain's embarrassment muscle. Out came a white handkerchief and soon he was twisting and twirling, ducking and diving on the end of it while the girls walked around the floor behind him. Stelios was evidently quite convinced that he was showing the women a good, if somewhat dry, time.

At something approaching eleven thirty in the evening, after a bemused couple of hours, the two women found themselves once more on each of Stelios' arms as they walked home and he escorted them gallantly to their rooms.

"OK, good!" he triumphantly declared with a palpable air of relief too at a successfully accomplished moral mission, "Now you stay here 'til the husbands he come home! Kali-nichta pedia!" and he was off down the stairs to resume his position in the chair on the terrace, this time with a glass of Metaxa to keep him company.

Jilly and her sister were trying to work out quite what they'd experienced and came to this quite correct conclusion: In Stelios' mind it was most unacceptable for two women from under his roof to be venturing out for a good time in the evening unchaperoned. Shocking!! What would his neighbours say? What would be whispered behind the backs of other mens' hands across the dominoes game and the Ellinikos in the Kafeneion next morning? No way was Kyrios Stelios going to be a laughing stock, or to give the impression that he harboured the wrong types of women in his guest rooms. No, he was going to ensure that all passed off with decorum and no alcohol was going to pass the lips of his female guests whilst their spouses weren't around.

In the wee hours of the next morning, while both women lay in their respective beds reading crime novels, the two husbands could be heard scrambling up the stairs and thumping the walls in vain attempts to operate the time switches for the hallway lights. Jilly wasn't aware quite what happened next door at the time that Ted finally drummed his fingers on the bedroom door, but rising to open it to her fairly inebriated hubby, and watching him almost fall into the room with a sublime grin on his face and his breath reeking of something decidedly stronger than lemonade, she had a fairly good idea that a similar scenario was being played out the other side of the wall.

Ted managed a few lighthearted words, which much to his puzzlement didn't receive the expected response from his frustrated other half:

"What hoh, luv!! Bet you two mice had a damned good play while we cats were away, heh?"

..whereupon he fell across the bed and descended into a deep, contented, snoring slumber.