Monday, 5 December 2016

The Land of the Living

Ventured out for the first time in over a week and a half today. Some people apparently get island fever from living on an island. I think I get "stuck-at-home-itis" after so many days without venturing outside the gates, apart from a couple of short walks in the hills to clear the passages.

Aside from the sore throat, the bad head and the pains like razor blades in my chest when I coughed, I actually enjoyed the first four or five days of being down with a cold. You know what I mean, just laying around and sleeping, being pampered and not worrying about anything in connection with day-to-day life is quite pleasurable - for a time. But, since I cannot recall any period in my entire adult life when a cold lasted more than four or five days, once I got into the second week I was climbing the walls.

I've been finding it hard to type too because I seem to have a painful case of Tennis Elbow, or, as seems more likely, repetitive strain injury (apparently some say it's the same thing), and it hurts all the more when I type or wiggle the mouse on the laptop. Yup, I'm even suffering in silence as I prepare this post, but I don't like to talk about it...

This morning was the first morning since a week last Tuesday when I woke up feeling almost normal and actually felt like getting out of bed. So we headed off to Arhangelos (with a detour to the Western Union office in Massari to pay part of the water bill) to do a spot of shopping and have a coffee somewhere where we could watch the world going by.

The Greco Café serves up excellent filter coffee plus bougatsa to die for...



It was while waiting for that little treat to arrive that an old friend in the shape of Stefanos the coach driver came in and wandered over for a chat and to wish us "kalo himona". I used to work with him many years ago, when I first started doing excursions and we used to have a lot of laughs because I'd tell the guests that he reminded me of Sylvester Stallone (he does, really!), although he's much younger of course. I'd always then add "and girls, he's single.")

He'd had a good season, mainly because he's one of only five drivers who have a contract with a company that only deals wth Russian tourists, so he was guaranteed transfer and excursion work all season long. I was pleased for him. He's not idle in winter either, since his family has a building business; although of course, evidently he finds time for a morning coffee with a couple of palikari.

Arhangelos was buzzing today, there was that much double parking in the main street you'd have thought it was a double-parking festival. The usual plethora of mopeds and motorbikes were whizzing this way and that, making any manoeuvre in the car a lesson in how to look in five directions at once before turning left or right. In short, just the kind of place to be when you've had ten days without seeing a soul. We paid a visit to our old friend in the very trad veg store too...


You can't see the tzaki in the corner in this one, but you can see his laouto, which he picks up and strums between customers

Sometimes it's months between our visits, owing to the fact that it's half an hour's drive away, but he always remembers us and his produce always looks very fresh, very local and his prices very low. We never walk out of this shop without several bags full to bursting with vegetables, plus today we picked up a fresh horiatiko loaf, some large-crystal pink sea salt and a fresh bag of tsai vounou (mountain tea), which is a must when you're under par.



Mountain tea, successfully transferred to storage jar.

If you talk about drinking tea with most Greeks, penny to a pound they'll be referring to mountain tea rather than Brook Bond PG Tips. Whenever we're at friends' houses and they offer us tea, if we don't specify then that's what they'll serve up. Seems the Greeks are quite healthy in some departments without even really being aware of the fact. Brew up a pot of this (although most of our friends boil up a saucepan of water and chuck some in) and add a spoonful of local honey and you'll probably sleep like a log. It's one of those teas that you can almost feel doing you good as you sip at it.

I almost enjoy being ill when I can curl up on the sofa, as I did this past weekend, with the rain pouring down outside and a nice large fleece blanket over me, to watch the UK snooker final with my fingers wrapped around a mug of tsai vounou. There's something delicious about watching snooker when it's wet outside. That knowledge that you have hours ahead during which you probably don't need to move more than an inch or two is exquisite.

Today, of course, the much appreciated rains have passed and the sun is out again. The forecast doesn't show anything much rain-wise on the horizon for a while yet. At least, though, yesterday we did have some decent rainfall, very heavy at times and accompanied by the usual light show of fork lightning and thunder crashes. Fab.

Today as I said...


Like the new toy?
Yes, by complete accident I found a maximum-minimum thermometer at a DIY/garden store a few weeks ago, something I've been looking for for many years. As you can see from the indicator, it went down to 10ºC during the night last night and today it's a very respectable 22ºC. I just love these thermometers. They remind me of geography lessons during my schooldays. Ah, nostalgia, it's not what it used to be.

So, as you can see from this "rambling" - I appear to be back in the land of the living.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Symi, sniffles and a snotty nose

Tuesday 29th November

Can't believe that it's already November 29th, over a month since our visit to Symi and I haven't got around to writing about it. During this past week I do have a fairly good excuse though, I've been down with the worst cold I've had in more years than I can remember. It's been difficult remaining upright without my head complaining in the strongest possible terms, thus sending me back to bed to get horizontal again.


Good news before I go back to the Symi trip. Today it's been raining. Today's also the first day since last Friday that I've transferred from the bed to the sofa to see if I could manage that. Still here, so I must be on the road to recovery. I even managed to write a few words of the new book, "A Jay in the Jacaranda Tree" today as well. Hopefully that will be out before next season begins.


The rain's been so lovely that I just had to take a few photos from the sofa...








Sitting at that table earlier, looking out of the French Windows down the valley we were a bit irritated to see (we checked with the binoculars to be sure) that the flamin' horse that gave me a nip is down there on the loose again. They had disappeared for a couple of days, but we haven't walked it because it's been all I could do to stand up and walk to the bathroom. Now it seems that Dimitri has brought them back, so we don't know what we're going to do next time we need to walk down that way. A friend has just posted on Facebook that she's had a fright from a donkey in the last day or so too. Maybe the weather's been making all the animals go AWOL, I dunno. Are we due an earthquake? Don't animals tend to sense such things?


On the trip to Symi though, what a great day out it proved to be. I'd e-mailed Mihali who runs the Nikolaos X from Mandraki to confirm that it was sailing on Tuesday October 25th, and he told me that instead of us paying the usual €20 each return, we could go for €35 for the both of us. Even better than that, when we got to the quayside at Mandraki at 8.45am, we were told that as a special deal we could go for €15 each return, so we felt well pleased as we walked aboard the very smartly liveried vessel. Years ago when I used to do the Symi excursion for work we'd occasionally make the crossing on the "old" Nikolaos X, which had a rather staid paintwork design, but the new-look Nikolaos is very on-trend...



Image courtesy Marinetraffic.com
The "old one" looked like this:


Image courtesy Shipspotting.com
In fact, the difference is so striking that I was convinced that they'd retired the old lady and brought in a newer vessel with the same name. I only found out I was wrong when I went to the bar in the lounge after we'd set sail to order a frappé and got talking to the couple who were serving and asked them if they remembered me from a few years ago. They said they did indeed and I also brought up the subject of the ship's cat. The old Nikolaos X always had a cat on board and, sure enough...


I asked the ya-ya (whose family runs the ship) where the cat was, because I couldn't see him anywhere. She pulled back the cover and there he was, sleeping contentedly out of sight. There are no rats or mice on board the Nik X!

Anyway, I complimented the crew on their new vessel when they replied, "She's not new. She's the same boat." Now, you've seen the photos, would you have thought that it's the same boat? It even looks bigger to me. They told me that yes indeed they had given it a major refit, which had involved someone setting about the superstructure with an oxy-acetylene torch, but it was still the original Nikolaos X. Well it was a very successful job in my view.


Of course, with it being the very last week of the season, we kind of anticipated having the ship to ourselves. Wrong. She was surprisingly packed to capacity, maybe owing to the exceptional weather, I don't really know. But instead of being able to wander the decks during the crossing, we found ourselves having to grab a couple of places in the lounge and pretty much stay there for the duration. I did venture upstairs for a look around, but there were so many bodies about it could well have been the first week of August. At least there's on-board wi-fi.


Arriving at Panormitis I was dismayed to hear that the old bakery up behind the monastery had closed. That had been something I'd really been looking forward to, remembering that when I'd been doing the weekly excursion I'd always make a bee-line there for one of their delicious TDF apple pies with cinnamon, whilst the "faithful" tourists all made their way into the monastery itself. The bakery had been a wonderful throwback to the past, with a great stone oven behind and to the side of the serving counter and you could watch them using wooden paddles to slide new batches in and baked ones out while you breathed in the exquisite aroma whilst watching your milopita being wrapped in a tissue for immediate consumption, whilst it was still warm of course.


The old bakery at Panormitis may be gone, but at least the one on the front is a fairly pleasant place to sit.



We were eventually on our way again and couldn't wait to be sailing once more into Symi's harbour. It's a place so familiar to the both of us, since we'd holidayed there several times before moving out to Rhodes and then I'd done the weekly excursion while working on Rhodes for three seasons on the trot. We also spent an off-season break there in November some years ago with a couple of our Greek friends.


Our last-but-one Greek holiday before moving out here was on Symi, so that would have been in June 2004 (we'd also gone to Makrigialos, Crete in September, before moving out to Rhodes in August 2005). Anyway, here are the shots I took on October 25th as we renewed our acquaintance with one of Greece's most beautiful islands...





At the top of this street, which leads away from one corner of the harbour,  is Taverna O Meraklis, which was always our favourite.


Looks like this shop will even sell you a kitten if you're interested.


Climbing the Kali Strata.


There's the "Nik X" tied up below.


A brilliant spot on the Kali Strata for taking in the wonderful view.






The Dolphin Italian restaurant, just behind the bridge.


There's so much I could say about Symi. The positives are that it's still as beautiful as ever. The negatives? Well, it's always difficult going back somewhere and expecting to find things the same isn't it? For starters, we wanted to eat out for lunch and were torn between two places. One was the little restaurant way out on the corner (further on past the boat yard) before what used to be called Nos Beach, but now isn't. It's called Tholos and always had a great selection of starters ideal for non-meat eaters. Its location is superb, right on a corner with two sides facing the sea, which is only a few feet below your table. It represents quite an investment in time because it's a long walk out there from the back of the harbour, but we'd never failed to get a table there in the past.

It was either the Tholos or O Meraklis, as I was quite keen to see Sotiri again, a gentle man who always walks slowly and reminds me of the old British comedian Freddie "Parrot-Face" Davies. We strolled right past O Meraklis and if Sotiri had been in evidence we'd certainly have eaten there. Instead there was a much younger chap waiting tables who looked as though he may be Sotiri's son, although I couldn't be sure. We hung around a while to see if Sotiri would put in an appearance, but he didn't. A lot of years have gone by, a lot of water under the proverbial bridge, since we first ate there. It was 1993 in fact, a mere 23 years ago. One can hardly blame Sotiri if he's taking things a little easier these days.


It would have been ever so slightly deflating to eat there and not see our old friend so we plumped to make the walk out to the Tholos. It may have been October 25th, but it still felt like mid-September temperature-wise and we were well moist with perspiration when we arrived, only to find that the place was packed out, mainly with day-trippers from the Nikoloas X. Once again, we hung around a while before deciding that time constraints dictated that we go somewhere else. So, reluctantly, we set off for the long walk back to the harbour. It was only when we reached the bridge that we spotted the modestly sized "Dolphin" Italian eatery that we'd patronised several times back in 2004. Check out the post on James Collins' Symi Dream blog which talks about the Dolphin.

Result! No sooner had we decided to sit down than we began to remember why we'd eaten there several times 12 years ago. The thing was though, would it still be the same, or have things changed here too? Our answer was soon forthcoming when the proprietor, Basilis came out to prepare our table, hand us menus and ask what we'd like to drink. He told us when we asked that he'd been running the place for 23 years and thus was definitely the chef/proprietor when we'd frequented the place in 2004. We'd eaten there several times then for two reasons, a) the food was fab and b) the prices surprisingly keen.

Since he wasn't overly busy, we had quite a good chat and told him that we remembered being served by a British woman 12 years ago, who it turns out is his wife Rachael. It didn't take long to discover that he knew Cornwall well (we have good friends near Padstow), since Rachael is from St. Austell! He's also very familiar with the area of South Wales that we'd adopted as our home for 24 years before we moved to Rhodes. Not only did we thoroughly enjoy our natter, the pizza was excellent and the whole bill including drinks came to €13.30.

All in all, that left us with an abidingly cozy feeling about Symi as we re-boarded the "Nik" for the return leg. Some things have changed, as is inevitable. Some things though, are still as they were. 

Before getting home without hanging around, since the better half wasn't feeling well due in part to tiredness (it's a long day from Kiotari and back again), we found ourselves enthusing in the car about the whole day.

Wednesday 30th November

The sun's been out again all day today. Not that I've seen much of it. After having got up and spent much of yesterday on the sofa I spent a night frequently disturbed by a hacking cough, so I returned to my bed again today. It's really tricky when you have Greek friends and you go down with a cold. Without exception they'll all insist that you ought to go to the doctor, they'll be very dismayed that you don't have either a medical thermometer or a blood pressure machine at home and will tut about your failure to stock up with a couple of prescriptions. It's amazing I'm still alive in their opinion.

Only the other day I read a survey that showed Greece is well out on top of the list of European countries where excessive use is made of antibiotics. We all know that they're gradually losing their usefulness. So-called experts say it's because bacteria are developing resistance, but far more sensible to me is the explanation that antibiotics are killing off all the susceptible bacteria, leaving only the resistant ones to survive. End result, future disaster. The problem is, the drug companies are huge and powerful. They need to sell their products, pay their shareholders their dividends. There is no reason, for example, for anyone to suffer from type 2 diabetes. With the correct diet and exercise routine it can be reversed. Here's the proof. Trouble is, too much money is made by the companies producing the insulin, the hardware for sufferers to check their readings and administer the insulin etc. for them to allow the general public to get wind of the real solution.

Here in Greece, if you get a sniffle you zip down to the local GP and come out with about three prescriptions, one of which is almost certainly going to be for antibiotics. Trying to explain to one's Greek friends why one just lets a cold run its course, since there is no known cure, is not too easy I can tell you. After all, they go to the doc for a pin prick! Yes, sure, you can alleviate the symptoms, but a cold is a cold. Sore throat first, then comes the bad head, the catarrh, the cough and eventually it clears. At least I haven't resorted to claiming I have 'man-flu".

I'm prepared to be patient and enjoy the personal attention I'm getting from my resident nurse. 😉

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Best of Times or the Worst of Times

Well, the continuing lack of rain perplexes us even more as the days pass. We read just today that the village of Soroni on the north west coast of the island has now run out of water completely. I was told not long after we moved out here that much of the water supply to the villages and areas of Rhodes is local, coming from wells sunk into river beds and natural mountain springs. Most of the villages on the island are positioned where they are as a result of there having been a spring in the vicinity when the village was first established back in the mists of history.

The new reservoir created by the recently constructed Gadouras Dam was built primarily to feed Rhodes Town and not the outlying villages like Massari, Malona, Pilona, Laerma, Lardos etc., so the reason why villages such as Pilona have been cut off quite often recently for a few days at a time, or had their pressure reduced probably has to do with their spring-flow being reduced too. Difficult days.


It's hard to reconcile how one feels about the ongoing water crisis with how one feels about the glorious weather we're enjoying currently. Here is a shot of Pefkos beach just two or three days ago:



The weather of late generally has been worthy of the best of British summers. We took a swim on Glystra Beach last week and we were the only ones on the entire beach, once a Greek fella in his 4x4 had finished exercising his dog...


In the UK we always considered November to be the worst of times, the worst of months weather-wise. It's usually grey, cold and often wet, or at the very least foggy. You don't associate November in the UK with sunshine. Yet here it's our favourite month of the year, the best of times. The season has only just ended and the novelty of having the island back for a few months is still exciting. The daytime temperatures are usually comfortably in the 20's C and the sea too is still easily warm enough to swim in.

By the time March comes around we're getting so we're quite eagerly anticipating the return of the holidaymakers and the vibrancy that they bring to the place, but right now, it's bliss. 

Except, that is, for the fact that despite us enjoying the glorious sunny days, we'd really rather experience a few storms and some decent rainfall. If this winter doesn't start delivering soon then next season there's going to be a gargantuan problem. 

One dubious advantage of the drought, though, is the fact that our plant pot holder is a regular lido for the local bird population. We've left it out under the car port now for a number of years, always hoping that it serves as a water lifeline for the birds during the long, parched summers. Of course, now and again our part-time cat uses it as a handy port of call to re-hydrate too, so there is a delicate balancing act going on. By and large, though, from the crack of dawn onwards we're currently getting a steady stream of feathered visitors who quite literally have nowhere else within miles to drink or take a bath, both of which they're doing in our plant pot holder on a daily basis this month.

What's excited us is that we're seeing quite a number of species that we've either never seen in the valley before, or have only seen rarely or at some distance from the house. Here are few (Few? !?, well, OK, so maybe I went a bit mad with the shutter finger) photos that I've snapped through the house window in the past few mornings...


Male Blackcap ready to swoop, after checking that the coast is clear.

Now he's ready for a drink. Maybe a bath too. The damp patch on the concrete bears witness to others that have already had a splash-about.

One of several Robins that usually dance around one another.

A Sparrow contents herself with some water from the "spill" while the Blackcap male considers whether to imbibe further.

This appearance of the Blackcap really excited us. We've never had them in the garden before. A Robin too approaches cautiously.

This little flurry (the blurred area above the plant pot holder) is the Blackcap, gently reminding the Robin (who's fled) that it's his turn.

Mrs Blackcap arrives, so we have a pair. Wow.

Ditto.

Mr. Blackbird arrives for his supping session. The female Blackcap retires to the rim of the hibiscus pot above to wait it out.

Ah, what the hell, she says, I'll move in again anyway.


It pays off. The Blackbird's not bothered.

Mrs Blackbird arrives while another Robin does likewise.

A family affair. Mr. and Mrs. Blackbird both nearby while a Robin takes a beak-ful.

There's often a sort of queue. There'll be a bird or two on the drive, one or two in the hibiscus too, while they await their turn.


Nice one of Mr. and Mrs. Blackbird.

And the female Blackcap just goes for it.

Two girls having a natter.

And, finally a male Sardinian Warbler tries his luck at one of the irrigation nozzles.
We also have a couple of thrushes that are here every morning, but can I get them to hang around long enough to get a shot? Nah, they're just too clever and I only have to appear inside the window with the camera and they're off. Likewise with the Jays, who frequently turn up with their raucous squawking. Other birds that we usually see too during the winter, but often not until the new year, are Blue Tits, Great Tits, Greenfinches and Chaffinches. There are also Black Redstarts here every day right now but they too are notoriously camera-shy.

So, whilst we really do want to see some serious rain, in the meantime at least we get a feathery treat every morning over breakfast.



And Where's Robert Redford When You Need Him..?

Our friend of many years now Dimitri "the horse" is currently keeping further down the valley a few of the horses that he uses at his riding centre for tourists. Usually they're either in a compound beside the lane or tethered with long ropes to a metal post driven into the ground. Yesterday however, while the beloved and I were walking down the lane on our way to visit a friend who lives along the coast road, one of the horses was standing slap, bang in the middle of the lane, facing our way. What I know about horses could be written on the side of a matchbox (with room to spare) but, for the sake of the better half, who was already shaking with fear, I strode on asserting that "he won't do us any harm. After all, since Dimitris uses him for tourists to ride along the beach during the summer season, he must be well used to humans and thus friendly. Come on sweetie, no need to worry."

Ahem. When you're half a kilometre from anywhere on a dusty lane and a horse that's taller than you decides to take an interest it's slightly, just ever so slightly, disconcerting. While my wife whimpered and I carried on with my reassurances, we attempted to walk past the beast. He (well, I thought it was a he, but what do I know? Maybe she fancied me...) followed us with his head, then with his entire body, which he turned on a sixpence and then was behind us.

Right behind us. So right behind us that he was able to nudge, nay shove us in the back with his head, each of us in turn. 

"I know," I said, "he's being friendly. Wants us to pet him." So I made a feeble attempt to pat him on the head between the eyes, you know, that place where all horses like to be patted or smoothed, right? It wasn't easy because each time I brought my hand toward him his head raised, bringing his jaws too close to my hand for comfort.

Giving that up as a bad job, I began to turn back in the direction in which we were walking and, only just managing to prevent my other half from running (you never run from an animal, right? Didn't I read that somewhere?), took her arm and suggested we just keep going, we were bound to get to the point where he lost interest soon.

And that's when the fiend bit me on the forearm. Fortunately for me I was wearing a thick fine cord shirt, with the sleeves rolled up just a couple of turns, with the thick folded part just on the forearm below the elbow. That's where he bit and were it not for the rolled up shirt-arm he'd have drawn blood. The shirt prevented it being much worse. 

At that point I was faced with no alternative but to square up to him. Not knowing whether he may have become really nasty I raised both arms and stamped a foot, which I'm glad to say caused him to back off with a start. No sooner had I done that though, than he was coming at me again. Once more I did the same and, I'm extremely relieved to say, he turned and galloped off like a stallion of the Cimmaron across the field and out of sight, neighing loudly all the while.

Once we reached the road a few minutes later I rolled up my sleeve to see what damage he'd done and was confronted by a sizeable, raised purple bruise with the skin grazed, though not actually pierced. Had he pierced the skin I'd have had to go to the health centre because of possible infection. On our way back a couple of hours later we had to make a major detour to approach the house from the other lane to avoid a potential repeat performance ...carrying some shopping!

Needless to say I called Dimitri to tell him what had happened. He assured me that the horse in question was gentleness itself and wouldn't hurt a fly. I suggested that he may wish to revise that opinion in view of the mark on my forearm. To his credit, within ten minutes he was up the lane in his 4x4 and he rounded up his equestrian charges and herded them into the nearby compound, where he normally keeps them anyway. I know, because we watched the show from the top of the valley, within the safety of our garden wall, through binoculars.

The reason why he was grazing the horses out on the "grass" land beside the lane was simply because of the drought. He's currently hard-put to find suitable grazing for them with the landscape still being a pale shade of yellow owing to the drought.

Right now, as I nurse the bruise on my right arm, I reckon I've another good reason to long for some significant rainfall.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

A Darker Place

In 1967 I was in training to be a hippy. Actually, I didn't really like the expression "hippy" any more than did most of my contemporary, loon-clad, hair-growing, afghan coat-wearing peers, but that was the American term that was being used to describe those who didn't want to be stereotyped into the world's "straight" mould at the time.

I was only fourteen going on fifteen anyway, but since I was already a beanpole at over six feet tall I could get away with going into bars, even if I did find it difficult to justify buying a razor. I was working hard too in the field of music to not be classed as a "Top of the Pops" watcher, whilst of course always watching it in case Jimi Hendrix or Cream put in an appearance, which they occasionally did.

I knew very little about Greece that's for sure. One of the albums that everyone had to have at the time though, if they were to be considered "cool", was "Songs of Leonard Cohen", since he was serious, seen by the "uncool" as depressing and, to us budding non-conformists, cerebral. Of course looking back I see that teenagers trying to be different is nothing new and in fact we were all conforming, but simply to our own set of rules. You had to have long hair, hopefully an ex-military overcoat and at all costs when not at school or college wear loon pants. If you were a trend-setter you'd also unpick the last twelve inches or so of the outer leg seam and have your girlfriend (or more likely your mum) stitch in some contrasting material to make the bellbottoms even bigger.

The albums I'd carry around whilst walking through town in the late sixties would have included "In the Court of the Crimson King", Al Stewart's "Zero She Flies" and of course the aforementioned "Songs of Leonard Cohen". Just for the sake of it, I could also add anything by Cream or Hendrix, the first Led Zeppelin album, or "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" by the Nice.

In 1969 we all had been waiting with baited breath for two years for the second offering from Leonard Cohen. It finally came out with the title "Songs From a Room" and I for one was immediately intrigued by the location of the room in question. The album came in a simple envelope sleeve, not a gatefold, and the back cover was a full size black and white photo. This is it:

OK, so this is actually the back of the re-issued CD version with bonus tracks, but you're not supposed to notice.

There was I, struggling to be moribund most of the time (it didn't do to be seen with a smile, that would have meant you were shallow and not "aware" about the world's woes), agonising about the meaning of it all when I first thumbed through the racks in my regular record store and pulled out "Songs from a Room". That photo had me transfixed as much as did the amazing songs, which of course kicked off with the beautiful "Bird on a Wire".

Regarding that particular song, take a look at the Wikipedia page for this album and scroll down to the "Composition" section where the venerable poet himself discusses the background to the song. 

Little did I know then that eight years later I'd be standing on the harbour front on the very island where Leonard Cohen owned a house. Back then there were no motor vehicles on the island, although it had moved further into the 20th century from the time when Cohen had lived there. When I set foot on the stone harbour electricity was everywhere. When Mr. C . wrote the song they were only just installing the first phone wires, which was what inspired the song. The room in which LC's girlfriend Marianne was photographed for the album sleeve was now within walking distance. A momentous moment for me, still only 24 years old.

I wouldn't want to insult my readers, but I'm willing to assume that there are many who didn't know of Leonard Cohen's relationship with the Greek island of Hydra. He lived there for about ten years at one stage in his life. There is a piece of video that's really lovely for both Grecophiles and Lenny fans, click HERE. It's a fifteen minute film showing LC arriving on Hydra in 1988 and walking up to the house. When he arrives there are then some lovely scenes inside too. Spliced into the piece is some concert footage as well. Stick with it for the duration and I don't think you'll be disappointed. Among the scenes inside the house is a moment where one of his female companions sits at the very table which appeared in the photo on the back of the "Songs From a Room" album.

I kind of lost my taste for listening to Leonard Cohen for a decade or two (progressive rock got in the way), although the occasional listen to his first two albums, as well as Songs of Love and Hate, were always on the agenda, but I returned to his music full throttle with his 1988 album "I'm Your Man". Apart from the amazingly diverse and, for LC, adventurous musical arrangements, which even had one reviewer saying "you can actually dance to Leonard Cohen!", I was intrigued to see that the album artwork once again included a photo of the great man at his Hydra house again. 

Released in the same year that the video mentioned above was shot, I bought it on CD and there, on page 4 of the CD booklet, was a photo taken on the roof of the Hydra house...




Of course, by now I'd been to Greece a dozen times and visited Hydra three or four times too. So I was - as they say in the North of England -  "right made up" about this. 

A nice web page with info about the history of Leonard and his Hydra house is here
And another piece, from a website dedicated to LC, with a nice colour photo of his front door on Hydra is here.

Apparently, Cohen fans even hold events on Hydra, take a look here.

Finally, as far as links are concerned, there's even a touring duo (Australia-based) putting on a show called "Leonard Cohen on Hydra" and they have a Facebook page

Ever since the album "I'm Your Man" I've stuck with him, because he ranks up there with Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as one of the great lyricists of our age. His power to absorb the listener with his words is immense and I'd probably call him a poet first, a songwriter second.

His last album, released very recently when he was 82 years old, is called "You Want it Darker" and it's a triumph of lyrical genius yet again. His voice has dropped in pitch over the years and on this album it's barely above gravel-pit level, which makes most of the songs even sound more spoken than sung, albeit to a musical accompaniment, but I love it. Listen on phones and it sounds like he's whispering the songs into your ear.

The man has died, as you'll no doubt know. But for the past four decades he's done wonders for the Greek island of Hydra, raising its profile on the international stage whilst not betraying its spirit, as would all-inclusive resorts have done. 

Hearing the news today though, I can't help now but muse that the world is just a slightly darker place for his leaving it.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Switching Off the Summer

It happens every year and yet still causes a degree of shock to the system. Last Sunday, October 30th, was the final day of the season, the last transfer coaches took the last sun-tanned travellers back to the airport and the staff at all the hotels and apartments set about their final end-of-season clean. The hire car companies began mothballing the majority of their vehicles and the beach umbrellas and sun-loungers were soon being stacked, ready for taking away on the backs of overloaded pickup trucks to be stored until next April.



I drove off toward Lardos on Tuesday evening, in fact I was going to my friend Petros' house in Kalathos, and the completely deserted road was the first and instant reminder that the season was over. The switch is thrown, all the hire cars and 95% of the coaches are gone from the roads literally overnight. There will always be a few coaches, but only between Rhodes town and Lindos, because on the couple of occasions each week during the winter when a cruise ship docks in Rhodes, the passengers get "bussed" down to Lindos for a photo session. The tourists in those groups can carry on with their cruise having "done" Rhodes, ticked it off on their list. 

Lindos street, November 4th
The retailers in Lindos, at least some of them, will open up and see if they can extract a little cash from the cruise ship folk and for a few hours during the winter days it's almost busy. As you'll know if you've read my ramblings for a while, my wife and I studiously avoid going into Lindos during the season if we can help it. It's simply too crowded for us. Now though, it's magical. You can wander the streets and appreciate the beauty and the history of a village that's been lived in continually for almost three thousand years. People are starting to relax, they've worked their socks off for six or seven months and now feel like they can breathe again. They get their own lives back for a while. They need it.

The water situation on Rhodes though goes from bad to worse. Just last week Arhangelos was without water for four days. The older of the two reservoirs on the island, the one near Apollakia, is so low that an old church that is usually completely submerged under the water is completely exposed and you could walk inside it if you were so inclined. a few days ago the water company on Rhodes put out some suggestions on line about how to save water. It was all very low key and didn't really drive home the urgency of the situation. One of the suggestions they did make was to wash down your courtyard not with a hose pipe (sans gun!) but using a mop and bucket. The next photo shows how much attention was paid to that idea...

Notice the "stream"?
That water that you can see flowing down the middle of this backstreet is coming from a woman who's washing her taverna terrace at least 150 metres away, not far down from the Atmosphere bar in fact. All that water is perfectly OK for human consumption, yet as always it's flowing down the street, wasted away by profligate folk who are so used to years of water being dirt cheap that they still can't get their heads around the fact that things have changed. The proliferation of swimming pools and still-aggressive programme of hotel building is fast making the water supply grossly inadequate even on years when it does rain. When a drought prevails, as is the case now, it's downright criminal.

I'd better move on before I get in a lather.

• 

To return to the "switching off of summer", it's amazing how quickly not only the roads quieten down, but the sun loungers and umbrellas disappear from the beaches. Pallas Beach and the main beach at Lindos are already completely empty and look marvellous, all that golden sand just begging one to go walking along it and maybe take a dip. We're hoping to oblige in the next week or two.

Also, those hotels that do have extensive gardens (all of which get watered with sprinkler systems (grr!) are very prompt in erecting temporary fencing all around the perimeter once the last tourist bus has driven away. Once the staff are gone, the tourists nowhere in sight, the goats know. Oh they know alright and they're making a beeline for every hotel garden even as I type. You can watch them testing the newly erected fencing to see if they can find a weakness and, if they do, they're in there like a shot, gorging on all the lush greenery that's particularly scarce this year, owing to the lack of rain for what now amounts to about 12 months.

Just the other day as we were driving down our lane at around midday, we chanced upon this young fella..



He was evidently so consumed with the task of eating fallen olives from that tree that he quite forgot to be spooked by the proximity of two humans in a car. Notice the colour of the vegetation. Usually by this time of year we'll have had a few storms and there will be a distinctly green hue to the countryside. Not so this year yet. So, I theorised that this young buck was deriving what little moisture he could from the olives.

So, as we enter another Rhodean winter, our twelfth, we muse on how another summer has come, gone, been switched off, much like the seasons. It's predictable how the weather will cool, even if not so much as to when it'll rain. In March and April you can just about expect to hear a few mentions of "Spring". The Spring here lasts a week or two. Autumn though? Well that doesn't exist on Rhodes. I don't think I've ever heard mention of φθινόπωρο (Fthino'poro), Autumn. Once the last tourist (well, I should say package-tourist, since there are still quite a number of freelancers about) has left, it's winter. Everyone is wishing everyone else kalo heimona - good winter. Within a few days it's cooler overnight; so much so that we extract the quilt from its summer hiding place and ceremoniously replace it on the bed after months of sleeping under a sheet, if anything at all.

My wife climbs on to stools and lifts down boxes containing fleeces, jackets, boots. She packs away her strappy tops and all but one or two pairs of shorts and we wrap our desktop fan up in a heavy duty plastic rubbish bag and secrete it in the carport roof until next April or May. My better half actually gets excited about being able to wear jeans again, since it's been just too hot to even contemplate the idea since some time last April or May. 

When the sun dips below the hill to the west of the house now, at something around 5.15pm (the clocks went back didn't they, hmmph - don't like it!) the temperature dips rapidly from perhaps the lower 20's to around the mid teens. We pick up our half finished drinks and retire inside to watch the Greek version of "Deal or No Deal" (simply called "Deal" here in Greece) with Christos Ferentino, Greece's current king of the TV game show. Just a couple of weeks ago we'd have remained out of doors after the sun had gone and carried on sipping our drinks at leisure. 

It's nice though. When the sun shines it's still well into the 20's C, but the evenings begin to put one in mind of crackling flames in the log-burner, although it'll probably be another month before it's cold enough indoors for that.

Summer has been switched off. Days of long country walks are upon us and it is good.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Say Cheese

We very rarely see deer out in the open at midday, but this doe was sheltering in the shade of an olive tree, with her fawn under another when we walked back up to the house from a very acceptable lunch at Il Porto on Kiotari front (more info on this page) the other day. We decided that their search for moisture/water was most likely the reason for them being out and about in the daylight hours.



We don't get to sit in Il Porto as often as we'd like. The summer just seems to whizz past us. But since we're taking a couple of weeks "off" and having a "holiday from home" we at last had the chance to walk down there for Sunday lunch. It was while sitting there waiting for our chickpea rissoles, green salad and toasted haloumi cheese that my wife started examining the basil plants in the planters all along the terrace balcony.



"How come every time we see someone's basil it looks so healthy?" She exclaimed. It's true, we've tried growing it so many times and every time it's died on us. We've had it in pots, in the ground, in shade, partial shade and full sun. We've put it in "black soil" (gathered from under the "strawberry tree" bushes that grow wild on the hillsides around the house) and we've used fresh compost. The result has always been the same. It starts to look ill, then all the leaves drop off and we're left with a sorry-looking skeleton of brown sticks. Hmph.

Since at this time of year the place is usually quiet, in fact Anastasia and Tassos will be closing for the winter any day now, my beloved was able to have a natter with Anastasia while Tassos prepared our lunch. She asked her how come her basil was so flushed with health and what ought we to do to emulate it.

Of course the reply was what we've come to expect. Something like "Oh I just do this and that and it grows." It's never as simple as that though. It can't be. If it were you wouldn't be able to see our house for huge basil plants and, to be honest, it's very visible. Of course too, this is toward the end of October and Anastasia told Y-Maria that the best time to put basil cuttings in is April. Nevertheless, following some pretty persistent remonstrating from my better half, she set about one or two of the annoyingly healthy plants and brought us a couple of cuttings, which she gave us with strict instructions:

"Put these in water for at least a week. Then, when you see roots shooting, put them in some good compost." Right then, a trip to the nearest garden centre is now scheduled in.



I have to say that, even if these latest attempts at growing basil don't come to anything, at least they graced our table with a nice scene and a heavenly aroma while we ate our delicious lunch...

In case you're wondering, yes I did have a beer too! It's just out of shot. The better half of course, ever virtuous, plumped for tonic.


Traganou Beach. Only minutes from Faliraki, but a world away.


As I said above, we're having a "holiday from home" and thus have been doing some excursions. We've compiled a list of places we've either still not visited in over 11 years of living here, or last went to such a long time ago that they merit a re-visit. One of the former is Traganou Beach, also rather inexplicably called Traounou. To be honest, we loved it there, but were rather hoping that there would still be a couple of sun beds and umbrellas available, but they'd already been cleared away for the winter. So, I snapped a couple of photos and we made a mental note to come back in November/December when the sun is bearable without too much shade and then I can investigate the caves that we've heard so much about. 
Traganou again, caves at the far end, still unvisited by yours truly.

Thus, on this particular day we decided to decamp to Agathi. We'd attempted a few hours on this beach when our friends Mary and Kim were here in September, but not carrying a shoehorn with us we'd not been able to even park the flamin' car, so we'd aborted that particular mission. Agathi is a truly beautiful, safe, sandy beach. It's quite a ways from anywhere, but that doesn't stop it from getting extremely busy during the high season. There are three restaurant/bars on the beach which all get dismantled and taken away during the winter, when the beach returns to its natural state, which resembles the kind of place I always imagine in my mind's eye when thinking about desert islands.

At one end too is a beachcomber's paradise, a gently tree-dotted slope that leads up to an old church set into the rock. It's a fab place for the kind who like to snap photos that capture the "essential" Greece. Here are a few of my attempts...




That's Feraklos Castle on the headland, the very last foothold of the Knights as they evacuated the island in August of 1522. (It's the tour escort coming out in me...)


When we went to Agathi, one of the three "Kantinas" had already been dismantled, but the one near which we decided to "camp" sold Fix Dark [I love the clumsy English on such Greek websites]. What a result. It's still pretty difficult finding this beer in eateries and bars, which annoys me no end. It's freely available in most supermarkets these days, but when I'm out and about it usually has to be the blonde version. Yet, here, in a prefabricated beach bar, they had it in their glass-fronted cold cabinet, thus making my lazy afternoon virtually perfect. The only thing that detracted was the fact that we had to pay €10 for two sun beds and an umbrella. Still, we are on 'holiday' after all.








The fact that it's a beautiful beach aside, it does grate when you have to walk half a mile before you can get out of your depth enough to swim without your knees or feet touching the bottom! Still and all, that's why it's a wonderful beach for families. Plus, since the sand is yellow and the water shallow, it's warmer than it feels on deeper, more shingle or pebble covered beaches. The lump in the foreground is evidence of a family having been there earlier. It's the remains of their excavations.

Another excursion we've done was a 'hinterland' wander. We wanted to re-visit the village of Apollona, which we'd only fleetingly experienced many years ago, so we plotted a route from Lardos up to Laerma, then from there to Apollona. When you reach Laerma driving up from Lardos, you see a tight right-hander a hundred metres or so before you enter the village itself and you take this. As you begin to climb the very twisty-turny route, you begin to catch glimpses of the new reservoir, which is formed by the recently constructed Gadoura Dam [see this post for lots of photos].

At one place where we caught sight of the lake, we could see how low the water level had become owing to our drought of the past 12 months. If you click on the photo below and look at it in a larger window you can see how far the water level is below what it should normally be.



Further on up the road towards Apollona you get to see and cross this quirky bridge. It amazed us that there was still some water flowing beneath it. It reminds one a little of Devil's Bridge in glorious Wales. Not anything like as grand, but if you check out that link I'm sure you'll see what I mean.




When we got to Apollona it was frappé time, so we parked up and wandered up and down the main "street". We sat in a bar at the top end of the village, right across the road from the bakery. It was ten minutes to midday. Already in the bar were two or three Greek youths, all doing the usual, tapping away with their thumbs on their mobile phones and only occasionally talking to each other. We must have turned up just in time for "to steki" (the "hangout") hour though, because as we sat there, kids who looked to us to be anything from seventeen to twenty and not much more than that, began turning up almost by the minute either on foot, on mopeds and one even in a souped-up old car.

Before much after 12 noon there were a dozen youths, some in their strangely baggy trousers, you know, those ones with the crutch somewhere between the knees (what is it with those?), some in jeans that had that many rips in them that I've have thrown them out a couple of years ago and all in hooded fleeces. Well, it was only about 25ºC and they don't want to get a chill.

As they turned up and flopped down around a knot of tables, often not a word was said. To a 'man' they whipped out their phones and got on with the thumbing job. Eventually some form of conversation began, about sport of course. Another 'of course' was the inclusion of the word "malaka" with every other syllable, but what do you expect, eh? We still found ourselves warming to these village lads. Every one of them, we knew, would treat us with due deference or respect (which in fact they did as we had to squeeze past them to get inside to visit the loo) and they all were drinking coffees. Some had a sandwich too. 

When we got up to leave they all joined in a "Kali sas 'mera" as we exited the place for a stroll around the village. Quite what they do for a living or whether they're still studying we didn't fathom.

Centre of the village of Apollona. Turning thru 180º from this shot there was a nice little taverna/bar that we'd probably have sat in had we known it was there before we went to the boy's hangout. Worth a look down this street.
The "old boys' hangout. Most had set off for home where their lunch was no doubt on the table by the time I snapped this one.
Setting out from Apollona we wanted to pay a return visit to the Elafos Hotel at Profitis Ilias, somewhere else that we hadn't been for many years. You can go either of two ways because it's the other side of the mountain from Apollona. We chose the Eloussa route and, as you near Profitis Ilias, you pass this little church all on its ownsome along the lane...



I was dead keen to wander up to Mussolini's House once we'd parked up at the Elafos Hotel. It's still amazing that nothing is ever done to make the place a tourist attraction. There aren't even signs telling folk that it's only a short climb up from the Elafos car park. One could visit the hotel, have a drink or a meal and leave and never know what was just up the slope...





We opted for smoked salmon baguettes a tonic and a Fix beer. OK, one only does this rarely, which is just as well because that little lot set us back over €22. Yes, I gasped too. 

In fact, in the interests of perspective and all that, last night we ate out (on our way home from a trip to Symi - more about that another time) at the fab, trad, Savvas Grill in Lardos village. We ordered green salad, chickpea rissoles, big beans (gigantes), oven potatoes and grilled Haloumi, plus a 500ml bottle of Retsina. Bill? €22. Needless to say we left Basili, who served us, €25.

At the Elafos Hotel. Take a well stocked wallet.
As a final stop on our way home we wanted to visit Monolithos. We'd been there just last year when my wife's niece Chloe and her fella Elliot were over for a holiday, but even then we never made the climb to the castle on the monolith itself. We've never done it in fact. So, taking the Sianna route we turned up at Monolithos at something like 3.30pm and set off up the steep path to the castle and the tiny church within the perimeter wall. There were quite a few other visitors there, but they'd already closed the little café in the pines at the foot of the rock, which seemed to us a little shortsighted. Especially as we'd have happily killed for an ice cream at the time.



The views from Monolithos rival those from the top of Tsambika Monastery on the east coast.






Those strange folk who love to pile up mini-cairns have gone AWOL at Monolithos. Why did we get this really strong urge to run through them knocking them all down?


Weird gargoyle.




As I said, the summit is "cairn-city".






Heading back home along the road to Apollakia, we were brought face to face with the damage done by the most recent fires. The photo below doesn't even give you 10% of the charred landscape you'll see along this road.



All in all a splendid excursion. I'd recommend it to anyone with wheels. From Lardos, through Laerma, Apollona, Profitis Ilias, Embona, Sianna to Monolithos, then on to Apollakia and across to Gennadi, where you take the coast road back up to Lardos, can easily be accomplished without rushing in a day.

Just be sure to bring your camera. Oops, that gives my age away doesn't it. Ought to say phone, tablet, whatever. At least though, when you snap a loved one, you do still ask them to say "cheese" though, yea?