Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Brooding over Food, Plus a Bumper Bundle of Photos

We've recently been nattering with some neighbours about the cost of eating out on the cheap. I'm probably way out of touch with prices in the UK now, but I do well remember going with my Dad to his local fish and chip shop some years ago (and bear in mind that my dad died in January of 2009) and being so shocked by the price of a portion of cod and chips that I was only just resuscitated in time before the ambulance paramedics almost gave up on me. Fish and chips for two (frankly, my better half and I would never usually eat the stuff, so lacking is it in any worthwhile nutrition and so chock full of saturated fats) costs at least a tenner these days and in the fish shop in question, fish and chips for four came to well over £20. eating-in prices are ridiculous. Starting at around £9 a head and upwards. Plus you still usually have to queue up at a serving counter to get your meal.

What prompted this little discussion was the observation that someone made about the newest souvlaki grill to open up in the main street of the village of Arhangelos. The place has a very attractive set of check-tableclothed tables and, though we haven't tried it yet, looks well worth a visit. We have, however, sampled the vegetarian pittas at the one in Lardos square plus at our favourite, Psitopolis, on Mihalis Petridis Street in Rhodes Town. 

If you eat in at Rick Stein's Fish and Chip Emporium at Padstow, Cornwall, cod and chips will set you back £8.20 per person (it's great this intery net type thingie, eh?). So, if two people order cod and chips plus a drink each, the bill is going to be somewhere around £20. Plus you can start by queuing well out into the great outdoors for half an hour for the privilege on a busy summer evening. Now, let's compare that with what you can get over here.

First and foremost, if you pop into Psitopolis in Rhodes Town you sit at your table and get served by a cheerful waiter, exactly as you would in a regular taverna. The atmosphere in there is exactly the same in fact as it is in a taverna. My wife and I have been in several times lately and the last time we were there we ordered two vegetarian pittas with Halumi cheese. These come stuffed with tzatziki, red onions, tomato, Halumi and a few chips. Nutritionally when compared to fish and chips there's no contest. We also ordered a couple of drinks. I had a 330ml can of Fix Beer and my wife a tonic water. The bill came to just a few cents over €6, not each, that's total. And when you've eaten those pittas you're well stuffed. Two people, a filling meal and a drink for about a fiver in English money. Can you fault it?

We often too drop into Savvas Grill in Lardos and take home a couple of their veggie pittas, plus one portion of their delicious oven potatoes. That usually sets us back €5 and when we get home, as we did this past Saturday evening, we unwrap the pittas and let them flatten themselves out on a couple of dinner plates, share out the oven potatoes (which are supplied in one of those foil trays with a cardboard lid like a Chinese takeaway in the UK) and look at two very decent-sized meals, all for just €5. 

OK, so If you go food shopping over here in the supermarkets it's definitely more expensive than in the UK for a whole host of packaged and canned foods. We're partial to a dish of porridge now and then, plus the other half makes delicious oat-based flapjacks. A translucent half-kilo sealed plastic bag of oats costs around €1.80. In the UK most major supermarkets will sell you a kilo bag for around 75p. A can of baked beans in the UK can be picked up for as little as 24p. Even the top brand name Heinz is only around 75p. Here you have to search to find an obscure brand for 60 or 70 cents. Top brands like Heinz sell for anything up to €2 and over. Gourmet prices.

That's why we don't buy a lot of packaged foods, which is better for our health and for the environment anyway. But the fact that it's better for our balance sheet is a major factor too. Swings and roundabouts of course, but there truly is a huge gulf between what you can get a pretty good eat-in or take-home meal for over here and what you'd pay for something quite a bit less healthy in the UK. Plus you get table service.

There you are, I've sounded off. feel much better now so here are some recent photos for you...

On a recent beach walk here in Kiotari. As you can see, the weather's awful again.

same walk as above.


Vlicha Beach from the main road with the sea "up" a little.

A hill just minutes from our house. That's the missus in the middle. Yes, she is there somewhere, trust me.

Simba, making sure he's still at home in our garden 'cos he'll soon be spending his hols with us for three weeks, as he does annually.

Yesterday we walked past this new arrival.

The winter weather is pretty typical at the moment; mainly blue skies with temperatures nudging 20 for several hours during the day. In fact yesterday was so lovely that we walked to Gennadi and back along the coast road, which was where we came across the baby goat. 

Tell you one thing, he/she has nothing to fear from us, we won't be eating him, or maybe her.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Village Chat

Sara at work, with just a few of her published titles on the desk.

Anyone who likes reading Greek fiction will know the name Sara Alexi. She's probably the leading bestselling author on-line of Greek fiction nowadays. Her "Greek Village" series of books is now acquiring legendary status and, to the delight of her many loyal readers, her prolific output shows little sign of drying up.

OK, so she has published a couple of books more recently which aren't - shock horror - based in Greece, notably her very latest "The Piano Raft" (already a hot seller) and also "Saving Septic Cyril" from last year. I haven't read either of these yet, but with a title like "Saving Septic Cyril" I think the wicked title alone makes that one merit a go. 

Sara's Greek Village series has now run to 19 titles, all interwoven around a single village and the characters that live there, or have relatives living there. I can claim to have read quite a few of them, including a couple of short novelettes which were very good indeed. One of my personal favourites is The English Lesson, which had a truly wicked twist toward the end that I though quite brilliant.

Anyway, I'm extremely proud to say that Sara recently agreed to be subjected to my 15 questions and thus, she's number five in my growing list of interviews with Greek-themed authors here on the blog.

So, let's get down to business. Here are Sara Alexi's thoughts on my 15 questions. Her answers are truly expansive and so I believe that not only her existing fans, but anyone else with an interest in Greek fiction will enjoy reading them...

1. Where do you live?
I live in a small rural village outside the town of Nafplion in the Peloponnese, in Greece. It is an agricultural area and I very seldom see tourists in the village.

2. What do you write about?
I am fascinated by people, how they interact, what makes us do what we do, and how our exchanges with other people shape not only our lives but who we become. 
Mostly I am impressed by peoples’ resilience and how, in the face of great adversity, they find ways to not only survive but to thrive. So the books I write are first and foremost character driven. 

But they say write what you know so I set these characters in a small village in Greece, not dissimilar to the village where I live, and this allows me to draw on what I see around me on a day to day basis. I have been told this makes the books seem very real and, indeed, I receive emails from readers who believe the characters are my friends and the village I write about is one they can visit if they holiday in Greece, which I find very flattering.

3. Why Greece?
It’s difficult to define what makes Greece special. I have visited other warm countries, so it cannot only be the heat, and I have visited other places where the people are friendly, so it cannot only be the people. I have visited places that prize themselves in their culinary expertise, so it cannot only be the food. 

All I know is that the first time I set foot on Greek soil I felt I had ‘arrived home’, and other people have said the same. There is something about the combination of all the factors that make up Greece that is unique and speaks to a very deep part of me. 
If I understood it I would bottle it and sell it as is it the most wonderful feeling ever.

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
The plotting is the tricky part, that and choosing the very first word. I often procrastinate over both. 

But once I have the first line I love the process of the actual writing and I will sit hours a day pondering and moving the story along, or, often, watching my hands and brain as they seem to co-ordinate without me to write stories I did not know I had in me. 
If all goes well, once plotted I will do the actually writing in about thirty days. Then, of course, the manuscript needs reading through and giving its first edit. It then goes to a professional editor for round two, then it is proof read and goes out to my wonderful Beta readers. I have only been writing four and half, nearly five years now, so what I do know is that, on average, I have produced a book every ten weeks - which astounds me. It seems I have a lot to say!

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
I love the creation of a scene, a world, dreaming up the setting and watching the characters inside that setting. But the things I write about are all very personal. Usually it is something I have seen, experienced or heard of that I see as unjust or unresolved and in the process of writing I make these things just and find resolution, so, if I was honest, every book is cathartic and every book is my own therapy.

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Feta and spinach pies! Oh... did you want a serious answer? Hm... Let me think... No, it’s definitely the pies. [I'm with you there Sara, 100%, JM]

7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
Book ideas tend to come to me without my searching. I watch my emotions and if I come across something that I feel passionate about or find a character trait in myself or others that causes me to reflect then I know there is a possibility of a story there. I have to feel passionate about what I am writing about. 

Often I start with a character and then I want to explore that character in all its facets until I really understand it. Starting a book is a lot like taking on a client for psychotherapy; you see all the faults and the flaws because those are what are presented, but you search for the beauty, the unflawed inner person, the part you can love and needs to be shown to the world. That is what I aim to do with the books – to show that everyone is lovable if you look deeply enough. Corny perhaps, but I believe it to be true.

8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
I am very organised and disciplined. I always know how the story starts and who my character is, and I always know the end. Sometimes the part in the middle can get a little messy because I am exploring and learning, but it is only messy in my head. 

The research is done as I go to keep it fresh in my mind, but despite what might come along, what impasses I come across, what moods my journey puts me in I am very strict about how much I write each day. 

I am very aware that it is a luxury to be a writer full time and that is solely due to my readers, and I feel I owe it to them to keep the pace going and to bring out a new book often enough to keep them entertained.

9. Which other authors do you read?
Being dyslexic, reading is not always a joy, or easy, so there are times when I read lots and other times when I only read a little. 

I have a number of favourite authors who I read again and again as they inspire me to write better, to observe more accurately, and to be more gracious with my wording. 
Old favourites are Anthony Trollope, Charlotte Bronte, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Khaled Hosseini is a recent fave. [wholeheartedly agree on that last one, JM]

If I compare myself to authors such as these I prefer to call myself a storyteller, and not a proper writer!

10. What's your preferred kind of music?
I am very eclectic in my musical taste. I love Greek Music, the traditional rebektika and some modern Greek music, and I also love Opera and classic rock such as Led Zeppelin and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Paul Simon and the Beatles are both in my collection. I’ve been listening to Skrillex too, recently.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
I love it! Especially the old rebetika. Some of the words are hilarious! I love the gravelly sound of Sotiria Bellou and the dreamy lyrics and sound of Eleftheria Arvanitaki. 
There is so much good Greek music out there! Have a listen to Haris Alexiou, and Imam Baildi are interesting too – producing a new take on the old classics.

12. Favourite Greek dish?
I love all the Greek vegetable dishes and there are so many of them! Meat was more scarce in the past, and I think this is why there is such a wide choice of vegetarian food. 
One of my favourites is beetroot with garlic sauce - just thinking about it is making my mouth water! I also love the horta, which refers to any of a number of greens that are picked in the wild, then boiled and served with olive oil and lemon.

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
I have two favourite places in Greece; one is along the coastal path toward Kamini on the island of Hydra where the view across the sea towards Dokos is the best in all of Greece. There is a taverna there and I could sit many a long hour just to watch the view - the layers of blue on blue as the islands fade into the distance. 

My second favourite place is, of course, my home. I bought it as a very run down old farm house and I have rebuilt the roof and found reclaimed old tiles for the floor, and a lovely antique marble sink for the kitchen. 

I know every single inch of the place and have either painted or repaired or plastered just about every part of it. It is not finished yet, and may well never be as when a job needs doing the sun has a habit of luring me into the garden or onto the terrace for a frappe!

14. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

A real book every time unless I am travelling. E-Books are amazing, but I still prefer paperback.

A huge thank you to Sara for sharing her thoughts here on the blog. I do hope you've enjoyed getting inside her mind as much as I have! There's another great interview coming along quite soon, so if you've enjoyed this one, don't stay away too long.

Plus, for all the interviews in the series, check in the left hand column under the heading "The Interviews" for direct links to each one of them.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Weather Whingers

Anemones on the roadside near Lardos

I suppose it's a British thing. By and large us Brits are conditioned by our culture (what's left of it) and our climate, nay browbeaten by both to be condemned to perpetually whinge about the weather.

What does get me down though, and I'll probably make a few (more) enemies with this post, is how no small number of Brits who've moved out here seem to be perpetually whinging about the weather on Rhodes. I don't get it, I really don't. It's winter here from December through February. Fact. Thus, it's not going to be wall to wall sunshine and sweltering temperatures during those months. What little autumn we get here is usually confined to November and spring to March, well, February thru April now and then.

Having lived here now for well over eleven years I feel fairly qualified to talk about a Rhodean winter. I usually say it's like a British summer and most of the time I'm right. OK, so occasionally we get a cold spell, sometimes (as was the case this winter) it lasts for a week or two, but even then during the daytime when the sun's out you can sit in a sheltered spot in a t-shirt and eat your lunch al fresco. The norm though is for it to be from 8-11ºC overnight and the upper teens, even the lower twenties, during the middle of the day. Not wishing to pull rank, but I suppose it's what I'm about to do, but speaking Greek means you can watch the weather forecasts on Greek TV and understand what they're on about. Sakkis (may his name be blessed) on the government channels often shows us why we're getting a cold snap by showing the air masses all across Europe and Asia Minor. He'll also tell us when things are liable to change. These cold air masses account for the below average times when we get a blue splodge coming down from Russia, across Turkey and into the eastern Aegean. We've had one this past couple of days, but as from tomorrow it's a warm air mass coming over us again and the night time temperatures will be back to normal.

It seems to me too that a lot of people don't seem to understand what averages are. There is seldom a day when the temperature is exactly on the average. Averages are made up from regular maximums and regular minimums, that's how it works, right? Thus, when it's below average it's not because everything's gone AWOL and the weather's down the tubes. Yet sure as anything there'll be the soothsayers on Facebook going on about how bitter cold it is. Yet when the temperature is above average (which it is just as often) you don't hear anything like as much comment.

The facts are these: We get over 300 days of sunshine a year on Rhodes, and lots of these occur during the winter months. January and February often bring cloudless days for a week or two on end. Yesterday it was 18ºC and we ate a very nice lunch in our t-shirts out on our terrace. Accompanied by a medicinal drop of the old Retsina of course, chilled. OK, so overnight it dropped to somewhere near zero. That's unusually low, but this is winter. It still warms up as soon as the sun is up whereas from memory, in the UK it wouldn't warm up (if it was going to at all) before midday and it would be cooling down rapidly by about 2.30pm. Here, at 9.30am it's already 15 and climbing. It doesn't begin to cool until the sun's ready to set.

Yes, it rains now and again and by rights that ought to be a couple of times a week. Although, even though this winter it's rained more than the last one, it's still not raining as often as it ought to. We get the occasional cloudy day, plus the days when it's sunshine and cloud. Like I said, a British summer, with temperatures not a whole world away during the daylight hours either.

So, what is there to complain about? I don't get it. If someone wants the temperature to never drop below 25ºC at any time of the year then they should have moved to the Caribbean. That's if they don't mind experiencing a hurricane season once a year for a couple of months and they don't mind it getting dark around 6.00pm all year round.

Frankly, you have to take the rough with the smooth here on Rhodes, but the rough isn't anything to complain about.

This past week it's been almost wall to wall sunshine and the flowers in the garden are letting us know...

That's one magnificent Rosemary plant. We're just beginning to learn about all its amazing health benefits too. Rosemary tea soon...

Gazanias. These are so blousy. They also seed themselves everywhere so we just pull out the ones we don't want, and transplant some to areas where we'd like some more colour. They're very drought-resistant too.

Gazanias come in a bewildering variety of foliage and colours. They also know when to open and close with the sunlight.

More Gazanias beside one of our Lantana bushes. The Lantanas are just now starting to burst forth with flowers. Lantana is another plant that comes in a huge variety of colours.

I just fitted the new gate I made for the fence between the orchard and the house. The old one dry rotted after ten years in situ. So handy having so many available wooden pallets around the area! Look at that sky, awful isn't it.
So, it's a Rhodean winter and I for one love it. I can do the gardening usually in a t-shirt and we can go for long walks in the countryside. Can't do either once the full heat of the summer comes upon us. You won't catch me whinging. 

As my dear old Dad used to say with regularity, "count your blessings, son."

Saturday, 11 February 2017

High Tea

Doesn't look much does it? This is τσαι βουνου [Chai vounou], or Greek Mountain Tea and it's pretty special stuff. This bowlful is specially special (!?) because it was handpicked by some friends of ours. It has to be picked in high summer, when the flowers are on the plant and it has to be picked about 3,000 feet and more above sea level, because it's from that altitude upwards that the plant usually grows.

I used to think that chai vounou (literally, tea of the mountain. To give it its proper name it would be chai tou vounou, but most people leave out the 'tou' these days) was dried sage and in fact you can make a pretty good tea from sage, but the real chai vounou is a plant called Sideritis. This is how it looks when growing in the wild and flowering (usually July/August)...

Photo courtesy of http://www.west-crete.com/flowers/sideritis_syriaca.htm
Amusingly, every part of Greece and most of Albania (and elsewhere besides) claim this tea as their own. As an example, if you clicked on the link under that photo you'll have seen that it calls it "Cretan Mountain Tea" on that web site. It's a bit like Greek Coffee isn't it. If you're in Turkey it's Turkish, if you're in Italy it's espresso...etc. The fact is it's mountain tea and very, very good for you.

We keep a few herbal teas in the house, including camomile, peppermint and a few others. We also keep a supply of various green teas and, of course, the ever essential Earl Grey for those moments when you need a digestive biscuit, which are many and frequent. Frankly, some herb teas I just don't like. They may be exceedingly good for me, perhaps they'll prevent me going bald, getting Alzheimer's and all kinds of other stuff, but I'm prepared to take the risk. When it comes to mountain tea though, just shove in the smallest teaspoonful of honey and I absolutely love it, which is just as well because, as the photo above shows (the top one of course), we have quite a bit of the stuff.

A while back the very same friends who gave us this batch had given us a previous supply. We've also bought it from the brill fruit and veg man in Arhangelos, he it is who has the tzaki behind his counter (open hearth with logs burning, making his shop one you want to linger in on the colder winter mornings), see the photo in this post from December 5th. We dropped in to our friends' house last week and, as we were leaving, we happened to mention that we were off to Arhangelos to do some shopping and among the things on our list was a bag of mountain tea. We didn't mention it intentionally to try and cadge another free supply, but that was nevertheless the outcome.

"What do you want to buy it for? we have loads!" Said Ilias, the hubby, at the same time gesturing to Rena his wife to go and get us some that very instant. 

When you get it from people who've picked it themselves (or their relatives may have) it comes exactly as when picked, except it's been hung up to dry. So it comes in stalk form, about 30 to 40 cm in length. Rena thrust a carrier bag into our hands, the required double cheek kisses were exchanged and one item was deleted from our shopping list as we drove north to Arhangelos. Thus, when we got home I dug out the stout sewing scissors and set about cutting it down to shorter lengths in order for it to fit into the storage jar which can be seen at the back and to the right in the photograph.

We hadn't been here long back in 2005 when Greek friends started educating us about mountain tea. If you sit in a Greek house and they offer you either a coffee or a tea and you reply that you'd rather like a cup of tea then you in all probability won't be served a nice cup of PG Tips with a dash of milk, you'll more likely have a cup of chai vounou set in front of you. Try not to look too surprised. You certainly won't need milk in it. That doesn't work. I know, I tried it before I knew what I was doing. I'll never forget the bemused looks on the faces of my hosts. Cheeks reddening even now at the thought.

Most Greeks boil it up in a saucepan, chucking the entire plant into the water. We're dead civilised and we use our stainless steel teapot (brought all the way from the UK), still nevertheless chucking everything in, even the odd piece of grass that's tangled up in the dried plants.

The benefits of mountain tea are myriad. Just as a sampler, here are some of the things it's reputed to be good for:

gastrointestinal problems
sore throats
common cold and cough symptoms
respiratory problems
the immune system
mild anxiety

"Ironwort is known scientifically to be anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-oxidant. Active elements include diterpenoid and flavonoids. Significant research has been done on ironwort (it's English name) confirming its popular use to prevent colds, flu, and allergies. Most of this research has taken place in universities in the Netherlands and in Greece, Turkey, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Albania, where the plant is indigenous."
The above quote is from the Wikipedia page for Sideritis.

There's more besides. If you want to know what's in it and lots of other stuff, have a glance at these sites:

It's also been called Shepherd's Tea, because Greek shepherds would use it when tending their flocks high on the mountainsides during the summer months.

I actually thought at first that the name of the plant "Sideritis" had something to do with the fact that it contains iron, but I was wrong. The Greek word for iron is "si'dero" so you can see where I got the idea from. Apparently, though, there is an iron connection in that it was believed by the ancients that ironwort was good for a soldier who'd sustained an injury from an iron weapon. Loads more info can be found on those two links I place above.

There are lots of versions of the plant too, all of which can be used to make the tea, but they vary quite a lot in appearance. 

All this typing has brought a thirst on. I'd better get and finish stuffing our new supply of chai vounou into that jar, well, apart from the handful that's going straight into the teapot...

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Getting All Fruity

My sister-in-law was in Athens when I met my wife. Not when I met my wife as in, "I met her for lunch" or something. Rather, as in "when I met her for the first time", so she wouldn't then have actually been my wife just yet. That bit came later. You get the general idea.

Of course, I had no idea at the time, but when I met my wife Greece was under the rule of the Military Junta, which ran from 1967 until 1974. Things here were a bit edgy. Of course, I was a young impressionable hippie-in-the-making and had no idea about such things. All I knew was that there was this mysterious older sister whom I may one day meet, but when that day would come and what it might hold - I had no inkling. Apart, that is, from the dread that were the big sister to come home then my place in the life of my new girlfriend might face a serious threat, since the two girls, despite there being a five year age gap between them, had been quite the girls about town together before big sis had left for Greece.

Christine is my Kounia'da, meaning my wife's sister, as opposed to my brother's wife, who'd be my ni'fi. See now, you get the idea in cases like this just how tricky Greek can be. In English my wife's sister and my brother's wife are both my sisters-in-law. In Greek there's a distinction. It's further complicated by the fact that the word "nifi" also means "bride". But, ah ha, oh no, wait a minute, a man's daughter-in-law can also be his "nifi", which in English would make him sound like a bigamist. And by the way, while I'm on the subject, I don't have a brother.

Right. That all sorted? Good. So, I first met my wife in October 1971, when she was sweet sixteen and may have been kissed once or twice. I didn't want to ask. We'd been "going out" for a while before she told me that she had a sister. I'd met the two younger brothers, but it came as a bit of a shock when the news came out that there was this mysterious sister who lived in Athens and whom I had yet to meet. Since she was five years older than my new girlfriend, that made her also about four years older than me. Once she entered the scene I was soon appraised of the fact that, despite the relative youth of my significant other, she'd been on the nightclub scene with her sister for a while owing to the fact that she stood five eight, which meant she could get away with looking older. These days, of course, she gets away with looking a lot younger. In fact, it won't be long before people start thinking I'm out and about with my daughter, either that or I'm a cradle-snatcher.

We'd been an item for probably eighteen months when she broke the news to me that big sis was coming home. Her plans to stay in Greece had been shattered by the fact that the bloke she'd been engaged to marry, a certain Stefanos, had been two-timing her and it had broken her heart. Cheating bastard.

I'm going a long way around the mulberry bush, nay the houses too, to get to the fact that just yesterday my wife said, as we were gazing at a fruit bowl which was groaning under the sheer weight of a hundred oranges,

"Christine always used to say that when it comes to fruit the Greeks never do things by halves." Each season has its fruit and, during that season, there's that much of it that you start feeling like it's coming out of your ears. Other orifices too no doubt. Let't not go there.

Mandarins too, of course. In the UK there all these fancy names like Satsumas, Tangerines and the like. Here they're all mandarin'ia 

Some years ago we used to get our oranges free from our diminutive Bulgarian friend, Dopi. She'd supply us with plastic bags full to bursting with wonderfully juicy oranges all through the winter months. This was due to the fact that she was a live-in carer, looking after an old ya ya for a Greek family who had a business in Lindos and thus didn't have time to care for their old mum, who was slowly losing her marbles. The small cottage in which the two women lived was surrounded by a dozen orange trees, the fruit from which the woman's family would never bother to harvest. Thus, each time Dopi got into our car she'd emerge from the garden gate, vigorously "shhhhing” me and furtively dashing up and down the path with three or four bags of oranges, which she'd bid me stow in the boot pretty sharpish. It was all a bit clandestine because the woman's children, all grown up and running their business, although they never bothered wth the oranges themselves, used to threaten her if they thought she was picking the fruit. 

It would sorely distress Dopi, well, us too, to see all these wonderful oranges being left to rot. So Dopi would go out and rattle the branches until the fruit dropped, then she'd gather up the fallers (seconds after they'd done so) and bag them up for us. She'd get into the car saying, 

“Whenever they ask me, 'Have you been picking those oranges?' I can truthfully reply, 'no, I only gather up the fallers', tee hee.”

Sadly, a few years ago our tiny, bow-legged, sixty-something Bulgarian friend with the shock of frizzy white hair returned to her native Bulgaria and we found our primary source of ripe oranges cut off. What on earth were we to do? To actually pay for our supply of winter oranges would be a painful experience. Well, would you believe it but we became acquainted with a new family of Greeks from a village just up the road, and they have about fifty orange trees just outside the village of Massari. For the past six weeks or so, every time we see them, which is at least once a week, they're carrying plastic bags full-to-bursting with delicious navel oranges and those bags are destined for our car's boot.

So, here we are once again eating our morning muesli topped with chopped chunks of juicy, sweet oranges straight from the tree. Our fridge is stacked with small plastic water bottles whose use has now been turned over to holding freshly-squeezed orange juice and we're frequently hanging bags of oranges on our neighbours' and friends' fences and gates to share the bounty with them too. There's an identical ongoing situation with lemons as well.

It's the same in June with apricots, in the high summer months with water melons. In May you can't move for cherries and in September watch out for those peaches, because it's easy to eat so many that you might just be well advised to carry some loo roll with you if you attempt a country walk.

In the UK you can waltz along the supermarket aisle and load up your trolley with whatever fruit you want, you pay no mind to what season the fruit's supposed to be grown in. It's shipped half-way around the planet to make sure that the supermarket shopper can have his or her choice of whatever fruit or veg he or she wants - any time of the year. Here one gets into the habit of buying local. It's not only a great deal cheaper, but it's far better for the environment and the fruit and veg tastes infinitely better for having been grown just along the road.

The only slight drawback is, by the time you get to March/April, you feel like you never want to see an orange or a lemon again. You feel like you've almost turned into one or the other. It's OK though, because come November, you'll be eager to taste the first ripe oranges of the new season all over again. In our case too, it'll once more bring to my wife's mind her sister's words, 

"It's all or nothing. One minute you can't find an orange anywhere. The next you're buried in them."

Of course, my Kounia'da came home, but didn't, as I had feared, displace me in the affections of my girlfriend, much to my relief. But then, you'd already worked that out hadn't you.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Drenched in Greek Sunshine

This is number four in my occasional series of interviews with writers who specialise in producing work on a Greek theme. I'm rather excited, nay ever so slightly chuffed, to have had prolific best-selling author Effrosyni Moschoudi answer my fifteen questions. I'm sure you'll find her comments intriguing, enlightening and fascinating.

Effrosyni was born in Athens, as was my late mother-in-law. to date I've read one of her works, her first novel entitled "The Necklace of the Goddess Athena", which would appeal not only to lovers of all things Greek, but probably to the enthusiastic Doctor Who fan as well! I was especially enthralled because my wife's grandparents used to have a taverna in Plaka, on the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens, which is where much of the action takes place in this book. 

So, let's get down to business, here's Effrosyni's interview, along with some interesting photos plus at the end lots of links so you can check out her work.

1. Where do you live?
I live in a peaceful, small town that’s situated about half-way between Athens and Corinth. It’s on the beach and near the foothills of the picturesque Geraneia mountains with its pine tree forests. Across the water, the opposite shore of the island of Salamina is visible and offers a wonderful view from our seafront, even at night with its streetlights and passing cars. The summer is paradise here and I get to swim daily. The local marina is a delight to frequent all year round with its beautiful yachts, fishing boats and quaint tavernas. I feel blessed and privileged to have made a home here, away from the crowded city where I was raised.

Seafront near Effrosyni's home. The island in the distance is Salamina.

2. What do you write about?
I am a romance/fantasy/paranormal author and write for readers who are passionate about Greece and its people. I love to introduce a little magic into every novel. In my published stories so far, readers will find living and breathing Greek Gods, a haunting spirit seeking deliverance, and a bunch of quirky guardian angels, one of them deeply in love and not having the faintest idea how to handle it. My books are set in stunning Greek locations and I often tantalize my readers with references to Greek food in them as well. I know what they love about Greece (which are all the things I love to!) so I make sure to add all the ingredients necessary for a classic ‘Greek holiday experience’ in every novel.

3. Why Greece?
Simply put, because it runs in my veins and makes me tick more than anything else. It makes sense to me to write about what I know and love the most. This is why all my heroines so far have been Greek as well. I do plan to write British heroines in future though. I expect it will be a refreshing experience for me and hope my readers will enjoy the novelty as well.

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
It used to take me months on end, sometimes more than a year. I started as a pantser* but over time learned new skills on how to plot my novels instead. By doing this, for example, it took me only three months to write the first draft of my last novel, The Amulet
[*For the unitiated, a 'pantser' is someone who 'flies by the seat of their pants']

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Positive feedback from readers. For me a book is nothing until it has become alive in the hearts and minds of others. Of course, the joy and the sense of accomplishment when holding a new paperback in your hands for the first time are immense. I don’t think even a writer can express these adequately in words!

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
The Parthenon as a whole and what it symbolizes because of the golden era of the 5th century B.C. that it came from. Therefore it embodies the gifts of democracy, philosophy, drama, geometry, architecture and many more that Greece has given to the world. This is why we Greeks have become quite annoying about claiming the Parthenon Marbles from Britain. Because they are part of The Parthenon. Therefore, they are not mere stones. Many novelists, actors and movie stars have fought the Greek corner to defend the cause across the centuries but the great Melina Merkouri once explained to the world what they really are better than anyone else ever could:
“They are our pride. They are our sacrifices. They are our noblest symbol of excellence. They are a tribute to the democratic philosophy. They are our aspirations and our name. They are the essence of Greekness.”

7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
I sincerely believe I don’t come up with the ideas but that they are given to me. To say I come up with an idea would suggest I’d be actively looking for it. And yet, most of them come out of the blue during the odd phase of consciousness that exists somewhere between sleep and wakefulness and lasts very briefly early in the morning. Sometimes, it comes as a single vivid picture. Other times, it’s an obscure story that, like a distant dream, has many inconsistencies and hardly makes sense, yet it insists to be recorded. Many times I’ve jumped out of bed and hurried to jot it all down before I forget!

8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, disciplined, do you do your research, or are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
As I stated earlier, I used to be a pantser but, in time, transformed into a plotter 100%. At first, it would take me ages to find the discipline to sit and write and even when I did I had no idea what to expect. Nowadays, I don’t set out to write a book unless I have a chapter-to-chapter summary down on paper first. Of course, I always allow for many delightful last-minute surprises from my characters, but I do have a very good idea of where the story is going and what the ending will be. This makes a huge difference during the writing process. It has delivered me from the clutches of the infamous “writer’s block” which is nothing else but the writer’s own fear, anxiety, and tendency to procrastinate (procrastination itself stems from fear too). Plotting ahead rids you of all that. Now I know beforehand what every scene I am writing is going to be about and how it’s going to end. It may sound restricting to the imagination for some, but I find it liberating and also conducive to good time management. It’s the only way I intend to write books from now on.

9. Which other authors do you read?
I enjoy the books of many indie authors and they are far too many to mention them all. To name just a few of my favourite indies: MM Jaye, Nicholas Rossis, Amy Vansant, David Wind, Angel Sefer and Christian Kallias. As for traditionally published authors, I love Dan Brown, Stephen King, Katherine Webb, Rachel Hore and Rosamunde Pilcher.

10. What's your preferred kind of music?
Pop music from the 80s, British mostly, because it takes me back in time. Anything that transports me back to this era is a good thing for me! 

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
I don’t follow pop Greek music at all. I sometimes listen to orchestral Greek music (like Spanoudakis) or old songs from the 70s and 80s. Again, for the ‘time-travel’ effect! I love Mitropanos, Poulopoulos, Chomata, but most of all, I love syrtaki music because it takes me back to Corfu summers in the 80s – a time very special in my heart. The opening chords of ‘Zorba the Greek’ brings shivers to my spine.

12. Favourite Greek dish?
I have two: Souvlaki with pitta and lahanodolmades. The latter is cabbage leaves stuffed with mince and rice in avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce). My Corfiot grandmother used to make it better than anyone else I know in her tiny kitchen in Corfu. Oh, how I miss her cooking! I’ve recorded some of her best recipes on my food blog, by the way – if any of your readers are interested to cook Greek tonight - click here! 

Effrosyni with her grandmother in her kitchen on Corfu. Check out the blog for some very tasty recipes.

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
The village of Moraitika in Corfu. It’s my favourite place on earth and I miss it 24/7. This is where I spent the best summers of my life with my grandparents in the 80s. I wrote The Ebb to honour their memory and to share with the world the joy I experienced back then on this earthly paradise. I don’t have a better way to describe my love for this place than to invite your readers to read the book (it’s permanently 99p on Amazon) or to check out my guide to Corfu on my website – the pictures will speak for themselves I think!


Check out Effrosyni's exhaustive guide to her favourite place, the village of Moriatika on Corfu.

14. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
Your readers are welcome to watch book trailers on my website and to download FREE excerpts for all my novels. They can also download a FREE short story and a delightful, exclusive excerpt from The Ebb that’s available for a preview nowhere else. Both of them are included in the FREE book, Poetry from The Lady of the Pier. I also urge your readers to check out Team Effrosyni on my website. Members get to read all my new books for FREE plus to enter exclusive giveaways!
Effrosyni’s Books on the website: http://effrosyniwrites.com/books/

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

Oh… a bit of both! I do prefer paperbacks, though. I love the feel of paper in my hands and the tantalizing silent call a half-read book emits my way when I pass it by on the coffee (or bedside) table during the day. My black tablet screen doesn’t do the same, somehow. Yet, I get eye strain a lot these days and the reading device is easier at the end of the day in this respect. 

A final note from me...
Well, if you check out some of those links you'll be occupied for hours. So if you're into a good Greek read, this post ought to go a long way to making sure you have one!
Watch out for two more author interviews already in the pipeline and coming up soon. All my interviews are permanently linked in the left hand column of this blog, under the imaginatively titled section "The Interviews".

Friday, 27 January 2017

No Sign of Siouxsie

The night before last was a little wild to say the least. As per usual I was up mooching around between 12 midnight and about 1.30am and, having been primed by the weather forecast from Saki (may his name be blessed) on the ERT1 TV channel, we were expecting something a little out of the ordinary. Actually, since I discovered Saki's Facebook page it's been brill, since we no longer have to miss a big chunk of the quiz show we're usually watching on another channel to catch his essential forecast.

Sakis is nothing if not loyal to his worshippers, sorry, followers, and regularly posts his entire TV forecast on his Facebook page at the same time as it's being aired on national TV. This can be a boon for another reason. The government channels are ERT1, 2 AND 3. Sakis is meant to air at 8.45pm each weekday night on ERT1. Years ago in the UK we used to bemoan the fact that the BBC was always changing its programmes at the last minute for no really good reason. This was true more so on BBC2 than BBC1, but you never knew, could be either or both. They still do it when a sporting event overruns, which is great if you want to watch the sport, truly grating if you don't.

At least on the BBC they'd post regular scrolling titles to tell the delighted (!?) viewers that may have just tuned in for their favourite show the reason why it would now be airing at a later and unspecified hour, or maybe that it had been shifted from BBC1 over to BBC2 or the other way around. I didn't say visa versa because I'm never quite sure how to spell it. Here it's never quite as straightforward. They're always messing around with the schedule and often here it will be due to some interminable dull debate in the Greek parliament that often as not will be airing on five channels at once. Sakis' essential weather forecast may be shifted from ERT1 to (usually) ERT3 with no prior warning and no scrolling titles to tell you that this is what they've done. The dead giveaway is discovered only if you know to go to his Facebook page to see his forecast, since the TV channel logo is a permanent fixture in the top left hand corner of the screen.

Last night is a classic example. Here's a screenshot of Saki (may his name be blessed) starting his forecast, direct from his Facebook page...

Notice anything? Yup, there it is, the ERT3 logo is showing. We'd monitored ERT1 carefully, flicking channels several times to see if he was on, only to be disappointed. If you'd checked the ERT1 teletext page or the schedules page on their website you'd have seen that according to these he ought to have been on at the correct time, but there was no sign of him. Instead there was some entirely dull political debate being aired and no info being given at all about where Sakis could be found, or indeed at what time. Often as not he just doesn't get aired at all, but in this instance they'd shifted him to ERT3, as they frequently do, without so much as a 'by your leave' and at a different time as well.

Now we have his Facebook page though, it's brill. We just go there later in the evening and almost without exception, there he is, although, as was the case this past evening, on the wrong channel. Hmmph. At least we know what happened.

Anyway, I mentioned that he's nothing if not loyal to his worshippers, sorry - followers. When we had the really bad snow last week (not here, but virtually all over the rest of Greece) he was actually running a live post from the streets of Thessaloniki for a while. You could watch him as he used his mobile phone to show you what was happening under the blizzard that was taking place around him and you could inter-act with him too. if you posted a question he'd answer it right there and then, assuming you were lucky enough to be one of the ones he was able to answer directly. He'll often post a detailed analysis in addition to his bulletin. The man's in his element when the elements are erupting. It's so obvious that he relishes the winter because, as I've said before, during the long summer months he gets fed up with just showing a chart with unbroken sunshine "ap'akri s'akri" (from end to end, as in from one end of the country to the other) and having nothing much to say apart from the Greek version of "scorchio." [Remember the old Fast Show sketch in the UK?]

Last Tuesday he could hardly contain his excitement as he issued a dire warning of possible damage to buildings and perhaps falling trees as a particularly violent storm was forecast to hit the Dodecanese islands during the small hours of the night. When the wind is forecast to be unusually strong it's never a good idea to be driving up to town or back from Kiotari. If you know about the rubbish collection system here in Greece then you'll know that the dustmen (trash collectors, guys?) don't collect from bins kept at each domestic property. The system here involves householders taking their rubbish with them when they go out and depositing it at the local cat hangouts, the four-wheeled dumpsters that can be found dotted along the streets and roads everywhere. You know the ones, here are some photos where I've inadvertently got one in shot...

Dumpster lurks left of picture

Here in the quieter part of Rhodes town, a dumpster is evident almost centre shot.

Right dead centre of this shot taken in the village of Apollona is one of the objects under discussion.

Now, having refreshed your memory about these dumpster bins, imagine charging along a normally safe section of the Rhodes-Lindos road at a fair old clip, only to be confronted by one of these trundling across the road right in front of you, being driven by the wind. Or, in another scenario, you could round a bend in the road to find one lying on its side slap bang in the middle of the carriageway. Call it Murphy's Law if you like, but the local dimos always manages to have emptied these bins just in time for another windstorm to arrive and set about rearranging them in fetching positions along the roads, making driving on the island instantly into an obstacle course.

As it happens, this latest storm was due to arrive in the middle of the night and thus we knew we'd be tucked up in bed or, in my case (nothing unusual there), pottering about the house in the small hours. As I lay on the sofa listening to the noises outside gradually becoming more and more alarming, it reached its crescendo at about 1.00am on Wednesday January 25th. By the time the lightning flashes had reached their peak and the thunder was shaking the house to the foundations, the rain was coming down in king-sized sheets at an angle that threw it against the shutters in a veritable blitz and the winds made it sound as though every banshee in the earth's vicinity was getting into a frenzy, I have to admit to having been slightly uncomfortable. It's that feeling you get when it's pitch dark out there and you know that you'd accomplish absolutely nothing by attempting to go out and have a look, apart from getting your slippers drenched that is, but you just know that terracotta roof tiles are liable to be clinging on for dear life and there'd be nothing you could do if they decided to go for an aerial excursion under the sheer force of the wind. Call it terror, I think I probably would.

A few years ago we did lose some roof tiles, as I reported in this post from December 2014. The other night I was expecting a similar outcome. The whole thing lasted for probably no more than half an hour before the banshees moved on and the rain subsided. There was still no point in going outside though, as it was still raining steadily and there would have been no moonlight to speak of with the thickness of the cloud, so I trotted off back to bed to see if I could get some sleep.

Next day by midmorning there was a report on the Rodiaki's Facebook page informing us that there had been a water-spout that had come ashore in Kiotari and done some damage to some tavernas near the beach. After lunch we decided to have a walk down to the beach to see if we could see what they meant, since they only published one photograph and it didn't make it very evident as to quite where in Kiotari they meant. When we reached our local beach, it was immediately evident where the water-spout had landed. The La Strada taverna had only sustained minor damage to a few roof tiles, the Pelican's Nest, our friend George's souvenir shop, had been damaged, but the real shock was the fact that the canopy over the terrace on Stefano's taverna was 60% demolished and the entire canopy of Anastasia and hubby Tasso's Il porto restaurant was gone...

You see the steps in the foreground going up to the terrace...

Well this was taken from those steps. Ouch.

Il Porto. This is really shocking because the canopy was very substantial. Must have been a direct hit. Check out the photo below...
This was Il Porto on October 16th 2016. My wife chats with Anastasia, the owner. That's a not-insubstantial canopy, right?

Il Porto again. You can see the "Pelican" from the Pelican's Nest next-door, now sitting on the roof. It belongs on the front of the now damaged gable end above the road.

One of several kalives that were completely destroyed. See how localised these things are. The one behind is intact.

As you can see from these photos, the weather next day was bright, mainly sunny and calm, as if 'butter wouldn't melt' so to speak.

Fortunately for us, we sustained no damage this time. Even the garden survived intact. The banshees came and the banshees went, fortunately leaving us none the worse for wear. No sign of Siouxsie though. 

Now go on, tell me you don't understand my feeble attempt at humour there.