Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Youth Who's Long in the Tooth?

Hmm, there seems to be something strange happening here. See, inside I'm still about eighteen, yet outside I seem to be morphing into my dad.

I was out in the garden the other day, busily adjusting nozzles on the watering system and deadheading roses, hibiscus and assorted other plants, whose names I have to admit to having allowed to escape me for the moment. Oh, and I power-sawed a pallet that I'd 'rescued' from a field where a nearby hotel (in that typically environmentally aware way that they have) dumps all its old 'stuff', which includes anything from old sun loungers to paint pots, through old cupboards, to cracked lavatory bowls and cisterns. 

I do rather get infused with fury at how so many local Greeks treat their natural environment, and then allow my righteous indignation to lapse a little while rummaging through all the detritus and finding some rather serviceable plant pots (we once 'rescued' a huge terracotta pot that would probably have fetched 40 Euros in a garden centre) and pristine new wooden pallets.

On the subject of pallets, we 'rescued' three last week that will make - among other things - a very acceptable gate between our BBQ and the house wall, sectioning off our side patio from the rear of the house and making it feel more cosy as a result. returning to the one I power-sawed, I made a very smart platform to stand on while having an outdoor shower under the strategically-hung hosepipe gun on the side of the car port. I was well pleased once I'd stained it and installed it where I'd 'dug' out the old one that had rotted away.

So, anyway, there I was ambling around the garden, pair of secateurs in one hand and plastic bucket in the other, when I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the windows of the house. When I'm out there at this time of the year it's essential to wear a hat to avoid my ears burning and the glare getting to my eyes. Plus, since my hair has always been rather thin, without a hat I get sunburn on the crown of my head. Don't laugh, it gets very sore! The hat I'm currently sporting when out there is a cream-coloured panama with a black band, which rather resembles the one worn by Josh O'Connor, who plays Lawrence Durrell in the TV series "The Durrells."

Photo courtesy of British Period Dramas
Of course, like most blokes wearing one of these, I rather fancy it looks quite rakish on me. No one else would agree though. Probably. Hats and my head don't generally enhance each other. 

Anyway, there I was, passing the window, when I glanced sideways, just in time to see my dad staring back at me. Since he died in 2009, it was rather a shock. Of course, it wasn't really him, it was me. I'm morphing into him as I get older. I still miss him terribly and, if I'm honest, I don't mind this metamorphosis that I'm undergoing, because I rather though my dad was a looker, even when he was heading into his dotage.

What made me stop and reflect was more the fact that I turn 65 later this year and I shall soon be receiving my UK state pension. In true Bryan Adams style, I (like just about everyone who's ever lived) still consider myself to be eighteen on the inside. The trouble is, on the outside my body's started telling lies. In fact, it's got to the stage now when, if someone asks us how long we've been married, our reply indicates that we were married quite a few years before my wife was born. I never was good at maths.

So, here I am finding myself saying to friends that I'm "looking forward to receiving my pension, as it'll make quite a difference to our financial situation." Then I take myself in hand and ruminate on the fact that it can't be me saying that, can it? Surely not. After all, the chiropractor who I've just been to for an - what we'd call in the UK - MOT, agreed that I could pass for an eighteen-year old. From the neck down that is. OK, well, from just below the neck downward, maybe. Probably he was just humouring me though, after I told him what the surgeon had said when I had my hernia done a few years ago (check out this post).

Finally, we had a really, really lovely evening yesterday, when some friends from the UK of many years came over for a meal and we caught up on old times. Gareth, our dear friend Kim's fairly new husband, is as mad about music as I am, so there was no shortage of conversation there either. When, however, we got around to the subject of 'selfies", since Kim and Gareth are quite a bit younger than us and hence of the generation that's been weaned on mobile phones, I pronounced my dislike of them (selfies that is, not necessarily the phones), largely because one gets fed up of staring at peoples' nose hair. Gareth and Kim, though, have a lens that you attach to the phone which gives a wider angle to the shot. 

Thus, Gareth shot this one out on our driveway, and I have to admit, it's not half bad...

Gareth, Kim, Kim's mum Mary, my better half (Yvonne)Maria, me and Tessa, who's Mary's mum-in-law and Kim's grandma.
Ooh, and another thing, for those of us that have been young a couple of decades longer than others, the Lindos Rock event takes off next week. Tuesday 26th I'll be there listening to "Floyd in the Flesh", who played their debut gig here a couple of years ago. They were pretty good then, but I'm betting they've even improved since, with practice and experience. I'll be there among the rockers who usually have more hair coming out of their ears than they have left on their heads. 

Zimmers will be parked outside the door.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Tourism, it Has its Good Points

Just now and again I quite thrill at the good side of tourism. I'll explain. 

Of course, there are negatives about tourism that can't be ignored. For example, it's probably by and large responsible for a lot of pollution in rural and wild areas. Visitors leave behind rubbish, especially plastic, they trundle heavy-footed over delicate areas of natural beauty, they cause noise which can be a huge problem for the local inhabitants. Here on Rhodes they increase the traffic to levels that make you scream on occasion (especially if you get stuck behind a dreaded 'gourouna' [quad bike]), and still ever more new hotels are being built, which will result in ever more hire cars creeping like tortoises around the island's roads.

It ought to be acknowledged, though, that the problems above are often not the fault of tourism in itself, they are more often the upshot of the thoughtless holidaymakers, which does not mean all of them. In fact, many people who travel go to great pains to show respect for the local environment and its indigenous population. So the issues can be resolved, or at least tackled, by education and, in extreme cases, the banning of certain people who consistently cause problems from travelling at all. I'm not even going to mention a certain extremely inconsiderate wedding couple from last year here on Rhodes in Lindos.

On the other side of the coin, one plus point in particular that genuinely sends shivers of happiness up my spine is the way that tourism brings people of different countries together in unexpected ways.

Excursions such as the ones I work on, are often a source of anxiety to me at 8.30 in the morning, and yet real delight when I'm bringing my guests back in the afternoon. The best way I can illustrate what I'm inadequately trying to explain is to refer to my "Rhodes By Day" excursion from last Saturday, June 9th.

I get my 'manifest', or list of guests and their hotel pick-up points, by e-mail late the previous evening. The first thing I do is scan the list for surnames that reveal that their owners perhaps aren't British, or at least, probably not from the UK. I do get surprised very often, of course. After all, Here's me, a dyed-in-the-wool born-and-bred English boy with a surname like Manuel. I can't talk now, can I?

Usually, though, my guesses are spot on and, last Saturday, among more than 40 guests, were people from six different nations. I had Germans, Finnish, Russians, French, Dutch and British. Now this is what can stress me out a little. The guests usually do know that their 'escort' on the coach is English-speaking, but occasionally they either don't, or it doesn't make much difference anyway because they can't understand much more than a few words of English. 

So, I had three German couples, who I'd estimate were in their late fifties or early sixties, a Russian family consisting of husband, wife and two-year old daughter, two ladies (mother and daughter I surmised) from Finland, a couple from Normandy in France and a couple of about my age from the Netherlands. In circumstances like this I like to announce to the guests that we're a "United Nations on wheels", or maybe a 'cocktail of countries.'

Thrusting all modesty aside here, I do like it when I get a few French, or often Belgians from the French-speaking sector of their country. I get to practice my French and to explain how, once upon a time, my French was brilliant, but now, because I've learned to speak Greek, I often end up speaking 'Freek', or perhaps 'Grench'. I come out with Greek words without realising it, so I joke to my guests that they're getting not only an excursion, but a free Greek lesson into the bargain. I have to say my guests are usually graciousness itself, and thank me profusely, when they get off the coach at the end of the day, for my efforts to at least help them as best I could. Makes you feel good when people do that. Try and put yourself in their place, which is what I do try to do. I can honestly say that one of the rewards of my job is when people getting off the coach after the excursions ends shake my hand, or even (as was the case with one Russian gentleman a year or two ago who'd been on a Greek Night with me and couldn't understand a word of English) bear-hug me, in evident gratitude for what they see as a really good day or evening out.

Anyway, returning to last Saturday's Rhodes Town trip. We set out from Kiotari at around 8.10am and I check out each stop along the way in advance, to try and be ready for what's coming. As soon as I welcome the guests at the door of the bus, I ask them what country they're from. Sometimes it looks like they don't have a clue what I'm saying, yet it's amazing how often the essentials do get through. We get into town and I lead the guests into the Top Three bar for a quick explanation of the basics that they need to know, which includes how to find a few 'attractions' and the info about how we're going to gather for our return journey.

It's at this point that I make eye contact with those who may be having difficulty understanding and I invite them to have a natter, one-to-one to be sure they've got the essentials. Now and again I have to admit, I resort to whipping out the iPad and using Google Translate! On Saturday my three German couples got on at the Lindos Princess near Lardos, and it was clear to me that some of them didn't speak English, but that one or two would do OK. In such circumstances I can only hope that, since they're on holiday and ought to be in jovial (dare I say 'forgiving?') mood, those who can understand my gibberish will translate for the rest of their party. Happily, this was the case on the day in question. They were a really happy band and were effusive in their expressions of appreciation when they got off the bus at the end.

I was actually moved to say over the mic that when you get a mixed group of holidaymakers from six different countries all together, and on the way home they're all very evidently in a happy mood, it makes you realise that grass-roots people are the same the world over. We're all there with one common purpose, to enjoy some quality down-time. We all want to get on with each other. I thrilled to see, for example, that little Russian family, with their toddler, wearing Nike trainers and polo-shirts and shorts just like ours. Propaganda is trying to colour our view of people of different nationalities all the time, and we needn't think that this isn't so as much in the 'west' as it is in the 'east'. We shouldn't think we in the 'free world' are immune.

It worked out that the Russian family were the last ones to get off the coach, and we had fifteen minutes on board after all the other guests had got off before arriving at their hotel. So I made my way back along the aisle to have a chat with them. I asked them what they do for a living, and they told me that he was a project manager in the building industry and she was an office manager. They were bringing up three kids too. The older two had chosen to remain at the hotel while mum and dad took little sister to Rhodes Town for the day. 

When I asked where they lived they told me St. Petersburg. I mentioned that I'd really love to see that city, as it looks, from all the photos and video that I've seen, to be very beautiful. 

"It is" they said, "It really is. You should come. You'd like it." I sensed something behind those words. Without further prompting, the husband told me that things weren't as normal any more in Russia as they were in the Gorbachov years. There are things happening that are not so good. But what really hit home to me was that they were very anxious to stress that the people "are warm and friendly. If you come, you will be welcome. You will have a good time, really."

Reading between the lines, it was evident that they were concerned about how they were perceived abroad these days. One reads that Vladimir Putin has a very high approval rating among the Russian people. Listening to this lovely couple talk, one could be forgiven for thinking that the statistics are being massaged somewhat. When they asked me where I was from originally, and I told them the UK, it was very clear that they wanted to stress that they have no problem with the British. As so often happens, I found us agreeing that at the 'grass roots' level, people are simply people, human beings trying to get by. It's the politicians who cause all the problems, megalomaniacs that so many of them seem to become.

By the time we arrived at their hotel, I sensed a real friendship, an affinity, with them. They got off the bus and embraced me, thanking me for a really good day out. I was almost sorry that our conversation had to be brought to an end. I patted their pretty little daughter on the head and wished them a happy remainder to their holiday.

Sometimes I love my job.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Shot Away

Time I did a photo-heavy post again. Don't forget, clicking on any photo gives you a larger view. Right-clicking on that one gives you the option to open it in a new tab. When you do that, you can click for an even larger view again...

One final shot from Patmos. This was a bag from the small bakery near the harbour. I loved the name. It means "Baking Poems" when you separate the word into two components, ie. 'arto-pymata'. Put together as one word, it simply means 'Bakery' or 'bakery products'. I like that play on words. Pretty accurate too.

Another Rhodes Old Town stroll coming up then...

That sign is visible from the tables at the Odyssey Taverna and is fixed to the wall beside Romeo's, across the way. Anyone care to take a stab at what they think they mean by "Heets"?

View through an arrow-slot in the wall at Ag. Athanasios gate into the Old Town. That path below leads between the exterior of the real wall and one of the 'dummy' walls that the knights constructed to confuse invaders.

Nope, not the Old Town at all. Just goes to show, it's well worth a wander in the northern sector of the 'new' town too.

Entrance to the moat from the gate behind the Taxi rank in Mandraki. How the hell did they get those balls into that cannon? (before you write in, I AM trying to be funny! Failing miserably, as usual)

The very arrow slot that I was looking out from when I took the shot three-up from this one.

...and the actual path visible from that arrow-slot shot. It's not hard to imagine a rather hopeful army marching up here, expecting to find a way into the city, only to find that they have to turn around at the end, while a few of those huge stone balls are raining down from above, along with a few burning pitch-covered arrows for good measure. Can spoil your whole afternoon, that.

Same place, but taken from the other end. No escape.

When you get to the top end of that path, there is this tunnel through the 'dummy' wall, which gets you back out into the moat, via a courtyard where you'd once again be very vulnerable to attack from above. Plus, for an army to get through here, they'd have to resort to single file.

Taking the dark-looking tunnel beneath the wall into the Old Town from the area of the moat where you see the outdoor amphitheatre,  you emerge here, at Nafsikas Square.

Leon Rodiou Square, just metres from Nafsikas.

And finally, this shot demonstrates the lunacy of the recently enacted law banning tavernas nationwide from serving up their own, locally-produced, draft olive oil. This was my table at the lovely Filippos Taverna on Tuesday. That stupid little very un-environmentally responsible bottle of olive oil is now what law-abiding taverna owners are reduced to. This new law is entirely the doing of the big olive oil conglomerates in an attempt to boost sales. It means that tavernas that continue to place refillable bottles of oil on their tables are now risking a fine. I could go on about this for a long time, but it's an unmitigated disaster. Think of how many extra tiny plastic bottles are going into the trash as a result of this ridiculous measure. It's ostensibly to "ensure that the oil offered to diners is only of the highest quality." Balderdash. More likely it's to swell the profits of the big boys. All the local tavernas I've ever eaten in have presented their very own, fresh, extra-virgin oil to their customers. Now they have to shell out for oil from one of the big Greek oil-producing companies in these completely unnecessary plastic bottles. Money in the Government's pocket? Allegedly. And at a time when the plastic problem with the environment is finally being highlighted. Oh, I need to go and have a lie-down, I'm so livid. The world is going mad.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Authenticity (Normal Service Resumed)

As usual, I was sitting in the "Top Three Pub", as Spiros likes to call his bar, the other day, and we were chewing the fat over all the various usual topics, cruise liners whose guests swamp the Old Town occasionally, but spend very little (after all, they can eat and drink themselves to their heart's content on-board), the strange weather, the fact the All Inclusive holidays are now having a really noticeably negative effect on the bars and restaurants and their 'footfall', and thus their takings, that kind of stuff. 

Spiros also takes every opportunity to inform anyone who asks, entirely understandably I ought to add, that he is due to get his state pension next year and it will add up to not much more than €500 per month. His four children are now past university age and three of them are married. But he refers to the fact that, in days of old, before the crisis that is, grandparents here in Greece would usually bankroll their grandchildren through university. That's now an impossibility.

Spiros is a humble Greek who's spent all his working life doing just that - working - and working hard. His family, like so many here in Greece who live and work in tourist areas, works every hour God sends from late April through to around mid-November and the idea of a 'holiday', or 'vacation' to them is perhaps a trip to some other locale to stay with family during the winter months.

Yet, for his customers he always has a smile and a joke. Maria, his wife, is a homely-looking woman who nowadays begins the season already tired. She too has worked for decades and is now in her early sixties, still dragging beer kegs along the floor behind the bar and generally keeping house and home alongside all the hours she spends at work.

This extremely likeable couple can be rightly proud of their children. What I've come to understand relatively recently is the reason why they have some fiercely loyal holidaymakers and ex-pat residents at a bar which, on first glance, I probably wouldn't have considered my type at all.

Spiros has adorned the bar area with football scarves from the UK teams. Me? Football leaves me comatose. Plus, I (well, perhaps I should say 'we' as it applies to us as a couple really) usually seek out bars and restaurants that have that 'authentically Greek ambience'. You now what I mean. I admit that it's a form of elitism when you come down to it. The thing is, if I hadn't started working on excursions, I probably would never have started coming to the Top Three and thus would never have met this family. See, there are occasions when that certain 'Greek ambience', in all honesty, has been created by designers and decorators to merely give the right impression to a completely new re-fit. 

What makes an establishment 'essentially Greek' isn't the faux rendered walls and old fishing nets hanging on the walls, the pretend water-well with its distressed old chain and bucket, the huge dried fish hanging over the bar; no, what makes a place essentially Greek is the people. And you don't get more 'authentic' than Spiro and Maria.

Their three boys are all well-mannered, respectful and useful members of society. Loukas is a skilled doctor, who specialises is an area that escapes me at the moment. Kostas worked for many years in a bank, but now he and Dimitris (son no. 3) work full-time at the bar because it seems to me that, sadly, their parents won't be able to keep up their punishing schedule for very much longer. Their daughter, who often comes into the bar with her three very cute and very beautiful toddlers, is a complete stunner. She's usually in a black leotard, blonde hair tied in a pony tail and she is, trust me, a head-turner. There's no other way to say it. Her husband, too, looks like he's just stepped out of one of those posh TV ads. Small wonder that Maria and Spiro literally glow when their daughter and her kids turn up.

On Tuesday, one of my excursion guests asked Spiro: "Why do you call the bar the 'Top Three'?"

Beaming with pride, Spiros replied: "Because I have three sons and one daughter. But 'Top Three Plus One' doesn't work!"

The moral of the story? If you're looking for the 'real Greece', don't be fooled by appearances. It's the people that make it, not the trappings. And the Top Three Pub (Have to admit I still find it difficult calling it that) has authenticity in spades.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Say "I do" - if you get half a chance...

Well, we've settled back into 'normal life' after the break on Patmos and things are trundling along much as normal. I'm doing my occasional excursions to Rhodes Town from here in the south. Last year one of the sons of the family whose business I work for got married, and this year the other one is going to do so. I read somewhere recently that the Greeks believe that for two siblings to get married in the same year is bad luck. Could that perhaps have a bearing on this family's arrangements? I wondered.

Needless to say I went Googling to see if this was so. What I've discovered is that this silly belief doesn't apparently seem to be unique to Greece. There are such 'fears' in many cultures, including Hinduism in India and Buddhism in Thailand. I also found that by and large most people don't take any notice of it these days. Thank goodness that, at least in this regard, most people let common sense triumph over irrational superstition.

In the case of the lovely family I work for, when you consider that the two brothers drive coaches virtually non-stop for six months every summer season, it makes purely logical sense that they get married off-season, this already restricting their available dates considerably. I have to say that, if they are to please their Orthodox 'shepherds' many pious Greeks also avoid...

The first two weeks of August (these are devoted to the 'Virgin' Mary, wonder if she's bothered?), Lent, the 40 days before Easter, August 29, which marks the [supposed] death of John the Baptist, September 14, which is the celebration of the Exaltation of the 'Holy' Cross and any time in the 40 days leading up to Christmas.

Now, forgive me if I'm getting it wrong here, but just WHEN exactly CAN a strict orthodox Greek get married, especially if they work seven days a week from April through to the end of October? Since the older of the two brothers to whom I refer got married in the first week of December last year, and (at least so far) he and his new wife are blissfully happy, it appears that they're not so hide-bound by tradition as the more pious.

There we are. It's a funny old world. People who seem to me to be eminently 'normal' and not too 'religious' still can't pass a shrine or a church without crossing themselves. It's not a case of being judgmental, it's more a case of not seeing the logic of it. Humans tend to be pretty good at not being logical (where's Mr. Spock when you need him?). Virtually none of the myriad 'requirements' placed upon your day-to-day Greek by their all pervasive religion are based in scripture, yet the majority of Greeks seem to accept it all without question. Mind you, methinks that a lot of it is simply to keep the papas off their backs. You can't help but see the 'normalcy' evident in the lives of Christ and his followers if you read the gospels, or the book of Acts. There's no ritual, no ceremony, just a way of life based on certain teachings. Yet today so many 'Christian' religions are buried under a mound of ritual, dogma, creed, superstition, not to mention the existence of some extremely ornate edifices, which would be totally foreign to Christ were he to walk the earth today. In fact it's well known that the Greek Church is rich to the tune of five or six times the figure of the Greek international debt. And there was Christ, with nowhere to lay his head.

Interestingly, this current government has indicated that it would love to remove the influence of the church at least from the workplace, where anyone who's visited a government office will not have failed to see the ever-present icons on the walls above the fax machines and computer terminals. They're a bit hesitant to enact the legislation though. The problem for politicians, not just here, but worldwide, is votes. It's an area where democracy is weak, really. Politicians are loathe to offend a substantial religious section of their society for fear that it will lose them votes. On the other hand, in some countries, like Putin's Russia, for example, it pays the ruler to pander to the church because the church is his lapdog. Mr. Putin, by all accounts, is dead keen on the Russian Orthodox church, not because he's the least bit religious, but because they tow his party line, and thus produce grass-roots support (as if he needed it, the way his 'elections' are allegedly run). In fact he's so willing to cultivate the Orthodox 'vote' that he's recently moved to proscribe one or two non-orthodox minorities to the point of persecution, something that Mr. Gorbachov put an end to after decades of such shameful conduct by the former Soviet system. Mr Putin's done this to keep the established church on his side. They needn't think that he'll be loyal if at some time in the future he no longer sees the need, though. Freedom of religion and conscience is fast disappearing in Putin's Russia, it seems. Plus the Russian Church would do well to remember 1917.

It's so reminiscent of the religious leaders in Christ's day. One minute they loved him, the next they wanted him killed, declaring unwavering support for their Roman overlords. Just a tad capricious, eh?

All this started with me ruminating about when a Greek couple could and couldn't get married. Sometimes my brain really 'goes off on one', as they say in Wales. Needless to say, all the foregoing is merely my opinion and I have no wish to cause offence. But, if I may just once (I won't be getting into the habit, folks, don't worry) quote the Bible book of Ecclesiastes here [well, frankly it's an amazingly wise book anyway] - chapter 7 verse 9 says: "Do not let yourself be quickly provoked [lit: offended], for anger [taking offence] resides in the lap of fools.

Here endeth today's lesson!!

Tell you what. I can be as controversial as the next man if I put my mind to it!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Patmos - the Verdict

Well, we've been back now from our 18-day stay on Patmos for 16 days and counting, but the both of us wish in some ways that we were still there.

Patmos is well off the mainstream tourist trail, and for that those who visit the island can be grateful. Not that I'm decrying the 'mainstream tourist trail', but it would be a pity if all the islands in the Aegean were to become as busy as Rhodes. It's good that there are quiet havens of sanity away from the hordes, and Patmos, for me, is one of the best.

Agriolivadi Beach
The people seemed to us to be exceptionally friendly, as I've mentioned in previous posts. Their helpfulness is well illustrated by what happened when we spent the day on Agriolivadi Beach. Of course, this experience is by no means unique, but is becoming less common in the areas that have had mass tourism for decades now.

We walked to the beach from our apartment, which took about 25 minutes each way and was a pleasant amble, albeit up and down a couple of fairly 'aerobic' inclines. It's nothing that anyone who's reasonably fit can't deal with, though. When we got there we were the only ones on the beach. By the time we left, which must have been around 4.00pm, there were possibly a dozen people there. I know, it was early May after all, but the weather was wonderful and definitely in the 'taking a regular dip' category.

The sea was warm, impossibly clear and the bottom was shallow and sandy. All in all, it's the perfect beach. For a while we were joined by a sailing vessel, which slid silently into the bay, dropped its anchor with a muted clatter, and we watched as those on board set about taking a plunge and generally chilling on board in completely comatose surroundings.

Behind the beach there is a bar and taverna, both of which weren't yet open for business. There were a few men busily hammering, painting and fixing the canopy over the seated area of the bar, in preparation for their imminent official first week of the season. The women stood by and issued criticisms and commands. Next to the bar, the taverna already had its tables laid out and it all looked extremely traditional, essentially Greek and totally inviting. Apart from these two joined establishments, the backdrop is entirely rural.

After we'd been there about half an hour, we decided that if we were to be able to drink a frappé, then our paradise would be complete. So I pulled on my shorts and took a stroll over to where the men were beavering away. 

"Kali mera sas!" I said as I approached the burly-looking workers. I could see that the bar area looked pretty well set up to start functioning. A good sign. "Any chance you could fix us a couple of frappédes?" 

"No problem!" replied the youngest of the men, who must have been around thirty and had those annoyingly good looks that dark-haired young Greeks in their prime seem to ooze in abundance. His five o'clock shadow was carefully groomed and his chiseled features suggested that he'd have no problem attracting young female customers once the season got going. A few male ones too no doubt. 

He asked me how we took them and set about preparing the drinks for us. "We're not open for another week," he told me, "but anything you want, just ask. We've got beers and cold drinks in the taverna kitchen. No food though, sorry."

Full of gratitude for his accommodating nature (but it wasn't lost on me that he knew how to take the opportunity to earn an extra bob or two where the occasion arises, which is fair enough), I headed back to our umbrella with the iced coffees, which had only set me back four Euros. Now that, I felt, was a result. We were, after all, miles from anywhere. He could easily have asked me for five or six and I'd have had no choice but to pay up. In fact, we had a packed lunch with us for every eventuality, along with a chilled bottle of water, but when I headed back into the taverna a couple of hours later, he was there to serve me up a chilled bottle of Mythos and a cold can of tonic for the better half, and those two also cost me only four Euros. And it was a 500ml Mythos too.

The above illustrates something that we were surprised to find, in view of the fact that Patmos is quite 'select', if you like, and that was that the food and drink prices, generally, were cheaper than here on Rhodes. There were, of course, a couple of upmarket restaurants where one could empty one's wallet or bank balance with much more despatch, but choosing the more traditional tavernas (which we always do) and bars, we were able to eat out, including a half-litre of the house wine most nights, for well under €30 a pop. Well under. Most nights too we partook of a nightcap, which was a quintuple (they never measure!) Mastiha, for which we paid the princely sum of €3.50 each.

No doubt, you'll agree with me that the accommodation is a huge factor in how much one enjoys one's holiday. Well I can heartily recommend Suzanna Studios of you like to stay 'small and friendly'. I found her by Googling 'Patmos accommodation'. Suzanna (who spells her name Soza/Souzana in her emails) is a widow in her forties. We learned how she'd lost her husband, but it's not something she wants to see discussed. She lives on the premises with her teenage daughter and the whole atmosphere from the moment you arrive is comfy and welcoming. She showed us to our apartment, which had a wonderful view from the very adequate balcony and we were very impressed with the cleanliness. It's not in particularly modern taste, but that adds to the traditional charm of the place. Oh, and she met us from the ferry in her car to take us to the house, plus she took our cases back to the port for us when we left, we having chosen to walk along to the square for a final drink before our 1.30pm departure on the day we left.

If one were inclined to self-cater, everything is there. There's a very extensive crockery and glasses collection, well stocked cutlery/utensil drawer, a microwave-combi oven, a toastie-maker, a kettle, a fridge-freezer and a couple of electric rings. There was also a hair-dryer in the hallway near the bathroom. In fact, one could live there, it was that well equipped. Oh, and a filter coffee machine (the type with the glass jug on the warmer) too.

Overall, the accommodation added hugely to our enjoyment of the visit. But in general, as I probably said in a previous post, whatever I've looked for in a Greek island we found there. Next year, although it would by tradition be our year to go back to the UK for a visit, we're very, very tempted to simply hop on the Dodekanisos Express again and go back to Patmos for another helping.

Ah well, back to reality...

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Whatever gets You Through

The weary walkers arrive home...

Just down the lane from our accommodation in Patmos, was an old single-storey cottage, in fact we looked out over its roof from our balcony. The kitchen door was just a couple of metres from the wooden gate leading into the 'avli' and each time we passed on our way either in or out, if the hour was right, old Chrissie (Chrisanthoula), a sweet and evidently once very pretty ya ya, would be sitting right beside the gate, her back to the house wall, walking frame parked before her, passing the daylight hours in frequent contemplation.

Once or twice, as we passed, her daughter and granddaughter were spending a few minutes with her, the tot "Chrissie" (named, of course, after her ya ya) toddling around while her mother and grandmother kept a watchful eye in case she fell over. Chrissie's daughter lived right across the lane from her mother, who we concluded must have been getting on for forty when she gave birth to her last daughter, the one in question. 

Chrissie's chair and her front door

It was a rare occasion that we passed and we didn't smell something delicious being cooked in Chrissie's kitchen. Although she had a walking frame and, to us looked quite frail, she told us that she'd only been provided with the frame in the past few months, after she'd had a fall in the house. It was a constant source of frustration to her as she didn't see herself as 'old' at all. She'd often be in the process of sweeping up the bougainvillea and oleander petals on the concrete floor of the avli with a long-handled brush and a sawn off plastic oil bottle for a dustpan, shuffling her frame along as she did so. She was nothing if not determined to keep going.

Once or twice, as we passed, she expressed frustration at not being able to negotiate the steps outside her gate without help and thus not being in a position to sweep up the dried leaves that would gather on them. So we'd set to and did the job for her, all the while with Chrissie saying 

"I'm so ashamed. I'm so ashamed, to be asking you to do this. I should be able to do it myself". 

Our response was always, "Not at all. It's no bother. In fact it's a privilege."

On the morning of the day before we were due to travel home to Rhodes, as we strolled down the lane, she not only greeted us with a 'kalimera', but she asked if we'd come in and share a drink with her. Although we were dead keen to get to the Petrino Bar in the square near the harbour for the penultimate time, we felt it only polite to accept, and so allowed her to lead us into the house. The interior was as one would expect it to be when the resident was around 80 and probably older. Lots of framed, faded old photos on the walls, from which glared serious-looking bridal parties, men in uniform and religious icons. You never smiled for a photo back in the thirties and forties in Greece. Maybe it had something to do with the kind of life people here were living at the time.

Pouring us a cold glass of water each and proffering a dish of her home-made koulourakia, she began to tell us a little about her memories. Yes, this house had been in her family since probably the century before last. Her parents, though, had brought her into the world in a cottage just beside the lane which leads over the hill to Meloi Beach. We'd passed that cottage, it's derelict today. If walls could talk, eh?

Prompted by a few questions from us, she related tales of military helicopters, deafening explosions from bombs, and prison camps. She told of executions and living off whatever they could scavenge from the land after the Nazis had confiscated all the crops that the locals had grown. When we referred to Agrialivadi Beach, she said all she could see in her mind's eye of that beach was the prison camp behind it, where locals were often taken, some of which were never to return to the village. She said that the occupiers at one time slaughtered all the domestic animals to feed the troops, leaving the locals with nothing to live on but the weeds they could gather from the fields and roadsides. She related, with tears in her eyes, about the time when the Germans blew up the fishing boats in the bay, right below where we were sitting and listening that very moment. Local fishermen lost their entire livelihoods in a huge bang that resounded around the hillsides surrounding the bay, and as she related this account she closed her eyes, saying that it was as though it had been yesterday. All that remained were charred splinters sticking out above the surface of the water.

She went on to explain how her father had tried to support the family after the Italians, then the Germans, had stripped the island of its resources, by growing sweet potatoes. Fortunately, when we asked her about the Greek civil war of 1945-49, she said it hadn't really reached these islands, remaining concentrated on Crete and the Greek mainland. Small mercies.

After we'd listened, spellbound, for probably around twenty minutes, we sensed that it was time to leave her to her thoughts. She was evidently exhausted from reliving her memories from all those years go, and we knew that she'd make no objection if we were to tell her thanks, but we'd best be going. So that's what we did, and she showed us out, wishing us a very good day and saying she hoped we'd be able to do it again.

Chrissie's generation is, of course, fast dying out. She must have been born, we guessed, during the 1930's. She'd lost siblings and neighbours in a brutal war when she was only a young child. Yet she looked out from those eyes with a gleam of contentment. Loss, yes, but not bitterness. Like most of her generation, of course, she's very religious, to the point of subjectivity. Despite all the island had suffered, despite all she'd been through, she said on several occasions, 

"But, we have protection. Saint John protects us. This is the island of St. John the Theologian. We're blessed."

I couldn't help thinking, for all the respect that I have for this remarkable old lady, what worse terrors could they have endured, before they decided that they perhaps didn't have this assumed protection? Maybe that's the point. It's not really if it's real or not. It may just be what gets you through.