Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Your Stop

Christos is a bus driver. I've known him for probably seven or eight years now and, during the summer, he's to be seen piloting one of the more modern single decker buses that ply the island's roads, up and down from Rhodes Town in the far north to as far south as Plimiri. I always know when it's Christos' bus, because plastered all over the side is a huge advert for the Water Park, complete with ten-foot high bikini-clad girl waving her arms as she sits on the shoulders of a hunky bloke and the two of them express in actions just how splendid is the experience of getting soaked to the skin whilst also being scared witless.

Christos is probably about fifty and he likes to talk. He's not at all, though, to be confused with those folk who like the sound of their own voice. You know the types, always dominating the conversation because they have far too much to say about any topic you care to raise, and often brooking no argument with their point of view. No, Christos talks out of exuberance and enthusiasm. I'm pretty good at understanding Greeks when they speak to me these days, even bearing in mind that most of those I see on a regular basis have local accents. Christos, however, speaks - as we used to say in the West Country in the UK - 'fifteen to the dozen". In other words, he's so desperate to get it all out that he slurs his words together big time, and all too often I find myself asking him to slow down or repeat himself when we're having a one-to-one conversation. It's the measure of his nature though that this never seems to annoy him.

So, the reason why I mention Christos is because he's always full of amusing anecdotes from his experiences as a bus driver, especially during the tourist season. And I want to pass on to you one particular experience that had a group of us clutching our sides with laughter recently.

A couple of Fridays back we had occasion to go out as a group of fourteen, comprising of husbands, wives and a couple of singles, to a pizza restaurant that's entirely new to me. Frankly, I'd never have found it if we hadn't been going out with Greek friends, most of whom live in Rhodes Town, because the restaurant is not in the centre of town, but rather on the periphery, in what could best be described as residential suburbia. If you're on Rhodes (or are going to be) this may help you find it...


The red spot pinpoints the location of Crusty Gourmet Pizza.

If you know Rhodes at all, then you'll know that driving into town on the 'kentriko dromo', or 'main road' from Lindos to Town, you eventually come downhill to the traffic lights at Rodini Park, then along a tree-lined street that's sprinkled with various business premises and private apartment blocks. This street is often where you end up bumper-to-bumper, especially in the season at busy times. After a few hundred metres on that road you reach the next set of lights, where you can either go right or straight on, but you can't go left up Ethnikis Antistaseos, which is one way, as you can only come from the other direction.

Go straight on and eventually you reach a large crossroads, shown on the map as Πλ. Μαρτύρων. There are traffic lights here too. Take a right here and it's a few hundred metres along on the left hand side.

Before I come to Christos' story, I ought to say how good our meal was at the Crusty Gourmet Pizza restaurant. We received a selection of complimentary food and drinks and the pizza my wife and I ordered was one of the best we've ever eaten. We ordered the one called Pizza Vegetasty (if my memory is correct). I can highly recommend it, as it seriously competes with the other best pizzas we've ever eaten, which were in Pizzadelia on the island of Naxos (check out this post too).

Anyway, as the atmosphere of bonhomie prevailed after we'd all eaten aplenty and imbibed a little retsina or a few beers, as the restaurateur gave each and every one of us a free Mastika to sip as a digestif, Christos got everyone's attention, not for the first time during the evening.

"Not long ago," he began, "I was loading up at the bus station in Rhodes, the bus was going to be full right from the start, and I was going on this occasion as far as Gennadi, before turning around and heading back to town. Tourists were still around in great numbers and one in particular grabbed my attention, as he appeared to be on his own and a little the worse for drink. If he'd been aggressive or noisy, of course, I wouldn't have let him on to the bus anyway, but he seemed quite harmless, if a little unsteady on his feet.

As he bought his ticket for Arhangelos he asked with some degree of anxiety, 'You will let me know when we get to Arhangelos won't you? I won't have a clue otherwise.'

I assured him that I have a microphone and I announce over the vehicle's tannoy when we get to each and every stop. So I said he had no need to worry, because he'd hear me say when we got to the centre of the village of Arhangelos and then he'd know to get off the bus. That seemed to satisfy his worry and off he went to find a seat.

I set out and of course I had to pass through Faliraki, Afandou, Kolymbia, then Arhangelos, before heading on down to Malona, Massari, Kalathos, Lindos, Lardos, Kiotari and finally Gennadi, which would be the terminus for this run, and arrival there would be some two hours after leaving Mandraki.' 

If you've ever used the buses on Rhodes, you'll know that there are a few variations to this route, sometimes taking in Pefkos and Pilona, for example, and sometimes not, plus the bus has to turn off the main road and go into the centre of each village en route, which is why it takes twice as long as the trip would take in a car to reach Gennadi in the south.

Anyway, allowing Christos to continue with his story:

"I quite forgot about this man who was worried that he'd miss getting off at Arhangelos as the bus was so busy with people getting on and off. But then, I do announce every stop, so surely he'd hear. For most of the trip this time around I was almost full. Only when I got to Lardos and began to head south to Kiotari did I see the passenger numbers thinning out and, to my horror, looking in my mirror I could see that half-way down the bus there was this chap, snoring away with his head resting against the window, still on board, way south of where he wanted to be.

What ought I to do? If I woke him up then and there he might be be mad with me. Maybe he would lose it and cause a scene. And I could hardly put him off the bus here, with him not having any idea where he was. So I thought, 'I know, I'll let him sleep and see what happens.'

I got all the way to Gennadi, where I have to park up and wait for ten minutes before starting the route back towards Rhodes Town. I went for a pee, got myself a frappé and still he slept on. I could only hope he'd stay that way for another hour or so yet.

As luck would have it, he was still asleep when I turned on to the road leading into Arhangelos village on the return leg, probably now at least two hours after we'd passed through here on the way down. When I got to the centre of the village, I announced extra loudly over the tannoy: "ARHANGELOS! ARHANGELOS!!"

Would you believe it, but he didn't stir. So I had to open the door to my little driver's cubbyhole and go back to shake him by the shoulder. He came around, slightly dazed, and I pointed out of the window and said, "Arhangelos! This is it!"

He got up, thanked me with a vigorous handshake and made his way to the door. By the time I was back behind the wheel, he'd drawn level with me on the pavement and then gave me a cheerful wave and a thumbs-up as I pulled away. He seemed well satisfied that I'd done as he asked and made sure he got off at the right place.

I never was to know if he ever wondered why it took him so long to get there though!"

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Good, the Bad, and the Broccoli

Not so long ago I wrote a post about how sometimes it all goes right. It had to do with the fact that every time we need to make an expedition to Rhodes Town, we go there with a list of things that we need to get done and usually return home with half of them unaccomplished, for various reasons. I've just been trawling through the posts for the past year or so and do you think I can find that post? 

Ah, well, there you go. I do remember, though, waxing lyrical about how we'd returned home on that occasion floating on air with the fact that we'd been able to tick off everything on the list and could hardly believe the fact that we'd had a successful sortie.

Thus, it was with a degree of optimism that we set out on Tuesday, February 13th, once again with a formidable list of things to do, thinking that it ought to be a successful day, ...didn't it?

I had received recently a couple of letters from the Greek Tax Authorities informing me of a fairly substantial rebate to which I was due, from tax that had been taken a few years ago. I'd given up all hope of ever seeing that cash again, when, well - whaddayah know - these flimsy NCR letters turned up bearing the good tidings. At the bottom of each letter it informed me that all I needed to do was to drop by the Tax Office in town and they'd be happy to send me packing with a wad of cash in my palm. Great!

I also wanted to drop into the Skoda dealership and see if I could order a new set of floor mats for the car. See, I'm that irritating kind of bloke who likes to try and keep his car in pristine condition. Thus, when one of the round, plastic, popper-type-doobries that anchors the mat to its fixed position on the floor and prevents it riding up under the pedals (yeah, see, you've been there, haven't you?) breaks apart and bits come off it, I don't sit comfortably with that. Plus, the driver's side mat that features a rigid plastic rectangle, you know, the bit that gets all the wear from your heels while you're working the pedals, is now cracked and curled and catches on my heel while I'm driving. Can't be doing with that. And I'm afraid I just don't do that whole "buy a set of mats anywhere, the 'universal' type that fits all models" philosophy. Once you get a set of those in the car it's frustration city, plus it makes you feel that your car's getting on a bit. Mine may be a 2011 model, but it's still shiny and new-looking, and me and the better half work long and hard to put up a strong defence against the rigours of the one-kilometre-long dusty and occasionally muddy lane that we have to drive up and down every time we go out.

Going on a bit there wasn't I? Sorry, but anyway, on our list was this quick visit to the dealership to see about the mats. Also on the list was the need to visit the main Post office in Mandraki Harbour to send off two packages, one to Ohio, USA and the other to Melbourne, Australia. Plus I had a letter containing a boring form about tax numbers and the like that needed returning to my UK Bank as well. There were a couple of other items too, and the compulsory visit to a café for a coffee and a serious people-watching session.

Our accountant's office is in Kalathos and we drive right past it about 15 km after leaving home. There was just this outside chance that he'd be in there at 10 o'clock of a morning and, if he had been, it would have been worth our dropping in and asking him about the tax rebate. After all, in years past he'd arranged for tax that had been taken wrongly to be paid back directly into our Greek bank account. If he'd been there on Tuesday morning and agreed to do that again, it would of course have eliminated the need for me to go to the Tax Office in town. He wasn't. All the vertical blinds across his posh glass door were closed. Should have realised, that was a sign that all would not go according to plan.

Never mind, we proceeded north towards town, a cheery mood prevailing. First stop, forty minutes up the road would be the Skoda dealership's parts department. 

Now, I'm sure I'll strike a chord with anyone on the planet who's ever gone to the parts department of a car dealership when I say that one very quickly loses the will to live after entering such a place. I know exactly how Dante felt, I can assure you. As I pulled up outside and stepped out of the car, the beloved having decided to wait there, a smart young chap with a black polo shirt bearing the Skoda logo on his right breast was just seeing someone off and he followed me inside. I approached the desk, kind of expecting this chap to catch my eye and offer to help me with my requirements. No such luck. As I took in the familiar organised (and, of course, dusty) chaos that now surrounded me, I saw that there was one chap already leaning on the chest-high counter, mobile phone and bank debit card in his hands as he tapped them absently on the counter surface, and one older guy behind the counter, doing his best to stare at a monitor to avoid eye contact with anyone who may be considered a customer.

The bloke before me remained like that for a good fifteen minutes, during which time the older fella behind the counter never once acknowledged his existence. The younger chap I'd entered with soon disappeared at the back of the store behind racks of shelving stacked with all kinds of boxes presumably containing stuff that had been ordered back in the day when they actually served customers, and was soon lost in the bowels of the building. I never saw him again and began to consider him as a figment of my over-enthusiastic imagination.

All the while I stood there nothing happened, except for one stocky, middle-aged Greek fella who pulled up outside in a tired looking Octavia, strode in and exchanged a joke or two with the fella at the monitor, looked at me with a huge "Aren't we all having fun" kind of grin and promptly left again, just before I was ready to interject with an "Excuse me, but we were here first". After twenty minutes of this I turned and walked out, having decided that the other apparent 'customer' might well have been a waxwork placed there to make it look like someone needed serving before me and thus persuade me that there was no point in actually expecting to be served any time during the next week or so.

As I slid back behind the steering wheel, the beloved looked my way anxiously, and asked, "Everything OK? You took long enough. Did they have to order them?" My response took the form of a facial expression that she interpreted perfectly. We have been married for quite a few decades, after all.

Right, then. Now, at this point let me say - I am not in the least superstitious. I don't believe in luck or fate and I wouldn't think that my box if I were a contestant on "Deal, or No Deal" [and why on earth would I be?] must contain the €60,000 merely because it was my favourite number, or the date of the cat's birthday or anything like that.

Yet we did drive away from the Skoda garage and off in the direction of the Tax Office with a degree of pessimism, I must admit. 

Across the road from the Tax Office there is a store that my sweetie loves. It's even called "Joy", would you believe? It sells all kinds of lifestyle things at very attractive prices. Thus, as we parked up by the kerb and I got out clutching my file containing every legal paper that I've ever been handed since first coming the Greece in 2005 (you can't go into a Government Office here without all of it. You can guarantee that the one A4 photocopy you left at home will be the one they need from you), she made for the front door of Joy with a "You'll  manage OK, won't you darling?"

Seems like I'd have to. The front doors of the Tax Office block, south of the new marina in Rhodes, are all glass and so dirty that you could be forgiven for thinking that the building had been abandoned. If it weren't for the steady stream of people going in and out, up and down the front steps, you'd conclude that you'd come to the wrong place. Once inside the dimly lit foyer, that sense of the place being an unused remnant from a bygone age is further intensified. There are roller blinds tightly closed over counters that haven't been used in decades it seems. But, over in one corner was this obese bloke, sitting at a small table with the most important piece of equipment any Greek needs, a half-consumed frappé, resting on it, and little else. He looked my way and so I thought I'd ask him where I needed to go to see about a tax rebate.

"Second floor," he told me, pointing towards the corridor that led to the stairs. Oh well then, maybe this would be a tick in the 'plus' column by the time we were heading home later in the day after all. I bounded up the stairs, passing people who all looked like they'd experienced a bereavement coming in the other direction, confident that whatever piece of paper, document or permit that they asked me for I'd be able to whip out and place triumphantly before them, and arrived at the floor I needed. There was the familiar gaggle of forlorn local residents, all clutching wads of papers and looking terminally resigned to having to spend most of their day in this place.

So I asked a helpful looking lady, "Excuse me, which counter deals with tax rebates, please?"

Wait for it, wait for it! Yes, you've guessed it, her reply was: "Oh they aren't issuing rebates today. In fact looks like not for the whole week. the computer system's down."

So much for an unexpected windfall resulting a a session of gay abandon in the sales in town a little later on. I won't even go down the road of discussing what my better half said when I caught up with her between the fake oil paintings and the multi-coloured scatter cushions inside 'Joy".

You know what, though? Despite the setbacks described above, the day didn't turn out all bad. For instance, I didn't have to wait longer than ten minutes in the Post Office and we were able to stroll through a very quiet Old Town for a while...




Looks beautiful doesn't it? Actually it is, or rather would be, were it not for the fact that at this time of the year you can't walk the Old Town without a flaming scooter, moped or motorbike zipping past you literally every thirty seconds. You almost need a face mask to deal with the two-stroke exhaust. I had to work fast to snap those two shots without a scooter being in one of them. You even get residents bringing their cars along some of these streets, their door mirrors missing the side walls by millimetres. When that happens you have to find a doorway to step into to avoid involuntarily hitching a lift on someone's bonnet (hood, guys, hood).

I think the general tenor of the day was wearing off on me.

We eventually got home in the late afternoon, unloaded all the shopping and got the kettle on for a good cup of Earl Grey and the day took a turn for the better in two ways. Firstly, The missus said to me, "Look, you're always banging on about how you can get anything on line. How come you haven't Googled 'car accessories' for a Greek company that sells Skoda Fabia car mats?"

I was soon sipping my tea and dunking my digestive while typing "Patakia Skoda Fabia 2011" into Google.gr. 'Patakia' is what they call car mats here in Greece, but then you'd worked that out hadn't you? You have to be careful though, insert an extra a or t and you end up with 'patatakia', which means potato crisps (OK, chips guys). Within minutes I'd messaged a company that had a huge range of accessories, including some very attractive and competitively priced bespoke mats for our car. By the time darkness fell I 'd heard back from them, ordered a set of mats and been told that they'd be arriving in a few days, when I could pay the courier. What a result! Her indoors always loves it when I don't pay in advance, 'More peace of mind' she says. All in all - perfect.

Plus, I'd emailed my accountant about the tax rebate issue. I asked him if he'd be able to get the rebate paid back into the bank, as I mentioned earlier. I'll call him to follow that up in a day or two, since he rarely replies to my emails. I know he gets them, because he always tells me so when he sees me. He just can't bring himself to write back, that's all.

The icing on the cake of a day that had been in part both good and bad, was that my wife made her very own wholemeal-base organic vegetarian pizza (with vegan cheese!) for tea. It was scrumptiousness personified. One of the vegetables she used on it was our very own broccoli that I'd picked early that morning...



Now THAT my friends is a huge success story for me. I've tried growing broccoli on several occasions in the past and each time failed spectacularly. No sooner had they grown to around two or three inches, they were eaten to death by caterpillars or covered in a silky web, full of little black things, no bigger than a full stop, that moved. This time I made up my mind to go and inspect the plants every couple of days and to follow the advice given by the excellent Monty Don on the UK TV series "Gardener's World", who says 'pinch the caterpillars off by hand whenever you see them.' They're horribly gooey when you crush them between your fingers, but you can wash your hand afterward after all.

Plus, when I saw that silky-web-like stuff making a start at covering the tiny flowerheads, I literally ran my fingers all over them to rub it all off. The rewards though? Look at that photo. I've never been so over the moon about anything I've grown* in my entire life!

Yup, a lot went wrong yesterday. But all in all, some things went very right too. So, well, can't complain, can I?

(*Well, maybe excepting my beard, rather than bumfluff I mean)

Finally, last Saturday we were in Pefkos, so I took these to show just how spectacular the anemones have been this year (Plus one shot of a view that Pefkos regulars may recognise)...





Sunday, 11 February 2018

Four Candles

Anyone from the UK who's old enough will well remember a classic comedy sketch from the 1970's by the Two Ronnies, where Ronnie Barker walks into a very old-fashioned ironmongers/hardware/general store and proceeds to inadvertently wind up the shopkeeper (played by Ronnie Corbett) whilst all the time looking bemused at the fact that his requests are persistently confusing and hence misunderstood. If you've never seen this sketch, you can remedy that right now by clicking HERE.

Now, having acquainted yourself with that kind of store, you can imagine to some degree what it's like to go shopping at the DIY store in the village of Gennadi, four km south of us. The store is run by a couple who must be approaching retirement age, or else they look a lot older than they are. Maria and Pandelis are both what I would describe as 'portly' in shape and both would slot more seamlessly into a kafeneion scene, maybe a bakery, rather than a DIY/building materials store that's attempting to supply the locals with all the latest in u-bends, electrical appliances, paints, varnishes, brushes, saws and a whole host of other stuff in similar vein.

When you enter the store from the slightly bumpy, gravelled parking area out front you are immediately struck by how abundantly stocked it is. I have often remarked to Pandeli, as he's trotted off along one of the narrow aisles between very high racks of screws, locks, hinges and electrical fittings, in search of a specific varnish that I've requested, that I am always amazed that he can find his way around in there. I keep expecting to find customers with several days' growth of beard still wandering around in the bowels of the place, wondering if they'll ever see the light of day again.

Everywhere you look there is chaos, although exhibiting just enough order to enable Pandelis to find that specific can of paint, or size of wood-screw that I've asked him for. He'll often be serving three or four people at once, because, if there's one thing the Greeks don't do, it's wait patiently for the customer before them to be leaving the store contentedly before they declare what they've come in for. I've lost count of the number of times I've been half-way through my modest little list, with Pandelis all the while trotting off in this direction or that, soon to become invisible behind rack after rack of dusty packaging and cardboard boxes, frequently with their contents spilling out either on the floor or the shelf next to them, when some local farmer or builder has walked in, bellowed Pandeli's name and caused him to return to the desk and greet this newly arrived client.

Many of these folk seem to have the idea that, since perhaps they only want a few fittings for the plumbing job they're doing, or a few metres of green curtain screening for the protection of some fruit trees, I won't mind in the least waiting while Pandelis breaks off from serving me and sorts out their requirements first.

Despite the huge amount of stock he has in there, he invariably can't find exactly what I'm asking for either. Over the years that we've lived here, I've needed to varnish our wooden garden furniture, or the gable-ends of the car ports (both ours and the landlords' on their side of the property) on lots of occasions. Each time I've run out of varnish, I've gone to see Pandeli with the now empty old tin, so as to be sure to get the same brand and finish, maybe tint, again, only to come away with an entirely different brand name that he's assured me is much better that the one I bought (from him) before, and will without doubt do the same job.

He'll bid me follow him as he strides down a congested aisle to the racks that contain wood varnish, where he'll start picking up tin after tin, reading the lids or labels to see if it's gloss or matt, tinted or clear, water-based or the kind that requires the use of white spirit or even thinners to clean the brushes after the job's done. He'll swear blind that he has the right stuff in stock, and in all fairness, sometimes does, but often I'll end up saying, "OK we'll leave that and go to the next item on my list", after he's promised to order some in, and assured me that it would be there in a day or two. 

The last time I visited was to obtain a selection of fittings for the irrigation system in the garden. He keeps all the plastic compression fittings down in the basement, where these days he doesn't generally suggest that his clients follow. He'll listen while I tell him, for example, that I want six straight fittings with shut-off taps in them, six simple straights for joining lengths of plastic pipe together and a few right-angled elbows. I listen as he patters off down the stairs, after throwing a switch on the wall at ground level to turn on the lights down below. Then, as I peruse the selection of fishing accessories and long-life lightbulbs that adorn the area around the desk where he keeps the till, I'll hear his voice as he curses and rattles cardboard box after cardboard box in his search for the fittings I've asked for. I'll hear him declare with excitement, "Ah see? There you are! I knew you were here somewhere." Then he'll count out the number I need and eventually re-emerge at the top of the stairs, just about managing to hold on to a clutch of black and blue PVC fittings that are slightly too bulky for even his large hands to keep a hold of.

I often walk into the store to see no one around anywhere. Maria is not behind the till and Pandeli doesn't answer when I call. The till (cash register) is three or four metres from the permanently-open sliding front door and yet there is never any worry about security. On occasions like this I'll drift through the store to the second 'showroom' area to the far right, which is piled high with 40 litre tubs of emulsion paint, and the pair of them will be seated at the table they keep in there, chomping on their macaroni lunch, their small scrubbing brush of a dog keeping them company.

"Ach, kalos to!" They'll exclaim, making no attempt to get up from the modest table, but rather will ask after my wife and how things are going generally, fully expecting that I'll of course want to wait until they finish their meal before getting up to serve me.

What is really good about their store, is the fact that they continually surprise me with what odd items I can get in there. My chainsaw, for example, is now over a decade old and I've been through a few chains in that time. Now, though, the guide-bar needs replacing and I was fretting over the possible need to drive to the chainsaw specialists at Malona, some 20 k north, where in all probability they'd have to order one the right size for my saw, thus necessitating a couple of trips. So, the other day, while I was in Pandeli's, I thought I may as well ask. "No problem," he replied, and off he went whistling an old bouzouki tune, only to return five minutes later with two different sized bars, to see which one would hopefully fit the saw, which I'd taken with me just in case.

As it happened, he had several sizes, but not the one I needed.

"I'll order it this afternoon," he told me. This was a week ago last Friday. "Couple of days, it'll be here." 

"Great," I told him, and left, intending to return the following Wednesday, to be sure that the bar would had arrived. So I returned as promised, waited fifteen minutes while Maria, seated at the counter as she was this time, called out on several occasions, "Pandeli!! Exei cosmos!!" [Pandeli! There are people! The word 'cosmos' can mean a crowd, crowded, people, customers, in fact any time when a group of people from just two or three to maybe hundreds needs describing]. 

By the time he appeared from the darkest depths of the basement, with an old codger in tow, there were three of us all standing around studying the pond-pumps, electrical extension leads and secateurs while we waited. Eventually he beamed his disarming smile at me and I asked, "Has my part arrived?"

"Oh, no," he replied, "Not yet. I ordered it yesterday though, Should only be a day or two."

It was there and then that I realised for the first time that I'd never had his telephone number. Working hard to conceal my frustration, I asked if I could have one of his business cards, so that I could call before possibly making a wasted trip next time. By this time his wife Maria had waddled off somewhere and he began rummaging around behind the counter.

"Where did she put those cards? I saw them, I know I did!" he grumbled. Eventually, I suggested that he simply write the number on a scrap of paper for me, since I'd now been there for approaching half an hour.

"Right, good idea," he replied. "Got a pen?"

The thing is, despite the occasional frustration, the both of them are such nice people. They invariably suggest I pay them another time if we have a problem over change. They always tot up my purchases in their heads, or on a scrap of paper and invariably round it down. They do, I must point out though (walls have ears, after all) give me a printed till receipt.

Anyway, better get my next list written out. Now then, what do I need? Oh yes, fork handles...

[Incidentally, although the sketch to which I supplied the link at the top of this piece has often been voted the UK's favourite comedy sketch, my personal favourite from the Two Ronnies is this one.]

Monday, 5 February 2018

Time on Her Hands

Once we get past the pagan festivities and the new year, the winter seems to ebb away all too quickly for us. We still have a list of people we wanted to drop in on, places to go for walks, plants to go searching for at garden centres, and the weeks are rolling by in the accelerating run-up to the new season.

This winter's been an amazing one for the anemones. Here's a shot taken in our friend's kitchen yesterday...

 
And they're past their best now too.


In the background you can just make out some sprigs of almond blossom too. 

We've been doing one of our favourite walks that can be done from the house at least once a week lately, it's the route we call the "Princess Sun". We head up the hill behind the house, down through a small area of forest, through a few ancient olive groves and up past a small solar energy farm, which is tucked into the landscape in such a way as to be virtually invisible from most angles.

Emerging on to the upper dirt road from Kiotari to Asklipio, we head downhill and often spot deer as we pass through countryside that now and again resembles parts of the New Forest in the South of England. Eventually, after a sweeping descent with spectacular views across the bay toward Pefkos, and down into steeply forested valleys either side of us, we pass the entrance to the "Princess Sun" Hotel and drop down a steep hill to the main road in Kiotari, where there are a couple more hotels and a small shopping centre. After a few hundred metres of main road we once again strike off up a dirt track and finally, after passing the allotment containing the olive grove of our old friend Agapitos and the water reservoir that services the immediate area, we arrive back at our own front gates after almost exactly one hour's brisk walking. 

On this walk we often spot a variety of birds of prey, deer (as mentioned above), plus a respectable number of species of smaller birds too. Plus, there will always be a few goats here and there along the way. It's a walk we can only do during the winter months, because it's simply too hot during the summer, plus we don't usually have the time then either.

There are various spots along this walk too where there are sources of dead wood that we can chainsaw and lug back home for the log-burner. It's fairly easy for us to keep our wood-store well-stocked, a fact which we deeply appreciate. The pleasure we get from such walks is immeasurable, and well illustrates why we so love the winter months here. What's really sad though, is how the system we live in has tended to grind a lot of people down to the point where they now only live to serve their masters during the tourist season.

I can illustrate the point by referring to a conversation we had just last week with an Albanian woman friend who lives in Gennadi. Valantina is probably in her early fifties and has a couple of almost-grown-up kids and a husband. Like most Albanians living here, she works during the summer season as a hotel chambermaid, which means that seven days a week, from some time in April until the end of October, she's at work for 8.00am and finishes at around 3.00pm. During the season it's all she can do to drag herself home, cook a meal and fall into bed, before rising again for the next of a long succession of days during which she doesn't really have an existence as a functioning human being with choices, a social life, some leisure time.

She can just about remember what her husband looks like by the time the season's half-way through. She also has her ancient mother-in-law living in the cramped apartment with them, a diminutive, leathery-complexioned old lady who dresses perpetually in black (exactly like a Greek ya ya in fact) and doesn't speak any Greek. It probably wouldn't make much difference if she did, because she's almost stone deaf now anyway. The old woman spends her days sitting either in a rickety old chair just outside the front door, which is never closed during the summer, on a similar chair in the sparse kitchen, or lying down on the very austere looking sofa in their utilitarian 'lounge'.

We dropped by to see Valantina last week and expressed our pleasure at the spare time we enjoy to go out for coffee, or for long walks during the mild winter months. My wife, in fact, expecting some agreement from Valantina, expressed her feeling that, right now, she doesn't look forward to starting work for the season again. In my wife's case that can mean as early as late February or early March, when their small team of cleaners will begin to 'open-up' the villas they care for by giving them a post-winter spruce up and getting all the bed linen laid. there will be a selection of dead 'livestock' (insect life mainly) liberally scattered around the floors and windows that needs clearing and all the glass and blinds need washing after months of dust build-up. The sun-loungers will need getting out of storage and the parasols installed around the pool terraces.

OK, so my better half doesn't usually work more than four days in any one week, and then it's quite often short days, maybe from 10am until 2.30pm, maybe 3.00. But the thought of having to curtail our gardening, our walks and our frequent coffees-out doesn't appeal. The prospect of not having so much time to indulge in one of her greatest pleasures, the luxury of flopping out on the sofa with a filter coffee, digestive biscuit and a good book isn't one she wants to entertain right now. But the inevitable march of time means that the first day back at work looms large.

We both expected Valantina to agree, and yet her response was what got me thinking about how far she and so many like her have come from being able to function as human beings with choices. What I mean is, she replied that she was bored. She didn't actually like having time on her hands. She was restless to go back to work. There was only so much cleaning and cooking that she could do at this time of the year and the rest of each day stretched before her like an emptiness that she doesn't know how to fill any more. 

When we'd left, we found ourselves talking over the fact that this woman no longer has what could be called a life of her own. Like so many people, the system has beaten out of her any capacity for taking time out for herself, for taking up a hobby or doing anything purely for the pleasure of it. She exists as a 'prole' (remember Orwell's 1984?), a cog in the machine that services the industry that allows relatively wealthier people from other countries to come here for their two weeks in the sun each summer and be 'serviced', ie. waited on hand-foot and finger, for the duration. I'm not blaming the tourists. The fact is, we are all victims of this strange system that has turned many poorer people into nothing more than robots comprised of flesh and blood. 

The whole concept to Valantina of being able to enjoy reading a novel, of walking in the countryside whilst enjoying the view, of strolling along to the café-bar for a morning coffee in the sunshine, or moseying down to the beach and enjoying taking the sea air while skimming stones - all such things have been beaten out of her. Once she's cleaned and cooked, she's programmed to want to be at work. That's all that her brain can compute. Thus, for her, the winter drags by until she can get back into that treadmill that means she doesn't have to think for herself, she just functions as part of the great tourist industry machine and knows no better any more. She hates the monotony of it, yet can't now adjust to anything else.

Tell you what though, visiting such people is great therapy. It really makes us appreciate the fact that we do have choices, we do have a social life and we can enjoy a variety of fulfilling pursuits. 

It's just that, well, it can be rather alarming when one considers how prophetic George Orwell's work had proved to be. I'd have to include Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' in that too.

There is so much that a human is capable of, yet millions are now no longer able to fulfil the latent potential within them, having become less than humans in a social sense, their whole lives having been given over to existing purely to populate and service hotels, bars and restaurants, where people who still have the privilege of choosing how to live go to play.

What brought all this philosophising on was one simple remark made by our disadvantaged friend. Sorry about that folks, not my usual upbeat post. Yet I believe it ought to be said nonetheless.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Sunshine, Shorts and a Degree of Smugness

Anyone who reads my ramblings regularly will know that I get rather fed up with the weather whingers. As I say far too often, a Rhodean winter is much like a British summer and the past few days well illustrate my point.

There are quite a few ex-pats British living here who love to whinge when it rains, when the wind blows or if we have a cold spell (which are all usually quite brief) during the winter months. Yet it's odd how quiet they become when the weather is like it's been here for the past five days. Outside in the garden today it was well over 20ºC and there was hardly a breath of wind. The sky was a deep blue, the kind one rarely ever sees in the UK. It was the kind of day that would sell shedloads of ice cream in the UK during June. Pub gardens would be full and people would be lighting their barbecues in a frenzy of enthusiasm over the 'fabulous summer weather.' Barry Island Beach would be heaving and quite a good percentage of those down there would be braving the waters for a dip.

Yet here on Rhodes it's the end of January...




Sorry about the colour of those legs, folks. 

Anyway, there is no significant rainfall forecast for a while yet, although on Sunday there may be some light rain. Here I go again, sorry, but we are hoping that it will rain again this weekend because the ideal winter here would be for it to rain once or twice a week, in between the bright, blue, clear, cloudless days like we've seen lately.

Keep warm and wrapped up! 

Oh, and come on Wales!! The Six Nations starts this Saturday!!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Fruit, Rooftops and Possible Frights

All kinds of stuff to report today. 

Where to start, that's the problem. I know, yes, fruit. I'd be surprised if we weren't turning decidedly orange of complexion of late, owing to the fact that, once again, our good friends Froso and Stergo in Kalathos are keeping us well supplied with oranges again this winter. Even with giving huge bags of them away to neighbours, we juice and eat that many oranges at this time of the year that it's just as well they're not addictive. Actually, perhaps they are. Who needs Trump-like fake tans? We're turning orange anyway.

Last year we kept promising the couple that we'd come and pick some oranges with them and it never happened. Finally, last Saturday, it did. We were out with Froso during the morning and, when we took her home, she said, "You want to go pick some oranges before you go home?" Our answer? As obvious as Kim Kardasian's bottom. (I wanted to get that in, just to see if there was any way at all I could mention that rather low-intellect woman in one of my posts, just for laughs. Incidentally, is she real?).

So, digging some seriously huge Jumbo carrier bags out from their cupboard, Stergo set off with us down the lane to their orange grove, where they have a mere 70 trees. Here is my brief photographic record of the following fifteen minutes or so...










By the time we were struggling back to the car with two huge carrier bags, whose handles were ripping as I walked, we had enough oranges both for juicing and eating to open a modest fruit shop. And people ask us why it's our favourite time of the year.



Now I've cobbled together a brief photo gallery of the past few days, hope you like them...


Approaching Asklipio on foot along the dirt road leading up the mountain from behind our home. The Kastro's one of the most impressive fortifications on the island. This is the view you get around forty-five minutes after leaving our front gate. It's a pretty cardiovascular climb.

The traffic gets really bad down our lane sometimes.

Kiotari beach, looking towards the superb Paraktio Apartments.

Mandraki, Town Hall Square, Rhodes.

Lindos, where else? Kleoboulos' tomb visible across the way.

The lane down from Krana to the main square in Lindos on a dull day in January. A view not often seen by tourists.

The better half with a friend from Scotland, Karen Anderson who, along with hubby Brian, has seriously caught the bug of taking a winter holiday in Lindos. This is on the rooftop of the lovely, snug traditional village studio they often stay in. 

A fairly deserted Lindos in January. It's a real joy to stroll around the place at this time of year. Days like this are rare too, with the cloud cover you can see here.



Finally, if we end up seeing a formidable 'Huntsman' spider [Don't click that link if you're an arachnophobe. I did warn you!] in our house again some time soon, I'll be laying the blame fairly and squarely in the shoulders of the Lidl foodstores here.

Why? Well, a year or more ago we read somewhere on-line that spiders hate the smell of peppermint. The suggestion was to place a peppermint teabag (spent ones are fine) in places where the eight-legged fiends may be able to gain ingress and, if you do so, you'll never see a big fearsome arachnid on your inside walls again. Of course, when you read stuff like that on-line it's always wise to take it with a fairly hefty pinch of salt; but, well, we decided that it was at least worth a try. After all, we are in the habit of drinking peppermint tea daily with our breakfast. Or, to be more accurate, just afterwards. 

I read about the benefits of peppermint to the digestion many years ago, when we were living in Cardiff, South Wales and I was cycling about five miles to work every day after eating a substantial breakfast and regularly experiencing indigestion as a result. I began taking a spoonful of peppermint powder in a small amount of water about fifteen minutes before setting out and it cured the problem.

Thus we eventually settled into a routine of drinking peppermint tea, and of buying the teabags in the local branch of Lidl. These are the ones...


They're very good value and I can recommend them. What a joy it was when we first moved here and discovered not one but two branches of Lidl here on Rhodes and they were both well-stocked with the tea bags we wanted - a result!

Our joy only lasted a couple of years when, for no explicable reason, the peppermint tea was no longer in evidence on the shelves. It remained that way for almost a year and we even resorted to stocking up when we visited the UK more than once. Then, all of a sudden they reappeared and, up until a month or so ago, have been available ever since. 

Following the suggestion about the spider-repellent properties of peppermint, we began placing used bags in the corners of our windows, where there are sufficient orifices for the beasts to get in...



And, I can report that, ever since we positioned the bags as can be seen from the photo above, we haven't had even one instance of any spider larger than a fingernail inside the house. Yip-blinking-pee, eh? The trouble is, it looks like Lidl are playing silly games again and, during our last three visits, there has been a distinct lack of peppermint teabags on display. Now, if they don't re-stock PDQ and the aromatic properties of the bags we have in place wane sufficiently so as to no longer pose a threat, I may well be up in the small hours one night and getting the fright of my life once again, like in the old days. For the account of a particularly traumatic experience I once had with one of these palm-of-the-hand-sized Huntsman beasts, see chapter two of Tzatziki For You to Say.

So, if you're out there in internet-land whoever buys in the stocks for the Rhodean branches of Lidl, hear my plea and get some peppermint tea-bags in pronto. If I die of a coronary, my wife will be after you for compensation.

Or maybe to congratulate you, one never knows.

Friday, 19 January 2018

It's Murder on Mykonos...

I'm delighted to be posting another in my occasional series of interviews with authors whose work carries a decidedly Greek theme. It's been a while, but I felt it was becoming perhaps just a little too quick and often before.

This time though, it's back with a bang, because I'm thrilled to say that I've recently 'virtually' sat down [across a couple of continents] with Jeffrey Siger, and below is my in-depth interview with him. 



In the extremely unlikely event that you are not aware who Jeffrey is, his extensive answer to question 1 in the interview below will surely enlighten you!

Off we go then...

1. Tell us a little about who you are, where you grew up etc.

I am an American living on the island of Mykonos, a place I’ve considered home since first setting foot there some 35 years ago. A Pittsburgh native and former Wall Street lawyer, a dozen years ago I gave up my career as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to live in Greece half the year and write mystery-thrillers.

 Some Mykonian friends told me if I started sprinkling murders with a message across my adopted country's tourist paradises, I'd likely be banished, if not hanged. No one was more amazed than I when my debut novel, Murder in Mykonos (a sort of Mamma Mia setting for a No Country for Old Men story), became Greece's No.1 best selling English-language novel (and a best-seller in Greek, as well).  

As of January 2018, I have nine Greece-based Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels out there, the latest being AN AEGEAN APRIL, which Library Journal awarded a starred review saying, “vividly depicts the political and economic issues involved in the European refugee crisis… outstanding crime novel.” 
It's been a remarkable journey, punctuated most notably by The New York Times selecting the fourth in my Andreas Kaldis series (Target: Tinos) as one of its five “picks for the beach” while calling the entire series, “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales;” 

Left Coast Crime's nomination of the fifth in the series (Mykonos After Midnight) in 2014 as Best Mystery in a Foreign Setting; a 2016 Barry Award Best Novel Nomination for my seventh (Devil of Delphi); starred reviews and official government citations; and a mention in Fodor's Greek Islands Travel Guide under a section titled “Mykonos After Dark” that I consider equivalent to winning an Oscar ☺ —"Some say that after midnight, Mykonos is all nightlife—this throbbing beat is the backdrop to Jeffrey Siger's popular mystery, Murder in Mykonos."



My work is published in the US, UK, Germany (German), and Greece (Greek and English), and I'm honored to have served as Chair of the National Board of Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, and as Adjunct Professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College, teaching mystery writing.


2. Where do you live now?


One half of each year on Mykonos, the balance based at my farm outside of New York City.


Jeffrey at the place he loves best, Mykonos
3. What do you write about?

My mystery-thrillers are told against the backdrop of traditional Greek life in different Greek locales. They are aimed at exploring serious societal issues confronting modern day Greece in a tell-it-like-it-is style while touching upon the country's ancient roots.  At the heart of each book lay some modern-day upheaval or other uncomfortable subject that most writers prefer to avoid, yet is precisely the sort of issue I promised myself to address when I changed careers. 

4. Why Greece?

My original goal was to write a stand-alone novel telling the story of an island I knew intimately.  I wanted to talk about Mykonos’ people, culture and politics and only settled upon the mystery format because it struck me as the best vehicle for exploring how a tourist island society might respond to a threat to its newfound economic glory.  With the success of my debut novel, and a three-book deal for a series, I quickly realized I had an inexhaustible number of topics and venues to explore in Greece.  After all, it is the birthplace of the gods, the cradle of European civilization, the bridge between East and West.  Spartan courage, Athenian democracy, Olympic achievement, and Trojan intrigue all call it home. On top of all that, what tantalized me as a writer working on the edge of societal change, was how many of the great issues confronting our modern world were centered in Greece’s Mediterranean neighborhood. Indeed, I’d venture to say no western country is closer to what challenges our planet than Greece.


Vathi, in the Mani.

5. How do you come up with an idea for a book?


Honestly, they find me. It’s uncanny how something I read, hear, or experience just sparks a thought that leads to an idea for a book. It’s that strange alchemy called inspiration , something I can’t put my finger on, or dare risk over-analyzing out of fear all might simply vanish into that same thin air as now gives rise to my ideas.

6. How long does it take you to write a book?

I’ve done a book a year for the past ten years, so I guess the answer is a year. 

7. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another? 

I am very disciplined in my research and writing. I suspect it comes from all those years practicing law.  When I’m into my writing mode of 1000 finished words a day, my friends on Mykonos will tell you that no matter what tempting high season distraction might be out there, I cannot be lured away from my keyboard until my 1000 words are finished. But once they are….

8. What do you enjoy most about writing?

I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, meaning I have no idea what will end up on paper once I put my butt in the chair and start typing.  I leave it to my characters to take me in the direction they believe works best for the story. Frankly, I’m just along for the ride.  The excitement of learning what my characters have in store for me each day is sheer joy. 

9. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?

Socrates, sun, and souvlaki…in no particular order.

10. Which other authors do you read?

I’m a great fan of Cormac McCarthy, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Steinbeck, August Wilson (really a playwright), Robert Frost (yes, the poet), all the mystery writing folk at Poisoned Pen Press, and my blogmates at Murder is Everywhere where I write a post about Greece every Saturday.   

11. What's your preferred kind of music?

Whatever’s playing. I’m very eclectic in my music tastes.

12. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?

Rebetiko.


13. Favourite Greek dish?

Octopodi prepared and grilled next to the sea where it's caught, together with achinos collected by friends who remembered to bring along bread, olive oil and plenty of tsipouro. 

14. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?

Mykonos. As crazy as it’s become during tourist season, it’s where my friends, my heart, and my fondest memories remain, and where I spend more time than any other place on earth. 



15. Reading device or real book?

I prefer real books, but practicalities—such as the virtually absence of English-language new releases in Greece—makes a Kindle a necessity for me. 

16. In as few words as possible, tell someone who's never been to Greece why they should go.

To forever change your view of life for the better.


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

   





There you go folks. I think you'll agree it was well worth the wait. By all means share this if you know anyone else who'd like to read Jeffrey's interview.