Monday, 10 December 2018

Cutlery

On Saturday evening we enjoyed a meal around the table with three other couples in Rhodes Town. All the others were from among of our circle of Greek friends and I was interested to observe something that (call me preoccupied but...) preoccupies me every time I sit down to eat with Greeks.

In fact, just a week or so ago we were watching the rather good (and you can't say that about much Greek comedy on TV) 'Min Arhizeis ti Mourmoura', which is a kind of sit-com showing twice a week at 9.00pm on the Greek Alpha TV channel. The title translates roughly as "Don't Start Moaning," and it's about a series of couples at various stages through adult life. The oldest of the four couples that feature on the show has been in it since the beginning, which is probably six or seven years ago now. Many scenes revolve around the kitchen table at meal times, as you'd expect. There was the husband, called Minah, tucking into his meal with a fork in his right hand. He was eating something like pastitsio and it needed a piece cutting off so that he could put it into his mouth to eat it. 

I lost all the dialogue, because all my attention was on something else. I was once again fascinated by this strange habit that so many Greeks have of never using a knife. It's true I tell you. I think I mentioned it in one of the "Ramblings" series of books, the fact that Greeks probably believe that knives (that is, knives for the dining table, not hunting knives etc) were only invented so that clever Greeks could show how they could eat an entire meal without one.

There was Minah, chasing this food around his plate while arguing with his wife Voula, trying desperately to cut a piece using the side of his fork. I've seen it so many times. To emphasise the point, we've had Greek friends over for dinner and, of course, laid the table with a knife and fork for everyone, only to see the Greeks totally ignore that the knife even exists, pick up the fork from the left-hand side of their plate with their right hand and begin attempting to eat a cooked meal using only their fork.

Thus, on Saturday evening, there we were seated, the eight of us, around the table, which was well stocked with a selection of home-made pizzas, a penne pasta/pesto dish with oodles of Parmesan grated on top, some traditional Greek salad and a delicious large spanakopita, cut in readiness into lots of two inch-square pieces. Now, to eat a pizza (without resorting to simply picking it up with your hands, of course, which we did all begin doing after a glass or two of lubrication had further relaxed the atmosphere) or indeed a spanakopita, which is made with a fairly resilient pastry (they're not always made with filo) without using your knife is, to me, foolhardiness in the extreme. Yet, after a quarter of an hour or so, I was fascinated, gazing around the table surreptitiously, to see that half of those around the table were doing just that. And that despite the fact that knives and forks had been laid for our convenience.

Observe any social session around a dining table in Greece and you'll see how easy it is to notice the British person, or persons. They'll be the ones blithely using their knives to conveniently cut their food, before pronging it with their forks and raising it demurely to their lips. The Greeks, on the other hand (and, granted, there are a few rare exceptions, maybe they've lived abroad) will gamely be pushing their food all around the plate for ages, trying resolutely to cut it with the edge of their forks, thus taking ten times longer to demolish their meal.

You know something? Maybe I've just hit on the reason they do this. Maybe they do have a point. I mean, us Brits are famous for rushing our food, which is bad for the digestion, since we often don't chew it for anything like long enough before we swallow it, and shovel the next mouthful in. If we were all to abandon the knife and start trying to cut our food on the plate with the edges of our forks, perhaps we'd all be much healthier.

See? All that talk about the Mediterranean diet being healthier for you, when all you have to do is eat using your fork only.

Monday, 3 December 2018

No Prizes


Mooching around the remote southerly village of Kattavia recently, snapped the one above. That's about it for that one.


The next three photos mark a milestone in my efforts to become a 'new man.' When I was in the UK last July, my brother-in-law (my wife's brother), with whom I stayed, showed me how to cook what the recipe book called 'One Pot Spaghetti.' It looked so easy that I had no excuse but to say, "OK I'll surprise my beloved by offering to cook the dinner one evening when I get home."

It took me until now because, and it's a genuine excuse, we needed spinach and cherry tomatoes, both of which have only just become available, and we make it our policy to try and eat everything in season, and thus avoid having to recycle unnecessary packaging, because the produce is all fresh, and thus we don't take home tons of cardboard and polystyrene from the stores. Oh, I feel sooo virtuous sometimes.

Anyway, once you've got your ingredients ready, it only takes 15 minutes to create a truly amazing and tasty pasta meal, which can be vegan if you use vegan cheese, but I'm afraid we're nuts about Parmesan (or we often use the Greek equivalents, like Graviera or Kefalotyri), so it'll just have to be vegetarian, OK?

The photo below truly delights and amazes me, because that baby spinach in the foreground is straight from our newly created raised veggie beds. I planted it as seeds a few weeks back and look at it now. Nature is truly miraculous. Who wouldn't want it to rain, eh?


OK, not quite Jamie Oliver, but not a sight you'll see very often. The other person in my household was one happy bunny that evening I can tell you.

 Basically, it's cherry tomatoes, spinach, the zest of lemons, olive oil, sea salt and spaghetti. It all goes in together and comes out like this...

...topped with strong cheese, grated, of course.
All we needed now was to taste it. I was hoping desperately that it was going to turn out as it had at my brother-in-law's house. Guess what, it did. Boy did I score some points that evening, chaps!

If you want to give it a go, here's the recipe, if you can make it out...



And, finally, the next two photos (taken this very morning) ably demonstrate what time of year we're in now. No prizes for guessing that we're well and truly into winter mode, and it's great. Days spent logging and chainsawing are not only excellent exercise, but they're just a very 'good craic,' as my Irish friends would say.


Hmm, yes, it may just be winter!!

Monday, 26 November 2018

Well Into Winter Mode

Well, the temperatures are almost imperceptibly dropping little by little and the birds in the garden becoming more diverse again as the cooler months of the winter approach, and it is good. We've already been delighted by robins, jays and redstarts, even blue tits and warblers, making use of our two 'bird baths,' which are simply two plant pot trays placed on the ground in different parts of the garden. Oh, and we now have resident blackbirds too, which we're very excited about, because it's only in the past couple of years that they've started taking up residence in the garden and orchard.

We've had some rain, although still not as much as we ought to, but it's meant we can turn off the irrigation system for a while and let nature do the job instead. I know it's been said so often, but real rain is so much better for the garden than water from the tap. 

What I really love about this time of the year is the fruit trees and how they look...


Grapefruit packing the tree, with many more 'lurking' in the inner branches than at first meets the eye.

A little lemon tree that we almost gave up for dead a couple of years ago. Now it's crammed full of lemons, which are just beginning to turn from green to yellow.

We often remark on the fact that, if you plan your cuisine to fit in with the rhythm of the seasons, you soon find that the earth produces what you need at the right time. Here we are, heading into another winter, which, granted, is not much of a winter weather-wise by northern European standards, but nevertheless the nights can be chilly and you can get caught out in the rain (hopefully!) now and then in daylight, and the produce of the season is citrus fruit, crammed with vitamin C.

It's amusing too, to see that, despite the fact that the daytime temperatures lately have been consistently in the twenties Celsius, if you go an sit in a café in your shirtsleeves, perhaps even still a long pair of tailored shorts, you'll be surrounded by Greeks in jeans, boots, woolly socks, jumpers, scarves and leather jackets.

Most of our Greek friends aren't harvesting their olives this year. As you probably already know, olive trees tend to produce abundantly on a two-year cycle, but this year's harvest has been affected by the distinct lack of rainfall during October and November anyway. When I say 'lack', I mean in comparison to what's needed. Once you get into October, the locals are to be seen turning over the soil around their olive trees, so as to let the hoped-for rain penetrate below the surface and reach the roots. This, normally, enables the olives to fatten up during the last month-to-six weeks prior to being harvested, but this year the rains just haven't been enough around these parts.

Night-time temperatures are now beginning to drop to winter levels. Tonight, for instance, as I type this at around 2.00am, it's 12ºC outside. It doesn't get much colder than that as a norm throughout most of the winter, except when we get the occasional 'cold snap' that during most winters might occur two or three times.

We've already been out scouring the surrounding area for wood for the stove. We've come up trumps too, as it happens. Within walking distance of the house there are several dead trees that we shall be able to cut and bring home. In fact we've already had our first foray and returned with some four-foot-long lengths that we were able to section down to stove-size using my newly-built saw horse. Most gratifying. of course, cutting any live tree, or part thereof, is strictly illegal as is the culling of dead ones too if you're thinking about selling the wood. That's a 'no-no.'

We usually light our wood-burner around the end of the first week of December. Looks like it's going to be near enough on schedule this year. Then we'll be using it most evenings until the beginning of March. We actually have lit it once already, about a week ago, but the evening temperatures since then have again been too warm to warrant it. 

Finally, out in the garden a couple of days ago, we were gardening in bright sunshine, when just a few kilometres up in the hills above us and to our north, the sky was as black as your hat and rain could be seen sheeting down, probably around the Siana, Embona district. We didn't get the rain, but we did get a double rainbow. I did whack one photo on Facebook, but here are all three that I took then. I'm only sorry that one of the rainbows had almost vanished by the time I was able to get the camera out and take the shots...





Anyway, 'tis the season to be saying to all and sundry "Kalo himona!" 

Funny how small things can get one so excited, like being able to wear your jeans again and go for long walks without dissolving into a morass of sweatiness. Winter's here and I say, bring it on.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Oh, My Aching Feet

Winter is definitely upon us. We've just done our first walk to Gennadi and back since last March, something we never even attempt during the season because, a) it's too hot and, b) it takes too long and we don't have the time.

There and back from our front gate is about six and a half miles, or ten and a half kilometres. Today was perfect for such a walk, with the temperature hovering around 22-23ºC and a light breeze blowing. According to the forecasts, it'll be the last clear day for four or five days, with rain expected over the weekend. 

As the Greeks would say, "makari," which means basically, "I wish."

So, here are a few photos taken during our trek today...


The "Lab", the trendiest Café in Gennadi

Asklipio Kastro is clearly visible on the ridge.

No, you're not mistaken, it is November 15th. 

The atmosphere is especially clear today, with very low humidity.

And here are a couple more from a few days ago...

Cats hanging out in Malona.

The guard cat of an orange grove, also in Malona. Try getting past him eh?

And lastly, our very own patio, with the table being set for lunch with honoured guests Keith and Vicki this Sunday lunchtime past.

Y'know, I'm as much a sucker for a pretty little Greek village like the next person, but when it comes to where to live, I have to say that there could be nowhere more suited to my likes and loves (our likes and loves in fact, since there are two of us, after all) than where we actually live. We're both wildlife and country freaks and we both so love the wildness of much of the beach between Kiotari and Gennadi.

OK, yes, there have been a couple of hotels built in the past couple of years, but they still only occupy a fraction of the beautiful expanse of wild beach that we can stroll along when we have the time. Plus, in winter, which officially begins at the beginning of November, they're all closed down anyway. And when we venture out of our front door and head upwards behind the house, we are immediately amongst a mix of untamed forest and tended olive groves, where the only company we keep as we walk are deer, goats, birds of prey and smaller birds like black redstarts, robins, blackbirds, Sardinian warblers (their passports must be up to date), thrushes, blue and great tits, warblers and wheatears. There are crested larks and gnarly, prehistoric-looking lizards, as well as the more sleek-looking bright green ones too, which scurry across the path before us or sun themselves on the rocks.

My wife said to me as we walked along the beach road back from having eaten a spanakopita and drunk a couple of iced coffees in Gennadi square, she said "Do you ever think to yourself, 'is this real?' - as in, 'can you grasp that we do actually live here?'"

I replied that, yes, I do 'pinch myself' regularly. Through all those years when we used to come to Greece for holidays, and would be quite depressed about having to catch a plane home again, I couldn't have dreamt that one day I'd wake up every morning to this. Yes, life here can be very frustrating, it can test one's resolve to the limits on occasion, yet the environment would take some beating. The sense of wellbeing one gets from a long walk on a totally clear day, when the sea is inky blue and the sky impossibly azure, and the air is as clear of pollution as most anywhere on the planet, when people passing wave and shout "Ya sas!" or "Kalimera!", when often the only sounds are those produced by creation and nothing manmade assaults the eardrums, on times like this I'm thoroughly content to be where I am and able to walk amongst it all.

The best things in life are truly free, and lots of them are to be had here, in Kiotari, on a November day.

Friday, 9 November 2018

After You've Gone

Today we were seeing friends in Lindos, and so we decided to take a brief detour down to St. Paul's Bay for a dip. The forecast had been for cloud and showers. OK, so it did shower for around five minutes in Kiotari at 10.00am, but it soon cleared and these were taken in Lindos at midday, November 9th.

Off we go then...

Makes one realise what an amazing sandy beach exists under all those sun beds in the season, doesn't it.



Now, THAT'S how I like my sea...

She couldn't get in soon enough it seems.


Sorry, didn't mean to frighten the children!

The only company we had were a few fishermen. I always wondered what happened to Forrest Gump.

Go on, admit it, it's rather nice isn't it?



Yeah, maybe it would be a good idea to get next year's diary out, eh?

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Changing Horses


No, I'm not on about trusty steeds becoming exhausted during a long journey and needing to be exchanged whilst overnighting at a roadside inn. Of course, the above photo is a dead giveaway, and it represents my day's work today.

It's the first week on November and, yet again it seems, although we are enjoying the wonderful weather, with day-time temperatures hovering in the upper twenties again today, we do find ourselves experiencing mixed feelings, because it really ought to have rained much more than it has done so far this 'autumn'.

Up until today we've had a whole week of almost wind-less weather, which was one reason why the trip up Mount Attaviros was so enjoyable (see post before this one). Today, there was a slight breeze, but still not what any respectable weather forecaster would call a real wind. And we've been enjoying that luxurious feeling of not having to go anywhere. For the first time in several months, we have a couple or three days during which we don't have to start up the car. Apart from emptying a few wheelbarrow-loads of green waste across the lane from the front gates, we didn't venture anywhere outside the garden today, and it was wonderful.

When I ask my trusty Amazon Echo (my latest toy) for the seven-day weather forecast, for the past few days it's been almost exactly the same. 

"Alexa, what's the seven day weather forecast?"

"Here is the seven day forecast for Kiotari: Tuesday, 23 degrees and sunny. Wednesday, 22 degrees and lots of sunshine. Thursday, 22 degrees with some cloud and sunshine. Friday, 22 degrees and lots of sunshine..." and so she goes on. Once or twice there's been the merest hint that perhaps in a few days it will rain, or there'll at least be a shower, but as the days tick by and it draws closer it inevitably changes to "23 degrees and mainly sunny."

Ah well, despite the dire state of the island's water supply, I yet again dig out the trusty watering cans and water my new raised beds, to keep our lettuces, onions, beetroot and spinach plants going.

As you will have seen from the photo at the top of this post, the horses to which the heading refers are saw-horses. The one on the left has finally reached the end of its days, after serving its purpose for well over a decade. Constructed as it was from old pallets, it's done extremely well and been out in all weathers for all of that time. I'm no master joiner or carpenter, but my good old Dad's training in all things DIY has stood me in good stead. I built that horse probably circa 2006-7 and it now was time to build a new one before we set out for the woods and hillsides to scour them for more wood for the log-burner, which we'll be doing in around a month's time if the weather follows its usual pattern.

The fact is though, the weather hasn't been playing ball of late. Of course, we all know that. You'd have to be Donald Trump not to see that the climate's gone "all-to-cock" as they used to say. An old Greek told me just a couple of days ago, when we were asking him about whether he'd be harvesting olives this year, "No, not a good year. It won't be worth it. And the climate's completely different now from what it was ten years ago. Too dry."

See, there you are, from the horse's mouth. Another kind of horse, of course. A figurative one in this case.

Examining the old horse recently and noting its sorry state, I was spurred into action and managed to procure a few pallets with suitable planks/boards (what does one call the component pieces of a pallet?) for my purpose, and thus I got stuck in early this morning with my trusty jumbo screwdrivers and Stanley claw-hammer to prize them all to pieces without splintering too much wood and thus rendering it fit only for chopping up for kindling. Fortunately, I was left with enough lengths of decent enough quality to begin the construction of 'John's saw-horse 2' and I even surprised myself in that I got it finished in just the one day. 

I had to sacrifice my siesta though. What is this world coming to? Anyway, bring on the chilly winter evenings, which in all probability won't be for three or four more weeks yet, but I'm ready with my trusty timber-steed to do the deed of chainsawing logs for the fire.

Now, back to my novel (the one I'm currently reading, not the one I ought to be currently writing). The one about the pauper girl who becomes a lady of quality and all too often along the way has to change horses on her travels.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Looking Down on Snowdon

Mount Attaviros is the highest point on the island of Rhodes. And we've lived here over 13 years and never gone up it. I have now though.

We've just had some good friends from decades back staying next door, along with two of their sons, one who's married and the other who brought his fifteen-year-old friend with him. Yes, all the usual clichés apply. We saw those boys born (well, the older of the two anyway, the younger was born after we'd moved away, even while still in the UK), and they're both taller than me now. Depressing isn't it. Well, it would be if they weren't such a great family and very good company.

Plus, they're up for a challenge. I'd read on Amanda Settle's lovely "Olive, Feta and Ouzo" blog about her expedition to the top recently and the fact that it was do-able in a car - if one was very careful. Me and the better half decided a couple of months back that we really ought to go up there for two reasons. One, the view and two, there's an ancient temple right on the summit that was demanding to be seen. Apparently it's dedicated to Zeus.

So, as I said, our friends, all six of them, were raring to have a go and, since my beloved was at work for the very last two days of her season, it was just me and them setting off last Monday morning in their two modest hire cars. Don't tell the hire company whatever you do. 

The road leading up to the summit begins at a junction along the road from Siana to Kritinia, right where the junction with the road to Embona is situated. In fact, the lane leading up to the summit is right next to the Embona turn, and is clearly signed with the words "Mount Attaviros"...


Photo courtesy of Google Earth Pro. The road bisecting the photo is the one from Siana in the South to Kritinia further North. So the gentle fork to the right above is the road to Embona, and the road leading off at a right angle and twisting back south for a while is the one leading to the summit.

Photo courtesy of Google Earth Pro. The road rising to the right is the one you need to take. Eagle-eyed readers will just about spot the sign saying "Mount Attaviros" on a post above the roof of the car. The road leading downhill is the one to Embona.
From the point where you set off up the lane, it's miles before you get to the top. It's also deceptively well maintained for the first mile or so. Then it becomes fairly level dirt and stones, then it deteriorates in places into sump-smashing gulleys and potholes. After that (which is probably about half-distance) it improves and the final mile or so is actually tarmac!! That's after you've passed the wind farm off to your right.

We actually got as far as the really rough patch before abandoning one of the cars. In fact, at first we parked them both up, thinking that we'd walk the rest of the way. The trouble is, each time you crest a rise or round a bend, the road just goes on, and on, and on. That's why Les, my friend and the dad of the family, decided (largely because his wife Claire declared that she'd never make it otherwise) decided to ignore the strong smell of burning clutch plate we'd been experiencing earlier and have another go with his little Japanese hire car.


The first car to be left to have a rest is visible below.

Four of the intrepid explorers. Sorry, five! Make sure you have water with you BTW.

Having passed the worst bit, huge sighs of relief as the car was once again moving upwards, except for the fact that there were seven of us and now only one set of wheels. Muggins here found himself walking most of the way to the summit and quite a long way back with the two fifteen-year olds. Yes, us kids who've been young a few decades longer than them can still do it when we have to. (Flowers to...)

The barrier lulls you into a false sense of security. Large sections of the way don't boast such a luxury. Sheer drops abound though, just to make it interesting.
Fortunately we'd chosen probably the best day all year to make the climb. In high summer it would be just too hot, and in winter it could quite possibly freeze your whatsits off, but Monday October 29th, 2018 dawned clear, with very low humidity and next to no wind either. We didn't see a cloud all day. The temperature, even at the summit, was around 24ºC and it must have been one of the very few days when the summit, at 3986ft was windless. Magic...



The temple area is extensive. It extends from here right to the summit. How they ever managed to build something like this a couple of thousand years ago in this location, the mind boggles. Imagine the estate agent's blurb though: "Suberb views, although the access road may need a little renovation."

Every direction you look in you spot some part of the island you recognise. A good pair of binoculars would have been a good idea though. Decent trainers or hiking boots are a must too. Anything else and you'll be glad of a mobile phone to call for the air ambulance for shipping a broken ankle (along with the rest of the body of course) to the hospital.

Thank goodness for the ten second delay. At this point we were still waiting for Les to ferry the remainder of the crew to the top.

That's Alimia island behind Harry (furthest person left). In the distance is Tilos, Nisyros and Kos.


A high-factor sun cream wouldn't go amiss either. Left to right: Connor, Harry, Claire and Les (Connor's parents), yours truly (looking the epitome of sartorial elegance in that Oakley cap, eh?), Reilly and her hubby Scot (also Les and Claire's son).

"Look where I am folks!" Reilly pans around.


That's Halki dead centre.

Reilly still impressing her folks back in the UK with her video skills.

Rhodes Town just visible in the far distance. Plus the Turkish mountains and Symi.

"The property is in need of some repair work." They just don't build 'em like they used to.



Halki is to the left in this one. Then, further back and slightly to the right, Tilos etc.

Someone had left this just two days before we got there. So we added our names with a ballpoint pen.

View from the front seat on the descent.
It was a fabulous experience, if somewhat exhausting. But I'd do it again in a trice and probably will in December, when John and Wendy turn up for a few days to take the Jeep back to the UK. So John ought to be up for taking his Commander (5.7 ltr., a beast!) up there. It will eat the surface of the lane for breakfast. May be an idea to dress for colder weather then though.

We finally made it to Taverna Savvas in Embona, where an excellent lunch was enjoyed by all. After that the girls mooched around a while, bought a rug or two an tasted some local wine...


House wine by the litter eh? Must be rubbish then. Actually, it wasn't, and Claire bought some.

On the way back I took the gang through Laerma and along the back road to Asklipio, passing the Thari Monastery on the way. This is the route I talked about some years ago in the two posts "Why Not Take a Drive?" and "Why Not Take a Drive 2". My wife and I love this road because it reminds us very much of the New Forest in Hampshire, England. Plus, we usually see deer when driving that road. Guess what...





So, if you're out here next year and fancy a bit of strenuous exertion which brings rich rewards, you'd better get out your walking shoes, some bottled water, some high-factor sun cream, a good pair of bins and some courage and get yourself up on top of Mount Attaviros. It's exhilarating. 

In fact, it was while we were up there that, since I used to live in Wales and that's where our friends live today (in Bridgend, in fact), we referred to Wales' highest peak, which is Mount Snowdon. We'd done the research see, and discovered that Attaviros is actually 426ft higher than Snowdon. So, if the two mountains were to stand side-by-side, from the top of Attaviros, you'd actually be looking down on Snowdon.



Finally, those of  nervous disposition may not want to see the next shot. We dropped by on our old friend Mihali the 'smallholder' yesterday, uninvited. We hadn't had a chat with him for while, but we caught him rather busy, along with another mutual friend or two, in the process of skinning a pig they'd just slaughtered. See, call me a hard man, but I reckon that anyone who eats meat ought to be able to do this. Needless to say, we didn't hang around long, promising to drop by another time...



The beloved said she thought it was so barbaric. All she could think about was "the poor pig." We were reminded of a similar scene we'd witnessed in the run-up to Easter when we'd been on Naxos in 2014. Taking a rural walk in the mountains we'd come across a farmer doing something similar with a goat, which in that case was hanging from an olive tree (see this post from 2014. You have to read a long way through it to get to the relevant part). 

I must say that, although I don't eat meat, I was prompted to consider something important about the culture in rural Greece. The scene we'd just witnessed is a scene that's been played out for thousands of years in virtually all human communities, isn't it. It's only relatively recently that meat-eaters have been spared the grisly task of slaughtering their own food, being able instead, as they are nowadays, to go to a shop and purchase their meat in neatly prepared chunks and often packaged, in many cases not resembling something that had been a part of a living, breathing creature until recently at all.

I had to admit a certain respect for our friends. At least when they sit down to their pork steak or bacon rasher, they'll know exactly how it got to their plate.

I think I'll stick to killing lettuces and onions though.