Friday, 30 December 2011

Time Passes

Well, here we are at the turning of yet another year and going through our seventh winter since moving to Rhodes. The rhythm of the seasons sways gently around us as we finish chainsawing some longer logs (the ones we cut when out with Gareth before Christmas, see the post "Footslogging and Serious Logging") out under the carport, wheelbarrow them around to the log-store, where I take the axe and split the ones with the larger diameters, whilst my strapping wife stacks them tight and tidy. 

The blackbirds are emitting their panicky chatter as they flit from bush to bush in the valley below and the black redstarts, robins and warblers dart around the garden, occasionally - in the case of the redstarts and robins - perching on the wall and cocking their tails cheekily up and down while clicking in that way that they do. The rose bushes in the garden, despite the fact that I've pruned them hard, are now putting out some spectacular flowers, some of which Yvonne-Maria cuts and places in a small glass on our coffee table, where they not only brighten up the room wonderfully, but also make the entire living space smell simply marvellous. The smell of a rose always puts me in mind of fresh raspberries, sublime, simply sublime.

The weather so far this winter has been the coldest, at least during the nights, for many years. In fact one or two Greeks tell us that they can't remember the last time when the night time temperatures were as consistently low as they have been this past month or two, hovering as they have done, between 6 and 10ºC during the hours of darkness. We even touched a bone-chilling 2ºC the other night. Having consulted our calendars for the years that we've lived here, we can agree. During the previous two Novembers/Decembers (2009-2010) for example, we only had one night when the temperatures dropped into single figures, usually bottoming at around something between 11-16º in the dead of the night. Daytime temperatures have also been low, but not unpleasant. We've had less rain and more sunshine than average and when the sun shines you feel warm anyway, even if it's only topping out at 17 or 18, instead of the more normal 20-23. How grateful we are for our soh'ba (log-burning stove) and Gareth's kindness in helping us achieve the largest stock of logs we've ever had in the store out behind the house.

Returning to the birdlife for a moment. A winter or two ago we had a distressing moment with a Sardinian Warbler. We'd been drinking coffee inside the French windows one morning, gazing as we do in never failing appreciation at our view down the valley to the sea, when a thud drew our attention to the glass immediately in front of us. A Sardinian had flown right into the glass, perhaps thinking he had a rival for his partner's affections, we don't really know, and stunned himself. I flew (yea, I know, puns just trip out of me don't they?) out of my chair and opened the French window to see the little mite laying on the tiles outside. At first we feared the worst (a broken neck maybe), so I picked him up and stroked his immaculate little chest, then his head. I was mightily relieved to see his little heartbeat thumping away through the feathers and so stood out on the drive with him in my hand for a minute or two.

Sure enough, he regained consciousness, but remained in a daze, since he made no immediate attempt to flee our vicinity. I even held my hand next to my wife's, and he hopped across and sat there while I nipped inside, retrieved the old digicam and snapped this...

All of a sudden he seemed to realize where he was, freaked and flew off, much to our relief that he seemed none the worse for his little escapade. Oddly enough, a female flew straight into the lounge one day when we had both French windows open on a bright and sunny day. She eventually responded to our directional coaxing and fled out the way she'd come in, but not before she'd rested to get her breath back on one of our hi-fi speakers...


Changing the subject again; back to the rhythm of the seasons. Yesterday we went to Arhangelos. Apart from the fact that we wanted to visit our friends Josie & Jos, a visit to Tzambikos' fruit and veg shop was well overdue. Plus, the best place to get your chainsaw serviced is just outside of the village of Malona, which is almost on the way. In fact, at this time of year a trip around that road, which passes through the thick of the local orange groves before winding its way up a precipitous and spectacular valley (almost a gorge) before depositing you back at the crossroads just outside of Arhangelos, is something which we don't need an excuse to make. I know that I've said it before, but you have to see the orange groves at this time of the year to fully appreciate their beauty. The foliage on the citrus trees is rich, leafy and luxuriant and is punctuated with thousands of bright orange baubles, the fruit itself. The aroma alone as you pass through this valley is enough to get you salivating. As we slowly cruised along we saw people of both sexes up ladders and bent double among their trees as they picked fruit and packed it into crates for either a bit of roadside trading, or supplying the local market or village stores.

Arriving in Arhangelos well before the time at which we'd arranged to go to Josie's house, we filled a clutch of carrier bags (needless to say, taken from the running stock which my wife keeps in the car boot, to avoid using new ones unnecessarily) at the fruit and veg store and emerged later, arms groaning under the weight of all the fresh veg and fruit which we found hard to believe had only cost us eleven Euros. Groceries safely deposited in the boot, we took a stroll up the side street which leads to the little bakery which we rather like, in order to acquire a couple of tyro'pites and spanakop'ites. I'd not noticed their sign before, but this time as I looked at it I thought someone could be forgiven for thinking that, in addition to bread and cakes, they also specialized in Chiropractic or Osteopathic therapy. Why do I say this? See for yourself...

Munching on hot pies as we walked, we whiled away a half an hour or so before making for our friends' place. Meantime snapping away with my phone....

The above we thought were quinces. But now we don't think so (amazing what a quick look at Wikipedea can do for your confidence). Don't they look just fabulous? Any ideas? (evidently - yes! See comments on this post below)


Well, just before I close. I thought you may be interested in the last photo, below. I was trawling through some older digital photos for a friend who wants to use some on her upcoming web site and came across some of the shots we'd taken whilst the fires had raged during July-August 2008. The flames reached to within a kilometre of our place and we really did have moments when we thought that we'd would soon be evacuating. On occasions the sky was a truly foreboding though awe-inspiringly beautiful scenario, and this picture ably shows what I mean...

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Two Flummoxed Fishermen

Adonis and Jackie have invited us around for a meal. They live in Pilona and we arrive around early afternoon to the superb aroma of Jackie's cooking. Not long after we're welcomed through the front door we're ensconced around the beautifully-set table and sipping on chilled white wine. The atmosphere is congenial, as it always is with these two and their nine year old daughter, Effoula, who's a sweetie. The log fire in the corner is roaring away. Bliss.

Before long Jackie places the ορεκτικό (starter) before us and it's a dish of θαλασσινά (sea food), consisting of prawns, smoked salmon and slices of octopus. This is dressed with some lettuce salad and we're presented with a half a lemon each to zest it up a bit. Mayonnaise is on hand if we want it. Needless to say there's a bottle of olive oil on the table too. It looks yummy, but I've fairly bad memories of eating octopus, but decide to try it in order to ascertain whether I can eat it all or not. Very frequently whenever I've tried octopus it's been rather rubbery. Not even mentioning the old joke about the Chinese waiter and the diner. All right then, I'll mention it! You must know it:

Chinese waiter: "How was your steak sir?"
Diner: "Rather rubbery."
Chinese waiter: "Ah, thank you velly much!"

Or there's the other one, "How find your steak sir?"
Diner" "Oh, I just lifted up a slice of carrot and there it was!"

Sorry, got a bit sidetracked there. Octopus, yes, well, I've never much cared for it as I've usually found it rubbery, as in, well, actually rubbery. So with great trepidation I forked a slice of Jackie & Adonis' offering and popped it into the old cake hole. Surprise surprise, it was rather nice. Very nice in fact and not at all rubbery. Just to reassure myself that this wasn't a fluke, I tried another slice, which was equally as good. I glanced wife-wards to see her face betraying a similar reaction. We both then looked at our hosts to see them staring expectantly back, evidently awaiting our verdict. The texture was beautifully soft and it melted in the mouth. On this evidence I'd have to admit to liking octopus, something which I'd never have admitted to in times past.

Looking at Adoni I ask, "How come it's so soft?" before I can continue he replies, "I know, you were going to say it's usually chewy and tough." I agree. He continues, "The secret's in the tenderizing and the length of time you cook it. I do the tenderizing, Jackie cooks it."

"Come on then," asks the better half, "how do you do it?"

Jackie cuts in: "Two fresh octopuses [or is that octopii?] were given to us by Adoni's friend as a return favour. We sliced them, cooked them and then froze them. After that you just have to pop them on the barbie or under the grill for a few minutes and they're ready. But, you have to be thorough, both when you tenderize and when you cook it. Most people cook Octopus for half an hour or so, I cook it gently for at least two hours."

"In fact," adds Adonis, "the longer you cook it the better it turns out. But you have to bash it first."

"You mean," I ask, "like we see fishermen doing on the rocks, when they pick it up and smash it down again and again? A bit like the equivalent of the butcher using that funny wooden hammer to tenderize steaks?"

"Exactly," replies Adonis. "When Stergo gave these to me, though, he said that they hadn't been 'bashed' and that I'd have to be sure and do it before cooking them. When Jackie said that we'd be using them in today's starter, I decided that I'd better get them bashed, then. I didn't know where else to do it than at the beach, where I knew I could find a suitable flat bit of rock. So I hopped in the car, octopuses in a bucket, and nipped down to the beach at Lardos Lima'ni, where there are plenty of rocks. I parked up, got out of the car and walked down to the water's edge. Once I'd found an appropriate rock, I got out the first octopus and started bashing it. You have to smash it down at least fifty times to be sure it's properly tenderized. It took a while."

We were all ears as he continued: "The funny thing was, there were a couple of fishermen present, not a stone's throw away from me. Do you know how people catch octopus?"

"Yea, 'course," I reply. "You go snorkelling with your speargun."

"Exactly!" Says Adonis. "So, there I am smashing this octopus on the rocks when I look up and see a couple of these fishermen, all trussed up in their windcheaters and jeans, tending their rods and waiting for a bite. They're staring at me a bit strangely. Of course, I had no idea why they were looking at me in that way, so I waved and called out a 'kali mera'. They replied with the sort of wave that made them look like they'd seen a ghost. I though it dead weird, but I just carried on. Once I'd done the first at least fifty times, I put it back in the bucket and got out the other one. Off I went with my bashing again and, when I looked over at the fishermen, they were nudging each other and pointing at me. I wondered if I'd forgotten to do my flies up or something. I checked and that wasn't the problem. I stared about and still couldn't work out what was phasing them. So, once I'd done both octopuses, I strolled back to the car, trying not to look freaked by their odd staring, started it up and began to drive home.

"I was half-way home before I realized why they were flummoxed. You told me you know how someone catches octopus. You have to go into the sea and swim with your mask and speargun. Well, there was this bloke (me), just a few yards away from these two fishermen, and he's right at the water's edge bashing away his apparently newly-caught octopuses and he's dressed in his jeans and a sweater. No sign of a wetsuit, mask or snorkel. They'd been there longer than me!! They must have thought I was the ghost of the phantom octopusman!!!"

Needless to say, the four of us ended up falling about over the flummoxed fishermen, who'll probably never know the truth. Imagine what they told their friends and family around their dinner table!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Sympathy For the Shoppers

Yesterday it was the shortest day of the year. It dawned cloudy with sunny intervals. Then a light shower fell as we stared helplessly at a huge pile of logs which we were hoping to chain-saw down to stove-sized chunks so that we could stack them in our wood-store. We needn't have worried. By mid morning the sun was blazing and the thermometer under the car port was reading a respectable 20ºC. Time to get out the chain saw, fuel, oil, gloves, goggles, saw horse and wheelbarrow. We were in business.

When we finally ran out of fuel for the saw, I stood almost up to my knees in sawdust and we'd wheelbarrowed a respectable quantity of logs around to the wood-store where my wife, the professional wood-stacking expert, had stacked them neatly in tiers which saw the wood-store look a bit more like the kind of wood-store you'd expect to see outside a Greek's house at this time of year. It is now fuller than it's been since the day we commissioned it and we still have a pile of metre-and-a-half lengths of timber under the car port, which we'll cut (the wood not the car port) once I've given the chainsaw its much deserved service and new chain after the holiday weekend.

We were so hot that our sweatshirts were living up to their epithet. We both removed them and gave them a vigorous shake to relieve them of the sawdust which was clinging gamefully to them and prepared a lunch of my wife's freshly made bread, topped with chopped tomato, beetroot, carrot and onions, all mixed in a little olive oil, mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar and a pinch of curry powder. It's really messy to eat and you end up with fingers and serviettes the colour which would suggest that you'd just used the chainsaw for the purpose to which it was put by that masked geezer in Texas all those years ago, but boy is it tasty. We washed it down with some chilled white wine and lemonade (to make a long drink with a bit of zest!) and then agreed that a walk down to the local Carrefour Express store was in order, since the cupboards were getting a little bare and the forecast for today (Thursday 22nd) was disgusting to say the least.

Shopping list duly updated, we set out with a couple of re-usable shopping bags under our arms with a view to just purchasing the essentials, since it's about a twenty minute walk, mainly along a dirt track, before we reach the main road through Kiotari, just a long from the Rodos Princess Hotel. It was around 3.00pm and the sun was still shining in a sky now almost empty of cloud. At times like this we do occasionally proverbially pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that it's the shortest day of the year and we're too hot walking!

Once inside the newly-extended store at the cashdesk we greeted the young Asklipian girl who we usually have a chat with, although we haven't yet asked her name. The last time we were in we'd lightheartedly chided the store's owner about the fact that he hadn't been stocking any cans of tonic for months, a fact which had seriously complicated our shopping plans on a regular basis. On seeing us she excitedly declared that they'd now got stocks of tonic and "Einai to prassino!!" [it's the green!!] she declared. This was because we'd also suggested to the boss that we didn't like the taste of the BAP tonic (a Greek soft drinks company) and we'd prefer it if he bought in Tuborg, which comes in green cans.

For the moment, quite forgetting the fact that we'd walked down and that we didn't have the car waiting conveniently outside, we knew we'd have to purchase at least a four-pack of the tonic to show appreciation for their thoughtfulness, so we threw those into the basket and shopped away, chucking all kinds of stuff in which we realized we were in need of and which we hadn't added to the list of essentials which we'd earlier determined would be all that we would be buying today. By the time we reached the till, stuff was dropping off the top of the basket, it was so full. After having apprised our young friend at the till of the fact that we were going to have to walk this booty all the way back up to the house (to which she'd wished us "Kalo dromo!" in jest), we set out; me with a stuffed re-usable bag in each hand, both of which were making determined attempts at lengthening my arms, and Yvonne-Maria carrying the two extra plastic carrier bags which we'd had to use to get everything in. Of course she was mortified at all the damage to the environment she was now causing by using two new bags!

We'd not walked more than three or four hundred yards when a white saloon "tooted" and drew up at the roadside beside us.

"Who's this?" asked my wife.

"No idea," I replied. I didn't recognise the car at all. Nevertheless the passenger door flew open and the occupant called out, "Can I take you somewhere?" The driver was a retired man who was on his way home to the village of Istrios, which is up in the hills along a recently tarmac-ed road which loops from the Vati-Apollakia road, through Istrios and Profilias (not Profitis Ileas, confusing or what?). These two villages are lovely, situated as they are quite high up and both of which sport a couple of excellent tavernas, which do brisk business on Sunday lunchtimes during the winter months. In fact some years ago in the depths of winter we'd taken lunch with John, Wendy, Tim and Sylvia at the one in Istrios, called Notos, and we'd not been surprised to see a whole bunch of faces from our neighbourhood already in there, enjoying the atmosphere created by the log fire in the corner.

One of those faces we'd instantly recognised was Gianni the butcher, who keeps his free-range pigs just down the valley from our home. He and his wife not only greeted us when we walked in, but made sure they sent a drink over to us while we ate. Not bad considering that we don't patronise his establishment owing to the fact that my wife and I don't eat anything that used to have a face. The place was packed to the gills.

Anyway, our "good Samaritan" at the roadside asked us where we lived and we replied, "up the mountain." He said he couldn't take us all the way up there, but surely he could take us along to where our track forked off from the road, to save our arms from being pulled from their sockets. We acquiesced and climbed in. He only had about 400 yards to drive before we reached our "dromaki", but in that brief time had ascertained where we'd come from, how long we'd lived here, whether we owned our own house and what work did we do. It's par for the course, you have to accept that it's quite normal to be asked all kind of personal questions when making someone's acquaintance. Yvonne-Maria even suggested afterwards that he only stopped because, as he'd told us that he used to live in Canada, he wanted to practice his rather good command of the English language, since of course he could tell by taking one look at me that I wasn't Greek. He was almost disappointed when we talked to him in Greek.

Still and all, after we'd thanked him and bade him goodbye, we walked up the hill in the warm afternoon sunshine towards home, resolving mentally that the first thing we'd do once inside the front door would be to strip off and shower; well, maybe after first having put the kettle on for a cup of Earl Grey (get the priorities right I say), and remarked on that rather lovely aspect of the culture here which almost dictates that if you're driving past someone who's on foot, you ought to take an interest in them and offer to assist on some way. I've lost count of the number of times that we'd been approached by passing motorists, many of them strangers, because they had spare seats and were able to speed up our journey with little inconvenience to them. On not a few occasions we'd had to insist that we actually wanted to walk, it's why we were out there in the first place!

Today dawned in stark contrast to last night. As forecast we'd experienced one or two rumbles of thunder during the night that could have been mistaken for an earthquake they were so close that our teeth shook, and the rain had arrived. On and off this morning as I type this we've had some real stair-rods and strong winds. Just as well we'd done the shopping and cut some wood yesterday, as today is a staying in and enjoying the storm from the warm and dry vista behind the French windows day. Although as I go to press the "publish" button to make this post go "live", the sun's come out again!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Footslogging & Serious Logging

Thursday 15th December. We walked the 4km down to Gennadi to pay the car tax (the "sima"), which was €120 this year, not too bad I suppose. Parked ourselves in the usual cafe and ordered a couple of frappes. We asked the "new girl" where Sylvia was. Sylvia is Bulgarian and she got to know us very well. Seems she's gone back to Bulgaria. As is the case with so many young migrant workers, they're here one moment and gone the next. But she was a nice girl and it seems she's now able to pursue her desire to go to college, so we hope she makes it.

The frappes were up to the usual standard though. While the better half minded the coffees I nipped into the bakery in the corner of the square to face Mr. & Mrs. Grumpy. The couple who run the bakery are not known for their willingness to smile. They're probably in their fifties and their bread is excellent, although I've said before that the Horiatiko from Stamatia in Lardos pips theirs a little. But otherwise, no complaints. Except that is about their grumpiness. I always view it as a personal challenge to get a bit of brightness out of them. I'll breeze into the shop with a beaming face and say with an ear to ear grin: "kalime'ra!! Pos pa-ee simera? Ola kala?" If that doesn't elicit a happy response then I'll grab my psomi and retreat. This particular day I chipped a bit of the armour from Mrs. Grumpy. She actually apologised for not having any plastic bags big enough, "We're waiting for them to come in, sorry!" she said and I felt that I detected the merest hint of a curl at the two ends of her mouth! Could have been sarcasm mind you.

Bum safely parked back in my seat at the table with the coffees (bread bearing the unmistakeable evidence of having been purchased by yours truly, ie: teethmarks all over the end! - see chapter 31 of A Plethora of Posts, "A Bit of Banter in the Bakery"), it was my turn to "coffee-sit" while my significant other trotted along to the Post Office to get the car tax sorted out. That's when I whipped out my mobile phone and snapped the above image.

Today is December 20th. That means that tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. It's still hard to appreciate such things living here as we do. With all the sunshine we've had during the last few weeks it hasn't got dark before twenty past five in the evening yet. Mind you, the forecast does give us storms and lower temperatures for the coming week, even snow in Thessalonika where if anyone's "dreaming of a white Xmas" they may well see their dreams come true. 

For a few weeks now Gareth, of Gareth and Vicky fame (Vicky's the budding new writing talent here by the way), has been reminding me that he's prepared to take me with him as he takes his trusty old white Transit (yup, folks, Gareth is a "white van man!") into the hinterland - meaning the deepest darkest hills above Lardos and just beyond yet another monastery whose name escapes me, to do a bit of logging. He knows that in our Suzuki Swift, which is a game little motor mind you, we can't really gather enough wood to get us through a whole winter. Now a great big Transit is another story, so I finally e-mailed him and arranged for us to go out logging this very morning.

I turned up at the house on the edge of Lardos just before the agreed time of 9.00am. I actually had to set the alarm this morning, aaaaaargh! Not only was Gareth, plus his "velcro" dog Kara (apologies to Gareth if I've spelt that wrongly) ready, but so too were Vicky's son Thom and his mate Emille, two strapping teenage lads up for the "crack" as it were. Two chainsaws, fuel, gloves, oil and two lads were thrown into the back of the van and the three of us (Gareth/dog/me!) got into the cab and then set out. Not twenty minutes later we were in a beautiful wilderness not a couple of miles above the village of Lardos, where I was moved to chat to Gareth about how those who say that Rhodes is ruined by tourism are talking out of their armpits (now, now, children present!). Notwithstanding the fact that the hills were studded with charred trees from the 2008 fires, it was still a wonderful environment to be in. 

We were soon all zipping through fallen tree trunks and throwing logs down the hillside toward the van and at one point I was was so hot that the sweat in my eyes was making it hard for me to see! Well, it is December. Mind you, since they have forecast rain almost immediately, we couldn't have chosen a better day for it.

When we finally got all the logs back to the van and started to load them, Gareth surprized, nay gobsmacked me by letting on that all this wood was for Yvonne-Maria and I.

"What?" I exclaimed? "But I thought that we were going to split it!" (no pun intended, but rather good anyway, eh?) I added. 

"Don't be daft," said Gareth, "I've got plenty already, but I knew that you couldn't get enough in one run with that car of yours, so that's why I offered to use the van." Now this was after almost three hours of all three of them sawing, throwing, sweating and heaving logs and all for me! What do you say in response to such kindness? "Thanks guys" seems a bit insufficient somehow.

A lot of the charred tree trunks are simply neat soot to the touch. So it's no surprise that we got a fair bit of it on our clothes and skin. But Emille looked like he'd been on an army assault course by the time we finished the job. To top it all, after dropping the excellent two lads back at his house, Gareth drove the van and all its woody cargo the several miles out to our place to deposit the cargo on our drive for us. He's got a bad back too folks! The rain began as we were unloading, talk about timing. All right, we did spend a day helping them clear up after their home was flooded during last winter's storms, but still and all this was generosity to a fault.

I wasn't going to suggest to Gareth that hopefully he'd get flooded out again this coming January so we could return the favour.

Gareth and Vicky come from the same area of South Wales where we ourselves had lived for 24 years. From experience I don't exaggerate when I say that South Waleans are pretty good in the friendly generosity stakes. Anne Robinson didn't do her research very well (Let me know if you don't understand that last remark).

Monday, 19 December 2011

Μιλάτε ελληνικά; Vous Parlez Français? Sprechen Sie deutsch?

Μιλάτε ελληνικά; Τώρα μπορείτε να μεταφράσετε αυτή τη σελίδα χρησιμοποιώντας το Google Translate. Απλά μετακινηθείτε προς τα κάτω την αριστερή στήλη...

Maintenant on peut traduire cette page en utilisant Google Translate. Juste faites défiler la colonne de gauche...

Jetzt können Sie Diese Seite übersetzen mit Google Translate. Scrollen Sie einfach auf der linken Spalte...

I've added a quick translate facility to the blog. Scroll down the left-hand column to this box:

Friday, 16 December 2011

Ferrets, Slugs and Dougal the Dog

I have a moustache. Yes, it is moustache in UK English. It's only mustache (minus the "o") in American! Now, my moustache is quite fair and these days flecked with grey. I like to think it extinguishes, or ought that to be distinguishes me a little. Most people don't even notice it. Can't say I even notice it much myself, apart, that is, from the occasions when I trim it to stop the hairs from growing down around my top lip and into my mouth, which I hate. I've "worn" it for several decade, ever since the better half told me she preferred me with it; not because - as I'd hoped - she found that it made me remind her of that fellow in "Gone With the Wind", what was his name now? Grey Gables or something.

Anyway, as I said, I thought she'd tell me that she preferred me to sport one for the reason alluded to above, but, alas, no. She told me long ago that it was because she didn't like my top lip!

Since moving here and having the opportunity to study Greeks of a slightly more advanced age in their natural habitat, namely, the local cafeneion, I've come to realize that the moustache seems to bear some relationship to one's standing in the local community. Watching the old guys in the Agapitos up at Asklipio, where we collect our mail, I have noticed that virtually none are moustache-less if they're over about 50 years of age. The larger the undergrowth, the greater the respect accorded by one and all in the village.

Goodness knows what he's got living in there. Probably a bit of kleftiko for "ron", as in "later on" (subtle eh?). 

In times past, moustaches have been referred to in comedic circles by such diverse terms as a "ferret parked on one's top lip" or even - as in the wonderful "Blackadder Goes Forth" TV series in the UK - as a slug. The Greek moustache more often puts me in mind of the dog Dougal from the old childrens' TV programme "Magic Roundabout". Although it would probably more accurately be Dougal after he'd let his coat get rather long and then twirled the hair of his head and tail with a liberal applying of Brylcreem in there too, because the more elevated members of village society over here tend to have handlebars which would make any British World War One flying ace proud. They need to be twisted or twirled at the ends in such a way as to render someone forgiven for thinking that he could hang his sports jacket on it and place it in the wardrobe, along with a couple of mothballs. I'm sure not a few Greeks are Salvadore Dali admirers in secret.

Now there's another weird thing. In the UK, the last I remember hearing about mothballs was when I was about ten, in the early 60's. Since then their familiar look and smell had faded from memory until we moved out here. It seems that moths still wreak their havoc among your average Greek's garments in your average Greek's wardrobe. Most peculiar, or so I thought. But when you consider that most Greek houses don't have cavity walls and their inner surfaces sweat with condensation during chilly winter evenings when the inhabitants are heating the home with burning logs, an electric oil-filled radiator or perhaps a bottle-gas heater (the kind which we all used [well, those of us who were strapped for cash!] in the UK back in the eighties, before they were deemed a health and safety no-no), and you understand why a lot of Greek homes are damp during the winter months. Plus, it seems that a dank, dark wardrobe, the like of which our centrally heated homes in the UK saw the back of some decades ago, is still not at all rare in a Rhodean home during winter. Evidently the ideal environment for your average moth to seek out in which to lay its eggs and allow it's offspring to eat some unwitting Greek out of blouse and hosiery!

So, walk into any local supermarket out here and you'll always find a selection of mothballs for sale on the "household" shelves, taking the likes of me back forty years or so in a reverie of that familiar pong which always greeted me as a child when I opened the wardrobe door.

To return for a moment to the top lips of older Greek gentlemen. I've come to the conclusion, having made an in-depth study you understand, that I'd never be able to elicit great and deep respect from the villagers in my local cafeneion, owing to the fact that my facial hair has never been dark or dense enough to cultivate the required size and "wings" that would be necessary.

Hey ho, thwarted yet again in my attempts to integrate.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Real Kiotari

 This morning (Friday December 9th) I took a walk along the lower coast road from just below where we live to the house of a couple of friends who wanted a bit of help with their PC and for some reason thought I'd be able to provide it. Amazingly, I was!! Mind you I had to go and lie down in a darkened room afterwards. After all, as you'll no doubt know if you read my ramblings regularly, I'm a Mac man. That's Apple-Mac of course. I'm not in the habit of wearing gaberdine and hanging around public toilets or anything like that. Well, not too often (I'm assuming you're bright enough to understand that the last comment there was a joke, by the way). They needed help with their Windows machine and, with a bit of brow-furrowing, we got there in the end. It was worth it, since I was plied with home-made shortbread and fruitcake, washed down with a couple of mugs of freshly made filter coffee for my trouble.

The walk along to the house took around forty five minutes and all the while I was seething. I'll explain.

As no doubt you'll have deduced, I've read a lot of web pages and travel guides about this island, and not a few of them talk quite disparagingly about the area of Rhodes in which my wife and I live, Kiotari. Often I read things like, "there are a couple of large hotels and little else", or "not much to see there" and such like. I confess to being non-plussed. I mean, what exactly is it that these people, these "experts", are seeking? 

Yes, alright, admittedly there are a few hotels at the northern end of Kiotari, but these are all low-rise, a fact which makes a huge difference. One only has to drive North out of Faliraki (and there are those who'd say "drive any direction out of Faliraki, it's bound to be an improvement", but - each to his own, I say) through the area known as Kallithea to see the difference it makes. There you will pass huge sky-reaching hotels one after the other in a setting completely devoid of anything to remind you that you're even in Greece.

Here in Kiotari, however, the hotels are modern, agreed, but they occupy not even 10% of the area which is officially known as Kiotari, the rest of which is entirely different. There are admittedly new villas springing up along the coastal strip, but these all have decent sized gardens, most of which are well kept, often by our friend Julia who runs a personal gardening service for those who only use their villa occasionally. The overwhelming impression one gets here though is of tranquillity, the thought that one is far away from the bustle and pace of modern living.
As I walked I ruminated on all the mis-information which I've read and looked around me at the evidence to the contrary. I had my trusty digital camera in my pocket and so snapped the photos you see in this post. What do you think?

 Above: Looking South along the coast to the village of Gennadi

 Above: The area I like to call the "real" Kiotari. In summer the wall to the left, which overlooks the beach, is lined with the tables and chairs from the "La Strada" taverna across the road. You can just discern the white walls of the "Paralia" Taverna, which is right on the beach, just a little further away.

 Aove: Agave Americana growing wild on the low dunes behind the beach at Kabanari Beach

Above: Looking North across the bay toward Pefkos

So then, what's your verdict? ...And these photographs were taken on the 9th of December, the depths of winter. The light was superb and it was a"good to be alive" day. 

I think, with all modesty, that from my experience of Greece, since marrying a half-Greek girl many years ago and having visited virtually every corner of this country, I know the real Greece when I see it. I was looking at it this morning.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

That Shrinking Feeling

I have now begun to remove quite a number of posts from the site, starting from the oldest ones originally put on-site in 2009 and 2010, since these are shortly to be available in the book "A Plethora of Posts".

At the moment there are still 77 individual posts on the site, not counting - of course - the other pages, including "News and Stuff".

Once "A Plethora of Posts" is available on general release, all the posts which are included in the book will be removed from the "Ramblings" blog, to make way for the future re-growth of the site in the shape of posts to come. All posts which still have some relevance but were not included in the new book will remain live on the site.

Anyway, here's a bunch of pics from the past few months...

Monday, 5 December 2011

A Dip in December

At this time of year I'd say that 75% of the traffic on the roads in this part of the island is pickup trucks. For a while we could almost be back in the High Rockies in Aspen, Colorado, where we spent three weeks one June a few years back. Out there just about everyone drives a 4x4 pickup. When you remember that for six months of every year they're up to their goolies in snow it's not really surprising. Here? well, it's olive harvesting time again. Plus many of the trucks are a little less roadworthy than all the gleaming ones you see charging up and down Route 82.

It's hard to believe that this past August was our sixth anniversary of arriving here and we're now well into our seventh annual cycle of Rhodean rural life. It still thrills us to be able to follow the phases of the moon. There are so many clear nights here, year-round, that we now know when looking at it which phase the moon is in. At the moment, as it's Early December, it's waxing. Still waxing "gibbous" as the weather web sites remind us. This means that it's in its early phase and appears low in the western sky soon after sunset, sporting the classic shape that the cow was reputed to have jumped over, when the puppy laughed and before the controversial elopement of the cutlery and crockery which soon followed. This also means that well before midnight the moon sets and the sky is moon-free, impossibly inky and displaying diamond-like stars that are so vivid you'd swear they'd just flown off a tiara. The Milky Way is a vivid cloud of lace strung right across the sky from horizon to horizon and shooting stars are easy to spot with just a few moments of patient gazing.

This past few weeks have been glorious weather-wise. Not that the locals would say so of course. Since mid-October there has been one weekend (in early November) when it rained for a couple of days, but since then there's scarcely been a cloud, leave alone any precipitation. Of course, the ex-pat community are well pleased, but the Greeks worry about the fact that without the Autumn rains the olives haven't fattened up and ripened as they should. Still, as it's now December they have to get on with the job and so, as we walk along the paths among the groves or drive the lanes, we now see babushka-clad heads on bodies bent double as they lay their nets, or gather up the precious little globes which will keep them in oil for the next twelve months, hopefully. The men are busy with the "agitators", those long poles on the ends of which are revolving splines to disturb the upper branches and thus encourage the olives to break free and fall to the nets below. These machines, for those who can afford the powered ones, spin to the rhythmic humming of a small petrol generator, which is usually perched on the back of the pickup, which is frequently driven deep into the grove and far away from the road, to service every possible tree.

For us, December is a time to kick back a little. We've started our period of making long walks. Already we've done the walk up to Asklipio village to collect our mail, only to find on this particular occasion that, had we telephoned first we'd have known that Agapitos and Athanasia were out harvesting their olives and wouldn't be open during the daytime for a few days. Never mind, it gave us an excuse to go and sit in the small traditional cafeneion at the other end of the square, where the proprietor, a thirty-something Kyrania served us our coffees and sat with us a while. When we apologised for not having graced her establishment before (in more than six years!) she was kind in her response. We told her why we were usually to be found patronizing the Agapitos taverna along the way and she told us that she knew. Athanasia, after all, was her cousin. Seems Kyrania knew us before we knew her. We assured her that, after having passed a very pleasant half-hour chatting with her, that we'd certainly come again, especially after she explained how good her pizzas were.

Across the way, under the shade of a huge tree, sat three ya yas outside the only store in the village. The store's proprietor, a woman in her fifties I'd guess, was spoon-feeding one of the ya yas with her lunch. Seems she'd had a fairly major stroke or something.

The above was earlier during the past week. 


Last Saturday though (December 3rd), we decided we needed a good long walk and so hatched the idea of walking to Glystra Beach. This is a pleasant walk along the small coast road, which is virtually deserted of traffic at this time of the year. The road is never more than a few yards from a gloriously unspoilt beach, sometimes shingle, occasionally pebbles, but often of fine sand and backed by low dunes, partially covered with scrub and, of course, the road itself. The walk from our house to Glystra takes about an hour and we headed down on to the beach itself for the last leg, just as the road diverts inland away from the beach for a while and leads up toward the Imperial Hotel Reception area. At this point there is a lane running down on to the beach and we followed the beach along to and over the small headland that projects into the sea at the southern end of Glystra beach itself. This way we approach the beach through the undergrowth and across a couple of small dunes.

Here on the beach, we were amazed and pleased to find that, apart from one Greek, who was towelling himself off beside his 4x4 at the far end of the beach in preparation for his departure, we had the entire beach to ourselves. With the temperature around 22ºC, we quickly changed into our bathing cozzies and charged into the sea, which, granted, does feel a bit chilly on first contact with the skin at this time of the year, but after a couple of minutes is fine and we swam a while before hunger drew us back ashore to tuck into our boiled egg and mayo bread rolls and a flask of coffee.

 The birds on the rocks are herons by the way

This beach is well populated with sun beds and umbrellas during the season, but now, well, you can see from the photos above. We often remark on days such as this that were this a June day in the UK the beaches would be packed to the gills, we'd have had to pay a small fortune to park had we brought the car and there would be ice cream vans and hot dog stands everywhere.

I was going to call this post, "Don't look if you're easily depressed", but that would have been mean.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Two Mornings, One Tragic, the Other Exhilarating

Well, it's over a week again now since we had any rain. The weekend before last we enjoyed a storm which lasted three days from the arrival of the first clouds to re-emerging sun, but that ended last Monday (the 14th) and it's been fine ever since.

Tragically a man drowned here in Kiotari early last Tuesday morning. Y-Maria and I were preparing to go for a long walk at around 9.30am and we saw a helicopter making circuits above the sea down below us. Although the day had dawned bright and mainly blue, the sea was still calming down after the storm and the waves at dawn had been around 12 feet high. At first I though that the helicopter may have been military, since we often see military aircraft flying along the coast on their way to take part in army exercises down near Prassonissi, but it became clear on putting the bins to my eyes that it was of the air-sea rescue kind and that it was occupied with something very near home.

Arriving at the beach at around 10.00am we encountered a knot of people, just south of the Paralia Taverna, where the road is only separated from the beach by a few low shrub-covered dunes, all wringing their hands and staring anxiously out to sea, where the aircraft still hovered about a half a mile out from the shore. Also present was a Police car, one of its occupants talking into his in-car communicator. A couple of the observers were neighbours whom we knew and they soon updated us on the sad scenario which had unfolded just a couple of hours earlier.

Apparently a couple of men from Germany were staying with a friend in his house on the beach road. They were apparently here to pick olives for a while. Reportedly they'd decided that each morning they'd go for a swim, notwithstanding the fact that one them wasn't a confident swimmer. The beach here shelves steeply into the water and there are frequent rocks not far below the surface just a little way out. Of course, when the sea is like a millpond, or "san la'thi [like oil]" as the Greeks say, one can see the rocks quite clearly through the crystal water. When, however, the sea boils as it was doing on this particular morning, there is the added danger of undertow, as well as those rocks which cannot be seen until it's too late. Sadly, both swimmers got into difficulty, one of them just making it back to shore, where he ran to the house to raise the alarm. This was at some time before 8.00am. When we arrived at around ten the helicopter had just located his companion, floating about half a mile from the shore and quite evidently now, sadly, lifeless. The aircraft was awaiting the arrival of a launch which was coming to retrieve the body, it having been delayed by the fact that launching it was difficult from Lardos "Limani" with the sea being so high.

I was reminded of a comment made to me by a seasoned Greek seaman once. "Gianni," he said, "Never lose your respect for the sea. It's a treacherous friend and it will always be master."

Happily, yesterday was an altogether different experience. We took a drive on a bright, blue morning up to the remote hilltop village of Messanagros. The light was impossibly vivid and the temperature in Kiotari approaching 20ºC when we left. Up at Messanagros, where the wind always blows, it felt fresh and was more likely around 15º, when not sheltered by the buildings. As we walked the village the temperature climbed steadily and it began to feel quite pleasantly warm. Passing one rusty old gate, which led into a small concrete yard, fronting a small cottage, the door of which was one of those that's permanently open, since on the side of the house that faces the yard there is no other light source for the interior room, we bade kalimer'a to a middle aged woman dressed in dark clothes that she'd evidently worn daily for some considerable time. She returned the greeting and so began a short conversation. She bade us come in and we then met her mother, a tiny old stick of a woman who was dressed entirely in black, including the headscarf which framed her oval, leathery face. She smiled but allowed the younger woman, who, upon asking we discovered was her daughter, to continue the conversation.

"Where do you live? Do you own your house or do you rent? What work do you do? Do you have children? How long have you been married?" She fired such questions in quick succession. 

One gets used to the fact that such questions are not considered intrusive in Greek culture, you are expected to answer them succinctly, otherwise you may give offense. Upon being told that my wife's mother had been Greek, our host immediately dug her evidently soily hand into a glass bowl on her old wooden table and thrust a clutch of wrapped boiled sweets into each of our palms.

The room in which we stood was basic - to be kind about it. As is so often true of older village houses, the floor was bare concrete, the walls various shades of grubbiness from years of not having seen a roller and there was an ancient "so'ba" [log-burning stove] in one corner, stack of logs to one side. An old sink hung precariously from another wall and something which once resembled lace hung across the small window at the far end of the room, trying to masquerade as curtains. Such people can only be described as paupers, yet they are always generous with what little they have. It appeared that the older woman, the mother, was a widow and the younger (who must have been fifty if a day) spoke in such terms as to leave us in no doubt that she was sure she'd some day be snapped up by some lucky chap and would then produce an heir for her dear old mum.
"I'm still young" she declared, when we asked her if she was married or had children.

The photos were taken with my mobile, so the definition's not so great I'm afraid. We made our excuses and prepared to bid our hosts goodbye, stepping into the bright sunshine of the yard. The younger woman sped ahead of us across ten feet or so of once white-painted concrete to the huge pink rose bush growing beside the old gate and plucked two roses, along with twelve inches or so of stem, one for each of us. She pressed them into our hands and gave us a huge smile as we left, adding that we must drop in again next time we were passing.

We carried on walking around the village, passing the tiny cafenio, of which the village has only the one, out from which exuded the voices of the few local men as they got excited over their Ellenikos and backgammon games or tried to get their fellow villagers to see that their synopsis of the current crisis and how to solve it was surely the right one.

Out front of the cafe as we passed was a clutch of maybe ten or fifteen cats, all watching intently as the local fish-seller was plying his trade from those white polystyrene, ice-filled containers on the back of his pickup. A couple of villagers bade us Kalimer'a as we passed.

This is still how they make the bread and roast the joint for Sunday lunch. 
And the one below shows how well along the vegetable gardens are in this village, its altitude working in favour of the locals planting up maybe a month ahead of the likes of us who live much further down and hence suffer the summer heat and drought for a few weeks more than they do up here.

Finally, the one below shows where you'd have to go to "spend a penny" (or perhaps more) on a dark and windy night in the wilds of Messanagros. Maybe a "po" under the bed wouldn't go amiss if you lived here, eh?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

State of the Nation

I've recently had a very interesting e-mail from one of my readers who's been a Rhodo-phile for many years. With his permission, I've reproduced some his comments in this post, together with my response and a further response from him.

I think I've learned something from his comments about just what effect the social unrest and strikes which we in Greece have experienced this past couple of seasons is having - and is yet still likely to have - on the potential British tourist and his plans for future holidays. In response to the item "Go Greek For a Week" on my "News & Stuff" page my correspondent wrote in the first instance the following comments:


I've just seen your news item re the C4 programme, …we ...totally agree with your synopsis - the only problem is my mother in law was staying over for the night and, after watching it with us, is now convinced that all Greeks are tax avoiding crooks that need locking up and is struggling to see why we would ever want to visit the country again!!

Tax avoidance seems to be an integral part of greek culture and something we have been amused at over the years and we now have mixed feelings regarding the state the country is in and the effect that it will have on the people that have grown up treating such avoidance as an integral part of earning a semi decent crust.  On the one hand we agree with my mother in law's new found stance but on the other have first hand experience of such avoidance being part of everyday life and typical of the scant regard many (most?) Greeks seem to have for the law, e.g. driving, parking, wearing helmets, etc.., all of which now seem to be being clamped down on by the relevant authorities.  Sadly its now starting to affect our pension pots and mortgage endowments and, as such, is making us see things a bit differently!

As an example of tax avoidance..., the proprietor of one of the bars we regularly use in Rhodes Town now makes a point of ensuring we have a receipt in the glass even if its for our first drink and, invariably, on him and, more often than not, remains the only receipt in the glass no matter how long we stay - at the end of the session he always produces a figure that seems roughly commensurate with what we have consumed and we go away happy.  Turn the clock back 20+ years and the same proprietor would not have presented us with any receipts and we remember one session in October during the late 80s when we literally got rained into his establishment and when we eventually decided it was time to leave he simply looked at his watch and came up with a ridiculously low figure, apparently, based on an approximation of the time we had been in his bar (older and wiser we now know that what we had drunk would have been written down on his pad behind the bar but it still makes a good story!).

I really hope things come to some sort of amicable conclusion soon but as it stands we will be holding off a for a while before we book our annual pilgrimage for next year.

In response, I sent a message which included the following observations:

Firstly, yes, the centuries-old culture of tax avoidance is something which I myself used to unwittingly "appreciate", in that I often lament the days when you could spend an evening in a taverna, and when you asked for the bill, the owner would pull up a chair, get out a pencil or pen and scribble the basics of what you'd had on the paper tablecloth, round it down and ask you for a ridiculously modest sum. Of course, now that this country is paying big-time for such shoddy work practices we realize that what we were viewing as a quaint "essentially Greek" custom was simply tax evasion, however much we thought it reflected the "charm" of this country. It's hard to come to this conclusion, because I still miss that way of doing things purely from a holidaymaker's perspective!

Secondly, whilst I fully understand your words about having doubts regarding coming here next year; this reticence, if translated into actual numbers, would be even more disastrous for the Greek economy and millions of humble Greeks who literally barely enter the tax bracket at all (even when they're being honest!) and work in the tourist industry. The fact is that islands like Rhodes rely almost entirely on tourism and all this negative publicity has the potential to seriously cause major deprivation and joblessness if people stop coming. For all their wily ways, the grass roots Greeks are humble hard-working people and they feel rightly aggrieved that they are all paying (lower tax thresholds, higher VAT rates, petrol prices etc.) for the extravagance of the professionals, the surgeons, the lawyers, the entertainers, yes ...the politicians, who have evaded paying huge tax bills and are still sitting pretty while the poorer people see their wages reduced while the prices for just about everything are hiked.

So, I will always plead with the British - and in fact anyone - to please still come here for a holiday. The landscape, the light, the history, the sunniness of the local people, the food, the things that mark this country as truly unique, are all still here - albeit at a higher prices than in times past.

He then sent another message, containing these comments [bold type mine]:

The Greek economy and rising costs is a worry for us but its the prospect of strikes this is causing that is having the biggest impact on us - we were seriously considering a trip to Rhodes during the October half term a few weeks ago but the prospect of air traffic, taxi, etc. strikes, meant it was simply not worth the risk of losing a couple of days of our hard earned week dealing with airport delays and/or struggling to get about.  Instead we chose to stay in the UK and visit Centre Parcs ...and had a very enjoyable time with zero hassle, albeit at about the same cost as a trip to Rhodes would have been!

Its been quite some time since we have been to Rhodes as a cheap destination, ...but we keep returning simply because we love just about everything about the place and I expect we will continue to do so.  To be perfectly honest I do not think our main holiday to Rhodes next year is in jeopardy ...but we will definitely be holding off and booking up much later to give us time to assess the situation and potential for disruptive strikes, etc..

The bad press that Greece is getting at the moment will undoubtedly be having a similar effect on other travellers as well.  Those, like myself, who know and love Greece and the Greeks may be thinking twice about if or when to visit next year but will undoubtedly return before too long. Unfortunately there will be loads of others that have either never visited before or don't care where they go, so long as there is sun..., that will be lost for somewhat longer.

We'll keep selling Rhodes' virtues but will be adding caveats whilst the current situation persists.

I felt that his comments were of such relevance that I ought to share them with my readers on the blog. I also now better understand why some who may truly want to come here are having second thoughts. After all, a really good holiday can be ruined by long delays at airports, a non-existent taxi service, closed archeological sites and the like. Plus I feel he's spot on when he refers to travellers who may have come here, but will now go elsewhere rather than encounter the hassle that all the disruption can cause them.

Each time we watch the TV news here we express dismay when seeing the strikes and realizing that the only effect they're really having is to dissuade the tourists from coming here, which is precisely the effect the Greeks really don't need!

Anyway, as my dear Dad used to so often say, "you pays yer money and you takes yer choice." Never a truer word spoken…

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Dear Deer

The weather of late has been exceptionally dry, as made reference to the other day in the post "Funny What You Come Across...". In fact, the dust on the surface of the lane leading up to the house is finer than self-raising flour, which is more akin to high summer than the start of the second week in November. It's perhaps for this reason that we've witnessed two really feel-good "nature moments" this past couple of days. 

The lack of rain has lent a much greater than normal importance to our plant pot tray, the one we keep filled with water just beside the car port, primarily for the toads to sit in during the night hours. The first photo below, which isn't all that good quality-wise since it was taken through the double-glazing, shows one of the local Jays drinking from our "pond". This bird is exceptionally shy, but is prepared to come this close to the house because it's thirsty, as are the sparrows and Sardinian Warblers which also pay regular visits to our "watering hole". 

There is simply no water out there in the natural environment anywhere. The forecast suggests that this weekend we may get some rain at last and we really hope it's right. Having just watched the news, which told us that the South of France has received seven inches of rain in 36 hours, twice the amount which they normally receive in the entire month of November, we're feeling decidedly deprived. No, we wouldn't like a huge typhoon, but a heavy storm or two wouldn't go amiss now.

Perhaps, and I don't really know - I'm only guessing, the drought is also the reason for our second sighting of deer within metres of our perimeter fence during a calendar year - just. The last time was during December 2010 when a single doe approached the house from behind (Those last two links will take you to the post about her). But at 8.30am this morning (Thursday November 10th) I went out to throw some vegetable peelings on to our compost heap when, turning to look up the hill as I returned to the house I saw two creatures gazing at me from a few metres up the rise towards our neighbours' house. As usual I at first put them down as goats, since they're always around. But for some reason I gave them a second glance and, sure enough it was a pair of deer, probably a doe and her fawn, who was approaching adulthood, but still a little smaller than the one I took to be her mother.

I dashed into the house for the camera, hoping that they wouldn't be disturbed and take flight. As the photos below show, they stayed right where they were and afforded me the opportunity to snap four shots before they ambled off over the rise. Since they approached to within a few metres of our nearest neighbours' perimeter wall and fence, I wondered if they were associating the houses with a potential water source. Who knows, I'm no expert, but I know a tingle factor moment when I experience one.


Click on any of the images for a larger view.