Saturday, 5 November 2011

Paved With Gold

I love this time of year. In the UK the month in which I came into this world was always so grey, wet and often bone-chillingly cold that I seem to always conjure up a mental picture of leaden skies and murders of crows circling and cawing over trees with few leaves remaining after the Autumn fall; of weeks passing with scarcely a glimpse of the sun and very little chance of going about my daily grind under a blue sky. No doubt it's the month when the light-boxes required by those with S.A.D. syndrome sell like hot tiropittas.

Here, it's one of the months that really reminds me of the huge climatic difference between the South-Eastern Aegean and the British isles. In November on Rhodes it can rain and it can rain really hard, face-hurtingly hard if you happen to be out in it. But it doesn't stay around for long. In November the sunny days, which usually number around 20 anyway, are just perfect for the outdoor life, whereas during the high summer it's just so tiringly, sweat-inducingly hot that all one wants to do if one doesn't have to work is sit in the house with the shutters closed and drink copious quantities of Adam's ale (that's water if you're not from the UK!).

The daytime temperatures for the past ten days or so have been in the mid twenties. That means that you can actually sit out on the terrace, or in a cafe, and not worry too much about being in the sun for a while. Not for too long mind you, because then you will begin to burn and regret it when you apply the after-sun cream while contemplating your rosy face and arms in the bathroom mirror during the succeeding evening. But it's so lovely during November to go for a twenty minute walk or so first thing in the morning, perhaps down to the beach, where you can take a dip in the still pleasantly warm blue sea. The sea temperature is comfortable for swimming right up until Christmas here. In fact, as regular readers of these ramblings will know from older posts, my wife and I have now swum at least once in every month of the year. In fact my friend Petros (Ch. 10 of Tzatziki For You to Say), who lives in Kalathos, swims every day of the year without fail. When I've ventured into the ocean during January or February and later explained to him that I almost froze solid and certain bits of me almost shrank to the point of verging on the invisible during the first 30 seconds of my immersion, his reply was that I ought to go swimming every day, then I wouldn't even notice the change in the water's temperature during the winter months. I believe he has a good point, but I probably won't embark on the experiment to see if I agree. It's too much like hard work.

So anyway, since it's November, and every day the light is wonderful and the sky a deeper blue than we often see during August, we're tempted outside more often. We've done some serious gardening during the past week or so, giving the secateurs a good hammering, I can tell you. We've also been rash enough to go out for a few walks, dropping in a some neighbours to cadge a drink or a bikkie, or the local Cafe, the "Gre Cafe", just fifteen minutes from the house on foot and fast becoming a pleasurable "heart" to the otherwise fairly deserted Kiotari during the off season. The two Georges and their wives, sister or mother are usually in attendance and we share thoughts on how the summer went for everyone, plus the inevitable comments on the latest bad news on the TV about what's happening in the big world of European finance and politics. usually hearing the comment to the effect that the politicians continue to live it up in luxury whilst the populace slowly sink into destitution. Plus ça change, eh?

So, a couple of days ago there we were, enjoying a frappe in the shade out front of the cafe, while various locals in cars screeched to a halt in their quest to get somewhere, but not to get there before having dashed into the cafe for a take-away frappe, when a smart couple sat down at the table next to us. Not wishing to be nosey, well, anyway… we overheard them talking and became inquisitive enough to greet them with a "Beautiful day, isn't it." The fella took a call on his mobile and we heard him talking in American English, but when speaking to his companion, a nice lady called Suzanna, whom we later learned was from Germany and has now lived in Lardos for about 18 months, he spoke in Greek. It was quite difficult to work him out, so hence the need to become acquainted, eh?

It's easy to draw the wrong conclusions about people. First impressions had us thinking that they were probably some annoyingly well-off people with roots (well, him anyway) here in Rhodes, but now living in the States or perhaps on some cabin cruiser with smoked-glass windows. probably a Merc parked round the back of the cafe or some such motor. Just back here to visit the poor unfortunate relatives.

Wrong. Turned out that they were just friends meeting for a coffee and that he was from Asklipio and had lived in the States for a short while, hence the accent when he spoke his very good English. Inevitably the conversation came around to the economic woes of the country and we heard the man's [I'll leave out his name] opinion about a number of issues. I may not have agreed with all his views, but I have to say that I could see where he was coming from and could sympathize. He was probably somewhere around fifty years old, tall, fairly good looking and in good physical shape. He told us that he was struggling to make ends meet and couldn't get a job for love nor money, as we say. I asked him what kind of job he was looking for; you know, did he have any skills and such. He replied that he would be happy with some bar work or in a hotel or something. It seems that for him the problem is that employers don't want a guy his age, with the salary which would be commensurate with that, when they can get some immigrant 20-something Polish girl for half the amount. So what if she can't make a very good frappe, she's cheap.

His anger led him to express the view that many of the immigrant workers from places such as Albania, Romania, Bulgaria and the like often don't have papers, hence are here illegally and are taking jobs from the locals. The fact that he was talking to a couple of Brits who also work here didn't stop him making his point of view quite clear. Mind you, at least we are legal. But his hurt was apparent and I felt for him, even though I know many immigrant workers personally, many Albanian, who are here legally, are very industrious and willing to do jobs which many Greeks still are not willing to take on. The situation is never that cut and dried is it.

I mentioned the fact that Rhodes as an island has had a series of bumper years tourist-wise, yet the local councils still couldn't afford to put diesel in their vehicles or pay their employees on time. His reply was unequivocal:

"They bleed us dry. It all goes to Athens. Rhodes would be better off independent, like Cyprus."

"You think so?" I asked. "Mind you, it does make some kind of sense. Do you really think that Rhodes would be that much better off running its own finances then?"

"Of course," he replied, "The streets here would be paved with gold. But the Government's bleeding us dry and we get precious little in exchange."

Now this was his opinion, but as I mentioned earlier, I could see why he feels the way he does. When he got up to leave, along with his friend Suzanna, who was very sweet and amicable, he apologized to us for having sounded off. We told him that there was no need and wished him well in his quest for work next season. As he walked away he turned back one more time and repeated, "paved with gold" in a meaningful manner.

We sipped our frappes through their straws as the two of them drove off in a modest little hatch that had seen better days and reflected on the fact that our first impressions had been way off the mark.

1 comment:

  1. I've sometimes pondered whether Rhodes could declare UDI and survive. Lots of the Greek population we speak to on the island appear to have no time for or no interest in mainland Greece and it's problems...............Maybe now is the time!
    Yet another fascinating piece, John, thank you.