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?


  1. How very sad for his family and friends, as you say, the sea has many 'moods' and is not to be toyed with.
    On the other hand your 2nd morning was a delight to read about and great pictures too. I fell in love with Mesanagros earlier this year and your description of the woman questioning you about yourselves and the details of your lifestyle reminded me of my experience, so Greek and not a bit offensive. After a light lunch we wandered around the village and hubby and I got separated, he wandering further afield than I did. I returned to the 'square' and was chatting to the owner of the cafe, who suddenly pointed at my left eye and asked, 'What's that?' (I have recently had a small carcinoma removed from the corner of my eye and had a skin graft at the site.) I explained and we continued our conversation about tourists and incomes!
    So refreshing when people do not feel the need to be 'polite'.
    Can you tell me what the fish were that we saw the fishmonger giving the cats of the village when we were there? They were very long, thin and had devilish-looking teeth. They appeared to be frozen or suffering extremes of rigor mortis, The cats dragged them away to dark corners, for later consumption, I guess.


  2. Not the man to ask about fish types I'm afraid. If I find out I'll let you know.

  3. A difficult day for all concerned, we have lived in Cornwall and have seen similar things happen, the Sea can be so powerful...........your post about Mesangros made me's such a lovely place. I can't tell you how much I love Rhodes, can't wait to visit again. I so love reading your blog John, thank you