Sunday, 26 February 2012

Sick as Parrots

Friday February 24th dawned bright and blue and warm. This was more like the kind of winter weather we expect when the sun's out. At 9.00am it was 15ºC outside and there was hardly a breeze; a day which demanded a walk. Since we'd planned to drop in on Graham and Elaine, a couple of friends who live along the coast road between Kiotari and Gennadi, we had the prospect of a forty minute walk and then coffee and (knowing Elaine) home-made cake if we were really in luck, which we kind of knew we would be.

Setting out down the lane we could feel the temperature rising as we walked and it was one of those moments that remind one of how sweet the simple life can be. A chiff chaff chirped its distinctive little "chiff-chaff, chiff chaff" song at us from somewhere off to the left and chaffinches flitted between the bushes on either side of the lane. Blackbirds worried in the undergrowth and birds of prey were catching thermals way above us. A kestrel took off from one of the telegraph posts beside the lane as we approached and we stepped it out with purpose, to get a bit of the old CV kind of thing going, which kind of makes the conscience feel better about the prospect of cake later!

Once down on the coast road we were grateful to see how low the humidity was, making everything crisp and sharp to the eye, a perfect day for photography...

 (Above: the "Bar" end of the Lighthouse Taverna premises, right on the beach at Kiotari.
You can't miss the Lighthouse if you keep an eye toward the coast, as there's a huge make-believe lighthouse on the roof of the taverna & visible from the main road. There could hardly be a better location for a chill-out lunch or cool beer)

As we walked along the road a huge Toyota pickup approached and I recognised the silhouetted driver within by his outline; neck-length wavy hair around an oval face, it was Dimitris "the horse" who, apart from owning a "ranch" up the coast a little, where tourists can hire his horses for a ride along the beach, also has hundreds of olive trees, some of which he'd allowed us to harvest  a couple of years back, with the help of his "man Friday" Massur. He drew up beside us, passenger window sliding silently down and reached out a hand to shake ours and exchange a greeting.

"Where did you harvest your olives this year?" He asked, after we'd exchanged "Pos Paeis" and "Ti Kaneises". 

"We didn't," we replied in unison, "...had to buy 35 litres from a friend in Kalathos. Bit painful, but still cheaper than buying retail."

"So, why didn't you harvest a few of my trees?" Continued Dimitris, at which we were surprised, to say the least. Each time we'd seen him over the past year or so we'd mentioned that we'd be happy to help him with his harvest, but he hadn't called or indicated that it would be "on", as it were, so we'd concluded that he didn't need any help, or that there weren't enough olives to keep him in oil as well as supply our need. A distinctly annoyingly clanging sound could be heard in my brain as a penny kind of dropped. 

"We thought, ...well, we didn't want to just presume. We thought you'd say if you wanted us this year." 

 "Listen," Dimitris said, "I did come by a few times, but you weren't in. I harvested 150 kilos of oil and just didn't need any more, so I thought you could do what you did two years ago, just go up to the valley by the homestead and help yourselves. If you'd done a few trees it would have been doing me a favour. I had to leave them in the end as I just had too many. It was a very good year."

Now, the thought that we'd just forked out for a full barrel of oil when we could have gone up to Dimitri's trees and harvested as much as we'd wanted brought on that "sick as a parrot" feeling in the pair of us. If only we'd been in when he'd called by. 

Still, there was a silver lining in this situation. What he was effectively telling us was that we didn't need to ask. If we wanted to do it ourselves, we'd be welcome to simply turn up with our tools and harvest what we wanted in future, a fact which he went on to make plain so there would be no misunderstandings in future.

On our way home a couple of hours later, stomachs full of Elaine's delicious home-made choccy Nanaimo bars, we consoled ourselves with the thought that next winter, all being well, we'd be able to replenish our annual olive oil cache with our own hands again, something which - although entailing hard graft - was infinitely more satisfying than admitting defeat and buying the miraculous liquid from someone else, however cheaply.

On our way up the lane we nodded to one of our neighbours...

He's the male of Gianni the butcher's pig pen, who has a couple of female consorts to keep him company. Just as well he runs away from us, as he's frequently out of the pen and I'd say weighs more than I do!!

Dunno if we can outrun him, so just as well he retreats when we approach. When we got home in the early afternoon it was 22ºC in the shade under our carport. Oh, the harshness of winter in Rhodes, eh?

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Leaving Anthoula's

Taverna Anthoula doesn't look like the kind of taverna which you'd write home about. It's fairly non-descript from the outside, which isn't much of an outside as it's right beside the road just a few metres along the road to Epta Piges from the Kolymbia crossroads. Its menu is limited, although the food all of excellent quality, home made and very traditional. 
It often looks like it's closed but, go in through the door at any time of the year and you'll eat, though there may be no-one inside when you enter. Sure enough someone will emerge from the depths of the interior and welcome you. If it's a woman then it's likely to be Kyria Anthoula herself. If it's a bloke then it's probably her husband, whose name escapes me right now, so Mr. Yianniou will have to suffice. It's mainly an indoor place anyway, possessing only a modest outdoor courtyard with no view to speak of. Unless you consider the tarmac a view. On the other side of the road there are pine trees, under which it's usually easy to park, leaving one the short walk of a few metres across the road to enter the taverna itself.

You probably won't find Taverna Anthoula on tripadvisor, but don't worry, if you're hungry then it's a very handy way to remedy that situation when en route down the island from Rhodes Town to the South. We haven't been there all that many times. The last time was with our friend from Pilona, Brenda, following a garden-centre-crawl (talk about on the razzle, eh?) some time back. But it's Brenda who's prompted this post with a rather amusing tale about her most recent visit there with her friend Chris (female).

Having lunched and been well-served by Mr. Yianniou, as usual with their very good traditional Greek cuisine, they'd decided that maybe it was time to hit the road for the remaining thirty minutes or so drive back to the Pilona/Lardos area. Brenda called to the back of the restaurant for the bill from their host. Instead of the bill, however, he approached the ladies with a dish of four fresh oranges, along with a couple of knives to facilitate the job of devouring them. "What a nice thought" agreed our two heroines, who set about the oranges with the knives and a couple of serviettes to mop up the juice whilst confidently expecting Mr. Yianniou to return with the asked-for "logoriasmo" imminently.

As the bill hadn't materialised some 20 minutes later, Brenda called again, whereupon he approached once more, still not bearing the required slip of paper, but rather some "glyko tou koutaliou"...

 Image courtesy:

If you haven't ever had the experience of being offered this stuff by a Greek host, it's the kind of thing which you would usually expect to spread on your hot toast, but here you're expected to eat it with a small spoon, a "μικρό κουτάλι" and nothing else. "Sweet" isn't an adequate enough description for this stuff; "instant diabetes" would be more accurate. But it's a kind of tradition for guests to be given it and I'm quite convinced (as I wrote somewhere in one of the books, can't remember where now though) that the Greeks only keep it so that they can shove it in front of unsuspecting foreigners, before retiring to safe distance and whipping out their videocams for something to show their mates and have a laugh at later.

Anyway, glyko tou koutalio dispatched down the hatches, Brenda once more ventured to enquire from Mr. Yianniou as to whether there was any fear of getting the bill before "lights out". He assured them that it would be forthcoming and soon emerged, all smiles and compliments, bearing in his hand, not the bill, but this time some crystallized oranges, which are, if anything, even sweeter than the previous offering and once more served in a small glass dish. The was no faulting this man's kindness, just the nagging doubt growing in Brenda's mind that she wouldn't be doing anything else this particular afternoon, as she was almost certainly going to be arriving home at dusk at the earliest.

Checking their watches our game ladies noticed that it was now approaching an hour since they'd asked for the bill, and so, once again, …well, you know what they asked for next of course, with just a trace of irritation in their faces, which were set with resolute smiles nonetheless. Soon their host approached, all apologies, insisting that they take coffee before leaving and deposited a cup of hot dark liquid before each of them, along with the customary separate jug of condensed milk and a couple of sugar lumps to the side.

Exasperated would be a good adjective to describe the feelings of Brenda and Chris by this time, but to their credit, they saw the funny side and agreed that, well, so the lunch would turn out to be three times as long time-wise as they'd planned. What the heck, the Queen wasn't coming to visit, after all. No real pressing need to dash home. Their coffees three-quarters consumed, Mr. Yianniou finally brought the bill, struck up another brief conversation with them about how they came to be living on Rhodes and where they lived etc., whilst also extending his deepest thanks for their custom and his hope that they'd found the meal to their satisfaction, accepted payment and retreated.

Almost in disbelief, Brenda and her friend realized that they were free to go! But leaving Anthoula's had proved to be a lot more difficult than they could ever have imagined. They'd do it again though, as would we, only perhaps on a day when we knew we had no pressing appointments later!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Moving Swiftly On...

Well, after the hornet's nest I seem to have stirred up with the last post I thought I get back to the usual drivel about daily life out here!!

Today, thankfully, it's business as usual weather-wise. After all the cold temperatures we've been experiencing for weeks, which prompted the local paper (the Rodiaki) to say that's it's the coldest winter on Rhodes for thirty years, today it was 17.5ºC in the shade (63.5 in the old money) and we've been working in the garden in hot sunshine. Our temporary stewardship of Simba the cat led to these photos being taken when we broke for coffee earlier...

(That's halva in the little dish by the way. A dentist's dream)

As any cat-lover will know, you don't really own a cat, he or she owns you. This is well evident in the case of this rather exceptional moggy. He moved here with our newest neighbour up the hill some time ago. But then she got a couple of puppies and the neighbours in the next house down (the one above ours) found that they had a new resident, eventually buying food for him and fashioning a cosy little sleeping box for him too, replete with shag-pile floor mat for sleeping comfort. Since they've had to go to the UK owing to a rather tragic death in their close family, we've been charged with his safe-keeping until they return.

The thing is, Simba is no ordinary pussycat. He thinks he's a human. I've never known a cat be more concerned to have human company than this one. He hates being on his own. If you're out in the garden, he has to follow you around and keeps talking to you the whole time. His little box is temporarily on our terrace while the neighbours are away, but he'll wait for us to emerge in the morning and fuss him a little before he'll eat anything. Once he's satisfied that you've shown him enough affection, he'll happily trot over to the food bowl and crunch away. 

Anyway, after this brief interlude of cat and coffee, we shed our outer garments and I was down to just a t-shirt and was still too hot by the time we broke for lunch. I will actually admit to having downed a bottle of beer from the fridge!! Now, this was more like it! As I usually say (but this year's blown it a little) a Rhodean winter is like good British summer. Today restored my faith a little.

One more photo. Last evening we took a walk in the hills behind the house and, in the late afternoon sunshine I snapped this one of the olive groves with a glimpse of the sea in the background. I rather liked the mood. Hope you do too...

As usual, clicking on any of the pics will open it in a larger window. Right click on it again to view it even bigger.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Hold Your Horses...

This is a bit of a rant, OK. Sorry, but I think the following is quite important...

It makes me mad, it really does. Didn't we all learn geography at school? Here we are in a country which has more surface area of sea and islands than it does land and yet still, when a street riot or disturbance takes place in one or two places, like Athens or Thessalonika, we here get communications from the UK from people who seem to have the impression that the whole country is burning, or in melt-down.

Please guys, whoever you are, hold your horses and get your facts straight. Yes, there are serious economic problems here that are causing a degree of social unrest, but I also know of people who either live in or travel to Athens regularly and never see any of it. Normal life goes on, however difficult to make ends meet many may be finding it.

Get out your map of Greece and pay attention to the fact that there are hundreds and hundreds of islands here. I live on one of them. Yes, for sure the locals in the kafeneons of a morning are wringing their hands and furrowing their brows about it all, but a country slowly burning to a cinder? I don't think so. I know that there are many people in this country who are making potential visitors nervous because of their behaviour on a few city streets, but that's all it amounts to. Even in the area of downtown Athens these disturbances are very localised, however bad they may look on TV.

So, if you're in two minds about coming to Greece for a holiday, please don't be. Yes, OK, it's not as cheap to eat out here as it used to be, it's not so cheap to fill up you hire car with fuel. But the same old culture, climate, cuisine, clear blue sea, music and dancing is here as it always was. I've had occasion to say all that before, but in view of what I'm hearing, it bears repeating. Greece really needs the tourist right now. These brainless thugs who are getting their fifteen minutes of glory on the TV news aren't worried about what impression they're creating, but I'll tell you what; I'd still rather be amongst that lot than those who rioted in the UK last year.

Here's a way to illustrate why your summer holiday here in Greece will still be as lovely as it ever was (barring the odd strike I'll concede): Driving home in the dark late on Monday night from a friend's home in Kalathos, I was struck by a couple of things that one would never see these days in the UK. 

ONE: On the forecourt of the local filling station in Kalathos, which was be-darkened, as it was closed for the night, was an illuminated canned drink and choccy snack machine. You know the type, a huge glass window in the front with all those coily things stuffed with bars of chocolate and the like, plus a few cans of cola etc. It was so bright that I could see it clearly from the other side of the road as I drove past. Now correct me if I'm wrong here, but would such a machine last five minutes in such an exposed place on any road in the UK after dark without getting its glass smashed and all the fare inside half-inched?

TWO: Just a little further on a junction up the road is the Flevaris supermarket, next to which is (as is common here in Greece, of course) a cafe, called Zucchero. Outside the cafe, which was also closed up for the night, was a nice selection of tables and chairs, those dark raffia-type ones which adorn a lot of cafes these days. They were in fact newly installed only last year, when the cafe experienced a make-over. Now would you take odds on that furniture, were it in the UK, not having walked long since and now be adorning some back garden patio on a scruffy housing estate not too far away?

I rest my case. In fact, with views like this one below to still be enjoyed, whatever the economic woes the country's experiencing, if I were in the UK I'd be paying my deposit even now!

Above: Kiotari, looking toward the Pefkos/Lindos headland, February 17th 2012

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Bandit's Lair

Saturday February 11th dawned blue from horizon to horizon. Without a breath of wind when first I ventured outside to empty the ash from the log-burner at around 9.00am, it felt as warm as any respectable British summer's day. the thermometer in the shade under the car-port was reading 15ºC (59º in the old money, or if you live on the other side of the Atlantic).

It was one of those mornings when you find it hard to kick-start yourself. Yvonne-Maria was trying to finish a novel before pulling back the bedclothes whilst I, instead of gathering a supply of kindling wood and new logs for laying the fire, found myself staring whimsically out at the orchard and thinking how well-tended it was now looking, following our having created seven new "booths" of protective screening to keep the all-too-keen winter winds from "burning" the leaves on the tender young citrus trees. I found myself admiring too the areas which we'd dug around the trees for a distance of several feet, in order to let the precious rains seep into the soil and aid in the process of producing larger and fleshier fruit next winter, rather than running wastefully off the surface, down the bank and across the lane a few feet below.

Midday was the ETA of Trevor and Gloria. Trevor was one of the first ex-pat residents here on Rhodes to purchase my first book (Feta Compli!) and has read every one of the first three. He's been a one-man publicity machine for my writings (bless him) and he's placed links to this blog on all manner of other websites having anything to do with Greece, or Rhodes in particular. I had a brand new copy of "Plethora" still in the packaging in which it had arrived to give him today as a token thank-you for the way he's been spreading the word. They were arriving to take us out to lunch.

They arrived at 11.45 to find us in a blue funk, both bumping into each other whilst trying to enter or exit the bathroom, me trying to find a pair of socks and my better half frantically applying make-up at break-neck speed. Soon, though, we were on the road and heading off to the delightful village of Profi'lia, up in the hills beyond the village of Vati on the Gennadi-Apolakkia road.

Here's an idea for another scenic drive if you're interested...
Head down the coast road Southwards out of Lardos, pass Kiotari and, just before you reach Gennadi there's a right turn for Vati, Istrios, Profilia and Apolakkia. Take that turn and, after a couple of miles you pass the village of Vati on your left. To the right is the recently refurbished taverna called The Pelecanos, which is worth a visit some time anyway. There are also two quaint traditional tavernas which won't disappoint in the village which, although small, has some very photogenic corners. If you have time, park on the main road and walk up one of the several short lanes into the village proper, it's worth it.

Carrying on past Vati, you eventually see a sign on your right pointing up the hill to the village of Profi'lia (pronounced proff-phil-lia, with the accent on the "phil" part), which is once again a smashing little hamlet with some superb mountain views. One of the best places from which to take in one of the views is from the terrace of the taverna, which you see on your right soon after you've entered the village. It's called "Το Λημέρι του Ληστή", which translates into "the lair of the bandit" or "the bandit's lair". This taverna is fab! Inside during the winter they have a roaring log fire in the corner, and outside they have a log burner on the terrace, which heats it to toast-like temperatures when the temporary glass partitions are installed for the duration of the winter months. This particular day, with the sun shining uninterruptedly, it was boiling in there. The four of us climbed the steps and entered the terrace through the wooden door (which is gone during the summer months) to be greeted by a) a simply irresistible smell of cooking and b) the hostess, Konstantina who, along with her husband Savvas, runs the place. It's open every day of the year by the way.


Kyria Konstantina is quite an anomaly, which is a compliment, since she's very smart, attractive and speaks excellent English, should you require it. She's Cretan-born but has spent time in Athens too before meeting and marrying Savvas and choosing a life away from it all in a tiny village up a lane in rural southern Rhodes. Her Greek is impeccable, without the local accent which sometimes makes it hard for us to understand the villagers here. But to be greeted by such a tastefully dressed, slim attractive woman who'd look at home in one of the sleeker bars in Rhodes town is what makes her an oddity in such an out-of-the-way place.
We soon set to work ordering and then demolishing the lunch, which consisted of some excellent homemade fava, dressed with chopped red onion, some ridiculously tasty revitho-keftedes (chick-pea rissoles), some oven-baked Feta with fresh tomato dressing and hot spices in there somewhere, some home-made fried potatoes which were piping hot and obviously hand-cut, and a Greek salad. Trevor and Gloria opted to supplement their lunch with a shared plate of oven roasted pork, which was served with some bulgar-wheat in a delicious (they told us; well, we did try a little of that!) tomato and onion (and a couple more things no doubt) sauce. Gloria also scored heavily by asking for a bag in which to take the bones home for her cats, which Konstantina was very happy to supply.

 What you see from the taverna terrace

Has he taken leave of his senses, you cry? It's a photo of the paper bin in the toilet!!
Ah, yes, but what an unexpected place to find the latest technological marvel. Just approach this bin with your hand and it opens automatically!!

All too soon the repas was over and we took our leave. But not before snapping a few photos for the trusty reader, including one which Konstantina took of the four of us, plus one in which the lady herself gets in on the act. 

Why do I keep getting this urge to call Trevor "Joseph"?

Never one to miss a "Cutting" opportunity, Gloria whips out her secateurs!

That's Konstantina on the left

Whether you stop here or not (but I would, if I were you), carrying on through the village and around the hillside before descending to the village of Istrios, you'll be rewarded by some spectacular views of some amazingly shaped hills and valleys. The scenery is as good as you'll see anywhere in the Med, occasionally granting you a view down to the sunlight-twinkling sea some miles away. This time of the year the greenery too is stunning in its intensity. When you pass through the village of Istrios, taverna Notos is on the right. In this post I referred to the fact that we'd eaten there one winter's day a few years ago. Last Saturday we were surprised to see that it was all closed up. Hopefully this means that they're just doing some decorating and stuff, since it's a really nice taverna. Will keep you posted if we learn anything more on that one. It would be a real shame if it's closed indefinitely.

Once you reach the end of this road, which has looped up around the hills and passed through the two villages, you can either take the left back toward Gennadi and Vati, or go right towards Apolakkia. We went right. Before entering the village, we took another right and drove along the potholed track which leads to the old dam and reservoir. This one predates the new one near Laerma by many years (it was built in 1989). At this time of year, with so much greenery around you, you could be forgiven for thinking you're beside a lake anywhere in rural UK. It's glorious on a bright, blue winter's day. In summer there is a water sport centre beside the lake and, if you take the road across the dam you can follow it (sometimes tarmac-surfaced and sometimes dirt-road) all the way to Siana, centre of the Souma industry on the island. Plus you can purchase some delicious thyme or pine honey there too.


On this occasion we just drove a few hundred yards along the lane, before doubling back and heading into Apolakkia for a late afternoon drink of hot chocolate in the Amalia taverna, in the village square. There we exchanged comments around the table about how different a rural Greek village still is from its equivalent in the UK. Old men sat and drank, not alcohol, but Greek coffee, always accompanied, of course, by a glass of water. Black-clad be-scarfed women shuffled slowly along the street and children whizzed by on bicycles in the warm sunlight. People talked over gates and the occasional pick-up drew up, discharging still more men into the selection of bars and tavernas. This village is still inhabited by families which go back generations. So often in the UK today, villages are occupied primarily by the rich interloper who wants to move out of the city to enjoy a more natural environment during the rare occasions when they're not actually working. The heart of so many UK villages has died, or is at least on life-support. Here, the beat is almost audible. My wife and I caught snippets of conversations from some of the "old boys", all of whom looked toward us with ear-to-ear smiles dissecting their leathery faces and revealing more fresh air than teeth. Gnarled hands rested on the tops of walking sticks as they set about solving the world's problems in companionable and occasionally heated conversation. Greeks will always get heated in conversation. It doesn't mean anything. It's just the way they enjoy social intercourse.


The afternoon drew toward its close and Gloria and Trevor dropped us off at the bottom of our lane. We bade them farewell and thanked them again for taking us out for the afternoon. Waving as they drove away, we strolled the fifteen minutes back up the lane toward home, talking all the while about how this kind of day reminds us of how lucky we are to be living here. For all the woes afflicting this country, village life goes on as it has for centuries. The environment during such warm winter days is unbeatable. We also made a mutual mental note that we'd be going back to the Bandit's Lair some time soon.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

You Like Goat Stories?

Meet Gareth (the one holding the baby goat, not the goat itself you understand). Well, perhaps I should say Phil. Phil, aka Gareth, has the same affliction as my better half. He's got a name for Brits to call him a name for Greeks to call him. Since Greeks can't seem to get their tongues around "Gareth" he's reverted to his first given name since moving out here. After all, Philippos is even a Greek name, so they can handle that much better. Anyway, his initials are thus PGA, so I'm often tempted to call him "Golf Tour", but think better of it. He's a brick, though, as is his wife Vicky. Probably something to do with the fact they they hail from "God's own country", South Wales, where we'd lived as close neighbours without even knowing it for a couple of decades. Funny old world, eh?

Anyway, to the "Goat" Story. Gareth's got a dog, Cara, who the keen-sighted reader will have spotted at the bottom of the picture, just behind her owner. Cara's a big dog and she's the kind of colour that you expect to find in your mug when you order a Cafe Mocha in Starbuck's. Gareth calls her his "Velcro dog" because she's stuck to him most of the time. She'll bark at you when you visit, not because she's going to bite or anything, but simply because she wants to make sure you know she's there. Hug Gareth (which I only do in a manly sort of way of course) and she'll bark again, this time to say, "Oi! He's my owner, go get your own!" Anyway, I digress (I never normally do that of course; well, sometimes when I'm... oops off again), the story:

Gareth took Cara out for a walk the other day. Not far from the house he saw a herd of goats crossing the river gully, which (usually) only runs with a few inches of water at this time of year, becoming bone-dry during the summer months. Nothing unusual about that, no. But not long afterwards, while placing an errant puppy back over his friend's fence where it would enjoy a significantly higher degree of safety from various dangers - including those heinous poisoners, he felt a nudge on the back of his leg.

Turning around and expecting to see Cara expressing her jealousy, he was surprised to see that it was in fact a baby goat. Now, we all love the fact that the hills and groves are fairly brimming with baby goats during the winter months here, but to get close to one is a near impossibility, since virtually all goats will run away if you approach to within a few yards of them, their offspring in hot pursuit. Yet here was this kid brushing up against Gareth's legs in a way that said, "I rather like you!" Somewhat mystified, he tried to shoo it back towards the herd, but it resolutely refused to leave his side. Stepping it out as he walked away back towards home, calling Cara to coma along, he thought he'd leave it in his wake and that it would soon decide to trot back to the now receding herd.

No luck. Eventually its intention to stay with him led him to pluck the poor mite up and take him home, to be greeted by Vicky with a comment something like:

"I only let you out to walk the dog for five minutes and you come back with a GOAT!" Whereupon Gareth tried to explain that it wasn't his fault, "He (or she) just took a shine to me!" he said in defence, "What was I suppose to do?"

The mystery as to why this infant had attached itself to him was soon explained. Behind their house is an olive grove and Gareth spotted the goatherd, who knows him quite well, strolling along among the trees to catch up with the herd. Hailing him, he showed the man the confused baby, and the goatherd, heaving a sigh of relief, answered:

"Ah, there he is. His mother up and died and so we've been bottle-feeding him. When he saw you he just thought, 'Human - LUNCH!!' You can keep him if you want to look after him." Gareth, ever ready with a witty (if slightly dark in this case) response, replied: "The only kind of goat I can use is the kind that I can put in my freezer!!"

When I caught sight of the photo on Gareth's "desktop" on his PC, I just had to know the story. Having heard it I didn't need much of an excuse to share it with the rest of the world, since the photo's irresistible, isn't it.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Bing and Satchmo's Song?

Last night I was beavering away over a hot Mac when my wife tapped on the office window and, with a hand signal, bade me come outside. It was approaching 6.00pm and the light was fading. Slightly irritated at being interrupted in full flow, I allowed her to take my hand and lead me out on to the drive. This wasn't the appropriate time for a touch of romance. Things to do, emails to send. Just when I was about to express this thought she raised one finger to her lips and bade me keep quiet and listen. I'm glad I did, for there, just down the valley, drifting up toward us on the breeze, was the first blackbird's song of the year. Right on time as usual - early to mid-February (see this post). We stood in silent appreciation for this example of the natural world's audible beauty, before I reluctantly retreated inside again to get on with my work, but not without first having thanked her for drawing this wonder to my attention.

Changing the subject; talking with our friend Stuart over his front gate as we passed along the beach road on an exceedingly long walk yesterday, he regaled us with an amusing story which he was prompted to recall following his reading of the previous post on this very blog. With Stuart's permission (and accepting that I may make a few mistakes over the fine detail), I'll relay it to you my trusty readers:

Some years ago, he and his wife Joan were also in need of their Residency Permits when they walked into the Police Station in Lindos to start the process. There they spoke to the "Chief" who told them what paperwork would be required and what day and time to come back to see him. They duly turned up at the specified time, submitted their paperwork and filled out the necessary forms. All seemed to be going well. The "Chief" then instructed them as to when they could return to collect their permits. At the day and time suggested, they returned, to be met by a young Police officer who asked them what he could do for them. Stuart replied:

"We're here to see the Chief."

Whereupon the young Policeman raised his shoulders, jutted out his lower lip whilst turning his head ever so slightly to one side and raised both arms from the elbows, palms outward in that old familiar Greek shrug that says, "So? Not much I can do about that".

"He's not here." Came the not altogether surprising reply.

"But he told us to come today, at this time." Continued Stuart, all the while knowing that this particular expedition was a lost cause. The Policeman replied,

"I tell him you come. ...That you come back tomorrow at same time. He will be here then. Nothing else I can do."

Accepting defeat and hoping that tomorrow would prove fruitful, our heroes retreated to their rented accommodation in Pefkos, which at least wasn't too far away and, in those days, taxis were cheap. Tomorrow it would have to be. The next day they took a taxi back to Lindos and entered the maze of tiny whitewashed streets and alleys, eventually arriving for a third time at the Police Station. On walking in they were met by the now familiar young officer, who told them when they asked for the Chief that the fact that he was once again absent was due to his having 'gone fishing'! Stuart and Joan could have been forgiven for seeing a colour fast approaching the deepest crimson, when the young officer asked them their names.

They obliged, whereupon the young man seemed to "see the light" as some kind of penny appeared to have dropped and asked them to hold on while he picked up a telephone and made a call, obviously jabbering on in Greek, so they were unable to gather the gist of what was said. Placing the phone back on its cradle, the young man told them:

"Please to come back in thirty minutes, OK?"

That seemed fair enough, maybe things would be resolved after all. They agreed and walked out into the sunshine. Seconds later, as they stood a few metres away from the door, the young officer exited the Police Station himself, some paperwork in his hand and apparently on a mission. The intrepid duo decided that it may be fun to follow him, which they proceeded to do. Off he went at a trot, down through the narrow ramped and occasionally stepped alleys, down and down until he was on the path to the main beach. As they appeared at the edge of the sand themselves, they were bemused to see him pushing a beached dinghy into the sea, leaping aboard and gunning the outboard, before zooming off across the bay in a plume of white foam and spray.

Now, I bet you know where this is going don't you. Or rather, where the Policeman was going. Yup, sure enough, as Stuart and Joan watched furtively from behind a tree trunk, he re-entered the bay some ten minutes later, ran the dinghy up onto the soft sand, before killing the engine, jumping ashore and trotting back up into the village, a wad of papers still in his hand.

Following him at a safe distance they eventually strolled nonchalantly into the Station, where the slightly sweaty officer greeted them with a smile and handed back the papers which were theirs, along with the new Permits, all signed and stamped and legal. Business concluded.

If you're old enough to remember that lazy old song by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, you'll know why it's referred to in the title of this post. Another typical day's work for the Lindos Police Chief.

At least it ended up with everyone happy. Good job there wasn't a "sign upon his door" as the song goes though, or they'd have never got their permits done, eh?

Friday, 3 February 2012

yes, Yes! YES!!

This post turned out to be a marathon, so I hope you can bear to stick with it!! Just to tempt you, there are some photos further down, so the more tenacious reader will get to them. Now, of course, there'll be those who just skim down until they reach the piccies. No staying power, some people. Anyway, to the story…

You kind of get used to things not panning out as you'd like when you live on a Greek island. For example, whenever a drive to town is required for various fairly important reasons, you make a list of what you want to get done and usually arrive home late the same day with an annoying selection of boxes not ticked. Maybe the shops closed before you could get round to all the ones you wanted to visit. Perhaps some retailer didn't have the part you wanted for your electrical gizmo or whatever and you've had to order it, with the prospect of another unscheduled trip to town being added to the agenda imminently. The fact is, you grudgingly get quite used to everything being a rigmarole and you just grit your teeth and get on with it.

Yesterday, however, the gods were in a good mood and a totally unprecentedently (can I say that?) successful day ensued, well, almost. But even the bit that didn't go well wasn't really attributable to anything Greek. I'll explain all. Are we sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin…

We've been holding off on renewing our Residency Permits for a couple of years. The first (temporary) ones which we'd acquired when we'd first arrived here in 2005 had been a bit of a nightmare in the securing and we'd heard that the requirements for "Xenoi" (foreigners) applying for their permits had changed. First off, it's not a legal requirement to have them. EU citizens can live here quite within the law without Residency Permits but, BUT! If you want to buy either a car or a house you'll be asked to produce yours and, if you don't, it'll slow the process to a dead halt while you argue your rights as a Europoean citizen. It's less stressful (marginally) to have applied for them and have done with it. It's the Police who like us to hold them. Don't even go there. I don't understand it either.

Although we're not very likely to be putting in an offer on a house for the "forseeable", our car (much though we appreciate "Stavro" the Swift! Don't want to upset him) is now eleven years old and we know that if "he" were to conk out we'd be severely hampered in our attempts to get a replacement if we first had to go through the process of getting new Permits. We live up a goat track miles from anywhere and so to get anything done without transport would be a logistical "mare!"

The trouble is, show me anyone (including us!) who's gone through the process of acquiring a Residency Permit and I'll show you a stressed-out, furiously frustrated individual. Anyway, on Monday morning I steeled myself to call the Arhangelos Police Station (they'd given me the number of Mr. Manoli, who does the permits, some time ago) to try and arrange an appointment. I'd been told that this was necessary owing to the fact that you have to be able to show your Bank Pass Book (so quaint, the banks here still issue the passbooks like the old Post Office Savings books we used to have a million years ago in the UK), which must make it evident that you have at least €350 per individual in the bank at the time of your application. This meant that our joint account had to show a balance of €700 or above. That wasn't a problem, I'd moved some currency out here from the UK last Autumn. The real problem is that your bank book has to have been updated within 10 days of your making your application for the permit. Even if you haven't touched the account for six months, the pass book still needs to have been validated as showing the required balance within the past 10 days when you walk into the cop shop. This means you have to go to the bank, and ours is in Rhodes Town.

There are various other bits of paper you need to show, but, to keep it brief (well, briefer) and avoid you losing concentration and nipping off to browse E-Bay or something, I'll dispense with any further dull details. except to say that one of the documents which we needed to present (a British document) needed to have been translated before being taken to the Police Station …by a lawyer.

So, having been apprised of this delightful fact by the grumpy policeman over the phone on Monday afternoon we chewed the cud over what to do about the lawyer thing. I remembered a lawyer who'd translated our Birth and Marriage certificates back in 2005 when we'd applied for our Tax Numbers and thought I'd scan the documents and e-mail them to him. This I did on Tuesday, along with the plea that could he maybe do the deed in time for us to meet him in town (on the courthouse steps in Mandraki) on Wednesday morning. Amazingly enough (perhaps the promise a a few Euros in cash oiled the wheels, perish the thought), he agreed and told us to meet him outside the courthouse at the requested time, 10.00am Wednesday morning. Flummoxed would be a mild description of how we felt on Tuesday evening. Delightedly so, admittedly.

So, we arrive at Wednesday morning. Our list for the day was something like this:

1. Go straight to court house in Mandraki, an hour's drive from home, hence the need to set the alarm and set off by 9.00am.

2. Top up my mobile phone.

3. Search in "Multirama" (a computer store) for an adapter which I was hoping to not have to order by mail from the internet.

4. Go to the plastic/can/glass recycling machine in the old Harbour in order to reduce the burgeoning collection of "stuff" in huge plastic bags in our shed out the back.

5.Go to "Jumbo" a huge store on the edge of town which no parent in their right mind should ever take their kids to. It's like Toys R Us with knobs on. Plus it does loads of household stuff, like rugs, throws, cushions, all kinds of trendy glass ornaments, picture frames, sports equipment (I could go on here for ages…). The reason for our visit was to find a gift for our friends Kosta and Dina who'd recently produced a sprog (as they say in South Wales). They now have a one month old daughter called Melina and we hadn't yet cooed over her.

6. Take the beer bottles (which my thrifty and environmentally conscious missus regularly collects from the roadside when we're out for walks) back to the bottle bank at AB (a kind of Sainsbury's) where she gets 14 cents a bottle and usually has enough to redeem more cash than needed to buy the flour from which she bakes our bread. Then nip over the road to Lidl for a top-up trip round the aisles.

7. Drop in on Kosta and Dina to present the baby's gift and do hommage to the new human in their home.

8. If time on the way home, go to Arhangelos Police Station to see Mr. Manoli and apply for our permits, and…

9. Nip along to Agathi Beach as we're passing on our weary way home and snap a shot in response to "Porridge Oats'" request in her comment on this post.

As you can see, an impressive list and one which we were quite sure was going to go awry and see us coming home with the usual furrowed brows. But, now to the good stuff. If you're no comatose already, read on…

We got to Mandraki at a minute after 10, and I even found a place to park the car, just round by the Harbour entrance - a minor miracle in itself. (Cue for first photos...). 

 Click to enlarge the one below and you'll notice the snow visible on the Turkish mountains, quite beautiful

Sure enough, as Y-Maria strolled along the front and up the side street (Nikolao Plastira) to the bank in Plateia Kyprou, Makis the trusty Lawyer exited the building and locked eyes with me. Realising that it was the bloke he'd not seen for five years, he descended the steps, shook my hand, passed me the documents, all smart in a legal folder and appropriately "stamped" and signed to make them valid and expressed his surprise that it was, in fact, the bloke he'd talked with five years ago who couldn't speak Greek. All modesty swept swiftly to one side here, he told me that when I'd e-mailed him he racked his brain to think who this could be, since the bloke he remembered couldn't speak very much Greek at all. Now, here he was reading an e-mail in his language from an ex-pat Brit and his curiosity was well and truly piqued! In fact, so piqued was he that he insisted that we go meet my significant other and have a coffee together while he got to the bottom of how I'd managed to learn the lingo, when 99% of the Brits out here give up. I tell you, six years of hard graft has paid off. A lawyer bought us coffee!! This of course reduced the modest sum we'd just paid him by probably 40%. Turns out he's now got a 2nd home not a stone's throw from where we live and so we may well end up having lunch somewhere locally with him and the family some time soon. I tell you, eh? What?!

Having bid our new legal ally farewell, we'd  not walked more than two hundred yards when we passed the modest little cafe in Nikolao Plastira which is run by a very nice lady called Maria. She'd not long opened it when we first came to Rhodes and, since in those days we used to go to town probably three times a month (as opposed to three time a year these days! Excepting necessary trips that is) and so took our frappes there regularly. She'd not seen us together for probably a couple of years and, as we passed, she hailed us and told us to come in for a - yes, you've got it - a free coffee on the house!! We told her we just wanted to get a couple of things done (top up my mobile phone and visit Multirama), but that we'd be back directly, which we were. There then passed a very pleasant half-hour with her and her hubby Nikos, who was busying himself behind the counter. Turns out they're in the process of selling the place owing to it placing too many demands on their time these days. So, if you fancy running a nice little cafe in the centre of Rhodes town, let me know.

By now we were not only on a high at having imbibed not one but two free coffees (and it was only about 11.45am), but we were also in bladder-bursting mode since both had been accompanied by the traditional glass of water too, which we always drink. No sweat, after a swift visit to the recycling machine, which was actually still working, ten minutes in the car took us to the aforementioned Jumbo store where we darted upstairs to the customer toilets sooner than you could say "spoiled brat's paradise". Of course, the lights in the gents cubicle didn't work did they, so I had to aim by feel. A bit tricky but pleased to report no damp patches on the jeans when I exited, phew. 

To return, though, to the comment about the recycling machine still working. If you live out here you get used to the fact that every new installation is great at the outset, but once it goes wrong invariably is left to rot. I often used to remark caustically about the firm I'd worked for before leaving the UK. They had the habit of doing something similar. To illustrate: they had a brand new all-singing-all-dancing coffee machine installed in the staff kitchen at the HQ offices where I worked. One morning I walked in there to fill up our little office kettle to see this gleaming technical wonder on the worktop, all plugged in and with little glowing lights telling me that all I had to do was select from a collection of plastic "cartridges" saying things like "Cappuccino", "Hot chocolate", Hot Chocolate with Caramel [yum-mie!], "English Breakfast tea" or even "spicy vegetable soup with chocolate flake" or something, pop one into the receptacle, slam down the cover-type thingie and in no time the best drink since sliced bread-flavoured cocoa would be dripping into my "Best snooker player on the planet" mug [a man can dream].

Gleefully I threw my aging office kettle into the trash and began a halcyon period of enjoying a veritable cornucopia of different mid-morning delights. That was until the blessed thing broke down wasn't it. Then it very quickly acquired a tatty stick-on label saying "out of order" and proceeded to occupy a huge area of already-limited office-kitchen worktop totally uselessly for an indefinite period. Back to boiling a kettle (I even had to bring another one in from home) and the same old cheap coffee again. The company in question, although huge, was still run by a family. I swore they had Greek blood in them somewhere. So, the fact that the recycling machine in Rhodes Town had been serviced and greedily swallowed all the cans and plastic bottles we'd brought along was astounding.

Above: Once again, click on this one to see the snow-capped peaks

Later, with several cute little baby garments tucked under my arm in their nice little gift bag, we exited Jumbo and I called Kosta to see if an unexpected visit to the apartment would be a possibility. That organised, we turned up and got to shake hands with one month old Melina, who actually is one of the prettiest babies we've ever seen. During the conversation we, of course, asked how they were coping. It seems that the little one likes to feed every two hours or so, 24/7 at present. Ah, so THAT was why they both looked so ragged. Kostas, ever on the ball with a joke, still told us about the successful businessman who'd been asked how he slept, what with all the worries of trying to pay his staff, get the cash in, keep sales figures healthy and so on. "Like a baby," replied the tycoon, "I wake every two hours and I cry a lot!"

Leaving them after not too long a visit, trying to be considerate and all that, we headed off to AB and Lidl feeling well pleased with how the day was going, although ever cautious of what could yet de-rail things.

Following the shopping pitstop we drove south towards Arhangelos, congratulating ourselves on having remembered to bring all the other paraphernalia required to apply for our Residency Permits, plus the fact that our ETA at the cop shop would be around 3.45pm, and this was the only day in the week when Mr. Manolis was in residence during the afternoon and evening. Every other day of the week he's in during the mornings only. Could we actually get the applications done and dusted that very day? Surely not. After all, you get used to the fact that during such procedures the person sitting across the desk from you will almost certainly say at some point (trying to suppress a smirk usually) something like: "Ah, well, now, you haven't got your pre-institute underwriting agreement clause. That'll need to accompany this application. You'll have to come back another time." At which if you lose it they'll get even more awkward.

4.00pm saw us being invited into Mr. Manolis' inner sanctum at Arhangelos Police Station. Sitting at his desk we handed him everything which we thought he'd need, proudly waving the lawyer's papers under his nose to head off the potential stalling tactic. Now this bloke is famous among the British living in the South of Rhodes for being snotty and irritable. This was the first time in over 5 years that we'd been face to face with him so we made sure to talk entirely in Greek. Whatever, maybe that wasn't it, but we think that it did the trick. 

F'r instance, picking up our photographs (the same as passport ones), which were printed out (I'd done it myself) on a block of four in each case, he remarked, "I only need one from each of you," which caused me and the beloved to exchange glances which involved eyes rolling up into eyelids before she turned to him and said, as patiently as she could, "Well, ...cut it then!" Here's the good bit: he did! Whipping out a little guillotine (about A6 size) he proceeded to go through the procedure of cutting out one from each sheet and threw the remaining ones across the desk for us to reclaim.  Then, as he arose to take our bank book and passports over to the photocopier, he even flashed a brief smile. Well, alright then, a hint of a smile. In his case that's a slam-dunk in our favour. Not ten minutes after sitting down he rose, handed back the stuff we'd brought along and shook our hands.

"That's it. All done," he quipped, whereupon we risked the dangerous question as to when the permits would be ready. Now I should insert at this juncture, that it almost always involves a wait of about a week. You'll be told, "Now come along next Tuesday morning," and when you do, there'll be some other Policeman there with a rather un-missable gun in a holster at his waist who'll tell you, "He's isn't here." If you attempt to remark that you'd been told to come at that day and time, he'll look you in the eye and say, "No good asking me. It's his department and he won't be in now until tomorrow." Ho hum, another wasted trip.

This time, though, we almost leapt for exultation and joy when he told us, "Come back tomorrow morning, they'll be ready before noon." We walked out of that Police Station in total disbelief. Surely it wouldn't be that easy. It couldn't be, could it? Why, Mr. Grumpy had even been almost chatty with us.

Heading down the long hill towards Kalathos Bay we even had time to cut along to Agathi Beach and snap the shot below (Take note Porridge Oats!) just before the sun disappeared behind the beach. We got home at around 5.00pm, feeling ecstatic at our first ever 100% successful town-trip. The phone went just as I was taking off my jacket. 

It was my niece from England. My 84 year-old mum's in hospital and asking for me to come. Also, that evening, for the first time ever, we had a problem with the flue on our log-burner and were less than delighted to spend the entire evening waving cloths around and opening doors and windows to dissipate the smoke!

Thursday morning we returned to Arhangelos and walked out in total disbelief carrying our new indefinite permits. It wasn't even a wasted trip because I had a bit of business to discuss with our friend Josie, who lives five minutes away from the Police Station.

To return to the marathon Wednesday though. The entire trip had been a resounding success, a first in fact. What happened when we got home just goes to show that the "gods" have a warped sense of humour.