Saturday, 26 May 2012

"Nonplussed" When there's No Sun

At this time of the year it's still a bit of a novelty to see the early sun-seekers strolling the pavements (sidewalks, guys) in their holiday togs. I suppose that those who come here at this time of the year know that they're likely to get a bit of changeable weather into the bargain. After all, that's why their trip is a bargain, because the weather sometimes isn't as settled as it's going to be during the high months of June to September. But it's still patently obvious that many of them are at a loss as to how to pass the day when the wind comes up or the clouds hover above and obscure the sun, or when the temperature drops to around twenty C, or - wash my mouth out - it actually even rains.

We know, we often used to come to Greece in May and counted ourselves lucky if we had a week or two of cloudless skies and calm seas. It can happen. We arrived back here from the UK on April 21st this year and there followed two and a half weeks of exceptionally settled weather, with temperatures up around the levels usually expected during June. This led Yvonne-Maria to speculate that perhaps the weather had actually settled early this season. "That's it. No more rain until late September" she sadly opined on more than one occasion. Oops.

After May 9th the temperatures dropped to even a little below the average for May and the unsettled weather returned. Mind you I'm not complaining. By and large it's still be predominantly sunny and, with lots of garden maintenance to be undertaken, it's been wonderful to be able to to it with the thermometer only betraying temperatures in the lower twenties. Positively perfect weather for working out of doors, just not quite reliable enough to enable a tourist to spend the entire day beside the pool or on the beach. "Aaaaargh! What do we do now?" they cry.

We often leave home when the sky is 60% cloudy and drive down through the area where the hotels are, only to see the bemused visitors in various stages of frustration about what to do. Of course, some simply resign themselves to the fact that it's a "go to town" day or something. But it's fascinating to speculate about what conversations are going on as we drive past. Plus, it is only May. Why don't some of these people take that fact into account when they pack their cases? Once or twice during the past ten days or so we've had daytime temperatures which wouldn't be out of place for Rhodes during January. Once or twice it's been 19ºC at noon! That's cold. Well, it is if you've only got a pair of shorts and a strappy top to tog yourself out with. How cold it makes one feel to drive through Pefkos and see some bloke with his England football shirt folded and tucked into the back of his shorts, which dip down at the front under the bulge of his sizeable belly, whilst he pushes a double baby-walker beside a partner or wife who's obviously a huge fan of BHS, Littlewoods or Primark. Quite why some people think that it's perfectly acceptable to stroll along a street in a foreign country half-naked is beyond me. What actually drives me to want to get violent is seeing some suncream-smothered, sweaty naked male back pressed against a cushion cover in a roadside bar or café, whilst its owner sinks yet another draught Heineken, totally unconcerned about the fact that some rather more decent person will be sitting there later, unaware that when they get home and take off their nice cotton shirt or t-shirt, they're going to be wondering what all that awful smelly stain is down the back. Not for nothing do the coach drivers on the excursions prevent anyone from getting aboard if they're not wearing a top. Can you imagine what sort of a state the seat backs would soon be in if they didn't?

Now I don't mean for any aspersions to be cast (ie. about the aforementioned chainstores), but just where do British women go to buy those awful colours? OK, maybe the Dutch are on a par here, but it's definitely dead easy to spot a North-European tourist for several reasons. One, they wear next to nothing even when it's cool. That applies probably even more to the men. Two, the women always seem to have managed to fill their wardrobes with those turquoise, pink or lime green tank tops which no woman south of Calais would ever wear in a million years. Shapeless and plain, they look like they'd be better used as table napkins at a dinner party. Plus they tend to mix and match these with shorts that not only don't go, but they fight like cats and dogs in the colour stakes. Then there's the overweight variety who still insist on wearing a top that's far too short over skintight leggings that make me feel ever so slightly queasy if I'm unfortunate enough to catch sight of the rear view.

We have a lot of fun these days guessing what country someone's from. When it's cloudy but just won't actually rain is the best time for people-watching, since, as alluded to above, many resort to wandering aimlessly along the road, drifting into and out of souvenir shops, stopping to exchange a few more animated gestures in their conversations and generally looking hopelessly like fish out of water. Now the Germans generally have pretty good dress sense, except that they have a habit of always wearing a particular style of spectacles. Always a dead giveaway. But the German guests I've worked with usually exonerate themselves well when it comes to shirts (although checks generally have the upper hand over plain), tops and shorts, always wearing the kind of the latter that sport pockets all over the place. You never know when you're gonna need another pocket after all.

The Scandinavians are always impeccably dressed and I've yet to come across a Russian who didn't have a designer name on his or her polo shirt or trainers, or that of their kids. None, however, of the above, ie: Germans, Scandinavians or Russians, will ever be seen wearing the kinds of colours that you see on a British (or perhaps Dutch) woman. That applies to the Greek girls too. Plus it's only generally the Brits who seem to think it's dead cool to turn out in an [England] football shirt as casual wear. Do the manufacturers of all those brightly-coloured plain strappy tops for women aim them peculiarly at the UK market? Seems so to me. Either that or French and Italian thrift shops are chock full of unsold stock from the major chains. Maybe the locals buy them, take them home and make them into table napkins. But there's no doubt about it, we Brits weren't at school the day they handed out the taste tips.

So, here we were yesterday driving through Kiotari and there they all were, the blokes with socks under their sandals (white, with a thin blue line around the top being de rigueur this season), the slightly podgy wives with their sunglasses up on top of their heads, ever hopeful that they'd soon be able to drop them down a little lower. There were the families who were evidently on the brink of an argument because the clouds had deprived them of the family pacifier - the day-long beach or poolside vigil. There were the excited shop-owners, all thinking, "There IS a god! I'm gonna make a couple of Euros today if it stays like this." For bar owners read ditto. There was a surfeit of white skin, or perhaps bright red on those who'd been here just a little longer and had been able to roast themselves a couple of times. These were no doubt thinking that at least when they fly home they'll be able to give the impression that they've been well-blessed with sunshine.

I say white skin, but frankly, these days it's more and more often obscured by all kinds of tattoos isn't it? I can't help thinking that so many of these folk are going to reach middle age and say to themselves, "I wish I hadn't done it." These things really are for life, unless you want to go through the exceedingly painful process of having them removed. Mind you, with the size of some of these markings these days there's no way they could have them taken off without needing a skin transplant.

It's all just a bit of fun. I mean, to make such observations you have to step outside of your own species don't you? I often muse that a travel writer might well be an alien from another solar system. To be able to observe what he or she does and record it objectively it would certainly be an advantage. I haven't, though, ever lost sight of the fact that all the things referred to above (except the tattoos) have at times in the past applied to me, or rather to us. I used to try and get as brown as I could, often using that oil that really basted rather than protected your skin instead of a sensible sun cream. I used to snap away endlessly with my old instamatic and eagerly anticipate getting home so I could bore my friends (amazing I still had any) with a slide show of every single minute of our wonderful holiday.

I used to feel cheated if I'd flown all this way and then some extremely inconsiderate clouds had marred the sky which I'd felt ought to be blue for the duration. At least if you're going to cloud over, I'd say under my breath to the sky, then for goodness sake rain and get it over with. If it didn't, I'd get unbelievably restless. Mind you, in later years we did learn the secret of bar-sitting and people-watching over a drink which one could make last for hours. Great sport.

It doesn't take long to become a tourist hypocrite once you move out here. Take it from me. Well, about seven years or so I suppose.

Almost finally, we're still hearing those horror stories from folk who've come over recently for a holiday. They tell us that their friends in the UK ask, when they tell them that they're coming here to Rhodes, "Is it safe?" 

Once more I'll say, Pleeeeeeeeeease don't believe the scare-mongering tactics of some of the British media. They have blown the so-called "unrest" way out of all proportion. If you come to a Greek island this summer of 2012, the very same experience that you've had all those times before still awaits you. Yes the Greeks are complaining into their frappe or Elleniko about their reduced wages and the higher cost of fuel. But they've always had to have something to complain about, in much the same way as we Brits do over our pint at the local. But there is no appreciable sign when you go anywhere on Rhodes (and I'm sure it goes for all the other islands too) that anything's amiss. The tavernas still serve wonderful Greek food. A glass of Retsina or Ouzo still tastes the same. The people still smile readily at you and you'll often be given a rose by a Greek lady over her garden wall if you stop to admire them. The climate is the same and the sea just as deep a blue. You're still much, much safer wandering around late a night than in most of the rest of Europe and you'll be able to go Greek dancing if you want to.

In short - people will always need to make their living and go about the normal things that one does in life. To the vast majority here, what happens in Brussels, Berlin or to the currency will never change any of that. Humans have the same needs as they've always done and this country's culture survives safe and well. Do come. Greece really needs you to.

Even more finally. Some good news. Down near the beach near us there is a small lake which can be viewed from above on a flat road bridge on the small beach road just north of Shimba's bar. Blink and you'll miss it. In fact if you're driving along that road you won't even notice it. Immediately next to the bridge is the menu board for the Alexis Beach Bar too. But right next to it on the other side of the bridge there's a lot of building work going on as the new hotel that's under construction there nears completion.

Each year at about this time we see baby turtles kind of "hanging" in the water with their heads just above the surface. Once they reach dinner plate size they head out to sea, we assume by struggling out of the water and over the sand/shingle bar which cuts the lake off from the sea a few metres away. Anyway, with all the disturbance of the construction, which has reached right down to the edge of the lake, which is more of a pond really, we'd feared that it would be the end of this location as a nesting site.

Last evening we went for a walk and stood on the bridge to gaze down into the lake. Guess what! We counted at least a dozen of these beautiful creatures all moving around in the water. To say we were thrilled would top the list of top ten understatements in the understatement of the year competition. I only wished I'd brought the camera along, but I hadn't as the walk was a last-minute decision. I may take it out later today and see if they're still there. We're fairly sure that they're loggerheads, which the internet seems to suggest only have a nesting site in this area some distance across the way on the Turkish coast. Well I'm here to tell you that they're wrong!! We have them right here in Kiotari.

Last year as we stood on the bridge and spotted a few, my wife was so excited that she called to a group of British tourists who were approaching on foot. She said with the excitement of a little girl, "You wanna see some turtles?" You know what one of the male members of the group replied? "I'd rather see a chilled pint of lager fanx."

They weren't the regular type of tourist which we get down here, to be honest. Thank goodness.


  1. Okay, John, now that I know what I shouldn't wear in Greece, what SHOULD I wear. Are black and white tank tops preferred instead of colored ones? I have to admit I really like my turquoise and green tanks with my light khaki capris, but we Alaskans are known to be rather independent minded when it comes to fashion. My people watching skills are also sub-par, because we were in New York last summer and I might have been the ONLY woman wearing a turquoise tank top, and I didn't even NOTICE! My moose and bear watching skills are finely honed, however, since that's a matter of survival up here.
    I always enjoy your Posts, and your people-watching insights make me smile. Keep up the good work.
    Judy Markadakis
    P.S. I would NEVER wear leggings with a tank top.

  2. I think I opened a can of worms here! To be honest, maybe it's not so much the colours themselves, rather the way us Brits and usually the Dutch for some reason, tend to not have the faintest idea of what to put together when "mixing and matching".

    Do moose or bear have similar problems with their sartorial tastes too then?

  3. I've always thought not, but, then again, perhaps that's why mama moose and bear are so cranky--they don't have a thing to wear or nothing fits right after the pregnancy-induced weight gain.
    You might be correct about the "can of worms here". I was really surprised there were no comments on this column; that's rather unusual. I was wondering if I should tread lightly in case my sense of humor wasn't appreciated across the pond, as I think I've heard you put it. While we're on the subject, can you spot Αμερικανός when you're people watching? I would truly rather blend in than stand out, so this info is interesting (I also have neutral colored tank tops if that's any help:-) I think I'll look back through your pictures to see what Yvonne Marie is wearing. Sorry for the long posts.
    Judy Markadakis

  4. Don't apologise, I love 'em. I'll tell you something which may or may not be steretoypical (allegedly!). Once when we were at Ephesus and I was video-ing my wife and a couple of friends walking across the courtyard toward the famous Library, I didn't even notice the American woman beside me. But when we played back the video we heard..."George! George! Go stand over there! George!! I said, go stand over there. That's right. And try to look thin!"

    1. Oh, and perhaps I can save you a little time. Apart from some rare occasions, my wife is always in black or white!!

    2. Quelle finesse! Coco Chanel would be impressed!

    3. well there we are then!!! before you put the lid on the can of worms....... apart from my one day off a week when i had my little coffee shop, i wore black and white everyday for 20 years, so can i please go back to Primarni now and buy some colourful clothes for my jollies ????, thinking about it i might be too warm in my black polo necks !!

      "Porridge Oats"

    4. We used to spend our holidays watching out for shaven-headed men dressed in khaki shorts and shirts (big game hunters?),with one pierced ear and generally wearing sandals with socks. Astonishing the number we could count in the space of one weeks holiday in Rhodes. My sons were reduced to hysterical laughter on the boat to Symi once, when we saw one such guy whose socks were of the white sports type with wording round the top which read Tory Wear..................much merriment until he turned slightly and we saw that they actually read Victory wear!

  5. Hilarious! Poor George. Now that you mention it, I do remember several pictures of Yvonne Marie with a black shirt on but hadn't really thought about it. As always, thanks for the interesting info. (I'm still laughing about George.)