Tuesday, 31 July 2012

That Comfy Old Pair of Slippers

Stavros Bar - Hidden away at the top of the old town
A lot of people tell me, when I ask them if they'd come back to Rhodes, that there are just too many places to see in the world. In fact, if you just visited a different Greek island each year, only counting the inhabited ones that is, you'd be arriving on your last one, iSuitcase in hand in the year 2239!

So I can see where they're coming from, yes. But, how often have you gone somewhere and found that it took you most of the first week to get your bearings, find your way around, discover the best bakery, your favourite watering hole, quiet uncrowded beach etc.? Then, just when you're getting nicely chilled out, it's time to return to the airport for the flight home. You with me here?  In fact, if you only had a week, you'd have been definitely going home without having de-stressed sufficiently enough to face another few months at the daily grind, wouldn't you.

Leading the kind of life which I used to lead before moving out here, a single holiday of just a week would have left me feeling deprived and probably even more like a bear with a sore head than had I not gone anywhere at all. So, this is the conundrum isn't it? If you go somewhere new and you don't like it, you go home dissatisfied, yeh? But, if you go somewhere where you've been before and you know you liked the place, with that bar where you became fast friends with the owner, the taverna with the matchless view, the beach where you could stretch out without some other bright spark playing a ghetto blaster or talking into his or her mobile phone so close to you that you could happily take the thing and stick it...

Well, anyway, you know what I'm saying. Now, the ideal situation would be to be able to take more than one break per year. That way you get the best of both worlds and can try somewhere new, whilst also returning to a favourite spot, so that the moment you arrive at the airport it feels like you're pulling on that comfy old pair of slippers. As soon as you get to your room you know exactly where that local store is where you can get fresh melon, peaches, a drop of something interesting to keep in your bedside cabinet for the duration etc. In short, it feels like you've already been there a couple of weeks and so you enter into "wind-down" mode that much quicker. It's almost like coming home.

Having been fortunate enough to have visited a lot of Greek islands, not to mention having whizzed all over the mainland quite extensively too, I know too well that every Greek location has its regulars; those who come back time and time again because they like it so much. But I have to say that Rhodes, and in particular Pefkos and Lindos, seems to have a higher than average returnee rate than most. If you're a regular Grecophile you'll know very well that the people here in this unique country will gladly give you their all. The cynic who thinks that the Greeks are just after your cash really doesn't understand the culture here at all. The only place where I experienced that attitude was Corfu, and only then in parts. This is due to the fact that Corfu has had mass tourism for longer than just about anywhere else in Greece. Thus, some (and only some) of its businessmen are a bit like many you come across in Spain. They see a tourist and what registers in their brain is a walking ATM. But that's very rare still in Greece.

So here I was just a week or so ago, strolling along the moat around the Old Town, something which I'd neglected to do in the seven years we've lived here until now! It really is a pleasant walk, if somewhat sweaty at this time of year. But the irrigation which they carry on makes it green in places when most everywhere else is a dusty yellow... 

If that's the size of their balls, how big must a cue be?
I was on my way to meet Dave Harris, his wife Jo and their son Josh, plus a couple of their friends, for a drink at Stavros' Bar (see top photo), which was also going to be a first visit for me. I'd mentioned Stavros recently in the post "Books and Covers" and promised that I'd say more in due course. Also in that post is a link to their own rather nice little blog. They also have rooms above, which Dave tells me are very competitively priced and extremely well kept. 

Entering the bar I was immediately struck by the similar atmosphere to the Top 3, in the Mandraki area, just up from the Bus Station behind the New Market. There was the predominantly wooden panelling, bar and walls, plastered with all kinds of football memorabilia. Dave tells me that he used to visit the bar way back before any of this "decoration" went up. He's known Stavros and Soula (his wife) for more than two decades. Owing to the fact that the bar is accessed by a conventional door, it doesn't have an open front, which adds to the sense of coolness that you feel when walking in out of the merciless sun. Stavros pretty quickly placed a chilled glass of Mythos before me and I was compelled to imbibe a little, just to show manners of course.

 I was soon immersed in conversation with Dave and co and, among other things, they told me something which bears out the comment I made above regarding the tendency which the Greeks have to give you their all. I heard that, no sooner had Dave and co. entered the bar to greet Stavros for the first time since they were here last year, than he'd insisted that they were all going with him in a couple of car-loads down to his relative's place, the Haraki Bay Hotel, that coming Saturday for a meal. The meal turned out to be a feast, as so often Greek family dining events do. With ever more dishes of barbecued fish and other mouthwatering traditional foods landing in front of these British guests until they were wondering where they were going to put it all.

Now tell me why Stavros and family invited Dave and his little clan along with them. What was there to gain for the Greeks from this? There would have been many and much cheaper ways to "butter the tourists up" in order to retain their loyalty wouldn't there? Sure there would. No, but this is the experience which so many of us have when befriending Greeks whilst here on holiday. I used to think that I experienced such kindnesses because of my wife's Greek connections. I was quite wrong. Once when we stayed in Crete at a small apartment complex (Helios Studios) in the village of Makrigialos, the proprietor, Kyria Despina, used to appear every evening at around 5.30pm and anyone who was still lolling around the pool area would be treated to some homemade treat or other. If not that then some fresh fruit, whatever was in season, produced by her husband's own horticultural toil. We'd made the acquaintance of a couple from the home counties who'd already begun to repeat visit the Helios, largely - they told us - because Despina would say: "I don't view my visitors as guests, rather you are family."

I get the feeling that, wherever else Dave and Jo may go, they'll always be back here on Rhodes to slip into their comfy old pair of slippers. I didn't get the opportunity to meet Stavros' wife Soula, but I reckon that I know exactly what she'd have been like. The number of British tourists who come back to their modest establishment proves it to me.

Incidentally, since I owe Dave a debt of gratitude for propelling me into the world of Kindle publishing, I didn't get the chance to pay it on this occasion. He insisted that my Mythos was on him!

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Stars Come Out

Robert de Niro and John Travolta are now officially good guys in my book. The pair of them have just holidayed in Greece and have done their bit to show the rest of the world that everything's fine for the visitor to this most special country. John Travolta is quoted as saying (and indeed I watched him say it on Greek TV news last night): "I feel safe. Everywhere we’ve gone is safe, and absolutely cool and relaxed. Everybody is happy and there are no problems. Sometimes the news makes thing look worse than they are, but this has been like a dream.”

His companion, the distinguished Mr. de Niro, added: “We decided to come to Greece and I’m so glad we did. It’s great, terrific. I will come back and I will see every island in Greece in the next few years. I hope I live 50 years, but I doubt it.”

Guys, it's unlikely that you'll ever read this, but I agree with you. Here I am sitting at Maria's Taverna on the quayside on the beautiful and unspoilt island of Halki and I'm letting the place work its magic on me. Looking up, I see the huge tree under which Maria's tables are laid out in haphazard fashion. Hanging among the tree's foliage is a piece of driftwood, painted blue (of course) and upon it is spelt in Greek "Ταβερνα Μαρια", the lettering of which is fashioned out of rope which is painted yellow. The taverna nextdoor is equally as beguiling and has the sign "Ταβερνα Βαλαντης" hanging over its door. The prioprietor is a smiling man whose wife gave birth to a new baby just last season, yet there she is too, serving at the tables along with her man.

Maria's Taverna tables are resplendent in their blue and white check tablecloths and wooden slatted chairs, also painted in the Greek blue to harmonise with the sign above. As is the case all over the country, the taverna next door is easily differentiated from Maria's by the fact that, although in very close proximity, their tables and chairs are dressed in brown check. Maria herself approaches me carrying the ubiquitous paper table cloth, which she deftly lays one-handedly across my table and tucks under the elastic string which stretches around the table just below its top. She does this one-handedly because the other is now holding the condiment set of oil & vinegar bottles, accompanied by some toothpicks and paper napkins, plus salt and pepper pots, which she replaces on the table once the paper tablecloth is safely battened down.

Gazing out across the sun-warmed stone paving to the edge of the quay a few metres away, where a delightful collection of brightly-coloured fishing boats rises and falls in sync, as if all following their conductor like the musicians in an orchestra as the music ebbs and flows, I sense that feeling of well-being that only a Greek island's seafront can give one. Parked at the edge of the quay today is a white van, the roof of which is shaded by a substantial pile of plastic patio chairs, all of which are stacked on the vehicle's roof rack in readiness to be claimed by some new owner as the van's driver and his wife carry a few samples away to show the taverna and bar owners their wares. These almost Asian-looking people are possibly descendents of the Pontoi [Pontou, Pontus], Greeks who at one time inhabited the Black Sea coast of Turkey, but were re-located to Northern Greece during the Greco-Turkish population exchange of the 1920's. 

Their two small children play fractiously and one of them, a tiny little doll-like dark-skinned girl with a full head of black curls, decides that her older sibling has pushed her a little too far and bursts into a tantrum-like wail. Seeing that she's elicited no response from mum and dad, she soon shuts up and returns to the business of rearranging the child-sized chairs and stools stacked on the ground behind the van in a manner to her liking. She seems oblivious to the merciless sun which is pounding down onto her.

A battered pick-up descends from the village interior and draws to a halt just a few metres away from me. It has a rather inventive sunshade of canvas stretched over what looks like a stainless steel tubular framework a metre or so above its flat bed, in a manner which resembles the sun-shades which some smaller boats sport. Under this cover are arranged the bodies of a few young people, along with their rucksacks and canvas bags. The driver leaps out and goes around to the tailgate, which he releases, thus allowing his cargo of young people to tumble out. Arranging themselves in readiness to repair to the nearest bar, I note that the boys have that tousled wavy hair that so seems to harmonise with their three-quarter length shorts, which sport the logos of some surfing company or other, whilst the girls are decked out in tanktops which show so much of their bikini tops or bras that, were this a couple of decades ago it would have been seen as far too daring. All that underwear on display. Tch, tch. Their long bronzed legs give away the fact the they are of that age where they can be daring and as yet have no concept of the fact that a couple of decades down the line they'll be thinking "do my veins show?" or something. The driver slams the tailgate closed and it seems evident to me that he's got a pretty lucrative number going here, ferrying guests to remote parts of the island and back again in a probably unofficial capacity. Can't fault his industriousness though, I suppose.

From a doorway in the small "supermarket" beside Maria's taverna floats the incongruous sound of an electronic desk telephone and it brings me out of my reverie and back to Maria, who's asking me what I'd like to eat for lunch. After ordering some kalamari, a tomato salad and a Fix, I return to my observings and Maria to her kitchen to report my order to her husband, who prepares the food.

To my right, beside the building which houses, on the ground floor, the largest cafe on the quayside and above it the island's Post Office, there's a small periptero. As you'll know if you've read the piece at the other end of that link, those who can run a periptero must be victims of war, disabled people or families with many children. It's a kind of state provision for the disadvantaged which affords them the dignity of working for their living. I rather like the system. 

The periptero on Halki's front is run by a short and strangely shaped man whose legs look too long for his truncated body, which has a prominent hunchback on its torso. He's doing OK though and all the villagers know him and patronise his little business. As I watch him he exits the tiny, shady interior of the booth carrying a white cloth and comes around to the front to wipe the ice cream fridge around its top to reduce the condensation and clean up any smears. While he's doing this, the proprietor of the cafe next door turns up carrying a plate of Halki pasta, evidently lunch for our periptero man. I don't doubt that he provides this out of kindness. They may be related too, it's a distinct probability on such a small island. Whilst the periptero man finishes his wiping, the cafe man enters the booth and serves a couple of German girls on his behalf. These are a couple of our TUI party of guests from Rhodes today, who want some small packet or other; probably either cigarettes or chewing gum by the look of it. I hope it's the latter as it always makes me shudder to see a young person shove a smouldering tobacco stick into their mouth. Not my business though, that's the bottom line.

Chewing on Maria's delicious kalamari and knocking back a gulp of Fix beer, I watch as various islanders trot by whilst going about their business and tourists stroll at a somewhat slower pace, skin ever reddening as they snap away with their cameras at the stunningly picturesque environs of Halki harbour.

The news reports mentioned that both John Travolta and Robert de Niro came here with their families. Of late I learned that among other celebs that have a love affair with Greece are Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, George Clooney and many others. If you're a Grecophile you're in very illustrious company.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Rhodes Town in Summer

Just a few snaps I took recently in the new town whilst killing some time. 
Don't let anyone tell you there's no greenery in the modern town...

Delicious spinach pie from the take-away in Cyprus Square

"S'funny. I could have sworn there was a swimming pool down there last time I looked..."

The beautiful tree with the white blossom (which, by the way, smells lovely) is Frangipani. Takes years to grow as large as this and sheds its leaves during winter time. You can get lots of varieties with different coloured flowers too.

To see any of these images in much more detail, simply right click on it, then when you get the image in its new window, right click on it again to "view image," at that stage you get the magnifying glass enabling you to further enlarge it. Try it and see!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Books and Covers

You can't judge a book by its cover. I know, I've read quite a few which looked brilliant from the cover but didn't measure up when I read them, but the converse is also true. Some which could do with better cover art still turned out to be a very good read (I'm not even going to refer to mine here, OK?). It's the same with music. I was a huge Free fan, but their album "Highway", which was a very good listen, had the most boring cover since some bloke sat down to design the 12" sleeve back in the middle ages. Another example on that point; do you remember the Motors? they were a pub rock band which emerged with a couple of hit singles at the tail end of the punk boom, but their first album flopped. This was because some bright spark of a designer had the brilliant idea of using a close-up mugshot of all four band members as the cover, but the fact was that all four were real ugly mushes. Remember the song "Airport?" Ah, those weren't the days, eh? When they eventually re-issued the album with a better sleeve it actually sold respectably, allegedly.
As usual, though, I digress. Missed my appointment this week, sorry. The Top Three Bar (which I always call that, although the sign outside says "Top 3 Pub" - but I can't bring myself to acknowledge the word "Pub"  here in Rhodes. Must call the therapist and get in for next week) is run by, as I've mentioned on many occasions, a very nice family. Spiros & Maria are the parents and they have two sons, Dimitri and Kostas, who, incidentally, turned thirty while I was there yesterday, Tuesday July 17th. He was a bit depressed because he'd now entered the "andas". See, ten in Greek is "deka," twenty is "Eecossy" (spelt phonetically there, no writing in please!). But once you get to thirty it's "...andas" all the way. Thirty is "trianda," forty "saranda" and so forth. So I ventured the suggestion that he also add "...and eventually it'll be yia panda!" which means in English - For ever.
For years I never went near the Top 3, having taken a look at it from the outside and decided that it wasn't my kind of place. It's all decked out with British football team scarves and banners and that kind of stuff. But that was before I remembered something quite important about modern Greek culture. To follow British football is just as important to your average Greek as it is to follow the Greek league. If you've read Feta Compli (and if not, why not. Didn't you know I'd be asking questions afterward?) you'll have come across this fact in chapter 17, which was entitled, funnily enough, "Football Crazy."
So, when I eventually reluctantly succumbed and entered the Top 3, since it is the oft-used gathering place for the reps who bring guests into town on excursions and thus incredibly useful as a point to which all one's guests need to return to meet the coach, I was rather annoyed with myself that I'd left it so long, since a nicer Greek welcome you'd be hard put to find. I have, in the couple of years since then, become fast friends with Spiro and the family. Maria actually makes one of the best frappes on the island too. You can take that from a frappe addict folks. But I don't have a problem, alright? I'm not yet at the stage where I ought to look up "Frappe Addicts Anonymous" in the phone book. OK, so perhaps the number's in my mobile for possible future reference. Give a guy a break here. (To find out how to make a perfect frappe, click here!)

The Top Three from across the road

Spiros, left and Dimitri behind the bar
What am I driving at? Well, to return to the books and covers analogy, the Top 3 may not look like it's traditionally Greek, but in fact, when it comes to the kind of experience we all like to have in Greece, that of meeting a genial Greek host (or hosts) and perhaps being spoilt now and again as a reward for being a regular, the Top 3 takes some beating. While I sat there yesterday talking to a couple from the UK who've been frequenting Spiro's place for many years, he told them that the drinks were on him this time.

Now, one of my regular correspondents (who also needs therapy as he seems to like my books), Dave Harris, has recently told me about a bar in the Old Town which has much in common with the Top 3. It's called Stavros and it's up at the top of the Old Town on Ipodamou Street, which is the street you end up on by turning left (
opposite the mosque) as you reach the top the main shopping street in the old town - Socrates Street. Dave tells me that he's been frequenting Stavros' Bar for 24 years now. Still can't work that out as he tells me he's not yet thirty. He's got a son called Josh too, who he must have had when he was about 2. Hmmm. Do you think I may be a bit gullible here?

Anyway, Dave and I are probably going to meet to chew some fat up at Stavros in a couple of week's time, so I'm going to have the pleasure of meeting Stavros and his wife Soula too. Watch this space for a report on this bar. meantime, here's a link to their own rather nice blog site.

"Airport, doo doo dee doo dee doo…"

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Crisis? What Crisis?

If there's a "crisis" out here in Greece, then nobody's told the delightful seaside village of Haraki. It's Sunday evening July 15th at around 9.00pm and the place is buzzing. We park the car in the car parking area behind the village and stroll along to the front, passing Da Vinci's restaurant to our left and then the tiny church which it situated to the left as one approaches the sea front along the short lane from the road behind. The last vestiges of daylight have gone and, as we arrive on the seafront the lights are all twinkling on the perfectly still waters of the bay.

Seems like perhaps there had been a wedding today, if not, then maybe a "yiorti" (a festival, not a yogurt, that's a yiaourti, please try and keep up!) or something. Hardly a weekend passes without some festival or other taking place at some village somewhere on the island. There are small white stones placed around lamp posts and a pile of what looks like bread with something white topping it resting out on the pavement near the road. Arriving on the "promenade" we're delighted to find that the place is alive with people. Sunday night in Greece is traditionally "volta" night. A "volta" is an outing of any kind, but in this context it's the Sunday evening stroll that brings out families all over Greece to walk along the front or down to the square, greeting all and sundry, catching up with friends and neighbours. It's a social phenomenon which we always delight to observe.

We're heading for Bottoms Up to experience one of their excellent smoked salmon salads, which is always plenty enough for two people. That along with a plate of patates tiganites (chips! OK?), a draught beer for me and a cocktail for my better half, comprises the perfect end to a rather hot day. We love to sit in the Bottoms Up Bar for several reasons. Chief among these is the family who run the place, Despina, Vasili and their teenage son. Plus, as far as we're concerned, it's situated in the perfect spot, along toward the end of the bay, thus affording anyone who sits there a superb vista of the horseshoe shape of the seafront, at the other end of which is the rather imposing mount which is capped with Feraklos Castle, the last fortification to be occupied by the Knights when Suleiman the Magnificent drove them from these islands in 1523 or whatever (that's nearly half-past folks!).

At this hour we're surrounded by Greek voices as the great and the good of the local villages of Massari and Malona all turn out to socialize and enjoy the ever-so slightly cooler air of the evening after another scorchio July day when it's exceeded 40ºC for most of the daylight hours. The Greeks, children and all, turn out from around 9.00pm onwards. The tourists, predominantly the British ones, tend to all go out to eat from around 7.00pm and so we find that by this time they've finished eating and begin to vacate the eateries and wander off, often in search of another bar. The Greeks arrive by the family and soon rearrange all the tables and chairs in whichever bar they sit to accommodate their ever-growing groups. Soon they're filling those tables with a variety of drinks and some of the younger ones are stuffing crèpes into their mouths while talking excitedly about the latest pop sensation or perhaps the concert that's taking place in a couple of weeks time at the football stadium in Rhodes Town. Mobile phones and bunches of car keys litter the table tops among the bottles and glasses.

Down in the twilight of the shingle and sand beach below the promenade some enterprising types go for a dip in the darkness and small children dart around between the now unoccupied sunbeds and umbrellas. Their parents probably don't have a clue as to their offspring's whereabouts, but they don't care either. They know that they're quite safe and will soon turn up, heads ready to loll into mum or dad's lap when sleepiness gets the better of them and their parents chat on as it approaches midnight. A lazy cat drapes itself over the top of the series of steps leading down to the beach from just in front of Bottoms Up as we arrive to seat ourselves. A couple of hours pass, during which we indulge in an orgy of people-watching and exchange a few brief words with Despina, who's far too busy to stop for long. We don't mind, we've plenty to fill our faces with and no shortage of fodder for the people-watching session either.

Finishing our meal and drinks at some time around eleven, we leave plenty enough money on our table to cover our bill and wave to Despina and Vasili as we rise and begin a short stroll along the front. They've been working their socks off for most of the day and will steal a few hours rest when they've finished clearing up at some unearthly hour of the morning before starting the whole process again tomorrow, and the next day until the season ends at the close of October. Luckily for those of us who live here, they'll still be open for most of the winter, except for a couple of weeks when they'll take a well-earned vacation. Any sunny Sunday lunchtime throughout the winter and you may well catch us sitting here enjoying the fine, bright sunshine whilst eating Despina's exceedingly good-value fare.

Strolling along the front we're struck by the sheer number of people now populating the tavernas and bars on Haraki front. Nowhere looks like closing any time soon as people slap their seated friends on the shoulder as they approach to start a chat, others tuck into Greek cuisine at any one of the clutch of tavernas along the front and everyone seems to be enjoying this Sunday evening volta. There doesn't seem to be a spare seat anywhere as the vivid sparkling stars puncture the inky black Rhodean night sky as we stroll along Haraki front before returning to the car for the brief ride home.

We could stay out later, but there are things to do on the morrow. Never mind, there's always another night. As we walk back through the be-darkened side streets toward the car and the sound of a Greek TV channel wafts out from an open window, we find ourselves remarking on the fact that, if you didn't know that Greece was in a hell of a fix, a night out on Haraki front during a warm July evening wouldn't give anything away.

Photo courtesy of RhodesGuide.com

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Kostas to the Rescue

Adonis with Despina, one of his daughters

Fancy a dip, perhaps?

Getting down to the serious business of "chilling"

Last week's Lazy Day Cruise went as wonderfully as usual. Well, there was one slight hiccup. Having enjoyed a leisurely lunch on board the Magellanos and a further twenty minutes or so anchored on the far side of Lindos Bay with all the guests laying around and digesting their food, Adonis and the crew, who on this occasion consisted of his father Dino and friend Savvas, decided to weigh anchor for the next gentle run up the coast to Agathi (Golden Sand) Bay.

The only problem was, whilst we'd been swimming and then munching on a delicious meal of Pastitsio, fresh salad and tzatziki (plus of course some nice Greek bread), followed by chunks of delicious Karpouzi (water melon), all washed down in my case with a Fix, the gentle drifting of the vessel around its anchor had managed to get the chain trapped between a couple of boulders on the bottom, around twenty feet below.

Did I hear you say, "A Fix? What's a Fix, then?" Surely not!! You must know that (as far as Adonis is concerned) the only Greek beer you ought to be imbibing is "Fix Hellas," the original Greek blonde beer. Mythos has only been around a few years and yet has managed to get itself firmly entrenched in the minds of many tourists as the top selling Greek beer. Plus the connoisseurs will also know about Alfa, Corona, Hellas…

But when I first came to Greece back in 1977, the TV ads were full of a jingle about "Fix Hellas." There were no other Greek beers of note around then. Fix was first brewed in 1864 and is recognised as the first beer ever brewed here. Sadly, due to competition in the marketplace it went out of production in 1983 and looked like it would be consigned to the history books, but, happily, in 2010 the name "Fix" once again appeared on beer bottles and cans and it's now well and truly back. Thus, when I reach into the cool cabinet for a beer, where Adonis stocks both Mythos and Fix, he smiles broadly and nods his approval if I grab a Fix. Yup, folks, Greece is the only place where you can get a fix legally.

Returning to the tale, I mentioned that the anchor chain had become lodged between a couple of huge boulders. This has happened before, it's not particularly unusual, but on the previous occasion - with a little deft tweaking of the boat's wheel while trying to raise the anchor - the crew had managed to position the vessel in such a way as to release the chain by changing the boat's position above it. This time, however, it wasn't going to be so easy. After a few attempts at manouevring the boat, Adonis decided that there was nothing for it but for him to strip to his shorts, don a mask and snorkel and take a look down there himself. Whilst I explained to the guests that there was no cause for alarm, Adonis dived into the twinkling waters, took a deep breath and went under.

He was soon back on the surface and shouting up to the crew that, whilst it looked as though the chain could be freed by hand, it was just too far down for him to do it with one lungful of air. What could be done?

Fortunately, anchored just a few metres away was the Pegasus. I had worked on board this boat last year with Kostas and his dad Spiro. Kostas is a really nice bloke and we were sure that he'd help if he could.  Adonis called him on the mobile phone and was soon explaining our dilemma. There would, though, need to be someone with scuba equipment, so there was no guarantee that Kostas would be able to sort things out. But soon Kostas was heading our way on his launch, accompanied by someone else whom I recognised. Sitting alongside Kostas was Yan, a Belgian guy with whom I'd worked on board the Free Spirit with Perry the season before, if I remember correctly, it would have been 2010.

Now Yan is quite a guy. He's probably about sixty now. Well, if he isn't he looks it to me. Perhaps, too, he wouldn't own up to it either. But when I'd worked with him he used to regale me with all kinds of tales about his former life which had my hair standing on end. He's a wiry bloke with no spare fat on him at all. He's a Belgian who speaks quite a few languages, but not Greek. Well, he understands a little, but he isn't fluent at all. He had proved very useful to me back when we'd worked together, as his German is very good and thus he'd translate my info for the German speaking guests aboard. His hair is a wild mess of formerly dark, but now being rapidly defeated by the peppered grey in there too.  His cheeks are sunken beneath strong cheekbones and he'd think nothing of stripping to a thong before jumping overboard, usually in my opinion thinking he'd be impressing the guests, when in fact I felt he was putting them off their lunch!

Yan used to tell me about what he'd done for a living when he'd lived in Germany. It had to do with seedy nighttime joints where people watched what he did through glass screens. I don't think I'll explain any further. But for him to have reached this age and now be living in Greece without having contracted something very nasty is a minor miracle. The best thing about Yan, though, is that he's a heavily experience scuba diver and had with him in the launch his cylinder and gear. He was already togged up in his wetsuit. In response to my call about whether he'd find the task easy or not, he called up that he'd "done two anchors like this already this week!"

As Yan dropped backwards over the side of the launch, I found myself at the rail of the Magellanos right beside Kostas, who was standing in the launch and keeping it steady by holding on to the Magellanos' rail.

"How is your season going my friend?" I asked him.

"Hmm, not so good." He replied. I told him how I'd noticed that every Thursday when I did the Lazy day cruise I'd see him anchored in Lindos bay, evidently not working that day. In fact he and I had exchanged a wave on several occasions as we'd come into the bay for our swim & lunch stop. Seems the Pegasus is one of those vessels suffering from the downturn in visitors this year. There don't appear to be enough excursions to go around. I was saddened as I really like the boat and the man. If you've clicked on the link above you'll perhaps have read my post about the day I went aboard in Mandraki Harbour just as he was putting the finishing touches to her restoration back in August last year.

As the Magellanos lurched gently in response to Yan's tuggings from twenty feet down, I offered Kostas my hope that things would improve for him. He told me that she's still available for private hire and so I promised that I'd flag this up on the blog, which, of course, I'm now doing. If you're over here with a party of friends and would like a really excellent bespoke day aboard a beautiful boat, you can call him on (0030) 6955 667101. I have no doubt at all that he'd be willing to strike a reasonable deal - especially if you tell him that John the escort (who runs the blog) put you on to him. He speaks excellent English by the way.

Soon the bubbles on the surface were separated by Yan's head, mask still in place as he emerged from below and shoved a hand in the air with his thumb up.

"You can weigh the anchor now!" He called. "...Chain's free. It was easy." With a few more instructions about the best direction in which to move the boat in order to facilitate the freeing of our anchor and chain, he swam to the launch, where Kostas heaved him back aboard.

Adonis thanked both Kostas and Yan and then asked Kostas in Greek, "How much ought I to slip him for doing this?" When Kostas relayed this to his companion, Yan's reply made Adonis' eyes water a little, surprised as he was with the sum which Yan had mentioned to Kostas. The whole rescue hadn't taken more than twenty minutes. At this rate Yan was well on his way to becoming a millionaire. If, as he'd said, he'd already done this twice this week, he'd netted more readies in seven days than most Greeks earn in a fortnight!

Muttering something which rhymes with moussaka (catch my drift here?), Adonis passed a banknote to Kostas, who signalled his agreement with the sentiment, but showed by his facial expression that, were it left up to him, he'd have simply replied that some day Adonis would be perhaps in a position to return the favour. Kostas and Yan then set off to return to the Pegasus and we were on our way, none the worst for the slight delay, which we made up for by travelling slightly faster between the next two swim stops of the day before returning to Kolumbia at 5 o'clock.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Pounding the Pavement

The sound of Bouzouki music drifts out from my pocket as I sit across the desk from Stamatis in the TUI office on the main road out of town. My mobile phone's ringing. While Stamatis sits across the desk from me and pounds his keyboard to process my wages, I pull the Κινητό (mobile phone) out and press a key. The screen tells me that it's my wife calling. I answer and she tells me that Andy Murray is on court and actually looking like he's going to win comfortably. Hmm, good.

Then she asks me, in response to a text which I'd sent her earlier about the fact that a coach breakdown had forced a re-schedule of today's excursion, "What happened? If you're gonna be late, how late? Where are you now?" In response to the last question I reply that I'm watching as Stamatis counts out my money and rises to go the printer to collect the docket that I'll sign to show that I've received the cash (mainly fifties by the way, remember the scaremongering stories). Stamatis returns to the desk and, as he slides the piece of paper in front of me for me to sign, asks me, "The wife?"

I reply with a grin and a nod.

"Ellinida? [Greek woman?]" He then asks. Once again I nod. There's no point in explaining further. "Aah," he continues, "Έλεγχος [Elleghos - lit: control, or checking up]." Now he's almost laughing as I nod diagonally (a vertical nod can mean 'no' in Greece) and say, "You've got it. ie: What are you doing? Where are you doing it and who are you doing it with?" He's managed with just one word to explain a Greek man's lot in this world regarding what kind of relationship he probably has with his spouse. This Englishman now has an instant affinity with the Greek who's serving him - ie: we both expect to be checked-up on from time to time.

Cash stashed in my wallet, I sling the strap from my bag over my shoulder and walk out of the office, down the stairs and into the baking heat of an early-afternoon Rhodean Tuesday. I'm doing the "Water Park/City Delights" excursion, which means that I have five hours to kill (see also the post "Overtime at the Office"); so, every couple of weeks, I'll grab a taxi and zip out to the edge of town for my wages. Then I'll walk back, which usually takes me about an hour. That's one of the reasons why I apply the factor 50 before leaving the house.

Today it's just a couple of days into July and thus the hottest part of the summer is now upon us. In fact, while much of Northern and Western Europe is experiencing its coldest, wettest summer in a century, we here have been enduring August temperatures during most of the month of June. It's usually in the lower thirties (about 90ºF in the old money) during June and in the upper thirties (upper 90's or just over 100ºF), occasionally touching 40 and beyond, during July and August, but we've been in the upper thirties for a couple of weeks already. This, too, follows one of the coldest winters we've had in Rhodes for upwards of thirty years. Still, without these occasional "coldest" and "hottest" periods, we wouldn't have any averages would we.

I begin my walk into town along the dual carriageway which is lined with huge furniture showrooms, wineries, car dealerships and office blocks. Even though this is a built-up area, there are trees dotted along the way which afford me momentary shade now and then. From these trees emanates the rasping sound of the cicadas, which seem to have increased their volume in an attempt to compete with the sound of trucks, motorcycles, cars, pickups and coaches which constantly drone along this road in both directions. Soon the road begins its descent toward the traffic lights at the entrance to Rodini Park. This last few hundred metres approaching the lights are a bit "hairy" as there's no pavement (sidewalk, guys) so I have to try and make myself thinner as huge coaches thunder past me, creating huge air-eddies that almost blow me over. Still, at least these cool me a little. Silver linings, eh?

Once beyond the traffic lights I'm into the section of road that's two-laned and lined with huge trees. Lots of shade now, although I still muse on the fact that you could probably crack an egg and fry it on the surface of the pavement under my feet. The feet in question are cooking anyway, as you can imagine. I ate breakfast at around 8.30am this morning and it's now 1.30pm. Apart from the delicious frappe which Maria set before me on the bar as soon as I'd arrived at the Top Three Bar with my guests at around midday, nothing else has passed my lips since then.

I make the decision that, at the first periptero I pass, I'm going to buy a chilled bottle of water. Of course, there isn't one for probably another mile or so, is there? I need to make a detour today. Rather than return by the most direct route to the Top Three, I'm going to visit Multirama, the best computer/brown goods store on the island. It's way out East on the outer road from Kallithea into town. It's the road that approaches the town from south of the commercial harbour. The store looks out on to the huge new marina that's being built as part of a massive development that's raising the tone of what used to be a fairly run-down area. It keeps company with a string of extremely smart new cafe/bars which are very difficult to walk past. The fact is though, I'm still twenty minutes or so short of those bars and the shop in question anyway and I'm walking along pavements that are best described as obstacle courses.

Cats sprawl lazily on shady window ledges and dogs snore on doorsteps in the small courtyards of the houses that I walk past. This is now Rhodean suburbia. I've taken a turn or two since entering the shady road I mentioned above and I'm cutting across block-by-block towards the store. I need to return an HDMI lead which I bought a few months ago to enable us to watch the TV on the MacBook through the nice posh new TV set which we bought recently. The cable is faulty and, after weeks of using wooden clothes pegs to get it into a position that finally produces a picture on the telly, we've had enough. I'm taking it back to replace it as I'm sure it's got a broken core in there somewhere.

Returning to the above comment about obstacle courses. If you've ever walked a Greek pavement you'll know where I'm coming from. They seem to have an uncanny knack of making it an impossibility to walk for more than a few feet at a time along one without having to step into the road (or onto the pavement, guys!). You'll have noticed that there are always trees planted, not at the outer or inner edge of the walkway, but slap bang in the centre. Many of these have outgrown their modest little squares of soil in the asphalt and have succeeded in getting their roots to raise, heave and crack the pavement's surface in such a way as to cause you to trip over with ease if you're not on your mettle. Then there'll be the electricity poles, the street lamp posts, the road signs, the parked vehicles - all of which pepper your route in such a way as to bring you to the decision that, "Oh what the heck. It's easier to dodge the passing traffic than try and make any progress along the pavement." Oh, I didn't mention either the fact that the trees are often in such dire need of pruning that the lower branches are so low that you have to be a dwarf not to get needles in your hair or poke an eye out.

Just when I begin to hallucinate about pouring chilled water from a 500ml bottle all over my sweat-soaked body I approach a periptero. These always have a chilled drinks cabinet to one side and so I slide open the door and enjoy the brief sensation of that cool air wafting my way while I linger over extracting a bottle of water, which I then take to the cubby-hole through which one pays and proffer my small change (50 cents, not a rip off). Before I've covered a few hundred metres the contents of the bottle are inside my stomach and I toss the crumpled bottle into a wheelie bin. Oh yes, wheelie bins are yet another of the things that often block one's progress along the pavement.

I pass a junction at which there are several stores. One of them has a totem out front with a digital thermometer at the top. It reads 39ºC. That's 102ºF folks. Why am I walking a couple of miles? Don't answer that.

Finally arriving at Multirama I wander around the store for a while, revelling in the air-conditioned atmosphere. Eventually, when I decide that I may get away without the person who serves me fainting from my B.O., I approach the Service Desk, where a very helpful man soon checks out the cable and agrees that it's duff. I ask if I can replace it with a better quality one and pay the difference and he agrees. Too soon I reluctantly find myself exiting into the furnace outside, the final 20 minutes or so walk before me back to the Top Three momentarily seeming a rather torrid prospect. It's not really, though. Soon I'm alongside the waterfront. where there's a small beach on which a handful of people are lounging or standing hip-deep in the turquoise Greek ocean.

I turn into the Old Town at its furthest point South and stroll through it, deftly nipping from awning to tree to overhanging balcony to stay in the shade wherever possible. I find myself pondering the fact that I feel really happy. A sense of wellbeing wafts over me as I realise that I really do love living here. I'm soon exiting the Old Town at the Southern end of Mandraki, strolling through the stand of trees under which the street traders paint portraits and apply henna tattoos and catch glimpses of the boats swaying ever so gently at their moorings in Mandraki Harbour. There are worse places I could be and I appreciate the fact. Yes, during this part of the year it's rather uncomfortable at times owing to the heat, but by and large I wouldn't swap it for anything.

Back at the Top Three, Maria and her son Dimitri furnish me with the best draft beer I've ever tasted since some bloke called Pilsner first thought up the idea and a toastie which melts in my hungry mouth. The overhead fans look more beautiful than any I've ever seen as they dry my sweaty form under my TUI polo shirt. I settle in the corner with my novel and await the first of my guests arriving back to meet the coach a little later on. Here in the bar there's also a bit of a through-breeze and so the thermometer reads a cool 32ºC. Positively chilly.

The first guests drift back an hour or so later and so begins the first of a number of conversations which usually follow the same form. So you live here, then? For how many years? Do you miss the UK? Would you ever move back? What's the weather like in winter? How is the crisis affecting you?…and so on.

I never tire of these chats because they reaffirm for me on a weekly basis the huge privilege which I now enjoy of living on an island where the sun shines for more than 300 days every year, I don't have to worry about being mugged and I rarely lock my car. My wife and I can eat out beside the sea on balmy evenings throughout the months of summer and we never have to stare a suitcase in the face and think, "Boo hoo, going home tomorrow!"

Must call my wife and find out if Andy Murray won.