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.


  1. Trevor Mcilveen4 July 2012 at 08:36

    John. What days are you in town with 5 hours to kill ?
    We could come to town & bore you for a few of those hours LOL

    1. I'll keep that in mind and let you know when I don't have a list of chores to do in town (which is amazingly often as it turns out! Saves using the car!). Every 2nd week I go for my wages, but should be able to plan to meet up some time soon.

  2. A lovely long read on a soggy Norfolk morning! Just three comments to make, firstly, according to the scaremongerers you won't be able to spend the 50's! Secondly, if I was your wife I would probably check up on you after the previous post and thirdly, I guess she was watching Murray for what might fall out of his shorts this time! (I'm presuming you are aware of what happened to his TENNIS balls in the previous match?)
    A great read John, pleeeaaase send some sun, I'm diluting here.


    1. Where on earth do they get these ideas from, not being able to spend fifties? I reckon they're trying to write modern day fairy stories. My better half doesn't worry about me these days by the way, after all, young women don't see me as a guy, more as a father-figure!! Yes we knew about Andy's wardrobe malfunction, we're Wimbledon addicts and watch every available minute I'm afraid.

  3. Father figure is a bit optimistic I'd have thought. Doing a quick calculation.......................! I now take delight in telling young 'whipper snappers' that I'm old enough to be their grandmother.

  4. According to the UK papers on 03/07/12, the British government drew up contingency plans to prevent Greek nationals from entering the UK in the event that Greece exited the Euro and the rumours were that a "tit for tat" response from Greece would have been to ban British visitors to Greece!


  5. A brilliant post John, really lost myself in that one for a bit as the rain lashed against my window.
    Keep up the good work.

  6. Your posts are a definite asset to Rhodes' tourism. Reading them always makes me want to visit Rhodes. Actually, after experiencing the snowiest Anchorage (Alaska) winter on record and now being in the middle of the coldest July on record, your posts make me want to move to Rhodes. Is the fishing any good off the coast? That way, my husband and I could both be happy.

    1. Plenty of fishing goes on Judy. Not sure quite at what volume you or hubby would need though!!!