Gilmas was in ruminative mood. We hadn't seen him in a while and so the other day we decided to drive down to his smallholding near Plimiri. Among other instances, he cropped up in chapter 20 of book 4, "A Plethora of Posts" in the story called "Gilma's Tears". This gentle old man in his mid-seventies is always pleased to welcome visitors to his small cottage a few metres along a concrete-surfaced lane from the main road between Plimiri and Katavia.
We are always welcomed here with a huge smile and the offer of some form of refreshment. This morning, Sunday August 19th, we pulled up beside the cottage and were delighted to see his old, but immaculately maintained Toyota pickup parked under the shade of the huge tree in his αυλή [yard]. He's quite unusual in the vehicle-maintenance area. Many old Greek farmers trudge around in beaten up old vehicles which haven't seen the inside of a vehicle testing station since wheels were a new invention. Gilma, on the other hand, lovingly cleans and maintains his 2000-registered Toyota as if it were a baby. His tractor is similarly pampered. The first time I clapped eyes on it I thought it was a recent acquisition, until - that is - I saw the number plate, which gave it away as being older than the pickup. "You only get back what you put in" is one of his life-mottos. Never has that been applied in his case more fully than in relation to his vehicles.
We climbed out of the air-conditioned comfort of our car to the outdoor fan-oven furnace of about 40ºC at 10.30am or thereabouts. I called out "Καλιμέρα!" but elicited no reply. Stepping into the shade of the canopy which protects the old brown-painted wooden front door of his cottage from the elements, I saw that the door was ajar.
A good sign; he must be in.
Once again I called out "Good morning, anyone home?!" and this time the door swung wide open to reveal our host standing in his faded blue shorts and nothing else. A huge grin spreading across his face, he exclaimed "Περάστε!!" [Lit: Pass, but used as an expression to invite visitors to enter] as he stepped aside and swept his arm wide in a gesture of welcome. His TV was burning beside the wall on his old sideboard, atop the ubiquitous white lacy doily which you see in every Greek home where there is a resident of at least 50 years old, and this (the TV, not the doily!), he told us, was why he hadn't heard our first hail.
We asked him how he was coping with the heat. Did he agree that this summer seemed hotter than many in recent years, to which he replied, as always in his case, with a conspiratorial air, "Oh yes. Oh yes. There is no air this year. Normally I sleep with the window open over there (he pointed toward the small window in the wall beside his bed, which was reached by three wooden steps, since it is of the traditional Greek cottage type, which always has a storage area beneath it) and the door ajar [my wife visibly quivered at the thought of the creepy-crawly potential of this statement] and I get a nice breeze. But this year, the leaves on the trees are still, with no movement whatsoever. It's χάλια [awful. Americans might translate this as 'it sucks!']. I'm not sleeping so good, I can tell you. I go outside to work at 6.00am and come back in at ten, after that I do nothing until the evening." This explained why we found him watching his TV at 10.30am.
"There's doesn't seem to be any Meltemi this year," I ventured. The Meltemi is the strong North wind which blows down through the Aegean Sea - usually between mid-May and Mid-September - reaching its most strong and regular occurrences between mid-June and the end of August (many Greeks say that it stops, at least from blowing regularly in the middle of August). This wind can be very strong and can cause disruption to the ferry schedules at times. Yachts have been known to be swamped on occasion. The up-side is that it cools down the otherwise almost unbearable high summer days when you just don't know what to do with yourself, it's that hot. This year it has been conspicuous by it's absence most of the time. Usually it blows up during the afternoon and abates during the evening. Occasionally it will blow all night and parasols need to be collapsed and tied to prevent them sustaining damage during the hours of darkness. Lighter plastic chairs have to be stacked, or risk being found the next morning several metres away from where they belong. In a garden this can result in precious plants sustaining damage too.
So far this summer, though, it's blown only rarely here on Rhodes and the result has been that the merciless Greek sun has ratcheted the temperatures up to several degrees higher than the average and this has gone on since the beginning of June.
In answer to my comment, Gilma replied: "You're right, Gianni, you're right. I have lost many plants this summer. Peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines, many have simply shrivelled in the heat, no matter how much I water them. I can't remember another summer like this. I never usually need a fan, but this year, look." He pointed to a huge electric fan, perched atop his old wardrobe at the foot of the bed, which was whizzing around and sending a very welcome waft of air across our faces whilst we talked. "Anyway, what can I get you?" he asked. "Juice, yes? It's a bit hot for an Elleniko don't you think?"
We readily agreed, although chilled water would have done just fine. We needn't have worried, as he brought us both a delicious glass of cool, mixed fruit juice and placed a tumbler before each of us into which he poured cold water from a plastic bottle which was covered in condensation, a sure indication of the fact that this precious dose of "Adam's Ale" would be chilled.
After we'd put the world to rights, which is what we all do in such circumstances, he got around to the economic woes. He's not a man to complain and certainly can't be accused of being materialistic. This, among other reasons, is why he lives way down here in a remote agricultural area, rather than near the town with his wife and son, who live there because of their son's work (he does something quite important in connection with the island's bus company). But he couldn't help remarking on how hard the common man has been hit by the austerity measures. "Gianni and Maria," he continued, "the small man is reduced to nothing. His pension has been halved, he has to find hundreds of Euro to pay the "haratsi" [the slang-name for the newly-imposed property tax, Lit: "Hike"!], his electricity bills are rising and he has to find twice as much cash to fill his petrol tank. He can't take any more. It's very hard. People simply don't have the money. And when you think about car insurance, road tax, food and clothes shopping, where do you stop?"
We could only sympathize. What else was there to do? Whilst the holidaymaker will find their holiday here just as wonderful as ever, the locals are struggling to understand what's happened. It seems that suddenly they've gone from the 1st to the 3rd world, virtually overnight.
When we arose to take our leave he did what he always does. He had to find something with which to fill our hands. Frankly, our vegetable patch has been a major disaster this year too. Virtually everything which we put in for the summer has dried to a crisp. We'd thought that perhaps it was just us, but his story had confirmed that it really has to do with just how hot it's been. Nevertheless, he still grabbed a kitchen knife and a plastic bag and bade us hold on a few minutes longer. He donned a shirt and his moth-eaten old baseball cap and went out into the furnace outside. Returning a few minutes later he handed Maria the plastic carrier bag, which was now fair bursting with the weight of its contents. When we remonstrated he acted hurt and insisted that we take it and go. "See you soon I hope!" He called as I put the car in reverse, turned and drove off with a toot of the horn.
As we drove North my wife peeked into the bag. It was full of beautiful and huge, fresh dark-purple aubergines and green peppers. A welcome supplement to the bottom of our fridge. Plus there was a tasty honey-dew melon (the yellow ones with the green flesh) to top it all off.
If this was what he came up with when he'd had a bad year, we could only imagine how much his farm produces when the weather's normal. At least Gilma will never starve.