Thursday, 27 September 2012

Births, Deaths and Marriages. Well, two out of the three anyway...

Just when you think you're doing really well, motoring in fact, with the language, something happens which reminds you that you still have a way to go.

You know, I've lived out here for seven years now and I can hold a pretty good conversation with a local Greek. I can even read and write the language, a fact which often really surprises a Greek when they see me write something down. So I've been getting used to not dropping quite so many clangers as I did in the beginning. Feeling quite proud of myself, in fact. Still, pride goes before a crash and all that stuff, eh?

Just a few days ago we went to visit Josie (whose new novel "From Lindos With Love" is competing annoyingly well with my four offerings in the Kindle "best sellers in Greek travel writing" list) and, yards before we reached Josie's garden gate, we struck up a conversation with her Neighbour Dimitra. She's all excited about the forthcoming wedding of her daughter, which is to take place during November, which accounts for all the re-modelling of their house that's been going on of late. Daughter and hubby will be living upstairs and Dimitra and her useless husband on the ground floor. A newly built low wall separates the access paths from each dwelling and some swanky new windows have recently been installed all over the house.

As we approached, Kyria Dimitra was hosing down the marble slabs of her pathway with the usual nozzle-less hose pipe and a long-handled brush. Water was freely cascading down the gently sloping path approaching the front gate's step and it was an inch or so deep in a torrent all across the path which we needed to traverse in order to reach Josie's gate. Seeing us approaching, her face acquired a huge smile as she hailed us in response to my wife's "Yia sas, ti kanete Kyria Dimitra?". Stepping out from the gate to within inches of the route we were about to follow it became evident that she was eager to pass the time of day before letting us pass.

Holding her left hand down by her side, the one which gripped the open-ended and still gushing hose, she leaned on her brush with the other and asked us how we were, what we were doing, were we working, had we been to the UK at all, my inside leg measurement (well, I may be exaggerating on that one, but that's how the usual inquisition makes one feel) and so on. As we chatted I was ever more conscious of the fact that my nice dapper new white shoes were beginning to get ever-so slightly moist, so much in fact that my feet were starting to feel wet.

I deftly adjusted my position in order to distance myself from the torrent which was still emerging from the hose, aware as I was also that the white linen trousers which I was wearing were now getting liberally splashed with watermarks from the cascade which was rather fetchingly causing great flying droplets as it hit the concrete inches away and absorbed all the dust of the summer which had built up there.

"You must be thrilled about the wedding. I bet you can't wait," said my wife, and then continued, "Have you got a new dress?"

"New dress? Panagia mou, but I can't afford such luxuries. What with the cost of the wedding and all the building work that's gone on to get the house ready, then there's my useless husband; he doesn't bring anything in these days. New dress? No, I'll be re-modelling an old one, that's for sure." At this point her demeanour changed and she became a little more melancholy.

"Of course, the whole occasion will be tinged with a little sadness too you know." She added, in that way which kind of invites you to ask her to continue, since that's how she's pitched it after all. "You notice I'm all in black?" To be truthful, we hadn't, since it seemed to us that she's always in black anyway. But that didn't stop us from raising our eyebrows sympathetically and enquiring as to what exactly she meant. So, yes, we enquired as to what exactly she meant, since she was waiting for us to do so…

"Ah, well, just two months ago my brother died. Very sudden. Only 72."

Now, it was at this point that I was reminded that I can still drop a clanger when I'm not careful. Let me explain. The Greek word for "Condolences" is συλλυπητήρια, or, in the English alphabet, sillipityria. Right? Good. The word for congratulations, on the other hand, is συγχαρητήρια, or sigharityria. It's an easy mistake to make after all. Especially when you haven't had occasion to use either word for a few months.

I think she knew what I meant when I congratulated her on her brother's demise. Of course, Yvonne-Maria my better half was quick to limit the damage by exclaiming that I'd got it wrong and assuring our friend that I'd meant to offer my condolences.

Unable to restrain myself, I'm not sure if I actually helped the situation by then adding whilst addressing my wife in Dimitra's hearing, "Well, maybe she didn't like him anyway."

Ho hum. You win some, you lose some. Onward and upwards...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Whacky Snaps

Really, you ought to be wearing your safety belt. Incidentally, that's a Komboloi on the mirror. It has no relation whatsoever to a rosary!! It's simply Greek "worry beads" - there's a bit of a run on them at the moment.

The Androgynous loo for hermaphrodites? On board the Nikos Express

The "Info" board on the Nissos Halki. That word at the top is the crew's attempt at spelling "Friday"! I would explain but you'd soon get bored!!!

A tree frog, of which we have a plethora here in our valley. Yes they do climb trees - and walls too. Some friends living nearby actually have them sitting on their wall lamps over their patio doors on their veranda. They make a regular cacophony during the night time, but a pleasant one nonetheless.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Big Bang

Late August isn't a good time for birds, hares, rabbits and sundry other wildlife in Greece. It's the official start of the hunting season and we've been made well aware of this by the sound of shotguns being discharged in the countryside around our home here in Kiotari in the days since, often at the kind of early morning hour when no decent folk ought to be at large.

Following the fires of 2008 we were sort of lulled into a false sense of security on the "big-bang" front. There was a three-year hunting ban imposed in the area to give the local wild fauna a chance to recover and it was only last year when this was lifted, but precious few hunters appeared in their military fatigues around the hills near us last season. This year though it appears to be a return to business as usual. At the sound of the first shot we were reminded of our very first visit to the site on which the house has since been constructed.

It was a warm day in early October of 2004. There stood the four of us, John, Wendy, Yvonne-Maria and I, imagining the yet-to-be-built house on the bare patch of ground on which we then stood, when over the hill stalked this bloke with a cracked shotgun under his arm, a couple of dogs mooching around in his near vicinity. Just when we thought that we'd be appearing in the upcoming newspapers under the heading: "Four British Tourists Shot in Mystery Killing on Rhodean Hillside - No Motive Say Local Police", the man spotted us and broke into a wide grin, then shouted a genial "KALI SPERA!!". It was late afternoon at the time. We'd never been used to being in such close proximity to blokes carrying huge guns and so still eyed him with suspicion as we all returned his greeting. We all wondered silently, though, whether he'd have been as friendly had he known that a slice of his hunting ground was soon to be cordoned off and a clutch of villas built there.

So it was that, on our very first visit to what would eventually become our home, we were introduced to the fact that a rural Greek goes hunting. It's tradition. Stroll through any local village after August 20th and before February 28th and you'll spot men standing around lovingly dusting off their guns with a rag, encouraging their dogs to climb into the air-holed plywood boxes in which they transport them behind a 4x4 to the hunting ground, or sitting a-la "Kentucky dad waiting for his 16-year old girl to return from the village hop, hopefully still not pregnant", with the gun slung across the knees threateningly.

Hunting is very much a tradition here and one has to get used to it. At least they do only hunt for food. It's never simply for sport, but vegetarians don't generally feel comfortable with this anyway, do they? It's becoming a subject for hot debate nowadays though. Even here in Greece there is a growing number of anti-hunt and ecological lobbyists who want to see it banned. It's estimated that a third of a million Greeks hold hunting licences, so that's a lot of birds and bunnies which are going to disappear from the Maquis between now and March next year isn't it.

Walking along the lanes and among the olive groves in this area one can't fail to see that the hunters have been about. If you don't actually see some huge 4x4 parked under a tree, or see a couple of men standing on the tops of two adjacent hills calling to either eachother or their dogs, you'll almost certainly see the tell-tale spent cartridges lying in the dust in the middle of the lane, some with blue, some with red plastic cases, still attached to their brass heads, now minus their content of shot of course. By the time next February arrives it'll be quite possible to fill a respectable-sized plastic bag with the things when out for a walk in the hills.

When we first arrived here we asked someone what they actually shoot. "Anything that moves," was the reply. In fact, it's not unusual for a hunter to hit his friend in the posterior - they're that trigger happy! During our first winter here we walked nervously in the countryside, fully expecting to be fired at. Now though, we've got used to it. Not that we particularly enjoy hearing the sound of shotguns and the sight of a strapping bloke in army fatigues sporting a loaded rifle isn't one that excites me all that much. Sometimes they're uncomfortably close to the house here when they shoot and that gives us a bit of a shock.

A much more enjoyable sound is the "twirl, twirl" call of the European Bee-eaters, which are now circling above us every evening, often alighting on the nearby wires or treetops for a rest, as they feed to build themselves up for their imminent flight South to Africa for the winter. At least they hunt in relative silence and don't leave litter behind as evidence of their pursuits.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

More Shots...

If you're that thirsty, you're just gonna risk all the blood rushing to your head

Just loved how translucent that water looked (Halki Harbour, yesterday)

The better half came to Halki yesterday. This was lunch at Maria's of oven-baked aubergines, squid and patates fournou too. Just in case you're still in ignorance of what a Fix is, click HERE and please do it now (third para onwards)!!

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Smile Please

Another post carrying some photos, this time taken on Halki, Friday 7th September...

(As usual, clicking on any image will give you a larger view. "Right-clicking" on the larger view will give you the option to "View Image". In this next view you'll get the magnifying glass, enabling you to zoom even more, good eh?)

Just trying to be arty...

This is Zois [with Katerina, left], who runs Taverna Babis, situated right across the quay from where the Fedon ties up. This freshly caught tuna was already steaks in the cold cabinet by the time we'd finished our lunch!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Thousand Pieces of Paper

"I'll need to pay your ensima," my wife's "boss" told her. "…It puts you on a legal footing while working for me and will also bring benefits if and when you need any prescription drugs in the future." Being in the IKA system means you get them at a huge discount.

Seemed to make some sense. Although Yvonne-Maria only works part-time out here, she agreed. This, though, was going to entail her exchanging her recently acquired Residency Permit for a Work Permit. More bureaucracy loomed large on the horizon. It was earlier this year when we'd steeled ourselves for the process of renewing our residency permits and we'd be pleasantly amazed at how smoothly the process had gone. But here we were now facing more visits to accountants, Police Stations, Governments Departments… Oh, well, once again it was a case of "When do we start?"

The "ins" and "outs" and benefits or otherwise of being in the Greek "system" are often hotly debated among ex-pats and, frankly, everyone you meet gives you a different opinion as to where they think you stand. So you analyze your own situation and decide what's best for yourselves and try not to discuss it too much as, sure as eggs is eggs, if you mention it to anyone else they'll tell you you're wrong and their way is how you ought to be doing it. Seems that the British tendency to lean on the bar of a pub and explain to one's companions how to solve their friends' and the Government's (nay, the world's) problems extends to sipping a beer or a frappe around a table here in Greece as well. As many people as there are in your company, there are frequently that many "experts" present too!

Anyway, in Yvonne Maria's case, if not my own, we hesitantly agreed to go down the "ensima" road. The "ensima" is roughly the equivalent to what back in the UK we used to call our "stamp," ie: our National Insurance payments. First stop, then, the accountant who looks after the affairs of her employers, where she needed to pick up a form (you knew that didn't you). Oh, no, wait, my memory's already a blur, it may have been the Police Station in Arhangelos, a half-hour's drive North from our house, where she had to go to collect a form which she then had to take to the accountant. Of course, the accountant in question has an office in the tiny whitewashed streets of Lindos and hence one can't simply pull up outside and trot in. No, one has to park way down in St. Paul's Bay, then walk the sweaty walk up the hill past the "Dimos" (Town Hall) and into the labyrinthine lanes of the village and arrive in the hope that someone will be "in" as it were.

Having made the trek to the Police Station in Arhangelos, where the grumpy bloke who does all the permits (and whom we'd hoped we'd never have to clap eyes on again last January, when we'd finally walked out with our new and - even more important - permanent Residency Permits) had to hand my wife a form which she'd then have to take back to the accountant in Lindos, we thus found the time to whip over to Lindos one steamy hot summer morning to start the ball rolling with the accountant.

We walked into the Accountant's office and sat down to wait whilst he (actually it was his assistant we were looking at, but he seemed to know what he was doing) finished dealing with another client. We Brits are good at that sort of thing aren't we? You know, waiting. If there's someone ahead of us, we'll smile at each-other, stare around the room in the search for anything which may take our attention or distract us long enough for our turn to come without our having become too restless, and resign ourselves to await the call. Pretty soon the woman in the chair on our side of his desk arose, which was a start anyway, then proceeded whilst jangling a set of keys in one hand and her mobile phone and handbag in the other to pursue a conversation about the family for a further five minutes before eventually exchanging a "sto kalo, na'ste kala" or two with the Accountant's right hand man, throwing us a half smile as she turned and exited the room into the furnace outside.

I stayed in my seat where I was to quietly dissolve into a mass of sweaty human stickiness while my wife approached the desk and took her seat. After he'd asked what he could do for her she mentioned who she worked for and that he probably had been told to expect her and, after a few moments rumination and a sip of his take-away frappe, he nodded and said that, yes he remembered. She was the κopella (which means girl - she was well impressed with this) he'd been expecting. On picking up the form which she tossed across his desk he perused it and asked, "What do you want me to do with this?" whereupon she replied, "I was rather hoping that you'd tell me."

At this juncture a man with a motorcycle helmet and jeans (yes only Greek men will still wear full length jeans when the temperatures touching 100ºF in summer) walked in and, approaching the desk began to make some enquiry of other of the deputy accountant without so much as a "by your leave" to my very patient wife or the pool of shorts-clad perspiration (me) in the corner. Within milliseconds the deputy accountant and this bloke disappeared through a side door and left us exchanging bemused glances with each-other. Not that we were really surprised at this. It's how things work here. If you don't want to wait around in the queue you just act like the person in front of you doesn't exist. We're British so we've never tried this, but maybe some day we will and then we'll feel truly Greek.

Eventually, having seen off this interloping queue-jumper the bloke behind the desk told my wife that she now had to take this form, on which which he'd by now scribbled a few details, to the local Police Station here in Lindos, accompanied by her boss' husband. The two of them needed to sign it in sight of a Police officer. So it was that a couple of days later Y-Maria and Alexandros entered Lindos Police Station, did the necessary and exited to begin the next stage. Apparently, she now had to take this form back to the accountant who'd then give her another piece of paper which she'd need to take to the OAED office.

"The OAED office?!" My wife had asked the accountant (or his assistant, whatever!), "I've never even heard of that one." Apparently it's the Government department which deals with recruitment. OAED stands for οργανισμός απασχολησέως εργατικού δυναμικού. Go on then, tell me what that says.

Of course, all these visits for form-filling, gathering and exchanging pieces of paper had to be fitted in between occasions when I was working, she was working or there was nothing else of an urgent nature which needed to be attended to. Phew. The following week we had a day off together. No nice few hours down the beach this time. It was off to OAED, which fortunately does have an office in Arhangelos and so didn't entail a trip into Rhodes town. Mind you, you could be forgiven for thinking that they don't really want anyone to actually find the place. We were only lucky that my wife's workmate had been through the process before and she was able to explain to us how to find it. It's down a narrow residential street off the main road which by-passes Arhangelos and is set back in a small courtyard between two-storey private homes. Granted, there is a sign over the entrance, but first you have to walk along the street and stare left and right. Then the eagle-eyed seeker will spot the sign at the back of the courtyard through the undergrowth of trees and bougainvillea ...if they're on their mettle.

Having navigated our way to the OAED office, once again I found a chair to plonk myself into whilst the better half approached a desk, where the person sitting behind it, without looking up, thrust a thumb in an easterly direction, thus directing her to the man she actually needed to see. Amazingly, this bloke was on the ball - and [yippee] there was NO QUEUE. Seeing the A4 sheet in my wife's hand, he extended one of his, took it and nodded. Placing it on the desk in front of him he rubber stamped it with a flourish (you just knew that a rubber stamp was going to feature somewhere in this story didn't you) and handed it back to her.

"Is that it?" She asked, incredulously. "That's it!" he replied. "Na'ste kala." And off we went, into the main street of the village for a well-earned frappe, which ended up being accompanied by a crèpe stuffed with Nutella and vanilla ice cream too. Well, to salve our consciences we did share it, albeit it was big enough to feed a family of four for a week.

"Are we nearing the end of the process?" I asked, with some degree of caution.

"Well," she replied, wiping some chocolate from her lips with a paper napkin, "I now take all this back to the accountant. I think. Then HE gives me some papers to take to the IKA office." Guess where the IKA office is folks. Yup, just along the road from the café in which we were now seated. So, now it was back to Lindos, into the accountant's office, which as stated earlier (you are still awake aren't you. Pay attention. I'll be asking questions afterwards) entailed quite a long walk from the car, then back here (half an hour up the road) to the IKA office, where finally the process would end. Well, not quite. Y-Maria then would have to take all the relevant forms to the Police Station, this time once again here in Arhangelos, to get the grumpy bloke to issue her a Work permit to replace her Residency one.

The following Monday we went to the IKA office to find that the woman who deals with such things was on a week's holiday. "You'll have to come back next Monday" another female staff member told us, I think with rather too much glee. So often here in Greece quite important procedural bureaucratic things are handled by a single member of staff. If they're not in, you don't get the job done. End of story. No one covers for them if they're off. It even applies to my wife's favourite weatherman on ET3 TV here. When he takes three weeks off during August, you don't get a weather forecast. Like it or lump it.

So, with yet another week under our belts, we once again walked into the IKA office in Arhangelos in the hope of getting all the loose ends tied up, so that my wife could go back to the Police station and thrust a huge pile of nicely rubber-stamped forms at the grumpy policeman in the hope that he would issue her permit. After having queued awhile she eventually made it to the glass screen behind which sat the now well-rested staff member (after her holiday, remember? Do try and keep up).

"Oriste!" the woman said to my wife, whereupon my wife passed a pile of papers through the gap in the glass for the woman to peruse. Part-way through this "perusing" process, during which she had to photocopy all kinds of stuff and rubber stamp even more, another woman of indeterminable age walked in and with no ceremony whatsoever immediately addressed a question to the woman who was serving my wife.

"What do I have to do to get a work permit?!" She demanded. The lady behind the counter, beckoning with her hand for my wife to move ever so slightly to one side, replied loudly: "YOU'LL NEED ABOUT A THOUSAND PIECES OF PAPER, LIKE THIS LADY!!"

A few days later Y-Maria was finally able to go into Arhangelos Police Station with the relevant paperwork for her Work Permit to be issued. Having sat for a few moments across the desk from the grumpy bloke, who seemed quite disappointed that she had everything in order, she enquired (having in mind the speed at which our Residency Permits had been ready a few months earlier) as to when it would be ready for collection.

"Dunno," replied the man, "We're out of cards. Got to wait 'til we get some new ones in."