Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Photo Frenzy

Just gone mad with the camera lately. So here are some of the results...

The quay at the North beach, Kolymbia, near the "To Nisaki [Το Νησάκι]" Taverna

Butterfly Valley. Friday June 21st 2013

A Halki Doorway

Path to Ftenagia Beach, Halki

Taverna on Ftenagia Beach, Halki

Fancy a swim? Ftenagia Beach jetty, Halki

Ftenagia Beach itself

The most excellent fare on offer at the "To Nisaki" taverna, Kolymbia. The Swordfish Souvlaki was probably the best we'd ever tasted. Middle plate is their delicious chickpea rissoles, which for some reason they don't call 'revithokeftedes', but rather 'Pitaroudia'. Who cares? They were fab!

One could hardly ask for a better setting for a taverna. "To Nisaki" again, Kolymbia

Never miss a trick, that's my motto.

Good food and a good view soon puts a smile on my better half's face

The small harbour at Kolymbia South Beach where we join Captain Mike for a lazy day cruise every Monday (See The View From Kleoboulos Facebook page for a weekly album of photos snapped on the cruise)

Captain Mike himself, plus someone I've seen somewhere...

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Shells, But Not the Ones on the Beach

In response to the frequent requests I get, especially when on my excursions, about why one sees so many concrete shells of future houses dotted about in Greece, here is my explanation as to the three reasons why someone may be building a house which appears to the observer never to be progressing to a finish.

Many visitors to Greece think, rather understandably, that the reason one sees so many of these unfinished homes is purely due to property speculation. Perhaps the developer is just trying to find a buyer in order to finance the completion of the project. It is rather sad that these concrete shells do look rather unsightly, but two of the three reasons for this are really rather good.

Firstly, it was true that over a number of decades that the wily Greeks would leave those rather ugly "re-bars" protruding out of the flat roofs of their properties in an attempt to avoid paying the tax that was due on completion of the property. It is my understanding, however, that this loophole was closed a while back, though quite how I don't know. But why the concrete shells everywhere?

OK, here's reason number 1:
In Greece, although this practice is dying out in the more urban areas, the culture has been for ages past that parents who conceive a daughter will provide her and her eventual husband with a home to live in as a wedding present when their daughter finally gets married. The practical upshot of this cultural "more" (what are "mores?" see here) in this twenty-first century is that the parents will build the foundation of a home when their daughter is still very little. Not ones to borrow from banks, which are institutions that your average rural Greek still maintains a healthy mistrust of (with good reason it transpires!), the parents much prefer to find the cash for each stage of the build rather than resort to going into debt for the project. Perhaps when their daughter turns twelve (no exact age, just an example) they may proceed to "concrete shell" stage. Perhaps five years later they'll have saved up the cash to have the walls bricked in with the window and door apertures gaping empty, awaiting the eventual fitting of such.

When their little girl is finally engaged and the wedding date fixed (often a very long time in advance) they'll have saved up enough to complete the property and thus will do so, just in time to hand the key over to their daughter and newly-acquired son-in-law on completion of the wedding vows.

I rather admire this tradition, which means that many a young couple can make a start in life without the huge burden of a property mortgage hanging over them for the first two or three decades of their life together. The only down side is that this way of life produces quite a fair percentage of those empty shells that one sees dotted about here in Greece.

Reason number 2:
In Greece life was extremely hard following the 2nd World war, the situation having been exacerbated of course by a bloody and ruthless civil war which wrought misery and starvation all across the country. For this reason millions of Greeks left their "patrida" or homeland and started life in various cities all around the globe, where they established businesses and began to acquire a degree of financial security. The only problem was that they weren't living in their motherland and always entertained thoughts of coming back to live in their family's home village or town once they'd reached retirement age. Throughout the years of exile, though, many Greeks - from Vancouver to Sydney, from London to San Francisco - would send cash home for their family to both survive by and also to build a home for their distant (geographically speaking) relatives to retire to. This is still going on and I know of some people locally who've only in the past year or two come back from the USA or Canada to live in local villages here on Rhodes, having finished their years of working life and finally been able to come back to their home soil, where they so yearned to live out their final years and where they so desired to have their bones buried once they finally died.

All through the years, though, that these people had been living thousands of miles away, their relatives back home in Greece would have been using some of the money that they'd sent back to construct their retirement home, in readiness for their eventual return. This is often why you'll see a property where the upper floor is lived in, but the downstairs is a concrete shell, where you may see winter wood piled up, or makeshift washing lines stretched across or perhaps even building materials stockpiled. The upstairs apartment may be lived in by a nephew, a niece or even son or daughter and their children. The downstairs will be home to uncle and aunt, or mum and dad when they eventually reach the time when they can afford to come home. Maybe it's the other way around and it's the upstairs that's a shell and the downstairs that's lived in. No matter, the story is often the same.

In these days of desperate times for many Greeks, once again there is an exodus of younger people as they seek gainful employment in other parts of the earth, having given up on being able to procure a decent job here in Greece under the current high-unemployment situation and been forced to look beyond the boundaries of their homeland for perhaps a few decades of their working lives. No doubt many more concrete shells will be appearing in the years to come as these migrants make arrangements for their eventual hoped-for return to their beloved Greece.

And so to reason number 3:
Property speculation. It is true that during the "noughties" (2000-2008) there was a temporary boom in properties being sold to people from overseas (notably the UK and Germany) which led to many who weren't actually professional builders deciding to try and turn a profit from a piece of land that they'd decided was of no use to them or their next of kin. Why not throw up a concrete shell, advertise it through a property agency and make a killing as some hopeful couple from Northern climes forks out for a place in the sun so that they can come out here and live the dream. Not a lot wrong with that, let's be fair. The only problem was that when the financial crash came in 2008, there were thousands of these private speculators left with half-built houses that suddenly became unsaleable owing to the bottom having fallen out of this particular market. A certain percentage, then, of the concrete shells which one sees will fall into this category.

Putting all the above into perspective then, I rather admire a culture where they look after their young ones and try to give them a good start in life and where they do their best to help their older ones who've sacrificed decades of their lives living on the other side of the world so that they can hopefully come back to the place of their birthright for their twilight years.

Next time you find yourself staring at a concrete shell, remember, it may not look too pretty, but it might just be what a young bride and her groom will need some day in the future, or the place that some retiring couple will be coming home to, something for which they've longed for thirty or forty years, maybe more.

Monday, 17 June 2013

From Chilli Peppers to Chiding Presenters

People can surprise you. just when you think you may have them Sussed.

Zois sits across the table from me and sucks at his shiny, brushed aluminium (or is it steel?) electronic cigarette. We're sitting companionably together in his taverna on Halki harbour front, putting the world to rights. His T shirt reads "RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS" in large letters.

I ask if he actually likes the band, to which he replies that "of course" he does indeed. I ask whether he went to Athens to see them live and he replies, rather as expected, "How could I Gianni? I have a taverna to run". His answer also explains why he, as a fan of rock music, hasn't even been to the annual Rhodes Rock extravaganza, taking place in Lindos this very weekend. Seven days a week he's tied to his work during the tourist season.

I find myself fascinated by his electronic cigarette, and thus ask him how it works. He really does want to stop smoking, but is finding it very hard. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that almost everyone around him smokes incessantly, and thus will not give him any encouragement. After he's taken it apart and shown me its workings, then made my eyes water by telling me the price of the thing, I ask him if he's ever seen the new generation Doctor Who. Why do I ask him this apparently strange question, given the circumstances under which we are conducting this conversation? It's because that electronic ciggy so very much reminds me of the Doctor's 'sonic screwdriver'. You know, it's that thing he whips out every time you know he's facing certain death. It'll burn its way through a steel door, open any number of diverse kinds of lock and stun an enemy at ten paces. Probably makes tea with two sugars too.

Zois tells me that he has no knowledge of Doctor Who and thus fails to see my fascination with this gadget, which he occasionally slips between his lips in order to take a puff, emitting a small cloud of vapour. This turns the conversation to what kinds of TV shows he does like to watch. I mention "Downton Abbey", which has been such a huge success in the UK and has also been running (subtitled) on National TV here in Greece quite recently. My wife and I have been gorging ourselves on a succession of its DVDs of late. Had to find out what all the fuss was about.

"Nah, don't really watch that kind of stuff," he responds, "I like those CSI shows, you know, where they solve a grisly crime every week."

I tell him I'm surprised, but I don't know why I should be. What else does he like? He gets very enthusiastic and says, "I like the two women. What are they called now?" Since there's rather a large number of potential TV programmes that may just fit this bill, I ask him to explain a little more. Worried that he may be referring to something a little shady, maybe even questionable, I nevertheless press for a more extensive description of the programme he's referring to.

"You know, they really tell the person off. I can't believe the kinds of homes they go into. Sometime you can't see the kitchen for all the rubbish. Sometimes there is even excrement under all the piles of paper on the carpet in the living room. How can people live like this, Gianni?"

I think I've caught his drift. "Aah, You mean 'How Clean is Your House?' with the formidable Kim and Aggie?" His face immediately registers the fact that I've hit the nail on the head. He responds enthusiastically, 

"Yes that's it, Kyria Kim and Kyria Aggie. I love that show!" In Greece it's called "Αστραφτερά Σπίτια", literally "Sparkling Houses", so the title is obviously referring to how the homes which are featured look after the "Kim and Aggie" treatment. We continue conversing and find ourselves agreeing that we'd both be quite intimidated were we to feel the whip edge of Kim's tongue. Though she usually scolds her victims with a degree of empathy and concern. Or does she?

How about that though? There I am, sitting in a taverna on the harbour front at Halki, and a Greek man turns out to be addicted to a UK TV show about two women cleaning up filthy peoples' homes. I don't know if the show's still airing in the UK, but here it still runs on a channel called Skai. There I was musing over the fact that Zois had an electronic cigarette that reminds me of Doctor Who's "sonic screwdriver", after we'd first discussed the merits of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and I end up discovering that a middle aged Greek bloke loves Kim and Aggie. You learn something new every day.

Wonder if Kim and Aggie would have a use for the mysterious time lord's sonic screwdriver? Might speed things up a bit.

Left: a bloke who rambles on a lot about Rhodes. Right: a Greek who's addicted to two TV cleaning women and hasn't a clue what a sonic screwdriver is. Background: Halki harbour and beach.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

So, Anyway...

So, anyway, last Thursday we decided to drive up to Laerma, using the windy (that's windy as in "twisty-turny", not as in "blowing a gale"!) road that runs through Asklipio (see this post), since we hadn't done this drive for a while. The countryside, as ever, was resplendent in the clear, early evening light and, as we crossed one of the fords en-route, I snapped the shot above.

Having arrived, we parked at the top of the village and began a stroll down to the centre. Quite soon to our right we struck up a conversation with an elderly couple who were sitting near their front door. As always with such conversations, we're struck by the warmth of the people of their generation. Here's why.

We were attracted to their doorway by the sound of a TV. Not the usual sound of a clear TV channel, but rather that of an ancient "pregnant" type TV which had seen better days and was now propped up atop a wooden shelf unit on a lace doily pumping out the kind of static that would have the folks at SETI jumping up and down with excitement. Now and again a picture would appear through the "snow" just long enough to give away the fact that the programme they were attempting to watch was the News, but quite how much of it they were actually getting I'd guess was a tiny amount. They were probably glad of the distraction we provided if the truth be told. Mind you, we'd been conversing for a good five minutes before the husband, who was rather dapperly kitted out in threadbare trousers and a very ancient pyjama top (striped of course), decided that enough was enough and pointed an extremely old remote at the set and, at probably the third or fourth attempt, succeeded in muting the sound.

Further back in the room, beside a tiny table, sat his wife, a large woman of evidently great age, picking at a plate of chips and horta. Above her head and hanging at a seasick angle, was a clock in the shape of Australia. It wasn't showing the right time. She suggested we step inside the open doorway and sit a while, so we accepted the invitation. These kinds of conversations are not to be missed. 

"You'll have something to drink," suggested the husband, already rising from his cot and making for the finger-stained door of an old refrigerator. "What would you like, Elliniko? Himoh [fruit juice] perhaps? Chai [tea]?" To decline would have been quite futile and so we settled for some juice. No sooner had this been agreed than he presented us each with a small, chilled fruice carton, those ones with the little straw stuck to the side in a clear plastic sleeve. You pop the straw out and pierce the little silver foil-covered hole in the top, insert the straw and suck away. In between sucks we asked them about their family, a sure way to commence as long a conversation as one has time for.

"We have four children," the man told us, while his wife swiped some bread around the oil and lemon juice sauce from the horta on one of the plates before her, "three girls and a boy." Of course they went on to list all the grandchildren too.

"And they all still live here on Rhodes?" we asked. Indeed they did. A couple of them had businesses in the Old Town, one sells watches and another has a taverna. They gave us intricate directions as to how to find these establishments and recommended that we tell their progeny that we'd been sent by their parents. We'd be sure to get well treated. It became evident that the kids don't visit all that often. Simply too busy.

We asked our hosts how old they were and how they would describe the changes in their village since they were young. The man proudly declared that he was 88 and his wife that she was 83. We congratulated them and then asked after their health. Most Greeks of this age have "piesi", blood pressure, as in high blood pressure. Of course both of our hosts had to deal with such an issue. Many older Greeks have "zaharo" too [diabetes], from the word "zahari" - Greek for sugar. This isn't altogether surprising when you consider the custom of giving "Glika" [sweet cakes, usually huge] on every special occasion. Nevertheless, great age and various chronic health issues aside, he rose and pointed a leathery finger out through the side window and a respectably large area of newly dug earth, thrusting upward from the furrows of which were many fresh young aubergine plants and in the middle of which stood a lemon tree which was probably only a few years old. The soil up here is a truly beautiful dark colour, much more like that which we used to till back in the UK. In contrast, the soil down where we live is much yellower and turns to concrete and fine dust every summer. Our host, who tells us his name is Panos, laments the slow desertification of his village. It's a familiar story. "All the young folk want clever phones, cars and computers. they want 'parea', [literally "company"] so they move to the town, where they hope to acquire such things. You don't get such things by breaking your back on the land." In Laerma, as is the case with numerous other like villages, there is a growing number of deserted houses. The village population is aging fast. Mind you, the "austerity" has begun to produce a trickle of folk back to their villages all across Greece, where they're once again taking up growing vegetables, since it's the best way to deal with the huge cut in their incomes of late. Clouds and silver linings spring to mind.

We came around to the subject of the fires of 2008, when the village of Laerma was all but cut off by the flames. The village had come perilously close to being burned to the ground, but just managed to escape such a fate. We told the couple that these fires had even reached to within a kilometer of our home in Kiotari and we'd been wondering, as it rained down upon us burnt pine needles and ash, whether we'd be evacuating too. 

After what was probably a half-hour of conversation, we arose to take our leave. Kyrios Panos then apologised for the fact that they hadn't given us anything to eat, a shameful oversight. We assured them that this was not necessary anyway and that we'd been grateful for the chat and the fruit juice. It's always a privilege to meet such folk and experience the hospitality that's so much still the culture in such villages as this. Many years ago we'd visited County Cork in the South of Ireland and found that a similar culture of welcoming strangers and providing them with some sustenance had also prevailed there. Is this still the case today? I hope so.

The photo above is of the taverna/kafeneio just a little below the Igkos and on the opposite side of the road. This was taken at around 8.00pm, as the light was fading.

Nice bijou residence available at a "steal". Some renovation needed. Nice views though.

The other day my wife was pulling weeds out from among some pebbles which adorn the floor between the car port and the path around the house when she emitted a howl of surprize. "What now?" I thought, from my location several metres away where I was deadheading furiously.

"You all right, sweetie?" I called, ever willing to demonstrate my perpetual unselfish interest in my better half's welfare.

"Never seen one like that before!" came the reply. Now, not even venturing down the road toward any reference to either a bishop or an actress, I arose and ambled over to see what she was referring to. Her voice had betrayed a soupçon of alarm, mingled with amazement, so I thought it best to investigate. When I got to her side she pointed down at the path, where I saw this little fellow...

He (or she) was probably about the size of a milk bottle top (if anyone can remember those!!) and entirely black. Not only was he/she entirely black, but he/she also seemed to be silky all over too. Venturing in close enough to snap the photos, I was rather fazed to see him [let's stick to the male gender for the sake of expediency] raise his front legs and sit back on his "haunches" as if poised for an attack. It was probably far more likely an expression of abject fear and anticipation of a pending attempt to swot him dead, but it made me retreat fairly sharpish all the same. Tell you what though, he was well aware with those beady little eyes of his of my exact position, because as I walked around him so he turned in order to keep those two raised front legs pointing squarely in my direction.

Swiftly retreating into the house to open Google, I thought I'd try and identify the silky little fellow, I suppose with a degree of success. My wife told me that she'd lifted a pebble and found a sticky mass of web all over her fingers, though she had been wearing her gardening gloves and so hadn't panicked entirely, out of which trotted the fiend you see above. She'd flicked it on to the path as a sort of instant reflex. It hadn't come to any harm though and we were soon able to brush him back to somewhere near his preferred place of dwelling. Minutes later we returned to see that he'd retreated to the shadowy home from which he'd been rudely extracted moments earlier.

 On the internet I discovered that there is indeed a genus of "Silk Spider" but it appears that it's a large family of disparate sizes and colours. They are apparently rather partial to weaving a mass of clingy web under a stone though, so that seemed to fit the bill. Most are of a retiring nature and this explained why we'd never seen one before in the almost eight years that we've lived out here.

Anyone out there know any more about him? 

Yesterday I was anticipating my first Rhodes excursion, but it wasn't to be and so we set out from home to walk around the local area and pay a few visits to some friends. Fixing my trusty camera case to my belt was a good idea, since the light was wonderful. So there now follows a series of photos taken all in one session on Tuesday June 4th, just minutes from our home...

What's rather amusingly called "Kiotari Harbour".

Ruined by tourism? This beach is only 15 minutes walk away from the Rodos Princess hotel, but may as well be a world away.

Our friends have rather imaginatively hung a couple of dried gourds on their frangipani, neat eh?

Kiotari Harbour, different angle.

Go on, admit it, you'd rather like to be there now wouldn't you?

Flowering yucca plants frame this view rather nicely, eh?

La Strada taverna. So frenetic... I don't think!

The view from "To Steki", now re-named "Il Porto", right next door to George and his Pelican's Nest. Tassos and Anastacia run this place. A better location for a laid-back drink beside the sea would be hard to imagine.

And finally, a couple of new neigbours just down the valley from home. These guys have earned a quiet retirement and are now being allowed to enjoy it.