Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A lunch, a Run, Some Plants and a Feeling of Inadequacy

Just over week ago, on Saturday 26th October in fact, my wife and I had planned to walk the four kilometers up to Asklipio to collect some mail. We knew that there were some packages due, plus with our summer work schedule now easing considerably, we had the time to do a nice long walk and enjoy the excellent weather that's prevailed this past couple of weeks.

Of course, at the last moment her indoors was called to work wasn't she. Blowed if I was going to miss the walk, plus the simple lunch which we'd talked about taking at the Agapitos Taverna, I decided to make the walk anyway, alone. As you walk up the hill behind our home toward Asklipio you're instantly in a landscape where frequently you can see nothing man-made at all. Aside of course from olive trees which had long ago been planted by human hands, you could be walking at any time during the past several thousand years. Of course, it's not the case for the entire walk, since on occasion you see electricity pylons and even one of those new solar farms that are springing up here, there and everywhere of late. All in all though, it's a route I greatly enjoy and, as one climbs ever upward, one is granted some marvellous views all down the east coast of the island, past the village of Gennadi some four km. to the South. 

Reaching the taverna about forty five minutes after leaving home I instantly asked Athanasia for a cold beer, a Greek salad and some of her delicious home-made chips fried in her very own olive oil. Her husband Agapitos himself soon put in an appearance, as did their son, and the usual greetings were exchanged, along with a few words about how the season had been for all of us. So, fifteen minutes or so after arriving, I found myself sitting on the almost deserted taverna terrace, oozing with appreciation for life, all that sort of thing. No, really, though. As Kyria Athanasia placed my delicious and very simple lunch in front of me, I found myself recalling what it was about this country that first stole my heart.

The gourds are real, they're not decoration.
I honestly can't think of a nicer lunch.

Why did I so love to come here for holidays? The very essence of what makes a holiday on a Greek island is quite simple. Wall to wall sunshine, Greek salad, olive oil, blue check tablecloths, lazy cats and dogs and genial people who always have time to give you a smile and pass the time of day. And why do the chips always taste so heavenly here? Aside from the fact that most local tavernas cut the spuds themselves, often ones they've also grown themselves too, they always fry them in olive oil. OK, so some tavernas in the more commercial resorts have started using other vegetable oil, but why would a local village taverna spend good money buying that stuff when they're usually drowning in their own oil, pressed from olives that the taverna's family have harvested themselves in their own groves?

And the bread. Once again, in the more commercial resorts the dreaded garlic bread is becoming standard. No, no NO!! What you want with a traditional Greek salad, apart from a huge slice of fresh Feta sprinkled with dried oregano on top, is village bread made with unrefined local flour. And red onions. Once you've eaten those gorgeous full-flavoured red onions the white variety pale into insignificance. Yes, as I sat there, wishing ever-so slightly that my dearly beloved was there to share this quiet moment of contemplation with me, I found myself reassessing what it was that brought me here and, despite all the problems that this country faces at present, mentally appreciating those things that I used to hate to be saying goodbye to once a Greek holiday had come to its end.

We've done a couple of evening beach or coastal walks of late too. Been in for a swim many times at just before sunset, when the sea is, as the Greeks say, "like oil" [as in, of course olive oil] whereas we Brits would say "like glass", or perhaps "like a mill pond". I've often only had my phone with me [no iPad or camera] , which seasoned readers will know isn't of the "smart" variety and requires a good head of steam to get it fired up in the morning, but it does take a photo and occasionally good enough to use.

So I thought you may like to see these...

This little beauty grows right out of the sand at the back of the beach. No idea what it's called, maybe "Star flower"?

I wouldn't risk picking this, but this very evening we spotted it growing (well, 2 of them actually) on some grass behind the beach and thought what a handsome specimen it was. The grass is [obviously] watered, which accounts for the fungus' ability to grow here when we've had no rain for ages and ages.

And, no, my dearly beloved doesn't ALWAYS wear the same footwear. Just a coincidence, OK?
And, a couple of days later.

Last Sunday saw the annual "Rhodes For Life" five Kilometer run, or as most of the UK participants like to call it, the 5k Walk!! We've been threatening to do it for years and so this year finally made up our minds to get and do the thing, as it's for a splendidly good cause. It's always to raise funds for the fight against cancer, but this year the organisers wanted to finance the purchase of a video - colonoscope for Rhodes' General Hospital that will aid doctors to diagnose cancer in the early stages. The facebook page reports that over 5,000 took part, which was another record. Well, I know of at least two who did it for the first time this year!!

We set out fairly near the front of the field and I started at a shuffly kind of jog and just thought that I'd see how I went. If I needed to walk a while (a veiled term that old Fairport Convention fans will pick up on there) I could. The gun went off outside the Town Hall after a fifteen minute warm-up and a live band (a guitar, bass and drums trio that really were rather good) and we were off heading South along Mandraki Harbour. By the time we were heading past the taxi rank into the Old Town Moat I was still running and seemed to have found myself some kind of rhythm. "Hmm," I was thinking, "maybe I'll just keep this up and see how we go."

Everyone, well, almost everyone, getting into the warm-up routine

I had my trusty bum-bag on at the front, inside of which was my digital camera, which is why I was able to whip it out as we headed down the South side of the moat and snap this...

Every few hundred metres or so there were kids handing out water bottles to the "runners" and occasionally a clutch of first aiders in their red uniforms waited for someone to resuscitate. I got the distinct feeling that they were quite disappointed when I jogged on by and waved at them.

By the time we'd come right through the Old Town and were coming into Mandraki for the final home straight I was amazed myself to find that I was still running. In fact, I got a little cocky because, as I approached the finish there was a line of people behind the barrier snapping photos of the finishers, so I jogged up to one Greek bloke, handed him my camera, then jogged back about twenty meters so that he could snap me coming home!!!

Here she comes, my better half. She came in just a few yards behind me, But then, she does have slightly shorter legs.
Proof that we lived to tell the tale.

Anyway, having arrived in town before the Run and parked on the other side of the Old Town as usual, we walked through the Old Town on our way to the start. This gave me the opportunity to show the folks back home what the main square looks like once the tourists have all vanished..

Yesterday morning my good friend Mihalis, who has chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits at his house in Kalathos (he pops up quite a few times in the Ramblings books) turned up outside the garden gate in his trusty old car and tooted his horn. Now, Mihalis is always trying to be helpful and always ready to impart advice about the garden, but I swear that he despairs at the two of us for wasting so much of our garden on decorative stuff that you can't actually eat. I had only just got out of bed, but, hearing his horn I went out to greet him and he strode in through the gates with a nice clutch of lettuce seedlings in his hand, all nicely wrapped at the root end in damp kitchen roll to keep them fresh.

Instantly he began a tour of the garden, since he hadn't been up here for a while and wanted to see if we'd been applying his advice. Of course, he began by asking me where the dog was, since the front gate (and don't tell anyone about this, OK? Let's just keep it between you and me) sports a sign bearing the image of the head of a German Shepherd. Or is it an Alsatian? Or are they both one and the same? I haven't got a clue. Anyway, seeing this he asked me, already fully aware of what my answer was going to be, "Where is your dog, Yianni?" As I tapped the side of my head and replied, "Well, he's up here really, but the sign does its job," he went on, almost without waiting for me to finish, "You must have a dog. I have two new puppies. I'll bring you one. Why you don't have a dog?"

I replied that we didn't want the responsibility, having known several cases where people have fallen out over looking after pooches for people who've gone off to visit the family in the UK for a while and suchlike situations. Plus all the rigmarole of the cost of food, vets, and so on. Anyway, the fact is, we don't want a dog and it's a free country.

"I'll bring you one of my puppies" he continued, before catching sight of the rubber tree that we're now rather proud of. We'd bought it as a two foot high sad specimen tucked away in the corner of a nursery that was being re-developed. It had cost us six Euros. Now it's twice my height and putting on probably a metre of growth annually. I can actually climb it. It now provides some welcome shade for quite a lot of plants in the bed beneath it which used to suffer from the merciless summer sun before it grew so large and threw its benevolent shade over them. Just a few feet away, though, is our rather handsome fig tree too. This is somewhat smaller, yet it has still grown tremendously in the past couple of years and, during the fig season, supplies us with more figs than we can eat on a daily basis.

"Why did you plant that there, Yianni?" Asked Mihalis, staring up at the rubber tree. Once again, this time before I was even able to get a reply across my lips, he continued, "You can't eat anything from this tree. Whereas the fig, that's a different story. You have room for at least a dozen more fig trees in this garden Yianni." Yes, but, my dear friend, the one we have already gives us more figs than we can eat. He was just getting into his flow now, though. "Do you still have the vines I gave you? Can I see them?"

Rather pleased with myself that the vines he'd given me to plant a few years ago were all now established and looking quite healthy, I took him over to one to show him.

"And have you had any grapes?" he asked. I told him that, yes, we had, but so far we've seen them develop almost to a stage of ripeness, only to rise one morning and see that something had eaten them. "You have to put netting over them Yianni. Like this." He now performed a mime with his hands that left me in no doubt as to how I ought to be protecting my grapes on the grapevines. "Rats." he said. "Rats will always come and eat your grapes if you don't protect them."

He then went on a walking tour of the vines, of which there are about seven in various parts of the garden and showed me where I was to trim them and told me that it had to be done at the end of the 2nd week in January. "The moon's all wrong in February," he told me, in a manner of voice that indicated that he knew exactly what he was talking about. "No, you must cut them here, three knuckles from the woody section, and  take out this, this and this to encourage the others to grow. Now remember, January 15th is the best time to do it."

Of course, by now I'm following my sage friend all around the garden like a puppy as he dispenses advice left, right and centre. He takes a look at my laughably small vegetable patch, where I've now just planted some seeds of brocolli, beetroot, spinach and carrots, along with some onion sets. This is where the lettuce seedlings will also go. I can tell from the way he glances first at the vegetable patch, then around at all the flower beds that he's thinking, "such a waste of all this space."

The sprinkler is to dampen the soil prior to seed planting. After that the irrigation system, or better still the rain (hopefully) will do the job.

After about half an hour, Mihalis said that he had to be on his way, ...animals to feed, plants to trim and so on. I saw him off from the gate and walked back toward the house with a distinct feeling of inadequacy. He didn't intend to make me feel like this, of course. He has a huge heart and only wants to help. It's just, I suppose, that he's a Horiatis [rustic, Greek countryman, local] through and through. He can't grasp at all how different we are inside, how shaped we are by a different culture from that which he has always known.

That aside, I was left with an enthusiasm to get those lettuce in. I'm looking forward to telling him that our salad is graced daily with leaves from the lettuce that he'd given us.

I just hope he doesn't turn up again in a few days with a puppy.

Finally, at the house of some friends recently, well, it's just one of those moments isn't it...

Of course, back in 70's UK it would have been "chicken in the basket" but, you know, things move on.


  1. Congratulations to you both. You,John, for running the walk and Y-M for keeping the shoes sooooo clean for so long!

  2. Mmmmmm!!! what a truly delicious story.I agree, you can't beat a greek salad with village bread for lunch in the sun,especially when it's in the 20's??
    Very well done to both of you for doing the "run".
    The sea daffodils by the way are officially named- Pancratium Maritimum", the beach where we were in Crete earlier in October was bedecked with them, truly a beautiful sight!! I noticed they are available on a famous auction sight, to be imported to U.K. from Greece!! not digging them up i hope??? haha
    Best regards from a cold and frosty England (-2 deg. last night)

    "Porridge Oats"

    1. Wic-KED! Thanks Margaret, just read up on it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancratium_maritimum