Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Wood anemonies - anemonies wood, a huh huh huh, just like that.

Today is one of those days when you say, "This is why I love living here!" It's 20-21ºC depending on which thermometer you believe, the sky is unbroken blue and the horizon as clear as crystal. It's the kind of day (as I say so often that my other half groans audibly) that any British summer would be proud to call its own.

As I sit typing this at almost 4.30pm on what many would call Christmas Eve, my better half is still out in the garden in a t-shirt having a good potter about. This morning we decided that, in the interests of the dear reader who for some odd reason may just be a follower of this blog, we'd have a bit of an expedition. It's been a day that cried out for a good walk right from breakfast time and so we bit the bullet, started up the car and took it over to the south end of Psaltos Bay, just over the hill from Pefkos on the way to Lindos. There's been a walk that I've wanted to do for quite a while right there. I've lost count of the number of times we've driven past this spot and I've glanced up at the gently sloping hillside and thought, "I must walk up there. It just might lead me to the top of those cliffs that featured in the ridiculously old movie that we still harp on about "The Guns of Navarone". 

Right, first, lets' get this clear. The bay's correct name is "Psaltos". It's really only the ex-pat Brits who've kind of commandeered the place and converted it to "Navarone Bay" in recent decades. There are now signs all over the place demonstrating this fact. But, in truth, to the locals it's still "Psaltos". Well, as you'll know if you've been there, at the Southern end of the bay are some pretty impressive cliffs that were featured in the night scene in the venerable old movie in which the "heroes" come ashore from a submarine, reach the base of the cliffs in fairly rough weather, then climb the sheer rock face. Of course the scene was obviously filmed in broad daylight through some fairly unconvincing filters, but, well, the magic of the movies and all that. What's equally funny is that once the heroes get to the top of the cliffs, they set out across the terrain, up and down a valley or two, through a village and arrive at the Old Town in Rhodes. How do they do that then? Answers on a postcard please...

Anyway, to help you see where we parked the car and set out, here's a Google Map...

You'll notice I've marked the location of a Trigonometrical Point on the map. This is the spot where we took a bunch of photos of the view down across the bay. You'll see them below pretty soon.

Recently I was going on about how the wild anemonies are a picture at this time of the year and how I would be trying to snap a few for you (and of course, I) to wonder at. Well, this was one of the reasons why I wanted to do this walk today, in order to snap some of them in all their glory. Yippee, they didn't disappoint, as once again, you'll see below. So, car parked safely off the road, sun beating down to such a degree that we'd smeared on some factor 15 before leaving home, we set off up what to begin with is a fairly easy path. I had visions of us walking all the way to the end of the headland. Memories of younger days when we used to walk the length of Brean Down in the Bristol Channel, just South of Weston Super Mare, well and truly had me deceived into thinking that this little jolly would be just as easy. Oops.

After a mere couple of hundred metres the ground began to become much (and here I mean, like ...MUCH) more difficult. There were more rough stones and rocks than there was level ground and the lush greenery between them could have hidden some real ankle-breaking crevices. Thus, our progress went from merry jaunt to whoa, double back, Aargh, that one wobbled... and so forth. Add to that the fact that much of the vegetation is designed to scratch you to oblivion and you see why this was no easy stroll.

Never mind, we kept at it and, after a couple of ridges were negotiated where a bit of light mountaineering was required, we arrived at the Trig point. So, good folk in Net-land, here we go then. Hope you like 'em, I almost landed up being airlifted to hospital to get these!!!

The wild flowers are a botanist's dream at the moment.

This is the most common of the wild anemonies

The better half contemplates the vastness of it all, then says, "Which way now?"

This pics helps you appreciate how tricky it was underfoot. Not only could you break an ankle with ease, but if you fell your face would soon be a bloody mess as well!! (Not meant as a swear word there!!) Incidentally, in case you haven't sussed it, this pillar is the Trig. point.

...and there's the proof.

"I REFUSE to go any further!" "Smile anyway then sweetie!"

Not a bad view, eh? Click to get the larger ones on several of these and you'll see the snowy peaks of the Turkish mountains quite clearly. These aren't usually visible in the summer due to the heat haze.

And, no, I'm NOT trying to pull it over! Pefkos Bay in the background. Just to the right of my left shoulder (if you're keen sighted) too is the tiny Profitis Ilias church that we walked up to on a dull day last winter. There are some photos toward the end of this post.

Can't knock the colours of that sea, even in December, eh? The AquaGrand and Lindos Memories hotels are clearly visible.

As mentioned above. Right click to get a larger view and you'll see the snow on the Turkish mountains.

I took this one especially for the snowy peaks on the horizon.

You get a good idea of how tricky it is to walk on this terrain from this one. There's hardly a square foot of level ground.

Stunning. And the entire landscape is awash with them.

Well, you gotta have just one selfy!

A scene of real beauty. Oh, and the wife too.

Three other walkers we bumped into. Not very sociable though.

I took this as we scrambled back down because I was well relieved to catch a glimpse of the car through the boughs of this tree. Saved!
Once we'd finally stumbled back to the car, some medication was in order, ...of the dark brown bean variety. So we drove round to Zucchero Café at Flevaris supermarket, ordered a couple of Frappés and some kourabiedes. Well, we figured we'd already walked them off.

Finally, since I'd packed the chainsaw in the boot after we'd caught sight of some likely logs on the beach during a walk the other afternoon, we detoured down to the local beach on the way home and within ten minutes of firing up the machine, had ourselves this little haul. A satisfying day's work all round I'd say.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Up the Pole

There's a strange rule that applies to new buildings in rural areas here. Basically it says that a new house, or indeed business premise, that has a garden or yard around it, must have its electricity meter mounted on a concrete obelisk somewhere on the edge of the property near to the road, protruding from the top of which there should be another couple of metres or so of metal post, often looking to me like it's a scaffolding pole sunk into the concrete on the top of the obelisk. It's to the top of this pole that the power cable is first attached as it descends from the overhead cables, connects to the meter and thus from there the supply runs into the property, often underground.

Where perhaps a number of properties are built quite near to each other, you may see quite a large concrete "bus shelter" with a recess in one side, into which are mounted all the electricity meters for those buildings, to make it easier for the meter reader, who'll take the readings whilst differentiating each meter by its code number. There are some recent housing developments not too far from us where you can count up to twenty electricity meters all together side-by-side in one rather ugly five meter wide recessed concrete obelisk. The homes that these metres serve can stretch to something like 150 metres away, whilst the nearest one has to put up with this monstrosity dominating the corner of their front garden.

Nattering with our neighbour from further down the valley over a coffee in 21ºC of sunshine yesterday morning, he got to telling us about Johan, who's almost completed a new house down near the beach road. This new property has a grand rectangular garden with a driveway that goes all the way around the house. It's a posh looking place and no mistake. Apparently, Johan contacted the electricity board, having had the builder erect the concrete obelisk and its pole, as per regulations, to ask if they'd install the meter so that he can have electricity in the property. I'm not sure, but I think the builders are meant to inform the electricity company when the obelisk and pole are ready, so that the installation of the meter box and meter may proceed. Following an inspection, during which the man from DEH (The Greek electricity company) comes along and casts a beady eye over the pole to see if it contravenes the quite strict parameters for such things, a meter box and subsequently the meter itself may be installed.

So, our soon-to-be distant neighbour Johan rings up the DEH office and the conversation goes something like this:

"Good morning. My property is [here he quotes the location and the building permit number, plus his own name as the owner], do you think that you could now supply a meter box and meter please?"

"Of course we shall, once you have a pole installed."

"But I do have the pole installed. I'm looking at it right now."

"No, sir, you don't. You must have the post and pole before we can install your meter."

"But the builder erected it last week. It's all ready to receive the meter and I can see it from where I'm standing."

A slight pause…"You will need to have the pole erected first, sir."

"I don't think you're hearing me correctly. I HAVE THE POLE. It's been erected. I just need my meter now. Please will you supply my meter."

"Can you wait, please sir?" Johan says he'll wait. Muffled sounds of pieces of paper being rustled, then the sound of computer keys busily getting hammered. Voices exchange a few words of indiscernible Greek. No doubt the sound of a frappé being slurped through a straw too I shouldn't wonder. Johan twiddles his thumbs, symbolically of course, since one of his hands is holding his mobile phone to the side of his head. He waits.

Then he waits some more. Eventually the voice cackles back at him, "Mr. ---------," may I put you on hold for a moment please?"

"OK, OK. I'll hold." He finds himself listening to a tinny recording of "Jingle Bells". Finally, the voice come back at him.

"Right. Umm, sorry to keep you waiting. You are right, of course Mr. ---------."

"Great. Fine. So I can have my meter fitted now then, right?"

"Yes, your meter may be installed."

"So, when can I expect the men to arrive and fit it?"

"Just as soon as you get a pole installed."

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

What's That Sound?

The night before last I was up and about at something like 3.40am, which isn't unusual for me, as regular readers of this twaddle will perhaps know. Anyway, now and again I'll wander outside, often just to get some exercise, which seems to help when I go back to bed and try to sleep, but also I do it to gaze up at the immensity of it all and get all philosophical and stuff. Let's face it, it is pretty amazing up there, especially when you live somewhere like this where the clarity of the night sky can be so crisp, the Milky Way so clear as it stretches like fine gauze all the way from one horizon to the other, that you see detail that you'd very rarely get to see back in the UK. One of the reasons is simply the amount of light pollution to be honest. Here, living as we do half-way up a mountainside, we're affected by virtually nil manmade light during the dark hours and so can easily watch shooting stars and satellites drifting by with the naked eye. As the Americans would say, and I'm with them on this one, awesome.

So, anyway, there I was out there in the chill night air, temperature down to a seemingly bonechilling 8 or 9ºC, and I heard this weird noise coming from somewhere beyond the end of the orchard. The best way I could describe it would be like some small electrical machine running, perhaps a small compressor for blowing up bicycle tyres or something. It was virtually constant and had me flummoxed, I can tell you.

In the end I gave up wondering what it could be and, since it would have involved going out the front gate and off along the lane for who knows how many hundreds of metres in my dressing gown and slippers with no guarantee of solving this nocturnal mystery, I decided to go back to bed and contemplate it as I tried to drop off again.

By lunchtime yesterday I'd kind of forgotten about this until I was asked to go up the hill to our nearest neighbours' house with my chainsaw and help them attack a tree that our recent whirlwind (My wife says I'm being overly optimistic calling it a tornado) had almost torn out of the ground, before they could attempt to right it again and hopefully save it from dying. Just as a side point, if you go to the Oxford Dictionary's web site and type in first whirlwind and then tornado, you'll be hard-put to notice any appreciable difference. Nah, nah, ne, nah nah. Childish, moi? 

So there we were hacking off branches and boughs when, stopping the machine for a moment to clear away stuff, we talked about this noise. Dunno why it came to mind, but it did and so I told them about it. 

"Nightjar!" They both said in unison. "We've looked it up with Google," they told me. Why has they done this? They'd been driven almost mad by the same sound, but at much closer quarters, a while back. they have a flue rising from the house above their fireplace and on the top it has one of those revolving cowls that looks like a black crow that's suffering from the desire to resemble that American Stealth bomber, know what I mean? They're quite common here. Well, as it happens they'd heard this noise drifting down the flue into their lounge, so loud that it quite put Mac off his football match on the telly. What did he do? Eventually, after a few attempts to diagnose the problem without success, he decided to creep around the house from the rear, so that he could pop his head round the corner of the wall and get an eyeful of the cowl before whatever was there decided to leg it. well, "wing it" would be a better description of its manner of departure I suppose.

Sure enough, there was this bird, emitting this mechanical sound that really can make you think that some small machine is running somewhere nearby. Have a listen if you like, HERE. Now this made all kinds of other things that had happened to us recently as we drove up or down our 1km of lane after dark make sense at last. On several occasions we've approached what looked like a piece of wood, almost large enough to be collected and taken home for the log-burner, laying in the middle of the lane. As we'd drawn closer though, the full glare of the headlights well illuminating the object, it had suddenly sprouted wings and took off into the night. Now, having Googled "Nightjar" myself, I discover that these elusive, nocturnal birds like to do just that, snuggle onto the ground with their wings down for something to do. If you are interested in this stuff, this is a good article here. Must say at this point, me and the better half are suckers for a good bird sighting.
Courtesy Hanne and Jens Eriksen.

On not a few occasions too, we've been driving up our lane late in the evening, pursuing our resident hare who seems to take delight in waiting for our approach, before bounding out into the lane and bouncing along in front of us in the full glow of the headlights for about fifty metres or so before verging off into the undergrowth, when we've also spotted a bird flying around above us. At first we thought it was bats, but it's the size that gives it away as a bird. Well, now we know what it is - a Nightjar.

If this kind of stuff gives you the bird, then look away now. If it interests you at all, try these two links below too. The Youtube one is especially lovely.

1. Nightjar research youtube.
2. Birdwatch article, European Nightjar.

OK, so if it's not your bag, have you been prompted anyway to rack your brain over that expression "What's That Sound?" that I used as the title of this post? Want to be put out of your misery? Well, even if you don't, I'm going to explain anyway. It's a line from one of the most seminal rock songs ever written. The song is actually entitled "For What It's Worth" but is universally better known as "Stop, Children, What's That Sound?" and was written by Stephen Stills when he was a member of Buffalo Springfield back in the 60's, along with Neil Young of course. If you want to hear it. Click here.

See, come on folks! You get educated on RFR don't you? Eh? Where are you going? I haven't finshed yet!! Come back!!

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Blowin' in the Wind

Well, the weather a couple of nights ago was not just wild, it was really wild. It was blowing a gale for most of the night, but at something around 2.30am we were lying awake listening to things banging and bumping outside, accompanied too by the sound of hailstones and vicious gusts when, as per usual in such conditions, the power went out again. There was no way we were going to open the front door to take a peek, so we just vainly tried to get back to sleep, but it ain't that easy when the thunder and lightning gives you the distinct impression that someone's banging a collection of dustbin lids right outside your window and the lightning flashes are so bright that you also half-expect to hear a voice coming over a bullhorn saying "Come on out, you're surrounded, give yourselves up!"

Fortunately, by the time we got up next morning, the power was back on and so we weren't going to have to endure another 15 hour outage like the previous time, a few days before. We ventured outside and there it was, the evidence that we'd had the worst storm in over nine years of living here. Smashed terracotta ridge tiles from the roof were lying around the tiled path beside the house. 

How those tiles, in falling around fifteen feet, didn't smash the floor tiles, is a mystery to me, but one I'm glad to ponder on. Anyway, I won't go into the rest of this story too much, only to say that on two separate ridges of the villa roof there were ridge tiles missing. Could have been a lot worse. The roofing tiles themselves had clung on without further damage and, after a quick phone call to the local builders' yard, where they guy knows me quite well, we were given a phone number for a repair man, who as it turned out was someone we'd known a few years ago. Yesterday he turned up at the crack of dawn, quoted a more than reasonable price for fixing the damage and, by lunchttime had finished the job. 

Y'know, it's when you get a result like that you have to take issue with those who generalise about the Greeks and say that they're all lazy, or that they never come when they say they will. We were well impressed by the  prompt service and by the quality of the repair too. A result!

Moving swiftly on, I've been at it again recently with the old iPad and the digital camera. So, once again folks, if you'd like to see how things are looking in December in this part of Rhodes, your luck's in. Here, in no particular order, are some recent shots...

Lardos beach, Friday December 12th, late morning

A Lindos corner, quite a few more follow below too. All Lindos village shots taken Saturday morning December 13th. Temperature around 19ºC

Lardos Beach, same time as the other Lardos one above. Told you they were in no particular order! Seeing the sea like this is great, but it makes it hard to imagine how different the beach looks during the season, with rows of umbrella strewn all along it.

Seashore between Lardos Beach and Glystra Beach, near what's locally known as Lardos Limani [port].

A Mediterranean Toad, we used to see a lot of them, then they kind of disappeared. So we've been excited to see this one on our doorstep after dark on several evenings of late. They're great 'cos they eat the creepy crawlies!!

When we first moved out here we were bemused to see oil lamps on sale in all the supermarkets. Can you imagine that in the UK? Now we know why they're there, ...and we have three in the house!!

This one of Lindos Acropolis is about a month old. Just didn't have the appropriate occasion to post it.

OK, so this is the first a a bunch more of the Lindos photos from Saturday morning, December 13th. So I won't necessarily caption them all.

Know where this is? Looks a lot different now from during the season. In fact it's the terrace of the "Rainbird" Bar, which features in The View From Kleoboulos, which just so happens to be on offer as a Kindle download from Amazon from Monday 15th December for 7 days - only 99p inc VAT folks!!

I love the greenery at this time of the year. The rains are truly a blessing. Plus the wild anemones are all coming out again now and they're everywhere along the roadsides. I'll try and snap a few shots of them soon.

You want "relaxed"? I'll show you "relaxed"!
[I'm sure you don't need telling by now, but clicking on any of the images will give you a larger view. Then (in most browsers) right-clicking (maybe ctrl-click on some Macs) will give you an even larger view than that]

Monday, 8 December 2014

The Answer Lies in the Soil

We've spent a couple of weeks barely seeing a soul and it's been lovely. This time of year is really good for getting the garden into shape as the climate goes through the period that we often call its "second spring" as the rains that come after the long arid summer, coupled with ideal temperatures for "doing things" out of doors encourage so many of the plants to put out new growth and begin flowering again in earnest.

The Gazanias, which have gone quiet during the hottest months of July through September, often withering up to a crisp, put out an abundance of long, pale green leaves once again and already the garden is awash with their huge, orange, yellow and red daisy-like blossoms. They can often appear to be quite dead, yet once the rains have fallen a few times you'll see new green leaves shooting up amongst all the tangled dry, brown dead stuff which we usually try and cut back to ground level, but don't pull the plants out too often, because we've got used to the fact that they do recover once the cooler months of November and December are upon us.

We did have a lone male friend over for a meal the other evening as his wife is in the UK for an extended period and we decided it was time we offered him some relief from trying to cater for himself. We passed a pleasant evening over my wife's excellent (though I say so myself. Nothing like basking in the glow of joint credit for one's spouse's creations eh?) lasagne and a glass or two of Cabernet Sauvignon. In the drinks cupboard I had lurking a bottle of Jameson's plus one of Johnny Walker Black Label, neither of which have I troubled of late, since for me such drinks are best taken in good company. Needless to say, I was delighted when, after we'd retired to the sofa after our meal, our friend accepted my offer of a glass of Jameson's and thus we sipped at the smooth warming Irish spirit as we talked about the kinds of things that one does usually talk about at this time of year, olive oil, logs, problems with the telephone lines, that sort of thing.

I say "problems with the telephone lines" because the ygrasia [humidity] has of late been getting into the cables of many people's phone lines and quite a number of friends locally have reported intermittent internet and been told by the phone company that it's something that's stretching their maintenance teams at the moment. Lots of houses have their phone lines coming into the property underground and, since they're still metal and not fibre-optic, the damp has been "shorting" cables whose outer sheathing has corroded with time.

Another local mutual friend with whom we took coffee a couple of weeks back was comparing notes with us over what vegetables we've planted recently. Tom, whom you may be familiar with if you've read "A Plethora of Posts" chapter 21 entitled "Bringing Home the Bacon", has a kind of private arrangement with his friend and ours Vageli, from the village up the hill, to use a section of his vegetable field as a kind of "allotment". This field is not all that far from our house and the dearly beloved and I often walk right past it on our regular strolls in the area. if we walk down to the beach we only encounter the main road fleetingly, as we simply cross it at the bottom of our lane and strike up the track opposite and over the short hill which then levels out and gently descends toward the beach, about half a mile further down. Just a hundred metres or so along that lane the field is to our right. There's an apothi'ki (a shed, basically) in the corner, where Vageli and his old dad keep their tools and stuff and the actual vegetable field is probably about the size of a tennis court.

Many's the time we've passed that field and become green ourselves with envy at how huge all the plants are that grow within. Occasionally there'll be a battered old pickup parked at the entrance in the fence, which consists of some rigid fencing wire and a couple of wooden pallets, which can be deftly dragged aside to allow ingress to the field itself. If the pickup's there, we'll usually see Vageli's ancient father, often accompanied by his equally wizened wife, headscarf knotted tightly under her chin after the manner that is often "à la môde" for women of her generation. They'll be bent double as they tend the patch, perhaps pricking out seedlings, trimming some of the vines that grow there, earthing up potatoes or some such thing. They always straighten up if they see us passing and we'll exchange a friendly greeting as they remark on whether it's too hot, too cold, not rained enough or far too sodden and the expected consequences which such disastrous conditions will wreak on their attempts at feeding the family.

We'll of course empathize and tut sympathetically about such things before continuing on our merry way, all the while musing over the fact that farmers the world over tend to display this particular trait - that of always managing to make a negative about whatever the weather's doing at the time. Have you ever encountered a market gardener or farmer, enthusiastic gardener even, who says "Yup! Weather's been just perfect of late. My artichokes are gonna win prizes!" I haven't yet. But there's still time I suppose.

These days Vageli, of course, is more often grafting away there than are his parents, since he's now much more able-bodied than they are. Thus it was that, some years ago now, he agreed to let Tom set aside a nice area in the field under discussion just large enough for him to grow some beetroot, lettuce, onions, carrots, broccoli, spinach and maybe some green peppers. Cabbage, cauliflower and potatoes were in the plan too I'm sure. Tom was telling us how the soil wasn't very good to begin with. This was prompted by our expressions of envy about how good and dark, loamy in fact, it looked to us. When we survey, as we often do, the sheer size of the vegetables that grow there, we can't fail to be convinced that, even though it's only a kilometre or so down the valley from us, the soil quality is vastly different from our yellow rock-hard exhausted dust.

I remember my wife looking at me askance when I used the term "friable" to describe the soil in that allotment.

"You made that up!" She said, sceptically.

"No I didn't! Friable means like, you know, easily forked over, good soil consistency, something like that."

"Nah! Eggs are friable, yes, but soil? You're having me on."

"I tell you it's right! I've even heard Alan Titchmarch and Monty Don use the expression on Gardener's World, so there!"

She eventually allowed me the benefit of the doubt, but I could tell that she wasn't convinced. Anyway, the soil in Vageli's allotment is, as far as I'm concerned, eminently friable and that's final.

Tom, though, told us that he'd been using his graciously granted sector of Vageli's field for a few years now, but that in the beginning it was so full of rocks that you could hardly fork it over without jarring your spine as the fork's tines hit something solid virtually every time you shoved it in. Now that's another word that I got disallowed once at Scrabble, tine. C'mon folks, you know what a tine is, surely? I'll say no more, other than that I was furious at not being allowed to use it once when playing the world-famous word game, simply because on that occasion we didn't have a dictionary on hand to consult as arbiter. I'm talking some years back too, when one couldn't reach for one's 'tablet' (unless of course, one had a headache) and Google the thing either. And no, "tine" isn't the posh person's way of saying "tone" all right?

So, anyway, Tom was waxing lyrical about just how much work he and his wife May had put into getting this patch of soil into good enough condition to plant his veg in.

"We worked sack after sack of manure into that patch" Tom ruefully explained, "to get it really fertile. By the time we'd taken out probably half a ton of stones, through digging and re-digging it over, and worked in all that manure that we'd hauled up there in sacks in the back of the car, I suppose we'd been working on it for four or five weeks. I distinctly remember leaving the place late one evening, the two of us staring back at this rich, dark, smooth patch of excellent soil and enthusing about what we were going to plant there as soon as we could.

"Couple of days later, we arrived up there with a load of seedlings from the garden centre, ready to break our backs putting them all in, when, would you believe it, we arrived at the fence to see Vageli's parents pickup parked outside and the two of them inside the field. They'd just about finished as we arrived - planting their potatoes all over OUR patch, the patch we'd worked our fingers to the bone preparing for all those weeks. Turned out that Vageli hadn't told his parents that this bit was ours. Well, he swore blind to us that he had and that they'd just forgotten, but either way, all that work was for nothing. We didn't have the heart to tell them that this patch was the bit that Vageli had let us have. We did wonder who they thought must have prepared that piece of ground. But they'd just turned up and, obviously feeling that anything inside that fence was theirs to use, chose the best patch of soil and got on with it."

"So, what did you do?"
We asked.

"What else could we do? We set about forking over another section. Took us another few weeks to get it prepared. You won't believe how difficult it was to source another load of manure too. We'd had just about all that Dimitri the horse would give us, short of his horses developing diarrhea or something in the next couple of days."

"But how did you feel, after all that work?"

"Tell you what, it took all our strength to grin and bear it, trying to talk cheerfully with Vageli's parents as they merrily chucked their tools back in the shed, a few other odds and ends into their pickup and cheerfully waved at us as they drove away, leaving us to pick another patch and start from scratch."

So there you have it, a cautionary tale if ever there was one. Never prepare your friable soil, risking a bent tine or two, unless you're dead sure that you'll be able to plant it up without it getting half-inched from under your noses.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the wily old pair knew exactly what they were doing. After all, Tom did say that they were very cheerful when they drove away. One could have mistaken that happiness for the feeling of 'yay! A result!

But, well, let's not go there, eh?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

O-live to Tell the Tale

When we got stuck into pruning the olive tree belonging to our lady-friend in a nearby village who hasn't a man to "do" for her recently, we didn't quite realize what we may be putting her through.

The retired lady concerned is someone we have helped establish her garden from the very start, some seven years ago now, planting and maintaining the plants (including the olive tree) during all that time. I have to confess to a measure of pride to be able to relate the following story.

This is how the newly created garden looked in late 2008. The olive tree is visible far right, in the nearer of the two square beds. Nowadays it's considerably larger than this!

This time of the year, as I've often remarked before, sees the roads devoid of any appreciable amount of traffic, making them a pleasure to drive along for most permanent residents. At least, this applies after dark, but during the daylight hours one can encounter quite a lot of overladen pickup trucks as their owners wend they way to the olive mills. Everywhere you go in the rural areas you can see groups of folk among their olive trees, some up ladders vigorously agitating the upper boughs and branches to get them to release their little black treasures and let them drop. Others are on their hands and knees upon the nets that have been spread all over the ground around each tree in its turn, meticulously gathering each and every olive by hand. No little dark globule is allowed to escape. They must all be gathered into the sacks or crates that will transport them to the mill. Waste not, want not.

There are men with chainsaws lopping off the central branches to let the tree "breathe" and there are women who can be seen breaking out the lunch of rough village bread, cheese and something to drink, although we've worked in the past with people who will go from dawn until dusk without hardly anything passing their lips. I'd be dead by 11 am if I tried that!

Anyway, our friend who lives nearby has this splendid little olive tree that's not very old, but this year was veritably dripping with lovely, dark, oil-stuffed fruit and to begin with she just wanted us to trim and shape the tree, but once we got started it became very apparent that not to harvest the olives and see if there were enough to take to the mill would be a crime.


Yup! These are from the same little tree, seven years on.
 There were that many olives on this gallant little tree that many of its lower branches were drooping almost to the ground with their weight. So, we set to the job with secateurs, loppers and saws, after first spreading our makeshift olive net (a huge and very tough decorator's dustsheet in fact) over the ground beneath. As we worked away and filled plastic buckets with the fruit our expressions of amazement ran out of superlatives and our host had to find something to put the olives in, since there was definitely going to be a trip to the mill. Out came the bathroom scales and, in the absence of a proper hessian sack or suitable plastic crate, a couple of old cotton pillow slips were enlisted to carry the olives. Once stuffed with the olives and we'd satisfied ourselves that we'd harvested every possible olive from that tree and the ground beneath it, we weighed the bulging pillowslips and were well please with a total of just over 21kg of olives.

Our friend was beside herself with glee and we assured her that, from our limited experience, it would be well worth a trip to the mill. We reckoned that she'd probably net around 5kg of oil. Not to be sneezed at, since olive oil in the supermarkets here is just as expensive as in the UK, which is a scandal, but that's how it is. Plus, of course, she'd be carrying home the best quality virgin oil straight from her own front garden.

Just as a side point, people often ask what the difference is between green and black olives. I am reliably informed by our old Greek friend Gilma, that the only difference is that the green ones aren't yet ripe. Of course, when it comes to eating olives, green ones are harvested and bottled in their unripe state simply because they taste very different from the ripe, black ones and some people prefer their taste.

When it comes to the quality of the oil, I am told that you get just as good a quality of oil from green olives as from the black ones, but you get less of it. The riper the fruit, the more oil it renders when processed. This was the answer I received when I asked this same question some years back when I'd been at the mill and seen lots of harvesters tipping great quantities of green olives into the vat along with black ones. Today though, 99% of our close friend's olives were black, as black as you can get. This meant that they were liable to produce a good yield.

Once we'd placed the stuffed pillowslips into our friend's car, we prepared to leave at around 4.00pm, whereupon she asked us, "Where do you suggest I take them for processing?"

I replied that I'd suggest she go to the Arhangelos mill, which is also now open to the public during the tourist season, having recently been renovated to turn it into an "Olive OIl Factory" for tourists to look around. There are at least two more mills in Arhangelos, but one tends to stick with what one knows and I knew that one well, since the better half and I have taken olives there ourselves on more than one occasion in the past.

"It's easy," I told our friend, "You just drive around the building on the right hand side and you'll see the doorway at the far end of the building, just inside of which you'll see the stainless steel hopper into which the olives are tipped for processing." I went on to tell her how, if there's a queue, they'll write her name on a white board on the wall and she'll be told at approximately what time her olives will be scheduled in. Easy, nothing to it, was the impression I gave her.

The following morning, as we were having a late breakfast and thinking about what we had to get done during the day, the phone rang. Glancing at the phone's display, I could see that it was our female friend with the olive tree. Thinking she'd be telling me how much oil she'd come home with, I answered with a cheerful greeting. She wasn't too happy.

"When I got there, at about 10 o'clock," she told me, "there were so many pickups in the queue before me and so many men hanging around in their lumberjack jackets and big boots that I couldn't even get near to the entrance. Then I thought, "Who do I ask? I had no idea who was maybe staff and who were customers and then there was the language problem. The fact is, the queue was so big that the pickups were double parked and the queue ran all the way around the building and almost back to the entrance to the parking area. I did get out of the car, but then got back in again!"

Now you might think she was being a bit woossy. But hold on a minute, remember she's turning up at an olive mill at the peak time for olive processing, one little female senior citizen in her compact hatchback car with two pillowslips full of olives and she's suddenly confronted with a bunch of rough and ready men in their olive-harvesting clothes, hardly visible over their piles of olive sacks and crates, all standing around puffing at cigarettes and looking generally pretty intimidating.

"I felt a bit silly," our friend continued, "I mean, there were all these blokes with olives piled high on the backs of their trucks and there was I with a couple of pillowslips-full. I had to admit that after I'd sat there and taken all this in I bottled out. What am I going to do? How long do you think my olives will last in those cotton pillowslips before starting to go off?"

It was at this point, as she was evidently very deflated after yesterday's elation at how we'd managed to harvest over 21 kilos of olives, and her voice revealed her level of anxiety, that we (the phone was on 'speaker' so that Maria, my wife, could hear our conversation) realised what we'd put her through. I hadn't thought about the fact that right now is the peak time and quite forgotten too just what a hubbub she may encounter at the mill. We'd have taken the olives for her, but she'd really wanted to go through the process herself and rightly so.

Racking my brains for a suggestion, the only one I could come up with was this. "Tell you what," I said, "why not go back up there later this afternoon. Most people turn up in the morning and you'll probably find it a lot quieter at around 4.00pm. Plus, if you go to the other end of the building and into the doorway where people leave with their oil, you'll see a small glass enclosure that serves as the office. I think someone there will speak English. Maybe tell them, …well, show them what you've got and I'm sure they'll say, 'OK, love, leave them with us and we'll slot them in.' They'll maybe say go and have a cup of coffee, or maybe come back in the morning, but I reckon it'll be OK."

Full marks to our plucky friend, she took that suggestion as a good one and rang off. Later that afternoon, at around 4.30pm, the phone went again.

"Hi John. Good news!" She exclaimed in a much more happy voice than used in the last time we'd talked. I asked her what the good news was. She continued:

"I took your advice and went to the other door, at the 'wrong' end of the building and a very nice young man called George asked if he could help me. I told him my dilemma and he couldn't have been nicer. He took me into the office where a very courteous man weighed my olives and even told me how much oil I was likely to get. Guess what, he reckons around five and a half kilos!! That's quite a result isn't it? he also said, after taking a look at my olives, that they were among the best he'd ever seen."

I agreed that indeed it was a result. It also suggested that my wife and I had guessed almost right about how much the olives would yield - more by luck than judgment, granted. Incidentally, if you've ever wondered how to convert kilos into litres of oil, it's roughly one kilo equals 1.24 litres. Only just found that out!

"Anyway," our friend went on, "the man told me to leave the olives with him and he'd have them done for me by early next morning. He was so nice and the other young man interpreted for us too. They were both so helpful. I think they took pity on an 'old lady'!"
"More likely they just exhibited the kind of respect for a helpless female that's part of the culture," I replied, but I was secretly very relieved that her experience was now likely turning into a positive one.

Next morning yet another phone call. This time our friend was quite elated. "I went back at 8.00 o'clock this morning and the man said they were just putting my olives through. He showed me the big machine and even made me a cup of coffee and had me sit in his office while they finished the job. No one could have been more courteous, I felt like the Queen! When I'd finished my coffee he brought my barrel round to the office and opened it to show me my oil. Guess what, he told me I'd netted seven litres!!! He even said that, as he'd suspected, this was extremely good oil and that my olives were top quality."

I could hardly contain my relief and happiness at how she was now feeling. "That's fantastic!" I replied, "even more than we'd thought and more then he'd estimated yesterday too! How much did he charge you for the processing?" Now I was hoping that her answer wouldn't take the shine off of the whole thing.

"Two and a half Euros!! I think I've come out of this pretty well, don't you?"

When you consider that to buy a 5 litre can of reasonably good extra virgin oil in the supermarket here you're gonna pay around 20 Euros, even more in some of the smaller stores, I'd say she could be well pleased with the result. Both of us congratulated her on her pluckiness and courage. After all, she'd taken on a pretty difficult task in driving into an olive mill full of rural men, all of whom probably knew eachother and were doing what they've done for probably their entire lives, and had no idea how to go about it. After a shaky start, she'd shown initiative and bravery and been well rewarded for her tenacity. What was especially nice was hearing that she'd been treated with such kindness and courtesy by the men at the mill. I had rather suspected that this would be the case, since it's the fact that, however rough and ready a man may be in appearance, most Greek men will treat women with kindness and respect, especially when they discern that she's out of her comfort zone and trying to get on with her life by trying to assimilate in a foreign society.

After I'd commended her for the umpteenth time and told her she had every reason to be proud of herself, we rang off. I wanted to share this story with you because it's a feelgood tale. It's one that brings out the nicer side of living in this culture. It's one that brings a warm glow to the cockles of your heart, eh?

See, I'm so happy for our friend that I can't even think of ways to be witty.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Nips, Tucks and Settling Up

Our old friend Arthur has died. We haven't seen him for several years, but he and his wife Marina used to live down the road towards Gennadi, about two kilometres along the coast from us.

When I say "our old friend Arthur" it probably conjures up in the mind a wizened old chap with white whiskers and wrinkled brow, yeh? Well, in fact, he didn't look like that at all. When he and Marina lived here on Rhodes we'd quite often share a glass of red wine with them on their shady terrace, which boasted a wonderful view of most of Kiotari Bay and, to the North, the Pefkos headland which would shimmer in the heat haze as we sipped our ruby nectar from oversized wine glasses on a summer's evening.

Arthur at the time actually looked strikingly like that bloke who played John Locke in the TV series "Lost" a few years back. He was of Scottish descent and was a civil engineer who'd lived in several exotic places around the world, including Papua New Guinea and Sydney, Australia. His wife Marina was from an Asklipio family and I can't rightly remember how they first met. What I do remember is that Marina, during all the time that they lived here in their steel-framed bungalow (which unusually, was of similar construction method to our house), couldn't wait to leave Rhodes and go back to Australia.

They'd come to live on Rhodes thinking that it was a pretty good place to retire to and, if you'd listened to Arthur, you'd have agreed that indeed it actually was. He loved it here and would have stayed until he went toes up. To give her her due, Marina had thought that too when they'd first come, but living in close proximity to her family and feeling the long clutches of the old Greek ways and traditions slowly choking her freedom of thought and movement, she'd pretty soon developed the longing to be back in Sydney, where she could live much more like a Westerner and not have her extended family telling her what she should and shouldn't be doing, where she should and shouldn't be going and what she ought and ought not to be wearing.

Marina was at the time probably around 60 years of age, but looked sort of much younger. I say "sort of" because, after I'd once put a right royal foot in my proverbial mouth I learned something about her from my better half. Arthur was probably five or six years older than his wife and, to me, looked his age although, granted, a fit version of someone his age. Maybe it had something to do with his love of red wine. Anyway, just how did I come to put my foot in it? I'll tell you.

In one or two of the "Ramblings From Rhodes" series of books I've mentioned the Greek women and their penchant for the old "nip and tuck". You may not believe me, or perhaps you'd think I was exaggerating, but I kid you not. If you watch any Greek TV for while you can't fail to notice it. There are just soooo many women with flowing [dyed] blonde locks and tresses whose faces just don't display a single blemish or line, not the smallest hint of a bag beneath the eyes, nothing. They're all hourglass-figured, cleavage-showing "beauties" of indeterminable age who look like they all came out of a Barbie Doll factory - and I mean it! They can be seen everywhere, from reading the news with mouths that are just too wide to be natural and which taper to a kind of slit at each end, to daytime TV queens who wobble around their programme sets on impossibly high spine-damaging stilettos wearing clothes so tight that they have to be constricting the blood flow to the vital organs and yet, not one of them has any distinguishable blemish or even laugh-line anywhere from the adams apple upward.

If I didn't know better I'd swear that movie "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" has become a reality. If I were to lift the flowing locks from the nape of their necks I'd see that tell-tale mark that reveals that they are in fact aliens inhabiting the bodies of these poor unfortunate women who are sadly now no more than hosts to their parasitic invaders.

Anyway, here we were a few years back discussing our impressions of Greek TV women whilst sitting around the table on Arthur and Marina's terrace. I can't remember how we'd come around to this subject, but before long I was sounding off about these nipped and tucked women and saying how I thought (still do actually) that they must be morons if they think that it doesn't notice. You know, their lips are just a little too full, their cheeks go all the way up to their ever-so-slightly slanty eyes with not the merest suggestion of a bag, a shadow or a wrinkle. Their foreheads are as smooth as a snooker ball. Their necks are like fine porcelain. The only thing is, a lot of them are clearly in their forties or above and even though they're made up to the nines and do look kind of glamorous, they all display that hint of the grotesque about them. I'm sure you know what I mean. I get the distinct impression that they believe that if they display the slightest sign of aging then they'll lose their jobs in pretty short order and for that I suppose I should pity them their insecurity.

Just for fun, try Googling Fani Palli Petralia and select "images" and you'll see what I'm on about. In fact, if you scroll down through that lot you'll see not a few male faces that also look like they've been 'reconstructed' too. Or check this image of a famous and aging Greek singer. OK, so those are extreme examples, but the younger women ought to take a lesson from those two. Girls, that's how you're gonna look a few more years down the line. 

Anyway, I'd not long finished going on about all this stuff when my wife suggested that it was time we left our hosts to their own devices and took our leave. On our way home she asked me why I hadn't noticed anything about Marina's face. Frankly, now she came to mention it - it was as plain as the slightly altered nose on Marina's face that she'd had her fair share of nips and tucks herself. Gulp! I have to say that she'd been very gracious and not shown the slightest reaction as I laid into the kind of women who do such stuff, whilst all the while failing to notice that one of them was my genial host for the evening. How we remained friends became a mystery to me and speaks volumes about Marina's charitableness I suppose.

The trouble was, from then on, every time we visited them I couldn't help studying Marina's face and could easily make out all the 'work' she'd had done. Why I hadn't seen it before I can only put down to not really expecting that anyone I knew would have been under the cosmetic surgeon's scalpel, it all seemed to be something that women a long way away would do. Arthur and Marina left a few years ago to return to their beloved down-under and we lost touch. All this stuff was brought back to mind because just a few days ago someone who knew someone who knew them (yes, I did mean to type it that way!) told us that they'd heard that Arthur was no longer suffering from personhood. It came as a shock, but then, he would now have been well into his seventies I suppose. Still, the older one gets the younger such an age seems!

Michael, another ex-pat who lives not all that far from us, was sipping coffee with us on his terrace just a few days ago when we came around to talking about how lovely it is to be living out here in November. Yes, it has rained a few times, but usually it's not more than once a week at this time of year and the rest of the time we 'endure' bright, clear sunshine with low humidity, thus making the colours of the sea and sky much deeper and crisper. If you're sitting in full sun it can still be too hot after a while and you find yourself seeking shade. 

We were talking about the things that made us love Greece in the first place and we tried isolating the primary reason that any of us had fallen in love with this country. Michael told us a short tale which well illustrates the essence of the thing. Having all agreed that the main reason we love Greece is the people (who, of course do have faults, but most of which you don't see when you are on holiday here), Michael told us of a holiday that he and Sally had taken with friends many years go on another island. They'd been staying at a small hotel in a quiet area of the island in question for over a week and - as you'll well understand if you holiday in Greece - had reached first-name terms and much more with their hosts and various tradespeople in the area by this time. Their favourite taverna was a stone's throw along the road and they'd taken to having lunch in there quite often.

One lunchtime, after the four of them had eaten and were now full of bonhomie as they sat around their debris-laden table, still sipping at those little dumpy glasses of retsina from the red aluminium jugs before them, their host came to their table and told them that, much though he was sorry about this, he had to close up because he had an urgent need to drive into town for some reason or other. There were no other diners in by this time.

Michael and his friends replied that they were so disappointed about this because, following an excellent meal, they'd kind of settled in for a 'session' for the afternoon. You know, a few more drinks and lots more banter. Maybe some water melon or something too.

"Okay," replied their host, "tell you what. I'll put a pad and pen on the counter over there and you can just jot down whatever you take from the drinks fridge or food cabinets. We'll talk about settling up another time. How does that sound?"

Needless to say, their host had come up with the kind of solution that's quite familiar here in Greece, but would raise eyebrows in many other parts of the world. What tops it all off too was the fact that, when the guests dropped by the following morning to settle up, the taverna owner expressed surprize that they'd come so soon and told then. "Oh, don't worry about it now, next time you're in will be fine."

In fact, Greeks who run restaurants and bars do this kind of thing for their regulars so often that, a few years ago, we residents of this area were infuriated to hear that some tourists, British as far as we could ascertain, had taken advantage of such trust and kindness in the village of Massari, just up the coast a ways from here, indulging in a really sumptuous feast (with plenty of drinks of course) for ten people or so on their last night on the island. Knowing that they were leaving very early the next morning for their airport transfer, they'd gained the trust of their host and he'd agreed to let them settle up the next day. Of course, by the time he realized that they weren't coming back they were already back in the UK, no doubt boasting to their friends or workmates about the clever scam they'd pulled.

Tell you what though; those nasty people can never come back here for a holiday - that's for sure. All of us who got wind of this horrible story were very angry, because that kind of thing could eventually lead to the locals abandoning their old traditions of trust and integrity, which would make the Greek holiday experience very much the poorer for all who visit Greece in the future. It's a similar principle to that of people deliberately throwing gloss paint over their lounge carpet, just so they can make a claim on their house insurance, usually with the words, "Well, they charge me enough, so I'm gonna get my money's worth." Such idiots don't realize, of course, that the whole reason that their premiums had been rising for years was exactly because of people like them.

Ooh, some things do make me livid. 

On a lighter note, I've got a new toy (see previous post) to help me make sure that my waistline doesn't continue to expand beyond a reasonable level this winter!!  A mountain bike!

Oh, and yesterday (Sunday lunchtime) we went for our first swim of the 'winter', it was such a beautiful day...

The best things in life are free, but those that aren't we should still be ready to pay for at our earliest convenience though, eh? 

Sorry about that last photo. Didn't mean to scare the pets...

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Twitchy Finger Time

Of course, I'm referring to my shutter finger as this is a post primarily one of recent photos. So here we go then...

Saturday November 22nd 2014. The public water tap in Lahania. Can you spot Count Dracula on the side of the building? He has a black cloak on.

Taverna Orizontas, Lahania. Saturday November 22nd 2014

Taverna Orizontas, Lahania, again. Saturday November 22nd 2014

With my new toy, November 19th.
Be careful what you ask for. We were just bemoaning the fact that our old friend Dhopi had returned to Bulgaria and so our source of oranges and lemons had dried up when...

All picked by our own fair hands!!

Beach near Gennadi, Friday 21st November 2014.

Beach right across from The Pelican's Nest, Kiotari, 21st November 2104.