Friday, 28 March 2014

On a Doily and Driving Up Lanes

Making the latest of our regular visits with out friend Gilma way down South the other day, he was just pouring boiling hot coffee from his "briki" into my tiny bone china cup for a most agreeable Elliniko when his telephone began to ring. I glanced in the direction of the tinny electronic tone and couldn't see a phone anywhere. Beside his flat-screen TV which looks so incongruous in a hundred-year-old cottage, there was a white lace doily which displayed evidence of something lumpy beneath it. Acting as though it was the most normal thing in the world, he put down the briki, turned toward the doily and whipped it away with a flourish to reveal a surprisingly state-of-the-art snazzy cordless phone sitting on its cradle beneath.

The illuminated display on the handset revealed that it was his wife calling from town, at a safe distance the other end of the island. He picked up the phone, tapped the green button and held it up about two inches away from his right ear. Me and the better half exchanged amused glances as the easily audible high-pitched chatter of an unmistakable old woman's voice began rattling on immediately, in response to which Gilma quickly fell into a pattern of saying "Yes, no, entaxi, sure" at intervals of about five seconds each. Those words he then continued repeating in various permutations whilst regularly rolling his eyes heavenward and throwing us a smile.

This conversation… correction, it wasn't really a conversation, it was what? An audience, a lecture, whatever, you get the picture, went on for the best part of a quarter of an hour. All the while the longest word Gilma got in was "entaxi [Fine, or OK]". It got so that I fully expected him to place the phone on the shelf and carry on preparing his own Greek coffee whilst just approaching the phone and calling the occasional "yes" or "no" into it just to give his wife the impression that he was paying rapt attention. She could talk for Greece and no mistake, judging by the pace she was keeping up. After what seemed much longer, but was probably (as I said above) only about fifteen minutes he was able to get a comment in with "Well, got to go, Gianni and Maria are here" and finally replaced the phone on its cradle.

The best bit was the way in which he grabbed the doily and tossed it skillfully back over the phone so that it rested crease-free in the same way as it had done before the phone had rung, completely covering the pesky device. As he did this he cast a glance our way as if to say, "There! Now she can't see us!"

I got the distinct impression that keeping that doily there was some kind of statement, one which he took great satisfaction from and which his wife probably never got to "hear".

"I take you on shortcut. Is much quicker. Take the right here," says Fotis, an elderly relative of our friends Lena and Petros, they of the cooker saga in chapter 10 ("Just Being Careful") of "Tzatziki For You to Say".

You don't want to take Fotis anywhere by car. No really, you don't. His penchant for suggesting alternative routes is legendary among his family and, since they all now know the possible consequences, they leave it to others who haven't yet had the pleasure of having him "back seat drive" to experience it for themselves.

You can be simply driving from one village to another, or embarking on a trek half way across the country, it won't matter because you won't be in the car long before old Fotis will say, "I tell you quick way. You make the right here." You may well reply "Yea, but Theio Foti, this road that we're already on takes us all the way there." It won't make any difference, he'll still say, "I tell you. Make the right here and I show you. See if we don't get there quicker. See if we don't."

It's as though he suffers from an irrational need to get himself (and anyone else who happens to be in a vehicle with him) lost in the "interior" as often as he possibly can.

Petros told me that he's lost count of the number of times they've gone up narrow lanes together, the kind that usually very quickly turn into boulder-strewn tracks where birds of prey circle in the thermals above them and lazy goats chew on the prickly undergrowth in that odd way they have of moving their jaws as they eye the travellers disinterestedly as they trundle past with a deep sense of foreboding written all over their faces. The last straw, Petros said, was the time when, after half an hour or so of this, culminating in a skid-ridden climb up a very steep fissure-laden dirt track that ended up disintegrating into simply wild scrub land, they'd had to try and turn the car around with the track only being one vehicle width across and with a deep ravine looming menacingly to their right.

Petros says that this one single occasion was probably the reason why he needed a new clutch shortly afterwards. Plus, by the time they'd got back to the tarmacadam road and finally set off in the right direction, they'd lost the best part of an hour from a journey that need only have taken twenty minutes in the first place - had Petros of course not given in to uncle Foti's insistence that he knew a short cut.

Once they were back on the properly-surfaced road, Fotis declared, "Well, I told you but you didn't listen. You took the wrong lane my boy. Now, you see this next one…"

Petros didn't tell me if they were still on speaking terms.

PS: Latest clutch of snaps...

A foal in a field along the quiet beach road in Kiotari.

And here she is with mum.

A quiet corner of Lardos village just before sundown.

This is Sea Lavender. It's very rare around these parts and we've been keeping an eye on this patch for a few years. If you pick it the flowers keep their colour in a vase even after the stems have dried out. In view of its scarcity around these parts, we tried to uproot some a while back and plant it in the garden. It didn't take.

I never get fed up of the colour of the sea here, all year round. In the foreground are Margaritas, which are just coming out now and give a spectacular show every April.

Another youth, this time a donkey in a Pilona olive grove.

Once mum became aware of my presence, she resolutely kept herself between me and her bairn.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

How to be Greek - No.2

Something that's essential if you want to be a Greek is always to talk with both hands. It's a constant source of amusement to me to watch Greek TV sitcoms, because the actors always act as though they're on stage in a theatre, where the distance from the actors to the audience demands exaggerated gestures.

I remember years ago listening to a distinguished British actor talking about the difference between TV and Movie acting and the kind of acting required in front of a live audience. British and American (and no doubt Australian and a host of other places too) actors and directors learnt long ago that the camera brings the action right up close and personal, thus meaning that the actors need only to hint at a gesture, tweak the corners of their mouths or lightly move an arm and the viewer gets the message. Two actors I think in my humble opinion who can carry this off with great aplomb are Hugh Bonneville and Michael Kitchen. I'm sure you can think of others too.

Anyway, here in Greece it seems that as a general rule they have yet to cotton on to this and even on daytime TV the hosts (usually blonde shapely females, the blonde colour coming out of a bottle of course) are inclined to do it. 

Thus dear reader, whether you get the opportunity to watch any Greek TV or not, here are your initial exercises, practise them...

Of course, a shoulder shrug every couple of seconds adds oodles of credibility too.

...because the fact is, on every street corner and over every garden wall, you'll also see the melodrama unfold with both hands!!

I'm sure every Greek wants to be an actor in a Greek tragedy really!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

No Double-Decker Necessary

About three zillion years ago, well, in 1963 to be precise, there was this movie that I, as an impressionable ten-year-old, went to see in the cinema. I had to, because the British Elvis, none other than Riff Pilchard himself, was in it. I'd never even been abroad (been a man all my life - the old ones are the best, eh?) so when they drove carefree and singing catchy pop songs on a bright red double-decker bus into Athens, I was transported. Not London transport-ed, just transported. The movie? Summer Holiday, as if you hadn't guessed.

I never got to go on a summer holiday to Greece until 1977, when my mother-in-law wanted me to meet my Greek relatives, as I'd by then been married to her daughter for three years and hadn't until then had the privilege. After that, as all "RFR" addicts will know, I came here very, very (and a few more veries) often until moving out here in 2005. Since then we haven't had a Greek holiday. 

I know what you're thinking. "His whole life's a holiday, what's he going on about?" Well, it isn't really. I mean yes, the climate out here's fab and the scenery, food, sea and culture all fascinating but, well, daily life is still daily life isn't it. OK, so I'll throw my hands up here. My daily life is daily life with a nice view.

But there are all these folk out there in cyberland who read these posts (heaven knows why, but I'm grateful nonetheless) and I've begun thinking that I owe it to them to do something a little different. Plus this April is a biggie in wedding anniversary terms for me and the better half. Thus we've fixed to go on holiday! Where are we going? Well, we're going in the first instance to spend ten days or so on Naxos, a Cycladian island on which we've never set foot before. after that, who knows? A bit of unplanned island hopping never went amiss.

Yup, for most (if not all) of April, before we return to start work for the summer, we're off to do some research just so I can have something different to describe on these virtual pages. OK, yes, I'm being a bit dishonest, I do actually want to do it for the experience too. We're going to stay in a studio somewhere and go out for evening meals, do a bit of sightseeing on neighbouring islands and it'll all get reported on right here folks. You never know, it may even turn into volume five of the Ramblings From Rhodes books, but no promises (or maybe I ought to say "threats"?).

We're off on the evening sailing from Rhodes Town at the beginning of April and we'll jump off eleven hours later at Syros, where we'll spend a night before hopping the ferry over to Paros and Naxos. I'm sure that some of my readers have already been there, so you'll be the ones who can compare notes. Those who haven't; well, I'll give you the most honest impression I can of the whole thing, rest assured.

Meanwhile, here are just a few recent snaps...

Always in on the action. Just tidying up after painting a wall (me, not the cat. He's clever, but not that clever) and when I go to pick up the dust sheet to give it a shake, blowed if Simba's not claimed it as another place to crash out.

The Paraktio apartments just down from our place. I seem to be always taking pics of them lately (subconsciousness working there eh Di?), but they're sooo photogenic. That's my excuse.

Old abandoned taverna with breathtaking view. Not three minutes on foot from the Paraktio. Late afternoon March 20th.

This is a real gecko folks. Don't make the mistake of thinking that all lizards are geckos. It's only the ones that look like they're made of Play-Doh that are Geckos. I love 'em. They eat creepy crawlies.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Three Photos Near the Shore

Three shots on Kiotari Beach today, down toward Gennadi.

Excellent location just yards from beach. Retains many original features. Needs some modernization!

Similar to above property, only slightly more land around property.

Ideal beachfront property. Vacant possession. Must be viewed!

Monday, 10 March 2014

How to Be Greek No.1

OK, let's first establish the ground rule here. This is just for fun. I just thought it'd be a chuckle to publish an occasional post in a series under this heading so please, guys, take it as it's intended! Fact is, we all take ourselves too seriously most of the time, don't we. Anyway, I hope you'll detect the underlying affection I have for all of my Greek neighbours nationwide when you read these.

That established, here's rule one in a series that will follow in no particular order whatsoever. It's just as the thoughts occur to me, I'll post 'em.

How to be Greek, Rule 1. - If you're travelling in a vehicle.
If you're driving anywhere for anything more than fifteen minutes, if you're Greek you simply have to stop somewhere and pick up a frappé to go. This also applies if you're driving a van, a truck or a coach. No one will take you seriously as a Greek if you don't have at least one plastic take-away frappé cup either on the go or empty and still hanging around in the cockpit somewhere.

None of your nancy-boy mineral water bottle malarkey will do OK? It has to be a frappé. Fact is too, most Greeks take it black, so I'm still not quite there since I have a dash of milk in mine.

When I work on the excursions in summer every driver I've ever worked with has a cup holder near his steering wheel within which is either a frappé in progress, or one that was recently finished. I don't think they throw away the old one until they have a new one to take its place, makes them feel nervous if that cupholder's empty.

Still, a little milk notwithstanding, at least I'm on the right track! (In fact, the wife is too, since that photo above is in our car this past week.)

Thursday, 6 March 2014

A Book, A Beach and a Bashed-about Bar (but actually, in reverse order!)

Well, our friend George, who owns the Pelican's Nest on Kiotari seafront (see this post) is flexing his biceps and setting to with a lump hammer even as I write this. Well, since I'm bashing the keys at just after midnight, let's say he will be at it again, come the dawn. He's discovered a very old set of steps in the centre of his terrace, beside which sits an extremely old mill stone too, so he's exposing them to create a new and more inviting entrance to his eatery for this coming season. He assures us that it will be ready in time, but this is how the place looked the day before yesterday...

As we walked past and I snapped this he shouted, "Be sure to do a 'before' and an 'after' won't you!!" You're on, George, you're on. I shall be sure to post a photo once you've got it all looking ship-shape again.

The coast was looking quite breathtaking too as we walked a couple of kilometres in both directions, which is why I snapped these...

The sea just now and then assumes that wonderful turquoise hue when it's been churned up and is in the process of settling down again.

I've been exchanging comments on this post with Di and Dave from Cheshire who've decided that their first visit to Rhodes this coming May will be spent staying at the Paraktio beach apartments, just down the hill from where I live. Just for you, Di and Dave, this is a shot in which you can see the apartments from a lane which my wife and I walk along several times a week during winter time...

That's them smack dab in the centre of the shot. See you in May!!

(Gentle reminder in case any RFR virgins are reading this. Clicking on any photo gives you a larger view. Once you have the larger view on screen, you can right click on "view image" in some browsers and even then you should see the magnifying glass as your mouse pointer, clicking on which enables you to further enlarge the image yet again.)

Finally, I'm extremely proud to announce that novel number two "A Brief Moment of Sunshine" is now available both as a paperback and in Kindle format from Amazon worldwide. If you'd like to know more about it, please click on the link to my website at the top of the left-hand column. On the page dedicated to the book (...that's a link right there anyway!) there's a link to the Amazon UK page where it may be purchased.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Sign Here, ...and Here and Here...

I suppose I ought to be grateful. To have to go through the necessary rigmarole simply to be able to use one's Greek debit card on line ought to instill in one the feeling that one's cash is secure where it lies, more safe from potential electro-thieves than if it were stashed in some other places, …I suppose.

It doesn't alter the fact though that I was well unimpressed when, after going through the booking procedure with a Greek airline's website for our flights to Athens for a brief three-day stay this coming June and having arrived at the page where you part with the cash for the tickets (including all those annoying extra taxes and stuff) I attempted to type in the details of my Greek card. All of that very long number entered, then the expiry date, then that three number code on the reverse of the card, I arrived at a box that asked me for "Your debit card security code". My debit card security code? What was that then? My PIN perhaps? But then it didn't say PIN and the box looked far too long for a simple four-digit number.

Frantically flipping through the files under my desk in the search for paperwork from the bank, I ended up with sheets of A4 paper everywhere, bank passbook on my lap (quaint I know, but Greek banks - at least our Greek bank, which is one of the largest and most stable [fortunately] in Greece, still issue passbooks like those we used to use for our Post Office Savings account in the UK) - I drew a blank. There was no sign of any extra security code for my debit card, yet this payment page on the website demanded it still. I had no alternative but to call the bank and see what was what. Of course here in Greece, like the world over these days, you call your bank and you get all those irritating choices and then you have to press another key on your phone's keypad, and another, and another until eventually for the very briefest moment you hear a ringing tone before a pop song kicks in.

And why is it that whenever you get put on hold and a really irritating pop song is played down the phone to you it's always so loud that it distorts terribly? Do these companies really think that you want to hear some awful American or British woman trying hard not to sustain a single note without improvising all over the scale in a voice that I can only describe as a cross between a strangled cat and someone having their toenails pulled out? Why can't they play us Vivaldi's Four Seasons or something that at least soothes the pressured client hanging on the line and ever hoping in vain that they'll get to speak to a human before they die?

Then, just when you think someone's going to pick up the phone at their end, it's only a pre-recorded voice telling you just how much they value your custom and how sorry they are to keep you hanging about while all their operatives are busy. Then it's back to "Scream" Dion or Mariah Howling-Bansee Carey or somesuch. "Look, buster," I'd like to say to whoever chooses the music, "If you value my custom so much, why torture me with this awful musak?" What about some BB King for a change, eh?

I finally did get through to someone who, before giving me the chance to get on with my frantic query, insisted on apologizing again for the delay, not quite realizing that the apology was further delaying me in the pursuit of my query. Anyway, I eventually got to put my question.

"Why does the website ask for an extra security code when I try and use my debit card to by some air tickets on line?" I asked. I've had this bank account since I arrived on Rhodes in 2005 but have never tried to use the card on-line before, having so far used my UK cards, but the card has always worked in stores and at the ATM. The bloke at the other end replied, "Ah, well, for using your card on-line you need to have registered your card for internet use, then you get issued with the security code that they're asking for."

"Right, OK." I replied, resisting the urge to scream "WHY DIDN'T ANY OF YOUR CORRESPONDENCE TELL ME THIS WHEN I FIRST RECEIVED MY CARD??!!" I continued, calmly (well, my version of calmly I admit) "OK. So how do I go about doing so?"

"Have you internet access now?" He asked. I told him I did (good, methinks: this is going to only take a jiff - not!) and he navigated me into my internet banking account details (at least I'd set that up right from the beginning) and told me which tabs to click on until I reached a particular page. "Right," I told him, "I'm in, now what?"

"Is there a box saying thus and so?" he asked me. There wasn't. I told him. "Ah," he helpfully replied. "That means that you'll need to visit your branch in person for them to set this up for you."

"But," I told him, "that will mean a round trip of over 100 kilometres." He wasn't budging on this one. Sorry though he was, there was no alternative. Having told me again that I'd need to visit the bank in person, he also told me to take along my "afeemee" [Greek Tax Number] my passport and my AMKA [a kind of social security] number. At least no urine specimen, that was a plus.

Having concluded that conversation, I decided that, although I hadn't wanted to use funds from our UK account to purchase the air tickets, if I wanted to get the seats on the flights we wanted I'd have no choice. Whipping out my UK debit card, I clicked on the tab for the page where I was going to enter the payment details and was really impressed when it told me that my session had timed out and that I'd have to start the booking process all over again from the beginning. You can imagine the kind of mood I was in by now.

So, there we were a week or so later walking through Rhodes town, me with my file full of necessary paperwork under my arm, so that we could drop by the bank and get the card authorised for internet use. Once inside the banking hall, which these days means going through the air-lock of two plate-glass doors, the second of which refuses to open until the one behind you has closed, which it does really slowly at it's own leisure (Try pulling or pushing them, they won't have any of it), we were met with the usual queue of about twenty customers. In our bank there are also glass booths in the banking hall, inside of which sit various bank officials at their desks and all of whom specialize in some aspect of bank bureaucracy or another. All of these had customers already seated in them who were showing signs of entering comas as they waited for the person on the other side of the desk to do whatever it was that they were doing.

After a pleasant twenty minutes or so in the queue with my wife, who was clutching the passbook with a view to having it updated, since we'd used the local ATM a few times of late, I deftly ducked under the elasticated barrier and cut to one of the booths just as a couple exited it and politely asked if the girl seated in it could assist me in sorting out a security code for my card and she told me that the girl in the next booth was the one I wanted.

The next booth had two men already waiting to enter it whilst a woman was being seen to within. The second of the two men was an old fellow with a kindly face and he assured me when he saw the look on mine that he only wanted to ask a brief question, thus assuring me that he wouldn't be long. Further studying my face as I scanned the bustling banking hall, packed as it was with people losing the will to live, he nudged me and said, "Yes. We Greeks, we've always been like this, eh?" I presume he meant that everything they do out here takes three times as long as anywhere else in the world and so I smiled and agreed with him.

When I eventually got into the booth and sat down, the young woman across the desk, I have to say, was courtesy itself. I began by explaining that I had come to get my debit card's security code and she said, "But you didn't need to come in for that."

OK, OK, I could have.. yes!! [Bet you're thinking what I was thinking, aren't you? See, told you] but instead I answered that the bloke on the phone from her head office in Athens had told me that I needed to. "OK," she answered, "since you're here, do you have your ID and the card with you?" I handed over the card along with my passport. Then she asked for my tax number, so I rummaged around in my file and extracted that too (which is a rubber-stamped A4 sheet, no surprises there then). Then she asked what work I did and I told her. "Do you have your most recent tax return?" She asked. Like - don't we always carry that around with us?

Now actually, after living here all this time I'm wise to all of this. Whenever you go anywhere that might involve sitting across a desk from someone, always take the entire contents of your filing cabinet with you. Unwritten rule. I handed her a huge folded piece of paper from my file with boxes and figures all over the place, "Umm, no, this is 2011," she said, handing it back to me. Rummaging again, I came up with another sheet, pretty much identical to the first one, "This is 2009" she muttered, again handing it back. Just about to panic that I'd stumble at the last hurdle, I found another one and proffered it. Bingo! See the thing is, when I'm confronted by a sheet packed with figures my brain says "no way José" and I can't find the date on it anywhere. Mind you, to the untrained eye no one could on these babies. Fortunately, she knew where to look.

Now she got up, excused herself and wandered off, returning a few minutes later with about six printouts plus photocopies of the stuff I'd given her. Thrusting the first new printout across the desk at me, she offered me a pen and said "If you could just sign here" pointing to a space for my signature as she said this. I signed as requested, "..and here, and here, here too, now here, and, umm, here and here…" all the while flipping over sheets, producing new ones etc. and pointing each time.

I kid you not folks. I genuinely lost count of the number of signatures I was required to write. In fact I joked with the young lady (and I did actually like her, it wasn't her who designed this system after all, she only has to execute it) that I was getting writer's cramp in my right hand.

Finally, when she handed back my personal documents together with a considerable sheaf of new A4 ones of which she also had kept signed copies, she shook my hand and said, "Now, when you get home, go on line, to such and such a page and you'll see a six-figure number in a box. You'll need to enter this in a new page you'll open under such and such tab where you create an account for your debit card with a new username and password." I looked at her incredulously, a new username and password was required just for the card, in addition to the username and password I use for internet banking itself. Was it ever worth it?

Later that day, on our way home and, dare I say, feeling quite proud of myself for having navigated my way through the afore-described interview and hoping that by the evening I'd have a Greek debit card that actually worked on-line, we stopped by the Lidl store on the way out of town for a "big shop". As usual there were a couple of shabbily-dressed dark-skinned young men hanging around the trolley park in the hope of cadging your Euro coin when you returned your trolley or just extracting some cash from you and one approached me even as I inserted my coin to unlock my trolley before entering the store.

These guys can be mistaken for people from the Asian sub-continent, but are in fact Greeks more than likely of "Pontos" (or Pontus, Ponti) origin. Their antecedents having originated in the Black Sea region, many now live in northeast Greece. Many of them too have spread across the entire country in recent times in search of work.

Anyway, I was by now feeling quite magnanimous at the thought of finally having a debit card that I'd be able to use for on-line purchases and might well have shown immense generosity until this young tyke said, "You have a few small coins for me please Pappou?"

"PAPPOU?" You know what that word means? I'm sure you probably do, but just in case, it means "grandad." Yes, you did hear me right, he called me "GRANDAD!!!" That was it, he'd cooked his goose now. I found myself replying, "Pappou?? PAPPOU??? Well thank you VERY much! Pappou indeed…" as I gave him a look of disgust and steered our trolley in through the automatic doors.


Now don't judge me too harshly on this. Firstly, we usually do end up giving them something and one does get a little fed up when every time we arrive at the store we get "tapped" in this way. Secondly, these guys aren't always as hard-up as they would have you believe. They sometimes play the wife and kids card and there'll be a woe-begotten looking mum with a toddler in a stroller holding out her hand to you as you enter the store as well. I once saw one of these "poor" women loading her kid's stroller into the back of a BMW before driving home at the end of  a long day's "work" outside the store. There were quite a few full shopping bags getting stashed in there too. Forgive me if that made us a little skeptical here.

Anyway, very much later that evening we got home and I was straight onto the laptop and signing into my Greek bank account. Wonder of wonders, the whole thing went smoothly. It may have been a long drawn-out affair, but I got there in the end. But would you have seriously believed all that's involved in just getting your bank to allow you to part with your own cash by using your card on-line? If I hadn't experienced this myself, coming from the UK I'd have said you were having me on.

But seriously - Pappou indeed. Now, where did I put my specs? Oh, hah! Yes, here they are, on my head…