Saturday, 23 August 2014

Searing Heat and Some Skulduggery

If the weather forecasts give us mid thirties then we know we're in for trouble. Put simply, for every temperature that's forecast you can usually add four or five degrees and that's what we actually get. For the BBC's website, make that ten. We'd been warned to expect a few days of really high temperatures and, since yesterday turned out to be a day when we were both off together, we decided to pack up a small picnic, stuff our towels into our beach bags and head down to the beach for the day. Best place to be when it's reeeeally hot, so we thought.

We arrived at about eleven, got ourselves "camped" with the appropriate quantity of our "stuff" arranged all around us under the parasol and settled in for the day. A quick swim to set us up and cool us off and then it was back to the sun beds to read or listen to some music. We'd even stopped by the Gré Café on the way down for a couple of take-out frappés, so we had those to sup too, bliss. 

On the subject of music for a moment (ever the man to look for an opportunity to digress, me), I'm entirely into Van Morrison's live concert of Astral Weeks right now. He recorded it at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008 to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original album's release. I've got to say, I'm completely gone on it. The man's a genius. You either "get" him or you don't, but if you do, what an experience that album is. 

The other half? George Mazonakis was her choice for the day.

The fact is though, by three o'clock in the afternoon we were laying under that parasol suffering. I know, I know, ought to be grateful and stuff, but every point at which one area of flesh was in contact with another, for example the legs, the armpits etc., was totally soaked in perspiration. The towels on which we lay were drenched too. The sand was so hot you had to run across it to keep the burns on your feet to only 3rd degree instead of 2nd or 1st. The breeze that we'd hoped would be the key benefit of being down there instead of at home was actually hot, not just warm, it was hot. It was like permanently standing in front of your mum's fan oven with the door open when she's cooking the Sunday roast. Yes, one could argue that going in the sea would cool us off, but that would have meant our heads and shoulders being in full sun, so it was only a temporary fix. There was nothing for it. We packed up our stuff, ran across the beach on tippytoe to keep the burns to a minimum and piled back into the car, which for once we'd brought with us instead of walking down. Plus I'd been able to get it under the best tree at the back of the beach so it wasn't like a furnace when we got in, phew.

Driving back up to the house the car showed an exterior temperature of 42ºC, which is a whopping 107 in the old money, or if you're American perhaps. That's the hottest day we've ever had in nine years of living in Kiotari. In fact, today is the 9th anniversary of the day we arrived, yay!! If we have 42º here in Kiotari, I dread to think what it must have been in Lindos and Pefkos, where it's always a few degrees hotter than here, owing to the rocks and stuff.

Once back home we had an outdoor shower, drank copious quantities of iced water and took a cup of Earl Grey tea to bed, where we lay in total darkness with a fan running and mercifully fell asleep. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's really amazing how a house with the windows all closed tight and the blinds likewise, will stay at a constant temperature, despite what it's doing outside. For example, as I type this today the thermometer in our kitchen reads 29, whereas outside the three thermometers we have positioned strategically read from 39 to 42. The indoor temperature never exceeds 29 if we keep the place closed up tight and in darkness. OK, 29 may sound a bit on the warm side, but if you set foot outside and then come back in it's positively chilly, take it from me. At least it's tolerable. 

"Why not just use the air conditioning?" yoy cry? Why not indeed. Well, we're all different it's true, but air-con is responsible for more summer colds than any other single cause. Plus it dries out the room so much that your throat soon resembles emery cloth and your eyes persuade you quite wrongly that you have developed conjunctivitus. How did people in hot countries manage for all the ages before the invention of air-con? They closed the place up and kept it dark. Plus it's not very "green" to be using air-con all the time. I know, hobby-horse and all that...

Anyway, changing tack slightly, I mentioned that we'd taken the car to the beach whereas we usually walk down. The route we follow when walking it is a dusty lane that's been a public right of way for decades, at least since the Italian occupation back between the two world wars. It's on this lane that we pass the fenced-off plot of land that is farmed by our old friend Agapitos, who has some olive trees and a respectably sized vegetable patch in there, alongside the concrete water cistern that feeds the surrounding area with drinking water. Walking back from the beach a few days ago, at around 7.00pm, the usual hour for Kyrios Agapitos to be tending his patch, we noticed some newly posted and slightly bemusing signs along his fence...

As we reached the gate, his ancient, but well preserved pickup truck was parked outside and so we knew he had to be in there somewhere. We called out and, sure enough, he emerged from the thick of vegetation about twenty metres away and strolled across to meet us. 

"So, what are these signs all about, then?" We asked him, "We thought you'd suddenly developed a liking for the RAF or something."

He smiled, but it was a smile of resignation, of exasperation, and replied, "Kyrie Yanni, Kyria Maria, I had to put these up to warn Mr. ______________ that he has no rights to infringe on my property. As you know, he has already attempted to change the course of this lane, which runs right past my gate here. Fortunately, Kyrios _________________, whio owns the land next to mine that Mr.______________ wanted to re-route it through said no. But he wants to do more development up here and I'm in his way. So these signs are to tell him where my land legally ends. That wooden one, see where it says 40m, that's because my land goes beyond this fence right to the edge of the lane, where you see I've placed one of the markers, showing where my land ends, 40 metres from the wall of the water cistern. He's already made it plain that he wants to move my fence BACK a few metres."

The man he's talking about already owns several large hotels around here. We have nothing against him, in fact some of his employees who we happen to know tell us that he pays the wages of his staff. There are other hotels around here where the workers haven't been paid since June. These things the tourists often don't know about. To be frank, I've always tried to keep the blog positive, but sometimes it seems right to mention some of the slightly less attractive things that go on here. It wouldn't do for the tourists to stop coming, because that would only make the workers' plight worse still. Quite what the solution is I don't pretend to know, but I do know that many hardworking night porters and room service maids are living on fresh air at the moment. Such is the way where you have the "haves" who have it all and the "have-nots" who are basically slaves. there you go, I've said it now.

So Kyrios Agapitos is sad that he seems to have a fight on his hands with an old neighbour who's become much wealthier than our friend. When you have such clout it often seems to others that you are above the law, since the old "brown envelope" gets anything you want done when you want it, allegedly!

Agapitos simply wants to carry on as long as he can, harvesting his modest few olive trees and growing vegetables to feed his family and to give to friends and acquaintances like us. This apparent "adversary" is of a similar age, which makes it all the more sad that he seems to want to continually expand his commercial empire, extending existing hotels, building new ones and trying to infringe on land belonging to what used to be an old friend and fellow villager.

It'd be nice if the man in question were to think about being satisfied with what he has and perhaps try chilling a little more, maybe passing a day on the beach now and then. Maybe not when it's quite this hot though, eh.

Monday, 11 August 2014

While The Cat's Away...

Talking to a couple of friends the other day, Jilly told us a tale concerning a past visit to Crete. It made us smile and reminded us of just how much the culture here differed from that of the UK just a few decades ago, in the 1970's.

In chapter 13 of Feta Compli! I related the story of how my wife's cousin's husband went off with a few cohorts under cover of darkness to gather grapes to make retsina in a manner that wasn't altogether "kosher". Well, Jilly's husband Ted had a similar experience whilst they were staying in a modest studio in western Crete. Having visited the same accommodation several times they'd (as one does) become 'part of the family' that owned the rooms and frequently found themselves involved in activities that they hadn't planned. These were things that the landlord, his wife, or some other near relative had schemed up and - of course - Ted and Jilly would be doing it too, like they didn't have a choice. Well, the fact is, they didn't really.

Ted said that the landlord and a few other family members were planning a nighttime sortie to pick grapes for the making of Raki, that stuff that's so strong you could use it as barbecue lighting fluid. Ted was instructed that he'd be going to help out and, unlike yours truly who didn't want to sample Greek prison cuisine and so made my excuses and suffered the ridicule that followed, Ted just acceded, donned his fatigues and woolly hat, blacked up his face with camouflage paint and set off with the expedition. OK, so I may have exaggerated about the blacking up his face bit.

Aha! Said Jilly and her sister, since then men are off galavanting and we're going to be left alone for an evening, we'll have a G&T on the terrace, put on our glad rags and hit the local bars and discos.

A couple of hours later (you know women, eh? Yeah I know, dangerous ground, but you have to live dangerously now and then) they were all ready to set off along the street, party dresses on, high heels clicking and clacking on the paving slabs and make-up all sorted. They hadn't got more than three metres from the front gate when they heard the landlord, whom we shall call Stelios, calling out, "Where you going ladies?"

It seems that Stelios had organised the Raki expedition, but then commissioned his son Dimitri to lead it, whilst dad stayed home to read the paper and watch TV. Of course, as is so often the case during a Greek summer, folk can sit out on their terrace beside the oilcloth-covered table on which sits their drink, ashtray and possibly reading material, and watch the TV in the lounge from outside. It's cooler. It's only a simple matter of positioning the TV correctly and fixing the correct angle for the patio chair. Simples!

Jilly and her sister turned and gazed back over the oleander bushes to see their very protective landlord, now standing, awaiting their reply. "We're off out for a few drinks, maybe a dance. After all, the men have deserted us for the evening!" They called back.

"You WAIT! PLEASE!" Called Stelios.

"What on earth can he have in mind?"
wondered our heroines. They didn't have long to wait to find out. Perhaps he was going to come out and pin a lovely fragrant gardenia as a kind of natural brooch on each of their dresses, or was he going to thrust a card or two in their hands advertising some bar or other run by a relative. None of those.

After they'd waited five minutes while Stelios, who was probably about 70 years old, although pretty spritely still, ducked inside the house, he re-emerged in a white shirt, black trousers and his greying yet still thick mane of hair combed back with a liberal helping of hair cream to keep it in place and came out into the street where his female guests were waiting.

"I take you dancing!" Declared their host. He would brook no argument, although none was forthcoming anyway from his stunned charges, and set off with a woman on either arm, strutting for all the world like a cockerel in the chicken run. After a soft drink in a fairly sedate kafeneion, Stelios took the sisters to a taverna where there was a modest dance floor among the tables and a small raised platform in the corner, on which was positioned a whole load of sound equipment, chairs and musical instruments, awaiting their owners to come out and put them to good use.

Some time after 9.30pm the two-man band on the stage set off with gusto, playing a selection of old traditional Greek dance tunes and Stelios was one of the first on the floor. All the while he was ensuring that our two heroines were well supplied with drinks. He didn't ask them what they wanted, he just kept the lemonade, fruit juice and water coming!! There was no sign of anything alcoholic, much to the dismay of Jilly and her sister. After a first couple of forays out on to the floor he was dragging Jilly and her sis up too, both of which would have found it much easier to comply had they been allowed to imbibe a couple of G&T's first, rather than lemonade, water and fruit juice, none of which have the same effect at relaxing the brain's embarrassment muscle. Out came a white handkerchief and soon he was twisting and twirling, ducking and diving on the end of it while the girls walked around the floor behind him. Stelios was evidently quite convinced that he was showing the women a good, if somewhat dry, time.

At something approaching eleven thirty in the evening, after a bemused couple of hours, the two women found themselves once more on each of Stelios' arms as they walked home and he escorted them gallantly to their rooms.

"OK, good!" he triumphantly declared with a palpable air of relief too at a successfully accomplished moral mission, "Now you stay here 'til the husbands he come home! Kali-nichta pedia!" and he was off down the stairs to resume his position in the chair on the terrace, this time with a glass of Metaxa to keep him company.

Jilly and her sister were trying to work out quite what they'd experienced and came to this quite correct conclusion: In Stelios' mind it was most unacceptable for two women from under his roof to be venturing out for a good time in the evening unchaperoned. Shocking!! What would his neighbours say? What would be whispered behind the backs of other mens' hands across the dominoes game and the Ellinikos in the Kafeneion next morning? No way was Kyrios Stelios going to be a laughing stock, or to give the impression that he harboured the wrong types of women in his guest rooms. No, he was going to ensure that all passed off with decorum and no alcohol was going to pass the lips of his female guests whilst their spouses weren't around.

In the wee hours of the next morning, while both women lay in their respective beds reading crime novels, the two husbands could be heard scrambling up the stairs and thumping the walls in vain attempts to operate the time switches for the hallway lights. Jilly wasn't aware quite what happened next door at the time that Ted finally drummed his fingers on the bedroom door, but rising to open it to her fairly inebriated hubby, and watching him almost fall into the room with a sublime grin on his face and his breath reeking of something decidedly stronger than lemonade, she had a fairly good idea that a similar scenario was being played out the other side of the wall.

Ted managed a few lighthearted words, which much to his puzzlement didn't receive the expected response from his frustrated other half:

"What hoh, luv!! Bet you two mice had a damned good play while we cats were away, heh?"

..whereupon he fell across the bed and descended into a deep, contented, snoring slumber.

Friday, 8 August 2014


Blackbeard, that's the first name that comes to my head when I think of him. The old bloke who keeps some sun beds and umbrellas on Stegna beach is the one I have in mind.

Stegna Beach, scene of the crime


Now, before I continue with this tale, I want to make something very clear. I would never tar all Greeks with the same brush. On the positive side, I'll cite some examples of the good guys. There's Stefanos who runs the Tramonto Bar for starters. He's totally genuine and very generous to us whenever we take friends there to show them what a stunning view the bar has over the entire resort of Stegna. There's George who runs The Pelican's Nest on Kiotari Beach and the other George who runs Pefkos Mare car hire. The two Georges and their family who run the Gré Café in Kiotari are very special and I'd also have to include the honey-men who so often make us gifts of jars of their delicious thyme and pine honey whenever they drive their truck past our garden and they see us over the wall. They get nothing back from us, they simply show appreciation for the fact that their bees make extensive use of the blossoms in our garden during their honey-making activities. Babis, Dimitri and the gang at the Odyssey Taverna go above and beyond the call of duty in showing their appreciation for the fact that we suggest that our guests eat there while on the Rhodes Town excursion each week. We ask nothing of them, yet they always find ways to show their appreciation. I couldn't leave out Spiro and Maria, who run the Top 3 Pub in Rhodes town. When Spiros learned that the couple sitting with us a week or two ago were my sister and brother-in-law, he whisked away their till receipt and resolutely refused to let them pay for their drinks. I could go on…

But, sadly, there are those who fuel the flames of the reputation that some Greeks have for placing money above all else. The old saying that a Greek would sell his grandmother at the right price may be true in their case. I've been coming ashore in the middle of Stegna Beach every Wednesday for a couple of months now on my Bay-to-Bay excursion from St. Paul's Bay in Lindos. Right beside the boardwalk that runs up the beach to the taverna where my guests take their lunch is a clutch of umbrellas and beds looked after by Blackbeard. In all honesty, I haven't the faintest idea what Blackbeard the pirate may have looked like, but in my fanciful imagination this guy could play him in a movie without having to act all that much. He's probably about 70 and walks with a limp. It looks like one of his legs had a run-in with a shark or something, leaving it slightly shorter than the other one and incapable of bending at the knee. I imagine the kind of explanation he'd offer were I to enquire…

"Ah, ha, ha har!! Well, it was while we were out in the East Indies, running a Corsair and flying our Jolly Roger. Had to make this crewman walk the plank for insubordination and blowed if I didn't fall in mee-self while prodding him along the plank with me cutlass. Had to be fished out of the briney, but not before a Great White had tried to use my leg for lunch!"

His chin juts out a-la Popeye and there's always a few days' growth of stubble on it, predominantly grey. He always sports a tatty old baseball cap and an inch of cigarette (could be the same inch all the time for all I know) is attached by dried up saliva to the corner of his bottom lip. He puts me in mind of a Greek version of Uncle Albert from the wonderful old UK TV series "Only Fools and Horses," although with not so full a beard. I could well imagine him also beginning any conversation you may have with him by saying, "During the war…"

The thing is, every time I've walked up that beach for several weeks Blackbeard/Uncle Albert has accosted me to make sure I told my guests that they could have the use of two beds and an umbrella whilst we're ashore for the princely sum of 5€. Now, we come ashore every week at around 12 noon and always assemble on the small landing stage that juts out from the beach just near his patch at 2.00pm for our transfer back to the boat by launch, which usually entails four or five trips for Kosta and Jimmy, the crew. Thus, as our American chums would say, if you "do the math" no-one would be using a set of his beds and the accompanying umbrella for more than 90 minutes or so, since when we first come ashore we all troop into the taverna for lunch.


Jimmy (Dimitri) steadies the launch as it reaches the shore

Dad Kostas and son Jimmy (...and girls, he's single!) on their way to collect us from the beach

This past Wednesday I was feeling dead proud of myself for having remembered to tell my guests before we went ashore about Blackbeard's "generous" offer. "Tell him you're with John onboard the 'Lindos,'" I cried to all and sundry aboard and continued, "he'll let you have a couple of beds and an umbrella for five Euros." I have to say that I recommended this course of action to any who may have wished to spend a while on the beach after their lunch, because it's blisteringly hot on that beach at this time of year and there's no other shade to be had.

Imagine my surprise, nay chagrin, when two guests, who'd spotted a pair of beds and decided to chuck their bags and towels on them for the duration of our stay, before coming into the taverna for lunch, approached me and told me that he'd charged them SIX Euros.

"Did you tell him you were with me?" I asked, to which they replied that they had.

"Right." I said, "leave it to me." After I'd eaten I strolled over the road and down the few steps onto the beach beside the small canopy under which he sits and reads his Rodiaki newspaper and addressed him.

"Two of my guests just told me you charged them six. How come? You've always told me you'd charge five, since they're only here for a short while." The fact was, while I had been eating I'd been told that there were others who'd had the same experience too.

"Ah, well, it's busier now. Peak season. The price has to be more now 'cos I'm busier," was his reply. Not great logic to me anyway. I pressed my case.

"What's that got to do with anything? You always told me five, now, when I get some guests to come to you you charge them six. It doesn't matter how busy you are, you made a promise!"

At this juncture he waved his copy of the local Rhodean newspaper at me and said, "Haven't you read this? In Lindos people are paying NINE Euros for two beds. It's the way things are. Take it or leave it."

"Yea, but those people are paying nine for a whole day. they'll be on those beds for seven hours or so. My guests are only here until two [it was now well past one anyway] and you know full well that the moment we leave you'll be charging for those self-same beds again, at full price no doubt. Plus, where I live in Kiotari, you can rent two beds and an umbrella for the whole day for SIX Euros."

"Look I only offered your guests that deal because I usually had a couple of spare umbrellas. Now it's busier, I've got to change the setup."

By this time I was well riled and could have lost it, but I knew that there would have been no point. So I simply adopted my best "hard man" expression (lips dead straight and as thin as I could make them) and replied, as menacingly as I could, "OK, OK," and walked off, trying with my body language to convey to him that he'd be getting no more business from my guests if I have anything to do with it. I know it's only one Euro we're talking about here, but there's a principle at stake. He'd been badgering me for weeks and then, when I get him some trade, he does this. Makes me look a prize dipstick into the bargain. Tell you one thing, as sure as there's a cloudless sky above me, in a few weeks time he'll be badgering me again as the season passes its peak and his bed occupancy level begins to drop. He won't "get much change" out of me then, that's for sure.

I now felt fully justified in calling him Blackbeard. He's a pirate if ever I met one. I have another similar tale about someone somewhere very close to where I live. I'd kind of resolved not to relate it, but now I've changed my mind. As I said above, there are more than enough genuine folk out here to discourage one from tarring all the locals with the same brush. But a few of them give the many a bad name and that's a shame. So watch this space for more tales of scullduggery.

Now then Jim lad, splice the main brace and shiver me yard arm, we'll set sail for home and take a tot of rum along the way…

Do you think I may just have got slightly too far into the spirit of this "pirate" thing?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Slam Dunk!!

Wow folks!! After my appeal on Facebook as well as here on my "News and Stuff" page (Almost There [Andy Williams?]) on July 29th, I never expected such a response.

I have to thank James Collins, who writes the excellent and very informative blog "Symi Dream" too for flagging us up, but we officially passed 200,000 hits on "Ramblings From Rhodes" just a couple of hours ago!!!

In the past 24 hours I've added a lot of new stuff to both the "Stay" and the "Attractions" pages too and will keep doing so whenever I get the time.

Thanks to everyone who comes back here regularly and remember - all ideas are welcome if you want to suggest anything to make "RFR" even better.

Humbly yours,

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Fig-uring it out...

These are on their way to the breakfast table
The only two months we find really hard to deal with here are July and August. Unless you can spend the entire time under a shower or in the water it's a bit gruelling with the heat really. Mind you, this summer's been kind to us so far with temperatures having been a little down on the averages for July. We've had days in the lower instead of the upper 30's and nights down in the mid 20's. Cool!!

A great compensation for the heat is the fact that the fig tree in the garden continues to grow in size and every summer yields even more of its gorgeous, soft, juicy fruit for three or four week, usually starting in late July.

Quite a few of these will get swallowed by guests on the Bay to Bay trip
That bowl above can be filled from the fig tree on a daily basis for several weeks and, even though we love the fruit, there are just too many for the two of us to eat. They do keep for a while in the fridge, but not long enough to enable us to scoff them all. We did try freezing them once, but they thawed out all squidgy and the taste was gone.

So, there's nothing for it but to give some away. We do have a few friends on whom to unload them of course, but even then there is a surplus, which is why I take a big bagfull with me on the Bay to Bay excursion each week. Anyway, it's a good experiment.

I usually wait until we've done the first swim-stop (Lindos Bay), which is only ten minutes from our starting point in St. Paul's. After we set out from Lindos Bay, though, there is a long stint while we cruise the length of Kalathos Bay on our way to swim-stop number 2, when we drop anchor in Haraki Bay. Once all the guests have settled around the deck to baste themselves, I extract the carefully concealed bag from my hiding place in the cabin below and begin a tour of the boat. Holding the bag out in front of me I'll ask each tripper in turn, "Ever tried fresh figs straight from the tree?"

Sometimes it helps if I eat one first, just to show them that you can eat the entire thing, skin and all. There are those who gouge the flesh out with their lower teeth, not eating the skin, but frankly it's not worth the effort. The skin on a perfectly ripe fig is very thin and it's all part of the fibre anyway, eh? What is interesting though, is the fact that if anyone's going to chicken out it'll be the men. Women and girls, they'll all dip a hand in, extract a fig and go for it, biting into the sumptuously sweet and soft flesh with enthusiasm. They're never disappointed. The men though? Well there are some who'll have a go, gingerly shoving a hand into the bag as though fully expecting to have it bitten off by some nasty monster lurking deep within and brandishing razor-sharp gnashers, all the while adopting that expression that says "I don't want to do this but I've got to save face in front of my mates/wife/partner/family [delete as appropriate]."

You can tell they'd rather not bother and are dreading the act of actually placing the fig in their mouths and I love goading them into it, because without exception the look of relief on their faces when they do and then realise that they're actually enjoying it is a scream. But there are always some guys who, despite their outwardly tough image (you know: various tattoos, earrings, spikey hairdoes which betray the fact that they were young in the 80's, gold neck-chains and chunky rings, red and white bandanas, the list goes on) will grimace and give me a "Nah, s'OK. I won't bother."

That's when I take my life in my hands and say to their other half or their kids - "It's always the fellas who wimp out!"

I say "take my life in my hands", but they're really all big softies these blokes. It's very rare you get a really hard nut, despite what they look like. But I have to say it speaks volumes about how adventurous people are, or perhaps aren't, when you dangle a big bag of fresh figs in front of them and suggest that they might like to try one.

This is the view you get from inside the cabin on board the "Lindos" with crew Kosta and Jimmy [Dimitri]