Sunday, 28 September 2014

Gene Kelly and a Pocketful of Basil

Well at last we've had the first appreciable amount of rain here in Kiotari since last May. Yesterday (Saturday September 27th) it clouded over and by lunchtime the first spots fell. On and off from then on until about midnight it rained, occasionally quite heavily. 

Of course the holidaymakers were devastated and wondered what they're going to do, since the poolside and the beach are out of the question during this kind of weather. Locals, however, well that's a different story. If they could go dancing down the street à la Gene Kelly then they surely would. Certainly the shopkeepers were rubbing their hands together, since rainy weather sends the tourists their way in droves. The ground is parched, the goats are parched, the plant life is desperate for real water instead of that which comes out of a hosepipe or watering can (never quite as good) and the air is torrid. 

Already, as I've just been outside at 1.00am for a walk around the garden, the stars are peeping through everywhere and the weather is set to be sunny again for at least another couple of weeks, so anyone altready here for a vacation or planning to arrive imminently needn't worry unduly.

My wife and I were out working from quite early until around 3.00pm yesterday and it was quite a novelty to be driving home with the wipers on. In fact, as the dearly beloved was driving she owned up to the fact that she couldn't remember how the wipers worked and how to adjust the interval for the intermittent wipe facility. She hadn't driven the car in wet conditons for months. When I hopped out of the car when we reached our front gate the smell of pine in the air was heady and refreshing. I could almost hear the trees and shrubs heaving a huge sigh of relief. And the atmosphere - oh so much clearer and fresher, magic.

My wife's sigh of delight was even more audible than the flora and fauna as - having parked the car under the carport and subsequently thrown some lunch down her oesophagus - she immediately set about burning some rubbish in the orchard, something she hadn't been able to do since Spring, owing to the fact that after the dry season starts it's not only illegal, but it's also very likely to start a forest fire. Frustrated pyromaniac that she is, she longs all summer for the day when she can again head out there with the waste basket from my office and a blowlamp. "Better than landfill" she'll say, and she'd be right. Plus the ashes from the fire pit that I've built for her in the corner of the orchard make a valuable contribution to the compost heap, something which we have to water like we do the garden all summer long to keep it "working" to produce our modest amount of good compost each winter.

The previous evening, Friday 26th, we'd driven down South to visit our old friend Gilma and chew the fat with him on a few old blue-painted folding wooden chairs outside his front door. The conversation came around, as it usually does, to the financial woes he's suffering these days and Maria asked him if he was going to be planting vegetables this winter.

"Ach, Maria mou. it's not worth the effort. These old bones are 75 years old you know. I'm not sure I have the stomach for the work any more, especially as you can go into any local store and come out with several shopping bags full of fresh veg and still have change out of 10 Euros." He replied.

We were reminded of how long we've known him. He was still a couple of years short of 70 the first time we met, so it was almost a shock when he reminded us of how old he is now. Here he was, notwithstanding the fact that his pension is now only 55% of what it was a couple of years ago, telling us that the effort required to plant seeds, cultivate them, water and harvest them was becoming too much for him and despite his straightened circumstances, wasn't viable when you consider how cheap it is to buy fresh vegetables locally.

Something that really worried him was a proposal, apparently now before parliament here in Greece, to replace the now discontinued and much hated property tax with a tax based on how much land someone owned which would, if it became law, ruin him. Hearing his explanation led us to conclude that if this ill-thought-out bill were to become law it would produce a greater and more virulent reaction than anything so far imposed on the working class people of Greece. I mean, consider this: Here in Greece it's been the culture for thousands of years for families to pass land down from one generation to the next. For a rural Greek family the idea of selling off land is still anathema to them. Thus in rural Greece poor people still live in the villages that their ancestors lived in as they till the land and harvest the olives and grapes. They grow their own vegetables in all the villlages around us here.

In the UK nowadays it's a fact that the rural communities have gradually become the home of the better off. How often one hears that young couples starting out can't afford to stay in their home village owing to the inflated property prices caused by the green welly brigade who work in the cities having snapped up all the desirable residences. Many rural villages in the UK are full to the brim with smart barn conversions and posh bungalows with long manicured lawns, old house that have been done up and now sell for huge sums to the urban nouveau riche looking for a nice place to come home to in greenbelt country. Local councils make attempts to think up schemes to make "affordable housing" available to people whose parents, grandparents and so on back for generations have lived in the same village, but which now has reached the stage where only the professional Range Rover driver with a set of golf clubs in the back can afford to buy a home.

Here in Greece it's quite different. Owing to this culture of families hanging on to their land, families on low or modest incomes can still live in their home village. Granted, the young have been deserting these self-same villages in recent decades owing to the search for a career, but it's still the case that they are not yet the domain of the rich. The vast majority of residents haven't even got the paperwork to prove what land each family owns, since everyone grew up knowing exactly where their family's land ended and the next family's began. Thus our friend Gilma is worried. He has a low income, something which has made his life much tougher in the past few years, yet he owns a lot of land. This land isn't bringing him in any appreciable income, yet if this new tax were to come in, he'd have to find several thousand Euros a year to give to the government for the privilege of remaining on soil that his family has tilled for generations. If the likes of Gilma were forced by circumstances into selling - that's even supposing a buyer could be found - then the demographic of rural Greece would gradually begin to reflect that of the UK, with the rich living in the rural areas and the poor ending up in the suburbs.

In the UK it's quite likely that the more land someone owns then the richer they are. Here that situation does not prevail. Thus such a tax would probably result in a huge public outcry and quite possibly vast numbers of people not paying it, largely because they can't pay it.

Anyway, as we sat and heard our old friend giving vent to his worries, we couldn't help but notice just how much basil he had growing all around his front porch area. Just about every Greek who has room for at least one plant pot has basil growing in it, usually quite near to the front or back/kitchen door. I'm sure there are old traditions and superstitions which account for this, but who cares? It's a wonderful plant and an essential in most Greek cooking. Everywhere we go we see strappingly healthy basil growing in pots, often to such a size as could be described as a bush. It's quite plain from some that we come across that the plant is perennial and has been growing for years. Just brushing your fingers through the foliage causes the plant to emit a wonderful and quite mouthwatering aroma.

There are a number of different types of basil, but all go wonderfully well in just about any dish that also contains tomato. Thus, for many years we have been trying to grow it in a large pot at our house, with limited success. I've lost count of how many basil plants we've potted up after the previous one died on us. There's nothing worse in such circumstances than hearing someone tell you, "Oh, basil's easy to grow," whilst snipping a dozen leaves or so from their huge four-foot-high specimen and there you are getting a mental picture of your own sorry example threatening to die in its pot back home outside your own back door.

Here we were sitting under Gilma's porch, beside his well maintained 10-year-old pickup truck, staring at basil growing up through the gravel in abundance in his turning area. It was everywhere. Even a few yards from anywhere and surrounded by gravel there was a sturdy example sitting proudly at around two feet high and covered in tiny aromatic purple flowers, taunting me with its vibrant health.

I remarked to Gilma about how much basil he had growing everywhere, mainly in the ground and not simply in his pots.

"Oh," he said, "It just comes up. You can never have too much of it. Not only does it taste nice, it makes a garden smell wonderful too." With that he arose from his chair and plucked a couple of fistfuls of the stuff and handed a bunch to both myself and to Maria. After first putting it under my nose to take in the luscious aroma I stuffed mine into my shirt pocket to enable myself to keeps my hands free for my drink and, before I could remonstrate with her, my better half stuffed her bunch in there too, thus almost concealing my face from the outside world with the sheer quantity of the stuff that was now making my shirt pocket bulge almost to bursting.

"You have so much of it." I said from behind a veritable forest of green leaves and purple flowers,  "What's the secret? We don't seem to be able to get a basil plant to last more than a few months at home. There must be something we're not doing right." I told him.

Gilma replied, "Oh, there's no secret to it, basil's easy to grow."

Friday, 26 September 2014

A Different Angle

Well, once again I've got a bunch of photos for you. This time, however, I thought it might be a good idea to wander around the new town and see if I could snap some scenes that perhaps one wouldn't expect to see in the modern part of Rhodes Town. 

The snaps below were all taken in a half-hour period, around midday until 12.30pm on Tuesday September 23rd. See what you think of these...

A rather spelndid frontage I thought for a house that is sadly showing signs of neglect. Not five minutes walk from the dreaded MacDonalds!!

No, the Old Town doesn't have the monopoly on cats sleeping on ledges in the shade.

The little green Ape (3-wheeled pickup) is selling fish, a fact that became much more evident as I drew nearer. The man who'd just got out was calling aloud to declare his presence to potential buyers too, just as happens in the smaller villages all the way down the island.

At this distance my nose told me what he was selling.

Old Town? Nope, New Town, where there is a really lovely "Old Quarter" of which this is a part.

Ditto. Note too how quiet this street is. It's only a few minutes walk from a very busy Mandraki Harbour and new town shopping area, where the cars dance to the traffic lights and the pedestrians weave among the traffic and those ever-present mopeds and scooters.

I just liked the look of this place.

Useful info for history buffs. That clock tower is about the same height as the Colossus would have been, about 100 feet or 30 metres. The majority of archeologists now agree, though, that he never stood beside the harbour and certainly not with his feet astride the entrance. He probably stood on the hill up near the Rhodes Acropolis, within sight of the Temple of Apollo. See the info on the Rhodes Trivia page.

The Cunard ship The "Queen Victoria" was in dock. Small wonder that the Old Town was busy. She carries over 2,000 passengers. Check out these links if you're interested in knowing more about her: QV Wkipedia page, Cunard's QV page.

OK, so I just slipped this one in from the Old Town. I was actually on my way to the Odyssey Restaurant for a spot of lunch and just thought this place looked photogenic!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Peace and Quiet

In times past we've lived in places where one could hear aeroplanes, busy roads, railways and passing traffic. So, at the outset, I ought to say that I'm grateful. I'm grateful to be living now somewhere where the house is far from any of those things. The only time we hear aircraft is the very occasional military jet, or more often, yet still mercifully rarely, the Canadair planes that carry seawater to be dropped on the forest fires that are a hazard of every summer here in Greece.

Very often, and I'm conscious of the privilege, we can sit outside on the terrace and hear nothing. Nothing except perhaps the breeze in the palm fronds or the click-clacking of the huge blousy, glossy leaves of the rubber tree in the front garden. In high summer there are birds here, but not nearly as many as during the cooler winter months. At the moment we are hearing the European Bee Eaters "whirl-whirl-ing" as they flock to prepare for their trip across the Mediterranean whilst they soar once or twice a day in their aerobatic display, snatching insects on the wing to fatten themselves up for the trip. There are Whetears aplenty and Stonechats just further down the valley, along with Crested Larks and the occasional Grey Wagtail. But sitting on the terrace one often doesn't hear very much birdsong during the hotter months of the year. The jays make their rasping cry now and again too, but basically peace and quiet reigns.

We're busy-busy much of the time. Not always in labour and toil maybe, but with stuff to be getting on with nonetheless. So the other afternoon was a bit of a luxury for this time of the year since we were both at home all day with nowhere to go. Having sweated for a few hours during the morning in the garden, we'd eaten a light lunch of "pitta-pizzas" - one of my better half's specialities, and poured a nice cup of tea and the time was approaching 3 of the clock. Siesta time.

At this time of year, after some months of zero rainfall, the landscape is decidedly parched. Such vegetation as there is is brittle with dehydration and almost colourless. The dust on our lane is of the consistency of fine flour, making it an impossibility to keep the car clean. From the main road below to our front gate is almost exactly one kilometre of dusty tyre tracks. About one third of the way up there is an old cast iron bath perched on a slope about twenty metres from the lane and the local goatherd and his wife (Manolis and Felitsia - see chapter 1: "High on a Hill" in "Moussaka to My Ears"), use it to supply needed drinking water to their herd of over 400 goats. As the summer trudges onward toward the hoped-for first rains, these goats spend more and more time in our valley, primarly to be near that old bath, where they can slake their thirst at will.

The goats will chomp away at almost anything, but they get less and less moisture from what they eat by the time we're into September and so far here in Kiotari rain is still a distant dream. Thus we get used to seeing them daily and hearing their bells clinking and clanking, dingling and dangling all acoss the partially wooded hillsides each side of us. Since we regulary empty wheelbarrowloads of green waste from the garden just across the lane, we equally regularly see some goats right outside the gate as they forage among the slightly more moist clippings that we've deposited over there. As a rule they don't bother us, but we still now and then nervously check around the perimeter fence to see if there has been an incursion. 

On the occasion when they do get in they can cause a lot of devastation in minutes. Since this did occur last summer and we were taking our siesta at the time, we only woke up when one of the males with a particularly resonant bell was right beside the kitchen window of the house, we always get a bit jittery when they're out there. They'll rub their flanks along the chainlink fence as if they're hoping to find a weakness in it, which indeed they did last time. Once the fence is breached, the cavalry arrive and last time we awoke to the sound of the bell right beside the house, we leapt from our bed starkers and were soon charging all over the garden and orchard trying to round up twenty or thirty of the fiends, which by then had already severly 'pruned' our fruit trees, hibiscus, geraniums, lantanas and the rest, though not with the precision of a pair of secateurs.

Had anyone been driving past the garden at the time (which is also a rare occurrence, but we do occasionally get those extremely annoying dune buggy horrors speeding up and down the lane, with a couple of Ray-Ban toting dayglo shorts-wearing idiots astride them, who've decided that it would be a great idea to zip dangerously up through narrow lanes creating a dustcloud that Lawrence of Arabia would have been proud of in the process) they'd have wondered if a local am-dram society was practicing for a play about Adam and Eve.

Anyway, returning to the other day, when we'd rather deliciously found ourselves with a whole afternoon to take a nap, we'd carried our hot cuppas into the bedroom, along with a glass each of nice chilled water and placed these on our bedside cabinets, we'd nipped outside for a quick al-fresco shower and towelled ourselves off and were luxuriating in that slip-into-bed-and-drop-the-blinds feeling that's just not quite guilty enough to bother us. You know what I mean. After about fifteen minutes reading our novels, we were both revelling in that drowsy feeling that creeps over you at such times and which induces one to throw the book aside and bury one's head in the pillow and allow sleep to drag one down into unconsciousness when the two dogs which our neighbour a hundred yards up the hill keeps in her garden began yapping at the tops of their voices.

There are only two other houses within a kilometre of ours and they are both a little further up the hill from us. The upper of these two is the one in question. Since our bedroom window was open to allow a through-flow of air, two yappy dogs just up the hill will easily "carry" to us and their sound dragged us back to the real world in no time. Something, evidently some goats, had spooked them and they were giving it all they could volume-wise. If this wasn't enough, the fact that it was goats was borne out by the bells around their necks banging, clanging and clunking non-stop in unison with the two yappy dogs. 

Just when we were about to give our doze up as a bad job, it finally went quiet again as the goats receded a little further over the hill and the two pooches resumed their silent vigil just inside their perimeter fence, evidently satisfied in the thought that they'd fulfilled their job as sentries yet again. Dropping the blind further still and sliding the window along a little in order to close it a little more, we once again threw ourselves into the business of trying to take an afternoon nap.

I was a hair's-breadth away from starting a really nice dream when we were once again awoken, this time by an entirely different sound from within the house. Anyone who lives here and knows us (as well as any Greeks of course) will know that you don't call someone between 3pm and 5pm. It's "mesi-meri" [literally: Midday] and time to sleep. There's an unwritten law to be followed here. There are three phones in the house, two mobiles and a house phone. I usually switch the mobiles to silent whilst we take a nap, but had forgotten to do so on this particular afternoon, much to my wife's annoyance and thus, when mine began pumping out its tinny Greek song in response to a call coming in from somewhere, it was me who took the flack for our second disturbance of the afternoon.

Of course, both phones were on the telephone shelf near our front door, weren't they. So muggins here had to get up for a second time to reject the call, which was coming in on my UK SIM card and I could tell by reading it that it was another one of those sales calls that seem to be getting far too frequent these days. Both phones now silenced for the duration, I once again returned to bed to see that my better half's head was now under her pillow instead of atop it.

Right then. Now let's see if we can grab a half an hour's shut-eye. Yup, you guessed it. This time the house phone trilled loudly and once again it timed it to perfection. Just as I was finding those eyelids closing of their own accord (I'd elected to read again just long enough to drop off) off it went. My wife was a hair's breadth away from a rather uncharacteristic expletive when I marched out to the phone and answered the call from a friend who asked, "I didn't wake you, did I?" totally insincerely I might add. Finally closing the call I tore the cable out from the back of the phone's cradle.

"RIGHT!" I cried, "it won't flaming well ring again now until I plug it back in!" I exclaimed as I strode determinedly back to the bed. I dropped the blind all the way down to plunge the room into almost total darkness and threw myself back onto the sheets. It's at times like this when I well earn the epithet that my wife sometimes gives me, Victor, since I was probably muttering "I simply DON'T BELIEVE IT!" in the process.

By now more than half an hour had passed from the first minutes when we'd attempted to sleep, so the afternoon was beginning to slip from our grasp. But there still was hope of an hour before we'd have to think about getting up. Nothing else could possibly go wrong, could it?

Next it was the turn of our other neighbour, who, having seen the goats return and draw up to a gnat's whisker of her garden's perimeter, was out there in her garden clapping her hands and making threatening noises with her mouth in an attempt to get the goats to recede from such close proximity. Since there is no industry, no road, no railway, airport, school or shopping centre within several kilometres of our three houses, such a sound easily penetrated our blind and still partly open window and thus was able to disturb our miserable attempt at a siesta for a fourth time. Now I don't blame the neighbour. Had we been able to actually get to sleep some time earlier I doubt she'd have woken us with her clapping, but in the circumstances, well...

I don't know about you, but I'm one of those poor souls who, if disturbed at that precise moment when I'm dropping off, finds it a near impossibilty to then get to sleep at all.

By about 4.30pm we were both laying there wide awake, talking in irritated voices to eachother and postulating on what else could disturb our afternoon of peace and quiet.

Guess what. Just as we were thinking about having one last go, the irritating noise of a couple of dune buggies racing up our lane hit our ears. These gits (sorry, but they are!!) are so stupid. I mean, if they were to encounter any other vehicle, and it could well have been ours, or even some goats, going around some of the blind corners in our lane like bats out of hell, there would at the very least have been severe injuries, if not fatalities.

Of course, by the time I'd leapt from the bed, wrestled with the front door lock and run  out on to the drive to stare menacingly at these passing numbskulls, who probably wouldn't have seen me anyway, the only visual evidence of their passing was the fact that an impenetrable dustcloud hung over the lane right outside our gate.

Had they of course come by and actually looked in my direction whilst I was standing there, they could have been forgiven for thinking that a bunch of nudists lived in this house. Still, looking on the bright side, owing to what they might have witnessed and the possible distraction that it may have caused, there may have yet been serious injury or fatalities ...with any luck.

Thus came to an end a beautiful, bucolic afternoon of peace and quiet. Almost made me long for suburbia. Not quite though.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Slow, Slow, Quick-Quick, Slow

One of the best things about living out here is that nothing is done in a hurry.

Of course, that's one of the worst things about living out here too, it all depends on what it is you're doing at the time.

I'll illustrate.

When you're sitting in that water-side taverna, having just finished a sumptous lunch and still with half a jug of the house retsina to go, you're lazily throwing breadcrumbs into the crystal blue water that's lapping just feet away from your flip-flops and enjoying watching the water boil as hundreds of little fish appear seemingly out of nowhere to feast on your offering, you're feeling extremely mellow and the table is littered with the debris of a lunch well-enjoyed and you're in good company too; when you really don't have anything else to do for the rest of the afternoon apart from possibly drag your tootsies back to your sunbed, where you'll drop off for an hour before having another dip in the crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea, it's then that you don't really want the waiter turning up and clearing your table of everything except that jug of Retsina and perhaps your wine glasses. You don't want the staff making it patently clear that they'd like to prepare the table for the next set of diners, or perhaps simply to close up for the afternoon, hence the implied pressure to make you ask for the bill, pay up and leave well before you really feel like bringing this exquisite little interlude to an end...

...At those moments, you're glad that a trad taverna will never rush its clientelle. Incidentally, if ever we eat in a Greek restaurant where they do the above, we never go back there on principle. In Greece, to eat a meal is to take as long as you flamin' well want to about it. Dining in Greece is an art form. Especially if you're in good company and you're putting the world to rights in genial conversation. Yes, slow is good.

So, in summary, it's at such moments that you're glad that nothing's done too quickly in Greece. 

On the other hand, when you simply want to pay a utility bill, you want to get it done and dusted so that you can get on with doing something you actually want to do. OK, so in the past year or so I've finally been able to set up the paying of our electricity and phone bills on-line, which is quite a quantum leap for a Greek island. Yet I am aware that lots of folk I know still traipse to a bank or Post Office, perhaps a particular store, in order to pay their electricity, phone, Satellite TV contract, mobile phone and a few more types of bill besides.

Up until a couple of years ago the water bills here were all handled by the local "Dimos", or Municipality. It was and OK system. Once or twice a year a battered pickup truck would charge up the lane below us, leaving the usual smoke-screen of fine dust behind in its wake, screech to a halt at the "spitaki" or small breeze-block shed a few hundred metres below us which houses the electric pump that sends our water up the hill for us and a woman would leap out of the passenger side with a notepad and pen and she'd read the water meter that's down there. Having done this she'd jump back into the cab, the driver would engage gear and they'd charge up around the remaining couple of blind bends in the lane to our front gate, where once more they'd screech to a halt, the driver would perform a three-point turn whilst the woman would leap out and rattle our front gate to gain our attention. I'd saunter out there and she'd wish me a good day and thrust a small post-it note at me with the current reading scribbled on it in ballpoint pen.
Some months later we'd receive a bill, which in those days was an A4 printout, prepared by the local Council, to whose office we'd have to go in order to settle up. Since our local "Dimos" is at Gennadi, that meant a trip of only 3 km or so, where we'd go in, stroll along a corridor and around the corner to the desk, then pay the bill whilst chatting to Yanni, who not only worked for the Council, but also ran (and still does) the Ekaterini Hotel just down the lane from us and sings every Friday night at their low-key but extremely acceptable Greek Night...

That's a rather blurry Yanni standing by the doorway, awaiting his next cue...

My better half giving it large on the floor

Yanni's wife and sister plus a selection of locals get jiggy with it

...So, anyway, that was all quite straightforward and fairly quick really. Of course, you always ran the risk of arriving at the Dimos to find that there was a strike on, or perhaps a 'yorti' [religious holiday, of which there are far too many and often!!] or someone had forgotten to turn up with the front door key - that kind of stuff; and you'd have to go away and come back another time. But by and large, notwithstanding the fact that the bill could come anything up to a year after the woman had handed me the post-it with the meter reading on it, it worked. The bill would always display the same figure that the woman had scribbled down for us and everything was hunky dory.

Last year though, what with all the 'rationalization' that's been going on, they've 'centralised' the water bureaucracy haven't they. Now there's a national water company with its main office all the way up there in Rhodes Town and no longer can one pay one's water bill just down the road. 

So, there I was, having received the first water bill in something like eighteen months [slow, or what, eh?] a few weeks back, and opened the envelope in trepidation at what I was going to find within, only to see a bill of, ...wait for it, €10. Yup, I kid you not. It even said on the bill that the meter had been read. But how the princely sum of €10 was arrived at I haven't a clue. The fact was though that it was going to need paying and, at least doing an excursion to Rhodes Town every Tuesday, I was not going to have to drive all the way there to pay the thing. The only trouble was, I hadn't a clue where the Water Company office was.

Enter me friend and colleague John (yup, another one. Avoids any confusion I suppose. Remember the Monty Python Auzzie sketch in which everyone was called Bruce?), who, bless the little chap, knew exactly where the office was and thus told me. Tucked away in a back street beside the Police HQ and the main Fire Station, there it was, one little doorway with a new sign above declaring that this was indeed the Water Company office, a result!

Of course, if you want to visit your bank in Rhodes you do have to be aware that you should have at least an hour (preferably two) to spare. Many's the time my dearly beloved and I have taken our passbook with us to town, approached the main branch of our Greek bank and peered through the double security doors at the huge queue in the banking hall within, only to look at eachother and say in unison, "another time, eh?". 

I'm quite bemused by these double security doors they have on all the banks now. They seem to me to be the kind of airlock you'd expect at some germ warfare establishment, to contain the environment within and not let any nasty strains out into the atmosphere. They're that solid. You know the form, you have to press a little red button and a voice says, "wait until the light turns green and then open door". Why is it that I always push when I should be pulling and vica versa? Plus, they have such a strong return spring on them that you really have to exert yourself so as not to seem like a wimp to the person standing behind you and also wanting to enter the inner sanctum of the banking hall. There's never enough room between the two doors for more than two people and how anyone with a baby in a stroller manages I've no idea.

Anyway, armed with this knowledge, plus with mental pictures from Greek TV News that almost every night seem to show footage of great long snakes of people trying to pay their car tax or their electricity bill in Athens, many of the men in which will probably need another shave by the time they've reached the desk, I popped my head into the Water Company's door fully expecting to see a long queue of folk trying to pay their water bills.

To my amazement and delight, there was only one man at the desk and no one, repeat no one queuing behind him. For a moment I told myself inwardly, "You chump, Johnny boy. You've come to the wrong place." But no, for there in the hands of the bloke behind the desk, as he handed it back to the customer, was a water bill exactly like mine. Oh joy!! I strode in, went straight up to the desk and thrust the fella my €10 note along with the bill and - before you could say "rubber stamp" the man had rubber stamped it, printed the proof of payment (which when you think of it, kind of invalidates the need for a rubber stamp. But then, I don't think a Greek would feel right without one) and handed it back to me. I don't think I spent more than 90 seconds in that office.

Of course, discussing this later back at the Top 3 with fellow reps Tim and John I learned that just about everyone had received a bill for a trivial amount, in essence, simply to get the new system functioning. The given wisdom is that probably toward the end of this year we're all going to be receiving huge bills catching up our water charges for at least a year and a half. 

What's the betting that I'll be queuing for a while then, eh?

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Picture Postcard

Yet another post of photos, primarily of the Old Town. See, the thing is, I just can't resist pointing the lens when I see these scenes. 

So, once more, hope you like 'em...

All the below photos were shot on Tuesday September 9th 2014.

OK, detectives among you, where's this then? And Trevor - don't give it away! Let some else have a go first!!

The moat (which was always intended as a dry moat, not a wet one) is very impressive and well worth walking around. It certainly gives one an idea of how intimidating it would have made the Old Town to would-be invaders.


And, as I've said before, these last few well demonstrate that the old town is in no way completely spoilt by tourism.

More tales of quirky goings on will follow soon...

Friday, 5 September 2014

This, that and ...well, let's just leave it at that.

Couldn't resist this. An old oven in old Pilona just after sunset one recent evening.

Me and the chaps on the "Lindos". Kostas left and son Dimitri, right

 Just decided to chuck a load of photos on this time, so I'll simply caption them where necessary.

Hope you like 'em (and that you'll remember how to get a good larger look at each one).

Know where this is then? Rhodean regulars will have no trouble.

As always, during my Excursion to town last Tuesday, I went awanderin' and shot away with the iPad  just to prove how quiet it is once you get off the main tourist streets in the Old Town. Do I tire of it? Never.

This is probably not the building you may think it is. It's another one in a much quieter part of the town.

...and this is the rather lovely cafe/bar just behind it (see previous photo above)

"Oh, I don't know. No. 27 is really letting the neighboorhood down these days. I mean, what does a lick of paint cost?"

What amazes me is this: every time I go wandering in the Old Town I deliberately try and take turnings I haven't taken before. And every time I do this I find little hidden gems like this. Not five minutes from here it's heaving with visitors browsing the tourist shops, drinking in the bars on the main throroughfares, dining in the restaurants, yet look! Isn't it just delightful? Bit hot though.


And now for something completely different...

Above is the new sign declaring the presence of the recently opened cafe/bakery on the main road just near Lardos, right opposite the furthest South road into the village of the three from the main road (a bit clumsy that, but I hope you get the idea!). It's also beside the top end of the lanes leading down to Lardos Beach (one of which passes the Olive Garden Hotel and another I can't remember the name of now, sorry).

 There are a few cane tables and chairs outside and inside you'll find Nicoletta ready to serve you. She's a very sweet and hardworking girl and we've been there for a frappé several times already. If you're on the hoof and want a frappé to drink in the car, or you have the time to sit outside and enjoy it along with a cake or something, I can recommend it. Her prices are very good and her frappé too is as good as anyone's. We had a couple of naughty cakes and a frappé each recently, plus collected a loaf of delicious, fresh bread to take home for lunch and I thought that she'd made a mistake with the bill, it was that reasonable.

The building has been a bakery for many years, but up until recently it was only a bakery supplying bread and cakes to the surrounding area. Lately though it has opened with an actual storefront and seating area plus ample parking for retail customers. It deserves to be a success and, judging by the locals we've seen sitting outside, it will be.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A Post About Post

If you may have, ooh, about an hour and a half to spare, then you might consider going to post a letter at the main Post Office in Mandraki Harbour. In town on an excursion on Tuesday I had a fairly important envelope to post to a UK address, so at around 11.00am I tugged my ticket from the machine in the foyer and went through the revolving door into the main business hall. 

I don't know what it is about revolving doors, but they tend to strike terror into me. I get visions of getting a foot stuck in one, or of it seizing up and grinding to a halt just as I'm in that curvy glass bit where you're not quite in and not quite out. I've never considered myself claustrophobic, but it makes me feel kind of, well claustrophobic. 

Anyway, somehow I managed to negotiate the glass vortex and quickly found myself staring at the condemned, as they sat around forlornly clutching their numbered tickets and looking like they're posing for a Vermeer. I'm sure you know what I mean. If not, just look at the expressions on the subjects of his paintings. The main thing they all have in common is they don't have any facial expression to speak of. It's like they're all thinking "what's the point? I'm gonna die some day and so I may as well wait it out with resignation." I suppose when you consider how long they'd have had to sit for the picture I'm not far off the point. I dunno though, maybe they've all (the customers, not Vermeer's subjects) just come from an audition for extras in "Night of the Living Dead 7" or something. Curse my vivid imagination.

Around 8 people sat in the few rows of plastic "school assembly hall" chairs, all staring hopelessly (the people, not the chairs. The chairs were staring at nothing in particular) at the arches before them and to their left, the six arches which have been turned into serving desks, all helpfully numbered from 1 to 6 and all, except one, displaying no signs of life whatsoever, and still others stood around looking bereft...

Desks 2 and 3, the second of which (No. 3 that is, to the left) sits darkened and bereft, whilst the hopeful, or rather the hopeless, would-be customers sit further off to the left, out of shot.
Actually, desks 1 and 2 were at least illuminated, but only desk 1 had a woman sat behind it, trying to speak German to a bloke who wanted I've no idea what, but it needed to take about half an hour or so to get sorted. He stood there in his shorts and t-shirt, occasionally gazing at those waiting behind him as if half expecting to be set upon at any moment by the ravenous crowd of be-crazed, frustrated customers for taking soooo long with his business at the desk. He had those shorts on that sport huge pockets down on the sides of the legs and each pocket looked as though he had half a ton of stuff rammed into it. Maybe his tent was in one and his wife/girlfriend was secreted in the other, I wouldn't have been surprised, really I wouldn't.

That's the thing about having to wait for ages when there's absolutely nothing you can do about it, right? You start studying things that you normally wouldn't cast a second glance at; like, for example, see the glass cabinets that are positioned in front of each column in the above photo? Well, the one to the right is full of a rather weird display of all things religious, icons of various shapes and sizes mainly, on glass shelves. There were ones you could attach to your car fascia, ones you could stand on a shelf and others that could be hung on walls and all at ridiculous prices, like €50 for an A5-sized for example. Can you imagine such a display in a public store/shop/whatever in the UK in the 21st century? I've noticed this even in the small rural Post Office down the road from us in the village of Gennadi too. Must be a pretty standard fixture. I suppose there must still be old folk who say, "I'll just pop down the Post office to draw my pension and get a new icon, shan't be long."

So anyway, I was sitting there studying such things and occasionally glancing at my little ticket, which displayed the number A117, and also now and then glancing at the LED displays high on the wall and also above each desk which announced which ticket would be the next one to be served when I noticed that the current one, which I presumed must have been this German fella, was A113. "Can't be so bad then," I thought. "Mine is only 4 away from that one, so I ought to get served pretty soon." Woo hoo, eh?

But then I counted the people who'd all been in here when I walked in and their number didn't tally at all with the ticket number I'd collected from the machine in the lobby. Very strange. I was only four away from being summoned by the LED display, yet I counted at least 12 people hanging about the place, 8 of which were seated and playing (as one always does these days) with their mobile phones and the rest of which stood around in various positions, sort of exuding the air of "maybe I'll just nip in first when the desk becomes available. After all, there is a hospital on the island so my injuries would be treated fairly promptly."

Behind the counters there was a walkway that stretched all the way around beneath the arches and now and again a staff member would appear from some dark recess further back, usually carrying a package, I presume so as to announce to all observers that they were already well occupied and couldn't possibly entertain the idea of actually serving any of the miserable wretches who gazed expectantly at them from out in the waiting area. What would further exacerbate the frustration would be the fact that when these people did appear, they'd stop right behind the only woman who was actually serving and engage her in a five-minute chat, thus further lengthening the amount of time that our German customer was destined to spend getting his business attended to.

After what was probably about twenty minutes of waiting, and having finally seen our German man with the well-stuffed leg-pockets finally take his leave, the number on the display changed to A114 and I looked around, hoping that maybe customers 114-116 had decided to end it all or something and I could get straight to the desk to send off my one solitary letter, only to suffer immense disappointment as a young woman in impossibly short shorts and hundred-metre-long legs arose, stuffed her mobile phone into her bag and marched to the desk determinedly, with that air of "no one's pushing in before me, I've been here since last Thursday" about her - at least, that's how I interpreted her body language. It certainly would have been mine. As she made her move a dozen other people, myself included, emitted an audible communal sigh and went back to studying the lines in the marble on the floor.

As the girl approached the counter, a woman of around sixty appeared from a corner, I assumed a corner where staff members could go in and out of their inner sanctum, and made for the counter too. This woman had her chin kind of tucked into her upper chest, like as if she had some problems with the bones in her neck or upper back, she wore a dowdy off-yellow sun dress and carried a shabby linen shoulder bag. She immediately engaged the woman serving at counter number 2 in conversation, quite loudly. Her hair was very obviously dyed a reddish brown and she gave me the impression that there was definitely a brick missing from her wall as she said something like, "All right my lovely? You doing good? Family all right too are they? I'll be running along. All the best now." This elicited a response from hundred-metre-legs girl and also from the woman serving. Hundred-metre-legs girl looked at the woman daggers and sighed, whilst the serving woman gave one of those patronising smiles and replied totally insincerely, "All the best, love. You take care now, hmm?" Reading between the lines I think she added inaudibly, "Phew, she's finally going. There is a God after all." But of course I may be quite wrong.

After what was definitely the best part of an hour the LED display showed A117 and I almost missed my slot, I was that far away. The buzzer that accompanied the change of number just managed to register in my brain before someone assumed that A117 had topped himself and I leapt up like a man possessed and dashed to the desk triumphantly. As I mentioned above, I only had the one letter to send and so I was turning around and beginning to make my exit within about ninety seconds when the buzzer told whoever held ticket A118 that their number was finally up. I could have sworn that had I not exited pretty sharpish the girl behind me would have thrown herself at my feet and kissed them owing to how quickly I had concluded my business at the counter. This was her lucky day!

It's a bit odd really. I mean, since the "austerity" hit Greece there have been all kinds of "rationalisations" in the civil service and local councils and stuff. But I was under the impression that the Greek Post office (ELTA) was actually turning a profit. Yet in every Post Office on the island the staff levels have been cut and some sub-post offices have been closed (as you'll know if you follow this blog, since I talked about our own Agapitos taverna losing its sub-post office status a while back now). Thus it's pretty much a given that if you have any business to conduct with the Post Office these days, you'd better take a flask and some sandwiches, 'cos you're going to be in there a long time.

Still, at least it brings home the truth of the way they measure time out here. Everything's GMT. Greek Maybe Time. As I type this I'm wondering if half of those people I saw are still waiting there in that Post Office. My imagination's now running riot and I'm envisioning a Post Office version of that movie "Night in a Museum" where all those icons come alive and terrorise the hapless customers spending the night here in the hope of getting served early the next morning.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Ripening Nicely

Yippee and yabadabadoo!! September is with us and the temperatures are dropping to somewhere near "simmer" rather than "bring to the boil". Just had a shufty at the olive tree and it looks like this year it's going to do us proud. The olives are a good size and ripening nicely. A drop of rain toward the end of this month and a few more times before November and they'll turn a gorgeous black and we may well have some of our own oil yet.

We haven't been up to much of late, so not much to scribble about really, except to mention that last weekend was the annual Wine Festival in the village of Embona. Every year they have a bit of a shindig as the grape harvest begins and there's all kinds of stuff going on all over the village. Of course there's the usual dancing in the square and lots of tables and chairs everywhere as the revellers get down to the serious business of having a good time and why not? It's a joyous occasion and the resultant wine produced will bring in much-needed income in the coming months and years.

It's worth noting too that the quality of Rhodean wines is getting more and more notice these days. It's no longer correct to joke about them, as there are some really good wines which have won some awards produced right here on Rhodes.

If you'd like a brief taste of the wine festival, check this link out. The text is in Greek, but there are loads of photos and a cool video showing the dance where the women tip the grapes into the barrels where the men tread them as they dance, wicked! You may just want to ask the violinist to check his tuning toward the end of the clip though...

No good going along if you want to get to bed much before the following dawn I'm afraid.