Saturday, 29 November 2014

O-live to Tell the Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 24 November 2014

Nips, Tucks and Settling Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ooh, some things do make me livid. 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Twitchy Finger Time

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

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

Taverna Orizontas, Lahania. Saturday November 22nd 2014

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

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

All picked by our own fair hands!!

Beach near Gennadi, Friday 21st November 2014.

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

Monday, 17 November 2014

Village Views

Down in Lahania the other day; so, just for you, I snapped these with my phone...

Photo courtesy of Elyros Olive Oil
After that we drove on down to Kattavia to see a couple of Greek friends over from Baltimore. They hail from here but have lived over there for many years. As we sat out in their sunny courtyard, sipping Elliniko and nibbling on Koulourakia, we couldn't help but be thankful!! After all it was hot in the sun and the citrus trees in their garden were all laden with fruit, plus their parsley and celery patch was awash with very healthy examples of both vegetables.

After an hour or so of putting the world to rights, it was time for us to head home and prepare some lunch (you can't be too careful, need to keep your strength up, eh?). We'd need to pick up a "psomi" on the way too.

Before we could leave they'd shown us around their garden (which elicited cries of frustrated jealousy from us over the sheer abundance of fruit on their trees) and then filled one plastic bag with celery and parsley and another with oranges and mandarins and thrust them into our hands...

You know, there is nothing quite like the aroma of walking in bright, warm sunshine among citrus trees when the sky is a deep blue after a good rainstorm and then sampling some of the fruit right off the tree. Plus our fruit bowl hasn't been so full for quite a while. Did I ever tell you that this is probably our favourite time of year? Yea, probably did. The breakfast meusli is once again adorned with delicious, fleshy orange fruits which hours ago were still on the tree.

Oh, and last week I bought myself a mountain bike in a fit of rebelliousness about this "age" business (I turned 61 this week. There must be some mistake, I was never meant to get past 18. Being of mature years was for other people wasn't it?)! 

If you're good I might just show you a photo when I actually get on the thing!!! Can't take one now, it's 2 o'clock in the morning ...what are you doing up?

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Driving the Flock (More pics added)

We've often, when taking holidays in times past, stopped to watch a local shepherd tending his sheep in the Greek countryside. It's one of those serenely bucolic scenes that has one ruminating on how this means of living hasn't changed since time immemorial. 

I'm sure you've done something similar. You're trying to find that exquisite beach that someone told you about, where you'll probably not be bothered by anyone's company for hours, while taking the occasional dip in crystal clear waters and, as you round a small hillock on your dusty way, there among the olive groves you see a flock of sheep, some with their bells dangling and jangling some without, casually combing their way across the landscape in their perpetual search for something lush on which to chomp. Somewhere nearby too you'll catch sight of the shepherd, occasionally quite a young lad perhaps, one hand working a long gnarled staff [a la Gandalf] as he strolls along, keeping a beady eye out for the welfare of his charges.

We get a lot of goats around us here and have come to learn over the years something which we didn't know before coming to Greece to live - the difference between a goat's "bleat" and a sheep's "baa". Yea, go on, have a chuckle at my expense if you like, but I couldn't have told you the difference when I lived in the UK. Now having learned the difference from experience, their "voices" seem to me to be the wrong way around. Goats always give me the impression that they're a bit tougher, more streetwise, and less easily led than sheep. After all, isn't that why we describe someone who is easily led as a 'sheep'? Yet the bleat of a goat is an octave or so higher than the deeper "baa" of a sheep. When we hear sheep now they often sound like a bunch of MP's in the House of Commons in London, heckling some Minister or other as he makes a speech with their "baa's" and waves of their order papers rendering his task all the more difficult.

Now goats, when they bleat, well they sound like nothing else. I can't compare it to anything except more goats.

Anyway, this particular rambling concerns sheep. Usually during the high summer we don't see a sheep for love nor money. I dunno where they go or are kept, but it ain't near here. The goats, on the other hand, are usually everywhere come August when, as I've often said before, they'll hang around the perimeter of our garden making it very clear that they'd love to drop in for a snack.

Now that "winter" has arrived and the rains have finally begun the goats are scarce once more and the local shepherds are once again herding their sheep up along our valley. Even as I type there's a substantial flock a few hundred metres down the slope from the garden and they're all chewing merrily on the new as-yet-modestly-sized green shoots which are breaking through the once rock-hard ground as a result of the rains. The day before yesterday, in fact, we had to go out for a while and so set off down the lane in the car at around 10.00am. Rounding the bend near the old pig pen a few hundred metres further down from the gate we encountered a lane full of sheep, much as one would in rural Ireland, Wales or I suppose the rest of the British Isles.

I rather enjoyed meeting them as I'm always amused at the demeanor they display as they kind of "chat" about whether to move aside and let us come through or not. We were in no hurry and wondered whether they may in fact be Dimitri's sheep, since we know he often herds them overnight into an enclosure not far below us for weeks on end during the winter months. Very often they are tended by our friend Massur (There's a photo of him with my beloved here, as he features in chapter 4 of "A Plethora of Posts"), who can be seen perched on his parked and battered motor scooter beside the lane, while he plays with a piece of straw to while away the hours as the sheep graze.

So, as the sheep deigned to shuffle out of our way we progressed a little further round the bend, expecting to encounter the shepherd, probably one hand taking his weight on a crooked staff of wood as he guards the woolly creatures under his care. Sure enough, there he was.

To our left there was a clearing of dried grass and, parked on it at right angles to the lane was the shepherd, a young bloke I'd say of about 30, if that, sitting in his neat little Seat Ibiza, one hand resting on the top of the steering wheel, fingers evidently tapping along to the loud thumping music that even we could hear from within our closed-windowed car, while his other hand was just drawing away from his mouth amidst a cloud of blue smoke as he exhaled vigorously from the ciggie he'd just dragged a deep pull of. That particular hand flew out of the driver's window (which, of course, was open all the way down) and gave us a cheery wave as we crept past, both of us of course returning the greeting in like manner.

Makes you feel comfy inside eh? To see such age-old traditions still being kept up. I find myself musing about another hundred years from now, when old folk will probably be saying, "Aw, I dunno Stelios, I miss the old ways. You know, when a shepherd would sit in one o' them car-things all made of metal and plastic with four rubber wheels. Not like these new-fangled hover-cars of today, all carbonucleotide fibre and stuff and flying all over the place. I'm forever ducking these days.Things aren't what they were, mark my words."

Yesterday we took a stroll around the block and there were the sheep all safely gathered in. They must be Dimitri's we decided, since they're in his field, the one he always keeps them in. Looks like he's deputized another cousin/nephew/family friend to help out this winter, one with a definite aversion to walking too far. At least though he knows how to 'drive' the sheep, eh?

"What do you think Soula? She doesn't look familiar to me." "You're right Aliki, but it was worth taking a gander, eh?"

Today our "traditional" shepherd brought his flock right past our place, so I snapped these too...

He gave us a wave as he cruised by in his tradional old shepherd's mode of transport...

Monday, 10 November 2014

Best Foot Forward...

The significant other and I are keen walkers. We're only amateurs, mind you, none of this proper "walking shoes and a compass" malarkey - we just don the trainers and get out and about. We do, however, pride ourselves on how long some of our walks are, frequently being out on the plod for several hours at a time during the mild winter months on Rhodes.

if you've followed this blog for any length of time you'll be well aware that we spent over three weeks on Naxos last April and, if you're really sad and hang on my every word (not likely, I know) then you'll also know that I forgot to add a final piece about Naxos expressing our verdict. Well, since I probably won't get around to that now I'll just say this: Naxos is wonderful if you're a true Grecophile. The fact that it doesn't have an international airport keeps it free from the mainstream "Mirror/Sun/Star" brigade and firmly in the "Telegraph/Guardian/Times" bracket. No snobbishness intended, honest!

Having come home with the determination to go back there again as soon as we can, I decided to procure a walking guide to the island and the one I've now got in my sweaty palm is this one...

It's author is one Dieter Graf and he's described on page 2 as "an architect who has travelled all over the world" and it also says "he has walked the Aegean islands since the years when tourism was just beginning and is considered a connoisseur of the islands." These seem decent enough qualifications to have written a walking book or two about them, agreed?

Now, Mr. Graf is based in Munich, Germany, but to read the English editon of this book you'd never know he wasn't British or perhaps American. He either has a superb command of the English language or he's used a translator. Frankly, who cares? The book must stand or fall on how good it is, right?

Firstly I'll just say, he has published a bunch of these books and there is of course one about Rhodes and the Dodecanesian islands which you can take a look at in this link. If you do go to his site you'll be able to sample the book's interior pages and hopefully you'll come to the same conclusion that I did, these books are really rather good!

I only have the one about Naxos because, trying not to pull rank here or anything, I don't really need one about Rhodes now, since I'm in my 10th year of living here. I have to say though, that I really like the way he's set the book out. Firstly, inside the front cover there's a map of the island with all the walks marked in red, numbered circles...

Remember, clicking on any of the photos you can get a larger view. Then with a right click an even larger one.

Turning the next page you get the contents page where the island's walks are split into regions with each of the numbered circles and their page numbers listed for easiness in finding whichever walk you fancy doing at the time...

Since the beloved and I are dead keen to go back to Naxos we've both been poring over the book and we really like the maps, photos and walk descriptions...

Now, let me say here that I'm not under any brief to advertise Mr. Graf's work, rest assured. I only ever post anything on this blog if I think my dear readers will feel that it was beneficial, informative or helpful. I simply have to say - if you like to walk on the Greek islands you could do a lot worse than to get hold of one or two of Dieter Graf's guides.

Tell you what, next time we go to Naxos I'll be putting this book to the test "in situ" as it were. After having done that I'll post another update on how helpful it proved to be.

And now, just a bunch of snaps for you that I took over the last few days...

The beach near Gennadi, Monday November 3rd

Not the Cheshire Cat, Gennadi village, Saturday November 8th

A bunny in the churchyard at Kattavia, Friday afternoon November 7th

Taverna in Kattavia village, Friday afternoon November 7th.

Ditto, except it's across the road from the one above.

By the way, as I click "Publish" to make this post go live at around 3.15pm on Monday November 10th, it's pouring down outside!! Yippee!!!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Run For It!

The day dawned bright and clear. At 8.00am it was 16ºC and we ate our meusli and chopped fruit with keen anticipation. Today (Sunday 2nd November) would be the second time that we'd run the "Rhodes For LIfe" charity event, which was taking place for the 5th time, setting out from the Town Hall Square in Rhodes Town.

This event began in November of 2010 and on the first occasion around 2,500 people took part. Last year, 2013, that number had risen to 6,000 and now doubt this year will be even higher. What's it all about? Well the idea right from the outset was to raise cash for the main Andreas Papandreou General Hospital on the island. Can't be bad can it? We'd missed the first three and so last year made sure that we took part and not only did we enjoy the whole thing, it was great to see that so many people on Rhodes are willing to do something like this for a good cause.

Regular readers will know that my late mother-in-law was Greek. She was also a smoker, something which rankled, especially in her later years - and for good reason. She contracted throat cancer and, after several operations over a two-year period, one of which even resulted in one of her ribs being used to reconstruct half her lower jaw, which had to be removed owing to the fact that the cancer has entered the bone, she died at the age of 57. It was a tragedy and even now, thirty plus years later we sadly miss her vivacity and positivity. This year's event was run specifically in aid of the fight against cancer of the larynx, so you'll understand why it was something we were surely not going to miss.

The Town Hall square, by 10.30am, was alive with brightly coloured "Rhodes For Life" T-shirts as the rock band on the Town Hall steps gave way to a half-hour warm-up session to get the participants limbered up for the start. The announcer on the mic said "We'll do a warm-up now, ready for a prompt 11.00am start!" It was 24ºC.

The beloved warms herself up for the "off"
So, at ten past eleven GMT (you're not going to tell me you don't know what that stands for!) the event started with a bang. It did, literally, because they use an actual starter's pistol to start the stampede of eager runners at the front as they take off at a pace down Mandraki Harbour. Following the serious runners there are the ones who try and jog to fight the flab, like us two for example, then comes the hoarde of walkers, some pushing baby strollers with up to three infants in front, some in wheelchairs, some pushing wheelchairs and some just doing the whole thing as a walk to show their support for the worthy cause. 

The route takes us all the way along Mandraki Harbour, then goes right at the end of the New Market and round behind the Taxi rank and into the moat. We follow the entire moat until we reach the South-Eastern-most tip of the Old Town where we're directed into the Old Town via the Akandia Gate. Threading our way through the Old Town we exit via the Eleutherias Gate and then trot back along the length of Mandraki again to the finish, where there are a couple of crowd barriers set up to channel the finishers through to a rosusing round of applause from people lining both sides.

Yours truly almost there, behind this girl, who looks far too happy and relaxed for my liking.

I put on a bit of a sprint to the finish. May have been a mistake...
The dearly-beloved is just visible behind the head of that fella on the left. Photos courtesy of of course.

Running it took us about half an hour. I'd estimate we finished about the five hundred mark, probably about two thirds of the way down the "runners" and obviously still a way ahead of the walkers. But we felt mighty proud of ourselves as we beat a hasty retreat to under the arches of the Prefecture Building to do our warm-down stretches. You gotta take those seriously if you don't want some seriously aching limbs later in the day. At my age you do anyway!

All the way around we were dreaming of that iced coffee we were going to down as soon as we finished. Trouble was, all the cafés down the length of the harbour were packed to the gills. We did find a table at the Courthouse café, where we sat for fifteen minutes waiting in vain for a waiter/waitress to find us.That's where the better half snapped this...

Having failed, though, to attract the attention of the overworked staff there we took off and decamped to the Yachting Club Café at the bottom end of the harbour, where we tucked in to a couple of spinach pies and the regulation frappé of course...

The café was heaving, but, since we were sat on the periphery it looks from this photo above like we are all on our lonesomes, but if you'd been sitting where we were the vista was quite different.

We were studying all the Greeks that were having their "volta" [outing] for a Sunday morning with some fascination. A sizeable number of them, like ourselves of course, had done the Rhodes For LIfe event and were sporting the yellow t-shirts. Even those, though, were oozing style and taste. We found ourselves comparing the clientele in this Rhodean café of a Sunday morning with those whom we used to encounter in the pavement cafés in my mum's old hometown in deepest Somerset, UK, or in the area where we last lived in South Wales before we moved to Rhodes.

Greeks, like their counterparts in France, Italy and Spain, tend to display a clear evidence of good taste when it comes to what they wear when out and about. OK, so the climate is very different here, and no time is that more evident than during the month of November, when here on Rhodes the daytime temperatures are in the mid-twenties C and the skies are often a deep blue.  Here we were watching Greeks of varous ages, shapes and sizes, although the majority were far from obese, all the women dressed in smart casual clothing that made them look like they'd all been on that old UK TV show with Trinny and Suzanna - "What Not to Wear" and had a makeover. Except, of course, they hadn't. You could have populated a half-decent beauty pageant with the girls and women who were sitting around with their frappés or Freduccinos and the fellas could have just walked off the photoshoot for a smart clothing catalogue. Whenever we would sit outside in the UK the apparel of many of those around us tended to be track suits and the ubiquitous trainers. By far the majority would be overweight too. I'd like to have illustrated this contrast with a few more photos, but didn't want to risk getting arrested!

Here the locals were all drinking coffee accompanied by a glass of water. You can spot the Brits a mile off in a Greek café during a morning by the fact that they're on the lager when the locals are drinking Elliniko, hot coffee or a frappé.

The fact is, it's a very pleasant experience to be sitting outside in a Greek Café sipping a iced coffee in warm sunshine in early November. It's one of the better reasons for being here, we so didn't like November back in the UK. Here's another too...

On the way home I took a detour into Faliraki, somewhere we just never usually go, but owing to someone having asked me if I could maybe chuck in a pic or two of such places off season, I drove down club street to the beach, leapt from the vehicle and ran to the back of the beach and snapped these...

As you know, I'm selfless to the last. Anything for my adoring public (!!??***) ...