Wednesday, 28 January 2015

April in January

Before I proceed with this post, I simply must share with you a little ditty that my Dad used to say when I was a young nipper. I still remember it word for word and as yet haven't ever met anyone else who remembers it, so I've no idea where my Dad got it from. Anyway, it goes like this:

In the middle of September
In April, last July
The sun lay thick upon the ground
The snow shone in the sky
The trees were singing gaily
The birds were in full bloom
When I went down to the cellar
To clean an upstairs room
I looked out of the window
And had a fearful fright
For there, 10,000 miles away
A house stood ...out of sight
Its doors and windows open
Its front was at the back
And believe me when I tell you
its walls were whitewashed

So, why did I think of this? Well, the answer has to do with the fact that here on Rhodes we so often get the kind of weather that the UK experiences in April, only in January. This current run of weather is a good example. It's a changeable week, with heavy showers and rain, then bright sunshine in equal measure. When the sun's out it's pushing 20ºC, when its cloudy it's the lower teens. 

My Greek friend Mihalis, who features regularly in the "Ramblings" books, and lives in Kalathos, has often told me that he wishes it would rain for the entire winter, November thru March. The fact is, we always need whatever rain we can get to avoid running out of the ever-dwindling water resources we have here during the summer months. As I've often said, and at the risk of boring you on this one, we've never in 9 and a half years of living here had more than 9 rain-days in any one calendar month during a Rhodean winter, but of course it comes in fits and starts, never all spaced out like it was scheduled for regularity. This week, then, it's like a British April, as stated above, with lots of cloudbursts and then bright sunshine. We had to go to Arhangelos today for a few odds and ends and so I decided to drop by Haraki on the way home to snap a few shots (especially for you, Porridge Oats!) so you can see Haraki on one January weekday. On weekends, of course, some of the bars are open, but during the week, it looks more like the photos below will show. 

All the way from home on the way to Arhangelos it was raining, occasionally heavily, but as we got out of the car it stopped and by the time we were taking some well-earned (well I think so anyway - and whose blog is this?!) refreshments, the sun was shining brightly. It shone, in fact, all the time until we got home, locked the gate, parked up the car and let ourselves in, wherupon the clouds gathered and the rains began again. Fab! Couldn't have timed it better.

Inside the nicest café in Arhangelos, the Greco

The view from the café's window while the 'fish-man" was out there doing a brisk trade, double parked as you'd expect!

It's amazing how the most unexpected occasions can make you feel like a "real Greek". For instance, just as we were opening the car doors to get back in for the drive back, a friend from another local village honked and drew up alongside, effectively blocking half the street in the process. She wound down her nearside window, oblivious to the chaos which was starting to ensue, so that she could have a nice little chin wag with us. It's an essential you see. Of course, my car was neatly parked up alongside the kerb in a completely legal manner (I couldn't be a real rebel if I tried), but there we were having a nice little chat as though we had all the time in the world, while the whole street was becoming a war-zone around us. 

Boy did I feel like a local then! Not that this didn't prevent me from getting rather anxious about the situation, but when she was good and ready - and not before - our friend bade us cheerio and proceeded another couple of hundred metres along the street to the bank to which she was intending to pay a visit, once again stopped right outside, alongside the cars that were legally parked, switched on her hazards (ah, so that's all right then) and shot into the bank leaving the rest of the road users on her side to tear their hair out yet again.

Ah, don't you just feel assimilated when that happens, eh?

So to the Haraki shots...

There you go folks. I'm off to learn a Gene Kelly routine...

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Just The Ticket

Sometimes things go so well you have to pinch yourself. From experience you kind of expect the worst. If you've read chapter 2 of "Moussaka to My Ears", you may recall the story about the UPS that went wrong. It's not entirely unusual, when you buy an appliance or a gadget here, for there to be all kinds of complications if the damn thing goes wrong. In the case of the UPS I took it back to the shop and they gave me the old "Well, it'll have to go back to our service depot in Athens. Once they've had a look at it they'll say if we can replace it with a new one or not" routine, which is not uncommon here.

So, it was with some dread that we took our brand new kettle back because it was leaking. Only a few days ago we finally laid to rest a really good and not particularly cheap electric kettle by accidentally placing it back on its cradle wtihout any water in it. Oops. It had lasted us 7 years, which we reckon is pretty good going nowadays. So, not at all happy with trying to rustle up a cuppa using a saucepan to heat the water, not to mention getting piping hot water all over the place while trying to fill a hot water bottle, we remembered that our local branch of Carrefour Express, literally five minutes away by car, sells electrical appliances.

Of course, we weren't going to buy something by some unknown manufacturer, you know, usually the ones with serif typefaces for their logos. We've all seen them, names like Royale and Tra Shie, Crown Ningglory or suchlike. Nope, if they didn't have a known brand it would be the saucepan for a few more days before we got the chance to go to town. As it happens, in we walked and saw that the store carries kettles by none other than Black and Decker, a tried and tested brand familiar to all of us Brits, right? Right. Thirty six Euros lighter we headed home eager to make our first cuppa with our brand new kettle. Which we did. No problems there then. We congratulated ourselves on having thought to look in the store just along the road. A result. Great. Super.

Now, those of you that read these mumblings with any degree of regularity will know that I'm a bit of a nightbird, often not sleeping too well, If I were a better sleeper, this blog would be only half as big and informative as it actually is, truth be told. So, during the first night after we'd bought the new kettle I was in the kitchen at 2.30am and I thought to myself, I'm gonna make myself a nice hot cup of green tea with lemon and eat a slice of my dearly-beloved's really nice moist cake. Anticipation at unheard-of heights, I lifted the kettle to facilitate refilling it, only to find a lake of water beneath it and all over its circular cradle, which was still plugged into the wall socket. Yipes and all that, yea? Yea.

Sure enough, rocking the kettle this way and that I saw a steady drip, drip, coming out from the bottom, and this from a kettle less that 24 hours from the shop. Out came the trusty saucepan - again.

Next day,after having dried the kettle out and re-packed it in its box we trotted into the store, fully expecting a hassle about it having to be sent back to Athens and envisioning weeks of boiling hot water for our Earl Grey tea in a pesky saucepan, and approached Georgia, the girl who'd sold us the appliance. Well, she'd taken the payment at the till, let's put it that way. To be fair, she's a cut above yer average supermarket checkout girl in the IQ stakes I'd wager. She's very erudite and evidently doing this job purely from the lack of any other to which she may be much better qualified. No sooner had I explained the situation she'd taken the kettle back, rustled up some exchange paperwork and told me to nip over to the relevant shelf and help myself to another one, same make and model. Minutes later we were driving back home after having received the assurance from the very helpful Georgia that if this one leaked we were to bring it back right away and we could do yet another swapsies. We congratulated ourselves on having bought it locally. Imagine the hassle if we'd had to take it all the way back to town, an hour's drive away, to see about a replacement. It would have made it a very expensive kettle by the time we'd done two trips.

Like I said, sometimes things go so well you have to pinch yourself. Life's full of surprises.

So, there we were relating our positive experience to a couple of friends and they told us their recent experience in one of the banks over here. I'm sure you've come across these ticket systems. You know, you walk in and there's a little machine, you have to press a button and it spits out a numbered ticket. You then sit for about three years waiting for the digital display to flash your number and then you bolt for the teller, arms flailing in all directions to fend of competitors. By this time your bladder's full to bursting and your car is parked somewhere where it's now due a parking fine. Either that or it'll have perished tyres when you get back to it, it'll have been parked for so long. 

Well our friends said they they entered the banking hall to an almost unheard-of scene. Probably owing to some wormhole having opened up in the space-time continuum, there was not one single customer in the hall. Plus, there was this teller chap, sitting there with no one to serve!! No one to keep hanging around while he stared pointlessly at his monitor for five minutes, or got up and walked away carrying a sheet or two of paper before returning to his seat with a frappé on the go. Nope, he was sitting there with no one to be miserable to.

"Well," thought our friends, "this is our chance!" heading straight for the staff member in question they reached his position and spoke through the glass screen. He just stared back and said, "Ticket?"

They looked this way and that, as if to remind him that there was no other customer in the place, before looking back at him and saying, "We didn't see much point, since there's no queue anyway. There's no one to worry about queue-jumping, which would be why we'd have needed a ticket, wouldn't it? You know, to prevent any disputes about who's turn it was."

He just stared back and, lifting one arm and pointing to the ticket machine with his finger, said, ...well, nothing actually. He just disdainfully made it clear by gesture that no ticket - no service. Take it or leave it. After a couple of exasperated sighs and lifting of both arms, palms out, our friends trotted back across the hall to the machine near the entrance door and dutifully punched the button and tore off the little ticket that spewed out. They marched back to the friendly (not) teller and thrust the ticket under the glass  at him, whereupon he lifted both hands in non-acceptance, assumed a frown and said, then pointing downwards, "In there."

Sure enough, at their feet was a metal waste bin, into which he wanted them to drop the ticket. "What's the point of that?" they cried? His answer was a shrug of the shoulders. He then sat there and waited while our friends, well one of them in this case, looked at the hand holding the ticket, back at the teller, then at the ticket again, before dropping it into the waste basket as directed.

No sooner had the numbered ticket floated down into the mouth of the bin than the man behind the counter assumed a smile and said, "Now, what can I do for you?"

Of course, they knew exactly what they'd LIKE to have told him he could do at that point, but thought better of it. After all, they wanted to get out of there on the same day as they'd gone in, didn't they.

Monday, 19 January 2015

A Surfeit of Suggestions

Something that never ceases to both dismay and amaze me about the locals, and I rather think that this applies nationwide too, is their preoccupation with things medical. Not health, oh no, don't try getting most Greeks to think about eating healthily, giving up smoking or exercising, but as soon as the slightest ailment rears its ugly head they're simply delighted to get into the subject of how to treat it.

I've mentioned on a few occasions how it first bemused me to find that most Greek housewives have their own blood pressure machine. C'mon guys, you know what I mean here, can you imagine your average regular household in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter, having one of those in a kitchen drawer? The conversation has only to veer in that direction, maybe someone (or their child) locally has come down with something, is feeling a little below par, maybe planning for their diabetes years (you know how the Greeks love their sweet cakes and syrupy stuff, don't you) and the householder, quicker than you can say "snap elections" has whipped open that drawer and is strapping that thing you pump up on to one of the neighbour's arms, or perhaps her own, just to check if she's about to peg out. She'll be vigorously pumping at that rubber bulb-type thingie while she's saying something like "You must have the πίεση' [the pressure, meaning blood of course], I can see it in your cheeks."

I'm not exaggerating when I say I am quite sure that local women gathering for coffee in someone's house probably have regular blood pressure parties.

Something else which every home here has is a medical thermometer. Now, if you've read the "News and Stuff" page lately, you'll know that I've had a touch of the - I hesitate to say it - flu. I don't know what these bugs really give you, but I do know that, when I was a kid, if you had a cold you had a snotty nose for a few days, during which time you still went out to play and carried on with all the normal stuff, but you did it while sticking your tongue out and licking that snot from your top lip that had run down from your nose while you were playing football, right?

Now that was a cold.

What I've had this past few days has been a "rocking" head, a sore throat and chest, catarrh (is that how you spell it? What a ridiculous series of letters…) and an intense desire to stay in bed with a hot water bottle. Of course, you may still class that as a cold. I certainly, as stated above, would hesitate to describe it as full-blown flu, but it's certainly somewhere between the two.

Anyway, my other half, being as yet unsmitten, has been out and consequently talked to a few of our Greek friends, who, of course asked, "Where's Yianni?" Once the response is, "Well, he's in bed ill, he's got a…" you generally don't get much further than that before the suggestions begin pouring in.

In fact, last night a good friend from Rhodes Town called on the phone to ask how I was. Nice thought, granted, but it does seem like there is an official list of things you have to cover if you're a Greek and someone you know isn't well. So, if you wanna be like a Greek and someone you know is slightly unwell, this is what you have to cover:

Have you a temperature? [Whaddyamean you don't know? How can you not know? You WHAT? You don't have a thermometer? Poh Poh! …and so on.]

What did the doctor say? [What? you haven't been to the doctor? It's amazing you're not dead already…]

What are you taking? [Now this one of course is often connected to the "Doctor" point, since they're dying to know what he prescribed, so they can tell you that they wouldn't take THAT if they were on their own death bed. What he SHOULD have given you is… and so on. It also gives them the opportunity to tell you all the things you really ought to be imbibing if you expect to live. These things include a lot of pills I usually can't even pronounce, plus a whole raft of herbal things. My friend who telephoned asked, "Have you got plenty of oranges?" for example. That's OK actually. Then there's the dreaded "chai voonoh" (Mountain tea), which is made out of a selection of herbs you pluck from the mountainsides out here. The main ingredient is sage, but there are a few other leaves in there too. Each time I drink it - and you simply HAVE to have honey in it to avoid gagging as you sip - I fully expect to begin hallucinating quite soon afterwards. Add to the foregoing a whole cornucopia of other drugs that every Greek friend will insist you need to help you get through this and you begin to get the general picture.]

• Assuming you've fended off most of the above, they then crank it up a gear. "If still you have a temperature (assuming of course that you know you have one) after a few days, you make sure you get to the doctor's," And that's said in a manner that suggests that they believe if you don't get there quick enough then you'll run the risk of dying in the car on the way.

See, now, maybe it's just the way I was brung up, but I was always led to believe that if you had a heavy cold (let's settle on that as a description, yeh?) you sweated it out. There is no cure. The best you can do is alleviate the symptoms and wait for it to pass. That's why, despite the constant insistence from well-meaning Greek friends that I'm quite mad not to be taking a cocktail of drugs and also visiting the doctor several times, the only thing I've done by way of acceding in the past few days is take a couple of soluble aspirin in a glass of water to ease my throbbing head, once. Of course, to each and every Greek friend I know that's exceedingly reckless.

Going from past experience, next time I do get out and about and visit with our Greek friends, they'll be astounded to see that I survived. Of course, they'll still want to take my blood pressure no doubt.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Sunday Lunch at La Strada

Some years ago we had lunch on the beach wall at La Strada taverna, just down the road from our place. It was during a lovely weekend in the summer of 2009 when a couple of friends from town came down to stay, go swimming and generally chill out. In fact it was the very weekend when I went looking for our supper in the sea and discovered the "wonder of toothpaste", which just happens to be the title of chapter 2 of "A Plethora of Posts", where the story - about the toothpaste that is - is related in full.

Since then we haven't been back to La Strada. That isn't because we didn't enjoy a lovely lunch, it's more to do with the fact that we don't go out so very often and, when we do, we tend to look for somewhere new. The fact is, we've now eaten at all of the restaurants on Kiotari front, from the Petalas [formerly the Paralia] through La Strada, to Stefano's, The Pelican's Nest and finally Il Porto [formerly To Steki]. a few hundred meters further south and standing alone is the Lighthouse, and we've eaten there too.

A few weeks before the end of the year we'd noticed a lot of work going on at the La Strada. They were having some new windows installed, to close in what had before been a dining area that was open to the elements and consequently not suitable for dining out much of the time during the winter months. As you'll know, me and the better half walk this stretch of beach very often, in fact probably on average twice a week during the winter and so we keep a wary eye on developments, which was how we'd seen George's progress with the renovations at The Pelican's Nest during the months of the previous winter. I snapped this photo just as the La Strada job was coming to a finish...

La Strada, November 21st 2014
This made it pretty likely that plans were afoot to open the place during the winter, at least on weekends, so we made a mental note to remember it as and when we were planning to have Sunday lunch out.

Well, yesterday we finally got around to it. In fact, since the extremely cold snap was finally over and Sunday dawned brilliantly sunny and considerably warmer, we said we'd like to eat beside the sea. At first I'd had the idea of going down to Gennadi, but it was my dearly beloved who said, "Why don't we combine eating out with a nice walk? After all, it's pushing 20ºC outside and there isn't a cloud to be seen. What about La Strada?"

Of course I instantly concurred (we do fellas, dont' we? makes for a much quieter life after all), on the proviso that I call them first to make sure that they were definitely open. It's a 20 minute walk from our front gate to the taverna's front door, so it would have been a disaster to have arrived famished to find a locked door and no quick way of going anywhere else. I did a quick Google and found them on TripAdvisor (which you'll probably already know if you clicked that link back there in the paragraph above the first photo). Seeing the phone number I called and a lady told me that, yes they were indeed open for lunch today. "Right," I said, "we'll be down there within the hour", and indeed we were.

By the time we were within five minutes walk of La Strada we remarked on the fact that we've never lived anywhere before where we could walk to a restaurant without having to set foot on a surfaced road, except for a quick dash across the main road from one dirt track to the next on our way to the water front. Good eh?

By the time we walked into La Strada we were feeling hot from the walk and well ready for a traditional lunch of simple Greek fare. I have written about another traditional taverna here in Kiotari too, Angelaki's, which is on the main road through Kiotari down to Gennadi. It features in the post "A Tale of Two Tavernas" which was written in August 2012 and that's a fact that really scares me because I was thinking that it was only last year!! That taverna is very popular with locals and ex-pats alike and for good reason, but to be frank, when we eat out on a glorious sunny day, the view, or outlook, from our table has to be a major factor. It's the one way in which Angelaki's falls down, it's on a road and the view isn't anything to write home about.

La Strada, on the other hand, is in the perfect location for dining out on a bright, warm sunny day...

We walked into an almost empty dining area. There was one table occupied and one of the diners was a close friend from Pilona. Small world. After a nice little chat and a couple of introductions, we chose a table near the door and along came the young man to leave us a couple of menus. His name is Minas and he and his mum Eleni were running the show today. That aside, the place is really cosy, very nicely done out and we really liked the traditional feel of the decor. 

Something else which pleased us immensely was the kind of guy Minas was. As you'll also know we don't eat meat and so often get by on a few starters for a meal. We ordered their special "Yiortini Salad" [lit: Celebration/Celebratory Salad] which comprised lettuce, rocket, Graviera cheese, walnuts, dried cranberry pieces, little squares of toasted bread (homemade croutons), onion with a vinaigrette and oil dressing. We also went for the courgette rissoles, fried potatoes (chips guys - here we go again, eh?), two grilled pitas and a half a litre of the house white, which to our ecstatic delight came in one of those aluminium jugs that you always used to get house wine in years ago and have sadly become much rarer these days.

You know what Minas did after he'd taken the order, he retreated respectfully. THAT'S why we took an instant liking to him. So often you get some smart-assed waiter who'll say "anything else? The most expensive fish perhaps? " No. No pressure at all, the very polite young man retreated with our order and an "evharisto poli". Looks-wise he reminded me of a younger Prince actually (you know, his royal Minneapolis-ness himself. Hope Minas won't mind me saying that).

The food arrived gradually, as one would expect when it's freshly prepared and, well, here it is folks...

Everything was superb. the kolloki'tho-keftedes [courgette rissoles] were among the best we've ever eaten, not too oily at all. The salad was absolutely splendid (if you haven't tried Graviera cheese, which is from Crete by the way, you haven't lived!), the chips home-made and very fresh (piping hot when they arrived, so much so that the first few had to be extinguished in the mouth with a generous swig of the very acceptable house wine. That's my excuse anyway). All in all the perfect light lunch on a perfect day in a perfect location.

I asked for an Elliniko to round it off and Eleni, who'd just the once approached us as we ate to ask if everything was OK, brought us a freebie of syruped dried grapes with crushed walnuts and a complimentary glass of water to clean our palates with...

This place deserves to do well. Eleni and Minas are a delight and in case it matters to you, they speak good English too, a fact we learned because our friends on the other table communicated with them in English the whole time. We had kind of expected it to be much fuller than it was and I put it down to the fact that it's only their second month of being open during the winter time. Word needs to get around. So, if anyone living in the south of Rhodes reads this, get on down there folks!! If your meal is anything like as good as ours, you'll be glad you did. In fact, our friends on the next table agreed with us and they'd had meat dishes too. Plus the location is superb. 

Know what? Our bill came to around €22 and we were full. Next time I'm going to order the char-grilled Tsipoura [Sea Bream] because I haven't seen it at that price for a long time. When I do I'll report back.

Not long before we reluctantly asked for the bill and prepared to leave, a Greek pal of ours from Asklipio walked in with another man. Manolis, pictured below right, had his brother Panayiotis down from Rhodes town for a visit and they marched in, asked for a table to be set at the beach wall and ate their meal out there. Wish we'd done the same now...

Not bad for the 11th of January is it?

Manolis introduced us to the very affable Panayiotis, who told us that he was a hairdresser with a salon in town. We asked him for cards and he didn't have any on him. Never mind, he did have some merchandising ballpoint pens with the salon's name and contact details on them and he not only gave us one each but he gave me a couple to give to our other friends too. I joked that, since he's in town he'll be expensive and Manolis jumped to his defence and assured us he isn't. The salon's name is Figaro and it's on Konstantinou Palaiologou Street, no. 17. Phone number 22410-20914. That's the least I can do since both men agreed to me shooting them (photographically, of course) enjoying their al fresco lunch beside the sea in what is surely my favourite beachside location on the island. Haraki is gorgeous, yes, but quite different. Comparisons of the two locations would be pointless.

And I live right here too folks! Sometimes I just have to pinch myself. Sorry, but after a day like yesterday it's hard not to!! Details of La Strada will soon appear in the alphabetical list on the "Play, Eat, Visit" page. I'll be posting a scanned card (both sides) there too.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

No Brass Monkeys

Well, this past three days has been very cold, in fact, record-breakingly cold. Our old friend Kostas, who's Rhodes born and bred (notwithstanding the fact that he lived for about ten years in Canada, so he knows about cold!) and is now around seventy, told us on Thursday night that he'd never experienced cold like this on Rhodes - ever!

We had a flow of air-masses down from the Balkans and beyond that took our overnight temperatures down to around zero C (32ºF) and even to -1 on exposed ground facing the north-northwesterly wind and during the day to around 4 to 7ºC at best. We've lived here since August 2005 and we can vouch for Kostas' estimation of the rarity of these temperatures. Brrr! OK, so in Bulgaria they were down to -18ºC overnight, but that's just nuts - hence no brass monkeys to be seen anywhere, eh? 

And Judy, over there in Alaska, before you say anything - we know we're a bunch of jessies and wimps, OK? Good, I'm glad we got that out of the way.

Fortunately, the temperatures are already rising back to what we'd expect for the time of year. In fact, tomorrow night's forecast is for 13 and during the day Monday it should be back to the upper teens, which means for us, if the sun's out, 20-21ºC, much more like what we expect. I tell you, we've been mighty glad of the log-burner and even had it on all day on Wednesday, something that we never normally have to do.

The great benefit of this cold spell has been, though, exceptionally low humidity and wonderful light conditions. Hence the following series of photos that I snapped just yesterday, when we had to make a trip up to Rhodes Town. Here goes then...

Our friendly neighbourhood Seat Ibiza shepherd brings his flock of a couple of hundred sheep past our gate every morning at the moment and they were just coming past when I got the car out.

The photos are of the stragglers, those mummies who's little ones were getting a bit left behind. I could hear them bleating "Mum! Mum! Not so fast! Wair for Me!!" So the mums would turn around and trot back a way, get their bairns up close and then scamper back to join the flock again. Call me soft, but I can't resist these little mites, who I reckon were also asking their mum's why their feet were so cold.

Quite a few of these shots show the clarity of the view of the snow-capped Turkish mountains off to the North and East. You'll have to click for the larger views, but you'll be able to see them plain enough. They reminded me of the view of the Rocky Mountains you get from Denver Airport, Colorado.

I can't ever remember seeing the Turkish mountains so clearly. We could even see them from Pefkos, almost unheard of usually. These few, though, were taken between Mandraki and the Old Harbour, as seasoned Rhodophiles will, of course, know.

This is right up top near the Lido café (Called the Blue recently too?), which appears to have closed down [maybe just for the winter]. It's the steps beside the Meltemi Taverna, just along from the Elli (that large round building at the top end of the car park above Mandraki Harbour).

The view out from the window of the Viamare Café. I's very unusual for there to be so few outside tables occupied. Inside it was heaving! Note the wooly bobble-hat, bottom right. There was even a head in it. Incidentally, I think that girl in the green jacket may have lost three rolls of wallpaper.

I couldn't resist snapping this because the old fella walking, well, shuffling really, with his stick looked so evocative, poor old soul.

I don't know whether you know the old polar bear joke, but here it is anyway.

A polar bear toddler is playing near his mother on an ice flow in the arctic. He comes up to his mum and asks, "Mum, am I really a polar bear?" Of course, his mother replies, "What do you mean son? 'am I a polar bear?' What colour's your fur, white, right? So you're a polar bear. Now go play in the snow."

Ten minutes later he's back to ask his mum. "Mum, am I really, really a polar bear?" To which his mum answers, slightly irritated this time, "Son. Look, your mother's a polar bear and you've got white fur. So, what does that make you? You're a polar bear, now go play in the snow."

Ten minutes later, back he comes. "Mum, are you sure I'm a polar bear?"
Really ratty now, she says: "Look, your father's a polar bear. Your mother's a polar bear. You have white fur like your parents. You live in the arctic. You are a POLAR BEAR. Why, for goodness sake, do you keep asking me if you're really are a polar bear?"

He answers, "Because I'm ruddy FREEZING!!!"

Now why did I think of that joke? Ask a brass monkey, ...if you can find one that is.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Three Brief Chats

If you click for the larger view you can see the 'ickle babies.


 We've had a simply splendid time of it this past week or two, keeping ourselves well away from all the madness and overundulgence of people celebrating the birth of someone they hardly know (bah humbug!). It's been bliss, with day after day of breakfast at the French windows, a bit of gardening here and there (can't do too much myself, got a painful case of the old Tennis Elbow), and almost daily taking a long walk. Oh, and bashing away on the Mac as I write novel number 3, which I must say is now coming together nicely.

The first two photos above are taken from the end of the orchard. I've already talked recently about the local shepherd who's currently in our valley on a daily basis, back in the post about "driving the flock", but the day before yesterday they came trundling past the front gate as usual while we ate breakfast and we couldn't help getting all "aah" -ish 'cos there are now a whole bunch of babies amongst them, some only days old. Thus the quick dash with the iPad to the end of the orchard (in my slippers, got an ear-bashing for that) as they reached the "grassy" bit at the end and a couple of quick snaps to capture the toddlers. 

The better half said, "Oh, looooook! poor little mites, how do they survive the cold?" Ah, hu hum! It's like 8 to 11 (ºC) overnight here at the moment, so I found myself mentioning the fact that back in the UK we'd very often see news stories of farmers digging their sheep out from snowdrifts up in (sorry to mention it again) James Herriot land, Yorkshire - among other places too of course, like the Brecon Beacons for starters.

No, the sheepses out here have it cushy and no mistake.

But wait! What's this below? You cry. You don't? Ah, well, I'm gonna tell you anyway.

Well, this photo above relates to the reason I've called this post "Three Brief Chats". This is because this little box of extremely gooey, honey-soaked Greek sweetcakes was a gift from our old friend Stamatia, she who keeps the bakery up a sidestreet in Lardos. It was with Stamatia that we had one of three enjoyable little natters over the last week or so (She crops up in this, this (everso briefly) and this (possibly even briefer) previous posts too by the way).

Since we hadn't seen her for a few months, we were greeted by an earnest expression of woe and thus began a conversation - well, more like an audience really - with her that ended rather fortuitously with the little gift above. We'd dropped by to see a couple of different friends in the village, neither of whom had been in as it happened (although, of course, there's room here for the 'Yea, they were in all right. They just knew it was you!' brigade), and thus, since we needed a loaf for lunch and were walking right past the door, we thought it would be nice to pick it up at Stamatia's. Her bread is very, very good anyway.

We know already about her ongoing heart condition which, to be fair, is pretty serious. But she told us why we hadn't seen her for a while and it was because of another problem altogether. She'd had a fall and ended up with half a dozen titanium rods in her leg, plaster everywhere and 18 months laid up. We got the whole story. Granted, there was room for oodles of sympathy, but we only had the one day and it was already getting well into the afternoon. We hadn't eaten either. When she passed on from the consequences of the fall to the subject of her two useless sons and daughters-in-law we knew it was going to be touch and go as to whether we got home in daylight. You always know you're in for the long haul when other customers come in and she says "Hold on" to you while she breaks off and serves them, fully expecting that you'll wait while they are sorted out and off on their merry way before hearing the rest of the tale. You know that Russian bloke that wrote "War and Peace" Leo Toy Story or something? Well, I'll swear she's related.

You know what, though? After what was probably well over an hour, which we'd lost owing to simply having decided to buy one loaf of bread, she expressed such joy to have seen us again, knocked a few pennies off the bread and then insisted that she make up the above box of Baklava as a gift, that we left feeling quite guilty. She'd even told us some details about her financial woes since they opened up a branch of a national supermarket chain not more than a hundred metres away right there in the village. They sell bread, but it's not like hers, she told us. 

"You know what they do?" She'd said, leaning forward in conspiratorial fashion, walls do have ears after all, "They import the dough frozen! It's no good for you. Yes, they sell bread, but mark my words, in years to come people who eat that bread will be having major health problems." She didn't elucidate as to how these possible health issues could be linked in some way to supermarket bread. We did find ourselves sympathising though, when she told us that since it had opened it had knocked her takings for six. "How do I pay back the loan we have on this place to the bank now, tell me that, eh?"

Sadly, we told her that in the UK small bakeries and corner shops like hers had all but disappeared for similar reasons as the great masses of car-driving shoppers all get their bread from the hypermarket with the trolley park in the car park now.

It's the way the world is going, eh? We don't have to like it though.

Conversation number two took place just down the road during the walk we did on Sunday December 28th. Having trekked quite a distance to see what a coffee at the recently opened Blue Dreams Café here in Kiotari would taste like, and having found it closed at noon, we'd decided to take the beach road and walk all the way (about half an hour on foot, which I suppose walks usually are) back in the other direction to the Freddito Café nextdoor to Gianni's Flower shop, Gianni's (another Gianni) Butcher shop and the Sofos supermarket. I made brief mention of this establishment under the caption "He Hawt to Know Us by Now" on the "News and Stuff" page.

Why weren't we patronising the Gré Café? Well, it's 'cos they're closed for a few weeks. Fact is, we've been to Freddito's a bit more frequently of late and the bloke who runs it is getting to know us better now. We're even on greeting terms with quite a few of the regulars that are usually sitting in there too, which is nice. We'd particularly wanted to grab a coffee out during the holiday period because the Greeks have a delicious shortbread-style biscuit/cake called Kourabiedes (you probably know all about them anyway. They've been mentioned quite a few times on these here ramblings too) and if you play your cards right you'll get a free one with your coffee whilst the café proprietors are feeling magnanimous. These are simply TDF and covered, like really covered in a dusting of icing sugar. When you eat them you have to be careful or else your sweatshirt or nice smart chinos will be permanently whitened in patches if you drop some icing sugar on them. Trust me on this. If you've been out here on holiday and not seen kourabiedes, it's simply because in Greece they're usually only to be found around Christmas time. Bit like mince pies in the UK I suppose. Or indigestion.

Anyway (I really must find another word some time to substitute for that) we ordered a couple of filter coffees and - guess what - they arrived along with a couple of kourabiedes, on a couple of paper serviettes, on a plate! Eee hah! A result.

It was while we were acquiring icing sugar moustaches that George from the Pelican's Nest tootled by on a motor scooter, spotted us, waved (which almost made him fall off), skidded to a halt and came in to join us. Plonking himself down across the table from us, a huge grin on his face, he asked how we were. The usual stuff followed, like (from my dearly beloved) had he found a young girl to make a wife out of yet? To which he replied, "No. Women are like water melons. Look lovely in the outside, but you never know what you're gonna get until you find out what they're like on the inside and by then it's too late."

Not content with that analogy, he came up with another: "Women? They're like a postage stamp. One lick and they stick to you so you can't get rid of them!"

Hmm, right, OK George. How did the season go with the restaurant? Not so good apparently. So, and here's the bombshell, as I do know that some of my regular readers (masochists all) will know his place and have eaten there, before the season gets under way for this year he's going to convert the place into a tourist shop instead. He doesn't want it to be your regular run-of-the-mill store with a clutch of inflatable li-los and silly hats hanging outside though. No, he's hoping to make it a bit "ethnic" as he put it, with stuff that's definitely more in the "Greek arts and crafts" neck of the woods.

I asked him if he'd be needing staff. "What would I need staff for?" was his reply, "Not much required when you've got a shop like that. I'll just doze out the back and leap up if I get a customer." I suppose that ought to do it then. Needless to say, watch this space (or the "News etc" page) for more developments.

And so to chat number 3. 

Trying to be a bit arty here. Sorry.
Last Saturday we were having a bit of a mooch around at the far end of Vlicha Bay. That's when I snapped the photos above. 

You know, with the amount of building that's going on there it put me in mind of the Canary Islands. There are new villas, apartment blocks, possibly hotels from the scale of a couple of the building sites I saw, all over the show. Which makes what a very affable old gent with whom we struck up a conversation there said all the more poignant. Vassos is in his late 70's and has lived in Vlicha all of his life. He was mayor of Lindos for about 16 years once. He had a lovely smile and a gentle way about him as he told us things about Vlicha's past. His family run the modest Yota Beach hotel which is right on the beach at the far end of the bay, further on past the huge Lindos Bay.

Vassos told us that when he was growing up during the war years there were five houses in Vlicha Bay, no more. They were scattered evenly across the bay area and all were lived in by people related to eachother. They all planted trees and grew vegetables. He was keen to stress that he firmly believes that a man (or a woman) should work for their prosperity, till the soil, plant, build etc.. He impressed me with his pragmatism, because he wasn't really bemoaning the changes, simply observing them.

I got the distinct impression too from him that he was industrious, which was why he could now gaze about and be satisfied with his life's work. He heartily expressed his approval when we told him that we worked (albeit part-time) during the tourist season. He pointed to mature orange trees that he'd planted decades ago, trees which were now laden with delicious fruit, some of which, incidentally, he gave us before we left. This got me to thinking about how it angers me sometimes when I hear people (non-Greeks who think they know such things) coming out with such sweeping statements as "all Greeks are lazy". Poppycock. Such 'experts' ought to talk to the likes of this man.

What really had us enthralled were his memories of what happened in the war. He'd been a young lad when the military airfield just north of Kalathos was in full operational mode under the Nazis. They'd hunted down the former conquerors of Rhodes, the Italians, and many had been killed. In fact Vassos' family had sheltered an Italian soldier in Vlicha for a while until he'd been discovered. The Nazi soldiers put a bag over his head and rowed him out to sea in a boat to drown him. Somehow the locals managed to save this poor lad and help him flee the island. One comment which Kyrios Vassos came out with brought to my mind thoughts I'd read and heard elsewhere. He said the Italians weren't like 'conquerors' in the usual sense of the word. The Italian soldiers appreciated fine cuisine and liked to make music and sing and dance. This is a huge contributory factor in the modern day liking that Greeks have for things Italian. It's also why many Italians like to come here for their holidays.

In fact, Vassos said that, very recently, he'd been sitting out front during the holiday season and seen a wisened, white haired old man standing out at the front of the hotel, gazing around. On going out to speak to him it was only Vicento, the very young Italian who'd almost been drowned! They passed several lovely days together, during which the old Italian wept on more than one occasion over the kindness of the local Greeks and his whole experience all those years ago. He'd so wanted to come back here before he died.

In order to clear the land when they'd wanted to construct their hotel, Vassos also told us that the area that's now occupied by the hotel's front garden and pool had been a minefield! He and a few others had cleared the mines themselves, with their bare hands. I know ...I thought the same as you! One land mine going off can ruin your whole day.

If you didn't know about the old military airfield just outside Kalathos village, next time having passed Masari and you're driving south along that long straight stretch of road with the metal railings on either side, about half a mile back from and parallel to the beach, heading towards Kalathos, keep looking left. The remains of the old runway are clearly discernible, though virtually all of the buildings have now been demolished.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

No "Trouble at Mill"

I often wonder what some of my transatlantic readers, of perhaps those from non-English speaking countries make of some of the expressions I use when I'm composing this stuff. I mean, I just take for granted the fact that if I use an expression, like in the title of the previous post "Wood anemonies - anemonies wood, a huh huh huh, just like that", then my UK readers will think "Tommy Cooper" right? Well, hopefully anyway. Thus the same applies with the title of this one. I dunno know why we Brits all know the Yorkshire expression "Trouble at Mill". After all, why should there be trouble at the mill anyway? workers' strife, industrial accident maybe? And why the mill, I mean why not the blacksmith's or the canning factory? Well, I suppose it's just one of those unfathomables, but I still do sympathise if you read this and think "what the hell's he on about now?" Mind you, that's probably a fairly sensible reaction to most of what I write, come to think of it.

Anyway, this tale relates to, in fact could be termed a sequel to, the one from November 29th (was it really that far back?) about our friend's visit to the olive mill. The post entitled "O-live to Tell the Tale" it was. What follows was all rather unexpected, really. Rather fortuitous though. I'll explain (I say that often enough too, don't I?)...

December 17th was a Wednesday. That particular week we'd planned to have a couple of unbroken days at home, getting on with stuff around the garden, maybe me writing some more of the next novel, that kind of stuff. As per usual, though, things didn't go according to plan. On the previous Sunday evening we'd been with a few friends in Kalathos when Kostas, one of their number, asked me, "Do you have oil John?"

Now, of course, that question is a chestnut in conversations that take place any time from November through January out here. Everyone's concerned about whether they've enough olive oil in reserve for the next twelve months, well, twenty-four sometimes, since most olive trees are only harvested every second year. Every Greek home has a canister or a drum, sometimes those red plastic ones with the huge screw-on black top, although the purists have the stainless steel ones with a lttle tap at the bottom, you can see both types in the photos at the top of this story. The purists will tell you never to keep your oil in the plastic ones for any length of time, ...well, you can read all that in the post to which I've just linked if you like.

To return to Kostas. I responded by asking him, "Why, do you have some to sell?"

"No" he replied, "But if you don't mind taking them to the mill, I've got four crates of olives going begging. I've already got well over a hundred kilos of oil and I don't want any more, but rather than throw these away, I wondered whether you might like them. I reckon they'll probably net you around 16-18 kilos of oil. That's not bad for free, if you want them. Well?"

"Well?!" That offer was like, does a cat want a piece of fish? I told him that of course I'll have them. After all, the mill's probably past its busiest by now I reasoned. Be no problem to just whizz up there on Wednesday morning, stopping off at Kostas' storage shed on the way to collect the crates, saunter along to the coffee shop while they're processing and drive home with a can full of oil. I wish.

Mind you, after all that advice I'd dispensed to our poor retired British ladyfriend I could hardly balk at doing the same trip myself, could I? I mean, I speak the lingo pretty well now, so there shouldn't be much of a problem.

I was soon zipping along the road to Kalathos, slightly bothered by how many pickups laden to the stops with crates and sacks of olives that I was passing along the way, on my way to the mill. I arrived at around 9.40am, fully expecting to breeze in with my modest little load. Here's what I took along...

Now, to the untrained eye, that might look like a respectable amount of olives. But as soon as I pulled up at the main entrance where they take them in to tip them into the hopper at the beginning of the process, I was confronted by a forklift shifting tons of sacks from a pickup. Beside it there were two men conversing in shouts over the noise of the machinery, so I jumped out of the car and walked over to ask them what the situation was, what the waiting list was looking like. One of them, evidently the one who actually works there, simply shooed me away and made it very clear from a few hand signals that I was to shift my car pretty sharpish.

I shouted, "I only wanted to ask you something!!"

No joy. He simply repeated the same hand signals and turned to face the other other way. I suppose I shouldn't blame him. Taking one look at me, he probably thought, "another xenos who can't speak Greek. I haven't got time for that now." But, before I rather angrily jumped in and moved the car, I spotted the white board inside and was plunged into a huge depression. My flying visit to the mill looked like becoming a marathon endurance session, the list was that long. Gazing about outside, I supose I ought not to have been surprized, for there were olives awaiting processing in every direction. Sitting still on vehicles, stacked on palletts, in sacks, in crates, everywhere...

Past its busiest the mill was not!

...and, as you can tell from the photos, my little stack was rather pathetic by comparison. Echoes of what I'd put our friend through a couple of weeks earlier. What was I going to do? Then I remembered what our friend had done, in fact, what I'd advised her to do. So I took my own advice.

I drove around to the exit side of the building, where the "controller" (not quite the 'fat controller', but certainly stocky) has his little office. He was sitting in there behind the glass partition, just inside the rather basic makeshift coffee shop, which hadn't even been there the last time I'd been to this mill, gazing at his computer monitor. I tapped on his door and opened it.

"Can I help you?" He asked, already displaying a distinctly different attitude from grumpy guts the other end of the building. 

"Well, hopefully," I replied, a sweetness and light smile on my chops. "See the thing is, I only have four crates and I was wondering if there was any way we could get them through. I don't want to jump the queue, or anything." Which is exactly what I did want to do.

"Let's have a look then," he replied and we strolled out of the building and over to the car, where I opened the tailgate and showed him my problem. "Right. Hold on. Can you wait a bit?"

Like, I had a choice? "Sure," I answered and off he strode into the business part of the building, where it all happens.

Five minutes later he was back, "Right. The next man in the queue has agreed that we can pour yours into the hopper after we weigh his, then we can work out how much of the load will be yours and give you the right amount of oil. I mean, it might not exactly be the oil from your trees, but you get the idea. Would that be all right?"

I didn't have the heart to tell him that they weren't from my trees anyway. I agreed without hesitation. I'd brought along a square metal tin which I thought held around 20 litres, so I reckoned from what Kostas had said that it ought to be filled to about two thirds capacity or so. Plenty of room in it for what I was expecting to receive anyway.

He asked me if I wouldn't mind waiting for around half an hour. That to me was a result, since at first I had visions of driving home with my lights on when I met that first bloke. I decided to hang around rather than take a walk along the road and so I asked the girl at the counter for a frappé, which she quickly rustled up for me. When I offered to pay she told me, "You don't pay for coffee. Only if you want a can or a croissant." Things were really looking up now. The room was very plain, concrete walls and concrete floor, a couple of old kitchen chairs and Formica tables, but what else does one need when one has a frappé and one's iPad with a really good snooker app on it...

OK, so the frappé was in a polystyrene cup, but it was FREE. I won the match by the way.

After what was more like three quarters of an hour, my friend the stocky controller emerged from his office and beckoned me over. "OK, you have a drum?" I replied that I sure did and trotted over to the car to get my can. bringing it back to the place where the oil comes out and is weighed, then pumped through a flexible pipe into your receptacle, I handed it to him and he said, pointing to the digital readout that gave the weight of the oil, "This is yours now."

I watched as he stuck the gun into my can and began pumping ..and pumping ...and pumping. When he stopped the oil was at the very brim and he turned to me and said, "That all right for you?"

I could hardly contain my delight, but replied as calmly as I could, "Yes, good, thanks." I'm sure he gave me more than my olives would have produced, but I wasn't about to complain, was I.

"Chuck that in your car then and we'll do the paperwork," he said.

At that precise moment I was beginning to think, 'how could things have gone any better?' But they were about to get worse.

Once back in his office, he pulled a form up on his computer screen and started vigorously typing away. After hitting the "Enter" key a few times he asked for my name, which I gave him, along of course with my father's name, par for the course here. Then my address, "Oh, Kiotari, nice area," he quipped. I smiled, I was just thinking about all that gorgeous oil, courtesy of Kosta, sitting in the can in the back of the car.

"Ah-fee-mee?" he asked. That's ΑΦΜ [AFM] - which is one's tax number. The Greek government records all oil processed because people who have lots of trees get concessions and that kind of stuff. Producing oil is to be encouraged, of course. It's owing to this that everyone going to the mill has to supply their tax number. In fact, you need your ID (in our case, our passports), your tax number, your National Insurance (AMKA) number, for so many things here - even paying an assortment of bills - that we've usually got a file with all our official paperwork in it with us whenever we go anywhere. But today? Umm, well, no, I didn't have it with me. Dammit.

"Ah, yes. Umm, ...oh dear." was the best I could muster.

"Ah, yes. Umm, ...oh dear." was pretty much what he said in reply. "What are we going to do now?" He added. I had lightning mental visions of driving all the way home (half an hour each way) just for this wretched number. After we'd both stared at his screen for a while, hoping for inspiration, it came.

"WAIT!! YES!! I've paid my road tax!!" I shouted and before he could respond I was running out to the car. 

Here, when you pay the annual road tax for your vehicle, which has to be done before December 31st for everyone, thus ensuring long queues on the last few days of December at an assortment of tax offices, post offices and banks nationwide as people rush to pay it in time and avoid the fine that you get if you don't, you can do it by downloading a form from the government website. To be fair, I hate to say you'll be amazed, but you'll be amazed that this particular system works well and is quite modernised, what with it being done on line and all that. You simply put in your car registration number and your AFM, and you get a certificate in PDF form to download, which you take to the tax office, a bank or a post office to pay. They keep one part, you get the other, which you have to keep in your vehicle for the next 12 months. It may have only been December 17th, but I'm afraid I'm one of those types that does everything early, thus I remembered that the Road Tax Certificate has one's tax number printed on it. Yeah!!!

I tore back into his office and with a flourish threw my road tax certificate on to his desk. His face broke into a huge grin of relief and he was soon printing out my A4 statement/receipt for the oil I was taking home with me. I asked him how much I owed him.

"Two Euro," he said. Now come on people, two Euros for around 20 litres of extra virgin olive oil is a result, right? needless to say I thanked him profusely, totally forgot to show that appreciation by slipping him a couple more (a situation I do intend to rectify when I can) and drove home eager to pat my friend Kosta on the back and kiss him on both cheeks. Purely in a manly way you understand.

Sometimes, life does chuck you a bunch of flowers, eh?