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.

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