Friday, 3 July 2015

Under the Great Big Tree

Last Monday we made another visit to Gilma, our old friend who lives in his modest little cottage down a path from the main road somewhere south of Plimmiri. When you arrive at the gate, which is to your left as you proceed along the lane, you are looking into a fairly large fenced-in area that I'd hesitate to call an avli, because it's kind of a cross between a courtyard and a farmyard. There is a spacious gravelled area, in the middle of which is a very large tree. The tree is so large in fact that you can park a pickup and a car under it and there is still room for a rickety old table, a couple of plastic crates of garden produce and three or four mismatched chairs in various states of disrepair, although all just about still strong enough for one to sit on without worrying (well, without worrying too much) about it collapsing and depositing you on the floor in a heap. There's also a length of hosepipe permanently parked near the tree's rather substantial trunk as well.

As we arrived at the gate we were pleased to see our friend's immaculately preserved old pickup parked under the shade of the tree. To its left we could see the hunched figure of the old Greek as he busied himself doing something with some freshly picked vegetables. From our vantage point at the car window it wasn't as yet possible to make out any more details than that. Gilma is 76 years old and his hearing is usually pretty good. But it seemed that he hadn't registered our arrival, so we got out of the car and called a "Yassou fil'e mas" to him.

After a longer pause than we'd have usually expected, he turned his head from the job which held his rapt attention and registered our presence. As per usual he broke into a wide grin, threw both arms out in a gesture of welcome and rose to come and open the gate. I can never leave the car in the lane outside, he always insists that I bring it into the yard. So without arguing, once he'd drawn the gate back far enough, I reversed the car into the yard, whereupon he made it very clear that I should carry on reversing until the car was well shaded by the tree, alongside his pickup. Can't say this wasn't a welcome idea. If there's one thing I hate at this time of the year it's getting back into the car after its been left out in the sun for any length of time, like five minutes or more.

Hastily dusting off a couple of the old chairs so that my wife and I could be seated, he told us to hang on while he nipped inside his modest little one-storey cottage and returned with a chilled bottle of water and two glasses. Cracking the top and undoing it he poured us both a glass from the condensation-covered bottle and placed them on an upturned crate for us. He also opened a box of something that at first I thought may be something like Turkish delight, but was in fact something much nicer. It contained sugar-dusted cubes of compressed, dried figs, which kind of resembled Oxo cubes in size and colour, but there the resemblance ended. At his invitation we both popped one into our mouths and I was instantly fearful for my fillings. Viscous or what! Attempting to chew it my jaw encountered a much stronger than anticipated resistance as my teeth made brave attempts to masticate the cube. tell you what though, it was worth persevering. After I'd got it to finally begin to emulsify with my oral juices it was delicious and naturally sweet from the flavour in the fig. In fact, by the time we'd begun a conversation I was on my third. Hang the risk to the fillings, these babies were more-ish!

   "So, old friend, how goes it?" I asked him. 
   "Aach, Yianni mou. OK now, but last week not so good."
   "What do you mean, what happened?"
   "I was home in Kritika when my left ear started making a strange sound, it didn't hurt, but my hearing almost went completely and I felt like a timpani drum was playing in it. After it hadn't cleared up for a couple of hours I thought it best to go to the hospital."

Of course, we both immediately thought of the dreaded tinitus, but, as his story developed, it appears that he just had a dense build-up of earwax that needed clearing the operating theatre! He was kept in for a few days, during which they shoved all sorts of stuff into his ear. In fact he said there was still a small tube in it which the surgeon was going to remove on his next visit. But there was no pain and the noise was gone now, just a hearing loss which he'd been assured would be only temporary. In a couple of weeks he'd be back to normal. But the tale explained why he'd not heard us when we'd first arrived at his gate.

Of course, this story sparked off a further discussion about health in general. He was well pleased with the fact that, since he was in the hospital, they'd given him a bit of a general medical and declared him in excellent shape. His heart too is apparently as strong as an ox. My wife remarked that this most likely had something to do wth his lifestyle, which he readily agreed with. Lack of stress from spending his days complying with the rhythm of nature had to be a factor in his wellbeing we all agreed.

   "Not like the young folk of today, eh?" He remarked. "You know, Yianni and Maria, there is an unprecedented rise in eye problems nowadays, the doctor in the hospital told me. You know why, don't you? Everywhere you go you see people staring at little screens on all those gadgets they carry. You know what? I must be the only person on Rhodes who doesn't have a mobile phone. Hate the things. We survived for thousands of years without them. Not that a lot of people today would believe that."
The conversation inevitably came around to the fact that this was the first day of at least a week when the Greek banks would be closed for business. What was his take on that, we asked?

   "What are banks for?" He asked, apparently rhetorically. "I'll tell you. They're somewhere you can put your money that's generally more safe than shoving it under your mattress, right? Where's the sense in all these people, all of them panicking and creating a problem that wouldn't otherwise have arisen anyway, where's the sense in taking your cash out from where it's relatively safe so that you can shove it under your bed and have it stolen from you?"

He had a point. OK, so crime on Rhodes isn't all that high, but since the austerity kicked in five or six years ago there has been a rise in villa break-ins. Plus in the two major cities it's become all too often that you turn on the news to hear of an old couple or single pensioner being beaten about by thugs who'd broken in to steal the cash. Such things were unheard of ten years ago in Greece. Things are changing and they're changing for the worse.

   "I'd much rather leave my money where they can't touch it, wouldn't you?" Gilma asked us. OK, so one could argue that the banks aren't as secure as they used to be, but they would still be in a lot better shape if the general public weren't so of the "every man for himself in a crisis" persuasion.  Ah well, we always love to hear the way he reasons. Not always the most sound argument, but always interesting.

Mind you, he'll never starve. We've never visited him when he hasn't been busy with some produce or other from his fields. Today was no exception. When we'd arrived he'd been busy sorting out a huge crate of beans. He was just tearing the pods from the vines and chucking them into a plastic crate between his legs. He was doing it at a very leisurely pace of course, as he does everything life.

As our visit drew to a close he insisted that we take a huge bag of beans with us. Scooping almost the entire contents of the crate out with his hands, he filled the carrier bag amidst vain protests from us that this was far too many, surely he needed more for himself, and thrust it into Maria's hand, whilst simultaneously patting her on the shoulder with his other.

The beans were a variety that I'd never seen before. the runner bean-sized pods where predominantly white and the beans inside resembled birds' eggs, since they too were mainly white with speckles of red all over them. Once we'd come home and made sure that Wimbledon was on the TV for the remainder of the day, I set about shelling the beans on the coffee table...

Once they were all shelled (and not a few had found their way into my tummy in the process) the better half used them to rustle up a wicked Briam, which lasted us several days. OK, so that many beans can tend to have an after affect that's not so good in company, but since it's Wimbledon fortnight, we probably won't be keeping much of that for a while yet.

At least, not until the effect has worn off.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading about your visits to Gilma. Your tales of a wise man and a gentle way of life have a wonderful calming effect. Enjoy Wimbledon, we've had the hot week now rain is on the way!