Wednesday, 25 November 2015

One Good Turn

I was recently interviewed by writer and blogger Chrissie Parker about my novel "Eve of Deconstruction". If you haven't read the interview, you can find it HERE.

I thought it would be quite fun to turn the tables and ask the same questions of Chrissie herself that she had asked me about her excellent book "Among the Olive Groves". So, what follows is exactly that, an interview with (lots of links) with a very creative lady...

Click Here.

Book description:
Elena Petrakis adores living on the Greek island of Zakynthos.  When World War Two looms her way of life is threatened.  Left with no choice she joins the island's resistance to fight for what she believes in - her family, her home, and her freedom.  

Decades later, thousands of miles away in the Cornish town of Newquay, Kate Fisher prepares to celebrate her twenty-first birthday, but her joy is fleeting when she learns she is adopted.  Abandoning life in England, Kate flees to Zakynthos, where she is forced to acknowledge a life she has struggled to come to terms with, one that will change her future. 

From the beautiful crystal turquoise seas of the Ionian Islands to the rugged shores of the Cornish coast, 'Among the Olive Groves' is a story of love, bravery and sacrifice.

Interview with Chrissie Parker, the author:

Welcome to my blog Chrissie. Can you give the readers a brief overview of your book, Among the Olive Groves?
Among the Olive Groves is a work of historical fiction set on the Greek island of Zakynthos, and in Cornwall and Bristol in England. It spans two periods of time; World War Two and the 1990’s/2000’s. It’s a powerful and emotional story that centre’s on the lives of two main characters Elena Petrakis and Kate Fisher, and the struggles they face in their lives; Elena having to live through the horrors of World War Two, and dealing with becoming a member of the resistance. Kate learning that she is adopted and having to come to terms with the fact that everything she thought was true about her life is actually the opposite.
    The book is very much about family, change and learning to adapt. It’s also about fighting for what you believe in and having the strength to see things through to their very end, whatever happens.

What inspired you to write Among the Olive Groves?
In 2005 I visited my family and friends on Zakynthos, and whilst talking to a local I learned a few things about what happened to islanders during World War Two. It was a really interesting discussion. One of the things I found out stayed with me for a long time, and played on my mind.  I thought that it would make part of a good story.  Eventually I sat down and worked out a plot and the character of Elena Petrakis was born.

What challenges did you face when writing Among the Olive Groves?  
One of the biggest challenges was writing about the island during World War Two. I love history, but I’m more into ancient history than modern history, so researching World War Two was a steep learning curve. The other problem I had was trying to learn about what happened on Zakynthos during the war. Many locals who lived during that time don’t like talking about it, which is understandable.  There isn’t a lot of written information now, as a massive earthquake hit the island in 1953 and a lot of records were destroyed in the fires and general destruction of the time. Luckily a friend living on the island managed to get me some great information from one of the few remaining sources, and this information has been woven into the story to make it as authentic as possible which in itself was a huge challenge!
    The other challenge I faced was making the story of the war as realistic as possible, without being too horrific. A lot of what people endured during World War Two was just too awful to talk about, and even though I wanted to be honest to the story and what actually took place during that time, I had to be careful not to make it too violent or graphic; readers wouldn’t appreciate that.

Why was it important for you to write Among the Olive Groves?  
As well as telling Elena’s story, I wanted to show people what happened to Zakynthian’s during the war, and remind them that there were very brave people during World War Two who fought not only for themselves, and their family, but for the rest of the world, and we should never forget them. 
    I also wanted to highlight the island and its people nowadays. When I originally came up with the idea, Greece and the island was going through a bit of a rough time (something that sadly continues) and I wanted to show the world what a beautiful place Zakynthos is, despite the hardships and negative press. 

Did writing Among the Olive Groves involve a lot of research?
Yes, as well as researching World War Two I had to research what life in Greece was like from 1939 to 1944. It was a very different time then, they didn’t have tourism, and most of the islands like Zakynthos didn’t even have airports. Life was about family, community, and tradition; some of which still exists now. The difference was, that back then, each island was like a little bubble, they were a long way from the rest of the world, and things rarely changed. Then World War Two came along and their lives altered dramatically. 
    The war in Greece wasn’t straightforward. They were ruled by both Italians and Germans and it was important to get all the facts right. I also had to research the role of Greek resistance fighters, which proved to be a real eye opener. Some of their accounts were equally brave and harrowing.  Many resistance fighters were women who fought and died for their cause, and most have been forgotten about, which is quite sad really.

What do you enjoy the most about writing?
I enjoy creating a story, letting the characters run wild and seeing where they take me. My head is always coming up with new ideas.
    I like being able to combine my love of history with my love of writing. Writing is a huge part of me and has been for many years. I always carry a notebook with me wherever I go and my brain is constantly coming up with ideas and plot points. It’s very rare that I am stuck for something to write about! I love what I do and it makes me very happy. 

What you dislike the most about writing?
I don’t think there’s much that I dislike, the thing I find the hardest though is not having enough time to do everything I want or need to do. I have Epilepsy, so I can’t work long days and need regular breaks so that I don’t get over tired. 
    I think this frustrates me more than anything!

Do you read?  If so what type of books do you read? 
Yes, I read every day. I read all sorts of books, everything from Women’s Fiction to murder mystery, the only genres I won’t read are Horror and Erotic Fiction, just because I don’t really enjoy them that much. I think that reading is so important, something that everyone should do, it’s the best entertainment around!

Do you have a favorite author?  If so, who and why?
Yes, my all time favourite author is Agatha Christie. I love how she is so clever with her plots and she writes the most engaging characters; Poirot is just fantastic! I think her books are so well written, and like me she had a huge love of ancient history and archaeology.
    I also love reading books by Iain Fleming, Elizabeth Peters (The Amelia Peabody Series), Belinda Jones and Nora Roberts (her thrillers/suspense books). 

What’s next for Chrissie Parker?  Will you be writing more books and if so can you give us an idea of what they will be about?

What’s next? So much!
1) I’m in the processing of revising a novel called Wind Across the Nile that has already been through one round of editing that will hopefully be released next year. 

2) I’m half way through writing Retribution the third book in the Moon Series, which I also hope will be released next year.

3) I have a book called Under the Scorching Sun finished that needs to go for editing, it was previously published in 2008 under the name of Nabataea, but I wasn’t happy with it so it’s undergoing a re-vamp!

4) At the request of my readers I am also in the process of planning a follow up book to Among the Olive Groves that will be called A Night of Thunder

5) There are also a few other projects in the planning stage! 

Quick fire round...

Sweet or savoury? - Sweet

Beach or countryside? – A hard choice, I love both! 

EBook or paperback? - Paperback

Cream tea or Fish and Chips? – Cream Tea

Classic or modern? - Classic

Sun or Snow? – Snow!

About the Author:

Chrissie lives in Devon, UK, with her husband and is a freelance Production Coordinator working in the TV, documentary and film industry.  

Chrissie also has other works an Author.  Her thriller Integrate (Book One of the Moon Series) was released in October 2013. Her historical fiction Among the Olive Groves was released in July 2014. Her thriller Temperance (Book Two of the Moon Series) was released in October 2015.

Other written work includes factual articles for the Bristolian newspaper and guest articles for the charities Epilepsy Awareness Squad and Epilepsy Literary Heritage Foundation.  Chrissie has also written a book of short stories and poems, one of which was performed at the 100 poems by 100 women event at the Bath International Literary Festival in 2013.

Chrissie is passionate about Ancient History, Archaeology and Travel, and has completed two six-month Archaeology and Egyptology courses with Exeter University.   She is learning to play the Ukulele and likes to read, collect books, listen to music. To find out more about Chrissie visit her website

You can also catch up with this very busy girl with the following links:

And finally, a few more words from me...
I feel quite exhausted after reading about all the stuff that Chrissie Parker gets up to. If you haven't read "Among the Olive Groves" yet, then I can heartily recommend you do so. 

If I'm being honest, which of course one should always be, I (and it's purely down to taste after all) wasn't particularly fond of her writing style for the first, maybe 25% of the book. But I'm so glad that I stuck with it. In "Olive Groves" Chrissie has produced a work that may not be as epic in volume (word count that is) as "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" but story-wise it certainly competes.

The book in my humble view is screaming out for someone to turn into a movie, only hopefully without being truncated as was the travesty of a movie that Captain Corelli became. Anyone who actually read De Berniere's book must agree that the movie's ending was a huge, monumental disappointment.

Chrissie Parker's book definitely, though, does in my mind for the island of Zakynthos what Captain Corelli did for Kefallonia.

I shall most certainly be reading the sequel, A Night of Thunder as soon as it comes out.

This post has been somewhat of a departure from my usual type of post. I hope, though, that you've enjoyed it and that you'll go and investigate Chrissie's work after reading it.

There'll be a bunch of posts about our current visit to Crete coming up soon.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

My Life in Ruins

A couple of years ago, work commenced on the site of a proposed new hotel right behind the beach in Kiotari, down south, almost at Gennadi, but not quite. There have been a couple of new hotels built and opened in the north of Kiotari in the last few years, producing mixed feelings in the minds of those who don't like to see yet more open countryside swallowed up by asphalt and concrete.

It's a double-edge sword this whole "development" thing isn't it. I mean, on the one hand the environment is disappearing but, on the other, more employment is welcome by one and all and an injection of capital through the spin-off trade that comes to the local businesses can also not be overlooked.

One has to, though, sometimes question the speed at which some local affluent types want to bulldoze tracts of land that support a diversity of wildlife. The old "Fakelaki[brown envelope] mentality is still alive and well if you believe what you hear when placing your ear to the ground. We have a friend who lives in rather lovely bungalow along the coast a way from our place, not more than 100 metres back from the beach. It's a place that puts me in mind of the kind of house you'd expect to find in the African bush, with a porch and canopy running round three sides, the wooden uprights of which are covered by climbing plants like jasmine and bougainvillea. The grounds are full of well developed plant life, lending that colonial feel to the place. It's very peaceful there. 

The owner, she's a single woman of a certain age, found herself in the unpleasant position of having to look around for somewhere else to live when the proposed hotel, which would occupy all of the ground between her place and the beach, threatened to ruin her little retreat irrevocably. She even found herself under pressure from the developer, who wanted to force a purchase of her place so that her land could be absorbed into that of the proposed hotel complex. It apparently had something to do with the proposed vehicle access to the nearest road.

The development would have been massive and most certainly would have changed the face of the two or three kilometre-long beach of Kiotari Bay, which at present is gloriously quiet, even in the peak summer season. There are a few beach tavernas dotted along the bay, plus numerous small sandy lanes, leading down past sporadically spaced villas, all of which empty out on to the primarily sandy beach. It's still the kind of place where one can pass a very laid-back vacation. The only hotel anywhere near the beach is the newly refurbished and re-named Med Blue at Gennadi, which is modestly sized anyway. Going north from there it's probably four kilometres until one reaches the Rodos Princess hotel. Had the new one near our friend's bungalow gone ahead, it would have chopped this little piece of paradise in two.

It has, however, been stopped dead in its tracks. Here's how...

Once the diggers moved in they soon discovered that there is an entire village buried under just a few feet of soil, right slap bang where the hotel was supposed to be constructed. Having finally got my chance to go down there and walk around the place I was staggered by its size. It's at least as large as a football pitch and then some.

Situated just slightly away from all the houses and narrow alleys that are very easy to discern from the foundations that have been excavated, is an area where there are inlaid floors. I wouldn't call them mosaics exactly, but as you can see by clicking on the last few photos for a larger view, they are laid in distinctive patterns and may well have been a temple of some sort. You can also see from the photos just how close to the sea the whole thing is. It's evident on walking around the place too that it's been excavated quite extensively, but is now abandoned, with no signs or notices anywhere to tell the visitor what is known about the site. I've even done some Googling in an attempt to try and find out more and came up with nothing.

I do have a distant friend who lives up in Rhodes town and he's an archeologist, so the next time I see him I've made a mental note to see what he can tell me. It may be some months yet, but if he knows anything at all I'm gonna post it on the blog.

Seems that the small man, or indeed woman, can't do much to stop the big man from doing pretty much what he wants with the environment here in Greece. Tell you what though, the ancients have been very effective in putting the whole multi-million Euro leisure complex on ice for the foreseeable future. I'm guessing that the whole thing is possibly iron age. I've had various locals tell me with some degree of confidence what the place was. One example: "Oh yes, It's the original village of Gennadi. of course it wouldn't have been called that back then, but the 'modern' village is relatively recent by comparison and it's only a kilometre or so away, and further inland from the sea."

I don't know where they get that from. No one has been able to come up with any concrete explanation, but then, no one's been able to pour any concrete on the site either, something for which I have to secretly admit to being pretty pleased about.

Incidentally, I got the opportunity to go and check out the site while cycling down to the DIY store run by Pandelis and Maria, on the main road just opposite the health centre at Gennadi. In fact my bike is just peeking into shot on the left of the last picture of the archeological site above. I was on a mission to buy some enamel paint for our front gates. The shot below is the approach to the store. I rather like having a local DIY store where you can turn up and catch the owners having their breakfast...

That's not Pandelis himself by the way. Just a neighbour.
Not quite B&Q depot, eh? Or Wallmart! The refreshments in the Café (!?) are dead cheap though.

I do hope that one day someone will have the vision needed to publicise this site (not the DIY store, the ancient ruins). I mean, I've visited more Greek ruins than I can mention by following the directions of those brown "Archeological" road signs, many of which were literally a couple of boulders and a fallen column. This place is almost as good as Ancient Kamiros, on the other side of the island, only with the walls not being so intact. 

You can't halt progress, eh? Well, I guess that's not exactly the case. We can't, it may be true, but those people who lived here possible a couple of thousand years ago have done a pretty effective job.

Monday, 16 November 2015

This, That and the Other


A few days ago we walked to Glystra Beach. It's becoming a bit of a tradition now. As soon as the temperatures drop to the level where one can go walking without seriously risking dehydration and seeing mirages, we trek the 50 minutes or so along the coast to have a swim where the waters are shallow and warm, owing to the fact that the bottom is sandy (you can get ointment for it these days) and thus reflects the sunlight and keeps the sea temperature there just a tad warmer than it is at our regular beach.

This time I remembered the trusty digital camera and thus the following shots...

En route along the beach road in Kiotari

I love approaching the beach along this route. Inviting eh?

I was not well pleased to find all these people on the beach, I can tell you.

Of course, this has so far proved to be one of the driest Autumns in the ten years since we came out here. Today marks three weeks since we last had any rain (in fact, even much cloud to speak of) and the locals are wringing their hands over the fact that it will probably affect the olive harvest. Autumn rains are what normally cause the olives to swell in the final two months or so before the harvest begins. This year, however, apart from two storms, both of which struck in September and then mid October, there's been nothing. Zilch.

As usual, of course, ex-pats everywhere are delighted. I know it sounds somewhat elitist, but I can't get my head around this. I mean, we all want water to come out of the tap when we turn it on. If we don't get the necessary winter rains, then the island's water supply will be threatened, no doubt about it. There is constant new development across the island for tourism too, which involves huge new swimming pools being constructed, all of which exert a tremendous draw on the water reserves come the spring, in the run-up to the season beginning. 

Not only that, you can water your garden as much as you like, but real rain does something for plants that tap water can never do, right? OK, yes, so the weeds like it too, but that's what we gardeners are for isn't it? To weed and weed and then weed some more yea?

I've mentioned somewhere before, either on this blog or in one of the "Ramblings" series of books (it all becomes a blur) about how the Greeks are so specific about when they're going to do something on their horticultural calendar. A couple of weeks back we asked Panayioti (a neighbour from over the hill and up the valley a bit) if he'd started his olive harvest yet. Know what he said in reply? 

"Nah, November 10th."

He didn't say, "about the middle of the month" or perhaps "the week after next", nope. November 10th he said. Interestingly, on Facebook last Thursday (the 12th), a local Greek Facebook page announced that the olive mills in Arhangeglos had opened for business that very day, owing to the fact that people would have begun their harvesting on the 10th and those with a modest number of trees would be starting to turn up by then. This, of course, notwithstanding the fact that the lack of rain has tended to make many hold off for a while longer yet, in the hope of some precipitation before too much longer.

Anyway, returning to our Glystra beach walk. A beach that has three rows of sunbeds and umbrellas, plus a Kantina right up until the last weekend of October is rather exciting to visit just 10 days or so later, because then it looks like this...

Can you spot the "stone seal" basking here?

Yours truly swimming back to the beach after striking a pose on that rock (under instruction from the better half). If you're really sure about this, you can see that shot here.


I've taken on a local charitable project, after a casual conversation with some other ex-pats a couple of weeks ago at the Gré Café down the road. A recent fund-raising event netted over €1000 for the health centres at Lindos and Arhangelos and the suggestion was made that the one down the road from us in Gennadi could also do with a demonstration of local support. Here on Rhodes, as seems to be the case all across Greece, there are loads of people working for the welfare of cats and dogs and, whilst in principle I don't have any argument with such efforts, it does occur to me that sometimes we humans (especially us British) can get our priorities a little skew-wiff (Now there's an expression that erupted out of my west country past!).

A thousand Euros can purchase a very respectable amount of medical supplies, stuff like bandages, hypodermics, dressings, sutures and all kinds of stuff that would last them a while. I've no idea what our event "Help for Health Gennadi" will raise, but whatever we garner together it'll be more than they had at their disposal beforehand. If you're on Facebook, please have a look at the page I've started by clicking here.

It seems that folk from quite far afield prefer to come to Gennadi when they need to see a doctor, plus there are those living in some villages up in the hills that would have significantly longer journeys to make in an emergency if this health centre were to close down. At present some of the staff at the Gennadi centre are working for nothing and their dedication (which applies to all the staff who work there) is well known and respected. 

Thus was born this project, which basically involves a coffee and cake morning, incorporating a bric-a-brac bring-and-buy sale, from which 100% of the cash raised will be given to the centre. All across Greece local centres such as this one are struggling with basic supplies and thus it seems to me that people like us can make a small difference. Let's face it, there are more charitable causes than there are days in a decade, but the old saying "charity begins at home" still holds true. 

Which brings me to...

THE OTHER... (Now now, it's your mind, that's the trouble!)

A lot of people in other parts of Europe have spent the summer thinking that islands like Rhodes are overrun with refugees. OK, so a few islands have been swamped by more refugees than they can handle this summer, and it's still going on, despite the fact that the sea is getting colder and progressively less calm as the winter months come upon us. Plus there is the way of thinking that fears extremists using this current tide of migrants as a "Trojan Horse" to enter the countries of Europe and wreak havoc there. So far the information I've read about the horrific and totally outrageous attacks in Paris has been conflicting, with some seemingly desperate to link them to the arrival of refugees from Arab countries. 

I don't profess to know anything about such things. What I do know, though, is that on islands like Kos, where I have a few close friends, despite the difficulties of sometimes having the "promenade" along the sea front covered in makeshift shelters, the overwhelming upshot of all this has been a wonderful demonstration of human kindness. The Greeks by and large, even in places where things have become somewhat fraught, have tried to extend their traditional hospitality to folk who have turned up bedraggled and with nothing more than what they're standing up in. Not just the Greeks either, but holidaymakers and ex-pats on Kos and Lesbos have pitched in and done what they could to help. I like to think that some holidaymakers went home with some sense of achievement.

There have been reports of people not wanting to go to the Greek islands in the east of the Aegean for their holidays for fears over their safety. On the ground here though, it's the safety of the refugees that is a far greater issue. True, problems have resulted and tempers frayed when some migrants have become hot under the collar about the conditions that they've been kept in. In such cases they do need themselves to adopt a correct perspective. Imagine if you were to hold a party on your lawn, which you expect to attract 100 guests. If a couple of thousand were to turn up then for sure there wouldn't be enough food to go around, there wouldn't be enough toilet facilities and a very small percentage could stay the night in comfort. 

Yet, seeing ex-pats here on Rhodes rallying to help people struggling ashore from sinking inflatables, along with local Greeks wading into the sea fully-clothed to assist pregnant women who run the risk of injury on the rocks upon which their flimsy boat has floundered, has only served to elicit my admiration as well as arouse in me that inherent belief that still by the majority of human beings want to be good to their fellows, not to inflict harm upon them.

My friends on Kos told me just a few weeks ago that life there goes on as normal. Despite the overcrowded symbolic "lawn", people are doing their best. Here on Rhodes the numbers have been relatively few and as a result it's been much easier to "process" them and send them on to Athens.

Whatever your take on the scene over here, the Greek islands involved are still a pretty safe and hospitable place to spend a vacation. As for the solution to this immense refugee problem. Time alone will reveal that. 

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Stretching the Season

This "autumn", if it can be called that here on Rhodes, has well proven the logic of wondering why the tourist season can't be longer that it is at present. Granted, it varies year on year, but so far we've only had two brief periods of rain since last spring - and both of those came when the season was still running, in late September and then again toward the end of October.

Thus far, this November in Kiotari has been a succession of cloudless days with temperatures in the mid-20's C. Overnight it's still in the upper teens too. Such temperatures would be more than acceptable to visitors from Northern Europe, since they compare favourably with high summer in the UK, Germany and Scandinavia. Yet here the beaches are now devoid of sunbeds and umbrellas, the cantinas are closed, as are many of the restaurants and bars that service the tourists during the season too. Many hotels already have their temporary fences erected all around the perimeter of their gardens, ostensibly to keep the goats from eating most of the flowering plants and shrubs that decorate the place and make it attractive to camera-clickers from May until October.

I read recently that one of the budget airlines in the UK was seeking talks with the Greek Tourism Ministry about keeping direct flights going for at least the duration of November, since at present they stop at the end of October and thus, from then until late March or early April, to get from Rhodes to the UK involves changing planes at Athens airport. It's not difficult, but it is more expensive and worst of all time consuming.

To the casual observer it would appear quite simple. Keep the hotels and apartments open, restaurants and bars too, and the tourists will come. After all, they have a year-round tourist season in Cyprus, and the climate there is not so very different from that of Rhodes. But logistically it is a much more complicated equation to resolve.

Consider, the majority of those who work in the tourist industry in all of Greece work seven days a week and many do split shifts. For your average employee there is no such thing as having a life of on'e own for six or seven months. This is why the government introduced the "winter payments" system some years ago. During the season the company pays the employee, whilst also putting cash from the employee's gross salary into a "winter pension" which pays out during the months when there are no tourists, or at least, none other than a small percentage of independent and adventurous types who make their own way here and organise their own accommodation. Thus, during the winter months, when people take some rest and actually enjoy being able to have a social life and even take a vacation of their own, they receive payments from that fund into which both they and their employer had been paying during the duration of the season.

That was the idea at any rate. In recent times working folk have been very unhappy with government cuts to these winter payments. As far as I understand it, those who are entitled to them now only receive them for about half of the winter months. This they see as the government "stealing" from them. If I had a Euro for every time one of the drivers on my excursions used the word "Kleftes" [thieves] to describe the government [doesn't matter which one] when talking about this subject I'd be quite well off.

The thing is, the whole system seems to rely on employees being prepared to work flat out seven days a week for six or seven months. The idea of perhaps a five-day week for the majority and a whole part-time workforce covering the other two is alien to the authorities and would be a huge sea-change to the system. Job-sharing is virtually unheard of. For the season to become year-round would require root and branch changes not only to bureaocratic systems, but to the psyche of many Greeks, especially the authorities and employers. 

And, of course, it isn't simply a question of laying on more direct flights. True, there are those who would travel between Rhodes (all of the islands in fact) and the UK much more often during the winter months if they could get a direct flight. These would include not only the thousands of ex-pats living out here, but also Greek students studying in northern European universities and their families for starters. But for the airlines to turn a profit there would need to be a certain volume of tourist takers, people who would need to be serviced by restaurants, bars and accommodations out here, all of which are simply not geared up to provide the staff, since at present all the staff are dead beat by the end of October, owing to their having worked non-stop during the summer months.

The infrastructure of providing bedlinen, stocking hotel restaurants and providing transfers to and from the accommodations from the airports is complicated and very difficult to change without a great deal of re-structuring across the "employment" board as it were.

When one takes all of the foregoing into account, it's easier to understand why the extending of the summer season even by one month would be a major logistic challenge.

So, where does that leave us? Well, it leaves those fortunate enough to live out here the freedom to enjoy unspoilt and empty beaches while the daytime temperatures are still most acceptable and, although lots of eateries and bars are closed up during the weekdays and evenings, there is a huge choice of such places open during the lunchtimes on weekends. Plus village tavernas often run live music soirées once a week during the winter months, at which they often charge a fixed price per head for diners and thus ensure a full house every week. It leaves residents of islands like Rhodes, where the distances are large enough to merit the owning of a car, to enjoy the roads in a way they can never do during the season. Travelling back from Rhodes town on Sunday evening (around 7 to 8.00pm), for example, we hardly saw a vehicle once we'd passed Arhangelos, all the way to Lardos village. Bliss.

Incidentally, we finally got around to trying the relatively new Souvlaki house in Lardos square, called Mama's [or Mama...] something-or-other. It's right behind what used to be the Square Bar in premises that were once a small supermarket. The Square Bar morfed into Byzantio's and then into El Greco. Mama's (damned if I can remember the second word! is it "Grillhouse"? Not sure, "Sofia" even?) is right across the road from the traditional bar called Tzambiko's. Anyway, when it opened I was drawn to it initially by the fact that the designers of the place went for a nice traditional feel, white walls, blue door and window frames, check table cloths, the works.

We were due to arrive home in the dark after having been out for several hours and so decided that a budget meal out would be the best option to prevent night-starvation and so in we went to Mama's ...whatever. It's not the best place for vegetarians, since the menu is virtually one page of meat dishes. But they will fix you a very acceptable (and extremely well stuffed) pitta with salad, chips and Haloumi inside. So we ordered a couple of those, along with a green salad (lettuce, chopped spring onions and that funny fern-type stuff, is it fennel leaves?), a beer for me and a pineapple juice for her. Apart from the fact that the table next to us was occupied by an elderly bloke whom we often see walking the streets of Lardos, whom we've decided is either very lonely or perhaps slightly a pork-chunk short of a souvlaki, plus lonely too anyway, and he sat with his body facing us, not three feet from our table and sort of grinned at us for most of the time we were there, it was very comfortable. They even had some decent bouzouki music jingling away in the background, even though the TV at the far end was showing the ubiquitous football match, mercifully with the sound off.

We ate every last crumb, downed our drinks and prepared to depart in time to get home and watch Strictly - the Results Show, while I asked for the bill. We were stuffed for the princely sum of €14.10. Can't fault that.

Will the tourist season ever stretch into November, or maybe further? "Burp" not sure I'm bothered just now thanks. It's all I can do to walk back to the car.

(Incidentally, I'll talk a little about the refugee situation next time.)

Monday, 2 November 2015

Sage and Sagacity

Nikolaos is 80 years of age and proud of it. Funny isn't it, how once some people get past a certain age, they feel that the first thing they need to tell you when they meet you for the first time is how old they are. I mean, we don't tend to do it in our middle years, do we? "Hi, I'm Fred and I'm 57 you know." Nah, maybe when we're 7, 8 or 9, yea, but then it waits until we're, I dunno, something like 74 and then it becomes a prerequisite again. So I'm not knocking old Nikolao, he's just following convention.

 Four of us, the better half and I plus two Greek friends, were sitting in the Platanos café/restaurant in the village of Laerma at around midday last Saturday, when the aforementioned elder of his village approached to bid us good day.

Prior to our arrival at the Platanos, my wife and I had done as we often do, threaded our way through the tiniest back alleys and walkways, enjoying the very acceptable temperature at this time of the year. We'd earlier struck up a conversation with a fella who was sealing the flat roof on his single-storey house, in readiness to fend off the coming winter rains. He was a portly, jolly man of somewhere in his sixties I'd guess, since he was evidently not yet quite old enough to feel the need to to declare his age to us. He'd descended the ladder from his rooftop and was rummaging around in his apothiki for an attachment for his electric drill. It was one of those things that resembles a huge mixer, the giant version of that thing you whisk eggs with in the kitchen. He was going to stir his pot of white paint before applying it to the surface above.

 Standing in the avli also was his wife, who was busying herself baking bread. The smell was irresistible and so we entered through their gate to see the woman withdrawing freshly-baked loaves from the oven, which of course was the old traditional type, fuelled by wood and situated out in the yard. You so often still see these ovens in the villages and they usually bear the evidence of frequent use. Not for ladies such as this one the thought of buying a breadmaking machine, or even of preparing the dough and using her modern oven in the kitchen. No, she was using the method employed for millenia in this part of the world and perfectly sensible this was too. No charge for the energy used, since the wood was free. Very green, eh?

As she used the long wooden paddle to draw out the loaves and rolls that were ready, we also noticed that packed into the oven along with the bread were large sprigs of sage. In the 2nd of the two photos below, you can see a loaf that she'd just taken out, still piping hot and sitting on a bed of sage sprigs on the rough old patio table, bottom of picture.

After we'd enjoyed a pleasant conversation, during which, of course they'd found out where we lived, how long we'd lived there, whether we own our own house and whether we had children, what we did for a living, how many fillings we had (OK, just joking on that one) and various other details the like of which a British conversation would never go near until we'd at least known each other for a while and become firm friends. The Greeks think nothing of this, what we British might call prying, it's their culture. They ask very direct questions and one needs to get used to it, otherwise one could take offence and that would be unwise and unnecessary. It's the culture, pure and simple. of course, once they learned that my wife had a Greek mother that was all they needed to know. "You're Greek then!" The woman declared, evidently satisfied that here was someone who was virtually her kith and kin.

After a conversation of probably ten minutes or so, we began to bid them good day and the woman wouldn't let us leave without giving us that first loaf that she'd just taken out of the oven. "No, NO! Don't go yet. You must take some bread with you!" She declared, as she disappeared in through her kitchen door, then re-emerged with a length of kitchen roll, which she wrapped around the loaf, which was still sitting on the sprigs of sage, and handed it to me.

How do you show apreciation for little acts of kindness like that? The answer is you can't, at least not in any way that seems adequate. As we walked back up the hill toward the car the heat from that loaf was transferring itself to my hands and it was all I could do not to scoff the whole thing there and then. Once back at the car I placed it in the boot (trunk. I'm sure you're used to this by now! The web is sooo international, that's the trouble) and off we went to meet our friends at the Platanos.

 The Platanos is run by Manolis and his British partner Denise. They have been running it now for about a year, having previously been the proprietors of the Lazy Days café at Gennadi. After renewing acquaintance with Manoli we sat down and set about the serious business of putting the world to rights with our two friends over a few frappes and an Elliniko. It was then that the spritely octogenarian approached to bid us kalimera and was soon making it evident that he'd appreciate a conversation if we had the time.

The small car to the right is parked just below the Igkos Taverna (see text further down)
Nikolaos was probably about 5 foot five, but his body bore evidence that in years past he'd been somewhat taller. Although the distance from his blue check flannel shirt collar to his trouser belt was evidently not as great as it had been, he still carried himself with dignity and was well turned out, with smart polished shoes on his feet. He had a square face with nothing like as many lines as some of his age carry, and a very good head of white, swept-back wavy hair.

After the conversation had gone on for a few minutes our friend Kostas bade our visitor sit down and we ordered him an Elliniko too. He was all too pleased to accept the invitation. Every time I converse with some of his generation I can't help reflecting on what he's lived through. He'd have been about 5 or 6 when the Nazis came here and could no doubt remember some pretty awful events from his early years. He told us quite early on in the chat that he'd written a couple of books about the history of the island and his village in particular. They had all been written in rhyme too, a fact which he bore out by answering not a few of our questions with some fairly elongated quotes from his work, all in very well composed rhyming couplets. He could rattle off a couple of minutes worth, and not only was that remarkable, but the pieces he'd recite would also answer our questions about the past of the village and the island.

After probably fifteen minutes or so an ambulance, roof lights flashing, sped up the lane below us and stopped at the Igkos Taverna (which features fairly heavily in this post from May 2011). This alarmed us because we know the owner, Panagiotis, and someone who came in to update everyone seated on the terrace told us that the ambulance was for him. It seems he'd collapsed and they couldn't bring him around. Theories tended to revolve around the possibility of a heart problem, but whatever the cause, it threw a damper on things as everyone who knows Panagiotis likes him. Considering the location of this village, the ambulance had done wonders to arrive within about fifteen minutes of being called. We do hope that Panagiotis will make a full and speedy recovery.

As our time with Nikolao was winding up, one of his contemporaries strode up the slope to the terrace and decided to get in on the act. He seemed particularly to want to tell us about the village school, just opposite and behind the church. I'd asked him about the work situation and the fact that so many of the younger generation are deserting the villages these days. 

"Yes," he said, "That school used to have over 40 pupils."
"How many does it have now?" I asked him, "twenty, maybe?"
His response was to purse his lips and tilt his head back, a Greek "no". 
"What, 15 or less?" I postulated.
"Makari!" he said, "be lucky if there are ten pupils in there now."

Greece it seems is a couple of decades behind the UK in this, but a similar migration is occurring. As more and more working folk leave their villages to find employment in the towns and cities, or the youth go off to pursue a career, something which would be an impossibility in a tiny hillside village like this one, so the properties become empty and decay sets in. Then the better off move in, snap them up and so the community becomes a community of well-off folk who either commute or use the homes for summer retreats, or perhaps let them to tourists. Thus the heart slowly drains from the village communities. It's sad, but something about which not much can be done in the kind of world we now inhabit.

So many of the British villages from the areas we used to live are now packed with expensive Mercedes, BMW's or 4x4's parked on gravel drives, where in decades past there would have been modest family saloons, if not a tractor even. Village schools are now community halls, where the odd flower show takes place and no one really knows eachother or pulls together like the tightly knit local communities of old. Hey ho. Here I go again. Fings aint what they used to be...

On our way home we were tantalised by the aroma of that warm loaf sitting in the back of the car. When we got into the house I placed the loaf on the table near the French windows and photographed it again...

She even gave us the sprig of sage.
Tell you what though, we'd thoroughly enjoyed the sagacity of the old men on Laerma, not to mention the fact that on Oct 31st we were sitting outside in warm sunlight, enjoying good company. 

And the taste of that bread, with the faint aroma of sage permeating it, was something else. It soon got sawn up, anointed (in my case) with some Danish Blue cheese and washed down with a glass of red wine.

Might just attempt another pass by that house some time soon, on the pretext of seeing how he got on with his roof. 

And anyway, we shall be hoping to hear good news about Panagiotis, from the Igkos Taverna.