Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cough, please!

It all began with a casual conversation in the local Gré Café here in Kiotari. Late last year and pretty soon after an event called "Help For Health" had taken place at the Lindos Reception café/bar I bumped into a couple of people I know from down in our part of the island and I asked them why they hadn't been there. My friends suggested that they'd like to see one done for our local health centre in Gennadi. The event had raised over a thousand Euros for the local health centres at Lindos and Arhangelos. Plus, as I only learned later, they also sent a box of supplies to the health centre at Gennadi.

The fact is, though, that all the local doctors' surgeries across Greece are in crisis owing to a severe lack of funds. They often don't have the money for even the basics they need to service the immediate health needs of thousands of people living within their catchment areas and they very much need support from people in those areas in order to keep going.

Thus was born the idea of running a modest little fundraiser down here in Kiotari and donating the entire proceeds to the Gennadi Health Centre. The event went well, held in the garden of Julia, a local ex-pat who's lived here for much longer than we have and, if you've already seen the Facebook page, you may know that we ended up with a grand total in cash of €735, which far exceeded what I'd hoped to make in my wildest dreams. I've mentioned this before, but in case you didn't know, I even received a generous contribution of €50 via PayPal from a reader of my books and blog in Alaska, such is the reach of the internet (and thank you again Judy!).

Owing to the crazy system that operates here in Greece we couldn't simply chuck the money at them and let them get on with it, because if we'd done that then in all probability someone from the tax office would have been down there like a shot and relieved them of half the cash, if not more. I'm not even going to express my view of that little loophole, suffice it to say that any sane person would probably agree with me!

So, we had to present them with a little certificate telling them what we'd made, then set about ordering whatever stuff they needed to keep the place going. To begin with lots of mundane yet essential things had to be bought in; stuff like pens, rubber stamps and pads (yea, I know, they still sooooo love those everywhere you go in this country, don't they), prescription pads, even toilet rolls. Anything that they couldn't afford to stock up with they were able to replenish with some of our cash.

Doctor Nikos, who runs the place and to me seems still a child (He's probably 40 if he's a day, and a very charming and dedicated man I might add), then set about organising a blood-testing programme using our cash to test locals for diabetes and cholesterol (maybe a couple of other things too, I dunno!). During the week of 15-21 February we heard from Dr. Niko that he'd like us (the sort of unofficial committee that's developed through the running of the event) to be present at the Health Centre at 11.00am on Sunday the 21st, where he planned to show his appreciation for the help that's been received by the Centre. Other than that we had no idea what he had in mind. Maybe a quiet chat in his office as an update on all the stuff we 'd bought and what else we could do with the remaining cash, maybe a photo opportunity, we didn't know.

When I got to the Heath Centre at just before 11.00am, I was rather surprised to see quite how many vehicles were parked outside. Once I got inside it was pandemonium. There were patients all over the place, standing and sitting, either waiting their turn for a blood test (see above) or holding a piece of cotton wool with the fingers of one hand in the crick of the elbow on the opposite arm, evidently having already had their blood taken for the test. There were ya yas with their headscarves firmly in place and old pappous with walking sticks. Staff were threading their way among the throng, trying to get their work done. There were also lots of smartly dressed gentlemen and ladies standing around waiting for something to happen and an anti-room where they'd set up a table with refreshments for those attending.The news had spread fast about the blood test programme and this was why there were so many patients present on a Sunday morning.

I found my fellow conspirators all huddled in the room with the refreshments and we began speculating on quite what was going on.  One thing was for sure, it was much bigger than just an event about us and our little venture. Something else was going down and we decided that we were just a sideshow, maybe Dr. Nikos would find us in the crowd, thank us and then we'd be on our way. Frankly, that would have suited us fine anyway.

It didn't turn out that way though. We didn't have long to wait, because at around 11.30am we were summoned up the steps, through the double doors and into Dr. Nikos' consulting room, which had been thrown open to receive as many attendees as could crush in there. On the far wall someone had unfurled and hung a banner advertising the work of the local Lions Club, an organisation that I remembered from my younger days in Bath, where I grew up, but had no idea was operating in Greece and especially here on Rhodes. Dr. Nikos, once he was satisfied that all those who mattered were within hearing distance, began a speech of thanks for all the voluntary support that the Centre had benefited from during the last 12 months or so. On his desk behind him, there were about 8 framed certificates, which he was evidently planning to hand out to various people.

I felt quite moved that we'd been invited to witness the event. Nikos had trouble keeping it together as he explained with great eloquence how tough life is for the centre and how hard it is for it to keep going in the face of the severe lack of financial wherewithal. The man cares about what he does and it was very evident in his words and facial expression.

After a while he lifted the first of the framed certificates and called the first recipient to him to receive it. Those receiving one included a local hotel owner who puts plenty of financial support their way, the Lions Club representative of course, one or two older ladies with their perms firmly in place, evidently philanthropists, and then, entirely out of the blue, Dr. Nikos looked right at me and announced that they were indebted to "Help For Health Gennadi" for their sterling efforts at fundraising and he gave me, yes ME one of the certificates. 

Here are a few photos...

Doctor Nikos is just about to start his speech

The moment when he looked for me among the throng (there were plenty more people spilling down the steps behind me)

He gets passionate in his explanation of how hard it's been procuring essentials

Ditto. Plus, the equipment on the chairs includes what the Lions Club and we had bought. 

The local hotel-owner gets his certificate

Our sort of unofficial committee, Pete, me, Julia, Maggie and Viv

All the rest knew the lady on the right. I didn't! But she was very nice!!

Our certificate.

So, folks, it only remains for me to say that this certificate is for every man-jack (and woman-jack!) of those who supported the event, from near or far. The effort made and the cash contributed is very much appreciated by Doctor Nikos and his team. Plus, I don't know how many locals now have a better idea of their chances of getting problems with diabetes or high cholesterol, but they wouldn't have been able to have that test done so close to home were it not for the sterling folk who turned out to make the event work.

There have been suggestions about doing this event regularly. TBH, I wouldn't have the time to organise it. Plus, with all the other "charitable" fund-raisers going on it would be pushing local ex-pats too far to do it too often. But this time next year? In all probability I'll be having another go.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Fulsome Trees and Flat Tyres

Had a stroll along Haraki sea front last Thursday. That's where the above shot was taken. 

Yesterday though, we had coffee with a couple of friends who live just outside of the village of Gennadi. They have an almond tree that's simply stunning right now. It was 25ºC, a good 5 to 7 over the expected temperature for a sunny day in February.  I asked if I could snap a shot of the tree because it's amazing and surrounded by the busy hum of thousands of honey bees. Magical, quite magical...

The plant below is one that we used to have in a pot in our conservatory back in the UK. Here lots of people, ourselves included, have them in pots or in the ground out in the garden. Ours, however, have seen their leaf clusters grow progressively smaller until the plant is all stalks. Our friend's version, though looks like this right now...

What's thrilling about those yellow, cone-shaped flower clusters is that they display quite clearly the fibonacci sequence. Now, I'm not going to go too far down this road, but logic tells me that design is very evident in the natural world when one looks at such wonders (No preaching at me through your comments OK? Good, ta. Grant me this please!).

What's galling is that our versions of that plant would have a problem keeping any sense of pride were they to be paced alongside these. Anyway, returning to that tree, here's another shot...

The title of this post, though, also involves "flat tyres". This is a reference to the fact that my wife could have been killed by a 90+ year old local driver when we were on a walk along the beach road last week. Well, TBH, it's more to do with what happened to the driver of the rogue ropey and ragged pickup, just after he'd swerved around a bend on the wrong side of the road and almost disappeared into the undergrowth.

I remember hearing him coming up around a curvy bend, just above the beach, turning to watch and seeing him careening off the road (on the wrong side too as it happened), running his two offside tyres over some pretty rough grit, dirt and discarded detritus on the verge, before again getting all four tyres back on to the asphalt and trundling on past us as we walked. Only moments before this my dearly beloved had been on that very spot, since we quite often end up on each side of the road whilst keeping an eagle eye out for discarded beer bottles to recycle, not to mention the odd piece of good 'burning' wood for the log-burner at home. Had the pickup been a few seconds earlier he would have collected my wife on his bonnet (hood, guys. Not, however, the "little red riding" version).

After the vehicle in question had coughed its way past us and disappeared around the next bend, we remarked on the difficulty it seemed to be having with staying not only on the correct side of the road, but also on the road itself.

About ten minutes later, we approached that self same vehicle, which scarcely had a single panel that didn't have a dent or scrape which no doubt could tell an interesting tale, as it was now stationary on the left hand-side of the road (the wrong side again) and we could see a couple of feet protruding out on the tarmac from the front end. It appeared at first as though it had run someone over.

Drawing up alongside and taking in the scene, we could tell that the driver was trying to get a rather ancient hydraulic jack to lift the front end of the truck, but with limited success. It was this type of jack (right), only several centuries older than the one in this picture.

The driver was prone on his back grappling with the somewhat bent jack handle and not managing to get very far with actually pumping up the jack itself. As is her usual habit in situations like this, my better half thrust a hand against the small of my back and suggested that I may want to give the poor fella a helping hand.

As it happened, the driver proved to be a very ancient bloke. We later learned from his own lips that he was well past 90 and lives in Asklipio, the nearest village to where we live. He was on his way home in the late afternoon with a couple of plastic crates of shopping in the bed of the truck, both of which were in danger of never making it home since they had been vibrating themselves slowly toward the back of the bed, where the rear tailgate was conspicuous by its absence.

As I approached to ask the man if I could be of any assistance, he struggled on to his backside, then on to his feet (with an extended hand-up by yours truly) and expressed his appreciation while gesturing with both hands at the jack with the words, "You think that's a good jacking point?"

It was, in fact, not the correct place to put the jack, but it seemed a strong enough part of what was left of the ancient vehicle's chassis and so I assumed the prone position that he'd just vacated and began pumping on the ancient handle. Fortunately the jack rose and the driver's-side wheel began to lift, thus allowing the evidently punctured tyre to assume its normal profile again.

The tyre needed replacing all right. And not just because he'd just sustained a puncture. There was very little indication of it ever having had what we would call 'tread' and there was plenty of canvas in evidence, not to mention deep cracks in the walls. Gets his money's worth out of his rubber does this guy. Working at the jack handle, I continued to get the front raised up enough to make it worth trying to loosen the wheel nuts with his also ancient wheel-spanner, which was one of those simple bent lengths that are only about a foot long, if that.  Like the one in the photo, but with much more rust.

Anyway, once I'd got the thing high enough to have a go at the wheelnuts, I became aware of a slightly damp feeling on the leg of my jeans from where they'd been pressed to the road surface as I 'worked'. There was indeed a damp patch on the otherwise bone-dry road surface. How could this be? It was a wall-to-wall blue-sky day after all. It was then that I noticed the equally damp patch on the trousers of the poor bloke I was trying to help, only the location of the patch on his trousers testified to where the dampness had come from. He was over ninety, after all.

Approaching the first of the five wheel-nuts with the spanner, I gave it a pump with my foot to try and get it started. No joy. After trying all five there was still no joy. Not one of them would budge a milimeter. At this point it occurred to me to ask if he did indeed have a spare, to which he replied, "Yes, I do" and reached over the side of the truck to lift it over. He just about managed this and dropped the still-inflated (wonder of wonders) spare on to the road beside the wheel that we were trying to get off. Needless to say, the condition of the spare was scarcely any better than the one with the puncture.

By the time I'd made several more attempts to loosen the wheel-nuts, a crowd was beginning to gather. Well, when I say a crowd, this was a rural coast road with a fairly sparse population along it, but we attracted the attention of a local Greek lady who does a lot of walking and we often pass her on this road. She noticed that when I belted the wheel-brace with a hammer (I found it in the back of the truck), it would spring right off the nut and on to the floor. So she offered to hold the end of the wheel-brace with her foot while I gave it a bash. We weren't getting very far when Roland, a local ex-pat from Germany, happened by, since his house was just around the corner. He spat on both palms, asked if he could have a go and set to with the wheel-nuts while I took a welcome break.

All the while the truck's owner was offering profuse apologies for putting us all out like this and also thanking us endlessly for nevertheless doing what we could. We didn't like to tell him that we thought it highly likely that he oughtn't to be driving. In fact, while Roland, slightly better built than I as he is, managed to loosen the wheel-nuts, which gave off the distinct impression that they hadn't been off that axle for many a long year. Tom, another British ex-pat who lives next door to Roland, then appeared with his three dogs.

Tom asked us what was going on and we all chipped in with our tales about how we had struggled to get the wheel off and how our unfortunate ancient friend had been driving rather erratically and had probably sustained the puncture during one of many forays off of the actual road surface. Tom, as it turned out, knew the old codger. He proceeded to tell us that it was Panayiotis, father of Manolis (and various others) from up the village and his son had taken the pickup's keys from his recalcitrant father on more than one occasion, telling him that he wasn't to drive any more under any circumstances.

Fat lot of good it did. Τhe crafty old boy would somehow discover the keys and would soon be whizzing off down the road again, despite the fact that he could hardly see, could hardly hear (we all had to speak rather loudly to make ourselves understood, but only with limited success) and would often end up driving all over the road. It was a miracle that he hadn't already killed either himself or someone else.

Despite hearing all this, we couldn't help liking the man and he was almost brought to tears by the efforts that four virtual strangers were making to get him rolling again. After all, it was not much more than half an hour to sunset by now and he was still 5 km from home.

Eventually Roland and I managed to get the wheel with the flat tyre off of the axle and, with a lot of jiggling, finally got the spare into place and the wheel-nuts back on. Lowering the jack a little to make sure that the wheel touched ground and wouldn't spin, I tightened the nuts up as much as I could and Roland gave the wheel-brace a belt on each nut with his foot, just to be sure.

Just when we were congratulating ourselves on a good deed done, whilst also looking with dismay at our totally blackened hands, which meant that scratching one's face was going to leave a fetching black smudge, and Panayiotis was thinking about getting back behind the steering wheel, Roland said,

"I don't think you'll be going anywhere just yet."

Noticing the puzzled looks on all of our faces, since we'd just (so we thought) got the old boy mobile again, Roland pointed toward the rear of the vehicle.

The rear tyre was flat as a pancake.

 It seems I'd got the old man's wee wee on my jeans for nothing.

Thursday, 18 February 2016


A lot of people who read my blog are fans of Pefkos and, in particular, the Finas Hotel, which has a very large repeat-visit rate. Sorry, I sound a bit hopeful there using the term "a lot of people", eh? Still, never mind, one can dream.

Anyway, pressing on regardless, the handful who do know the Finas and may be hoping to return there this season, 2016, may also be interested to see the two photos I took just yesterday, since I had occasion to drive past the Finas.

I knew that the hotel had changed tour operators for 2016, something which I'm quite sad about personally, because I do excursions for Olympic Holidays (the holiday operator, nothing to do with the Olympic Airline) and they've had the Finas exclusively for many years. For 2016, though, Thomas Cook now have the Finas and you can have a look at the booking rates by clicking this link.

The hotel is right now undergoing a radical re-fit, so radical in fact that you may not even recognise it from these two photos, taken in 24ºC heat just yesterday, February 17th...

As usual, clicking on the photo gives you a larger view, same applies below too of course.

The fact is, this isn't a touch of titivation, not even a lick of paint here and there. No, the whole place has been gutted, meaning that anyone staying there this coming season is in for a very different experience from what they may have had previously. Dunno if the prices this year are going to reflect that too though.

TBH I've almost given up reading tripadvisor, owing to the fact that so many posts seem to betray hidden agendas that it got so that you couldn't really trust a lot of what was said there any more. The Finas in fact has had some quite mixed reviews, yet in my experience folk who've stayed there have known what to expect from a budget hotel and by far the majority of my excursion guests have liked, even loved the place and that's why so many return year after year.

Olympic may have lost the Finas, but if you're a regular guest with them you'll hopefully be pleased to learn that they do have a few new hotels and apartment blocks on their books for the Lardos-Pefkos-Lindos area. In fact for 2016 they have the Lindos Gardens exclusively (Thomson did have an interest, but it's not on their website this year) for the first time as I understand it. 

If you'd like to see what they have on offer, click here then scroll down and look at the left hand column, where you'll find this box (see left).

Of course, you can then click on whichever of the areas of Rhodes that may interest you to see a list of accommodations offered by Olympic in 2016.

Whatever you're planning for this coming season, I hope that a visit to Greece is on your agenda. The recent two-part destruction of Greece's image by Simon Reeve on the BBC may have put some off, but to be honest, though what he showed may have been true, he did rather concentrate on the negatives, whilst only slipping in a few positives here and there. I found myself, for example, while he was wringing his hands over the devastated shipbuilding and repair industry, shouting at the TV: "What about in the UK then? EH? Where's the British shipbuilding industry gone this past few decades?"

He also expressed righteous indignation over the exploitation of migrant workers in some strawberry fields. There's no defending such evident slavery, of course. But I found myself thinking back to the occasion not too long ago when a number of Chinese illegals were drowned by the quick tide while gathering cockles on a UK estuary. The exact same kind of exploitation was involved there, in the UK.

I know, I'm probably biased. Who isn't? But then again, what people come here for more often than not is the warmth of the people on a one-to-one basis, the food, the landscape, the history, the sea... No point preaching to the converted though is there.

So, as is quite normal for this time of the year, there are signs of building, decorating, gardening and cleaning beginning to gather pace as the preparations begin for this year's season.

For all the warts that this country displays, you still know you'll have a pretty good vacation if you come to Greece. That ought to be all that matters for most people, right?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Getting All Literary

An author and fellow "Admin" of my Facebook group "A Good Greek Read" is Englishwoman Kathryn Gauci, who now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Kathryn, a dedicated Grecophile, has a lovely website and you can visit it by clicking here. She used to live in Greece and has written a successful novel called The Embroiderer, which has gained some pretty impressive reviews on Amazon (that link is to the site, but if you want the UK one, or any others for that matter, you'll know to scroll to the bottom of the page and from there select whichever Amazon site you prefer to consult).

Recently, Kathryn interviewed me about my writings and, if you haven't already read it, you can read the interview by clicking HERE. So, I thought, as was the case with Chrissie Parker a while back, that it would be really nice to fire the same questions back to Kathryn as she had put to me, mainly because I believe my readers would be interested, but also of course, because she maintains a very informative website and blog, which you can get to through her website.

So, let's get started...

  1. Where do you live?
Melbourne, Australia.

  1. Can you tell us what your novel is about and what inspired you to write it?
The Embroiderer begins in the spring of 1822 during one of the bloodiest massacres of The Greek War of Independence when a child is born to a woman of legendary beauty in the Byzantine Monastery of Nea Moni on the Greek island of Chios. The subsequent decades of bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks simmer to a head when the Greek army invades Turkey in 1919. During this time, Dimitra Lamartine arrives in Smyrna and gains fame and fortune as an embroiderer to the elite of Ottoman society. However, it is her grand-daughter, Sophia, a couturier, who takes the business to great heights only to see their world come crashing down with the outbreak of The Balkan Wars, 1912-13. In 1922, Sophia begins a new life in Athens but when the Italians and Germans occupy Greece, the memory of a dire prophecy once told to her grandmother about a girl with flaming red hair begins to haunt her with devastating consequences.
The story unravels when Eleni Stephenson, an English woman living in London, is called to the bedside of her dying aunt in Athens in September 1972. In a story that rips her world apart, Eleni discovers the chilling truth behind her family’s dark past plunging her into the sensuous and evocative world of Orientalist art and Ottoman fashion, to the destructive forces of political intrigue, secret societies and espionage where families and friends are torn apart and where a belief in fate and superstition simmers just below the surface.
Set against the backdrop of the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, The Embroiderer is a sweeping family saga spanning several generations. Offering a fascinating insight into a forgotten world, it is a story of love and loss, hope and despair, and of the extraordinary courage of women in the face of adversity.
It was inspired by firsthand accounts from the Asia Minor Catastrophe refugees when I worked as a carpet designer in the refugee area of Nea Ionia/ Kalogreza in Athens in the 1970’s. During that time, I began to immerse myself in Greek history, especially the period under Ottoman domination. As a textile designer I also had an interest in the arts of that period.

3. Where in Greece is The Embroiderer set?
The prologue begins on the island of Chios and later returns to it. The rest is set in Constantinople, Smyrna and Athens, with a small section set in London.

    4. Why did you choose to set your novels in this particular place?
The Massacre of Chios in 1822 played an important part of The Greek War of Independence. Constantinople and Smyrna were the two major cities of the Ottoman Empire. The burning of Smyrna was a turning point in Greek/Turkish relations and Athens is where most Greek refugees from the Catastrophe ended up.
Massacre of Chios by Eugene Delacroix

Burning of Smyrna

       5. What is it about Greece that inspires you?
Living and working there gave me a great insight into the history, the people and the culture. It was an important period in my life and no matter where I am, my spiritual heart will always be in Greece.
       6. How did you come up with the title?
The Embroiderer was a natural title as so much of the early protagonist’s lives centred around embroidery and then fashion. It is one of the threads that carries the story. There is also a hidden meaning in this title which is not revealed until the end.
       7. How long did it take you to write your book?
Almost six years. Plus I could not have written it without my earlier experience in Greece and later, Turkey.
        8. The Greeks believed that ‘inspiration’ came from the muses, as well as the gods Apollo and Dionysus. Where do you believe inspiration comes from?
I do think some people are naturally more creative than others. Such people have an instinct that cannot be learned. The phrase “Let your imagination run wild” is true. Imagination knows no bounds but to gain it one needs to let go of conventions; to explore and be inquisitive. Children have this natural ability but lose it at as they develop due to the constraints society puts on them.
         9. The ancient Greeks created masterpieces in literature of such brilliance – poetry, tragedy, comedy and history – that have inspired, influenced and challenged writers and readers to the present day. Do you agree with this and if so, why do you think they remain an inspiration for later writers?
I think they opened up a whole new world for us. Suddenly literature in all its forms was recognized as contributing to our daily lives. They challenged us to think about who we are and how we interact with each other. 
         10. The author, Simon Worrall, states that historian, Adam Nicholson suggests in his book, 'Why Homer matters' that ‘a whole culture - not a single "Homer" created the Iliad and the Odyssey and that it is a mistake to think of Homer as a person'. He describes these great works as a metaphor for all our lives – struggles with storms. Do you agree with this theory?
That may be true. In a time when few people could read or write, the storyteller played an important role in people’s lives. Any good story teller worth his salt would have to create light and shade into his narrative; good versus evil, heroes and villains – struggles with storms. All this would gradually gather momentum to become an epic.
        11. Visitors to Greece and Greeks themselves make mention of its physical beauty – the light, the wine-dark sea of Homer and a diverse landscape. Would you agree with this?

When I see the soaring rugged mountains that gave birth to the gods, diverse villages that nestle among valleys or perch high on a mountain ridge, and when I inhale the scent of pine in an age-old landscape of olive groves, or view a cluster of islands floating in a sea of turquoise through a veil of translucent light, yes, I would definitely say that Greece is a land of great beauty.

12. Apart from the world of the gods, the Christian Orthodox religion played a significant role in shaping Greece’s culture. Do you believe that religion still plays an important role in Greek life?

Religion, or rather the sense of theatre which surrounds particularly the Greek Orthodox Church, is hugely important to most Greeks. My old boss in Athens – an atheist of the first order – once told me that in his opinion, Greeks love the pageantry and sense of occasion of religious festivals because it harks back to the glorious feast days of the gods, especially Dionysus – a reason to get together and have a good time. It’s also been my observation that Greek priests are a part of the everyday life of a community and their steadfastness in the face of Ottoman oppression only served to reassure the people that they were not only there to serve God, but the people themselves. I am not a religious person but I do think religion has contributed to giving us great art and some of the most beautiful and serene churches can be found all over Greece.

Kaisariani Monastery, Athens

13. Greece’s history has been a turbulent one and it is often said that “a man is his ancestry”. To what extent do you think this history has shaped the Greeks?

Their history is what binds them together and gives them a sense of shared identity. Greeks hold on to their past - good and bad - with pride. They have a great distrust of government and bureaucracy but given the fact that Greece has only been an independent country for a short time (just over one hundred years if we take into account the half of Greece gained after the Balkan Wars), and have suffered many wars and dictatorships in a short space of time, then this is understandable. In the end it has made them resilient.

         14. What would you say are the elements of the Greek spirit?
A love of life, pride in their country and who they are, and they are endowed with enormous generosity of spirit and hospitality. They are also naturally inquisitive and are not afraid to ask what often seems to an outsider, prying questions. Kazantzakis gives an excellent example of this in Zorba the Greek. I think this says it all.

“My maternal grandfather, who lived in a fair-sized Cretan village, used to take the lantern every evening and go round the village to see if, by chance, any stranger had arrived. He would take him to his house and give him an abundance of food and drink, after which he would sit on the divan, light his long Turkish pipe, his chibouk, and then turn to his guest – for whom the time had come to repay the hospitality – and say in a peremptory tone:
Talk about what, Father Moustoyorgi?”
What you are, who you are, where you came from, what towns and villages you have seen – everything. Tell me everything. Now speak!”

        16. What part of the research process did you enjoy the most?
I enjoy all the research, especially when I’m travelling. You can only get so much from books and the internet but nothing replaces the sights, sounds and smells of the real thing. I’m also rather talkative and so I love meeting people and hearing their stories.

        16. What are you working on now?
The current WIP is set in France during WWII. Much of the research was done whilst writing The Embroiderer, particularly the third part which is set in German occupied Athens from 1941-44. I am fascinated by anything to do with spies and the resistance. War changes people. It makes them do things they would never usually dream of. After that, I will be back in Ottoman Greece, between the years 1810 and 1821 – a tale set in Northern Greece just prior to The Greek War of Independence.
17. What are your typical working conditions? Do you have a special place to write and can you describe it for us?

I have a small room, surrounded by books, which opens onto a tiny patio filled with trees and bushes. It’s peaceful and I can spend hours there. Whilst I might notes everywhere else, it’s only in this room that I can pull it together.

And a few quick questions:

• What are your favourite books set in Greece by Greek or foreign authors?
Nikos Kazantzakis’s Freedom or Death, Christ Recrucified followed by Zorba the Greek – the book shows far greater insight into human nature than the film; any Patrick Leigh Fermor book, Leon Sciaky’s Farewell to Salonica: City at the Crossroads, Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi, Lawrence Durrell’s Prospero’s Cell, and Gerald Durrell’s My Family and other Friends. I am also a lover of Modern Greek poets such as Cavafy, Seferis and Odysseus Elytis. Plus there’s a growing ‘must read’ list of excellent authors who feature on A Good Greek Read.
• Favourite type of Greek music?
Yianni Parios and Haris Alexiou. I have been playing their records for years. Hadzikakis and Theodorakis. I also love the classic Rembetica musicians such as Vamvakaris and Tzitzanis.
Haris Alexiou

• Favourite Greek film?
Stella, the 1955 film directed by Michael Cacoyannis and featuring Melina Mercouri and Giorgos Foundas. Plus it has that great singer of the war years- Sofia Vembo. I also loved the serial, Who Pays the Ferryman
Stella - the film

• Favourite Greek monument, sculpture or painting?
Any archeological site, Byzantine monastery or Ottoman building – all of which I am in my element when viewing alone in the heat of the day with not a soul in sight.
• Favourite Greek food?
Baked prawns and fetta which I first had in 1972 in Mikrolimani, grilled lamb cutlets with lots of rigani and a generous amount of tzatziki, and for desert, heavenly cinnamon-scented loukamathes.
• Favourite Greek drink?
Plomari ouzo and retsina.
• Favourite holiday destination?
A difficult one. Perhaps Chios for the history and Karpathos for the unspoilt beaches.

And, finally...
Where can we buy the book?

Or direct from the publisher: Silverwood Books, Bristol, UK.

There you go folks. Hope you enjoyed Kathryn's comments and now maybe - go check out The Embroiderer!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sleepless in, um, er, well Kiotari

My right leg is very intelligent. No it is, really it is. When I'm lying there trying to go to sleep it'll wait just long enough before it begins either a regular spasm every, say, twenty seconds, or it'll simply scream at my brain that it has to move, whereupon I'll stretch it out like a ramrod or perhaps stick out of the side of the bed, but not for too long or my calf and foot will get too cold and then I'll have to get up and find my socks or make a hot water bottle anyway, thus surrendering to the leg's vindictiveness and admitting defeat.

That leg has a deal with my right arm too. If the leg decides that it'll give it a rest for a night, invariably it'll have instructed the arm to take over and I won't be able to find a position that's comfortable without it doing something similar to the leg. They're in league, I know they are.

I am an insomniac. When I was much younger I slept like a baby. No, that's not true because a Greek friend once told me (after his wife had produced their first sprog) "I sleep like a baby. I wake up every couple of hours and I cry a lot." No, I used to sleep like a log, that's a better analogy. But these days it's a rare night when I got to bed and sleep the night through, waking up refreshed and ready for another splendid day.

It's no joke having a body that has a sadistic streak I can tell you. This is what usually happens: My wife and I usually go to bed between 9 and 10 in the evening during the winter; maybe a little later in the summer months. Once in bed we'll both have a good book at the ready and we'll read for a while, waiting for that lovely feeling of sleepiness that usually you know has reached the right level when you've re-read the same paragraph four times and still can't get to the end before your eyes are closing. In my wife's case that may be half an hour after we've begun reading, even perhaps an hour. In my case it's invariably not more than fifteen minutes.

Here's where I'll illustrate what I mean about my body being sadistic. I'll be finding it impossible to stay awake while I'm trying to read and so I'll put my book down, take of the old reading glasses and reach for the bedside light switch, to the sound of the better half saying "But you haven't read more than five pages. You CAN'T go to sleep yet!"

I have no choice. At that precise moment I feel I could sleep for a week. So I'll turn off my light, turn over and 'tuck down' as we used to say in deepest Somerset when I was a young lad. For the first five or ten minutes it'll be OK. I'll be able to lie perfectly still and await that glorious moment when sleep drifts over you and you're half awake and half sinking into your first dream of the night. The problem is, just a smidgin before that point, the old right leg will start its party games. Before I know it, half an hour, maybe an hour, will have passed, by which time the other half will have switched off her light and be slumbering sweetly, whilst I'll be wide awake and getting fed up with constantly having to move. I can't stay awake while trying to read, and I can't sleep when I turn out the light. Great, eh?

I do, thankfully, have an iPod loaded with several thousand of my favourite pieces of music. Some nights I'll put in the phones, select 60 minute sleep mode and let the tunes shuffle away. More often than not though, I'll have become so restless within that hour that I find myself turning off the iPod and getting up, fumbling for my dressing gown and slippers in the dark so as not to disturb sleeping beauty beside me, then creeping out and closing the door. It's often at such times that I write this stuff. Just so you know, like.

Now, before, in your deep concern for my welfare, you reach for the keyboard to send me your dead cert solution to my problem, be aware - I've tried 'em all. No, truly, I have. I've tried drinking tonic water before going to bed, a tablet of B-complex vitamins, magnesium, B12 on its own, camomile tea, mountain tea, hot milk and honey, ginkgo biloba, valerian and a whole host of other stuff. I've tried not drinking certain things after midday and drinking other things that are supposed to send you to sleep. I've cut out chocolate and cheese, alcohol and other stuff, then cut them back in again when it made no difference whatsoever. I've researched about restless leg syndrome too, which it appears still really has the experts baffled, although I have a theory of my own that seems to make sense to me and I'l share it with you.

No, don't go away! Please! It helps to talk. See, I know that I am predisposed to low blood pressure. By and large the doctors say that if your blood pressure is on the low side it can be a benefit to your health and longevity. On the other hand, this is how I see it: I'm tall, OK? I'm over 6 foot and so my limbs are long. Now, bear with me on this, but once you get into bed and start trying to sleep your metabolism naturally slows, right? Good, so, see if you don't think this makes sense. As my metabolism slows then my heart rate drops and thus the blood pumping around my extremities begins having a spot of bother making it to the ends and back, thus causing involuntary spasms in a kind of automatic attempt to give the circulation a leg-up (appropriate analogy, eh?).

Also, lending some weight to this argument is the fact that if while in bed I (and I often do, 'cos I'm weird) need to empty my bo... - no, let me re-phrase that - need to pop to the bathroom for a session in the seating position, then that means that the muscles along the colon are working, thus further depleting the circulation to the rest of the body, yea? Cue leg making involuntary movements. I have found, to be honest, that if I make that visit and then go back to bed, sometimes it does result in my getting off to sleep before the leg realises what's happening.

Anyway, why on earth am I burdening you with my problems? Well, simply to say thank goodness for blogs like this one - Olive, Feta and Ouzo, by fellow Rhodes resident Amanda Settle. Then there's of course An Octopus in My Ouzo, by Jen Barclay. Dare I admit too that I do occasionally dip into the Greek Wives Club, run by Ekaterina Botziou. Since kick-starting the Facebook group "A Good Greek Read" almost exactly a year ago I've become acquainted also with blogs and websites by such members as Linda Fagioli-Katsiotas, who writes "The Nifi" from her home in Suffolk County, NY State USA.

Other members of AGGR include Kathryn Gauci, who regularly raises the tone with her fascinating and erudite posts. I have read Symi Dream on and off for many years now, since I've spent so much time on Symi that James' writings always stir a heart flutter in me. Effrosyni Moschoudi has a blog worth checking out too.

So, when I'm up in the wee small hours, at least I'm not short of reading material.

I'm off back to bed again now, it's 2.30am and I'm going to have a shot at beating that right leg at its own game.