Sunday, 16 October 2016

Fancy Meeting You/Ladies Second (!?)

Stacy and I. She's not a stranger any longer of course.
I forgot to mention in the post "Above and Beyond" something else that happened the last time I was on Halki. There I was sitting supping my tonic in the harbour-front café and being all modern and checking my e-mails on the iPod after having seen my guests off to go exploring when this stranger approached and asked me if I was indeed John Manuel. 

Now, I know what you're thinking, "He's got delusions now. Thinks he's a mega star." Well, there's no need to worry on that score. Have to be honest though, this kind of thing does happen a little more often this past year or two than it used to. I'm only grateful that I'm not a huge household name, because for those folk who are this must happen to them far too often and it no doubt taxes their patience no end.

In my case, however, it's a total delight because I'm always thrilled when someone I've never met tells me that they read my scribblings and derive some pleasure out of them. So, as Stacy Buffham introduced herself I was once again amazed at the power of the internet. Oddly enough she told me that she usually went to another island, Tilos I think, but as I've left this a couple of weeks before mentioning it she'll forgive me if I'm wrong. She'd only come to Halki because she couldn't get in at her preferred destination, but was now so glad that she'd ended up here on Halki.

As usual the island had worked its charm and she was smitten. I've never met a Grecophile who wasn't. Anyway, she and I chatted for probably half an hour before she very graciously decided that she ought to leave me be, despite my assurance that since I wasn't going anywhere for another few hours it was quite nice to have some company. She was, however, conscious of having sprung herself on me without warning and so felt it better not to outstay her welcome. She explained that, having come to Halki she half expected that she might spot me, since as a reader of my "ramblings" she knew that I would be on the island some time during the week.

Just on that thought of the power of the internet, there have been a couple of instances during the past year or two that have astounded me. I was gardening at home a while back when a car drew up outside the gate and a Greek man got out, came to the gate and called for my attention. He and his relatives will forgive me if I again get some details wrong, but the essence was that he lived in Asklipio, but had also lived in Australia for some years and still has relatives over there. His aunt, sister or cousin, or something like that had recently told him that he was now living within a few km of yours truly and, using his intuition from descriptions he'd read in my writings about where we live, he'd come to see if he could find me.

His aunt wanted him to tell me that she was a fan of the blog and so, once he'd established that it was in fact me, he asked if I'd sign a copy of one of the novels so that he could send it off to Australia as a gift. To say I was amazed is to grossly understate things.

I've done my last excursion for this season, sadly. Well, there is a slim possibility that I'll do Rhodes Town again on Tuesday, but it's not very likely, especially after the kind of season we've just had. I am always slightly fazed when the work stops because it's not often possible to wish my friends on the boats, on Halki or in Rhodes Town a kalo heimo'na because I never know that I'm actually there for the last time. What usually happens is the office will call me the following week and say "that's it, we're done." 

On board the Madelena, during a Bay-to-Bay excursion.

Know where this is then?

So I probably won't see my colleague Mihalis again until next season. He amuses me often because he's the first Greek I've actually worked with who's doing excursions. So, needless to say he behaves differently to the xe'noi, the other reps from other countries, like me. On Halki, while the other reps are going for a swim, or perhaps sitting for hours in a café or taverna, Mihalis will be whizzing by on someone's scooter, or perhaps driving someone else's pickup to give a few tourists a lift to the beach or to their accommodation, having met them on the boat coming over. Now and again he'll tootle past on the back of a scooter with a Halkiot friend, fishing tackle clutched in his hands as they nip off to a remote bay for a spot of psa'rema. Just a couple of weeks back he caught two yermanos (dusky spinefoot) and, arriving at my table at Babis Taverna, presented them to me in a carrier bag and told me I could take them home for the barbie. Didn't he want them himself I asked. "Nah," he replied, "already got loads." Mihalis has a master plan and it involves retiring to Halki, where he dreams of a small waterfront home with a βάρκα tied up just outside in which he'll go fishing every day to catch his family's supper. Can't knock a dream like that really.

The Halki team. Mihalis is on the left.

The other day we were invited by some Greek friends to a meal at their home in the remote village of Kattavia. The hosts are a delightful senior couple who actually live (as they have done for many years) in Baltimore, US. There the family have a restaurant (no surprises there then) and their grown-up kids have kids of their own, thus making it very difficult for our friends to move back to Rhodes in their retirement. The house in Kattavia was the home of the wife's mother, who died a year or two back, but as is their habit, our friends come over here every summer for several months, during which Makis, the husband, will beaver away doing maintenance on the property, which is an immaculately maintained cottage built around three sides of a generously-proportioned courtyard. There is a modest orchard to the side, packed with mature fruit trees, all of which have a abundance of unripe fruit hanging on them right now. Inside the cottage there is the traditional stone archway, adding to the old-world feel of the place. They're considering putting it on the market, but are still loathe to do so, since it carries decades of family memories for Stella, the wife, who grew up there.

The guests for the recent soirée numbered about twenty adults and probably four or five children of that "running all over the place" age. At this time of the year we had to arrive at around 6.00pm to get there whilst there was still some daylight, but we all sat in the courtyard as the sky darkened and the stars all popped out and began twinkling to order, the women wrapping light cardigans around their shoulders as the darkness took hold. Me and the beloved couldn't complain though, after all it's the middle of October and here we all were having an al fresco evening with good friends.

Owing to the numbers Stella had decided to do the food as a buffet so that everyone could go and help themselves. She'd done us proud with a sumptuous spread of traditional Greek food, including a plate of chick peas done in a lemon and herb sauce that was simply awesome. There were portions of fried fish, dolmades, a chicken dish for the meat-eaters, a selection of salads and a baked aubergine dish which was also superb. Some of our fellow guests turned up with tapsis full of moussaka, or even cheesecake, so there was no shortage of tucker. All in all a perfect evening. As soon as the food was ready one of the senior male guests was called on to offer brief thanks to the Creator before everyone was invited to head for the food. Makis was unceasing in his tour among the guests wielding a couple of bottles of wine, one a white medium and the other a dry red. As usual the women by and large went for the former and the men the latter, apart from those who opted for a beer of course.

While the younger children gathered in knots in the corner of the courtyard, their faces glowing in the light of their mobile phones as they busily shared texts and games together, the adults were called upon to head for the food. This was when I discovered something about the culture that I don't remember having noticed before. It was something that, if I'm honest, didn't sit too well with me, but then, it's not my place to set about trying to change things. Back in the UK, on occasions such as this I'd always hope that a few other guests, especially women and girls, would serve themselves first, so as for me not to appear either greedy or inconsiderate. I'd hang back a while, albeit with some degree of difficulty! Here though I found that all the women stayed glued to their seats while the men set about the food first. It's the age-old custom, the women subservient to their men, who get first pickings. I tried to suggest that the women and girls might like to go to the buffet before me, but they were having none of it. They reacted with disbelief. No! You're a man, you must fill your plate first and then we women will follow. The only exception to this would be if a woman went to the food to fill a plate for her husband either because he can't be bothered to go himself, or perhaps because he is unable due to some physical impairment.

That kind of throwback to a former age takes some adjusting to.

Right then, if you'd like me to sign anything, form an orderly queue... 😝


  1. As you've already signed a book for me, John, might I ask you to sign a blank cheque in my favour instead?! My pounds won't buy nearly enough euros for my liking!

    1. I'd be delighted, only, would you believe it, I seem to have developed a bad case of writer's cramp...

  2. Hi John

    Was a pleasure to met you and thank you for making me feel so welcome. I had actually spied you earlier with your clipboard and your guests on the harbour front whilst Meni from Nisia holidays was entertaining us at our welcome meeting.

    You were correct in that I usually go to Tilos in October. I seem to recall that you have some friends there so get yourself and the Missus over there. Whilst it may not be as picture postcard perfect as Halki there is just something about the place that calls you back time and time again. Unfortunately for the past 3 years the UK flights no longer tie up with the transfer to the island with the demise of the island's boat The Sea Star (sob). However, I have been returning to Halki every May for about 15 years. Again, there is something that just keeps calling you back and both islands feel like home from home - with sun!

    Of course that thing that keeps calling you back is the islanders philoxenia but this is true of any where in Greece and why I shall always be a philhellene :0)

    Look forward to seeing you in May next year perhaps and in the meantime I shall continue to look forward to and enjoy your ramblings.

    Bye for now

    1. There you are folks, Stacy's real!! I didn't make her up! See you in 2017 Stacy, have a good winter. Καλό χειμώνα.

  3. Hi John

    Thank you, you too. It'll be a new year and a new season all too soon!

    Forgot to send you these links for the Tilos & Halki YouTube videos I may have mentioned:

    60' Ελλάδα - Τήλος 17-3-16 -
    60΄Λεπτά Ελλάδα στη Χάλκη (19/6/2016) -

    (Sorry cannot seem to format these as hyperlinks)


    1. Thanks for the links Stacy. I had seen the Tilos one, but somehow missed the one about Halki. I know almost everyone it it too! Have placed a post about it on the "Publications" Facebook page. The hyperlinks don't work in comments on the blog, but they do work in the e-mail I get when you post it for approval.