Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Surprise Surprise

We had occasion to pass through Faliraki last Sunday. With perfect weather and a little time on our hands, we decided to take a small detour. We went somewhere we've been once or twice before, but really not stayed long enough to investigate. If you know Rhodes at all then you'll know that there's a mile or two-long-strip of huge hotels heading north on the coast road from Faliraki to Kallithea Springs. Not long after you pass the springs you approach the Koskinou area, which is preceded by yet more huge hotels. It's not my favourite place I have to be honest. 

I know some will disagree (and Koskinou itself is an exception, of course), but I have the feeling that true Greco-philes will side with me when I say that I fail to understand why people want to visit an island in Greece and stay in such accommodation, by which I mean these huge homogeneous hotels that, once you get inside the front gate, could be anywhere on the planet.

The interesting thing is that, between the area I call 'hotel alley' and the headland north of Kallithea Springs there is this forested area, right on the coast that, once you get off the main road, gives you the impression that those huge altars to tourism could not possibly be in such close proximity.

Round the headland above 'hotel alley', where you can glance back along Faliraki Bay, and pretty soon the only landscape is forest, which glimpses of the sea. Pretty soon you reach this spot (pic courtesy of Google Maps, please don't sue!) - 

This is heading north, away from Faliraki
See that entrance on the right in the above photo? well take it!! You'll soon find yourself in a small driveway between mature pines and edged by a low (and ever so slightly alarming) stone wall. Secreted in this area are a couple of wonderful rock and sand bays, the first of which sports a really lovely taverna called Nikolas. Cue photos...

You can drive down a part-dirt lane toward the taverna, then walk down this path to arrive at a true beauty spot.

Taverna Nikolas terrace.


It's easy to spot the sign directing you down the lane to the taverna.
We didn't have long, so I just snapped the photos and we made a mental note to be sure and go there to eat at the earliest opportunity. Don't know about you, but this taverna has everything I look for when eating a lazy lunch (or evening meal in high summer) on a Greek island. That link above is to the TripAdvisor page for this taverna and the reviews by and large are extremely encouraging. If this helps (again courtesy of Google Maps) here's the general area...

See that small headland at the bottom of the image, the taverna is nestled in that bay above it.

On an entirely different subject, we had some Greek friends over for dinner recently and they turned up with a couple of bottles. Things are improving. Traditionally if you invite Greeks they'll turn up with a box of diabetes-inducing cakes in one of those admittedly attractive boxes that the cake shops pack them in. They cost a small fortune anyway, but most of our friends these days know that we don't 'do' sickly cakes and stuff. OK, I might make the exception when it comes to bougatsa.

Anyway, these bottles; well one of them we knew, the other was this one...

If you like real wine - and by that I mean not the medium sweet supermarket stuff that seems to be ubiquitous these days - no, I mean a full-bodied dry red that goes perfectly with some crackers and cheese, well look out for this one.

It's a true local wine from Embona, the village which is the wine capital of the island of Rhodes and it's very - and I mean very - nice. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't buy a decent local wine in Rhodes. In fact there are loads, but this one was a surprise to me and a very pleasant one at that.

So, there you are, two surprises in one week. I need a lie down, maybe with a glass of wine...

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Life on a Greek Island ...or Two.

Jennifer Barclay is surely to be envied by many Grecophiles, since she's lived not only on one Greek island, but is now on her second. Like so many of us, she came here once and it got into her blood. Once that happens you're trapped. There's no way out. 

Jen has been running a hugely popular blog about her life first on Tilos, now Karpathos, plus various other far-flung parts of the globe, for a number of years. It's called "An Octopus in My Ouzo" which, incidentally, is also the title of her second book of Greek memoirs. Her first, "Falling in Honey" received a very warm welcome and no less than 94 of the 115 reviews on its Amazon UK page give it four or five stars.

Jennifer Barclay at a book signing in London recently.

So, in view of the foregoing, it's only to be expected that she'd turn up in my occasional list of authors who've been subjected to my fifteen questions. Interview number eight then is with Jen and I'm quite sure that all you Grecophiles out there who are hungry to read anything with a Greek connection will thoroughly enjoy her answers, not to mention her photographs.

Here goes then...

1. Where do you live?
With my partner and dog, a few minutes’ walk from the sea in a valley of olive trees known as Ayios Minas. We’re about 12km from Olympos in the north of Karpathos, one of the Dodecanese in the South Aegean, between Rhodes and Crete. For five years I lived on the island of Tilos, and from my village of Megalo Horio I could sometimes see Karpathos on the horizon, but had no particular interest in going there. Then I decided to visit Olympos for research, and never really left. Except to go back for the dog.

Lisa, the dog Jennifer went back for.

Olympos village, Karpathos.

2. What do you write about?
My first book, Meeting Mr Kim, was about three months I spent travelling around South Korea. Since 2011, when I moved to Greece, I’ve published two books set here: Falling in Honey, about my bumpy journey to life on Tilos, and An Octopus in my Ouzo, covering my first three years living on that tiny, beautiful island all year round, and my observations of how life works on an island with a population of about 500. 

3. Why Greece?
Life here is intense, colourful, beautiful and interesting – asking to be written about. 

4. How long does it take you to write a book?
Years. I don’t write full time as I also work as an editor and agent from my home office, and usually do something else to involve me in the community – now my partner and I work together at our taverna and rooms. And a lot of time goes into promoting my work, ensuring people hear about the books so I can keep on publishing them. So I must block off time to write. Then it usually takes quite a few drafts to shape my thoughts properly (I’ve had to rewrite my answers to this interview several times! [I am a man of infinite patience! - JM]). And I always need an editor to get rid of the lazy writing. However, every book is different, so maybe the new one won’t take as long… 

5. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Two things: the moment when you capture something beautiful in words, or quietly convey a message about something that seems important in life; and when you receive messages from readers saying they loved something you wrote.

6. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Escape. Escape from the mundanity of modern life, to a place where you can wander without modern boundaries, where if you meet people you will be made welcome, and all you need is time.

Escape? Know what Jen means... April on Eristos Beach, Tilos

Also Tilos.
Jen (plus Lisa the dog) with some new neighbours on Karpathos.
7. How do you come up with an idea for a book?
My first two books were based on journeys of different kinds. An Octopus in my Ouzo was different, more of a meditation on the idea of how islands and people have to break our boundaries to evolve. And a reaction to the idea some people have that life on a tiny island must be boring. 

8. How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
Once I start writing, I get completely immersed in it, and I find research quite fascinating. With An Octopus in my Ouzo, I wanted to quote a line from a poem that popped into my head one day as I was walking to Plaka beach, a poem I learned when I lived in Toronto. I started looking into the poet’s life, and it turned out that although she was Canadian, she’d been married to a Greek and spent some of the happiest days of her short life on a tiny Greek island.  

9. Which other authors do you read?
I read mainly literary fiction and inspiring or funny memoirs (by non-celebrities), and rarely read more than one book by the same author because I have to be quite widely read, working with books. Living somewhere remote gives a nice serendipity to what I read – I may pick up something someone leaves behind, a book I might not have bought, and am pleasantly surprised or at least learn something. At the moment I’m enjoying The Crocodile by Maurizio di Giovanni, because my client Yianni Xiros recommended it.

10. What's your preferred kind of music? 
Anything I can dance to – popular music with rhythm and beat. I’m more physical than cerebral. I’m indifferent to classical music and jazz.

11. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Yes – rembetika, old folk and pop songs, contemporary pop songs, the traditional music for festivals on the islands… Here in north Karpathos the men still play a weird kind of goatskin bagpipe called a tsambouna. But equally some of the romantic pop: I still melt a bit when I hear the opening notes of ‘An Eisai ena Asteri…’ [Beautiful song by Greek singer Nikos Vertis. - JM]

12. Favourite Greek dish?
Impossible to have a favourite. I love all kinds of food (with a few notable exceptions, e.g. snails), and love writing about food (cooking snails was great material for the book!). I actually provided the text for a book called A Literary Feast, which was a real pleasure to do – picking the great descriptions of meals from some literary classics, and creating recipes for them.  

13. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
The place I live. I grew up in a village in the Pennines in the north of England, so I feel most at home surrounded by hills and nature; and I love to hear the waves. 

Agios Minas Karpathos. Favourite place question? A no-brainer really!

14. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
Best place to start is: www.octopus-in-my-ouzo.blogspot.com
That has a contact form, so please feel free to make contact. 
My books are available online via Amazon and Book Depository
I’m very happy to be friends on Facebook.

Jen Barclay's latest Greek offering

15. And finally, reading device or real book?

Because I work with books, people are always sending me things to read on my computer, but I prefer a paperback for pleasure reading.

There you go folks. Jen's life is so full she gives me a headache. Ah, but then, she's a mite younger than me. Hope you enjoyed her answers and photos as much as I did. There's another in the pipeline, this time with a male author, but judging by the time he's taking to come back to me, I reckon he's re-writing his answers several times too, like Jen did!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017


My wife has always had a pre-disposition towards hay fever, without ever having had a full-blown bout of it. This past week she's been sneezing for Greece and only today we decided why. Spring is busting out all over. The orchard is full of trees sprouting buds and blossoms, the air has finally begun to warm up in preparation for the summer and the skies are bluer than blue. The bees are once again buzzing around our makeshift bird bath and we've seen the first swallows a swooping and a swirling above. it's 24ºC outside, yippee.

The forecasts are not showing any appreciable risk of rain for quite a while, which is a pity because a shower or two overnight would be ideal now. The log burner has burned its last log until some time next December and we're already weeding like crazy out in the garden.

Over in the orchard there are blossoms either fully out or bursting to do so on orange, lemon, apricot, plum and almond trees. The pomegranate is coming into leaf and so is the fig. It's all looking decidedly promising.

If we don't see some decent fruit on some of those trees this year I'll eat my hat. Shouldn't be too difficult, it's made of straw. I won't get caught like that again. Even dental floss wasn't enough to get all that cotton out from between my teeth the last time.

Tell you one thing, I'm not going near any of those trees with a watering can while the flowers are blooming. Not after the ear-bashing I got from Mihalis the agrotis the last time (check out this post).

Of course, there is another aspect to this time of the year that's not quite so welcome. The wildlife begins to stir. OK, so some of it's cuddly and cute, like the lizards that are already starting to bask on warm rocks and stones in the sunlight, the toads that come out at night and the tree frogs. The blackbirds are singing in the early evening and last Sunday, while we were driving along a dirt track to visit some friends, we had to stop and wait for a Hoopoe to finish a dust bath.

No, the problem with the wildlife (the livestock if you like - see chapter 2 of "Tzatziki For You to Say"), is the eight-legged variety. Those big stripey ones that can run like the clappers are once more out and about and presumably searching for a mate. Twice this week we've opened our shutters to have one drop on to the sill within inches of us, or even worse, into the runners that the windows slide along, and frighten the living daylights out of us. They just love lurking in the shutters, between the shutter and the mozzie net, while they're closed. Wind the shutter up in the morning and - plop! Instant heart failure. 

They also like to spin their silky white, pod-like webs in the channels of the mozzie net frames, which means that to be safe you have to take them out now and again and run a big screwdriver along the channel.

If one gets into the window runners it's a real problem getting at them because you have to try and get a kitchen utensil that will be narrow enough to probe the channel and then flick the fiend out, while the beast is trying to make itself as small as it can (and failing miserably) at one end or the other. If you flick it wrongly it could well fly inwards, into the house instead of outwards, thus enabling one to slide the window shut with as much despatch as one can without shattering the glass in the process. If it does come inward though, it'll just as likely gather its senses and run like the wind into the gap under your sofa and thus necessitate a major reorganisation of the furniture in the process of making the house safe again.

Roll on our first resident gecko of the year. Nowadays we usually end up with at least one sweet little semi-translucent gecko living under the dining table and we're fine with that. Geckos are like nature's nocturnal vacuum cleaners for creepy crawlies. If you have a resident gecko you can often forget worrying about spiders giving you the jitters indoors after dark. They will patrol the walls and floors all night long for their occasional reward of a juicy insect or arachnid. Just be careful when going to the loo at three o'clock in the morning though. Stepping on Gordon the gecko can ruin his night.

Anyway, must be off. The better half needs a tissue (or atishoo, neat eh?) ...

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Weather Reports, Rubbish Bins and Buses.

Well, today the sunshine finally returned after over a week of changeable and mainly wet weather. It's not only us, but Greek friends here too, who think that we've just experienced the longest sustained spell of rainy weather for over a decade. Normally the rain comes in three-day cycles during a Rhodean winter, but since last Tuesday the 7th, when it clouded over mercifully after the Help For Health Gennadi event (organised by Dimitri Koronios, owner of the delightful and homely Summer Breeze Hotel in the village) had gone off successfully, as had the parade, it's rained every day and at times heavily.

The rain is very welcome and any locals who have vegetables or trees to care for are hopping up and down with glee but, if I'm honest, I was pretty glad to finally wake up to bright sunshine this morning and it's been a pleasure to mooch around in the garden for several hours before lunch. I took the above photo of the gate into the orchard about an hour ago, to show that lovely carpet of yellow flowers that we always get at this time of year. They're a weed I suppose, but what an attractive one, eh? Here's a close-up...

I love these little beauties because, as I've written before (some years back now though) our friends' children love to pull a flower stalk and suck on it because it tastes of lemon. 

Weather-wise it's been an interesting winter. Following two extraordinarily dry ones this one's helped to redress the balance somewhat. In fact the local Rhodean newspaper reported just yesterday that we've had the same amount of rain on the island this past week as we normally get for the whole month of March. 

Daytime temperatures throughout this winter haven't been much different from the average, but we did have a month and more of very cold nights. Just about every Greek we know has said that they can't remember a winter when the nights were so cold for so many nights in succession. Now though, it's pretty much as one would expect for this time of the year. It's that little 'window' each year when inhabitants of the UK get all excited about having temperatures on a par with us from time to time.

The bright, fresh weather has prompted her indoors to get all frisky both with washing and her wardrobe. The bed earlier today was stripped and sheets ripped off and rammed into the washing machine. Jackets, skirts, dresses and stuff were thrown from the wardrobe on to the bed to the point at which one could hardly see the bed for the clothes. She has a good 'sort-out' now and then and that's quite right too. The only problem we have here is that when you end up with a few carrier bags full of stuff you want to dispose of there are no thrift or second-hand charity shops to which you can take them.

There is, however, an unwritten law about sharing second hand clothes, even some household items. You don't expect to get anything for them, but then that would be the case if you donated them to a UK charity shop too, right? But what one does here (and I suspect all over Greece) is to take the clothes that are too good to be thrown out and pack them in a decent plastic bag or two. Then you go the the nearest roadside rubbish bin (has to be a four-wheeler of course, the public ones) and either deposit the bags on the ground next to the bin or hang them on one of the shafts that protrude out from either side of it - those thingies that the rubbish trucks use to hinge the bins with when they're lifted and emptied into the back of the truck.

You can bet your very last dollar that some Albanians or Bulgarians will be along in a trice and they'll whip those bags away in no time. In fact, ever the thrifty wife, my better half has been known to have a rummage herself and has on occasion found some pretty good stuff, books included. I too rescued about ten undamaged beer glasses just a few weeks ago after probably a local bar owner had decided to put them by the bin. Not all that long ago an Albanian friend of ours turned up to a social gathering we also attended wearing a woollen jumper that my wife had left by a bin in the manner described above. To be honest, we were delighted to see our friend wearing it and she looked very good in it too. The system works well.

Why, though, do you not find second hand stores here in Greece like you do in the UK? It has to do with the culture. It doesn't matter how poor you may be, if you're Greek you don't buy second hand, not even if it's for charity. The sense of family pride in Greek communities is acute. No one likes to be seen to be in any way worse off than their neighbours. It's something that runs very deep and goes back centuries. It applies to other areas of life, not just clothes. I've probably mentioned before about how many Greek islands, owing to their small gene pool, have a higher than average incidence of children born with defects, be they mental or physical. Many families simply cannot cope with having a disabled member, it's almost seen as evidence of failure on the part of the husband or wife to produce a sound baby, at worst even the result of someone having placed the 'hex' on them. Thus in darker times past such poor unfortunates were shipped off to Leros, the island where they have a hospital for primarily mentally disadvantaged people. It is changing slowly, attitudes are gradually modernising, but the more rural you get the more the old ways still prevail.

The same principle also applies to use of public transport. I'd never really given this a lot of thought until last week, when I was talking to Tony and Sue, a couple who've recently arrived here to start a new life. Just goes to show, however much you think you may know, you can always learn something. Nowadays there are younger folk who need to get from the villages to Rhodes town for college or perhaps work and these will more often than not be seen boarding a bus. Older folk though, as Tony pointed out to me, they still find it very hard to bring themselves to get on a bus. If any neighbours see them, once again it's like an admission of poverty. 'Oh dear, can't poor Kyria Whatshername afford a car?' That's how they reason and it may sound far-fetched, but it's true.

Still the majority of passengers on the public buses during winter time are Albanians, Bulgarians or other immigrants. In fact, our own experience bears this out. I've written about a few experiences that we've had picking up hitchhikers in my "Ramblings From Rhodes" books. Hitchhikers here on Rhodes don't look at all like the mental picture one would normally conjure up. They're usually old ya yas getting from one place to another and they don't stick out a thumb, oh no. They'll step out in front of you and wave an arm as if to say: "Oi! Stop!! You can fit me in..."

As I mentioned in the books, we've even ended up going on wild goose chases like the time when an old woman we'd picked up made full use of our kindness by asking us to take a detour or three while she did a few errands, even whipping out a pair of secateurs at one of her 'stops', availing herself of a few choice roses from a hotel's garden, then having us take her to the cemetery where she wanted to place them on a grave!

Anyway, to return to the glorious sunshine outside today, here are a couple more shots taken out in the garden...

Here you can see my lamentable veggie patch with pathetic excuses for lettuce and onions.

That's where I sat to take the previous shot. I made the bench. Good eh? All right, there's no need for that.

We think that these are osteospermum, but we aren't sure. They provide a lovely display in spring time. The bare truncated woody plant behind is a dwarf bougainvillea, which we always cut back hard in February. It never fails to recover with huge vivid magenta blooms in summer.

While weeding the gravel pathways, I grabbed this plant around the stem to pull it out when, just in time, I realised that it's an orchid!! Needless to say, it's still there.
It's not often one can call a post 'Weather Reports, Rubbish Bins and Buses' is it? Be fair. 

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Pitter Patter

Here you go folks, for all you back in the UK, this was half an hour ago...

If it doesn't play, try this link.

And this too...

If it doesn't play, try this link.

Friday, 10 March 2017

People and ...peel?

In a couple more weeks Massari village will be holding their annual orange festival. 
It's always a good spectacle.

It didn't take long for us to begin making friends and acquaintances once we'd begun our regular lives out here. Among the folk we've become quite close to are some who've been mentioned in the “Ramblings From Rhodes” books.
There's Mihalis, the smallholder with a house surrounded by a garden chock full of fruit trees and vegetables. His menagerie includes chickens, ducks, geese, rabbits and the odd dog or two. The latter of course are continually chained up near their kennels. I'll give him that, he does provide his dogs with kennels. Never seen him take either of them for walks though. At least they're well fed and watered.
Mihalis it was who used to leave plastic bags hanging from the car wing mirror with no fanfare. We'd arrive back at the car and find a load of lettuce seedlings in the bottom, or perhaps at other times of the year a few ripe, plump, shiny aubergines or courgettes. During the summer season we see him once or twice a week and he always has a tray of eggs for us. We'd never dream of refusing anything because it may send him the wrong signal that perhaps we don't want his gifts. We'll simply pass them on to other friends or our immediate neighbours if we have a too much of a surplus.
He's always ready with some advice about what particular day we need to be putting the beans in or what kind of kopria (compost) we need to put on which plants. He tells me when to thin out the beetroot and how to select which French bean plants to pull out and which ones to leave in to continue growing. He's generous with his produce and his counsel, yet incapable of commending me for whatever I do, even though I try hard to follow his advice.
We planted a new young orange tree a couple of years back. It's the navel variety that lots of people here favour, because it's a wonderful eater with the perfect balance between sweet and bitter taste and doesn't produce many pips. I planted it when Mihalis told me to and bought a very expensive liquid fertiliser on his recommendation. A one litre tin cost around €20, but you do dilute it quite a lot with water. I applied it as per his instructions and so, when he dropped by one day, I led him to the tree and showed it to him.
“Oh, I wouldn't have put it there.” 
He said, then proceeded to point out everything that I'd apparently done wrong regarding location, light, soil and my dubious prospects of actually seeing a harvest of oranges any time soon. Some time later, in the spring, the young tree was absolutely covered in sweet-smelling white blossoms with delicate little yellow patches in the centre of each flower. I excitedly took a photo and showed it to him. I don't know why, I ought to have known him well enough, but I kind of expected him to say, 'Wow. How lovely. You'll be eating juicy oranges later in the year to be sure.'
Instead he took one look at the photo and said, 
That tree is sick, Gianni.” 
...and proceeded to offer more advice about how I might be able to save it from dying if I acted with enough despatch. I hadn't really noticed that the foliage had begun turning yellow. I thought that with all those blossoms on it, then it had to be happy and that we were indeed going to see a bumper harvest.
It seems that we'd done a very wrong thing. It was spring time and the rains were infrequent. We were watering the tree regularly as it was still only four feet high and we thought that it would need it, especially before the hot dry summer months came upon us.
“Oh, no, no. You should never water an orange tree when it's in blossom, Gianni.” 
He told me. Dammit but it wasn't something we'd specifically covered during all our conversations up until then. He said that we only had to watch and all those lovely blossoms would drop off. Most of the leaves too.
They only went and did just that, didn't they. More recently we've talked with a few others about watering orange trees when they're in blossom and, sure enough, they all say the same. I don't pretend to understand it, but it must be right. At least the tree is still alive and this spring I'm flaming well not going near it with a hose pipe or watering can if it produces any flowers.
Some years back we used to quite often give a diminutive Bulgarian woman called Dopi a lift into town and back. In appreciation for our kindness she'd supply us with plastic bags full to bursting with wonderfully juicy oranges all through the winter months. This was due to the fact that she was a live-in carer, looking after an old ya ya for a Greek family who had a business in Lindos and thus didn't have time to care for their old mum, who was slowly losing her marbles. The small cottage in which the two women lived was surrounded by a dozen orange trees, the fruit from which the woman's family would never bother to harvest. Thus, each time Dopi got into our car she'd emerge from the garden gate, vigorously 'shhhh-ing” me in a furtive manner and dashing up and down the path with three or four bags of oranges, which she'd bid me stow in the boot pretty sharpish. It was all a bit clandestine because the woman's children, all grown up and running their business, although they never bothered wth the oranges themselves, used to threaten her if she picked the fruit. It would sorely distress Dopi, well, us too, to see all these wonderful oranges being left to rot. So Dopi would go out and rattle the branches until the fruit dropped, then she'd gather up the fallers (seconds after they'd done so) and bag them up for us.
She'd get into the car saying, “Whenever they ask me, 'Have you been picking those oranges?' I can truthfully reply, 'no, I only gather up the fallers', tee hee.”
Sadly, a few years ago our tiny, bow-legged, sixty-something Bulgarian friend with the shock of frizzy white hair returned to her native Bulgaria and we found our primary source of ripe oranges cut off. What on earth were we to do? To actually pay for our supply of winter oranges would be a painful experience.
Well, would you believe it but we became acquainted with a new family of Greeks from a village just up the road, and they have about fifty orange trees just outside the village of Massari. For the past six weeks or so, every time we see them, which is at least once a week, they're carrying plastic bags full-to-bursting with delicious navel oranges and those bags are destined for our car's boot.
So, here we are once again eating our morning muesli topped with chopped chunks of juicy, sweet oranges straight from the tree. Our fridge is stacked with small plastic water bottles whose use has now been turned over to holding freshly-squeezed orange juice and we're frequently hanging bags of oranges on our neighbours' and friends' fences and gates to share the bounty with them too. There's an identical ongoing situation with lemons as well.
It's the same in June with apricots, in the high summer months with water melons. In May you can't move for cherries and in September watch out for those peaches, because it's easy to eat so many that you might just be well advised to carry some loo roll with you if you attempt a country walk.

 In the UK you can waltz along the supermarket aisle and load up your trolley with whatever fruit you want, you pay no mind to what season the fruit's supposed to be grown in. It's shipped half-way around the planet to make sure that the supermarket shopper can have his or her choice of whatever fruit or veg he or she wants - any time of the year. Here one gets into the habit of buying local. It's not only a great deal cheaper, but it's far better for the environment and the fruit and veg tastes infinitely better for having been grown just along the road. The only slight drawback is, by the time you get to March/April, you feel like you never want to see an orange or a lemon again. You feel like you've almost turned into one or the other. 
It's OK though, because come November, you'll be eager to taste the first ripe oranges of the new season all over again.
Mind you, one more "orangy" experience is always worthwhile, the Massari Orange festival.
More ramblings about the Massari Orange Festival can be found in this earlier post from March 2015, including lots more photos.

[The bulk of this post is another extract from the forthcoming book 

Monday, 6 March 2017

Making Notes

Well, I've finally got around to interviewing a male author in my occasional series of interviews with writers on a Greek theme. I read Richard Clark's book on Rhodes a while back and was very impressed with his writing style, plus his depth of research. Here is a man who loves what he writes about and it shines through.

The Lindos Acropolis, Rhodes

Richard Clark first visited Greece on a whim in 1982 when he left the UK to live and work as a teacher in Crete. He fell in love with the country and has been visiting regularly ever since. On returning to the UK he worked as a journalist for the BBC, national newspapers, and over the last 15 years has edited four of the UK’s top consumer magazines. 

He has written a number of books about the Greek islands, most notably Crete, Rhodes and Corfu, all of which have reached the No.1 slot in their relevant Amazon bestseller charts. Richard is the son of the late crime writer Douglas Clark, is married to Denise and has two grown up children Rebecca and James.

Somerset Maugham Award, Samuel Johnson Prize, and Thomas Cook Travel Book Award winning writer Mark Hudson said of his work: ‘Clark is particularly good on the colours, flavours and scents of Greece. He has got under the skin of the place in a way few outsiders have been able to.’

While bestselling novelist Sara Alexi comments: ‘There is poetry in Richard Clark’s words. I recommend anyone who loves Greece to read his work.’

Richard, at home in Kent.
So, let's get started. I think you'll find Richard answers my questions in some depth.

Where do you live?
I live with my wife Denise in a 160 year old cottage in a village near Tunbridge Wells in Kent in the UK. We have lived here for more than 30 years and our family grew up in the house and still live nearby. My daughter is a veterinary surgeon in the village and lives with her partner in a house just up the road and my son is a musician and he and his wife have a house not far away. It is the closeness of our family that has kept us here and we have just finished a top to toe renovation of the house which took almost all of last year. I hope it will remain our home for many years, we’re a close knit family and both my daughter and daughter –in- law are expecting babies this year so our family is ever-expanding and it is good to be close to them all. We are also in the process of looking for a house on Crete as now I have given up full-time journalism in London to concentrate on writing books I am able to work anywhere and as we spend so much time in Greece it makes sense to buy there.

What do you write about?
With the exception of a children’s book, which I actually wrote whilst living in Crete in the early Eighties, all my books have been about Greek Islands. The books could broadly be described as travelogue, personal accounts of places I have visited, people I have met, food I have eaten and experiences I have had in that wonderful country since I lived there all those years ago and the regular return visits I have made since.

Why Greece?
It’s easy to answer that question now. Writing and Greece are two of the greatest pleasures life holds for me, so with the adage about always writing about something you know and love, it makes perfect sense for Greece to be the subject of my labours. If you are asking how I discovered Greece that was a less conscious decision, indeed much more serendipitous. In 1982 I was a not-long out of college English Literature graduate wanting to make a career in anything remotely relevant to what I had studied. I was working editing scientific journals and freelance writing for any newspaper that would take my stuff. I must have had a bad day at work when I saw an advertisement in the Guardian newspaper for English Language teachers in Crete. On a whim I applied, and much to my surprise, in several months, was on a plane to Greece with just a holdall containing a few clothes and books. I was going to a place I knew little or nothing about, with nowhere to live, to do a job I had never done before in a country where I couldn’t speak a word of the language. It was a situation which had all the ingredients of being a disaster but from the moment I set foot on Crete it felt like home. I was made welcome by the hospitable Cretans and luckily it turned out I wasn’t a bad teacher either. I fell in love with the country then and ever since have always been drawn back there.

Agios Nikolaos.

How long does it take you to write a book?
I think having been a journalist for forty years has helped me write quite quickly. I am used to working to deadlines and am quite efficient in my researching. That said, until the end of last year I was fitting in writing my books around a full time job editing magazines in London, so was only managing to produce one book a year. Now I am writing full time I hope to at least double that output. One of my books takes about 3 months to write working every morning, then the rewrites take about a month then it goes to my editor and I probably take the best part of another month putting in any final changes before it goes for designing, formatting and is finally published.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
One of Richard's "Notebooks"
For me I have little choice, writing is almost a compulsion, although luckily I do enjoy much about the process. It provides a creative outlet which allows me to make sense of things, to order my thoughts. It is therapy, and finishing a book brings a tremendous sense of achievement and satisfaction and that is heightened by knowing that readers have appreciated what you have written.  

What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Gosh, there is so much that Greece and the Greeks have contributed to our modern societies it is difficult to know where to start. Despite what they have bestowed on us in terms of language, philosophy, medicine, engineering and sport there is one thing that stands out for me, and that is their enduring generosity of spirit and love of life, whatever the world throws at them. We could all learn a lot about the ability many Greeks have to live in the moment. 

How do you come up with an idea for a book?
As a writer of non-fiction I probably have an easier time of it than those authoring fictional works. The books I have so far written have mostly followed a similar format. I suppose they are quite journalistic in that they are divided into chapters of varying lengths, each piece being a self contained essay about a place, person or experience I have encountered from a very personal perspective. They have been described as travel companions rather than guides, and I like that description. I take copious notes when I am travelling or just whenever something comes to mind. I am naturally quite inquisitive so am constantly researching the what, whys and wherefores of things I don’t know the answers to.

How do you go about writing, that is to say, are you organised, do your research, disciplined, are you a messy sort who gets it done one way or another?
I think I am quite organised and meticulous although to look at my study you wouldn’t believe it.  I need to be self-disciplined to work and get up early every day and go to my study and shut myself off. My dogs now rush upstairs to the room where I write when I say ‘go to work’ and sleep until I’ve done my stint for the day. I plan my book as I would do a news running order, firstly making a headline list of subjects for chapters under which I transcribe thoughts and ideas from my notebooks and then expand these into the finished article. Even if I am struggling I make myself write something, and try not to go back over my work until the rewriting stage so I retain the flow and momentum of the work. The temptation for me always used to be constantly reviewing and rewriting as I went along which meant I got nowhere fast. I try to finish writing with a good idea of what I am going to write about the following day. This seems to focus my thoughts in the intervening hours so that when I sit down again I always have something to get down onto my laptop. 

Which other authors do you read?
I love reading and since I have given up the commute to London do not have the long journeys to indulge my passion, so I make sure I put aside a couple of hours each day to sit down with a book. I studied English Literature for my degree and still retain a liking for the classics but also love crime writing, authors like Camililleri, Donna Leon, C.J Sansom, Gordon Ferris, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson to name but a few. In terms of Greek- themed books Kazantzakis is a must as well as Durrell, Miller, Leigh Fermor and The Magus by John Fowles. I also read a lot of contemporary authors writing about Greece and, present company excepted, I enjoy the work of Sara Alexi, Anne Zouroudi, Marjory McGinn, Victoria Hislop and Jennifer Barclay, who I am lucky enough to have edit my books. I also like poetry, in particular T.S. Eliot and if I’m allowed to include him as a writer, Bob Dylan [absolutely! -JM].   

What's your preferred kind of music?
I like most styles of music, but suppose I am a child of my time. As I’ve just said I love Dylan. I also listen a lot to the Stones, Floyd and  Zeppelin all of whom I have seen live. Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and David Bowie are also favourites. I go and watch music locally when I can and try to play the guitar myself, although I am not getting any better with age I am told. [This man has stolen my record collection!! - JM]

Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Greek music is wonderful, but I am not very knowledgeable about it. I do like rebetiko, and the music of Haris Alexiou I have a particular affection for as I was given a mix tape of her work by a friend who was quite an important musical director in Heraklion when I lived there. I also love Cretan lyra music. I was lucky enough to meet Ross Daly on many occasions and have often seen him play live. I still seek out tavernas and bars where live music is on. Authentic Cretan music is so elemental to the people’s being. A combination of Greek music, food, wine and dancing in an idyllic location is hard to beat.

Favourite Greek dish?
The gulf of Mirabello
I love cooking and eating and am planning a book highlighting some of the great dishes of Crete and the places that serve them. In my opinion, the best food cooked in Greece is the most simple made with the freshest of ingredients. Grilled fish and salad, or souvlaki are favourites. In my younger days I was a big fan of Gyros as it is cheap, filling and portable, the ultimate take away for a struggling teacher. I still enjoy it now but have to be careful how much of it I eat. I have eaten so many wonderful dishes it is hard to single any out, but recent favourites are the slow cooked ‘Lamb Olondi’ a superb twist on kleftico served up in the taverna from which the dish takes its name in Elounda; roasted pork shank in the Palm Tree taverna in Paleochora; or salt baked sea bass in Kanali, a beautiful restaurant beside the small canal which links the gulf of Mirabello with the gulf of Korfos near Elounda. 

Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
Canal Spinlonga.
A difficult question to answer as every time I visit Greece I discover new places that I love. So If I have to answer it would be Crete, as I have such an emotional attachment to it as it was my first experience of Greece. I also love Rhodes which we have spent quite some time in over the last few years. Around  and about Agios Nikolaos in north east Crete is probably the one which resonates most as we have friends in the villages near there and have been visiting the area since the year dot, I love the Spinalonga peninsula and also the beautiful village of Mohlos to the east of the city where the sunsets are like a Monet masterpiece most evenings. Sitting in Ta Kochilia tavern sipping a glass of white wine accompanied by a dish of anchovies and a salad looking across to the tiny offshore island of St Nicholas is as close to heaven on earth as it gets in my book. 

What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
The best place to buy my books should you want to is on the Amazon store relevant to where you live. They can also be bought  in some bookshops in Greece.  Crete – A Notebook is available in both English and a Greek language translation.

This is the link to my author page on Amazon UK:

Everyone is welcome on my books page on Facebook at:

And finally, reading device or real book?
I use both, a Kindle app on my iPad if I am on the move and a real book if I am curled up in front of the fire reading at home.

Paleochora sunset.

Well, there you go folks, hopefully you'll want to check out Richard's work after this if you haven't already. I have to say in my humble opinion, that if you're planning to visit Crete, Rhodes or Corfu then to read one of Richard's "Notebooks" will enhance your visit immeasurably. Even if you're familiar with those islands, you'll delight in Richard's notes on them and no doubt learn stuff you didn't already know too.

There's another interview (two in fact) in the pipeline. I do hope you're enjoying them, because I certainly enjoy doing them.