Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Sunshine, Shorts and a Degree of Smugness

Anyone who reads my ramblings regularly will know that I get rather fed up with the weather whingers. As I say far too often, a Rhodean winter is much like a British summer and the past few days well illustrate my point.

There are quite a few ex-pats British living here who love to whinge when it rains, when the wind blows or if we have a cold spell (which are all usually quite brief) during the winter months. Yet it's odd how quiet they become when the weather is like it's been here for the past five days. Outside in the garden today it was well over 20ºC and there was hardly a breath of wind. The sky was a deep blue, the kind one rarely ever sees in the UK. It was the kind of day that would sell shedloads of ice cream in the UK during June. Pub gardens would be full and people would be lighting their barbecues in a frenzy of enthusiasm over the 'fabulous summer weather.' Barry Island Beach would be heaving and quite a good percentage of those down there would be braving the waters for a dip.

Yet here on Rhodes it's the end of January...

Sorry about the colour of those legs, folks. 

Anyway, there is no significant rainfall forecast for a while yet, although on Sunday there may be some light rain. Here I go again, sorry, but we are hoping that it will rain again this weekend because the ideal winter here would be for it to rain once or twice a week, in between the bright, blue, clear, cloudless days like we've seen lately.

Keep warm and wrapped up! 

Oh, and come on Wales!! The Six Nations starts this Saturday!!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Fruit, Rooftops and Possible Frights

All kinds of stuff to report today. 

Where to start, that's the problem. I know, yes, fruit. I'd be surprised if we weren't turning decidedly orange of complexion of late, owing to the fact that, once again, our good friends Froso and Stergo in Kalathos are keeping us well supplied with oranges again this winter. Even with giving huge bags of them away to neighbours, we juice and eat that many oranges at this time of the year that it's just as well they're not addictive. Actually, perhaps they are. Who needs Trump-like fake tans? We're turning orange anyway.

Last year we kept promising the couple that we'd come and pick some oranges with them and it never happened. Finally, last Saturday, it did. We were out with Froso during the morning and, when we took her home, she said, "You want to go pick some oranges before you go home?" Our answer? As obvious as Kim Kardasian's bottom. (I wanted to get that in, just to see if there was any way at all I could mention that rather low-intellect woman in one of my posts, just for laughs. Incidentally, is she real?).

So, digging some seriously huge Jumbo carrier bags out from their cupboard, Stergo set off with us down the lane to their orange grove, where they have a mere 70 trees. Here is my brief photographic record of the following fifteen minutes or so...

By the time we were struggling back to the car with two huge carrier bags, whose handles were ripping as I walked, we had enough oranges both for juicing and eating to open a modest fruit shop. And people ask us why it's our favourite time of the year.

Now I've cobbled together a brief photo gallery of the past few days, hope you like them...

Approaching Asklipio on foot along the dirt road leading up the mountain from behind our home. The Kastro's one of the most impressive fortifications on the island. This is the view you get around forty-five minutes after leaving our front gate. It's a pretty cardiovascular climb.

The traffic gets really bad down our lane sometimes.

Kiotari beach, looking towards the superb Paraktio Apartments.

Mandraki, Town Hall Square, Rhodes.

Lindos, where else? Kleoboulos' tomb visible across the way.

The lane down from Krana to the main square in Lindos on a dull day in January. A view not often seen by tourists.

The better half with a friend from Scotland, Karen Anderson who, along with hubby Brian, has seriously caught the bug of taking a winter holiday in Lindos. This is on the rooftop of the lovely, snug traditional village studio they often stay in. 

A fairly deserted Lindos in January. It's a real joy to stroll around the place at this time of year. Days like this are rare too, with the cloud cover you can see here.

Finally, if we end up seeing a formidable 'Huntsman' spider [Don't click that link if you're an arachnophobe. I did warn you!] in our house again some time soon, I'll be laying the blame fairly and squarely in the shoulders of the Lidl foodstores here.

Why? Well, a year or more ago we read somewhere on-line that spiders hate the smell of peppermint. The suggestion was to place a peppermint teabag (spent ones are fine) in places where the eight-legged fiends may be able to gain ingress and, if you do so, you'll never see a big fearsome arachnid on your inside walls again. Of course, when you read stuff like that on-line it's always wise to take it with a fairly hefty pinch of salt; but, well, we decided that it was at least worth a try. After all, we are in the habit of drinking peppermint tea daily with our breakfast. Or, to be more accurate, just afterwards. 

I read about the benefits of peppermint to the digestion many years ago, when we were living in Cardiff, South Wales and I was cycling about five miles to work every day after eating a substantial breakfast and regularly experiencing indigestion as a result. I began taking a spoonful of peppermint powder in a small amount of water about fifteen minutes before setting out and it cured the problem.

Thus we eventually settled into a routine of drinking peppermint tea, and of buying the teabags in the local branch of Lidl. These are the ones...

They're very good value and I can recommend them. What a joy it was when we first moved here and discovered not one but two branches of Lidl here on Rhodes and they were both well-stocked with the tea bags we wanted - a result!

Our joy only lasted a couple of years when, for no explicable reason, the peppermint tea was no longer in evidence on the shelves. It remained that way for almost a year and we even resorted to stocking up when we visited the UK more than once. Then, all of a sudden they reappeared and, up until a month or so ago, have been available ever since. 

Following the suggestion about the spider-repellent properties of peppermint, we began placing used bags in the corners of our windows, where there are sufficient orifices for the beasts to get in...

And, I can report that, ever since we positioned the bags as can be seen from the photo above, we haven't had even one instance of any spider larger than a fingernail inside the house. Yip-blinking-pee, eh? The trouble is, it looks like Lidl are playing silly games again and, during our last three visits, there has been a distinct lack of peppermint teabags on display. Now, if they don't re-stock PDQ and the aromatic properties of the bags we have in place wane sufficiently so as to no longer pose a threat, I may well be up in the small hours one night and getting the fright of my life once again, like in the old days. For the account of a particularly traumatic experience I once had with one of these palm-of-the-hand-sized Huntsman beasts, see chapter two of Tzatziki For You to Say.

So, if you're out there in internet-land whoever buys in the stocks for the Rhodean branches of Lidl, hear my plea and get some peppermint tea-bags in pronto. If I die of a coronary, my wife will be after you for compensation.

Or maybe to congratulate you, one never knows.

Friday, 19 January 2018

It's Murder on Mykonos...

I'm delighted to be posting another in my occasional series of interviews with authors whose work carries a decidedly Greek theme. It's been a while, but I felt it was becoming perhaps just a little too quick and often before.

This time though, it's back with a bang, because I'm thrilled to say that I've recently 'virtually' sat down [across a couple of continents] with Jeffrey Siger, and below is my in-depth interview with him. 

In the extremely unlikely event that you are not aware who Jeffrey is, his extensive answer to question 1 in the interview below will surely enlighten you!

Off we go then...

1. Tell us a little about who you are, where you grew up etc.

I am an American living on the island of Mykonos, a place I’ve considered home since first setting foot there some 35 years ago. A Pittsburgh native and former Wall Street lawyer, a dozen years ago I gave up my career as a name partner in my own New York City law firm to live in Greece half the year and write mystery-thrillers.

 Some Mykonian friends told me if I started sprinkling murders with a message across my adopted country's tourist paradises, I'd likely be banished, if not hanged. No one was more amazed than I when my debut novel, Murder in Mykonos (a sort of Mamma Mia setting for a No Country for Old Men story), became Greece's No.1 best selling English-language novel (and a best-seller in Greek, as well).  

As of January 2018, I have nine Greece-based Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novels out there, the latest being AN AEGEAN APRIL, which Library Journal awarded a starred review saying, “vividly depicts the political and economic issues involved in the European refugee crisis… outstanding crime novel.” 
It's been a remarkable journey, punctuated most notably by The New York Times selecting the fourth in my Andreas Kaldis series (Target: Tinos) as one of its five “picks for the beach” while calling the entire series, “thoughtful police procedurals set in picturesque but not untroubled Greek locales;” 

Left Coast Crime's nomination of the fifth in the series (Mykonos After Midnight) in 2014 as Best Mystery in a Foreign Setting; a 2016 Barry Award Best Novel Nomination for my seventh (Devil of Delphi); starred reviews and official government citations; and a mention in Fodor's Greek Islands Travel Guide under a section titled “Mykonos After Dark” that I consider equivalent to winning an Oscar ☺ —"Some say that after midnight, Mykonos is all nightlife—this throbbing beat is the backdrop to Jeffrey Siger's popular mystery, Murder in Mykonos."

My work is published in the US, UK, Germany (German), and Greece (Greek and English), and I'm honored to have served as Chair of the National Board of Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, and as Adjunct Professor of English at Washington & Jefferson College, teaching mystery writing.

2. Where do you live now?

One half of each year on Mykonos, the balance based at my farm outside of New York City.

Jeffrey at the place he loves best, Mykonos
3. What do you write about?

My mystery-thrillers are told against the backdrop of traditional Greek life in different Greek locales. They are aimed at exploring serious societal issues confronting modern day Greece in a tell-it-like-it-is style while touching upon the country's ancient roots.  At the heart of each book lay some modern-day upheaval or other uncomfortable subject that most writers prefer to avoid, yet is precisely the sort of issue I promised myself to address when I changed careers. 

4. Why Greece?

My original goal was to write a stand-alone novel telling the story of an island I knew intimately.  I wanted to talk about Mykonos’ people, culture and politics and only settled upon the mystery format because it struck me as the best vehicle for exploring how a tourist island society might respond to a threat to its newfound economic glory.  With the success of my debut novel, and a three-book deal for a series, I quickly realized I had an inexhaustible number of topics and venues to explore in Greece.  After all, it is the birthplace of the gods, the cradle of European civilization, the bridge between East and West.  Spartan courage, Athenian democracy, Olympic achievement, and Trojan intrigue all call it home. On top of all that, what tantalized me as a writer working on the edge of societal change, was how many of the great issues confronting our modern world were centered in Greece’s Mediterranean neighborhood. Indeed, I’d venture to say no western country is closer to what challenges our planet than Greece.

Vathi, in the Mani.

5. How do you come up with an idea for a book?

Honestly, they find me. It’s uncanny how something I read, hear, or experience just sparks a thought that leads to an idea for a book. It’s that strange alchemy called inspiration , something I can’t put my finger on, or dare risk over-analyzing out of fear all might simply vanish into that same thin air as now gives rise to my ideas.

6. How long does it take you to write a book?

I’ve done a book a year for the past ten years, so I guess the answer is a year. 

7. 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 am very disciplined in my research and writing. I suspect it comes from all those years practicing law.  When I’m into my writing mode of 1000 finished words a day, my friends on Mykonos will tell you that no matter what tempting high season distraction might be out there, I cannot be lured away from my keyboard until my 1000 words are finished. But once they are….

8. What do you enjoy most about writing?

I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, meaning I have no idea what will end up on paper once I put my butt in the chair and start typing.  I leave it to my characters to take me in the direction they believe works best for the story. Frankly, I’m just along for the ride.  The excitement of learning what my characters have in store for me each day is sheer joy. 

9. What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?

Socrates, sun, and souvlaki…in no particular order.

10. Which other authors do you read?

I’m a great fan of Cormac McCarthy, Arthur Conan Doyle, John Steinbeck, August Wilson (really a playwright), Robert Frost (yes, the poet), all the mystery writing folk at Poisoned Pen Press, and my blogmates at Murder is Everywhere where I write a post about Greece every Saturday.   

11. What's your preferred kind of music?

Whatever’s playing. I’m very eclectic in my music tastes.

12. Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?


13. Favourite Greek dish?

Octopodi prepared and grilled next to the sea where it's caught, together with achinos collected by friends who remembered to bring along bread, olive oil and plenty of tsipouro. 

14. Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?

Mykonos. As crazy as it’s become during tourist season, it’s where my friends, my heart, and my fondest memories remain, and where I spend more time than any other place on earth. 

15. Reading device or real book?

I prefer real books, but practicalities—such as the virtually absence of English-language new releases in Greece—makes a Kindle a necessity for me. 

16. In as few words as possible, tell someone who's never been to Greece why they should go.

To forever change your view of life for the better.

17. What links would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?


There you go folks. I think you'll agree it was well worth the wait. By all means share this if you know anyone else who'd like to read Jeffrey's interview.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Working up a Sweat

Just a brief post about winter life in general. Firstly, weather-wise this winter is proving to be much more normal than the previous two, thank goodness. We're getting rain almost once a week, which is very welcome, and between-times it's gorgeously sunny, without all that much in the way of strong winds up until now. We haven't yet had what we'd really call a cold spell either, although we do light the log-burner in the early evening quite often, just to warm the place through. Often, though, we don't feed it, we just let what's in there burn itself out.

We need to use it because one of our favourite winter pastimes is chainsawing wood for the wood store. My better half is never happier than when she's up to her knees in hard graft. In fact just yesterday she was saying that she doesn't like it when we get past Christmas because, once the new year is upon us, then it's the countdown to starting work in the season, and we so enjoy our winter schedule! I've said many times, both here on the blog, and to people I meet during the summer who ask me about the winters here, that we (and it sounds awful, I know) actually prefer the winters to the summers.

Working up a sweat chainsawing a dead tree in the forest, then setting up the saw horse at home to section it all down before taking all the existing logs out of the store and re-stacking it all, that's a really good day during January for us...

In her element.
Job done. (I did help her stack, plus I swept up afterwards, honest)
One thing one has to do regularly, is take all the logs out and recirculate them. That's why, every few times when we get a new load sawn up, she'll set to and do the job you can see in the top photo.

A few more for you...

Kiotari beach, a couple of days ago.

Ditto, as above. Same moment.

Pefkos in January.

Olive grove with anemones, Arhangelos.

Plus, here are a few (not so high res, sorry; they're from my phone) from a mountain walk we did on Sunday January 14th...

The late afternoon sun through the olive trees when the ground is so green is magical.

This is taken from the bridge near the La Branda hotel. This river bed has hardly flowed at all during the previous two winters. This year, though, speaks for itself.

That's all for now. TTFN.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

A Box or a Bottle

When we first moved here, as I've written about extensively in the first three or four books, we had to adjust to a raft of weird and wonderful ways in which Greek social etiquette differs from that in the UK. After well over twelve years on Rhodes, we're still discovering ways in which the Greeks do things very differently from how we did them back home.

Just a week or so ago, we were invited to a get-together of probably three or four families, along with a few other assorted friends, making a group of probably thirty or so in our friends' lounge for a very enjoyable meal and παρέα. Back in the UK it was a no-brainer, we'd have taken a bottle of wine or two, maybe a box of chocolates perhaps, job done. 

Here though, you need to turn up bearing one of these...

The cake-box from the zaherplasteion (this photo courtesy of

Of course, they come in thousands of different designs, but the basic structure is the same, as indeed are the contents -  sweet, sticky Greek pastries and cakes, which they call 'glika' [lit: 'sweets'], and you won't need me to tell you, if you know Greece, that the 'zaheroplasteia' are everywhere. A 'zaheroplasteio' is what the French might call a 'patisserie', a cake and pastry shop, and if you have a sweet tooth you'll be in trouble. More often than not they come with a coffee shop as part and parcel of the business and it's no accident that they can be found often in quite remote villages.

When Greeks turn up to a social occasion they're much more likely to arrive bearing one of those boxes, often wrapped with a nice silky ribbon too, than they are to bring a bottle of wine. It can also make your eyes water to follow this custom because, whereas you can pick up a fairly decent bottle of wine for five or six Euros, to fill a box like the one above at the pastry shop will more than likely set you back fifteen to twenty!! You go into the store and you're faced with a counter that looks something like this...

This shot courtesy of

You may find that you can get maybe nine regular-sized 'glika' into your box and they can cost anything from a couple of Euro to four each. Frankly, between you, me and the gatepost, I don't have a very sweet tooth and this can present one with quite a challenge. Once the meal is out of the way, if indeed the evening involves one (which it usually does), then the women will parade into the room with the cake boxes, a flurry of paper tissues, probably some little glass side-plates and those tiny three-pronged forks that never seem to me to be big enough for anyone with a regular-sized mouth.

They'll do the rounds of everyone present and you're kind of expected to select and take one of the 'glika' to eat, even though simply looking at them can add a couple of stones to your weight, a few inches to your waistline and get you diagnosed in pretty short order with type 2 diabetes. Try throwing you hands up and protesting that you'd 'love to, but you're really rather full', and they'll be mortally offended. People who eat such stuff can never get their heads around the fact that some of us don't actually want to eat these things, at least not with the frequency that most people here seem to.

We very often elicit the comment, "What are you worried about? Look at you! You don't need to watch your weight!" 

Often this will be uttered by someone who's much larger than they ought to be, primarily because they do eat such stuff too often, and someone who can't quite see the fact that the reason why we are still the right shape and size is precisely because we don't eat such stuff as a habit. If we did, then we most certainly would have to watch our weight, not to mention make much more frequent visits to the dentist.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not averse to the occasional naughtiness in the food department, but when you check out the number of zaheroplasteios around in Greece, you begin to understand that it's because for just about every 'yiorti' they'll be rushing there to grab a box of cakes with which to celebrate it. Think about it, there are name days, birthdays, saint's days, the usual big celebrations like Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day, and you can add to that a whole raft of national and local religious paniyiris that pepper the calendar here. For each and every one of those they'll be scurrying off to stock up on the glika.

I know, I sound a bit self-righteous about all this, but it's no accident that over 578,000 people were diagnosed with diabetes in Greece in 2017 alone. And that in a country with an adult population of a mere 9 million. 

Anyway, I kicked this post off with the fact that one is continually discovering subtle differences in the culture when one moves countries. So, to redress the balance a little, there are a lot of traditions and mores that are followed here that we much prefer, or at least quite like. One such, although often causing headaches for the authorities, is the tradition of naming the firstborn son after his grandad and the first girl after her grandma. It does tend to limit the growth of new and innovative names in the country as a whole, but also harps back to patriarchal days when families were very close, which is still the case in the more rural areas, of course. When I refer to 'headaches for the authorities', that's because it causes problems for things like tax numbers and utility bills, medical records and a raft of other stuff along those lines, because everywhere you go there are so many people with the same names.

Right then, that's that post written, so I'm off for a glass of wine. I think I'll pass on the sticky cake this time around though.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Fleeces and Flowers?

The view over the steering wheel on my way back up the lane to the house earlier today.

I know I'm probably in danger of over-repeating myself, but I've been out in the car for an hour and have just got back to the house, and the drive to Kalathos and back, plus the pleasant hour spent with good Greek friends, has further strengthened my conviction that I love this time of the year more than the summer.

I didn't stop on the road, but could well have done so every fifty metres, to photograph the anemones, which are a riot this year, especially along the roadside verges. Next time I get the opportunity I'll pull up, hop out and snap some, but for the time being you'll just have to take my word for it - they're a spectacular show. Oh, I dunno, maybe this will help...

Photo courtesy of Farmer Gracy.
Last year they were very few and far between, owing to it being the second dry winter in succession. This year, though, with the rainfall being a lot nearer normal, the anemones have responded enthusiastically. Outside today it's around 18ºC and partly sunny/partly cloudy, with a gentle breeze. It's a mild day, ideal for walking, which we do a lot of in the winter.

Everything around us here this winter is a wonder to behold. The green of the vegetation and grass among the olive groves is so vivid as to almost be describable as day-glo. The bird and other wildlife is more evident, I'm sure, owing to the food chain being better serviced by the increased rainfall and the effect it has had on the vegetation and insect life. The roses in the garden are putting on a superb show and my wife keeps a regular vase of them in the kitchen to brighten the place up no end...

OK, so, for 'vase' read 'glass tumbler'!

When I drove back up the lane, there was the shepherd with his sheep, leaning back on the bonnet of his very old Renault Scenic and talking on his mobile phone. He does that a lot, but then, when you consider how many hours he spends simply hanging around keeping an eye on his flock it's understandable really. That's why, in ancient times, which prevailed right up until the advent of the mobile phone really, shepherds were not only excellent musicians, but could often make their own instruments too. As I crept by, being careful not to hurry the sheep and lambs off of the lane [see top photo], he raised a hand to acknowledge my passing and I replied with a similar gesture.

The baby lambs are in abundance now and we (old softies that we are) delight in watching them gambolling all over the place in little groups, much like children in the playground, although ever under the watchful eye of their mothers, to whom they run occasionally for a brief feed, which they'll take while wagging their tiny tails furiously. I don't think we ever use that verb 'to gambol' at any other time of the year, but when the lambs are about we dust it off again. The lambs here are blissfully unaware of how much easier their passage into this world is by comparison with those up on the North Wales mountains, or the Yorkshire Dales in the UK, where their cousins are battling with snowdrifts during the first weeks of their lives. Well, I know they are usually gathered into barns, but I do recall past TV reports of farmers losing sheep and lambs to the cold quite often.

Here on Rhodes, during these months, when everyone has time to breathe, it's a joy to be out of doors most of the time. Even the locals are in an entirely different mood from the one that dominates during the season. Right now, in January, to drop by and see some friends is almost the definition of 'to steki', where bonhomie prevails and they'll always say 'come on in', and put the coffee on. Maybe there is fresh bread being baked too.

Go anywhere where there are coffee bars and experience the cacophony of 'parea' being enjoyed by people who have, by comparison with the summer, a real life to live; once they've harvested their olives that is.

When I got home and walked into the house I was greeted by the heavenly smell of freshly baked bread. That's something my better half can do during the winter months. She definitely doesn't have the time in summer.

Better be off with me then. Got to make us a salad for lunch, which we'll eat giving thanks as we gaze down the valley, hear the sheep bleating and their bells clanging, as we chomp away on warm bread and fresh lettuce from the garden.

There is a lot wrong with this world, but now and again everything's just perfect.