Monday, 5 February 2018

Time on Her Hands

Once we get past the pagan festivities and the new year, the winter seems to ebb away all too quickly for us. We still have a list of people we wanted to drop in on, places to go for walks, plants to go searching for at garden centres, and the weeks are rolling by in the accelerating run-up to the new season.

This winter's been an amazing one for the anemones. Here's a shot taken in our friend's kitchen yesterday...

And they're past their best now too.

In the background you can just make out some sprigs of almond blossom too. 

We've been doing one of our favourite walks that can be done from the house at least once a week lately, it's the route we call the "Princess Sun". We head up the hill behind the house, down through a small area of forest, through a few ancient olive groves and up past a small solar energy farm, which is tucked into the landscape in such a way as to be virtually invisible from most angles.

Emerging on to the upper dirt road from Kiotari to Asklipio, we head downhill and often spot deer as we pass through countryside that now and again resembles parts of the New Forest in the South of England. Eventually, after a sweeping descent with spectacular views across the bay toward Pefkos, and down into steeply forested valleys either side of us, we pass the entrance to the "Princess Sun" Hotel and drop down a steep hill to the main road in Kiotari, where there are a couple more hotels and a small shopping centre. After a few hundred metres of main road we once again strike off up a dirt track and finally, after passing the allotment containing the olive grove of our old friend Agapitos and the water reservoir that services the immediate area, we arrive back at our own front gates after almost exactly one hour's brisk walking. 

On this walk we often spot a variety of birds of prey, deer (as mentioned above), plus a respectable number of species of smaller birds too. Plus, there will always be a few goats here and there along the way. It's a walk we can only do during the winter months, because it's simply too hot during the summer, plus we don't usually have the time then either.

There are various spots along this walk too where there are sources of dead wood that we can chainsaw and lug back home for the log-burner. It's fairly easy for us to keep our wood-store well-stocked, a fact which we deeply appreciate. The pleasure we get from such walks is immeasurable, and well illustrates why we so love the winter months here. What's really sad though, is how the system we live in has tended to grind a lot of people down to the point where they now only live to serve their masters during the tourist season.

I can illustrate the point by referring to a conversation we had just last week with an Albanian woman friend who lives in Gennadi. Valantina is probably in her early fifties and has a couple of almost-grown-up kids and a husband. Like most Albanians living here, she works during the summer season as a hotel chambermaid, which means that seven days a week, from some time in April until the end of October, she's at work for 8.00am and finishes at around 3.00pm. During the season it's all she can do to drag herself home, cook a meal and fall into bed, before rising again for the next of a long succession of days during which she doesn't really have an existence as a functioning human being with choices, a social life, some leisure time.

She can just about remember what her husband looks like by the time the season's half-way through. She also has her ancient mother-in-law living in the cramped apartment with them, a diminutive, leathery-complexioned old lady who dresses perpetually in black (exactly like a Greek ya ya in fact) and doesn't speak any Greek. It probably wouldn't make much difference if she did, because she's almost stone deaf now anyway. The old woman spends her days sitting either in a rickety old chair just outside the front door, which is never closed during the summer, on a similar chair in the sparse kitchen, or lying down on the very austere looking sofa in their utilitarian 'lounge'.

We dropped by to see Valantina last week and expressed our pleasure at the spare time we enjoy to go out for coffee, or for long walks during the mild winter months. My wife, in fact, expecting some agreement from Valantina, expressed her feeling that, right now, she doesn't look forward to starting work for the season again. In my wife's case that can mean as early as late February or early March, when their small team of cleaners will begin to 'open-up' the villas they care for by giving them a post-winter spruce up and getting all the bed linen laid. there will be a selection of dead 'livestock' (insect life mainly) liberally scattered around the floors and windows that needs clearing and all the glass and blinds need washing after months of dust build-up. The sun-loungers will need getting out of storage and the parasols installed around the pool terraces.

OK, so my better half doesn't usually work more than four days in any one week, and then it's quite often short days, maybe from 10am until 2.30pm, maybe 3.00. But the thought of having to curtail our gardening, our walks and our frequent coffees-out doesn't appeal. The prospect of not having so much time to indulge in one of her greatest pleasures, the luxury of flopping out on the sofa with a filter coffee, digestive biscuit and a good book isn't one she wants to entertain right now. But the inevitable march of time means that the first day back at work looms large.

We both expected Valantina to agree, and yet her response was what got me thinking about how far she and so many like her have come from being able to function as human beings with choices. What I mean is, she replied that she was bored. She didn't actually like having time on her hands. She was restless to go back to work. There was only so much cleaning and cooking that she could do at this time of the year and the rest of each day stretched before her like an emptiness that she doesn't know how to fill any more. 

When we'd left, we found ourselves talking over the fact that this woman no longer has what could be called a life of her own. Like so many people, the system has beaten out of her any capacity for taking time out for herself, for taking up a hobby or doing anything purely for the pleasure of it. She exists as a 'prole' (remember Orwell's 1984?), a cog in the machine that services the industry that allows relatively wealthier people from other countries to come here for their two weeks in the sun each summer and be 'serviced', ie. waited on hand-foot and finger, for the duration. I'm not blaming the tourists. The fact is, we are all victims of this strange system that has turned many poorer people into nothing more than robots comprised of flesh and blood. 

The whole concept to Valantina of being able to enjoy reading a novel, of walking in the countryside whilst enjoying the view, of strolling along to the café-bar for a morning coffee in the sunshine, or moseying down to the beach and enjoying taking the sea air while skimming stones - all such things have been beaten out of her. Once she's cleaned and cooked, she's programmed to want to be at work. That's all that her brain can compute. Thus, for her, the winter drags by until she can get back into that treadmill that means she doesn't have to think for herself, she just functions as part of the great tourist industry machine and knows no better any more. She hates the monotony of it, yet can't now adjust to anything else.

Tell you what though, visiting such people is great therapy. It really makes us appreciate the fact that we do have choices, we do have a social life and we can enjoy a variety of fulfilling pursuits. 

It's just that, well, it can be rather alarming when one considers how prophetic George Orwell's work had proved to be. I'd have to include Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' in that too.

There is so much that a human is capable of, yet millions are now no longer able to fulfil the latent potential within them, having become less than humans in a social sense, their whole lives having been given over to existing purely to populate and service hotels, bars and restaurants, where people who still have the privilege of choosing how to live go to play.

What brought all this philosophising on was one simple remark made by our disadvantaged friend. Sorry about that folks, not my usual upbeat post. Yet I believe it ought to be said nonetheless.


  1. Very thought provoking John. But your friend Valentina came--I presume from Albania--to find work to support herself, yay-ya and maybe many relatives back in the old country. If she had stayed there, would she have had time to develop hobbies "me time" etc, or is it just the "west" that considers these things to be important? I don't know--but much as I dislike MASS tourism, I can at least, see that MAY be your friend thinks she is better off in Rhodes--although WE may not think it

    1. Well, of course virtually all the Albanians here came for economic reasons. Many who live in hovels here still have beautiful houses back in Albania, all locked up due to there being no work there, or at least, none that pays. But whether they're actually better off here is debatable, since they surrender any vestige of quality of life in the process. There are exceptions, of course. I know of some Albanian men who've started successful building businesses here, for example, but they are the exception, sadly. As I said too, I don't blame the tourists, after all, that's what I still am to a degree. It's the whole way the system has developed that's sad really. Not a lot we can do about it either. If the tourists didn't come, then these unfortunates would be even worse off than they are.

    2. Thanks John. It's difficult to know right from wrong in such things as these.

    3. TBH, I feel that the best one can do when interacting with staff at hotels, bars and restaurants, is to tip generously and treat them with dignity, which many fail to do, sadly.