Thursday, 31 May 2018

Authenticity (Normal Service Resumed)

As usual, I was sitting in the "Top Three Pub", as Spiros likes to call his bar, the other day, and we were chewing the fat over all the various usual topics, cruise liners whose guests swamp the Old Town occasionally, but spend very little (after all, they can eat and drink themselves to their heart's content on-board), the strange weather, the fact the All Inclusive holidays are now having a really noticeably negative effect on the bars and restaurants and their 'footfall', and thus their takings, that kind of stuff. 

Spiros also takes every opportunity to inform anyone who asks, entirely understandably I ought to add, that he is due to get his state pension next year and it will add up to not much more than €500 per month. His four children are now past university age and three of them are married. But he refers to the fact that, in days of old, before the crisis that is, grandparents here in Greece would usually bankroll their grandchildren through university. That's now an impossibility.

Spiros is a humble Greek who's spent all his working life doing just that - working - and working hard. His family, like so many here in Greece who live and work in tourist areas, works every hour God sends from late April through to around mid-November and the idea of a 'holiday', or 'vacation' to them is perhaps a trip to some other locale to stay with family during the winter months.

Yet, for his customers he always has a smile and a joke. Maria, his wife, is a homely-looking woman who nowadays begins the season already tired. She too has worked for decades and is now in her early sixties, still dragging beer kegs along the floor behind the bar and generally keeping house and home alongside all the hours she spends at work.

This extremely likeable couple can be rightly proud of their children. What I've come to understand relatively recently is the reason why they have some fiercely loyal holidaymakers and ex-pat residents at a bar which, on first glance, I probably wouldn't have considered my type at all.

Spiros has adorned the bar area with football scarves from the UK teams. Me? Football leaves me comatose. Plus, I (well, perhaps I should say 'we' as it applies to us as a couple really) usually seek out bars and restaurants that have that 'authentically Greek ambience'. You now what I mean. I admit that it's a form of elitism when you come down to it. The thing is, if I hadn't started working on excursions, I probably would never have started coming to the Top Three and thus would never have met this family. See, there are occasions when that certain 'Greek ambience', in all honesty, has been created by designers and decorators to merely give the right impression to a completely new re-fit. 

What makes an establishment 'essentially Greek' isn't the faux rendered walls and old fishing nets hanging on the walls, the pretend water-well with its distressed old chain and bucket, the huge dried fish hanging over the bar; no, what makes a place essentially Greek is the people. And you don't get more 'authentic' than Spiro and Maria.

Their three boys are all well-mannered, respectful and useful members of society. Loukas is a skilled doctor, who specialises is an area that escapes me at the moment. Kostas worked for many years in a bank, but now he and Dimitris (son no. 3) work full-time at the bar because it seems to me that, sadly, their parents won't be able to keep up their punishing schedule for very much longer. Their daughter, who often comes into the bar with her three very cute and very beautiful toddlers, is a complete stunner. She's usually in a black leotard, blonde hair tied in a pony tail and she is, trust me, a head-turner. There's no other way to say it. Her husband, too, looks like he's just stepped out of one of those posh TV ads. Small wonder that Maria and Spiro literally glow when their daughter and her kids turn up.

On Tuesday, one of my excursion guests asked Spiro: "Why do you call the bar the 'Top Three'?"

Beaming with pride, Spiros replied: "Because I have three sons and one daughter. But 'Top Three Plus One' doesn't work!"

The moral of the story? If you're looking for the 'real Greece', don't be fooled by appearances. It's the people that make it, not the trappings. And the Top Three Pub (Have to admit I still find it difficult calling it that) has authenticity in spades.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Say "I do" - if you get half a chance...

Well, we've settled back into 'normal life' after the break on Patmos and things are trundling along much as normal. I'm doing my occasional excursions to Rhodes Town from here in the south. Last year one of the sons of the family whose business I work for got married, and this year the other one is going to do so. I read somewhere recently that the Greeks believe that for two siblings to get married in the same year is bad luck. Could that perhaps have a bearing on this family's arrangements? I wondered.

Needless to say I went Googling to see if this was so. What I've discovered is that this silly belief doesn't apparently seem to be unique to Greece. There are such 'fears' in many cultures, including Hinduism in India and Buddhism in Thailand. I also found that by and large most people don't take any notice of it these days. Thank goodness that, at least in this regard, most people let common sense triumph over irrational superstition.

In the case of the lovely family I work for, when you consider that the two brothers drive coaches virtually non-stop for six months every summer season, it makes purely logical sense that they get married off-season, this already restricting their available dates considerably. I have to say that, if they are to please their Orthodox 'shepherds' many pious Greeks also avoid...

The first two weeks of August (these are devoted to the 'Virgin' Mary, wonder if she's bothered?), Lent, the 40 days before Easter, August 29, which marks the [supposed] death of John the Baptist, September 14, which is the celebration of the Exaltation of the 'Holy' Cross and any time in the 40 days leading up to Christmas.

Now, forgive me if I'm getting it wrong here, but just WHEN exactly CAN a strict orthodox Greek get married, especially if they work seven days a week from April through to the end of October? Since the older of the two brothers to whom I refer got married in the first week of December last year, and (at least so far) he and his new wife are blissfully happy, it appears that they're not so hide-bound by tradition as the more pious.

There we are. It's a funny old world. People who seem to me to be eminently 'normal' and not too 'religious' still can't pass a shrine or a church without crossing themselves. It's not a case of being judgmental, it's more a case of not seeing the logic of it. Humans tend to be pretty good at not being logical (where's Mr. Spock when you need him?). Virtually none of the myriad 'requirements' placed upon your day-to-day Greek by their all pervasive religion are based in scripture, yet the majority of Greeks seem to accept it all without question. Mind you, methinks that a lot of it is simply to keep the papas off their backs. You can't help but see the 'normalcy' evident in the lives of Christ and his followers if you read the gospels, or the book of Acts. There's no ritual, no ceremony, just a way of life based on certain teachings. Yet today so many 'Christian' religions are buried under a mound of ritual, dogma, creed, superstition, not to mention the existence of some extremely ornate edifices, which would be totally foreign to Christ were he to walk the earth today. In fact it's well known that the Greek Church is rich to the tune of five or six times the figure of the Greek international debt. And there was Christ, with nowhere to lay his head.

Interestingly, this current government has indicated that it would love to remove the influence of the church at least from the workplace, where anyone who's visited a government office will not have failed to see the ever-present icons on the walls above the fax machines and computer terminals. They're a bit hesitant to enact the legislation though. The problem for politicians, not just here, but worldwide, is votes. It's an area where democracy is weak, really. Politicians are loathe to offend a substantial religious section of their society for fear that it will lose them votes. On the other hand, in some countries, like Putin's Russia, for example, it pays the ruler to pander to the church because the church is his lapdog. Mr. Putin, by all accounts, is dead keen on the Russian Orthodox church, not because he's the least bit religious, but because they tow his party line, and thus produce grass-roots support (as if he needed it, the way his 'elections' are allegedly run). In fact he's so willing to cultivate the Orthodox 'vote' that he's recently moved to proscribe one or two non-orthodox minorities to the point of persecution, something that Mr. Gorbachov put an end to after decades of such shameful conduct by the former Soviet system. Mr Putin's done this to keep the established church on his side. They needn't think that he'll be loyal if at some time in the future he no longer sees the need, though. Freedom of religion and conscience is fast disappearing in Putin's Russia, it seems. Plus the Russian Church would do well to remember 1917.

It's so reminiscent of the religious leaders in Christ's day. One minute they loved him, the next they wanted him killed, declaring unwavering support for their Roman overlords. Just a tad capricious, eh?

All this started with me ruminating about when a Greek couple could and couldn't get married. Sometimes my brain really 'goes off on one', as they say in Wales. Needless to say, all the foregoing is merely my opinion and I have no wish to cause offence. But, if I may just once (I won't be getting into the habit, folks, don't worry) quote the Bible book of Ecclesiastes here [well, frankly it's an amazingly wise book anyway] - chapter 7 verse 9 says: "Do not let yourself be quickly provoked [lit: offended], for anger [taking offence] resides in the lap of fools.

Here endeth today's lesson!!

Tell you what. I can be as controversial as the next man if I put my mind to it!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Patmos - the Verdict

Well, we've been back now from our 18-day stay on Patmos for 16 days and counting, but the both of us wish in some ways that we were still there.

Patmos is well off the mainstream tourist trail, and for that those who visit the island can be grateful. Not that I'm decrying the 'mainstream tourist trail', but it would be a pity if all the islands in the Aegean were to become as busy as Rhodes. It's good that there are quiet havens of sanity away from the hordes, and Patmos, for me, is one of the best.

Agriolivadi Beach
The people seemed to us to be exceptionally friendly, as I've mentioned in previous posts. Their helpfulness is well illustrated by what happened when we spent the day on Agriolivadi Beach. Of course, this experience is by no means unique, but is becoming less common in the areas that have had mass tourism for decades now.

We walked to the beach from our apartment, which took about 25 minutes each way and was a pleasant amble, albeit up and down a couple of fairly 'aerobic' inclines. It's nothing that anyone who's reasonably fit can't deal with, though. When we got there we were the only ones on the beach. By the time we left, which must have been around 4.00pm, there were possibly a dozen people there. I know, it was early May after all, but the weather was wonderful and definitely in the 'taking a regular dip' category.

The sea was warm, impossibly clear and the bottom was shallow and sandy. All in all, it's the perfect beach. For a while we were joined by a sailing vessel, which slid silently into the bay, dropped its anchor with a muted clatter, and we watched as those on board set about taking a plunge and generally chilling on board in completely comatose surroundings.

Behind the beach there is a bar and taverna, both of which weren't yet open for business. There were a few men busily hammering, painting and fixing the canopy over the seated area of the bar, in preparation for their imminent official first week of the season. The women stood by and issued criticisms and commands. Next to the bar, the taverna already had its tables laid out and it all looked extremely traditional, essentially Greek and totally inviting. Apart from these two joined establishments, the backdrop is entirely rural.

After we'd been there about half an hour, we decided that if we were to be able to drink a frappé, then our paradise would be complete. So I pulled on my shorts and took a stroll over to where the men were beavering away. 

"Kali mera sas!" I said as I approached the burly-looking workers. I could see that the bar area looked pretty well set up to start functioning. A good sign. "Any chance you could fix us a couple of frappédes?" 

"No problem!" replied the youngest of the men, who must have been around thirty and had those annoyingly good looks that dark-haired young Greeks in their prime seem to ooze in abundance. His five o'clock shadow was carefully groomed and his chiseled features suggested that he'd have no problem attracting young female customers once the season got going. A few male ones too no doubt. 

He asked me how we took them and set about preparing the drinks for us. "We're not open for another week," he told me, "but anything you want, just ask. We've got beers and cold drinks in the taverna kitchen. No food though, sorry."

Full of gratitude for his accommodating nature (but it wasn't lost on me that he knew how to take the opportunity to earn an extra bob or two where the occasion arises, which is fair enough), I headed back to our umbrella with the iced coffees, which had only set me back four Euros. Now that, I felt, was a result. We were, after all, miles from anywhere. He could easily have asked me for five or six and I'd have had no choice but to pay up. In fact, we had a packed lunch with us for every eventuality, along with a chilled bottle of water, but when I headed back into the taverna a couple of hours later, he was there to serve me up a chilled bottle of Mythos and a cold can of tonic for the better half, and those two also cost me only four Euros. And it was a 500ml Mythos too.

The above illustrates something that we were surprised to find, in view of the fact that Patmos is quite 'select', if you like, and that was that the food and drink prices, generally, were cheaper than here on Rhodes. There were, of course, a couple of upmarket restaurants where one could empty one's wallet or bank balance with much more despatch, but choosing the more traditional tavernas (which we always do) and bars, we were able to eat out, including a half-litre of the house wine most nights, for well under €30 a pop. Well under. Most nights too we partook of a nightcap, which was a quintuple (they never measure!) Mastiha, for which we paid the princely sum of €3.50 each.

No doubt, you'll agree with me that the accommodation is a huge factor in how much one enjoys one's holiday. Well I can heartily recommend Suzanna Studios of you like to stay 'small and friendly'. I found her by Googling 'Patmos accommodation'. Suzanna (who spells her name Soza/Souzana in her emails) is a widow in her forties. We learned how she'd lost her husband, but it's not something she wants to see discussed. She lives on the premises with her teenage daughter and the whole atmosphere from the moment you arrive is comfy and welcoming. She showed us to our apartment, which had a wonderful view from the very adequate balcony and we were very impressed with the cleanliness. It's not in particularly modern taste, but that adds to the traditional charm of the place. Oh, and she met us from the ferry in her car to take us to the house, plus she took our cases back to the port for us when we left, we having chosen to walk along to the square for a final drink before our 1.30pm departure on the day we left.

If one were inclined to self-cater, everything is there. There's a very extensive crockery and glasses collection, well stocked cutlery/utensil drawer, a microwave-combi oven, a toastie-maker, a kettle, a fridge-freezer and a couple of electric rings. There was also a hair-dryer in the hallway near the bathroom. In fact, one could live there, it was that well equipped. Oh, and a filter coffee machine (the type with the glass jug on the warmer) too.

Overall, the accommodation added hugely to our enjoyment of the visit. But in general, as I probably said in a previous post, whatever I've looked for in a Greek island we found there. Next year, although it would by tradition be our year to go back to the UK for a visit, we're very, very tempted to simply hop on the Dodekanisos Express again and go back to Patmos for another helping.

Ah well, back to reality...

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Whatever gets You Through

The weary walkers arrive home...

Just down the lane from our accommodation in Patmos, was an old single-storey cottage, in fact we looked out over its roof from our balcony. The kitchen door was just a couple of metres from the wooden gate leading into the 'avli' and each time we passed on our way either in or out, if the hour was right, old Chrissie (Chrisanthoula), a sweet and evidently once very pretty ya ya, would be sitting right beside the gate, her back to the house wall, walking frame parked before her, passing the daylight hours in frequent contemplation.

Once or twice, as we passed, her daughter and granddaughter were spending a few minutes with her, the tot "Chrissie" (named, of course, after her ya ya) toddling around while her mother and grandmother kept a watchful eye in case she fell over. Chrissie's daughter lived right across the lane from her mother, who we concluded must have been getting on for forty when she gave birth to her last daughter, the one in question. 

Chrissie's chair and her front door

It was a rare occasion that we passed and we didn't smell something delicious being cooked in Chrissie's kitchen. Although she had a walking frame and, to us looked quite frail, she told us that she'd only been provided with the frame in the past few months, after she'd had a fall in the house. It was a constant source of frustration to her as she didn't see herself as 'old' at all. She'd often be in the process of sweeping up the bougainvillea and oleander petals on the concrete floor of the avli with a long-handled brush and a sawn off plastic oil bottle for a dustpan, shuffling her frame along as she did so. She was nothing if not determined to keep going.

Once or twice, as we passed, she expressed frustration at not being able to negotiate the steps outside her gate without help and thus not being in a position to sweep up the dried leaves that would gather on them. So we'd set to and did the job for her, all the while with Chrissie saying 

"I'm so ashamed. I'm so ashamed, to be asking you to do this. I should be able to do it myself". 

Our response was always, "Not at all. It's no bother. In fact it's a privilege."

On the morning of the day before we were due to travel home to Rhodes, as we strolled down the lane, she not only greeted us with a 'kalimera', but she asked if we'd come in and share a drink with her. Although we were dead keen to get to the Petrino Bar in the square near the harbour for the penultimate time, we felt it only polite to accept, and so allowed her to lead us into the house. The interior was as one would expect it to be when the resident was around 80 and probably older. Lots of framed, faded old photos on the walls, from which glared serious-looking bridal parties, men in uniform and religious icons. You never smiled for a photo back in the thirties and forties in Greece. Maybe it had something to do with the kind of life people here were living at the time.

Pouring us a cold glass of water each and proffering a dish of her home-made koulourakia, she began to tell us a little about her memories. Yes, this house had been in her family since probably the century before last. Her parents, though, had brought her into the world in a cottage just beside the lane which leads over the hill to Meloi Beach. We'd passed that cottage, it's derelict today. If walls could talk, eh?

Prompted by a few questions from us, she related tales of military helicopters, deafening explosions from bombs, and prison camps. She told of executions and living off whatever they could scavenge from the land after the Nazis had confiscated all the crops that the locals had grown. When we referred to Agrialivadi Beach, she said all she could see in her mind's eye of that beach was the prison camp behind it, where locals were often taken, some of which were never to return to the village. She said that the occupiers at one time slaughtered all the domestic animals to feed the troops, leaving the locals with nothing to live on but the weeds they could gather from the fields and roadsides. She related, with tears in her eyes, about the time when the Germans blew up the fishing boats in the bay, right below where we were sitting and listening that very moment. Local fishermen lost their entire livelihoods in a huge bang that resounded around the hillsides surrounding the bay, and as she related this account she closed her eyes, saying that it was as though it had been yesterday. All that remained were charred splinters sticking out above the surface of the water.

She went on to explain how her father had tried to support the family after the Italians, then the Germans, had stripped the island of its resources, by growing sweet potatoes. Fortunately, when we asked her about the Greek civil war of 1945-49, she said it hadn't really reached these islands, remaining concentrated on Crete and the Greek mainland. Small mercies.

After we'd listened, spellbound, for probably around twenty minutes, we sensed that it was time to leave her to her thoughts. She was evidently exhausted from reliving her memories from all those years go, and we knew that she'd make no objection if we were to tell her thanks, but we'd best be going. So that's what we did, and she showed us out, wishing us a very good day and saying she hoped we'd be able to do it again.

Chrissie's generation is, of course, fast dying out. She must have been born, we guessed, during the 1930's. She'd lost siblings and neighbours in a brutal war when she was only a young child. Yet she looked out from those eyes with a gleam of contentment. Loss, yes, but not bitterness. Like most of her generation, of course, she's very religious, to the point of subjectivity. Despite all the island had suffered, despite all she'd been through, she said on several occasions, 

"But, we have protection. Saint John protects us. This is the island of St. John the Theologian. We're blessed."

I couldn't help thinking, for all the respect that I have for this remarkable old lady, what worse terrors could they have endured, before they decided that they perhaps didn't have this assumed protection? Maybe that's the point. It's not really if it's real or not. It may just be what gets you through.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

To McGinn at the McGinning...

I know, terrible pun, but there you are. That's me I suppose! I'm once again over the moon to bring you another author-interview, and this time it's especially fascinating for me too, because, as I was reading this author's very entertaining memoir books about her time living in the Peloponnese, I so often found myself thinking - this woman is me in female form, her experiences so often reflect ours here on Rhodes. The title of one of her books even resonates with one of mine!!

So, without further ado, I'm delighted to bring you my in-depth interview with talented and very entertaining Grecophile author, Marjory McGinn.

Marjory, with copies of her latest offering, a novel this time entitled "A Saint For the Summer". More details below.
Let's start with a little background, just in case you're not familiar with Marjory (although that's hard to imagine!)...

Marjory McGinn is a Scottish-born author and journalist, brought up in Australia. She worked in Scotland for 10 years from 2000 as a freelance feature writer. Her journalism has appeared in leading newspapers in Britain and Australia, including The Daily Mail, The Times, The Telegraph; and The Scotsman, The Herald. In Australia she was a senior feature writer on The Sun-Herald, and stories have appeared also in The Australian and The Age.
A youthful work/travel year in Athens inspired a lifelong fascination for Greece. In 2010, together with her partner Jim and their Jack Russell dog, Wallace, she set off from Scotland on an adventure to the southern Peloponnese that lasted four years and was the basis for her three travel memoirs (Things Can Only Get Feta, Homer’s Where The Heart Is and A Scorpion In The Lemon Tree). 
Marjory is a Member of the Society of Authors and also writes a blog with a Greek and travel theme on the website and she can be followed on Twitter and Facebook

So, CV dealt with, here's the interview...

Where do you live?

At the moment, my partner Jim and I are based in East Sussex, England, not far from the sea. We’ve lived here since returning from Greece in 2015.  

What do you write about?
Wallace. (I want that dog!!!)
I’ve written four books all based in the Peloponnese in southern Greece. The first three are travel memoirs inspired by the experience of living in remote rural locations, like the Mani, for four years during the economic crisis. As if that wasn’t edgy enough, we had our hyperactive, but lovable, Jack Russell (Wallace) in tow for added mayhem, though his diverting behaviour was well plundered for the books.  The latest is a novel, A Saint For The Summer set in the Mani. It’s a contemporary book with family drama, romance, but mainly has a narrative thread going back to the Battle of Kalamata which is a little-known conflict of World War II that occurred just after the Germans invaded Greece in 1941. It has been described as the ‘Greek Dunkirk’.  

Why Greece? 
I have always loved Greece. And curiously, the passion was sparked right back in my childhood after my family emigrated to Australia from Scotland. By one of those quirks of fate that put your life onto a certain course, my first friend at school was a Greek girl called Anna who took me under her wing and eased me into Aussie school life. I ended up spending weekends and summer holidays with her as well, and her vibrant Greek family. I was eating moussaka as a 10 year old and dancing a sweaty syrtaki [we've all been there! - JM] in a Sydney backyard while other friends were swimming at Bondi beach. 
When I left school and did the European backpack routine, it was Greece I really aimed for. I worked in Athens for a year, some of which I’ve written about in my memoir Homer’s Where The Heart Is. I’ve been going to Greece my whole life. It was inevitable that when I got round to writing books, they’d have a Greek theme. 

How long does it take you to write a book?
About six to nine months to write a draft I’m happy with and then a few months rewriting and polishing, so about a year in all.

What do you enjoy most about writing?
I’ve had a long career in journalism, mainly as a feature writer, so I’ve always loved everything about writing. With creative writing however, especially a novel, there is a kind of magic about the process of transferring all the stuff in your head onto the page. I particularly like it when narrative threads and characters storm into the action unbidden, and surprise you.  Apart from the writing process, I like the consequences of a story being out there and when readers contact you to say they’ve only gone to the Mani because they’ve read your books. Or they’ve gone to a particular village and tried to track down one of the ‘characters’, like Foteini (that's her in the photo below, with Marjory), the eccentric goat farmer I wrote about in the first memoir Things Can Only Get Feta. I don’t know that she would find it enlightening though being chased around the village by foreigners. 

What, in your view, is/has been the greatest gift from Greece to the world?
Greece has given the world an immense amount culturally and academically, but as a writer I would say, its language. It’s a difficult language and I’m still battling with it but it’s also beautiful, clever and logical. To speak it, even imperfectly, feels like a link to the past. Apparently, the ancient Greeks believed that if you spoke Greek, you were Greek. I mostly like that idea. [I think Marjory makes a very valid point about the language being logical. Difficult it may be, but Greek follows its own rules much more consistently than does English, for example - JM]

How do you come up with an idea for a book?
The first three memoirs of course were a reaction to living in Greece from 2010 with our terrier Wallace who sadly passed away last summer. I started the first memoir because I wanted to capture some of the traditional rural way of life in the Mani (the middle peninsula) before it changed forever.  The idea for A Saint For The Summer (published in March this year) also evolved while in Greece. I heard about the Battle of Kalamata while there and how 8,000 British soldiers and allies, after fighting the Germans in Kalamata, had to be left behind after the British surrendered and the naval evacuation ceased. Many of the troops fled down the three southern peninsulas looking for small boats to escape to Crete. There were many tales of adventure and heroism here that really captured my imagination, but I kept the story tucked away in the back of my mind while I got on with writing the memoirs.

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’m not messy. I do keep notebooks with research and so forth and bios for characters, that sort of thing. But beyond that, I tend to keep the story buzzing about in my head and mentally work and rework things that way. As I said earlier, I like the process to have a certain spontaneity. I’ve become a bit Greek; I don’t like rules!

Which other authors do you read?
I read a lot of contemporary books with a Greek theme of course and there are many scribes  attached to the Facebook page you manage, A Good Greek Read, whose excellent books I’ve read. I won’t name names; that would be unfair.  
Favourite contemporary authors are William Boyd and Ian McEwan. I’ve recently read all 12 Winston Graham books in the Poldark series, set in Cornwall. It’s a tremendous saga and I think he’s an outstanding writer but strangely overlooked, despite the popularity of the Poldark TV series. His observations in parts are reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel. I love great storytellers like H E Bates, Somerset Maugham, and Truman Capote. 

What's your preferred kind of music? 
Probably soul and blues music, like Nina Simone. I like to hear a good Eric Clapton or David Gilmour guitar riff. [Aah, a woman with impeccable taste! - JM]

Do you like Greek music and if so, which kind?
Most of it, from Theodorakis to rembetika and folky stuff. I also like modern pop songs by people like Mihalis Hatziyiannis, Nikos Vertis, Peggy Zina.

Favourite place in Greece and the reason(s)?
Marjory, Jim and Wallace, Koroni, Messinia, 2015
It would have to be the southern Peloponnese. I love the three peninsulas as they’re all quite different, but my favourite is probably the Mani for its authenticity and its rural characters. Some of the Taygetos mountain villages with their fortified stone tower houses remind me of the Scottish highlands. Scotland, but without the wind chill factor. Mostly, I think much of this region is like Greece used to be a few decades ago (in the best possible way) and there lies its appeal.

What links (URL) would you like the readers to explore in connection with your work, including, of course, sites where your work may be purchased?
I write a blog with a Greek theme for our website started when we first went to the Mani
Recent book A Saint For The Summer

And finally, reading device or real book?
I like my ebook reader for stacking books up for overseas trips mainly. After working on a computer for much of the day, the idea of another ‘screen’ for reading doesn’t always appeal. A paperback is more soothing. I like the feel of paper between my fingers!
Thanks, John, for inviting me onto your excellent website for a chat. I loved the questions.

JM - You're very welcome Marjory, and I wish you every success with not only "A Saint For the Summer", but with all your future projects too.

Well, I found Marjory's comments very enlightening and informative, hope you agree. Next post will probably be the last one about our impressions of Patmos, before returning to rambling on and on (and on...) about life here on Rhodes once again.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Walk up to Kampos

Map, courtesy of Google Maps.
Back on Patmos, we decided to take a walk from our apartment, which was situated in the top left-hand corner of the bay where sits the main port, Skala, in the area known locally as Netia, up to Kampos toward the North of the island. Of course, the map above shows the area where we stayed as Etia. Seasoned Grecophiles will be well acquainted with the regular variations in spelling one sees for Greek map locations.

The gently-sloping, stepped path leading down from our accommodation meets the road just metres from the junction near the boatyard on the water front. Turning left we were exiting 'civilisation' within a couple of minutes. We climbed steadily and negotiated a couple of very tight bends, with nowhere really to get off the road if a vehicle came, until the road straightened out somewhat and we passed the only other petrol station on the island apart from the one down near the boatyard.

This is the South-West corner of the bay to the West and North of Netia. Seen from the near-hairpin bend in the road as it climbs away from the village.
As we continued steadily climbing, we soon arrived at the spot that every Greek island anywhere which supports a community will have - the local football pitch. It's clearly visible on the map above, although you may have thought it was a pool. the surface is astroturf, rather a good idea in this climate, don't you think?

Cresting a hill fifteen minutes later you then get your first view of the beautiful beach at Agriolivadi, which was always spelt on the map we held as Agriolivado. See my comment above! This is the first view you get of the bay...

Smack, dab in the middle of this photo below you can see a threshing circle. We've come across these on other islands in the past, but they're becoming very rare nowadays. Just in case you aren't sure how they work, the system has been in use since Bible times (in fact the Bible refers to 'threshing circles' or 'threshing floors' on a number of occasions) and involves the harvesters pitch-forking the newly harvested and dried grain into the air on a breezy day, to allow the wind to blow away the chaff, while the rather heavier grains fall back to the ground within the circle, from where they can then be gathered up and stuffed into sacks.

This one is only a mile or so before you enter the village of Kampos, which can be seen in the background.

We'd expected to take around 50 minutes to get to the village, but we were there in 40. It's the only other permanent habitation on the island outside of Hora and the Skala/Netia area below it. You haven't walked too far into the rather strung-out village when you reach this quite pleasant little square. 

From here you can walk further into the main part of the village, but there's not all that much to see up there. You can also take the beach road, leading a couple of km down to Kampos Beach. We decided to give that a miss (owing to the season, it was bound to be to quiet) and avail ourselves of a frappé in the rather inviting café/bar called Aroma.

The only other customers were a working man sitting alone and this elderly local couple, with their backs to the wall (see next photo below). As we'd come to expect, everyone greeted us as we came in and selected a place to sit. The old couple were having a spirited discussion, both about politics and the recent lottery win, with the man, who was seated behind Yvonne-Maria in the photo below. The woman had a fairly large medical dressing on her upper arm and so could rightly feel slightly sorry for herself. We didn't participate in this discussion, but cocked a ear for a while.

There had been a 2.5 million Euro win on the Greek National Lottery and the winner was a Patmos resident. Oddly enough, we'd also learned of this from the Facebook page of the Rodiaki newspaper, which had carried a photo of the retailer who'd sold the ticket along with the story. The winner, however, had elected to keep it quiet and so the hot topic of conversation everywhere was the identity of the winner.

Of course, owing to the fact that the retailer's identity was known, it kind of narrowed down the likely neighbourhood of the winner, but no one we spoke to seemed to have a clue as to who it was. There are only 3,000 residents on the island anyway, so it's inevitable that it'll get out one day, doubtless when the person takes delivery of his new Mercedes cabriolet, as Theologos, one of the waiters at the Petrino Bar suggested.

I had fun asking our favourite waiters/waitresses in our favourite bars/tavernas "So, what will you do with the money, then?"

Dimitris, in the Petrino bar, replied: "Listen, if it had been me, you wouldn't have seen me for dust! I certainly wouldn't still be at work today!"

This old couple evidently had a lovely relationship, although by the looks of them they must have been married over four decades and more likely five. When they got up to leave, and it was handshakes all round, we watched them walk across the plateia to the other side, where there's (as you'd expect) a church. Parked in the plateia beside the church wall was an old Japanese van (the back of which is just visible in the first photo of the square, above). It was hand-painted that vibrant blue that the Greeks all use for their plant pots, their shutters, doors and their taverna chairs. It's a blue the Greeks call "γαλα'ζιο", "gala'zio", which translates basically as 'light blue', but that doesn't do it justice. Gala'zio is the very blue of a Greek mid-summer's sky. It's Greek blue through and through.

Anyway, that modest van was evidently lovingly maintained and looked to be in very good running condition, even though I'd say it must have been almost as old as the old couple's marriage. It sat perkily on its springs in a way that bespoke good maintenance, and it sported a set of very recently-fitted tyres. What touched us, and told us much about the relationship between the old man and his wife, was the fact that, as they crossed the square, they held hands like teenage lovers. When they reached the van, the husband walked his wife to the door on her side, opened it for her and assisted her gently into her seat, before lightly closing the door for her, and only then walking around to his side of the vehicle. 

As they drove off I remember thinking 'that engine sounds sweet as a nut' and there was no great cloud of smoke indicating any health problems with it either. I must admit to the fact that my eyes pricked in the corners and I watched that van until it disappeared, thinking all the while, I believe that old papou treats his wife with every bit as much care as he does that van. Or should that be the other way around?

"Did you write these legs?" - Any Spike Milligan fans out there who can tell me where those words come from?

It was while we sat there, taking in the environment that, during the summer months would doubtless be a lot different, we both decided that it would be nice to eat something mildly naughty with our iced coffees. Peering into the murky interior of the building, I could see that there was no evidence of the place being a zaheroplasteion, it was merely a traditional kafeneion with a nice contemporary line in exterior decor. Anyway, I thought I'd chance my arm and so I walked to the back of the room inside, where, just emerging from the kitchen door, was the proprietor's wife.

"Oriste", she said, "What can I do for you?"

"You don't have any glika by any chance do you? Bougatsa, something like that?" I rather hopefully replied.

"Sorry, no." She replied. 

"It's just that we fancy something to go with our coffee. Even a piece of cake would do." I suggested, not with all that much conviction remaining, it has to be said.

"Ka'ik? We have ka'ik, yes!" She said, with an air of triumph. Interestingly, 'cake' is one of those words that's been transliterated into the Greek language.

She bade me go out and sit down and said she'd bring us out a small piece of cake each. If you know anything about a Greek breakfast, then you'll know that this kind of two-tone cake often features in the centre of the morning table, since it goes well with a filter coffee, something which the Greeks share with the Americans as a breakfast staple...

That cake went down very well and, when it came time to leave and pay the owner and his wife, (after a half-hour conversation during which the owner had declared that all politicians were a waste of space and a bunch of thieving ****???•••, and that Mr. Tzipras was a Benedict Arnold of the highest order), they brought us the bill - four Euros.

On the way back to Netia, we took the detour down to Agriolivadi beach for a closer look...

After a short reccy, we decided that a whole day here was going to be a must. From this beach back to our balcony was a very acceptable and do-able twenty-five minutes walk.

Slam dunk, See you next post!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Did You Hear the One About..?

I do have one or two more Patmos tales in the pipeline, but thought I'd digress just a little while this is fresh in my mind.

I did my first "Rhodes By Day" excursion on Tuesday and, while sitting in the Top Three and exchanging wishes for a "kali sezon" with all and sundry, Spiro and I somehow got around to telling a joke or two.

I kicked off my attempts with one that some of my longer-term readers may well remember. It's the one told by Basile, an American Greek stand-up comedian who's very funny, especially if you know Greek culture. Check out a sample here. He often talks about his experiences as a young boy of maybe five or six, and his ya ya and papou were living with his family at the time. The story goes something like this:

"Ya Ya! Is it right that women only wear black when their husband has died?"

"That's right, child."

"Ya ya, if women don't have to wear black all the time until their husband has died, why do you always wear black? I mean, Papou is still alive."

At this the old woman replied, with a glint in her eye: "I'm waiting!"

Spiro then told me his joke about an old couple, talking about who was going to die first. The Papou says:

"I think I ought to die first, my love. After all, if you went and I was left alone, I would never be able to cook and put food on my table. I'd be useless."

Whereupon, his aged wife replies: 

"No, no, no, my dear, it would be better if I went first. After all, I'd not be able to do a thing around the house without you. You've been my Mr. Fixit for so many years."

"But, my sweetheart, you're much more capable in so many ways than I am. I should be the one to die first, trust me."

"No NO!! Don't say that my love. You are strong and you'd be fine without me. And if the chickens escaped, for example, you'd easily be able to repair the fence again. I could never do that on my own."

And so the discussion went on, each insisting that they should be the first to go. 

After a while, the old man says to his wife: 

"I'm off down the kafeneion, my sweet. See you later."

Her husband hasn't been gone long when there's a knock on the door. Opening it, the old woman is startled to see, standing before her, o Haros' [Greek for 'the Grim Reaper', or death]. 

"Oh, no!" She cries, "You've come to the wrong place. You want the kafeneion down the road."

Saturday, 5 May 2018

An Affirmation of Sorts

I've fallen in love with Greece all over again. We've 'only' lived here for almost thirteen years, it's true, but everything that I used to look for and love about a Greek holiday many years ago I've just re-discovered on Patmos.

When you live somewhere it's so easy to get used to your surroundings, to cease noticing them. I know this even from growing up in the Georgian city of Bath, UK, where so often visitors would say how wonderful it must have been for me to live in such a beautiful city. Yet I walked its streets largely oblivious to their architectural charms. The world-famous Roman Baths I only ever visited for the first time when I was fifteen, and that was because, during a school exchange, we had a French boy staying with us for a month and so decided to show off our home town with pride. We took him everywhere and gave him the impression that we did indeed appreciate our 'heritage'. I wonder if he ever caught on.

Still, anyway, when you live somewhere, irrespective of how lovely your surroundings may be, you have to live a regular life. There's washing and ironing, shopping and earning a living, perhaps gardening and washing the car, getting it serviced, that sort of thing. There's cooking and cleaning and washing up ('doing the dishes' folks. I know, some of across the pond think 'washing up' is rinsing your face and hands). Although I guess that last one's a puzzle for a lot of people these days, living, as we do, in the dishwasher generation. Both me and my beloved are firm anti-dishwasher people I'm afraid. They're so awful in so many different ways for the environment. But no point going down that road here.

The Petrino café/bar...again.

Today, though, sitting for an hour or two in the delightful central plateia, which is set just back from the harbour in Skala, Patmos, was for me a kind of 'life affirming' moment. Watching the faces we've become familiar with over the more than two weeks that we've now been here, interacting with each other, going about their island lives, was truly a warming experience. Here there is virtually no crime, here everyone knows everyone else, and here everyone says hello. 

As I sip at my freddo espresso, I watch people, many of whom already greet me like I've been family for decades, doing what they do seemingly every day of their lives. A thirty-something young man, with a big bushy beard (à la mode) and hair shaved to a No. 1 on the sides of his head, although a thick mop of black curls adorns his crown, bounds up to an obvious friend, who stands up from his table to be sure that they greet each other in the time-honoured fashion, with a kiss on both cheeks and a firm handshake, which lasts for a full minute, while they converse, before the visitor bids his friend 'Kali sine'heia' and wends his way. 

A young girl, barely twenty if she's a day, arises from her chair, where she sits with a clutch of her peers of both sexes, and once again flounces her way between the tables and, on this occasion, into the building, making sure to be seen by all and sundry as she makes it look as if she has somewhere important to go. We've noticed this girl a few times now. Today she is wearing a pair of denim shorts that are so tight and so short that we remark that, had they not been denim, you could have called them knickers. Every time we've sat in the Petrino she's been there. She never sits still for longer than a couple of minutes without seemingly finding some reason to get up and flounce off, only to return a few minutes later, once again extremely conscious of the watching eyes of all those around her as she returns from another important 'errand' to her table of company, where she smiles and immerses herself once again in the conversation, while also picking up her mobile phone and glancing at its glowing face.

Stylish forty-something women, who evidently look after themselves, emerge from the doors of the several clothing and accessory boutiques that are situated around the square and walk the few metres to a friend's chair at the bar. These are the women who run the boutiques. They'll rest their hand on the shoulder of a friend and throw their dyed blonde hair over one shoulder while sharing a moment's pare'a, only to quickly return to their store as a woman in a floppy hat enters to see what's on offer inside.

Senior gentleman and women pass by, continually greeting all and sundry, occasionally stopping to embrace some old friend they've known since the cradle. People whizz through the square on scooters and pushbikes, some with plastic crates strung on to the back precariously, some with smart top-boxes with the logo of some courier or other emblazoned on the side.

Lots of people here have businesses, of course. We have the deep impression that this island is generally quite well heeled. Most of the tourists here are French, many of whom evidently spend long periods here during the summer months, judging from the frequency with which we see them interacting with the locals, often displaying an impressive knowledge of the language too. 

The young folk seem to have an awful lot of time on their hands, judging from the fact that, every time we come to sit in the square, the same crowd are usually already there, or arrive while we're sitting there. I refer here to those who are old enough to have left school, but most of whom aren't yet married. This is a little micro-society set far from the madding crowd. Patmos is a tiny corner of the world where people can afford to be civil to one and all and whole families seem to have the time for their volta once or twice a week. Amazingly attractive and tastefully dressed women push baby strollers around the place, sit together in small groups and drink coffee, or do the same with their husbands. 

Theologos, one of the waiters in the Petrino, is a new father and often his wife will turn up at around 10 or 10.30pm to spend a minute or two with her husband, stroller before her, and we watch as the very tall Theo 'coo coos' his young daughter and slides an arm around his wife, before he kisses her and she goes home, to await his later arrival. The three guys who wait tables at the Petrino have a good schedule worked out, since two of them have young families. They work a week of mornings, then a week of evenings, so as to have time for their families.

This far from big city life, one could think that the locals are missing something. But in all honesty, I see it as the other way around. OK, if you need your car or motorcycle to go for its roadworthiness test, it's a bit of a trial, involving taking it by ferry to a larger island every now and then; but when you have a climate like this one, and a community of only around 3,000, which means that everyone truly does know everyone, you have something that far transcends the pressurised, crime-conscious, anonymity of life in a city.

The quality of life here is something hard to evaluate, except to say that it's of the highest calibre. Many local young men, who have the latest phones anyway, get by on running the family beach restaurant and umbrellas, the fishing business or the car hire company, and what more do they need to aspire to? People raised in far away countries aspire to the sort of lifestyle that many here are born to. I remember being told a very sage yarn some years ago about a rich American tourist espying a man living in a tumbledown shack near the beach on a Caribbean island. As the old man scaled fish into a plastic bucket, the tourist asked him:

"That your boat moored by the beach?"

"Yeah man."

"That how you make a living?"

"Yeah, man, I sell a few fish. I get by."

"And you live in this old shack? Why don't you hire out your boat to tourists for fishing trips? Maybe you could afford to fix your place a up a bit."

"Then what, man?"

"Well, you may end up getting another boat, maybe a contract with a local tour operator, even a fleet of boats, maybe expand to other islands. You gotta think big."

"So, I do dat. What then man?"

"Who knows? Move to Miami. Make a mint. You could go somewhere in the world of business. Become a big mover."

"And then? Then what, man?"

"Well, you'd eventually be able to retire early, well minted."

"And where would I retire to man?"

"Well, you know. Somewhere like ... (ahem) this, maybe?"

"I already here man."

Yeah, I can be philosophical with the best of 'em. I just hope that no one ever decides that they need an airport on Patmos.

Here are a few of my fave photos taken around Skala...

Can you wrap him up, please? or perhaps have him delivered...

One of the nicest, most healthy bougainvillea we've seen.

No you can't take it home with you.

The excellent Pantelis Taverna. Order their signature salad, it's amazing.

I'm not one for churches, but I concede that they are very pretty. This one takes the biscuit where it comes to a fertile imagination on the part of some religious zealots from the past. It is claimed that it's the "baptistry where 'St. John the Theologian' [he'd turn in his grave at being called that anyway] baptised the people of Patmos in 95 AD". Look, no offence, right? (As I find myself having to say all too often these days), but the Bible affirms that the apostle John was indeed exiled here and that he received the 16 visions that make up the book of Revelation here, but that's it. All the rest is pure conjecture. No offence... Anyway, don't they look pretty? Like they're all covered in icing sugar...

Imagine the way this street looks in August.