Saturday, 30 June 2018

Picture Postcard Time

Time I did another photo-heavy post. So here goes...

I've been wandering the Old Town again. But then, you'd already worked that out.

I went in thru the rather obscure and hidden St. Catherine's Gate this time, which is at the far end of the commercial harbour. Can't help thinking how inappropriately named that gate is, because it brings you into the Jewish quarter of the Old Town. Of course, very few Jewish people remain now, after what happened during the war. But there is a museum that attracts a lot of visitors. Old doorways like this one are fascinating. The old expression "if walls could talk" could equally be applied to old doors.

As I've said more times than I can mention, even in high season, you can find back streets like this one with little difficulty. I've probably mentioned this before, but those buttresses, or arches, are earthquake prevention measures. Not measures to prevent earthquakes, but to prevent damage from... Oh, you know what I mean. They evidently work, when you consider that we're in an earthquake zone and the Old Town is in excess of five centuries old.

This area put me in mind of the Old Town on Naxos. The only difference is that the walls would all be painted white on Naxos.

As above.

I rather liked the juxtaposition in this one. (Posh word, eh? Now and again I surprise myself)

Just don't drop anything out of that window while I'm walking by, OK?

If you zoom this one, you can clearly see the Hebrew inscription above the doorway.

This is the street where the entrance to the Jewish museum is situated.

And, finally, by way of a complete change of theme, we're doing away with our vegetable patch, which used to be a fairly large rectangle. We're doing it for two reasons, 1. The results we've attained in recent years are pathetic and 2. We don't really have the time to do what's necessary to tend vegetables in such a way as to ensure that they're happy. We are, however, installing two raised beds, which are the rectangular ones built with concrete blocks.

I need to order some more blocks yet to complete the second tier. They're not going to be any higher that. These will still enable us to grow lettuce and onions in the winter months, which do seem to still produce for us in sufficient quantity as to merit us carrying on with them, if nothing else. I'll paint the blocks white when they're complete. 

I took these two shots just as the sun was going down behind the hill yesterday evening. I rather like the light at that time of day. I'd just finished installing the pipework for the watering system when we cleared the tools away, made ourselves a drink and sat there enjoying the view over our labours. The pipes had to be buried, because we'll be ordering more gravel to lay around these beds in the next few days.

If you zoom this one you can just make out the pints of lemon squash on our 'crate' table, in front of the 'pallet' seat I made last winter. See, it's not always alcohol, only most of the time!

View from the seat.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Puddytats, Poachers and Pouring Rain

It's been a funny old June, it really has. In all the years we've lived here, plus all the holidays we took here during June, we've never seen weather like it. The first half of June has been on occasion rather like the middle of winter. I don't mean temperature-wise, but rain-wise? Definitely.

A week or so ago, my Greek friend Dimitris, who has two hire boats and some sun beds on a beach (son of Kostas, who I've written about many times in the past) was out in the sea trying to secure his boats when the lightning bolts were cracking down into the sea all around him, plus it began to hail, which can hurt! He told my wife that he'd never seen anything like it and that he was really frightened. He's forty years old, so he's seen a few summers here on Rhodes. 

As I type this it appears that the weather has begun to settle for the summer - finally. Yet we've thought that already several times and the storms have kept on coming. Of course, there is no such thing as completely stable weather conditions. Averages are made from highs and lows, right? So there must be below average sunshine, cloud, wind, rain etc., as well as above average in the same areas, in order to establish the averages. That said, we still haven't seen an early summer so unsettled in more time than most can remember. 

You know what I think is responsible? The volcanoes. Unless you've been living on another planet you can't fail to have seen what's been happening in Hawaii this year, plus a couple of other places that escape my memory right now. I'm no expert, but to me it does make sense that all that dust and debris that they're spewing out is reaching the upper atmosphere, where it picks up the jet stream and can very quickly travel all around the planet in a matter of hours. Now, I was at school a long time ago, but I seem to remember learning that raindrops form around dust particles. No dust, no raindrops - or at least a lot fewer. The rest is easy to work out, it's not rocket science.

Anyway, I could be entirely off the scent, but it makes some sense to me.

So, that's the 'Pouring Rain' section of this post's title dealt with. As usual, I seem to be coming at it from the wrong direction, with the last bit first. There you go. It's all I can do to remember what day it is half the time these days. The other parts, the 'Puddytats and poachers' bits are connected anyway, so here goes...

He's a cocky little devil isn't he? He started hanging around a couple of weeks ago and, although we swore we'd never keep a pet out here, it looks like we've finally succumbed. To be honest, we believe that he's already earning his keep, owing to the poachers.  

I'll explain.

Firstly, where did he come from? Well, you may remember, if you've read my ramblings for a while, that our close neighbours up the hill about 50 metres from us used to have a beautiful ginger tom called Simba. of course, Simba came to the hillside where we live with our neighbour who lives a few metres even above them. But, as she added to her tally of dogs, so Simba migrated next door for a more peaceful life, where he found a very comfy home and a warm welcome. Here he is, the tiger...

Sadly, last October Simba went out, never to return. Our neighbours weren't the only ones to be distraught, since he was loved by everyone living up here and, as you'll know from my previous posts, he would spend several weeks living with us while the neighbours were visiting the UK each year during spring time. Our garden was as much a part of his territory as was theirs, and he would occasionally get into scraps with the small number of feral cats living in the undergrowth nearby.

For that reason, whenever we caught sight of the feral cats we'd chase them out of the garden, because they would (and did) fight with him and often cause him injury. Once, however, he'd gone and we all gave up hope of him ever returning, the cat situation up here on our remote hillside changed.

"You're never more than a few metres away from a rat". Have you heard that one? Of course, it's not really true (well, it may depend on who you're married to, eh girls?), but what is true is that on a rural Greek hillside, regardless of how clean you keep the environment around your home, there are going to be rats lurking in the undergrowth. It's inevitable. I mean, we, for instance, keep a compost ditch in the vegetable patch, into which we throw all the organic kitchen scraps. Rat radar will pick something like that up in very short order. We also throw bread crumbs out for the birds, sometimes among them some chunk-sized pieces of stale bread. Often the birds don't get to see them because something with legs gets there first. We even had a bar of soap eaten from our 'shower area" under our car port once.  And THAT was six feet off the ground. Rats will eat anything, including electrical cables. As we've found out to our cost in the past.

We've been growing vines on the 'cliff' beside the raised bed on our patio for several years and each year the grape harvest has grown, although none of it ever reached our mouths. The grapes reach a certain size and then disappear, all of them. It's the rats. they scamper down the cliff during the nights and scoff away. One or two Greek locals have said: "Put net bags over each bunch and they'll be protected."

Like, yeah, we've got time to do that!

Simba, although treating our garden as his territory, wasn't usually around here during the night time hours. Now, Mavkos (he that is pictured above) is. We've begun calling him 'Mavkos' because he's black (Gr: mavro) and white (Gr: levkos). Yeah, I know, clever eh? All right, no need to be facetious.

So, since Simba is not around any more, our neighbours have decided to cultivate the friendship of one or two of the local feral cats, which, fortunately, up here aren't around in huge numbers. Mavkos seems to be a little unpopular with the others (we've seen them chase him right past us) and thus has decided that he might get a slightly more peaceful life by basing himself down at our place. It wasn't long before he was waiting on the patio for us to feed him (I've succumbed to buying dry cat-food for him, I admit), and so the routine has been established.

I mentioned above that he's already started earning his keep. Now, we can't be sure, but look...

Encouraging signs eh? There are probably twenty such bunches all over our cliff and the grapes are already larger than they've ever been before disappearing in previous years. The only difference in the situation from previous years is the presence of 'Mavkos.' I can't point to any solid evidence, but for the price of an occasional bag of cat-food, I reckon he's worth his keep. If he can be 'gamekeeper' to the rat 'poachers' - he's OK by us!

Not to mention the fact that he's already getting more confident about hanging around while we put his food out. Dammit, he's getting under our skin!

And, to round it all off, I took these photos on the coast near Lahania a few evenings ago. Rhode is soooo ruined by tourism, eh?

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Youth Who's Long in the Tooth?

Hmm, there seems to be something strange happening here. See, inside I'm still about eighteen, yet outside I seem to be morphing into my dad.

I was out in the garden the other day, busily adjusting nozzles on the watering system and deadheading roses, hibiscus and assorted other plants, whose names I have to admit to having allowed to escape me for the moment. Oh, and I power-sawed a pallet that I'd 'rescued' from a field where a nearby hotel (in that typically environmentally aware way that they have) dumps all its old 'stuff', which includes anything from old sun loungers to paint pots, through old cupboards, to cracked lavatory bowls and cisterns. 

I do rather get infused with fury at how so many local Greeks treat their natural environment, and then allow my righteous indignation to lapse a little while rummaging through all the detritus and finding some rather serviceable plant pots (we once 'rescued' a huge terracotta pot that would probably have fetched 40 Euros in a garden centre) and pristine new wooden pallets.

On the subject of pallets, we 'rescued' three last week that will make - among other things - a very acceptable gate between our BBQ and the house wall, sectioning off our side patio from the rear of the house and making it feel more cosy as a result. returning to the one I power-sawed, I made a very smart platform to stand on while having an outdoor shower under the strategically-hung hosepipe gun on the side of the car port. I was well pleased once I'd stained it and installed it where I'd 'dug' out the old one that had rotted away.

So, anyway, there I was ambling around the garden, pair of secateurs in one hand and plastic bucket in the other, when I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the windows of the house. When I'm out there at this time of the year it's essential to wear a hat to avoid my ears burning and the glare getting to my eyes. Plus, since my hair has always been rather thin, without a hat I get sunburn on the crown of my head. Don't laugh, it gets very sore! The hat I'm currently sporting when out there is a cream-coloured panama with a black band, which rather resembles the one worn by Josh O'Connor, who plays Lawrence Durrell in the TV series "The Durrells."

Photo courtesy of British Period Dramas
Of course, like most blokes wearing one of these, I rather fancy it looks quite rakish on me. No one else would agree though. Probably. Hats and my head don't generally enhance each other. 

Anyway, there I was, passing the window, when I glanced sideways, just in time to see my dad staring back at me. Since he died in 2009, it was rather a shock. Of course, it wasn't really him, it was me. I'm morphing into him as I get older. I still miss him terribly and, if I'm honest, I don't mind this metamorphosis that I'm undergoing, because I rather though my dad was a looker, even when he was heading into his dotage.

What made me stop and reflect was more the fact that I turn 65 later this year and I shall soon be receiving my UK state pension. In true Bryan Adams style, I (like just about everyone who's ever lived) still consider myself to be eighteen on the inside. The trouble is, on the outside my body's started telling lies. In fact, it's got to the stage now when, if someone asks us how long we've been married, our reply indicates that we were married quite a few years before my wife was born. I never was good at maths.

So, here I am finding myself saying to friends that I'm "looking forward to receiving my pension, as it'll make quite a difference to our financial situation." Then I take myself in hand and ruminate on the fact that it can't be me saying that, can it? Surely not. After all, the chiropractor who I've just been to for an - what we'd call in the UK - MOT, agreed that I could pass for an eighteen-year old. From the neck down that is. OK, well, from just below the neck downward, maybe. Probably he was just humouring me though, after I told him what the surgeon had said when I had my hernia done a few years ago (check out this post).

Finally, we had a really, really lovely evening yesterday, when some friends from the UK of many years came over for a meal and we caught up on old times. Gareth, our dear friend Kim's fairly new husband, is as mad about music as I am, so there was no shortage of conversation there either. When, however, we got around to the subject of 'selfies", since Kim and Gareth are quite a bit younger than us and hence of the generation that's been weaned on mobile phones, I pronounced my dislike of them (selfies that is, not necessarily the phones), largely because one gets fed up of staring at peoples' nose hair. Gareth and Kim, though, have a lens that you attach to the phone which gives a wider angle to the shot. 

Thus, Gareth shot this one out on our driveway, and I have to admit, it's not half bad...

Gareth, Kim, Kim's mum Mary, my better half (Yvonne)Maria, me and Tessa, who's Mary's mum-in-law and Kim's grandma.
Ooh, and another thing, for those of us that have been young a couple of decades longer than others, the Lindos Rock event takes off on Wednesday for ten days. Tuesday 26th I'll be there listening to "Floyd in the Flesh", who played their debut gig here a couple of years ago. They were pretty good then, but I'm betting they've even improved since, with practice and experience. I'll be there among the rockers who usually have more hair coming out of their ears than they have left on their heads. 

Zimmers will be parked outside the door.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Tourism, it Has its Good Points

Just now and again I quite thrill at the good side of tourism. I'll explain. 

Of course, there are negatives about tourism that can't be ignored. For example, it's probably by and large responsible for a lot of pollution in rural and wild areas. Visitors leave behind rubbish, especially plastic, they trundle heavy-footed over delicate areas of natural beauty, they cause noise which can be a huge problem for the local inhabitants. Here on Rhodes they increase the traffic to levels that make you scream on occasion (especially if you get stuck behind a dreaded 'gourouna' [quad bike]), and still ever more new hotels are being built, which will result in ever more hire cars creeping like tortoises around the island's roads.

It ought to be acknowledged, though, that the problems above are often not the fault of tourism in itself, they are more often the upshot of the thoughtless holidaymakers, which does not mean all of them. In fact, many people who travel go to great pains to show respect for the local environment and its indigenous population. So the issues can be resolved, or at least tackled, by education and, in extreme cases, the banning of certain people who consistently cause problems from travelling at all. I'm not even going to mention a certain extremely inconsiderate wedding couple from last year here on Rhodes in Lindos.

On the other side of the coin, one plus point in particular that genuinely sends shivers of happiness up my spine is the way that tourism brings people of different countries together in unexpected ways.

Excursions such as the ones I work on, are often a source of anxiety to me at 8.30 in the morning, and yet real delight when I'm bringing my guests back in the afternoon. The best way I can illustrate what I'm inadequately trying to explain is to refer to my "Rhodes By Day" excursion from last Saturday, June 9th.

I get my 'manifest', or list of guests and their hotel pick-up points, by e-mail late the previous evening. The first thing I do is scan the list for surnames that reveal that their owners perhaps aren't British, or at least, probably not from the UK. I do get surprised very often, of course. After all, Here's me, a dyed-in-the-wool born-and-bred English boy with a surname like Manuel. I can't talk now, can I?

Usually, though, my guesses are spot on and, last Saturday, among more than 40 guests, were people from six different nations. I had Germans, Finnish, Russians, French, Dutch and British. Now this is what can stress me out a little. The guests usually do know that their 'escort' on the coach is English-speaking, but occasionally they either don't, or it doesn't make much difference anyway because they can't understand much more than a few words of English. 

So, I had three German couples, who I'd estimate were in their late fifties or early sixties, a Russian family consisting of husband, wife and two-year old daughter, two ladies (mother and daughter I surmised) from Finland, a couple from Normandy in France and a couple of about my age from the Netherlands. In circumstances like this I like to announce to the guests that we're a "United Nations on wheels", or maybe a 'cocktail of countries.'

Thrusting all modesty aside here, I do like it when I get a few French, or often Belgians from the French-speaking sector of their country. I get to practice my French and to explain how, once upon a time, my French was brilliant, but now, because I've learned to speak Greek, I often end up speaking 'Freek', or perhaps 'Grench'. I come out with Greek words without realising it, so I joke to my guests that they're getting not only an excursion, but a free Greek lesson into the bargain. I have to say my guests are usually graciousness itself, and thank me profusely, when they get off the coach at the end of the day, for my efforts to at least help them as best I could. Makes you feel good when people do that. Try and put yourself in their place, which is what I do try to do. I can honestly say that one of the rewards of my job is when people getting off the coach after the excursions ends shake my hand, or even (as was the case with one Russian gentleman a year or two ago who'd been on a Greek Night with me and couldn't understand a word of English) bear-hug me, in evident gratitude for what they see as a really good day or evening out.

Anyway, returning to last Saturday's Rhodes Town trip. We set out from Kiotari at around 8.10am and I check out each stop along the way in advance, to try and be ready for what's coming. As soon as I welcome the guests at the door of the bus, I ask them what country they're from. Sometimes it looks like they don't have a clue what I'm saying, yet it's amazing how often the essentials do get through. We get into town and I lead the guests into the Top Three bar for a quick explanation of the basics that they need to know, which includes how to find a few 'attractions' and the info about how we're going to gather for our return journey.

It's at this point that I make eye contact with those who may be having difficulty understanding and I invite them to have a natter, one-to-one to be sure they've got the essentials. Now and again I have to admit, I resort to whipping out the iPad and using Google Translate! On Saturday my three German couples got on at the Lindos Princess near Lardos, and it was clear to me that some of them didn't speak English, but that one or two would do OK. In such circumstances I can only hope that, since they're on holiday and ought to be in jovial (dare I say 'forgiving?') mood, those who can understand my gibberish will translate for the rest of their party. Happily, this was the case on the day in question. They were a really happy band and were effusive in their expressions of appreciation when they got off the bus at the end.

I was actually moved to say over the mic that when you get a mixed group of holidaymakers from six different countries all together, and on the way home they're all very evidently in a happy mood, it makes you realise that grass-roots people are the same the world over. We're all there with one common purpose, to enjoy some quality down-time. We all want to get on with each other. I thrilled to see, for example, that little Russian family, with their toddler, wearing Nike trainers and polo-shirts and shorts just like ours. Propaganda is trying to colour our view of people of different nationalities all the time, and we needn't think that this isn't so as much in the 'west' as it is in the 'east'. We shouldn't think we in the 'free world' are immune.

It worked out that the Russian family were the last ones to get off the coach, and we had fifteen minutes on board after all the other guests had got off before arriving at their hotel. So I made my way back along the aisle to have a chat with them. I asked them what they do for a living, and they told me that he was a project manager in the building industry and she was an office manager. They were bringing up three kids too. The older two had chosen to remain at the hotel while mum and dad took little sister to Rhodes Town for the day. 

When I asked where they lived they told me St. Petersburg. I mentioned that I'd really love to see that city, as it looks, from all the photos and video that I've seen, to be very beautiful. 

"It is" they said, "It really is. You should come. You'd like it." I sensed something behind those words. Without further prompting, the husband told me that things weren't as normal any more in Russia as they were in the Gorbachov years. There are things happening that are not so good. But what really hit home to me was that they were very anxious to stress that the people "are warm and friendly. If you come, you will be welcome. You will have a good time, really."

Reading between the lines, it was evident that they were concerned about how they were perceived abroad these days. One reads that Vladimir Putin has a very high approval rating among the Russian people. Listening to this lovely couple talk, one could be forgiven for thinking that the statistics are being massaged somewhat. When they asked me where I was from originally, and I told them the UK, it was very clear that they wanted to stress that they have no problem with the British. As so often happens, I found us agreeing that at the 'grass roots' level, people are simply people, human beings trying to get by. It's the politicians who cause all the problems, megalomaniacs that so many of them seem to become.

By the time we arrived at their hotel, I sensed a real friendship, an affinity, with them. They got off the bus and embraced me, thanking me for a really good day out. I was almost sorry that our conversation had to be brought to an end. I patted their pretty little daughter on the head and wished them a happy remainder to their holiday.

Sometimes I love my job.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Shot Away

Time I did a photo-heavy post again. Don't forget, clicking on any photo gives you a larger view. Right-clicking on that one gives you the option to open it in a new tab. When you do that, you can click for an even larger view again...

One final shot from Patmos. This was a bag from the small bakery near the harbour. I loved the name. It means "Baking Poems" when you separate the word into two components, ie. 'arto-pymata'. Put together as one word, it simply means 'Bakery' or 'bakery products'. I like that play on words. Pretty accurate too.

Another Rhodes Old Town stroll coming up then...

That sign is visible from the tables at the Odyssey Taverna and is fixed to the wall beside Romeo's, across the way. Anyone care to take a stab at what they think they mean by "Heets"?

View through an arrow-slot in the wall at Ag. Athanasios gate into the Old Town. That path below leads between the exterior of the real wall and one of the 'dummy' walls that the knights constructed to confuse invaders.

Nope, not the Old Town at all. Just goes to show, it's well worth a wander in the northern sector of the 'new' town too.

Entrance to the moat from the gate behind the Taxi rank in Mandraki. How the hell did they get those balls into that cannon? (before you write in, I AM trying to be funny! Failing miserably, as usual)

The very arrow slot that I was looking out from when I took the shot three-up from this one.

...and the actual path visible from that arrow-slot shot. It's not hard to imagine a rather hopeful army marching up here, expecting to find a way into the city, only to find that they have to turn around at the end, while a few of those huge stone balls are raining down from above, along with a few burning pitch-covered arrows for good measure. Can spoil your whole afternoon, that.

Same place, but taken from the other end. No escape.

When you get to the top end of that path, there is this tunnel through the 'dummy' wall, which gets you back out into the moat, via a courtyard where you'd once again be very vulnerable to attack from above. Plus, for an army to get through here, they'd have to resort to single file.

Taking the dark-looking tunnel beneath the wall into the Old Town from the area of the moat where you see the outdoor amphitheatre,  you emerge here, at Nafsikas Square.

Leon Rodiou Square, just metres from Nafsikas.

And finally, this shot demonstrates the lunacy of the recently enacted law banning tavernas nationwide from serving up their own, locally-produced, draft olive oil. This was my table at the lovely Filippos Taverna on Tuesday. That stupid little very un-environmentally responsible bottle of olive oil is now what law-abiding taverna owners are reduced to. This new law is entirely the doing of the big olive oil conglomerates in an attempt to boost sales. It means that tavernas that continue to place refillable bottles of oil on their tables are now risking a fine. I could go on about this for a long time, but it's an unmitigated disaster. Think of how many extra tiny plastic bottles are going into the trash as a result of this ridiculous measure. It's ostensibly to "ensure that the oil offered to diners is only of the highest quality." Balderdash. More likely it's to swell the profits of the big boys. All the local tavernas I've ever eaten in have presented their very own, fresh, extra-virgin oil to their customers. Now they have to shell out for oil from one of the big Greek oil-producing companies in these completely unnecessary plastic bottles. Money in the Government's pocket? Allegedly. And at a time when the plastic problem with the environment is finally being highlighted. Oh, I need to go and have a lie-down, I'm so livid. The world is going mad.