Thursday, 29 September 2011

Animals and Bouzouki

I'd like to say something about the animal life. Today we saw a bull on the back of a lorry down by the beach, and then later this afternoon a different bull being manoeuvred into or out of an olive grove beside a couple of cows and some calves. It must be that time of year. We have also seen a few cattle and donkeys left to graze on the side of the road, severely hobbled with their heads tied down near to the ground. Looks very uncomfortable, and also a hazard to motorists as they are quite unattended.
In the house here, we have a little pre-bed-time ritual which is to seek out any millipedes and sweep them outside. They get to about two inches long, very cylindrical and tough, and black. I am not sure what they do, but they are unwanted, particularly as they can swarm, and cover the walls, especially in wet weather. Apparently when squashed they make a horrendous smell, and in fact nothing will eat them. We scoop them up with dustpan and brush and throw them outside as far as possible.
We sleep inside magnificent mosquito nets hanging from square racks – on the second night we didn't and lots of small bites was the result, luckily these have not risen up into huge welts. There is at least one kind of mosquito here with a very loud whine, but it is either very fast or invisible as we have not been able to see it.
Eveywhere we have been, there are cats. Greece ie overrun with cats (and in my fantasy perhaps actually run by cats). They are very beautiful and mostly savvy enough to find enough to eat, but they are also mostly terrified of any close approach and are ready at all time to vanish from sight. At the bouzouki night last night, there were three or four kittens apparently living up in one of the trees giving shade to the terrace. They crept about on the branches and then made their way across the terrace roof to the far corner to take a grandstand seat on top of a huge barrel, and gaze down at the dancing below.
Dogs seem to me to have something of a cowpoke life. They swagger around in the middle of the street and seem to be saying “Howdie, pardner... How's it going?' It's hard to say if they 'belong' to anyone, and they look pretty grubby, but on the other hand they are content and confident in a way that the cats are not.
Perhaps because of the lack of birds, the insect life is astonishing – so many kinds of bees, butterfliers, hoverflies, and so on. You can hear them all over the place, and some are so beautiful it makes you want to be able to whip a microscope out of your pocket to look at them more closely.
The water systems in the house are very interesting. Rainwater is collected from the roof and goes down into a huge cistern under the main entry room. This tank is 8 feet deep and fills the footprint of that part of the building, viz. c12' x 15'. From there it used to be raised in buckets and taken upstairs for cooking and washing, but F&M have a pump installed which pushes it up to two large tanks at the garden level at the back. One supplies the garden loo&shower room, and one feeds into the kitchen.
They have had fun cleaning the main cistern out. When they first came, it was easy to find strong agile workmen who could slide down into the tank on a rope, but now the young have gone, and the original men have grown more rotund.... Thus F&M bought a rope ladder from the ships' chandlers at Seven Dials in London, which makes it easier to get down and up again.
We went off exploring on our own today, calling in to two of the many astonishing little byzantine churches which are scattered like croutons over the landscape. Inside they have these radiant but crumbling frescoes, some held up with scaffolding, some just abandoned to swallows and wasps. There doesn't seem to be any easy way to put any money down to help these buildings. One has a wild assemblage of constituent parts, bits of column and carving which seem to have been left over from somewhere else, but these include a very strange carving of a baby (?) or a bear ?) clinging to one of the pillars on the ikonostasis, beside the door leading into the Holy of Holies. The baby is about life-size. It must surely be a metaphorical thing, the worshipper clinging to the church, or Jesus clinging to his mother, but there is no explanation of it.
Then we went back down to Calliope's Taverna on the beach, to send the blog off and try to do emails, and then along a coastal road to Trachina. This road is about halfway up a huge cliff overlooking the sea, and has many caves in it. Some were evidently occupied in Neolithic times, but they have been used since then for many purposes, including housing for the local people in recent times. Trachina has a tiny port and a headland, and a sad story. There was a woman called Eleni who ran a marvellous little taverna, making home-cooked food much appreciated by everyone around. When her son grew up and left, she carried on. A new cafe opened nearer to the centre of the village, and the owners there noticed that Eleni did better trade than they did - because she was a great cook, despite being unable to read or write. This was her undoing. She could not issue receipts, as required by a new (EU) law. The owners of the new taverna shopped her to the police and she was arrested. She actually was sent to prison for breaking the law.... not for long, but humiliating enough. She had to close down her taverna, but theirs is still in business. We did not stop there.
Instead, we went back to Aghios Nikolaos and sat by the clear waters of the little harbour there, and ate stonkingly good garlicky mashed potatoes and a tomato salad and some fried whitebait.
Then we drove up into the golden mountains which stand guard over the sea – passing tiny monasteries and immaculate olive groves and abandoned stone towers and spinked up villas with foreign cars outside them, and tiny squares with groups of old ladies (probably about 50 but looking 85) wearing black and helping make the world go round.
Now we are back at base again, waiting for some sort of bouzouki music thing tonight. It may go on late, so a siesta is recommended.
(Next morning).....
The music night last evning was loud and seemed pretty authentic, with at least one elderly shepherd taking the floor to perform an elegant lilting dance with full attention from the audience which included a busload of Norwegians and bouzouki dance-class group from Kalamata. Our waiter and his brother also did solos, or took part in small group performances in which a man dances with several others kneeling round him as a token of support or admiration. The musicians played pretty-well nonstop for four hours of more. The dancing includes Zorba-like lines or circles but plenty of more free-form stuff. However, correctness of movement is highly prized and amateur attempts do not gain the support of the crowd in the same way. With careful, elegant, circling movements, arms outstretched, and courteous bows or nods, the dancer creates a kind of story (I have no idea if his or her dance matches the words of the song, unfortunately). The dance seems to embody all things – life death, love, hope, joy, time passing. It is both highly sexual and completely asexual, and the whole room is involved by watching, or occcasionally flinging a large wadge of paper napkins over the dancing, like confetti. It went on till way after midnight, by which time we were all very tired. Now this being Wednesday we are going off to explore and Frank and Margaret are going to Kalamata to get his knee x-rayed. He is in great pain.

Posted late on Thursday afternoon.Not sure when I can post tomorrow.... we spent today further south towards the deep Mani - explored villages, coves, Areopolis, the Caves of Dinos, and more...

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