Wednesday, 28 September 2011


Officially, it's winter here now, because the kids have gone back to school. It's still blisteringly hot during the day, snakes bask on the dried out donkey-paths, and the sea is as warm as a bath to swim in, but there it is. Winter has arrived. Newspapers are no longer available till the afternoon, and the locals put on sweaters and boots.

It's a place with huge attractions, but very confusing – this business with the used lav paper having to be carefully stowed in little bins beside each toilet, presumably because it might clog up the drains.... although as we know modern bogroll is very soft and falls apart in water. Meanwhile tons of other rubbish is liberally bestowed along the verges of each road. Huge sums of European money poured into the infrastructure (motorways, road improvements) but never quite reaching completion, so that the final stretches of road are inaccessible and end nowhere. Under present economic restrictions, the visionary railway which ran round the coast, and other regional railway, were mothballed despite whole new town developments depending on them, and already they have been ripped apart by metal thieves and will presumably never be reconstructed. They have all this sunshine, but very little solar-powered contraptions... someone (foreign) has set up an array to harness the sun's energy but exporting the electricity is taxed so highly that it's not economic.... this could be a way to help Greece out of its difficulties but not, apparently, yet.

Margaret who learned Classcal Greek at Cambridge and is studying Modern Greek now says a lot of the problems in running this country stem from the language itself..... horribly complex, ambiguous, very difficult to get to the point of any sentence. She says it's very difficult to think in Greek, unlike English where you can be very succinct and state things very simply. She'd been reading (in Greek) a newspaper interview with Victoria Hislop – VH having written a book about the leper colony island in Crete which became a hugely successful TV series in Greece, so her views are listened to. VH said, crisply, that the only way out of this mess is for the people to support the government they have voted for. Voting is compulsory here, but as soon as elections are over, everyone does what they can to ignore or topple the government. Ironically, in the home of democracy, democracy is not really working.

It was our first full day doing nothing yesterday.... This includes the process of fitting in with our hosts' way of doing things, their timing and habits. So, we had a very leisurely quiet morning making barely a sound, with private breakfasts being taken on different terraces and quiet phone calls and admin being carried out. Eventually we set off to the beach and taverna which M&F call Calliope's beach, though it has some real names of its own. I misunderstood Frank when he said it had wifi, assuming it meant I could plug into a PC there as in an internet cafe, and had to use his laptop when we got there, to load up the first two days' blogs. He got a bit agitated as it took longer than I thought it would, but in fact all was well... I posted those bits of writing, he did his banking, and all under a magnificent vine-covered pergola, cool and shady. Outside in the baking (winter) sun, Margaret swam and then I joined her, envying the more practiced swimmers with their pebble-hardened feet on that tortuous journey from beach-camp to weight-bearing water. Frank has injured his knee, and went off with Margaret to try to get a diagnosis, leaving Andrew and I to explore the tiny little village of Agios Nikolaos, half a mile further along.

The story here is that a tour operator once dumped a coachload of very unhappy holidaymakers here when he ran out of space at the much more posh and sophisticated Kardamyli a bit further north. Kardamyli is where PLF set up house, you remember, and is very nice. Agios Nicolaos had nothing more than a tiny port behind an ugly concrete harbour wall, and few humble houses along the front. Nothing to amuse tourists, anyway. This was just a few years ago... Anyway it prompted the people of the town to do something about it and now it has a line of tavernas and restos, cafes, chairs along the sea wall, etc. and is very pretty. We couldn't get into the church, sadly. But we admired a roofing crew at the top of one of the biggest buildings replacing all the tiles.... no scaffolding, no safety gear, cutting the tiles with chain saws, scrambling about in the heat of the day like baboons on the Rock of Gibraltar only more precarious.

Back for lunch – salad on the terrace under the vines. Laughs – the magic thread which knits friendships together.... Then Andrew and I went for a walk along the donkey track behind the house. These ancient paths between the fields are in a parlous state, so quickly overgrown with thorns and weeds, and some with fallen trees across them from the terrible fires of last summer. Our objective was to reach the little church along the way, dedicated to Prophitis Ilias (Prophet Elijah). Someone had recently cleared the path, so all we had to do was step over fallen rubble and roots... in fact the path was perfectly ok, unlike so many others which will presumably disappear with great speed into the landscape, after having served the land for hundreds of years. No cars can get along them, they lead mostly to fields and abandoned houses, no-one wants to use them. With the internet, cars, cheap travel, recession at home, the land is abandoned and these pathways are among the casualties.

Another casualty of modernity... in the wall to our right we found an old spring, beautifully built into the stonework, with a deep recess and a cistern to hold the water which has flowed from the mountain since mountains began. The outflow of the well gives out onto two lovely stone dishes or sinks – lustral bowls, Margaret calls them – one broken in two, the other in immaculate condition. She thinks they date from neolithic times. However, since the town below recently set up a new supply to provide everyone with water for modern living, this spring has been left dry. It seems almost sacrilegious to have spoiled this marvellous place. In Italy it would be whitewashed and revered and garlanded with flowers, and people would come and admire it....

We reached the little church, half white-washed, with a key in the door. Tiny, with various images on the walls ranging from cut-outs from magazines to post cards to written icons to magnificent frescos, these mostly crumbling to powder. The tiny tall deep dome over the main body of the church has in its apex a fantastic Pantocrator, the eyes of God looking straight down at you in a marvellous rich calm expressiveness. Beside the church is the village cemetery, very neat, with bright blue gates. Walking back, we met a neighbour of F&M's, an architect called Gilbert, arriving with his suitcase for a short visit. Then we took a shower on the garden terrace, out in the open, screened by a nifty curtain and the whole thing very economical with precious water.

Our evening entertainment was a poetry reading in swanky Kardamyli, in a pretty courtyard, and the poet Brenda Tai Layton reading her latest work to an audience of twenty or so northern Europeans. These were very good indeed, touching, funny, personal. Some were in Jamaican Creole. One was about a woman bringing up a little girl, a distant relative... this child wants to go to the Carnival as a crocodile, but Aunty says, no, all the children she has reared have gone to the Carnival as a Devil's Imp. On the great day, Aunty cannot find her 'best teet'' (teeth), so in shame she has to go along with a hankie over her face. Then to her horror, she sees the child Hortense in the parade, dressed as a crocodile and wearing the lost teeth. There was a strong international flavour to the evening, as some of Brenda's friends had translated one of the poems into Greek, Swedish and German, and they read these out to us too. Very pleasing.

In the shop I bought a replica statuette of Demeter, from near Thebes. My project is to create an exhibition back home, using these rather excellent reproductions, to illustrate the history of the great female deity in her various forms. It was very frustrating at the museum shop in Mycenae being unable to purchase any from there, because they were repricing them. Maybe I can get some from the Benaki Museum in Kalamata.... They have them in the main museum in Athens.

We ate at a hilltop taverna on the way home, with slinky cats prowling and waiting for titbits.
A great wind blew through the terrace, sending leaves and napkins flying. A man drove up in a huge black 4x4, revving and reversing and making it prance about like a Lippizaner horse, with the men in the taverna shouting back at him... eventually he roared away, having shown off his new toy.

Today we have a quiet day to help Frank rest his knee. But there is a plan for a musical evening at the taverna just down the hill. Friends will gather and we will make merry. For now, Andrew is prowling round trying to pick figs, and I can hear the droning of hundreds of bees in the great mass of ivy beside the house.

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