Thursday, 17 August 2017

Anxiety - part 2

So - I know it's foolish but there it is.
I did manage - FOUR TIMES - to walk that plank.
The police scrutiny was balanced by the hilarity of watching our crew rig up a way of connecting y the electrics - cannibalising an old toothbrush charging seat - until we found a more reputable plug in a hardware shop. 
We found Sarande to be a lovely place -peaceful and joyos in holiday mood, with cafes, hotels, fruit market, archaeology, kindly people, wonderful food at half the price we'd paid in Corfu, nice wine, beautiful views and beaches, and a carnival atmosphere along the promenade with hundreds if not thousands of happy families enjoying the night air. So, I overcame my fears, enjoyed myself, and we went to sleep back on board (that gangplank again, in the dark!), to the sound of explosions - fireworks to round off the evening. 
Today on the long haul motoring up to Orikum I have had a long time to consider what happened and why. It's annoying I had to end the main blog before it really finished and I had to write it twice as I managed to lose it the first time.
Now at a lovel beach bar. Wifi helps. Have seen the scan of our new grandchild sent from Kilkenny today. Fantastic.

Anxiety

Having just written a lengthy blog about Albania and my anxieties - I managed to lose it all. So this is an attempt at a rewrite.

As we came into port yesterday in the pretty port of Sarande I was overtaken by a huge wave of anxiety, paralysing. This is so unusual for me I found myself quite unprepared for it and unable to respond apart from going below deck to try to think what had happened.   It was a much more forceful episode than my 'normal' pre-holiday packing nerves, where I find myself wandering round the house aimlessly and repetitively, worrying about things I know are irrational but still agitated. This time, my route was interrupted by Andrew losing his 'foreign' wallet and we spent our fins hour at home searching fruitlessly everywhere. It turned up in the end in his bumbag inside his suitcase, safe but rather inaccessible.
I thought I had escaped my worries but they were just lying in wait.
So - we finally managed to leave Gouvia Marina later than planned because mysteriously the water taps wouldn't work so we couldn't fill the yacht's tanks. The reception girls refused to believe it, treated our captain as if he knew nothing..... In the end, from a different pontoon, we found the water, completed the paper work and set off north.
Past the extraordinary Jeff Koons boat, past the beautiful bays and headlands, past the high peak of Mount Pantokrator where we had been two days before, and away from beautiful Corfu.
Into Albanian waters.
Why should Albania make me so uneasy?
It is a small poor country right in the middle of the European continent, hoping to join the EU one day, but still held back by its dreadful decades under communist rule and then the despot and ductatir Enver Hodja who died only about 20 years ago. It is very left-behind, racing to catch up, but with a long way to go. Today by a main road we saw a goat chomping on a hedge with an elderly goatherd in attendance. The Albans have flooded into Greece where they have a terrible reputation as thieves and robbers. All the copper communication wires were stolen from alongside a railway. And the theft blamed on the Albans. We have seen them clustered at Athens bus station - dishevelled, dirty, clutching cardboard boxes tied up with string, and rough bundles of belongings. None of this is bad but it is all in 'the past' for us, we are accustomed to smoother things. The Greeks will allow that one percent of Albans are 'good' but the rest are all terrible.
It was (is?) a police state.
It is like Tintin country, and looks risky......
Even our own Foreign Office advises caution if you are planning to visit.
I have never before knowingly met an Albanian.
So - it's to be approached carefully.
You can add in to this my anxiety about being in a very small boat in a treacherous sea - and of course the boat is safe and the captain and crew skilful and experienced - but it turns out I am what they call 'an anxious passenger' - there it is.
We headed into the lovely bay of Sarande with its tall apaertment blocks parading up the hot hillside, and pretty palm-fringed beaches. The skipper radioed in for a berth - but we had to wait. It's not a large place and the quay is really designed for ferries and small cruise-ships. It's not ideal to berth a yacht among such large vessels as any slight mistake by one if them could be disastrous for smaller boats. We were told to wait - and eventually, rather chaotically, and watched by the police out if the corner of their eye, so to speak. We backed in, and we were to be held steady by our own anchor from the bows, dropped in line with our allocated space. In we went. But our skipper dropped anchor too early and we were just a bit too far from the high concrete quay. The height of this landing made me quake - another peril to be faced. But it was clearly best to go out and start again.....
At that point, and for no reason that I could have explained at that moment, I had to go below and sur quietly alone, so I missed all the fun of doing it right.
Then I had to face that gangplank..... It rose from the stern of the Lady Olivia at a steep angle up to the quay, sliding backward and forwards and side to side with the swell. Moreover, it could not be fixed because it might all to easily grate against the yacht's rails and lever them out. So although I 'know' I could walk it, would have someone to hold my hand, could take my time - still I was reduced to blubber inside.
It makes my cringe to think about this. I feel small, stupid, useless, unworthy. A long list of critical and humiliating feelings.n

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Remoteness

We called to see the Durrells - or at least to see their house, which as they say does look like a sugar cube on the beach - brilliantly located and now a villa-to-hire, restaurant, cafe, film-location and general point of pilgrimage down in its pretty bay.  There is a huge carpark nearby, and a sign saying which film stars have been to visit. This is the power of books and films to keep places alive, or at least to give them a new lease of life when other economic fountains have dried up.    We had drinks and looked out at the water with small boats bobbing about and children playing with floating bananas, a scene replicated in the many other beautiful bays which now play host to the tourist hordes each summer. Every bay has to find something unique to promote.... Some bays have only low-rise buildings, some have big hotels, some have old fishing villages converted to selling tat, some present restaurants lined up end to end. It's the modern way. The kitchens of the restaurants are hot and dark, whereas the terraces filled with carefree diners are light and airy.  Each greeter invites you to come and inspect how fresh the fish is in the kitchen - bream, mullet, bass - all from the fish farms further along the coast.  If I spoke Greek I would ask the girls in the kitchens how fresh they feel.
The roads are pretty good, and the driving is surprisingly smooth (compared with my previous terrifying drives around Athens a few years ago). We duck down to see Ag. Stephanos, and Ag. Nicholas - thriving tourist villages now with pleasure boats all around the water's edge, and (I notice) always one or two beautiful old boats made of wood and to an exquisite shape, professional antique fishing boats... Who knows if they're still working? They look right.
In a taverna, we see a party of priests having lunch after the special celebrations of Assumption Day. A man sits at another table playing an accordion and bellowing out some some traditional music. Posters advertise an event later in the day - the meeting of nine choirs, or something like that.
We eat, we stroll around. K swims, I attempt some drawing and painting - never enough time.
The day's excursions end with a trip back up into the glorious mountains, covered in olive groves. Someone said it was the Venetians who paid the farmers a euro for every tree they planted - well, it can't have been euros, and it must have been a long time ago, but it is striking how green this island is compared to (say) Cyprus or the hills of Croatia. A few of the olive orchards have been recently pruned, with tall trees halved and new growth sprouting out - more accessible for harvest, and also they could get all that lovely old wood to carve into spoons, bowls and chopping boards. One grim stretch had recently been burned - trees reduced to black sticks, everything destroyed, with black ash and rocks the only thing to see for hundreds of acres.  Such a fire must be devastating - the wind to push it forward and no escape if you're in the wrong place.
Higher than the fire is an abandoned village - Old Perithia - which had 130 houses, 8 churches, 15 wells, 3 threshing floors and spectacular views - until the 60s. Then for whatever reasons, it was left to rot. Not enough work, no beaches, too far away, life too hard.  The buildings are said to be 'Venetian' and indeed are very very pretty. In 2009 a pair called Mark and Saskia (and I am sorry I do not know anything else about them) set themselves to save the village. They did up one of the houses, and started encouraging others to do the same. They have signposts up asking people not to drop litter - hoorah! - and also not to fly drones which invade the privacy of others. Archaeologists have been to explore and record, the church has been spending money on the icons in at least one of the churches. There are several taverna now, and holiday cottages, and horses to hire. The twists and turns of the streets are delightful, and trees grow everywhere - it's green! Mark has written a book about it, capturing the village's history before it's too late - presumably interviewing the families of people who lived there and still remember it.  In a strange way, the death and rebirth of the village has preserved more of its genuine character than you'd find in the villages which have enjoyed continuity of purpose.
The glories of the island are spoiled by an ongoing saga or row with the company providing my mobile phone service aka access to the Internet and the ability to post these bulletins. Incompetence, stupidity, bad systems, all these combine to induce rage and/or despair.
The old life - before mobiles and computers - is still visible and tangible, with electric wires, telegraph wires, air conditioning units, aerials, dishes, all manner of 20th century gadgetry draped over and nailed to the older buildings. Up in Perithia you get none of that. You can see the monastery and radio masts of Pantokrator up on the horizon.  We were up there the day before of course, looking down on the village without knowing we'd be calling in there the next day. Pantokrator is an extreme example of the new being smashed onto the face of the old.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Rubbish

We are really no better in the UK than in Greece as regards our rubbish management, just better at hiding it. We pretend we can go on forever creating mountains of plastic, waste food, barely used glass and metal.... But it's hidden in bins, lorries, closed yards. In Greece, in these tourist districts, if you're lucky it's bundled up into plastic bags and then put into dumps beside the road.  I am amazed the piles of rubbish aren't bigger, the wasteful way we live. There has to be a better way than this. The blatant disrespect for the earth, wildlife, health, the landscape, for ourselves is - frankly - staggering.  I suppose everyone feels helpless to do anything different. We buy our food instead of growing it. We choose it from gleaming shelves which are clean and orderly. We lug everything home in neat non-spill packages. We are totally disconnected from the real means of production, the costs and the downsides.  We could have street composting systems.  In the old days there was the pigswill man. I think (cannot prove) that we ate proportionately more vegetables and meat, fish or eggs were for high-days and holidays. I sometimes get into a rage walking into so-called 'supermarkets' which are nothing of the sort. A market implies choice and variety, options. The industrialisation of our food supplies - while it has fed billions of us - has in fact diminished our choices. It would be wonderful if a supermarket chain started to take real responsibility, made its buildings into real markets, encouraged local growers and suppliers, paid a living wage, ran plausible recycling systems for the packaging and waste, encouraged communities to take responsibility instead of persuading us to wear blinkers and pretend that everything is alright.  I guess living in a marina for a few days - a hothouse of leisure, 'escape', irresponsibility - focuses the mind somewhat.
Our trip by hire-car up into some of Corfu's northern villages provided a welcome change into a real and seemingly more natural landscape. Olive groves, stone walls, hamlets clinging to the mountainsides, spectacular views, winding roads, cypress trees like pencils punctuating the wobbles and undulations of the tree canopies.... So beautiful and it was not difficult to imagine that the Romans or ancient Greeks had seen identical vistas in their day.  We passed long distances without really seeing a single bit of evidence of modern life, nothing more recent than, say, 1500.
The summit of the day was a trip to the mountain, church and communications centre of Pantokrator ('the Almighty'), which is Corfu's highest peak. The holy church was founded in the late 14th C, rebuilt in the last years of the 17th. I suppose the original was reached by pious monks on mules and donkeys, lugging the timber and stone up that precipitous pathway - now a road capable of taking coaches and HGVs, and thus not feeling so very remote.   What the 20th C added was a gargantuan array of masts, towers, aerials, wires, girders, pylons, spikes, receivers, transponders, god-knows what, stuffed into the cloister and garden, and onto the slightly lesser hilltop immediately facing the gate.  The little church is a glory of painted icons depicting the transfiguration of Christ, and is adorned with countless lamps, silver panels, carved and coffered woodwork, a little loft filled with mattresses, and a chance to buy  and light some tiny tapering candles. Outside you might be in the back yard of GCHQ or an ancient BBC transmitter station such as Daventry. Weird, man.
It's another clash between an old, staid, and rather beautiful way of life and a crashing ugly purposed industrial modern way of doing things.  I wonder which will last the longer (she says).

Stronger winds

To fit this many boats into the marina, they have to be tightly fitted together, which works ok if you don't mind hearing your neighbours' conversations and smelling their breakfast, and so on.  And it's all perfectly alright if the weather stays calm. But if the wind gets up, things can get a bit more worrying.
We spent the day doing quiet local things - coffee by the pool (wifi access), a bit of shopping (for us, fresh mint for tea and some figs for Andrew), and lunch on the boat using up the abundant and delicious left-overs from the night before.  Then we walked in the mid afternoon to the tiny village on the headland beside the marina bay.... Just getting the lie of the land, unwinding.
By the time we got back to the boat, the song of the wind in the thousand or so yacht masts in the marina was positively orchestral. With fluctuating power its harmonies rose and fell, sometimes just whispering and clanking, sometimes a full bellowing roar. Looking at the masts, their collective personality seemed to be thrilled and excited. 'This is what we're for', they seemed to be saying as they breasted into the gale. 'Show us the wind! Give it to us! We love it! We are all for wind!' And they stretched up taller and straighter, and if masts can smile, these hundreds and hundreds of masts were grinning. Their stays and yards and fixtures were with them, and they loved it.
The hulls, meanwhile, were stirring and bumping about. Where we are, about three piers back from the bay, in the middle of the marina, things were pretty up-and-down, but we and our immediate boatly neighbours are well-berthed with tightish lines. Across the pontoon, two Italian boats were less well secured, one of them swaying and bashing about in the wind, only a couple of fenders protecting its companion. The owners of this victim boat came back, looked, tried moving some fenders, drank coffee, looked some more. Their friends arrived. The badly-moored boat continued to bash into them. K&A said, if this was Split, the marinero would come and re-secure the problem boat, but here in Greece it's less well managed.
The wind roared and gulped. The masts were proud. The sky was blue but darkening into night-time (no shooting stars last night).
K&A (but stupidly not me) went for a walk further out into the marina - where the wind was taking some of the yachts broadside, and the waves were piling up over the jetties. 'No sleep, no staying aboard there.....'
For this to happen in a marina, a safe haven, is quite something.
Our berth, on pier N, berth 20, is about quarter of a mile or so from the actual quay. You get some idea of the scale of the place.
I woke smelling smoke about 1am. The people on the boat next to us, also Italian, were smoking and that had drifted into my cabin and woken me up. The wind had died down, to an almost eery quietness.  Today, the sky is blue and the airs calm. We're off by car to tour a bit of the island.

There is a great storm - a depression - swirling its way to the east somewhere far to he north of us, and so the winds which flood out from its southern skirts are channelling down the Adriatic Sea, powerful northerlies bringing rain and thunder with them. This makes our planned voyage up towards Croatia pretty well unbearable to contemplate so we will stay where we are for a while and wait for it to pass. The danger zone is called the Straits of Otranto where weather such as this concentrates itself, and the shores on either side offer little or no shelter. Last night, as we rocked very gently in our berth here at Gouvia Marina, we could see occasional distant flashes of lightning far over the horizon mountains, and an app told us this was 70miles away. We heard no thunder but the plain malevolence of those flashes was clear and made me feel glad to be this far away.
This is the largest marina in Greece, we are told - though other ports may claim a similar status. It is pretty well astonishing - like a plantation of regularly spaced but irregularly tall stiff white masts and attendant wires. The wind soughing through this hedgehog's back of bristles makes a constant cooing or humming noise, punctuated by the very occasional clanking of unsecured lines bashing against some other percussive material. 
The layout is practical - hard piers lead out into the bay - as far as the eye can see, with floating pontoons at right-angles and these packed on either side, barely an inch between them, with white plastic leisure boats of varying sizes and splendour. Some are weekly hire boats, and yesterday was change-over day. As the parting holidaymakers left, crews of young people swarmed onto the boats, chucking out mountains of laundry onto the pontoons, scouring and swabbing and cleaning the decks and saloons.   As we came back after our day out, the new parties of sailors were arriving, with their trundle suitcases and plastic bags of groceries. There are a lot of Italians and Brits, some French, some Greeks of course. Few Germans or Dutch. I think the Russians are all on the huge pointy scary-looking mega-yachts further out on the bay.  Prince Charles and Camilla are said to be up the coast on the Rothschild estate, staring at Albania. Our friend and neighbour at home, the painter Tony Bream (brother of guitarist Julian) told us how he had stayed on that estate some time ago....  
We didn't get as far as that part of the coast yesterday, but nearly. We went for lunch to a beach taverna called Nikolas' at Agni Bay, and tiny and charming little bite out of the cliffs now filled with cabins, pergolas, sun-loungers, pleasure boats, tables and chairs, signboards in various scripts, and the smell of cooking.  We motored up there because there was no wind..... We passed a particularly interesting and uber-expensive big boat painted as op-art camouflage (later learning it was Jeff Koons who designed it). It's a paradox - screaming 'Look at me!' while also saying 'You can't see me because I'm camouflaged...'   
We moored up at one of the little wooden jetties. We jumped into the warm sea, and swam about for a bit. Then we sauntered into the restaurant for lunch - a feast of dishes and tastes, all delicious. Our party was K&A, K's cousin Jules and her Greek husband Stephanos, and their 9-year old daughter Isabella, and Andrew and me. We over-ordered but loved it.  I particularly liked the little rolls of fried aubergine stuffed with cheese (called Boureki), and fingers of fried cheese and ham, and an illegal dish of fried baby calamari. Divine. Then, back aboard and with the wind coming up, we made our way out into the bay and sailed back to Gouvia.  To the east, we saw the painful islands where lepers were segregated (by 19th century officials mistakenly following medieval advice about how to treat such people), and where young people were imprisoned (by the British) and later locals were shot (by the Germans). 
Back into the marina, literally backing into our berth with nary and knock. Jules, Stephano and Isabella went for a swim in the marina pool, and I made a painting of the scene. These travelling sketches displease me because I see all my bad habits writ large, but it's all practice.  
Eventually, with all attempts to connect with the Internet failing, we went back to the Lady OIivia and eventually out again for supper to a taverna by the marina gates. Once again the food was marvellous - cheap and made on the premises and absolutely delicious. We took some back - too much to eat all in one sitting.   Back on the yacht, we saw that evil looking lightning in the distance, and some shooting stars overhead. The wind was gradually increasing, hustling and sighing through the forest of masts.  



Sent from my iPad

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Winds

There is a great storm - a depression - swirling its way to the east somewhere far to he north of us, and so the winds which flood out from its southern skirts are channelling down the Adriatic Sea, powerful northerlies bringing rain and thunder with them. This makes our planned voyage up towards Croatia pretty well unbearable to contemplate so we will stay where we are for a while and wait for it to pass. The danger zone is called the Straits of Otranto where weather such as this concentrates itself, and the shores on either side offer little or no shelter. Last night, as we rocked very gently in our berth here at Gouvia Marina, we could see occasional distant flashes of lightning far over the horizon mountains, and an app told us this was 70miles away. We heard no thunder but the plain malevolence of those flashes was clear and made me feel glad to be this far away.
This is the largest marina in Greece, we are told - though other ports may claim a similar status. It is pretty well astonishing - like a plantation of regularly spaced but irregularly tall stiff white masts and attendant wires. The wind soughing through this hedgehog's back of bristles makes a constant cooing or humming noise, punctuated by the very occasional clanking of unsecured lines bashing against some other percussive material. 
The layout is practical - hard piers lead out into the bay - as far as the eye can see, with floating pontoons at right-angles and these packed on either side, barely an inch between them, with white plastic leisure boats of varying sizes and splendour. Some are weekly hire boats, and yesterday was change-over day. As the parting holidaymakers left, crews of young people swarmed onto the boats, chucking out mountains of laundry onto the pontoons, scouring and swabbing and cleaning the decks and saloons.   As we came back after our day out, the new parties of sailors were arriving, with their trundle suitcases and plastic bags of groceries. There are a lot of Italians and Brits, some French, some Greeks of course. Few Germans or Dutch. I think the Russians are all on the huge pointy scary-looking mega-yachts further out on the bay.  Prince Charles and Camilla are said to be up the coast on the Rothschild estate, staring at Albania. Our friend and neighbour at home, the painter Tony Bream (brother of guitarist Julian) told us how he had stayed on that estate some time ago....  
We didn't get as far as that part of the coast yesterday, but nearly. We went for lunch to a beach taverna called Nikolas' at Agni Bay, and tiny and charming little bite out of the cliffs now filled with cabins, pergolas, sun-loungers, pleasure boats, tables and chairs, signboards in various scripts, and the smell of cooking.  We motored up there because there was no wind..... We passed a particularly interesting and uber-expensive big boat painted as op-art camouflage (later learning it was Jeff Koons who designed it). It's a paradox - screaming 'Look at me!' while also saying 'You can't see me because I'm camouflaged...'   
We moored up at one of the little wooden jetties. We jumped into the warm sea, and swam about for a bit. Then we sauntered into the restaurant for lunch - a feast of dishes and tastes, all delicious. Our party was K&A, K's cousin Jules and her Greek husband Stephanos, and their 9-year old daughter Isabella, and Andrew and me. We over-ordered but loved it.  I particularly liked the little rolls of fried aubergine stuffed with cheese (called Boureki), and fingers of fried cheese and ham, and an illegal dish of fried baby calamari. Divine. Then, back aboard and with the wind coming up, we made our way out into the bay and sailed back to Gouvia.  To the east, we saw the painful islands where lepers were segregated (by 19th century officials mistakenly following medieval advice about how to treat such people), and where young people were imprisoned (by the British) and later locals were shot (by the Germans). 
Back into the marina, literally backing into our berth with nary and knock. Jules, Stephano and Isabella went for a swim in the marina pool, and I made a painting of the scene. These travelling sketches displease me because I see all my bad habits writ large, but it's all practice.  
Eventually, with all attempts to connect with the Internet failing, we went back to the Lady OIivia and eventually out again for supper to a taverna by the marina gates. Once again the food was marvellous - cheap and made on the premises and absolutely delicious. We took some back - too much to eat all in one sitting.   Back on the yacht, we saw that evil looking lightning in the distance, and some shooting stars overhead. The wind was gradually increasing, hustling and sighing through the forest of masts.  



Sent from my iPad

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Corfu, war, a miracle and bank notes

On 11th Augut 1716 a Turkish fleet was besieging the city and fortress of Corfu. The population - despite its impressive zigzag fortifications - was hopelessly outnumbered and could expect only death or slavery. But a huge storm swept the invaders away and saved the city. The residents ascribed this miraculous salvation to their patron saint Spyridon, and have thanked him on that date ever since with a litany or procession through the town. It is not all that different from saint-parades found in other Mediterranean and ancient towns and villages - such as that of San Felice de Circeo on the island of Ponza - said to be where Circe enticed Odysseus, and where the tiny streets are filled with joyous families and an effigy of their saint is shouldered through the crowds.   However, Spyridon's joyful and respectful annual parade is marked by a splendid and frightfully British accompaniment of dozens of marching bands. This relic of British rule is both bonkers and marvellous. 'We' gave up our ownership of the island way back in the mid-nineteenth century and thus our military bands were withdrawn. But they had rooted themselves in the hearts and minds of the locals who promptly decided to create a local substitute. But one band was not enough. Nor was two or three sufficient. They ended up with nineteen, twenty, more...  Each was equipped with startlingly splendid arrays of instruments - the bigger the better. Each had its own uniform with splendiferous hats and helmets, so that each band is arrayed in scarlet, or white and blue, or black, or green.  Children were set to learn instruments. Retired bandsmen from the Yorkshire pits came to settle here to keep standards up. And on St Spyridon's day, these bands all gather and march, interspersed with police, Boy Scouts, various public functionaries, and watched by large and happy crowds along the way.  The crickets in the trees on either side are - as ever - fantastically noisy, but they cannot drown out the sound of several bands all playing their own tunes at the same time.   There is a kind of order, and a lot of stopping and waiting, and impatient drummers practice their bashing and rolling noises to keep their fellows on their toes.  The march lasts for about two hours and is one of the finest and funniest things you can see. 
Now that we live in the space age, possession of such minor fortresses and islands is of no real consequence. Wars and strategies are conducted by satellite, drone, stealth bombers and computers at vast distances. Places like Corfu don't really matter any more except to refugees and tourists, and their old status has shrunk to a kind of 2-D account.
This can be readily understood if you go - as we did - into the the Museum of Ionian Bank Notes, a free and fascinating series of rooms owned by Alpha Bank. Mr Constantine showed us round - a charming and academic historian who loved his subject and was prepared to explain everything in detail.  The museum is the history of money, empire, war, pride, inflation, technology, art, Greece, peace and futility....   It starts at the time of Croesus, the first tiny blobs of silver stamped with some sort of mark, moves on through flimsy but gold coins, imprints of heads and horses, and then the great leap of faith into paper money. Design, ownership and instruction are spelled out ('it is forbidden to cut this note in half'). Kings come and go. Printing plates are laid out - sometimes with as many as forty engraved duplicates on a sheet, all done individually and identically by eye.  They moved from copper to steel. The printing was done by Americans, Brits, French. In times of crisis when there was not enough metal for coins, tiny teeny notes were printed instead of cash. Patriotic designs invoking Alexander the Great, Socrates, Sophocles and the rest sprang to the fore, and architecture of course.  While the Germans ran Greece during the last world war, hyperinflation ransacked the value of any kind of money - within weeks or days, prices leapt from a few hundred drachma to three trillion. When the Germans slunk away, a British Military currency came into use - locals would then gladly accept a low value note rather than a high one, because they believed it would stay true to its worth.
The Greeks have always been traders. They invented money and always needed it.  A fascinating theme was the recurrent dream of nations - for one universal currency, held together by agreements which crossed boundaries and languages. So, long before the EU and the Common Market, there was in the 19th century a Latin Monetary Union based on silver - the French, Belgians, Swiss and Italians ran it. But it didn't last long because the Germans and the British were using the gold standard, and so it all fell to bits. 


The past is the future. Storms and wars bash through and grand ambitions are swept aside. The Bank Note Museum tells the whole story. 

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Travel

I do wonder sometimes how long peasants like me will be allowed to travel. One way or another they'll find a way to stop us. One the one hand it's 'easy', affordable, accessible, etc. You book online, 'check in' yourself, go to any of hundreds of glamorous destinations, get your few days in the baking heat.....   A massive, colossal infrastructure is there to support all this - motorways, airports, lounges, retail cities at the aiports including those astonishing wandering lanes through an unbelievable perfume quarter, with a wiggling black marble pathway marked out in gleaming stone flecked with millions of diamonds..... This chicane is a kind of hellish condensation of the whole thing - the corralling of the mob, entirely artificial, like a cattle run leading to the abbatoire entrance but with a horrible stench of expensive artificial smells.  Then there are the planes themselves, tin tubes hurling themselves up into the thinner air to save fuel, bashing through invisible waves of thick and thin air, up over the blissful blankets of cloud into baking hot light.... shooting us in a great arc through the atmosphere towards our distant holiday destinations.  The planes are a marvel, those huge fleets of them, carting millions of us, squashed into our tiny perches, every day, zigzagging across the planet.
It's all astonishing, and rather ghastly. This is what we call our 'holidays'.
Yestertday's trip to Stansted was by train - change at Stratford East (including walking through the shopping mall to the other station, which is huge and sprawls out like a great fat Victorian great-aunt, so many platforms and destinations...... Then up to Tottenham Hale, into the unsuspected greenery and almost rural old fields and marshes around the R Lea where they used to make gunpowder.  The platform there is made of hundreds of small bricks, and a huge number of passengers are heading as we were to the airport, and so are dragging their pull-along suitcases - hence the noise of all those hard little wheels thumping over the bricks is like a vast choir of huge crickets........   Then the Stansted Express with electric sockets to recharge your computer or phone....  So, a slightly tortuous but useful old route to the plane.
We had a delicious lunch at Leon - vegan salad and a fish curry - all made and served with pride, and then met our friends K and A, whose boat we will be sailing on.  The flight was 4 hours, the children aboard remained resolutely cheerful (kicking the back of my seat), the air was terrifically bumpy at first, the light over the clouds was dazzling.    The air in Corfu was like a steam bath.  Hotel Dalia is ten minutes walk from the airport and surprisingly quiet. Very elegant and nice.  We walked through the muggy air to find supper near the sea under the trees. Another marvellous salad, some garlic purée, hummus, fried shrimps.  The moon was a disgusting yellow hanging over the water. Bed was utterly blissful.. Today is the feastday of Corfu's patron saint, Ag. Spyridon. We are going see his litany - a procession round the old town.