Thursday, 23 April 2015

A stone shoe

The light behind the curtains suggests another sunny day, with reservations. Enough to do laundry. Once the machine is rumbling reassuringly, the soaked mix tossing in the froth, I’ve emptied the waste into a plastic sack for walking to the wheelie bins, I boil the kettle for tea and coffee, slice two pieces of bread to toast, and take from the fridge my usual Christmas gift from Amy, anchovy paste – Partum Peperium –  ‘There’s only one shop in Birmingham I can get it, Dad’.

The balcony, where I take my tray, affords a view that spreads from Albania, across the border, along the high mountains of Epirus as far as the hazy space of Igoumenitsa over the shining sea between island and mainland. From the crags behind us...
...the island mountains disappear around to an inland cape covered in trees and shrubs from which stone cliffs jut now and then, over which, in winter, the sun will suddenly appear having risen red over the mainland peaks.

In April our sun rises further south, above our view of three gentle hills a couple of miles away, clothed in olive trees that reach into the village, hiding the long shore between Pyrgi, an hour’s walk, and Dassia in the centre of the bay 10 kilometres wide between ugly Barbati, invisible from Ano Korakiana, and Corfu Town. Between the hills I can see, less than a mile from the Old Port of the city, Vido island. Due south the gentle undulations continue, completing the middle distance – dotted now and then with a pink-violet blossomed Kokukyias.

Above them, usually in haze, sometimes invisible, more mountains – south of the city the saddle back around Agia Deka, 20 kilometres away, astride the island’s narrow tail, and to the west the mountains behind Cape Plaka forming precipices over the resorts of Ermones, Gliffada and Pelekas, facing the Ionian Sea – on their lower slopes, speckles amid the greenery, of villages. I call the time to Lin and prepare her coffee though she’ll lie abed another hour at least, muttering ‘Yes, maybe’. If only the swallows soaring across the distant haze of mountains gave people pensions; jocund weather converted to salaries; my joy in this place into its economy, but for all that we live here our contribution is paltry set against our detachment from the crisis whose slow and relentless development is being described on televisions behind shutters and doors, making the internet unreliably busy. The coach is turning back into a pumpkin, the footmen into mice. One delicate glass dancing shoe is turning to stone.
I had awoken from one of the loveliest of dreams about my mum; awoken happy too, rather than sad at realising I’d been asleep all along. Mum had been walking with me in the English countryside, stood at the lip of a long escarpment, surveying together a green landscape that stretched to a hazy horizon lit by a summer sun, then in the middle of Rome she’d sung from a balcony after breakfast ‘Mum’ I said ‘you’ve got crumbs on your tongue!’
She laughed and we were shopping in a fashionable arcade and she’d bought a dress in which she looked as beautiful as I’d ever remembered her. We hardly needed to speak; just comfortable and happy and at peace in one another’s company and all the time it seemed we both knew very well she was no longer here. It didn’t matter a jot.
'You know why we dream so much when we're here' said Lin 'Both of us! It's because our mattress is so hard we never get beyond REM sleep.'
That, not cheese?
*** *** ***
I was on the bus back to the village sat behind K.
‘Things are bad’
‘I know’ I said
It’s the first time I’ve heard her suggest we may return to the drachma.
Richard P had said that without money from Europe the first thing will be that the government can no longer pay its workers – civil servants, nurses, police, local government officers, refuse collectors, bus drivers, electricity and water workers.
‘They will strike' he said
Things will close down.
‘What do people in in England say?’ asked K
‘My brother-in-law, with many others, say it’s Greece’s fault. Get out of the Euro and let them make their own way out of the mess they created for themselves. Stop taking our money...I say I don’t want to hear such opinions.’
A friend for supper here has a similar refrain
‘Greeks have got to grow up.’
I get flustered at glib imperatives. I rehearse the counter-arguments that much of the time seem to make sense – of deliberately created national debt, the impossibility of trying to get water from a stone (or any more money that goes only to cover interest payments on a debt that is wholly unrepayable by people being turned into paupers), ‘fiscal waterboarding’; of the fact that Greece’s crisis is Europe’s, an amplified problem of advanced words are assailed by the worthy logic of economics.
But how is it across the nation? People must be watching TV as we don’t. What do they say in the streets of Ioannina, in Metsovo and Kalamaka, in the islands of the Aegean, in Crete, let alone Larissa, Thessaloniki and Athens? I detect a resigned numbness with flashes of hope. People get by. Perhaps.
‘If everyone in Greece paid their taxes, the problem would be solved. If Greek institutions scoured themselves of corrupt practices...’
‘Who said that? It’s not so simple...’ I say...lamely
 On the bus I said how impressed I was by Yannis Varoufakis, and Alexis Tsipras ‘playing an impossible game with the weakest of hands.’
‘Yes, indeed’
‘Flying on empty’
‘Yes, indeed, Simon’
There is no conspicuous consumption in Ano Korakiana. People work. People nurse frappés and soft drinks as they chat in Piatsa. One family in our part of the village roasted a lamb for Easter. Vasiliki gave us plates of her delectable cakes on Easter Monday. The washing flies in the wind. People garden, as we do. Katerina gave us horta and pastichio. The people we meet are ever polite, generous and cheerful. It made the conversation on the bus the more worrying because the expression of such apprehensions. at least to us, is so rare.
Lin and I have pondered options.
I ask Mark, over a beer in Piatsa.
‘Quite simply, Simon, I don’t know anything anymore. So many people have so many opinions.’
We’ve been building a buttress to support the garden wall. Lin doing the skilled work with trowel and cement...

I carting heavy stones. We’ve made a workbench in the apothiki using recovered wood from the rebuilt balcony. These chores are pleasantly endless and simple; sawing logs, putting out washing to be dried in the wind; making a rough table, also from the old balcony. The days pass as they do in England, though here we collect firewood from the beaches and store it, sawed and chopped, in the apothiki.
Sun dried sheets

How many miles has this log floated...
...before we bring it home as firewood?
This step we made eases the climb up the path at the back of the house
Winnie’s sent me photos of how my allotment’s coming along. Peas are rising, parsnips sprouting but where are my potatoes?
** ** ** ** **
We’ve now listed more or less every one of Aristeidis Metallinos’ works. From Tuesday to Friday for a couple of hours each midday Angeliki and I and Linda have worked through the collection, ensuring every item is numbered and measured. Serious with clipboards. We’ve added a small section for carvings of uncertain date, as well as the weathered works on the roof - stone boys astride the roof gables, a peacock at the apex, a tall woman in skirt and prim jacket and bare breasts. As work on the catalogue progresses Anna has brought us coffee, cakes and orange juice.

Andreas has helped improve our listings with recollections of his father. I am cautious with questions, learning more – but slowly. Aristeidis relied on his son to obtain his marble and stone and, since the sculptor’s death, Andreas has striven to be ‘the steward of his legacy’. The phrase is mine. After his father died in 1987 the museum that Aristeidis Metallinos wanted sustained as a gift to the village was, as far as I know, opened to visitors. I’m unclear for how many hours or days, or indeed for how many years before the place became the closed building we encountered when we arrived in Ano Korakiana in 2007. I suspect my initial difficulty gaining entry (K trying to get inside the Castle?) and even an introduction was because, after for whatever reasons the museum closed – and I speculate on these, Andreas has had quite a few individuals asking to be shown around. What happened? They had a look. They satisfied their curiosity. They went away. Did they remember anything? Were they even that impressed? Could they or did they have time for that contemplation essential to determine, in more than the most quotidian way, whether what they saw provided more than passing sensations. ‘Fascinating’ ‘Wonderful’ ‘Amazing’ ‘So interesting...where shall we have lunch?’ Where did that leave Andreas? Growing austerity in Greece must have made maintenance even trickier.
Before the sculptor died there had been promising academic articles about the ‘laic stone mason’, ‘the village sculptor’. Aristeidis seems to have had no interest in his own promotion. His interest was in the art, his trips to the open air cinema in town and views of what he watched on television, and a wish to give a gift to the village where he’d spent his life. He encountered - unknowing until near his death - the indifference of the world; hardly a problem for him, engaged with his chisels and mallets and the fascination of making things out of stolid stone and marble. At some point as he worked away in his open house he seems to have come upon disapproval. I don’t know enough about this. Just clues including the reference on his gravestone by Paraskevi Church to ‘slight bitterness’.  I suspect it may have been a problem for Andreas. Aristeidis countered with inscriptions – rebukes in marble that last, leaving a sensitive puzzle that calls for more understanding. I venture – tentatively – to explore something else missed by the academics who wrote about the laic sculptor while he was alive; Yianni M Mari in 1978 and Efrithikis Antzοulatοu-Retsila in 1985. They were intrigued by Aristeidis Metallinos as a carrier of folk-lore, of village tradition, history and culture.
The family in the fields - 195, 1986 40 x 64cms (Photo: Rob Groove)

The photos selected by Antzοulatοu-Retsila say as much. They show sculptures of villagers in traditional dress, of Greek dancing in Corfiot costume, of local individuals respected in the village and in some cases Greece – the statue of Makarios. The reliefs of the almost forgotten pastoral economy disappearing in Metallinos' final years are wonderful - a poignant lesson in another way of life. What these commentaries miss is the drubbing that Aristeidis Metallinos metes out to authority; his ridiculing of priests, of the police and the army, and the ever-present figure with cigar and top hat fondling a naked mistress, shopping for human flesh at the butchers ‘as a cure for piles’, roasting a native on a spit, ribald personifications of money men, ridicule and contempt for government – Greek, European and global. This was a man carving a permanency of anger at things he saw wrong in the world, depravity and exploitation; with this was his fascination with carnal pleasure...
"I am waiting for you. Naked" Extract 189, 1982 marble relief 40 x 59cms (Photo: Rob Groove)
 – sometimes celebrating the beauty and excitement of women, their lusciousness under the male gaze, his lust surely, yet also his interest and respect for women as strong, surging above their traditional roles as part of the farm-stock inventory, becoming  triumphant, even appropriating the traditional and oppressive weaponry of men, riding their phallic missiles, harnessing their grandiose and rather ridiculous penises. Now this must have been a handful for the family, even for parts of Ano Korakiana to which Aristeidis wished to dedicate his work.
‘So what next?’ asked Mark.
‘Well we’ve got the sculptor’s name in Greek and English wiki. One of his works will be mentioned in Richard Pine’s next book – about Greece from an Irish perspective – to be published in October. Angeliki and I speak of 'step-by-step', a year at a time to fathom the work of her grandfather. This catalogue is a logical next step – to have an inventory and an order that is more organised than the present list.’
I paused. This was insufficient.
‘And what then?’
‘Visiting the museum when we want is a privilege. The other day Andreas let me hold that first piece Aristeidis carved in stone when he was hardly 20, that women’s shoe which would have given a candidate for art school serious consideration...but how many people know about it being the only thing he carved for another fifty years? How many know about it at all? Few seeing unknown original art feel confident about its qualities – good or bad. So much art we know has been via introductions, references; from parents, teachers, books, friends, public esteem. Aristeidis’ work hasn’t been prepared for exposure or accreditation, hasn’t begun to run the familiar gauntlet of indifference, ridicule, or slight praise. People don’t know the man. His works are crowded on shelves and walls in four small rooms without commentary; a cluttered stockroom of souvenirs. His story, clearer and clearer to us, is vague, confusing, even uninviting.’
I knew I was going on too much.
The sculptor carves himself carving in stone (Photo: Rob Groove)
‘Sorry’ I said ‘More has to be done to cultivate the eye of the beholder. A catalogue of the works; a selection of the most representative; themes clarified; commentaries by Greek critics – two I have in mind – a biography, perhaps by Angeliki, Andreas and I, building on my wikipedia article. Creating provenance. Our Richard could design the catalogue cover, using Jan Bowman’s sketch of the sculptor. Start with the shoe.’
‘Another pint?’
Andreas, the sculptor's son, allowed me to hold this precious shoe his father made in 1927 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Small works

From downstairs Lin calls “What have you done now?”
“We have a problem”
The stove, just refilled with wood, was keeping us warm. The hollow half-cone cast iron moulding that linked it to the stove pipe had dropped off onto the marble base of the stove. Six 5mm bolts sheared.
“It’s because you let the lid fall with a bang all the time” said Lin “Cast iron’s brittle.”
We opened both french windows to clear any smoke. I measured the height from floor to chimney, went down to the apothiki and found a suitable piece of sturdy plank under 60cm to prop back the moulding, now cooled in water. I offered up the moulding, pushed the plankprop under it, while Lin jammed in planky firewood wood, front and back, to hold it in place.
Sorted until the morning, I considered the problem. The sheared bolts were firmly married to the stove casing, almost invisible.
“I’ll have to drill them out and cycle down to Tzavros in the morning to get replacement nuts and bolts.”
The morning was bright; clear blue. Ripe for a cycle ride south.
First I took the moulding outside. My metal drills found an easy centre in the bolt heads. Through to the other side, the metal  drill gave a grip to a big nail used as a punch. Bang, bang, bang. A sharp tap with a small hammer and the holes were clear. I tidied the interior surface with a sanding disk on the angle grinder.
“If the rest of the job’s as easy…”
I disconnected the stove pipe and swivelled the stove to the light. Reaching inside with grippers I tried to turn the bolts. No way were they going to give. But drilling was hampered by the inadequacy of my metal drills and the difficulty of getting them centred on the sheared end of the bolts.
The solution was for Lin to hold the moulding in place so that its bolt holes gave me a centre on the stove. With the six bolt holes just pricked with the drill, I began drilling proper, having first used the angle grinder inside the stove to cut through the immovable nutted bolts. Sparks flew.
“Why bother?” Said Lin “Once you’re through the casing they’ll surely drop off anyway”
“It feels better this way”
Drilling with my metal drills was frustrating. They were the cheapest kind and lost their edge in moments.
I got out my bicycle, checking tyres for thorns at the end of the path to the lower road. The pleasure of being on the large bicycle on a fresh sunny morning – a downhill run almost the whole 7 kilometres to Tzavros. A list of small things to buy.
At Kostas’ I got the 5mm nuts and bolts, but he was out of 5mm metal drills - the cheap ones and the good ones. On to Technomart another kilometre. They had some in stock.
Now the long ascent back to the village – a test of my declining powers. I stopped for a scoop of melon ice cream and a glass of water at Emeral; rested at the Doctor’s Bridge turn and ate a choc biscuit and again, after the turn onto the village road, at the bridge over the stream. The wind was fresh and chill; wild flowers blooming; the mountain sides greening with spring leaves. It was pleasing how a five minute rest recovered my powers. Here was the steepest part in the last half kilometre. Fine on 1:1 gears. I walked up the path, rang my bell.
Lin in our small garden says “Hi”
“Right let’s see what happens now. Make me a cup of tea, woman”
“Yes master”
Each hole took the best part of 10 minutes drilling, with me switching through even my new drills.
“You need a diamond tip”
“Get me a set for Christmas”
The holes were not well enough aligned to get all the bolts through. We argued, Lin as usual using that dratted past tense containing the futile imperative “You should have…”
She left me to it and went to work in the garden. I used a larger drill from my set, a cheap one, but it worked well enough, enlarging the drill holes now the casing had been pierced. Offered up again, each bolt, two at odd angles, came through. I tightened the nuts. All flush. I loosened them again.
“Li-in! We’re ready for the fire cement.”
“Hm” she said “Well done Baddeley”
The cement – red sticky from a tube was applied as I watched. Then I tightened the nuts for good.
“Looks good” I said “I’ll just grind off the bolts an inch”
“Not too close to the nuts. While the stove’s facing this way I’ll give the back a coat of stove paint.”
That done we eased our mended stove back in place, vacuuming up ash and soot. Lin applied marble cleaner to clean scuffing on the base; re-attached the stove pipe to the next length of pipe, sealing the join with silver tape.
“Cup of tea?”
“And now be more careful about not banging the stove lid. I keep telling you”
“Yeah yeah”
I put my clothes in the washing basket, had a shower and felt pleasantly clean and achy from the cycling and drilling.
Later I said “The problem with the sorts of repairs we do, or the things we make...It’s not like a craftsman doing similar things over and over...improving on experience; knowing the measures and having the right tools to hand. How could we have known that stove moulding would just drop off one evening? What do I know about how it attaches…the width of the holes, the number of bolts? Now it’s reattached is it likely to happen again? Touch wood, no. Something else will break or go wrong. No wonder I sometimes seem cackhanded; always an innocent...If you get me diamond tipped drills when will I need them again?”
**** **** ****
On Good Friday, coming home from a walk in the late afternoon, we could hear singing in the large school room above us – the choir from Sokraki rehearsing one of the three Great Friday songs, ‘Ω γλυκύ μου έας’ – ‘Oh! My Sweet Spring’ that I chose to begin my mother’s funeral in the Highlands. In old age, memory’s palette has more shades to mix from present cues. I allowed myself – so it felt – a tear. I wonder if there’s some reservoir of grief as yet untapped though I sense, as someone gingerly feels themselves after a fall, that my mourning’s done. The richness of her long life, her hand in mine at her last breath, Bay and I beside her bed, her genes so thoroughly, often familiarly, in me; and didn’t we both say at moments of chat immersed in favourite places, happy with the hour, even the whole day, that, come a time, these things would all pass. Once I grew out of thinking of my mum’s death as beyond bearing, the infant's nightmare, their ending became the hidden ingredient - the risky spice - of our shared enjoyments. I like seeing things of hers here in Greece – the windvane that followed us for 50 years, the pitch pine drawers used to store garden things now part of the bedroom wardrobe Lin and I built last year, the pyjamas Lin’s wearing now, the cashmere neckwarmers good for cycling in chilly winds, a small oil portrait of a woman that mum found in a junk-shop (when such places existed), seen now in the Greek light that seeps through the shutters.
Easter Saturday coming up to midnight: Stephanie and Wesley live close to the higher church. They’d invited us to a recording, in their big sitting room, of the Corfu Christmas panto, Cinderella, in which Wesley played a moustached and goatied ugly sister performing in ever expanding hoop dresses, while Steph played half an extemporised double act between the main scenes – one of two spivs in pin stripe and trilbies. Maria, also in the panto, had joined us with her sons James and Adam. The finale done, we got our coats on against the chill and strolled with candles unlit to Ay Georgias.
“The Greeks find the British enjoyment of men dressed as women and vice versa as strange” said Wes.
The annual panto’s plot is topped and tailed, characters and plot, exposed to a hybrid Brit-Greek audience by a Corfiot clown front of curtain.
The triangular courtyard of the church was full, a platform with speakers for the priest and a lozenged image of Christ risen, and, beside the church, the brass helmets and plumes of the village band. We joined the throng of familiar faces and every age. I stepped up via the back door into the smoke wax scented glistening gloom of the church’s crowded interior audience to prayer and incantation, candles all around below the lights of the big chandelier. The congregation moved slowly towards the front, lighting their candles from the original flame and walking them down to join the people outside. From the podium there were more prayers until at midnight "Kristos Anesti!" bang bang bang bang of fireworks, a merry tune struck up by the band and further away the sound of shots, hugging and kissing and handshaking, faces uplit by candles. Down the short steep hill, guarding our candles in the wax cradles Wesley had given us, to Democracy Street where villagers lined the road, more hugs and kisses and the hum of happy greetings “Kronnia Polla!” “Kala Paska” “Kristos anesti” "Alethos Anesti”. Under our porch was room for one more candle flame cross to join three from previous Easters.
** **
Peter and Elena are married and she expects a child in September. Easter Sunday afternoon, a spotless blue day, Peter’s parents, Paul and Lula invited us to a lamb roast at Elina's parents, Procopius and Chryssa’s home on Filareto, beside the road to Kanoni. We’re used to filotemo here, but here, if that’s possible, the gift was amplified as we - strangers - were, from the first second of our arrival, drawn into the orbit of two Greek families joined in pride and happiness at each others’ children’s union. Starting with warm handshakes and kisses we were sat at joined up terrace tables under a veranda overlooking the narrow road from town. Between us already many plates spread with prosciutto, salami, feta cubes, slices of hard cheese and village rosé in jugs not allowed to empty, a bottle of tsipero circulating and Sunday toast. To the rhythm of songs whose lyrics all but I and Lin knew the company sang, now and then breaking off to clash our glasses and plastic cups in toasts to health up and down the tables.
“Come” said Procopius “the spit”
He gestured the turning. I followed him to a cooking space where glistening with fat a whole lamb stretched over the charcoal, turned by Anna, Chryssa’s mother.
“Here, baste!” he handed me a brush and jar of olive oil and then pinched off a piece of crisp skin and juicy flesh, piquant with rosemary, salt and the small of the roasting beast
“Ready?” he asked me
“Thekka lepta?” I ventured
“Thekka lepta” he instructed his mother, who smiled without a hint of indulgence.
Back at the table village sausages were added to the mezes, cut six or seven times, to make delectable mouthfuls.
Lin began nudging me as I ate “Don’t be so greedy”
We sang and hummed and toasted and drank, Paul, Lula, George, Lin, I, Procopius, Chyrissa, George, Rula and her daughter Eleni, Pete and Elina, his brother Kostas.
Procopius and George ready to unspit the lamb

Then it was time to prepare the lamb for the table, unshackle its neck, draw the spit from centre, lay the cooked carcass on wood and chop it limb from sizzling limb. Procipius and George prepared the feast. Chop chop chop. Bones and sinews gave way. Rich slivers of meat and crisp skin were laid in square platters for our table. I carried one, trailing the delicious scent of the roast to the table and so to our plates to be enjoyed with the help of fingers, fatty, hot and lickable.

Procopius filled the wine jugs, led the toasts amid the eating and the singing and dancing. Two plates were smashed followed by more, with Chryssa adding the regular clanging of dropped oven and baking tins “Oopa” “Oopa”.

When the younger people had gone the grown-ups continued the meal with two enthusiastic household dogs bounding under and around the tables. As the sun sank and began to dazzle us Chryssa hung a cloth from the beams of the veranda. Procopius - or was it Paul? - threw more plates to smash in the road...
...and then we continued dancing there, waving to passing cars on their way to Vlacherna and Kanoni, some drivers and passengers waving back happily “Kala Paska” “Kronia Polla”.
Music, dancing, plate smashing, ironware clashing continued, tables were swiftly cleared, more wine poured, sweet things served on platters, and hardly consumed, before Procopius whipped the whole table cloth with all on the table to the floor “Oopa” – and danced amid the shambles swiftly tidied by Lula and Anna, who’d already swept our wreckage from the road. Then we were dancing, even I, on one of the tables. Procopius picked up the other and threw it over. Chryssa pulled a hollow brick from the garden and hurled it into the shattered debris of plates and glasses. Two girls passing outside were invited to join us. They too were soon dancing and singing, plied with food and wine
“You realise where you are?” said Paul “we're all vampires!”

Then there was coffee. Slowly the party wound down, the terrace tidied, even as the music and singing continued. In the Greek way of enjoying a party eyes never glaze over, speech is never slurred, no-one gets drunk, for all the wine that flows, and no-one whispers “You know I really like you”. Wit stays sharp. Mickey is taken. Procopius and Paul, father to father “Me Greek bastard no English! You English bastard, no Greek”. At some point I went over to Paul; gave his shoulders a hug “Thanks for asking us to this. I couldn’t be happier”. So when it was time to leave we all hugged, kissed, shook hands and went our ways.
*** ***

Anna Metallinos has brought me a rich diplo and chocolate cake these last two days as her daughter Angeliki and I work in the Aristeidis Metallinos museum listing the features of each of the laic sculptor’s works – whether marble or stone, its dimensions, whether a full sculpture or a relief, oblong or oval. Andreas has dropped in and answered more of my questions. He brought in his father's marble - Kozanis κοζάνυς. The works in stone - like one of my favourites, the small statue of a woman - came from local houses that were falling down or were stones just lying beside the road, which might have come originally from a quarry at Sinies.
"Why did he sometimes use marble and sometimes stone?"
"We don't know"
"Which is easier to work?"
Right now this is my favourite - smoothed stone; hardly 15 inches high

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Εμπρός γκρεμός και πίσω ρέμα.

In Ano Korakiana, and every village across the land, edges of roads and steps and paths are being whitewashed, verges tidied, surfaces swept as Easter comes closer. Fortis and his son Lefteris set to with bucket and brushes this morning, doing edges by our home as well as theirs. From the 12.15 city to village bus I glimpsed his back – an older man in a wide hat walking near the centre of the road below the village. The driver used his horn. The figure moved a pace to the left without turning; absorbed. Andreas Metallinos on one of his regular walks – βόλτες του – a slight stoop and a walking stick, coming from his daughter’s home – which he built - just outside the village. Angeliki, grand-daughter of Aristeidis Metallinos, has set aside an hour a day from Tuesday to Saturday in the week after Easter to create a catalogue of the laic sculptor’s works. I couldn’t be more pleased at this step toward making the village sculptor better known. She suggested this over coffee at Crescendo - next door to the sculptor’s museum; told her I’m responding to a request for a picture of one of the artist's works as an illustration in Richard Pine’s latest book – this one about Greece from an Irish perspective. Tassos took photos of all 250 pieces in the museum but the one which Richard’s suggested to his publisher isn’t clear enough. With the family’s permission I arranged for Rob Groove, a professional and a friend, to visit the museum.

He uses a far better camera than mine. Publishing even one picture fits the hope Angeliki and I share of another increment to her grandfather’s public presence – in this case his craft and his gift for ribald illustration of human frailty.  Richard said “It’ll go down a treat in Catholic Ireland”
Anna, holding Stavros her little nephew, welcomed us again into their home, turned on the lighting in the familiar rooms where the stone and marble works sit on packed shelves. Rob set up lights and tripod and took pictures; used his laptop to check results.

“I’ll work on these tonight. If you could link to I’d be happy”
“Send your best choice straight to Richard. Copy to me”
Richard’s email re ‘The naughty bishop” – a scandal of the mid-1970s.
‘Yes, it's better - much clearer contrast. Many thanks for organising it.
You didn't say whether you'd prefer Chrysomalis or Nino's - where we were (the 3 of us) before. Please let me know. The bus I will be taking is the 4pm to Acharavi - it goes straight on from Tzavros, not turning right to go through Ipsos. Not sure if it stops anywhere from where you could get to Ano K.
SB: We’ll see you at Chrysomalis. Your bus can drop us at the turn to Ano Korakiana off the Sidari Road. Only 2 kilometres to the village.
Once at lunch – the usual disappointment starting with tourist guff about this being Lawrence Durrell’s favourite place (he did have a favoured table by the window and told someone seeking a signature to ‘f’ off’. That was half a century ago and more.) Lin’s chicken was reheated; my giant beans straight from the tin; the chips pre-cut. But at least we got a receipt.
“I’m long used to being offered with and without receipt prices” I said “and I still get them from the baker in the village, but in the last week I’ve had more avoidance receipts than ever, with excuses about broken tills, a lengthy request for tax number and other personal details to enter in the computer until I give up, and at a garage when I followed up the now familiar avoidance – despite the valuable word ‘ λοιπόν’ to allow a pause and rethink – I said “I’m supposed to get in touch about this with Mr Varoufakis”
“Ah yes well when you speak with Mr Varoufakis please ask him to drop in and mend our cash-machine”
Richard, over his tepid plate of wrinkled greasy rice stuffed tomatoes, said “You know, I know, and everyone in Brussels knows that despite the lip service absolutely nothing is being done to try and extract tax owed by the very rich. I suspect it’s impossible. Meynard Keynes at the time of the Treaty of Versailles wrote a policy paper to the Allies saying there were two choices ‘Enable Germany to rebuild her economy despite all animosities, or bring her low, gutting what’s left' "
To the bruised and vengeful allies the generous option would have been politically impossible, even morally feeble. No Marshall plan in 1919.
“The consequences for Europe and the world we all know. The troika with Merkel’s support intend to maintain the pressures that over the long term will reduce Greece to the economic condition of a third world nation” (Richard's latest article in the Irish Times)
The pace of real disaster seems snail paced against the fireworks of TV entertainment we enjoy over evening meals. Striving to stand back far enough to get a perspective on an unfolding catastrophe I wonder how in the midst of this national crisis with its wider corollaries anyone would want to watch something as invented and artificial as Black Sails, House of Cards or Game of Thrones.
Tsipras is playing a weak hand but playing it as well as anyone whose promised not to be as obedient to Brussels as his predecessor Samaras. I emailed John Martin the other day. He and Annie went to a conference at Birmingham University last week. He’d asked for my impressions:
Dear John. Sorry you seem to have missed Richard in Birmingham.
I’d like to know if the accomm at the Bull was quaint and interesting or unmentionable.
With your customary generous manners I can see you not grumbling to me as I recommended. But I’m hoping so much it was OK and you didn’t have to move out to Holiday Inn or equivalent.
Hope Cats was good. Happy Birthday to Annie.
In Corfu everyone speaks of endless rain but we’ve hit a lucky set of blue sunny days with the wood stove needed only at night to keep us cosy in the house.
General view of the ‘situation’ here is that the SYRIZA government needs its first 100 days and that Greece is playing the toughest of games despite a lousy hand. The cards? Card 1: Austerity doesn’t work. Card 2: Don’t drive us into the hands of Golden Dawn. Card 3: Russia and/or China. Card 4: German WW2 reparations -  cut us some debt-forgiveness like Germany got war forgiveness via the Marshall Plan. Card 5: We really will do something about corruption and tax collection.
Systems of tax collection have closed down here pending the new government’s resolutions on what will be stopped, modified and renewed. So even if we want to pay our taxes we can’t. All is on hold.
There is a feeling of resigned waiting, but it still feels slightly better than under the previous government.
Varoufakis seems to be lying low at the moment. His initial coverage led to vexation and some envy of ‘bandstanding’ in his own party; SYRIZA already being a loose partnership of several left wing parties.
How does it look from your perch?
Our children stepped in to look after Lin’s mum. It’s so good they enabled her to get away, but Lin’s mum Dot has an alarm button that rings with Amy, Richard and us if pressed. Dot’s been mistaking it for the normal call button. I think that’s sorted now. Love to all, S 
*** *** ***
It wouldn’t need a theologian to argue that hefting a plastic bag of just born kittens out of a wheelie bin is no act of charity. We were walking down National Opposition Street in the dusk, further than we’d planned. Distressing cries came from within.
“There’s a cat trapped in there” said Lin lifting the lid “Oh no it’s kittens in a bag” There were four of them soaked fur matted in condensation, one dead already, umbilical still attached.
Next day chatting to Katerina she gestured with a heave of her arm the obvious sense of chucking them back where we’d found them. There are feral cats in scores across the village. By then our rescued kits – two tabby, one ginger - were in a cardboard box, wrapped in a towel on top of a hot water bottle being fed Lactol solution from a syringe dropper bought at the pet food shop in Dassia.
“Lick them with a sponge in warm water” said the woman there “as the mum cat would to keep them clean”
“So what do we do with them?”
One friend advised “Take a fetching photo. Float them on local Facebook. Say if no-one claims them by the end of May – if they last as long – they’re off to the vet”
“I’d like to let them loose to take their chances with the other village cats” I said
“They’ll be eaten alive. They’re going to be domesticated by you tending them. They’re domesticating by the hour”
“Great. Why don’t I just clobber them with a spade now? Dig them into the wisteria roots like the butcher’s fresh rabbit skin”
They have all died now, increasingly enfeebled, they've faded away. Without the attention of a true dam our ministrations were futile.
*** *** ***
It rained. “We’ve had so much rain” everyone repeated. Down at the Sunday table-top sale at Sally’s Bar we skyped Amy, outside to get away from the piped sound indoors, but Lin protecting the screen from stray drops of rain. Something about a shower screen bought on ebay but sent without the bar that attaches it to the wall. Amy - in bed with our grand-daughter crawling vigorously back and forth while Oliver naked bounces in and out of vision grinning at us across the ether - checks the ebay description and seller’s details on her phone.

On the Ipsos esplanade, almost deserted, the unsightly palms bent to a wind from the south.

*** *** ***
I’ve been engrossed in a South African police procedural. Heart of Darkness stuff, in the publisher’s words ‘World Noir’, translated from French in 2008 Brian Epkeen, South African Police officer reflects on his boss’s inabiity to proceed with a politically charged case
‘Faced with competition from world markets, sovereign states could do very little to withstand the pressures of finance and globalised trade, unless they wanted to alienate investors and threaten their own gross national product. The role of states was now limited to maintaining order and security in the midst of a new world disorder controlled by centrifugal, supranational and elusive forces. No-one genuinely believed in progress anymore, the world had become an uncertain, precarious place, but most decision makers were happy to let the pirates of this phantom system continue with their plunder and to take advantage of it themselves while hoping it would all blow over. The excluded were pushed farther out onto the periphery of huge cities reserved for the winners of a cannibalistic game in which, with no prospect of collective action, people’s widespread frustration was channeled into television, sports and celebrity culture.’ Caryl Férey Zulu (2010) pp.379-380 
The plot is relentless. Good for the Christian week of despair. ‘No-one genuinely believed in progress anymore’. Is that my elderly mood or a national spirit in the few more weeks before our uncertain General Election? Re the panem et circenses comment, I enjoy some television. Watching sport and following celebrities rate with glue-sniffing. With my stepfather I'm probably living in the cracks between ever spreading concrete. In my dreams I’d like to see myself as a clerk of small works, alert to my position and the opportunity to garden, pick up litter and do the occasional small-orbit good turn, and meet good people. I’ve not got much time for public anger. Private vexation is another thing.

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