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Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Getting ready to go home

Tuesday 2 Oct: 0742. A cup of tea. The pervasive scent outside the house that I’d thought was a provocative jasmine resolves itself or mixes into the distinct bouquet of Leftheris’ black plastic fermenting vat – one and half metres diameter and the same high – covered with a plastic sheet in his garden to the east and man’s height below our veranda. Wine is getting ready to be made. Why did he put those red grapes in with the white I asked Lin earlier. ‘Because he needs the red grapes’ pectin?’ The Leftheris garden at Democracy Street is just below our veranda. Their garden is part of a courtyard across which four households converse under a green canopy of vines, marrows and other vegetables harvested in season. The white wine was extracted and stored to ferment last week. Kiria Leftheris, when Lin took this photo (with permission) was pressing out must to make red wine and the rosé being poured into the strima by Leftheris. Neighbours share the press around the village. I saw this one waiting at the top of the steps above our house and in my ignorance wondered at its purpose. Our neighbours answer our queries on husbandry with patient good humour and helpful gesture - making it look almost easy. Across the courtyard I can see out of our little kitchen window a glimpse of the mainland above the sea, some greenery close to into another kitchen, where an old lady, doing domestic tasks, flits between us and her TV screen, showing the format of a daily news review; a large hand in close up glides over a newspaper front page; the picture cuts to inaudible chitchat against a studio blue sky over a rolling red banner of text at the foot of the picture. How refreshing it has been to get my news when I want on visits to town to do e-mail, rather than through my normal self-imposed exposure to newsak. Journalism in magazines and on TV and radio has been my mother’s and step-father’s successful professions, so their views on the insertion of wall-to-wall journalism into so many niches of existence is informed by experience. Consumerism, upon which most of us depend - from which most of us are suspended, hung and garrotted – must, to work, nurture, by all inventive means, a blend of desire, apprehension and envy in our souls. It works even with the materially poor. If we think we’re over infected with yearning for the current versions of material heaven, see how dish-world has helped blight the residual cultures of country’s with far more poverty. Gone is respect and understanding for traditional aesthetics of building and design and with it the discipline and craft based on that understanding and its consequences for the detail of roofs, walls, architraves, skirtings, brackets, keystones, frames, porches, interior and exterior surfaces and innumerable fittings. In is the studio carpenter’s makeshift extravagances derived from the sets of US soaps, celebrating unashamed uninformed wealth – eclectic, superficial, derivative and scornful of all things serene and simple or just old, while ineptly copying in concrete, resin and other new materials, the vernacular of classical Rome and Greece – not from the originals but from the epic gigantism of Sisilbeedermill, desires fed by glossy catalogues, portentous commercials and garden centre ranks of moulded pilasters, goddesses, swans, athletes and charioteers. The ghastly concoctions of Dallas, The Kaiser, Albert Speer and Sadaam Hussein have been conglomerated and engineered for domestic markets, encouraging the little man to disassemble and discard as outmoded the quality that surrounds him and replace it with new products recommended by builders and decorators and suppliers collaborating in the ugliness project. Yet all around I get glimpses of building and joinery and finish that suggests the persistence of more honourable sensibilities – in a detail of a window fitting, the surface of a door, the exterior paintwork of a new house, the design of a roof, its pitch and composition. Who are the stewards of these heart warming eye pleasing things? Where do they reside? How is a tradition of quality passed on amid vigorously diffused tawdriness? 0500. A day before we leave. Nellie sold us at a bargain price a super king size bed which went on the roof of our small hire car, while inside we squeezed her gift of a very smart almost new fridge freezer and other really useful items - a lengthy extension cord, a new clothes airer, an angle grinder, and a base for a parasol. Lin drove us back gingerly from Gastouri to Ano Korakiana. We parked in the niche next to Archangel Michael and unloaded the bed. Then, at the height of siesta when traffic was least, backed to the top of our steps and unloaded the fridge causing no-one delay. Kiria Katherina came out to help us get it down the steps and into the kitchen. I’ve learned to say ‘Bravo Katherina, efkaristo para para poli!’ which she dismisses with a wave of her wrist. Then - the trickiest job - L and me wrestled the double mattress through the stairwell and upstairs, got the smaller double downstairs and reassembled both beds in their places, cursing the contrariness of inanimate objects as we fiddle-faddled with posidrives, philips and slot screws. N texted to check we’d arrived safely with our cargo. By midnight the guest bedroom was looking smart and cosy with a new bedcover and cushions and we could enjoy a kingsize with its new bedclothes, but for one of those apparently inconsequential rows that L and I have over me going on about something for conversation’s sake, that blows up as verbally punchy as yesterday’s blue sky tempest off Pantokrator. My grandmother, who in the upper mid class way had a different bedroom from grandpa’s, advised me that couples should share a bed. Even if you went off to sleep on an unresolved row you could, in the deep of the night she said, reach out a toe and touch by mistake on purpose. Lin woke and called from upstairs. ‘Simon? What time is it?’ ‘5.30. I’m coming back up’. * * * M hadn’t been up yesterday but sent a text saying yet again he’d no ladder and requesting we meet at a bar in Ipsos ‘to discuss the problems’. Over beers in the early evening we agreed to get a ladder today, pick him up at 4.00pm and he’d fix our guttering ‘properly’. Leftheris came gently round with the exact 32cm drill we needed to prepare our stair balustrade. * * * Monday 1 Oct. Back at 208. Lin showering. Me naked at the table typing. Later I pulled up my black trousers to tighten my belt and Lin said ‘pull those down a bit or you’ll look like a sack of mud tied up ugly, as my mum says’. My girth is definitely reduced and once I let my shirt hang outside my jeans I look OK. We fetch the bed and fridge from Nelly at Gastouri today. * * * Last night in CJs there was a raffle and auction to raise more for J and C’s Greek Fire Appeal, and we sat with D and Tr and enjoyed a celebratory chat at our safe return from the mainland, and won an Indian meal for two at Shakes in Dassia and one day’s car hire. In the midst of the chat D said he and Mgl would do our roof for €2500 all in and have it working in the strongest rain. ‘Let’s get that right’ and discuss the other work ‘when you’re next here’. We agreed, trusting D. Lin thinks she could learn to plaster before January, and we might be able to do the floor ourselves. Today G has assured us he’s getting a ladder to M so that M can do the first aid on the guttering today. We found last night that B had been in yesterday doing more wiring. * * *
We left Sayiadhia about 10.30am in mirror calm. A pleasant northerly gave us a sail along the dry Albanian coast. This fell and we motored until an unexpected and gentle easterly lasted about an hour. This is our view from Ano Korakiana - in reverse. We are running back on a gentle southerly breeze in 'Summer Song' from a visit to the mainland at Sayiadha. From our balcony, somewhere in the centre of this picture, all you'd see, even with binoculars, would probably be a very tiny white dot. As we approached Ipsos I could see Ano Korakiana strewn across the lower slopes of Trompetta, well inland, but as we came due south of Nisaki, the village became invisible behind intervening hills. Around 5.00pm, in sight of Ipsos, up came the north westerly that so often blows along the southern edge of Trompetta gusting to F6 – as forecast out of a clear blue sky – straight on our nose. The engine could make no headway through the short seas and I’m still not confident about reefing the main, which unreefed has far too much canvas for this wind. I took this down and furled the foresail to about a third and motor sailed on a long tack to the calmer water off blighted Barbati. I’ve realised that being older I worry about things far more, thinking about the boat with all the anxieties of a parent, imagining overstrained shrouds, splitting sails, loose halliards. Our relaxed weather had turned swiftly feral. It hummed in the rigging behaving like a horse that’s decided to ignore its rider. We leant over and surged in the greater gusts. While on the one hand I’m slightly exhilarated I’m also apprehensive pondering contingencies. I’m a lot older. I don’t know ‘Summer Song’ well enough, but more significantly I don’t know myself. Slowly and surely our tacking brought us into harbour and just outside we wound up the foresail, had our fenders out and were round the mole and into the calm, but still with the problem of making a narrow berth with a semi-gale blowing us onto other boats. Ben and another sailor were waiting to take warps. I circled once and then headed gently into our gap and with Lin at the bows came to a near perfect berth, with Ben holding us abeam the next door yacht as I picked up our stern buoy, hauled up the mooring chain loops and placed them over the stern cleats. 6.15pm and we were home from our first voyage to the mainland - safe and sound and Lin suffering no seasickness. Tidied the boat and then went to CJs for a drink. Sunday 30 Sept. 0930. On ‘Summer Song’ moored in the harbour at Sayiadha, and there’s a lot of ways of spelling that. The 0900 weather forecast says NW 4-5 locally 6 which makes Ipsos almost directly to windward, but its mirror calm now and we’ve lots of fuel. As Lin gets up I suggest we head towards Pagania and then if we get wind sail towards Vidho island and then, where there’s sometimes more west in the wind sail up to Ipsos avoiding the punchy downdrafts from Pantocrator, if we can. We rose at 0830 yesterday morning with lists of things to prepare for our first cruise – the great journey to the mainland 16 miles away at Sayiadha to enjoy a meal of shrimps. We were off under motor at 1245 after stocking up with bread and milk and a quilt and anti-bug stuff and suncream, and ... fixing a piece of string to my glasses. The sun cleared an overcast sky and beat down on us. Not until we were well inside the mainland – 10 miles from Ipsos did we get a pleasant north west wind. At last we could enjoy the pleasant quiet of sailing and hear wavelets on the shore and a ripple at our bow, but also the familiar scuffling of bulldozers, concrete mixers and bulldozers behind Paganias Point where we conjecture the Lopachkins are at work in what the pilot calls ‘an idyllic spot little visited by yachts or anyone at all for that matter’(Heikell p 57). At Sayiadha where we noted three yachts ahead of us entering we’d read in the same pilot of ‘a friendly little village untouched by tourism’. The wind was up by now and we downed sails and edged in through an entrance hardly wider than our dining room where smart 45foot charter yachts lay in ranks. A friendly wave indicated a space for us. I decided to ignore dropping an anchor and then running in, but instead had Lin hand a warp to a helper from our bows while I gave a warp to another helpful person on one of the charter boats. Fenders did the rest. A smiling couple watched me tidying the decks. Hly and Mch on a boat –the twin of ours minus two feet – called Merlin. ‘Come and have a Metaxa’. We went on board strangely knowing just where to hold on and place feet. The brandy tasted delightful. Then Lin and I shared half a kilo plates of large fresh grilled prawns, chips and a tomato, cucumber, pepper and onion salad with house white wine at the taverna first off the quay. These prawns are according to Hly assumed to be God’s gift to the Sayiadhans, into whose nets they willingly crawl. The price is to one euro a prawn. An old harvest is now feeding a new harvest. They were delectable. All around a civil company of charter customers, mainly Dutch and German, sat at longer tables enjoying the same and talking happily. A sleak tabby enjoyed what flesh we had not detached from the prawn heads. In the boat we’d become unused to the smaller sleeping space up front and had to jostle to get needed space. My earplugs successfully excluded the steady ‘booma booma booma boooma chittychitty booma booma’ (repeat continuously) of goldfish music played into the early hours somewhere behind the tavernas, but it was muted compared to the Nassua Bar across the harbour at Ipsos. Friday 28 Sept: 9.00pm. We’ve been siliconing the lintel and the joins in the guttering we can get to and doing more interior painting. A temporary sheet of plastic has been neatly laid along the first four planks of the veranda and held down with marble pieces. That should reduce the worst of the dripping on the front of the house. Lin’s been building the rockery and I’ve moved the last of the rubble, stacking it neatly into the space under the veranda where we may have more plaka. So that’s the last of the breeze block excrescences removed from public view. Ben phoned to say ‘Don’t worry I haven’t forgotten you.’ He’d had ten inches of water in his boat. His cockpit drains were clogged. ‘Aren’t leaking roofs a bummer?’ he said. Dave hasn’t been up with an estimate today but we’re hopeful. I went to Ipsos to change the wind bedraggled Greek courtesy flag on ‘Summer Song’ for a larger new one which flew nicely in the east wind this evening. Driving up the Ipsos drag I saw M cycling into a fast food place, parked and went for a word. I described the first aid needed on the guttering we couldn’t reach. ‘I’ve been let down over a ladder’ he said. I said ‘We’ll get a ladder if necessary, don’t just stop communicating’. Then I went to see G and he gave me a forecast for tomorrow’s notion of a crossing to Sayiadhas on the mainland tomorrow, where we could eat and stay overnight, then visit Pagania before sailing back on Sunday afternoon, by which time ‘the jobs on the guttering will be done’ he said. He called up a map of the Corfu and mainland coasts from the internet to which his boat is connected by Go Broadband, sketched out distances with his mouse and showed me favourable weather forecasts. Lin, when I got home, doubted any work would be done before we got back on Sunday evening, but we can hope. I phoned Dave and got T. and asked her about the dinghy for ‘Summer Song’. ‘Ben’ll sort it for you in the morning.’ I told her when we were going home. Hint hint. “Oh we’ll surely see you before then!’ she said, which allowed me to mention that G & M had promised some first aid on the gutters, in case crossed paths cause confusion. 9.00am Friday 28 Sept. Northerly weather is back with clear skies, and September cool in the air. I went into Corfu yesterday to buy a lintel for the side door. Lin found the lost SIM card wedged in an improbable nitch of the kitchen. The cheap wardrobe is improved by being painted white. Curtains are fitted all round the guest bedroom. Lin’s being tidying holes in interior walls and around windows with filler and I’ve fitted the lintel to the side door. In Corfu I did e-mail at the Arco and found that for work postponed or cancelled equal amounts of new work had been agreed. I sent confirmations and, where needed, accompanying files. We are hoping to carve out two times to return – in January next year and later in April and early May. Only four days now before we fly home. An e-mail exchange with Amman:
I’m still waiting for the arrival of the G passports. The Iraqi embassy in Amman told me today that they may arrive within 2 weeks time. The visa centre has some difficult demands: they require the original copies of my marriage contract (originally issued in 1997), University certificates and other similar documents. These copies should be certified by the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is located in Baghdad (about 600km from Basrah). One of my brothers should take them to the Ministry for authentication and ratification; such travel will be very risky in the current circumstances and they may get killed in their way to Baghdad. On Sunday, I will try to explain these facts to the visa centre in the hope they may waive such difficult demands. Otherwise, I may be forced to wait for some more time. In the worst scenario, I think it will not take me longer than September or the first two weeks of October to get everything done. Is this going to have any negative effects on my application? I hope Simon is doing fine. I’ve not heard from him since September 1.
Reply from my colleague on campus:
Don’t worry about the university. We will cross those bridges when we come to them. Concentrate on your visa and get that through. If you need anything else from me in this regard just let me know. Re accommodation, the university does have an office dealing with that sort of thing so they can help you. It will be easier to sort this out when you arrive and I am sure that we could accommodate you temporarily whilst you are looking. In the meantime your visa is the most important thing to get right. P
I cycled back through the town occasionally pinging my bell, to alert strollers. On the shop lined slope down narrow Odos Nikiforou Theotoki to the level at Odos Zavitsianou my front wheel jammed in a rain water drain. I came to an abrupt halt, dived over my handlebars onto the stone street, landing on my front accompanied by coins, cycle pump, a spanner and other objects from my pannier. I was helped up, handed my various objects and dusted down by helping hands asking solicitously after my well-being. How one’s heart warms to the kindness of strangers when in mild shock. ‘How did that happen? I’ve passed here many times.’ An old gentleman on a chair beside the street pointed out that only yesterday workmen had installed a new drain cover with a grid that all too neatly allowed my wheel to fall through. I laughed and said “but didn’t I fall well?’ I was so relieved to have no more than a tiny graze on my hand, though later my wrist and fingers ached for several hours. When I got back to Democracy Street Lin said Amy’d phoned to say she’d more or less passed the fitness test to be a Community Support Officer. There was a drugs test based on hair and urine samples which she should pass with ease unless, as misfortune would have it, they detect her contact with passive smoking at Glastonbury.

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