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Friday, 8 February 2008

The last few days

The men were here at 9.00. I’d been up earlier to see the sun rise. It rained all yesterday evening and into the night and, eating downstairs Lin, especially, kept waiting to hear the recurrence of drips through the roof, but Lambros and his men had sealed it with sturdy well laid felt - no nail holes exposed - over the old insulation.

This morning tiling has started. Alan popped in yesterday to make sure things were ready for him to do the electrics upstairs. Two of our first Corfu English friends from down the village visited. They mentioned they could recommend a plasterer. We’ve measured for the stove chimney and went on a stroll in the afternoon, after the builders left, to see some examples of chimneys. Down one of the many Korakiana alleys we encountered M, with whom I’d exchanged e-mails, strolling home with a fine Labrador beside him. He was joined by S who runs stables off the Ano-Kato road. They asked us in for wine. The day was going well. Back home we finished making sure the two planks fitted the gap between door and wall between kitchen and guest bedroom. My cod carpentry, with Lin’s measurements and markings succeeded. Now all that’s needed is finishing touches – a pair of handles for the rust-cleaned lock, paint and lacquer stripper, glass, putty - or its modern equivalent - and tacks for the panes and a couple of small bolts.
* * *
Reading more of Kevin Andrews The Flight of Ikaros, I see parallels with Nicholas Gage’s Eleni. Gage is sometimes seen as writing an anti-communist tract - his op-ed pieces in the New York Times used as evidence. He's too intelligent; too good a researcher for that. It was the village – the horio – that had conspired against his mother in ways made up of vices we have in common.

Plato is called anti-democratic. What democrat isn’t, who knows himself and humans - perhaps Kazantzakis’ Zorba – but only after leaving the earth. Plato said ‘justice in life and the conduct of the state is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of citizens’. My ancestor, Maine, warned idealists for democracy that 'democracy is just another form of government’; its success depended, he argued so well in Popular Government, on the constant exercise of moral intelligence to prevent it falling into the same despotic excesses the idealists presumed exclusive to monarchy.

Enclosed in the intimate company of family and neighbours for months in occupied Amsterdam, Anne Frank wrote ‘I don't believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged.’ (thanks to Information Clearing House 28/10/07 for the Plato and Ann Frank quotes)

Henry Miller visiting Greece, on the eve of its invasion, sees this and excoriates it in the attitudes of some of the Greeks, especially those on return visits from America, and foreigners he encounters. Kevin Andrews travelling between Athens and the rest of Greece during the civil war see it, and unlike Miller is historically well-informed and politically aware, knowing much, for the times, about the foreign policies of the great powers. A propos of the events surrounding 3 December 1944 - the Dekemvria - he notes Churchill’s self-quoted willingness to ‘strike out of the blue without an preliminary crisis.’ (V.11 p.251 The Second World War – tho’ did KA read this and some other histories for his revised edition of 1983? No I think he’s too honest a writer.)

Wed 6 Feb: Where in September the sun appeared round the corner of the mountain to our east, this mornng I first saw it further south over Sayiada, rising over nimbus that took the gentlest shade of pink amid the dawn cirrus. To the south east two prelates, dining with he Holy Ghost in paradise, continued a slightly inebriated argument about their host’s relationship to his father before dissolving into one and disappearing in the spreading blue.
We’ve stayed in the village today. I texted birthday greetings to our son. Washing dried in the sun. In the evening I took ours off the line, but neighbours’ washing still flapped in a gentle breeze carrying the scent of woodsmoke. Earlier Lin planted our garden with things she’d found on nearby waste ground. I bagged more rubble. Together we eased a dusty pine door out of a mess of nail-filled lathes in the apothike, and, with a little chiselling, fitted it back in the gap between the guest bedroom and the kitchen where it had once been. I dug out the pair of brown painted planks that had completed the space. It’ll need handles and new glass. To fit the door required scraping layers of old paint off the hinges, waking them up with penetrating oil. I’ve done the same with the bathroom window hinges. “Change that cracked obscure glass. Put in plain glass so I can see to Albania from that little window” said Lin. On the next warm day the metal frames can be lifted out, cleaned of paint and rust and taken to the glazier when we go there to get safety glass for the bedroom door.
* * *
I finished reading a chapter half way through Kevin Andrews book, where he admits himself worsted in an argument by a young gendarme who was blaming all Greece’s problems on the Americans – primarily by giving too little too late in the interests of their own high politics. It occurred to me that one of Greece’s bad ideas was that they’d once had and could recover an Aegean empire, when what they actually had was a civilisation that spread beyond the whole Mediterranean.

But we know these ideas are born of yearning among bread-fearers and neo-condors who think civilisation and empire the same – rather than in tension. Reading the profile in Athens News of Archbishop Christodoulos’ ‘troubled career’ I thought of the celestial scene I saw recently among the ‘extras’ on the DVD of Zorba that Cacoyannis left out (if he could make it look as if Anthony Quinn could dance, making him God would have been simple), but he knew that, in this case, what worked in prose wouldn’t in film. In the extract, Zorba, as the Pantokrator among cotton wool clouds, meets sinners arriving for selection at the gates of Paradise. He lets them all in. Kazantzakis thus implying they’ve had their time in hell. The film focused brilliantly on the contrasting character of Greek and Englishman, giving northerners a lasting, but over-singular, conception of Greek character, whereas Kazantzakis wrote the scene in heaven as the moral context for a study of Alexis Zorba - less as a Greek than as a character he'd known.
* * *
Last weekend, at evening time, Aln arrived with Lula, Paul and Lambros – our rescue crew – and discussed our roof. We were allowed a word or two on other subjects, but their business was in Greek, putting things right ‘up there’. A good feeling. We’ve felt this reassurance before, but this time it came with an ISO grade.
* * *
Yesterday it was nice to gaze through the window from a warm room at streams of rain carrying small leaves down the path beside the house, the gloom lit now and then by lightning. Thunder played behind a tympani of water drops falling into the containers upstairs while Lin sat reading with an eye on our washing drying before two halogen heaters. Today we’re as grateful for dazzling sun and a gentle breeze to dry the next wash on a line across the garden. Aln phoned to say things would start this morning and that he’d be up tomorrow, then while Lin was showering, Lambros arrived with two mates to shoulder six rolls of felt – thicker than used previously and with ISO markings - to the balcony. Lambros looked at our buckets and smiled ruefully, pointed upwards and signing gently upwards ‘Seemara - problem over’. Now if this was an episode of Casualty … but Democracy Street is neither soap nor series, it’s our life and we woke this morning with all Greece lying beside us. I can glimpse the Adriatic Sea on the other side of the island from our drying balcony – Penta Islet – Πεντανήσια, off Cape Varka, seems from here still attached to the coast due south beyond Mt Paramanos, while the mainland shore, though it’s hazing up in the warm, would be visible to Parga and beyond but for the local hill between us and Dassia. The cat Bubble rolls jocund in the sun, miaous for attention and flirts lasciviously with a marmalade tom twice her size who’s scared by her. Ladies are putting out washing on many balconies. I distinctly heard several lemons asking to be picked - now.
* * *
The knife we found in the apothiki - the length of one of our table knives - was perhaps made by a local smith or bartered from a peddler of useful things. The blade has a slender flattened top, gently tapering fore and aft and broadest in the middle, such as you don't see, and which is probably unnecessary, on a factory-made knife. The initials ΣΚ seem stamped in the blade. We cleaned off a little rust. I can't explain the green paint on the blade and handle. To extend their shared life six turns of copper wire have been made round hilt and haft with the end nearest the blade running under the turns and back to a deft twist - a mend that makes the knife as robust as the day metal and wood were first joined. Its blade could take a sharper edge but can still cut bread. We don't know its age or its wood. I imagine beech, as in chair legs, but olive is common here. I suppose someone might accuse me of Elginism. "You can't bear to leave things where they are, to return from whence they came. Such fear of time! Such lack of trust in human ingenuity! These things were made and can be made again as and if needs be."


  1. Its nice to hear that village life goes on when we are away, your writings keep us eager to return roll on May.Glad you have met up with M and S

    Paul and Jacinta

  2. what do you think about all the books you've read, if you've finished.

    I was greatly touched by Eleni, and the writing was powerful. Colossus became dry after some chapters and I don't even remember finishing it. The Flight of Ikaros is missing from my library.

    One thing I haven't done enough of is read Kazantzakis and Cavafy. One day...

  3. Ikaros is the one I'm glad I read as well as Eleni. Colossus is more about Miller than about Greece - though there are some prescient insights - like Greece needing people who plant trees.


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