Thursday, 18 February 2010

Καρναβάλι 2010 ~ let's face the music and dance


Ian knocked at our door around 10.30 on Friday morning.
“Hold on, hold on!” said Lin disappearing into the bedroom to dress. Outside Ian and his 'concrete man' Andreas were waiting to discuss plan to rebuild the balcony beside the house and the steps up to it. Natasha came home with some shopping and I asked her help.
 “Leftheri!” she called. Soon she, her parents, me, Andreas, Ian, who speaks Greek well, and then Lin, were in conference at the side of the house assessing angles, supports, ways of getting concrete down the 13 steps from Democracy Street and the neighbours' memory of how it had looked before its ill-judged demolition by the previous owners’ builder. It was as exciting as Christmas. No we didn’t want Andreas to start while we were away. It wasn’t a question of trust. Just that problems arise requiring decisions where it’s foolish not to be there to discuss things. So we’ll get an estimate next week and if that’s OK proceed at Easter. (Forward a few months. Not Andreas but Alan eventually made our new balcony)
** ** **
Last Saturday we decided the weather looked good enough to do a guided walk starting from Kalfi to Strinilas and so, well clothed, we ascended high over the silvered coast to Sokraki and drove on via Zygos across a stretch of the Acharavi road until the Strinilas turn high above Spartillas where clouds began. The winds joust over Ano Korakiana on the marches between two kinds of weather. I often see the shift from south wind to north wind, from grey, wet and mild to cold and clear. Blue sky edging southward over the three crags behind us will disappear behind ascending clouds driving north. Gaze from the balcony in the morning and try to guess whether to hang out washing. I misjudged which wind would prevail. On the high ridge below Pantocrator we entered grey mist. Hail rattled the car roof turning the road white with ice. On the short sharp slope to Strinilas Platea our wheels span on ice, a few yards from The Oasis Taverna. “Coffee?” “No electricity” We sat in chill but coffee was made on the gas. I recall the last time I noticed the Oasis full of guests enjoying food and drink shaded from burning sun by a great oak now leafless in mist.
“A Metaxa too?” When the sky lightened and the hail melted, we descended towards Acharavi on the north coast, having abandoned the walk, giving an old lady a lift to the shops. The clouds lifted stretching our landscape. High Albania stretched across the north eastern horizon, mountains bathed in sunlight skirted by broad patches of azure turning to deep blue flecked into white caps by a northerly that, within an hour, had cleared the sky over all Corfu, drying puddles.

Linda and I were trying to understand how a loan to government gets hidden as a currency exchange. The last two or three years have been an opportunity to try to make sense of those ‘financial instruments’ that have been used to erode faith in credit, a concept derived from credo - I believe. I now understand the way sub-prime house loans were sold on in inviting packages to people, institutions and whole countries that ought to have known better.
The case of the Hellenic Republic, now in the news, seems to have entailed venture capitalists offering to pay in dollars for Greek airport tax, national lottery receipts and other assets, that would be repaid in Euros – a currency exchange, not a loan.
[Back to the future 2 March 2010: 'Recent revelations about the extent to which Goldman sold toxic mortgage-backed securities to its clients while betting against those securities in the market prompted Phil Angelides, chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, to suggest that this business model was “like selling a car with bad brakes and then taking out an insurance policy on the driver.” Mary Bottari in The Cap Times]
Lin and I played at duping each other
“But the euros will be repaid in the future, so it must be a loan!”
“No we don’t want that money yet as we're confident we'll get a far better return on the investment we’ve agreed to make in those assets in a few years.”
“Er, but we were in debt and now we aren’t, so how come you haven’t give me a loan?”
“Is it a loan if I buy the right at some future date to apply for planning permission to build a house at the end of your garden? Come off it. You're selling me a valuable opportunity. If it was a loan where’s the interest you’d be paying me?”
“Er.”
“We're investing in Greek futures. Paying in dollars. Not only that we'll be taking our profits in Euros. That’s how confident we are in the future of the Eurozone. It’s a patriotic speculation in which we’re proud to be involved.”
“Er. Right. But won’t the accountants in Brussels insist we’ve received a loan to pay off our debts.”
“They never did. Why should they now?”
“Whatever you say, I think it’s a loan.”
“Look. In the UK they’ve been doing this for years. The public argument shouldn't be about loans and debts, unless it's to play up the efficiency of the private sector over the public. Since Mrs Thatcher a large majority of voters have come to believe - or convinced enough not to argue against - that business is better at running things than government. What was part true, part untrue depending on purpose and context is now an article of faith. Do you agree.”
"Until government bailed out the banks.”
“Yes well. Let's go back twenty years. Grab the political agenda that claims private is good, public is bad. This lets government realise vast profits by shifting public goods like hospitals, railways, roads, schools, electricity and water supply systems to the private sector. Business takes over what, for government, has been a political liability. Sovereign risk? Troublesome unions? Vote losing taxes? Floods? Acts of God? Let the private sector take that off your hands. We apply more efficient management and we profit financially, and you, if you've done the political job of selling the argument to the voters, will profit politically. In the UK it's called the Public Private Finance Initiative. No even better, a public-private partnership - a catchy title that shows that government is still there able to regulate the unacceptable face of capitalism. Oh, and while you’re about privatising those assets, announce the issue of shares at a tempting discount to the public, so that instead of belonging to government, all those private hospitals, railways and schools genuinely belong to the public and ... I can't do this any more. It's four-o-clock, let's go to Carnival"
Carnival in Ano Korakiana from Simon Baddeley on Vimeo. Carnivali in Ano Korakiana brightened the greyest chilliest and wettest day of the year. brightened the greyest chilliest and wettest day of the year. Part of the band in motley, military, priest and police, made 'oompa oompa' with drum and fife. The king enthroned, priapic with crown on his heart-covered float, accompanied by courtiers, male as female and other reversals of carnival, paraded upwards preceded and trailed by bouncing umbrellas, a phalanx of pink parasols, women in silvery wigs dancing up to the start of Democracy Street, twirling round a ribboned pole amid whistles, bangers and music.

Stopping and starting the procession gathered more people – some in masks, a long nosed Pinocchio, some as they were; streamers and confetti thrown from windows, hugging and greeting, planned and spontaneous, impossible not to smile and laugh in the chill wet. Up we went to the bandstand, round the carpark and back down the street in rain that poured from low cloud obscuring views to the sea. Nico and Sophia, standing by their front door, invited us in from the cold and wet for coffee and rich chocolates to meet their family.
“All the news is bad”
“Indeed it is” we smiled.
At 7.00 two hundred or so were gathered in the upper room of the Farmers' Co-op on the lower road to watch a demonstrably hilarious dialogue between two women we didn’t understand but clapped with everyone else. Then a formal reading by a top hatted master of ceremonies naming people in the village to theirs and everyone else’s amusement and applause. karnav2010_8.jpg
Then a more disposable carnival king was carried out to the road and burned, with a bit of diesel to overcome the rain. Everyone began moving through a small door down short steps to the lower room to sit at long tables under a beamed roof. We were ushered to Leftheris’ family where dishes had been brought to pass with village wine in jugs, water and cola – lamb, pork, salad, cheese pies, olives, bread in chunks. As we tucked in along with every age, the dancing started with a band that created the mood of the evening, responded to people as they danced and sang – dances for couples became threesomes, foursomes until chains of us were stepping forward six steps one way, two back in that way that can’t help look elegant because the clumpers like me are carried hands held in the ring, six right, left two, unpausing until well after midnight the band made up of two guitarists, lead singer, keyboard and lighting mixer – played unceasingly. The dancing space was seldom empty. If not filled with pairs and chains, it was taken by men and women dancing solo amid clapping support, nimble and beautiful. I danced with Lin and in the circles – like Scottish reels.
“We all drank a lot of wine” said Katya when I saw her at the shop a couple of days later. As at a family wedding, wine added to the enjoyment; none crass. There was a break in the music around one in the morning. I thought we were going home, but after a few minutes, the room filled with lively chatter, the band came back with renewed energy. It wasn’t only the young on tables, though one couple danced with especial virtuosity, the young man - minutes previously in ballet skirt, tights and pigtails now entwined with a young woman who’d begun alone shivering her hips in the Arabian style. This duet had others joining in. The whole room floated on the music and swayed with the singing, happiness making us all even more good looking, and some especially handsome and beautiful. As the band said its goodbyes, an older lady led the Ano Korakiana song singing two line verses, unaccompanied, the chorus picked up by the moving circle. We walked home just before three-o-clock. “I’ve so enjoyed myself” I said “Me too” said Lin. Today I got a thankyou from a villager in Athens who loved seeing all their friends on our YouTube film of the celebration.
Note: The song to the dance is a paeon to Corfu "Kerkyra, overflowing with greenery and beauty...into each and every corner and the seashore..." No sentences, a recital of the island's attributes
* * *

We've nearly finished creating a wall between the stairway and what's now the downstairs bedroom and laying out the old bedroom as a downstairs dining room. Hardest has been knocking headroom from reinforced concrete beam at the foot of the now boxed-in stairs, cutting through the steel rods, but it's near done now and the mess cleared up so we can stand back relieved the house hasn't collapsed and the stairs creak less. Now it's a matter of tidying up the house ready to go back to England for four weeks.
Before the fiddlers have fled
Before they ask us to pay the bill
And while we still
Have the chance
Let's face the music and dance
** ** **
We've enclosed our staircase to make a new downstairs bedroom. We'll cut and mitre wood trim under each tread at Easter. Then we can start work on what's now the downstairs dining room - a better arrangement now we've cut and chipped away headroom in the opening between hallway and stairs and I don't have to risk falling sideways while descending with a tray.
All this has been done for under €100. It's minor joinery, tidied with architrave, trim, sanding, painting and filling with advice from Alan by phone. It'd be peanuts for an experienced craftsman, but we're pleased with ourselves.

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