Total Pageviews

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Carpentry, cake and democracy

This morning Mrs Lefteris came to our door with a delicious cake made from a squash (kolokithi), warm from the oven - moist, dotted with raisins, topped with pieces of orange and sesame seed. Three slices disappeared from a red plastic plate that sat between us as we got ready for another day on the cupboard. Our tustle with this has lasted ten days. We've still to strip down to the wood, wax it, paint inside and replace a pane of glass. This amateur joinery is a parable for my attitude to democracy - a system of government marginally superior to the others, easily distorted by populism, based on that hallowed invention of Classical Greece which excluded women and the slaves, on which their economy, and the leisure that allowed a relative minority to take part in politics, depended.
We could hear young Leftheris trying out his new trumpet and high in the sky glimpse one of the first contrails since the volcanic eruption in Iceland grounded planes across the continent. "If Iceland can send south this chaos as revenge for allowing it to go bankrupt, what could Greece send north as a commensurate threat to the bankers in Brussels?" asked Richard Pine at supper in town.
Henry Maine wrote about democracy as 'popular government', suggesting that idealists could not accept the idea of democracy as 'just another form of government'. Instead they had a way of speaking of the 'divine right of the people' that sounded suspiciously like those monarchists who claimed the same ridiculous rights for a king. I hope I could fight to the death, or at least be prepared to die for the marginal difference that makes democracy better than totalitarianism, but I'm aware that, like fitting separate pieces of recovered woodwork into an uneven hole in the wall to create something that holds together, serves a useful purpose and looks good, democracies require regular redesign, repetitious tweaking, good will, perseverance, tolerance and all the gifts of diplomacy. I suspect that some of our neighbours feel compassion for us, assuming we are unable to afford to buy a new cupboard or have one fitted by a professional. The idea that we actually enjoy giving all this attention to recovered wood and old fittings may seem bizarre - ditto those who strive to make democracy work.
Meantime from England I had a nice briefing of the current situation in the run-up to our General Election on 6 May.
I don't know how many votes there are for our expiring administration in whistling up a couple of aircraft carriers and restaging Dunkirk but this turns out to be a very good time to be in the UK, not least because both politics and nature are conspiring to stand the world as we know it (TWAWKI) on its pointy head. By this afternoon it had dawned on both major parties that the electorate (aka the Great Dismissed) has chosen to pile onto the Clegg/Lib Dem bandwagon as a way of stiffing PAU (Politics As Usual). As a consequence the Tory backwoodsmen are re-emerging (cometh the hour, cometh the Tebbit) instructing Their Dave to cancel tonight's mega-expensive party political (which Dave's done) and unleash the attack dogs on the proper target. Which will play exactly into the Lib Dems' hand. Glorious stuff. And about time too....
My reply begins:
Dear G. It's briefings like this that keep me in touch so that I sound as if I know what I'm talking about when running a session on 'political nous' the morning after I get back from Corfu in May. Thanks. If the Lib Dems show up significantly in a new Parliament they'll push, as they did during the brief Lib-Lab pact, for proportional representation. Few in England understand PR (especially as there are so many versions - ever been cornered by a PR anorak. Run. I wouldn't as it's my bread and butter and probably not you 'cos you're a writer) yet voters still sense PR's fairer than first past the post and would be good for the multiplicity of TWAWKI (an acronym I'm stealing along with PAU). PR's proved popular in Scotland after start-up problems two years ago....
* * *
On Paul and Cinta's house - a present from their opposite - neighbour Nico, there's a bi-lingual sign in bright fresh colours:
This street, running about a mile, through the centre of Ano Korakiana, from Venetia westward, only got its name in the time of the Colonels when we were told by Kostas Apergis, soon after we bought our house here, and I started this web diary, that a message - a directive - came from Athens to the villages and towns, to give names to streets that celebrated the regime - names like Οδός 21ην Απριλίου 1967 - a date still celebrated by some in Greece. Ano Korakiana's response, if I understand correctly, was, in those dangerous times, an exercise in practical wisdom (Μῆτις). They chose the name Οδός Δημοκρατίας - a Odyssean response to a dilemma that has lasted well. In fact the places in the village are still known - like Venetia, to the east on the Sokraki road - by their local names. Thus Natasha says our part of the village has long been known as 'the bear'. I give our address as 208 Democracy Street but no mail is delivered to our house, nor has it a mailbox. Our letters go, with most others, to the shop 30 metres from us at one of Democracy Street’s slight bends, where cars can pass, opposite a cake shop with a shade and and alcove where familiar people will often be standing or sitting, chatting and musing, greeting passersby, in the morning and evenings, a few yards from a Venetian arch leading into shade down steps to the lower road. Like all small shopkeepers, Stamatis Savvanis, competes with foodsellers whose vans drive through the village on weekdays announcing themselves through loudspeakers, and many main road supermarkets from Tzavros on – Sconto, A&B, Lidl. His shop sells bread from the village’s bakery – warm and crispy. Open weekdays from 10.00am to 2.00pm and 5.00pm to about 9.30pm. It's sensible to reserve bread on Saturdays as it leaves the shelf even more swiftly for the weekend.
Σταμάτης Ζαββανης


  1. Is this spam? It may well be...

    That cake looks utterly delicious, and I want the recipe (on Katie's behalf). Have you had the strange Corfiot fig'n'ouzo Pâté , wrapped in fig leaves yet? It's an acquired taste, but nonce accquired, not lost. Very cinnamony, like all Corfiot food.

    I think there's a recipe book worth writing on Corfiot food, focussing only on recipes unknown on the mainland. Rabbit stifado, sofrito, bourdetto... and of course tzintzi birra (which they don't even sell on the Liston anymore (Herrumph!) but which just about survives on the odd bathing platform under the Palace. My mum tried to revive Corfiot ginger beer in the mid-80s, until it all exploded, sending shards of glass into the whitewashed walls. A tricky business.

    On the subject of my mum, she's convinced the Kinnocks had a holiday home in your village until the mid-90s, but I'm sure you'd have discovered whether or not that was true or not by now. Like anywhere in Corfu, There Be Dragons anywhere outside a 5-mile radius of the natal village. I don't think any of my family have ventured south of the town since the early 1900s at least.

    Last ramble: have you read this: ?

  2. Thanks for all these thoughts. I've had figs steeped in Ouzo but not as a pâté. Haven't heard of the Kinnocks being here - possibly Kato Korakiana. There's some record of them summering in Liapades, visiting the Cricketers' Taverna. Yes I enjoy the ginger beer especially as part of a cycling picnic and - yes - my mum years ago also had a serious explosion while fermenting it at home, coating everything else in her pantry with sticky liquid.


Back numbers

Simon Baddeley