Friday, 17 September 2010

Days

Leftheri’s grapes shrivelled on the vine this August. We’d seen them there parched, too dried for sultanas. He picked a couple of dessicated clusters as we chatted – me on the balcony, he in the shade of his garden. “No good” he said. They clicked on the ground. In a few weeks he’ll get grapes from Zante when they bring them north to sell from trucks by the mainroads.
Zante-Zakinthos, below Cephalonia, the southernmost - but for tiny  Strofades (Stamphani and Arpia)  - of the Ionian islands, now that distant Kithera, beyond the Peloponnesian capes (Morea on the old map), is in a different region of Greece. “One third red, two thirds white.” First Fortis, his son-in-law, will use the press, then bring it up here, for him and Vasiliki to make their wine. “No problem.”
How could Kithera, over 300 miles from Corfu, nearly 200 south east of Zakinthos, ever have been part of an Ionian cluster? Kithera once called Cerigo, was at southern end of a Venetian archipelago, which with Parga and Vonitsa on the mainland, formed a strategic line, as irrelevant today as a pocket batteleship, along the crumbling Ottoman border, controlling the movement of ships between the Adriatic and the Aegean.
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Nancy was with us at supper last night, returning to Nick with Estelle in England today. She told me that all those diacritics that characterise Greek polytonic were actually quite useful.
“We have all these ‘e’s in Greek - η, ε, ει, αι, οι – often pronounced in different ways. The signs helped. With demotic you have to just remember them.” I said I was almost enjoying reading Cavafy in Greek because of all the untranslateable double and triple meanings that emerged when checking them in the lexicon. “I don’t like him” she confided “At school we were always being told about double meanings in Cavafy” “Ah another child turned off poetry by school?” “Perhaps” she agreed. But then Cavafy's been called ‘a poet of old age’ – not so much because he wrote so much work in the latter part of his life, but that his poetry has greater effect when one has had time to apply layers of varnish on memories of the past, and can look back on a long irretrievable wake. Nancy's too young to accumulate my cargo of nostalgia. Perhaps she should have another look at the poet around 2045.
School's started and we hear the encouraging chiding chat of parents getting children ready for classes as we lie in bed. Then quiet. Since Adonis and Ethy have done up their apothiki and laid out the garden next door, and our porch, steps and balcony have been completed, children, who used to kick a ball up, down and around the alley that runs from Democracy Street down to the lower road, have limited their play to chatting and playing quieter games as they sit together on the steps next to the street. The voluntary repairs to the playground further down the street, close to Mark and Sally’s, has taken the louder play down there among swings, slide, seesaw and turntable. It’s good to hear children playing in the village, receiving the passing ‘hullo’ and polite nod.
Just below us Fortis and two others are renovating the house at the turn of the path below us for a family in Corfu from the village - relatives we think - who also own the slightly derelict plot of green below us which they’ll use as a  garden.
Today we’re at loose ends, having been used to being tourists while Val was staying, we're back to being more in the village, thinking of work on the house, making lists and giving up at their imagined length. “There’s too much to do” sighs Lin. “Let’s just lie around” I say. Music plays on my computer – some especially resonant with our passivity, heard faintly as we sit below in siesta heat pondering “what we shall we do or go fishing?” Almost grateful Lin sets the spinner, recovers our washing, and after a while we hang it up in the garden.

Lin does some filling below the windows over the balcony which though only completed a month ago feels as if it’s been there always, so naturally does it fit the side of the house. Lin remarks “It’s so easy to get to this wall now.” Painting it, as we should, doesn’t feel like anything we want to do. Not yet. We can’t decide or agree on colour. On the steps to Democracy Street young Katerina and  Lefteris hang about – literally.
I take a photo of the contrasting light and shade on the new porch – a project on which Alan spent longer than he did on the steps and the balcony. Part of us shares his liking for leaving things incomplete, not messy but always unfinished, ready for more. No bad description of this village, or Greece. I wonder what we’ll do and what awaits us…περιμἐνοντας τοὺς βαρβάρους.
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We watched The Book of Eli two nights ago – a new-style Western in which the evil survivors of a man made eco-catastrophe are routed - most of the time - by a good survivor walking west with a book which he defends with lethal force - martial art with gun, long knife and karate chop having long replaced the Winchester, the Colt and the fist. Old Testament in morality, the script hints now and then at the lost beauty of mercy and love and yearning to eschew force against depravity. Our hero, mortally wounded, makes it to the West Coast where he rows out into the Bay with a loyal and pretty companion. The highpoint is Denzel Washington’s reading from memory, his book having been taken from him in his last fight, of the story of Genesis, dictating the book recalled in whole from heart to a scribe on Alcatraz - an armed monastery with printing press whose members are republishing the Torah, The Koran and, at last, The Bible – New King James Version, Alacatraz Press, and literature of all languages and art in the new dark age. Meantime the baddie – Gary Oldman, superb as ever, is left with the actual book of Eli for which he’s done so much killing, maiming and torturing, and it’s in Braille, and his woman, blind from birth, isn’t going to play. Amen.

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