Friday, 21 October 2011

Back to England

So now our veranda should stay dry
Thursday morning, there was a sombre mood in 'the Bear' - our part of Ano Korakiana. Natasha as she said goodbye to us until early next year told me that it was the funeral of her friend and neighbour Maria that afternoon. "She was 62". Lefteris told me that Vasiliki goes again to Agrinio on Friday to comfort her sister, whose husband died only a month ago. We look forward to being home in Birmingham with many things waiting in our in-tray there, but I dislike departures - in proportion to my delight in arrivals.  Over Wednesday Lin and I were tidying the house, working through a check-list to keep things in order in our absence, rolling up carpets, locking up and securing my bicycle, closing shutters, distributing the last of our cat food, and of course, putting finishing touches to our attempt to ensure the safety of our wooden balcony. Lin has painted Chromolac - a waterproofing product around the edge where we can expect the weather to work its worst over winter.
"We'll just have to see what happens".
Paul, Cinty's husband, said "Just be careful when you step out of those French windows next time"
The implication was that rot will set in under our covering of waterproof paint, roofing felt, polythene sheet and fibreglass building membrane.
The day before our departure I checked Summersong. She was as dry as a bone - no leaks above or below. Mark has been keeping an eye on her, while she sits unused on her mooring awaiting a new or reconditioned engine. How I hope one turns up.
Summersong's ageing 9hp Yanmar
Our cases were almost empty compared to the journey out, so room for cigarettes bought by Lin at the airport. Richard collected the car to take us down to Kapodistria. Lefteris and Fortis both warned us there were no flights because of the national strike across Greece.
As we waited for the car, bags at the top of the steps to Democracy Street, I phoned Yianni from whom we hire our car. "Airport's open" he said.
Waiting at the steps on Democracy Street

We'd left the kolokithia from our garden to neighbours and now, morose, we head to the airport. The weather's crisp, small white clouds, the coast of Epirus clear to the east. At Kapodistria checking in is straightforward. We wait in the sun before going through security. A thing I so like here is the way big old dogs hang about Departures, friendly and relaxed. Can you imagine them allowed at Gatwick or Heathrow or Eleftherios Venizelos in Athens?
Waiting for departure at Kapodistri
Our plane arrived soundlessly it seemed. In little time we were sat on board with room to spread, thinking more about our next arrival than our departure. Our Captain, Phil Shaw, cheered us with a happy chat, persuading us to pay attention to his crew's safety guidance, earning a clap from passengers.
** ** **
Last Tuesday I had a cycle ride to the west coast, turning off the main road at Skripero - three kilometres west of Ano Korakiana - and heading down a much narrower and quieter road through Doukades...
Δουκάδες - how ill at ease is that sole villa top right
...to where it joined the main road between Corfu Town and Paleokastritsa.
From there I cycled a kilometre to the junction with the Lefkimmi Road heading south east. I'd had a mind to visit the beach at the head of Liapades Bay but, having taken a right turn off the Lefkimmi Road, then followed a sign to Liapades beach where the constructions of commodified guesthood began to crowd the approaching shore - buildings and signs which over my life have marked the economic history of the southern Mediterranean. A greening pool appeared beside the road - premises that do for consumers what a combine harvester does for the land.
Thinking of old pictures of this place before the era of concrete came to Greece I turned my bicycle back up the hill and, on lowest gear, retraced my route until I could turn right...
The turn to the centre of Liapades
 ...and ascend upwards into the village of Liapades, where place yet resides in the jumble of houses fronting narrow passages, public and private space indistinct - the enduring architecture of neighbourhood. My route became steeper. I dismounted and walked on up between small houses. I know my thoughts on this contrast between old and new on Corfu are as impractical as a wooden boat in an age of glass reinforced plastic. Unlike GRP a wooden boat cannot be left to its own devices, it must be attended to, worked on, cared for - the saw about the relation of eggs and bacon - the chickens involved but the pig's committed. I emerged into the top of the village on a path that a car could only access with difficulty, and entered the countryside high above Cape Iliodorus, the October sun dazzling ranks of olives, where people were working, a dog appeared round a bend ahead of followed by three women, two on donkeys. "Greetings - herete"...
... they chatted round the bend as I headed on west parallel with the coast until I saw a vineyard beside a grassy margin, sprung since the last week's rain. I stopped for a picnic, sat on a low wall, just able to see the monastery at Paleokastritsa in the distance, the rest hidden by the woods between. Tap water and chunks of fresh bread from the bakery in Ano Korakiana, cheese and dried Corfu sausage and a chocolate biscuit.

I returned via the main road between the blighted coast and Corfu town, but a kilometre before the turn we're used to taking when coming northward to Ano Korakiana, I took a narrow winding road heading three kilometres north back to Skripero - a lovely route, little used - representing no short cut. Flat at first, through hedged meadows and allotments, it slopes gently up to Skripero through banks and trees...

...winding up through the village, from where I returned to the main Sidari road and thence to the small road I'd taken at the start of my ride back to Ano Korakiana.
England
**** ****
Guy gave us a lift home from Digbeth Coach Station. Amy was waiting for us at home having swept a thick coat of leaves from our drive. We chatted, sifted mail, learned that our grandchild expected in early April is a boy, tried out names, hugged dog Oscar and greeted cat Flea, and sent out for a Chinese takeaway and, once again drenched in multimedia news, easier to filter in Greece, we watched a programme in which Joanna Lumley visits Corfu, interspersed with shake pics of captured Gadaffi, blood speckled just before he was killed (Libya)
** ** **
This paragraph appears partly in brackets in the leaked EURO SUMMIT STATEMENT DRAFT issued on 19 Oct:
[pm strengthening of the monitoring of the Greek program] [We welcome the decision by the Eurogroup on the disbursement of the 6th tranche of the EU-IMF support programme subject to the adoption of the prior actions agreed with the Greek government. We look forward to the conclusion of a sustainable and credible new EU-IMF multiannual programme by the end of November]
[ pm: PSI to be prepared by the Eurogroup] We reaffirm clearly our unequivocal commitment that private sector involvement is and will continue to be an exceptional solution applying only to Greece, as its unique condition requires a unique solution.
Richard Pine's Op-ed in The Irish Times (19 Oct'11) begins:
The 19th-century American writer Henry David Thoreau observed that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. That is certainly not the case in Greece, where desperation is becoming increasingly unquiet as life, and the country itself, collapses under the burden of new austerity measures. The unrest is not only in the “mass of men” but within the system itself. Riot police recently dispelled a protest outside parliament by their off-duty colleagues; civil servants in the finance ministry have blocked access to the building for incoming EU inspectors...
and ends
...The glue that holds any society together is consensus, but what makes it vibrant is dissent. Greece is on the brink of collapse – some say civil war. As normal society grinds to a halt exemplified by the 48-hour national strike that starts this morning, the implosion will necessitate intervention to ensure distribution of essential goods and services. It is not unthinkable that the army might undertake those, and other more far-reaching, roles, at which point we should all be reading Thoreau’s short essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience . But does the army necessarily support this, or any other, government? A military – or quasi-military – regime in Greece would be far more damaging to the EU than a Greek default. It seems that in making everyone – except perhaps the super-rich – pay for Greece’s financial mistakes, the government is completely insensitive not only to public opinion but also to the hurt this will inflict on those who simply cannot afford it. For example, the removal of the subsidy on home heating oil will effectively double the price to the householder; in 2012 the price of electricity will increase by 30 per cent. Thoreau wrote: “When I meet a government which says to me ‘Your money or your life’, why should I be in haste to give it my money?” A referendum is to be held to test the waters on this issue: how the Greeks will answer Thoreau’s question will be crucial to the survival of the state.
France and Germany disagree about how to handle the Eurozone crisis, how to maintain fiscal union, how to handle the stability fund, the EFSM - especially as it effects Greece. My friend John Martin, in Australia, in a recent email, wrote:
...I watch with interest with what is happening with world financial markets and am annoyed that there is no apparent control, just blind faith is a system that on all accounts does not work. I am sure the UK Government will manage things at home but other countries I am not so sure...
The debate opposes 'fiscal raptors' who say we're in such deep debt we must scrape, save, cutback, reject further credit, reduce leverage and abhor its use solely for greater consumption, embrace austerity and advocates of Keynesian remedies who refer to their opponents as makers of an 'austerity death trap' preventing recovery by destroying the jobs, businesses and incomes that might redeem the debt. The latter say that only governments can now save the situation by injecting enough kickstart cash to revive growth and jobs. Where do environmental policies enter this debate? On the side of cash injection by government - but in ways that will move the world from an economic model driven by the exploitation of earth's resources to one that embraces sustainability based on conservation and renewable resources. Amid the crisis it is difficult to distinguish the hawks, from those who oppose them - since the changes required to create sustainability are quite as demanding as those that require austerity. No-one whatever solutions they advocate really expects anything nice to happen inside the next decade. The whole situation is made more frightening and depressing because the language used to talk about the crisis is on the edge of most people's comprehension. There are times when economic journalists, economists, financial experts, are carrying on an argument that passes over our heads, talking and arguing with each other rather than communicating and debating with non-economists - who worry about theirs, their friends' and their relatives' circumstances. I think I understand 'credit default', 'sub-prime mortgages' and 'frozen credit markets'  but I'm struggling with 'collaterized debt obligations', 'repurchase agreements'. the different kinds of 'quantitative easing - QE1, QE2, QE3', the details of 'leverage', 'sovereign debt' and the workings of the 'bond market' from which derives so much of the problem. Yet when you do come across a layman's explanation, or something approaching, it can annoy. See the comments attached to this YouTube piece in which two vexingly smart American siblings, John and Hank Green, the Vlogbrothers, claim to explain the Greek Debt Crisis 'in four minutes'.
***
...and opinion of the former chairman of the Federal Reserve - Alan Greenspan - quoted in Kathimerini:
“Greece should never have been accepted as a member of the euro zone." The debt restructuring being faced by many European countries was the “only discernible solution" for them to emerge from the crisis. As for the euro zone crisis in general, Greenspan said the situation was “extremely critical,” noting that no one could predict what will happen in the future. As long as there are countries in Europe with a large public debt “Europe will have no future,” he said, adding that what is needed is a stronger political union which will curb the divergent behavior of other member states. He called for an “essential fiscal unification of Europe” stressing that the threat posed by an unstable Europe to the American economy was “extremely dangerous”; that those who overlook this are not being realistic.
... and Sarkozy says the same. Greece has only been in the Eurozone since 2001, The crisis began to emerge just three years ago - so could be said too have arisen in under 9 years. See this BBC story from January 2001:

Greece has become the twelfth country to join the European single currency, ditching its own currency, the drachma. The Greek Finance Minister, Ioannis Papandoniou, described it has an historic day that would place Greece firmly at the heart of Europe. "Our inclusion in EMU ensures for us greater stability and opens up new horizons" - Costas Simitis.  But the president of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg, warned that Greece still had a lot of work to do to improve its economy and bring inflation under control. In 1999, Greece was left out of the eurozone for failing to meet the EU's economic criteria. To qualify for euro membership, the Greek Government had to adopt a tough austerity programme, making deep cuts in public spending. Despite the budget cuts, euro membership is hugely popular in Greece, with polls suggesting that nearly two-thirds of the population are in favour of the move. In a televised New Year message, Prime Minister Costas Simitis said Greece "is already experiencing euro conditions. We all know that our inclusion in EMU (European Monetary Union) ensures for us greater stability and opens up new horizons," he said. The eurozone now consists of Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

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