Friday, 7 October 2011

October


Of Greece, Tony and Helen will now have seen, before they came to stay with us in Ano Korakiana, Delphi and the scenery on their route via Metsovo to Igoumenitsa and the ferry to Corfu. Since they left us, they’ll have visited the Vikos Gorge in Zagori, the great rock pillars of Meteora, the ruins at Nauplion and Mystras and now they’re in the Mani. Tomorrow Olympia…I yearn to hear their impressions as they visit the sublime places of ancient Greece. For four days until the 12 October they will be in great Athens; there to see the Parthenon – “approaching it” said Tony, architecturally trained, “indirectly, as the builders intended, via the Propylaia” - Προπύλαια.
During Fall 1961 and Spring ’62 Tony at Yale took Vincent Scully’s courses on Greek Art and Architecture and Modern Architecture.
‘Thereafter I was never the same’ he writes at the start of his gift book to us about their Connecticut home, placed in a rolling landscape like a nest in the crotch of a tree - a building he and Helen conceived and built in collaboration with the architect Judy Swanson.
Vincent Scully 'opened my eyes' writes Tony 'to the mystery of architecture from the Parthenon to Corbusier’s Ronchamp’ - a building Lin dislikes, which I saw while a student at Cambridge on a theatre tour of France and Switzerland in 1962, gazing at it bemused.
Notre Dame du Haut, by Le Corbusier, at Ronchamp
Tony and Helen will visit the Acropolis I first saw when I was 16; Easter 1957, long before the floor of the Parthenon was closed to the public. My first sighting was the morning of my arrival in Athens by train from London, peering through the loo window of my step-yiayia's upstairs flat in Koloniki. Years later Amy, Lin and I visited - in 1996. What joy, that hot afternoon, to be in that place again - this time with close family.
Amy and Linda on the Acropolis, behind them Mt Lycabettus
I can too easily put aside these wonders with my thoughts so much on modern Greece, the troubles of present Greece, and our dear home on one island, and, for most of the time, one street in one village. Tony and Helen gave us a greeting card in which he'd written:
Dear Simon and Linda. Our friendship traverses time from the first house we worked on together, my “Corbu” – after Corbusier – in Vermont, to our reconnection here at your “Democracy Street” on Corfu. We thought you might enjoy this which documents in architecture much of the journey. Tony and Helen 9/21/11. 
I first came to the Parthenon full of happy awe but, though I'd seen the Acropolis in books since I'd learned to read, lacking the education that could have made me sensible to the enveloping craft of Iktinus and Kallikrates. What matters is that I was given delight by genius to stir the heart of Everyman. My friendship with Tony has given me insight into how such things are achieved; how these seldom happen by talented chance. I become wiser in my appreciation of exceptional creation. In the book about their house - 36 Taconic Road - he says ‘architecture dramatises life'. It’s a stage, on which to tell a story, based on various principles – discovered, invented by humans long ago. One such is the diagonal eye, the indirect approach.
This concept is as old as the Parthenon. One ascends the steps to the Acropolis. On passing through the Propylaia, your eye strikes the corner of the Parthenon slightly to your right. The miniature Erectheum stands to your left. Before one extends open space. The Parthenon dominates. Your eye, split on the Parthenon’s nearest corner drives one’s vision along its apparent diagonal roof-line/pediment toward the geophysical object of veneration at the horizon: Mount Hymettos. The indirect off-center approach to the Parthenon makes the Acropolis come alive because one’s eye is driven beyond wherever one is – to try to determine why we are here at all…
So now instilled with such an understanding that began with Scully's lecture near 50 years ago, Tony with his stick will clamber up the sacred hill with Helen to see it together. What will they see and think? I saw it as a young man, untutored. Tony sees it as an old man, wise though with no less enthusiasm, perhaps more and with a beloved to share impressions.
We build in the face of incomprehensible random fate…incomprehensible even to the gods. Greek tragedy recognizes this. There are powers that even the gods cannot propitiate or direct to their ends. That is what makes Greek tragedy so profoundly moving and expressive of the human condition…In the face of this unseeable presence we build community among ourselves, and among the hills and stars…how unlike the dramatic eye-splitting Parthenon is the blunt, face-centered neo-classical New England bank! (Banker always miss the point!)
Don't they just!
** ** **
We were invited to supper by Mark and Sally the other night.  How I enjoy even the anticipation of such an event. Showered and tidied we set off.
“Where are you going?” asks Natasha (not "pou pigate?", but "pou parte?") sat with family below the steps we share to Democracy Street 
“To Mark and Sally. Their mum and dad are going back to England soon.”
After Natasha had helpfully corrected my “We are going” “Tha pas…” I made a passable go explaining in Greek our plan for the evening. Then,with our bag of ice and village wine, we stroll down the darkening street, past various place we would now know if blind, greeting the small gathering outside the opposing shops, until, on the hill past the band room, inhaling the jasmine climbing a corner two floors by one of the gently lit alleys that lead from the street, and, after the road narrows more, turning left down steps winding along a short path between walls until we arrive at a wooden gate opening into a low beamed foyer full of useful things - a wood pile, a reel of cable, boots, a washer, a dog bowl, a small table and chair, a chopping block - shaded in summer, cosy in winter, off which there’s a curtained door with a beaded hanger against insects.
Our arrival’s known. Black dog Teal comes out, growing old, still wagging his whole body, leading us into the familiar ground floor of pictures, shelves, books and fabrics, lit like an old painting, suffused with the tasting smell of slow cooked stiffado - hare and pheasant from England - and crisp crushed garlic roasting with small new potatoes.
“They’re upstairs” says Sally busy in the kitchen, a workroom inside the room we’ve entered, handing over wine and ice, putting my walking stick in the crowded stick stand, hanging my cap on its cloven hoof handle. The stairs are narrow, part triangular, open, built into one corner, marked by a string of white Christmas lights. As I ascend from the confines of the cosy sitting room, still rather too warm for a company to eat this time of year, I glimpse, through the curtains and part of the French window of an intervening room like a back-lit hint in the elaborate set of a drawing room play, silhouettes of people at a table spread with candles, set inside a balcony beneath a canopy of vines, whose two sinuous arm-width stems embrace, protect and frame a crow’s nest – the translation of Ano Korakiana, Άνω Κορακιάνα - overlooking the island’s central mountains 20 kilometres to the south, the bare outline of high peaked Epirus over the sea to the east, the twinkling lights of the mainland along a gently curving line that disappears behind the olive coated hills speckled with lights beside a straight stretch of the road to Kato, lower, Korakiana; while close by the small trees and climbers of neighbouring houses sharing our vantage, shadowed and lit by the last of the sunset, turning monochrome under a high gibbous moon. Towering behind us, three great crags meet the night sky showing the brighter stars and a planet. Wouldn’t an audience approve, even offer applause, for such a set, admiring the descent from narrow Democracy Street down an alley, into the confined arched space that leads via dim light and the enticing smells of cooking from an intimate interior to stairs that go up again to our small stage…
Later, to finish, there was a Pavlova, made by Cinty, and after the pudding, another of Mark's pâtés - "the best I've made"...
...along with cheeses, English and French and Italian - a delectable rough cylinder of white crumbly goat cheese.
** ** **
"Καλό μήνας" said Adoni a few mornings ago. I was puzzled. What was ‘minas’? Of course ‘month’, and this, being the start of October, Adonis my neighbour,  was wishing me not just ‘good morning’ ‘καλημέρα!’ but welcoming October. So - ‘year’ is χρονιά (καλή), ‘month’ is μήνας (καλό), ‘week’ is εβδομάδα (one I keep forgetting), ‘day’ is μέρα, ‘hour’ is ώρα, ‘minute’ is λεπτό and, I think, but ‘second’ is also λέπτο, so I., confused. Αμέσως means ‘in a tick’ but, wait a moment, how about για περίμενε for ‘just a second’?
Η οικογένεια του Νίκου Νικολούζου
It’s a month for making wine - down alleyways, beside the road, biscuits of pomace left over from pressing. As we strolled by their house a few steps off Democracy Street, we saw Katerina and her husband pressing the grapes.
“Just a moment, Simon. I have a bottle of last year’s wine for you”. Katherine bought us out a two litre bottle of golden white. Their grapes both red and white had not become desiccated - wine from Ano Korakiana stock.
Lefteris and Fortis – yesterday afternoon – were still at the first stage, heaving 22 kilo plastic crates holding tight clusters of small black and larger white Zakinthos grapes, vine leaves, storks and twigs into a hopper, sat on a big chest-high plastic tub. Young Lefteris was having a go at the wheel.
“Simon” (their stress is always on the ό, rather than the ί in my name, which is properly spelled Σάïμον, which I like as much as the Greek respect in my more formal title ‘Mr Simon’).
“Simόn. Come.” I could see them by the tub from the balcony where Lin and I were working; an invitation to help turn the wheel that turned the cogged gear of spindled paddles above two shiny crushers at the bottom of the hopper. It was no less fun than as a child being asked to help with the mangle, squeezing out rinse water from jumbled clothes turned flat to have their creases shaken out; hung far from reach on the line. In one of the memory synapses so easily tapped I remembered, as I hurried downstairs to go next door, washing that hung in flat frozen slabs transfixed at a slight angle to the winter wind.  Lin’s mum Dorothy still does her washing by hand. Here the handle of the crusher was sticky with grape juice which, clearing hair from my brow, stuck there too. 700 kilos - about 30 crates – to be crushed, and during a break a cup of Greek coffee, skirto, with biscuit-cakes sprinkled with sesame seed and grapes steeped in honey on a small plate with a teaspoon and a glass of water made by Vasiliki. The tub exactly filled, Fortis measured the specific gravity of the juice sample – “12.5% good, 13% not good” said Lefteris. Now I know numbers in Greek, I could carry on an almost coherent statistical conversation. Three days the mass of solid grapes and twigs and leaves and perhaps spiders, a wasp and bits of grass, will stand; fermenting in the covered tub, before the young wine is run off from the tap at the bottom of the tub and sieved into bottles to continue working. Sticky and sweaty, grape smelling, I retraced my steps back to our house next door. From our balcony I could look down on the tub I’d help fill. “So when did you no longer do this with your feet?” I’d asked “Ten years ago.” Why would anyone resort to the pestled bones of a slaughtered tiger when they can make village wine?
*** ***
Linda has completed the preparing and painting of our shutters so that now on at least the street side of the house they are restored.
Shutters restored and painted
“Soon we should paint the house” she said “I think I’d like to use asvesti, whitewash, but I’m not sure the best way to apply it especially if we want to mix in colouring.”
She’s also been putting down more plaka under the balcony. First she arranges the pieces of plaka as though doing a jigsaw, then fixes three pieces at just the level she wants – at either end and centre. I chipped out the edge of the existing plaka so the join would be uneven with the new, not just a straight line.
*** ***
Yesterday afternoon Yianni returned the hire car, and this morning I drove to Tzavros to pick up needed materials from the ironmonger, and get some ciggies for Katerina. Coming home the clouds opened and I gave a lift to a soaked neighbour walking up the hill from his field below the village.
"I thought the rain was coming tomorrow?"
"So did I. Thanks for your kindness."

More quantitative easing

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