Tuesday, 31 January 2012

In town for the day

I was in a room on the south bank of the Thames at some meeting of people in the same business – I’m almost certain it was a conference on analysing and debunking conspiracy theory - when gazing over towards the Houses of Parliament I saw the top floor of Portcullis House, the office accommodation for MPs over the road from the Commons, explode, freezing all in the room but me. No need to conform in dreams, I threw myself to the floor for cover. I knew exactly where this came from. It was a flashback to London’s especially brilliant New Year fireworks display with widely published stills of flames shooting from the upper turrets of Big Ben. Except they confirm prescience I give dreams no credence as prophecy. It was to do with my state of mind, sitting on my own the evening before watching a film of Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black - one of the scariest ghost stories (next to The Turn of the Screw), in which at one point, after a preamble of gathering dread and the illusion of escape to a cosy bedroom; a child’s playful giggle wakes the haunted man, Arthur Kidd. He sits up in his bed in the Gifford Arms half awake in a sweat but curious, when with dreadful abruptness the face of the woman in black, stoops on him screeching through gritting teeth. “She…came for me”.
I’d seen this before but was still on the edge of dread as I went downstairs to the cold and dark to wash, do my teeth, before bed, knowing imagination’s inventiveness; no-one else in the house.  The was the dream sorting things out, plus Parmesan.
Morning ferry to Igoumenitsa

I think I’ll go to town today. I’ve errands. It’s going to be sunny. From the village I cycle down a winding back road to the main Sidari Road, then two kilometres to its T-junction with the Corfu Town-Paleokastritsa Road, then four to the Tzavros T-junction.
My route from Ano Korakiana to town
Here’s the post office. I pay my electricity bill – 20% for electricity the rest, property tax. Then on, cycling in the sun, to join the dual carriageway for eight kilometres to the edge of town – able along most of that large busy stretch to cycle on quieter parallel side roads. I’ve done this journey in winter, at night in pouring rain, in the bright heat of a summer day. I like the feeling of approaching and arriving in the city – especially one as classy as Corfu’s capital.
It’s been hinted that those who live all the time in the Corfu Town look askance at the rest of the island, as some in Chelsea might regard Romford. Boarding a bus to town at a stop in the country as you proffer your fare you say simply “Πόλη” “Poli”. I entered via the main road Ioulias Andreadi towards the old hospital soon hurrying through the traffic that jams up here to visit the good cycle shop just opposite the Ipoliti T-junction to get a decent lock, a slight adjustment to my handlebars and thicker handgrips, which the owner fitted for me in two minutes using a detergent spray to loosen the old ones
WD40’s no good for this” he said.
On down back streets to The Stove Shop in Solomou Street to ask about replacing cracked fireproof mica in the door and a new inside guard, showing pictures of what I needed on my camera. Stammatis described removing my stove door.
“We have the parts. Bring your old ones in in. It will be done while you wait.”
I went to buy my ferry ticket home, to be sure of the February schedule and headed for the Superfast ticket office by the new port gates. On the way I came to another travel agent and walked in to see Kostas and his son Anthony. Lin and I hired cars from him for two years until we got a better deal from Yiannis in Sidari. He’s always been welcoming, ready with coffee and cakes in his office so we felt embarrassed. Now on my bicycle I was invited in, sat down
“How are you?” We got talking.
I said I’d just paid my tax
“Ah” said Anthony who’s English is excellent “You paid your tax. You are a Greek now.”
We got onto the penalties Richard Pine had warned me of when we had lunch a few days ago.
“Get your floor area wrong for the tax and you can’t even sell your house and your surveyor – your μηχανικός – goes to jail for three years”
“Yes, yes” said Anthony “we have been trying to get our house measured during the amnesty. We had one man gave us 98 square metres, another 102 and one more 100”
“So they will all go to prison?” I suggested
“Yes. Everyone is going to prison”
“I will meet you there” I said. We were laughing. Kostas brought me a skirto and some of his wife’s cake and we chatted more, then Antony took me next door to get my ferry ticket with a 10% reduction for early booking.
So now I cycled back into town for writing paper – having rather taken to writing letters instead of just typing them into cyberspace. There’s no W.H.Smith here. Instead there’s Mastoras, Σπ.Αρβανιτακη 12, [Mastoras Bookshop, Sp. Arvanitaki 12, Corfu 49100] in the city’s central maze. A white haired gentleman of great courtesy realising I couldn’t manage asking for “writing paper and envelopes” “χαρτί αλληλογραφίας και φάκελος”, discreetly found me just what I wanted. Half of me had begun to think no-one would know about such things any more.
From there it was a short ride through marble streets to Zisimos, the most civilised of coffee shops, with no music nor young people in sight, in fact ‘nowt to be vexed at all’, and there I ordered a deep chocolate slice, a double Greek coffee without sugar and a Metaxa - “3 or 5 star?” “3…er…no…5” I replied thinking silently “I’m saving every day, not hiring a car”
 and started writing home until the sun shining down the Liston moved me into shade and I left for the city's main post office in Alexandras Street to be sure my letter to Lin would go at once. No post box gets collections in the winter.
With plenty of light I started home from San Rocco Square via my ‘secret’ route up Avrami Hill above the villas of Mandouki, a road along which, in a car, I can park close to the centre when the town’s busy. I met the main north road to Paleo and from there was home in an hour – going steadily but gently upwards, stopping at Sconto at Tzavros to get wine, pepper salami and prosciutto at the well-stocked concession butcher inside the store. The 1-1 gear on my 21 gear road bicycle elates me. I can pedal steadily all the way up the early slope of Democracy Street below Mougathes – the steepest section until, after Venetia at the top of the village, it becomes the zig-zag climb to high Sokraki.
*** ***
On the few nights I’ve been at home I’ve watched films. The other night, for perhaps the fourth time in 60 years, I watched The Third Man, filmed in 1949, shown to me first at my prep-school by a headmaster who clearly recognized its quality and, because I remember finding it incomprehensible, as I’m pretty sure did most of my 10 or 11 year old companions in the audience that particular ‘film-night’, I assume it was a shown as a spy is inserted into another country as a sleeper to be activated years later when the time is ripe, especially as the film was passed as suitable for Adult audiences, a category that allowed us to view it so long as we were in the company of a grown-up. Well indeed because the next spare evening I watched, for the first time, that equally black and white film of Ayn Rand’s (rather good name for a breed of potato – “Twenty pound of King Edward, hundred weight of Ayn Rand, please”) The Fountainhead. Sixty years later, the sleeper is alerted and inserted. Both films came out in 1949. In one the eventually triumphant hero, Gary Cooper, is the epitome of individualism versus the demoralizing collective, in the other there’s no hero, no obvious collective – rather a shaky alliance, “good fellows on the whole, did their best you know” -
 but the anti-hero, Harry Lime - Orson Welles, who might have approved Ayn Rand – especially given the ‘cuckoo clock’ story Welles added to the screenplay - is a black-marketeer with an engaging smile who profits from smuggling fatally diluted penicillin.
**** ****
On Saturday my neighbour, Effie, said “Simon, come tonight we’re having friends and fish – salt cod”. I turned up at half eight. In no time after lots of greetings of people I recognized from our party last year for Tony and Helen we were round a table enjoying village wine – especially good this year – and παστός μπακαλιάρος, with boiled potatoes and fresh crusty bread for the sauce. The conversation was Greek with English thrown in to help me keep up. I got the gist of about 40% and 100% of the good cheer. Then came sweet things and Effie turned on her tape recorder as we sat around talking ceaselessly.
"I'll sit this out"

I’m not good at ‘fun’. Before I dress up as a woman I make sure Lin’s out of the house with the doors locked, but this evening the men are soon in wigs, grotesque Royal Ascot hats, necklaces, hair bands, headbands, skirts, and after a while – when I wasn’t quite looking – my lips are red with lipstick and I’m not even thinking how to explain this when I skype to England next day.
Dancing of course with clicking, clapping and plates shattering on the floor. In the revels I lose my glasses and fear they’ll go the way of the plates but they’ve just got tangled in my tresses as I throw my head about in Effie’s and Adoni’s kitchen.
Σὰ βγεῖς στὸν πηγαιμὸ γιὰ τὴν 'Ιθάκη - τὴν Κέρκυρα!,
νὰ εὔχεσαι νἆναι μακρὺς ὀ δρόμος,
γεμάτος περιπέτειες, γεμάτος γνώσεις….
Next morning – 8.30 – I was down at Sally’s stables with Mark to help, as promised, with a small job clearing a trail of acacia, he going ahead with a small chainsaw, I - well gloved - clearing cut branches and putting them aside, accompanied by black dogs, Teal and young Drake.
“It’s horrid stuff” said Mark
“Isn’t it useful for something – like Hazel or Spindle or Rosewood?”
“Yes, making a crown of thorns” - Ο Ακάνθινος Στέφανος.
And I saw; removing my glove, touching one strand
“Imagine those woven together and pressed down on your head. You get a small scratch from those, it goes septic.”
Later he told me that he’d seen Acacia used as Shrike’s larders, something I’d read, with illustration, as a child but never seen.
“It’s not only small birds hung there, but mice, insects, pieces of fruit, bits of apple.”
How if you were walking with a child in the country and you came upon such a thing would you explain a 'larder'. Few modern houses have them, as they don’t have dusty attics for family history. How could you explain something which to an older generation would seem ingenious, including the hanging of meat, without lowering their opinion of the shrike?
“It’s because they don’t have fridges”.
*** ***
In early afternoon Mark and Sally picked me up outside my house to go for one of those long Sunday lunches with friends I so like – as last year, we drove up into the mountains, to Palia Taverna in Strinilas – with hugs and kisses on arrival at 2.00 and the same on leaving in the dark, getting back to Ano Korakiana by seven.
Strinilas in the mountains for Sunday lunch

I had hesitant fun explaining the party on Saturday evening at which I’d “only watched” (oh yes?) of course while “others” did a domestic enactment of Carnival (“so what’s that on your lips?”), but I was unconditionally proud to share the information that after attending a meeting of volunteers invited to help plan the village Carnival on Sunday 26 Feb. I didn’t understand much of what was being said in a group of 24, with others arriving as the meeting proceeded.

We sat in a circle, chilly, in the unheated meeting room of the Agricultural Co-op. There was nothing as commonplace as a chairman, secretary or an agenda with minutes and the like, but I knew people there and nodded with the rhythm of a lively debate. I didn’t notice just when I was recruited, but Foti told me at Effie’s party “For Karnivali, we are a team, Simon.”
Ένας καινούργιος καρναβαλιστής προστέθηκε στην Κορακιανίτικη καρναβαλική παρέα...Πρόκειται για το φίλο μας Simon Badelley, που με υπομονή παρακολούθησε όλη τη συζήτηση...who with patience watched the whole debate.
Team Carnival 2012
*** ***
Chatting to Adoni, Effie’s husband on Saturday, he was naming different parts of the country for me. In Corfu ‘we’ are the Ionian, over the sea directly is mainland Epirus, further east and north is Macedonia which contains the city of Thessaloniki, south of that Thessaly. “Then is it Attica?” I asked but he told me Attica is treated as just one part of ‘Central Greece’ which stretches from Euboia on the Aegean, east of great Athens to the west coast next to Ionian Levkas. “Then there’s the Peloponnese, then Aegea, which covers all the islands of the Aegean Sea. I wanted to check which of those many Greek islands he would name. And and then Crete - Kriti. East of Macedonia, is Thrace, we use a soft ‘c’ but Greeks call it Thraki – Θράκη. This assemblage is still young compared to the United Kingdom, made by the Act of Union at the start of the 18th century. We have one great challenged border, that between Eire and Northern Ireland – a cause and source of internal war since partition early last century.
 Map: Robert F. Holland, Diana Weston Markides (2006)
Greece, except for the front-line Ionian Islands defended by Venice for four centuries was a part of the Ottoman Empire until the founding of the original Greek Kingdom in 1843 – the Peloponnese, Aegean islands within about 100 miles of Athens and what is now Central Greece from south of Prevesa in the west to the tip of Euboea to the east. Twenty years later the British Protectorate – not colony – of the Ionian Islands became part of Greece. Thessaly was joined in 1881. In 1913, after another 30 years, as a result of the Balkan Wars, Macedonia, Crete and the islands of the north eastern Aegean became Greek – Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Mitylene, and Lemnos. In 1920 under the leadership of Eleutherios Venizelos the hold of the ‘big idea’, in his words, of a “greater Greece of two continents and five seas”, encompassing those parts of Turkey with strong Greek Orthodox populations, the International powers promoted but never ratified the Treaty of Sèvres, ceding to Greece parts of Asia Minor, Smyrna and its hinterlands with North Western Turkey up to Constantinople, giving Greece back its Byzantine capital, a part of the Black Sea coast and all the northern shores of the Sea of Marmora and of the Bosphorus. Turkey’s Grey Wolf, Kemal Atatürk, put a bloody end to that dream in 1922 as allied powers turned their back on Greece, treating Turkey as a preferred ally in the eastern Mediterranean while European leaders fearing the irredentist insurgency and violent repression associated with such bloodily settled borders promoted the Treaty of Lausanne and the great exchange of populations (2 millions forced to give up their ancient homes - Christians in Turkey to Greece, Muslims in Greece to Turkey). This heartbreaking sequence is denoted in the mural dated 1928 that I saw in the Taverna in Igoumentsa the other day – grief for all involved (who knows what further heartbreak it avoided). But via Lausanne in 1923 Greece was ceded Thrace, between Macedonia and a new Turkish border 100 miles west of Istanbul. Then 24 years later after the end of WW2 Italy in 1947 ceded Greece the islands of the south east Aegean – the Dodecanese – tiny Castelorizo, Rhodes, Kos and other island south of Samos, east of Crete. Cyprus, both Greek and Turkish, partakes in the history of contested borders, never became part of the Hellenic Kingdom or Republic but marks the last struggle over the latter’s present boundaries. This briefest of outlines explains the greater prevalence, compared to Britain, of frozen conflict around the edges of modern Greece, some as in the case of Kosovo, Cyprus, islands within throwing distance of Turkey, the former Yugoslav country now called the Republic of Macedonia, threatening to thaw, reviving ancient feuds, for the moment festering as chants in the stands at football matches and abuse exchanged in cyberspace.
**** ****
I was asking Richard P at Harry’s Taverna in Perithia, how one could honour accuracy in speaking in any public medium - a biography, even a novel or essays about past friends - in other than anodyne ways. He’d wondered when we last met how you wrote about the bastards in the place where you lived. I’m not long enough in this village to know them so have no need to censor myself, but - to continue this tremulous meander, do ponder how to speak or write of people who were more than friends. I know at least one person and possibly two who while having no fear of truth or anxiety about esteem would say “Be silent. There’s no problem unless you have one and why should that be?” J’y reste.
I still wonder though how I might…say something that could offend no-one including myself, because these were but also are relationships that are consigned to the past only in the sense that a funeral disposes of a body rather than my present recollection of its possessor. I recall someone in another context far from mine saying revenge against the depredations of an ancient monster – some abusing mentor or relative – was to forget them. Not easy to inter the past. But what of the constant company of worthy wonderful memories and their author? No need to resurrect what’s already eternal. Δεν δίνω συνέχεια. I thought of a souvenir of sorts, an image of self as an old (to be playful with time, spelled ‘olde’) hostelry that enhances it’s living by mentioning in guidebooks, on its website, the possibility that guests may glance in passing, a small brass plaque of uncertain age – it could have been the 1960s but carefully aged, what the dealers call ‘distressed’ - declaring that Good Bess Tudor or the Queen of Scots stayed here on the way to the rest of their lives, even a four poster bed, of insufficient quality to be genuine, stands in for the one in which they just might have slept.

1 comment:

  1. We went to St Spiridon's Church yesterday, so wait and see...
    Could you send me the wording of the two questions you had prepared? I might write something in response to the second one. Thanks

    ReplyDelete

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