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Monday, 20 February 2012

How this island indulges me!

Friday evening I cleaned the stove chimney, putting the pipes back in place and showered off the soot on myself, made myself supper and watched a film based on Lionel Shriver’s book We need to talk about Kevin. In the end it's about not getting answers to why someone does something very bad. The frightfulness of the ‘something’ intensifies the need for an answer. What might have been curiosity about a minor oddity  “Why do you collect your nail clippings?" becomes "Why did you kill all those people?”
There are plenty of minor examples, though preveniently sinister, in the proleptic screenplay. Explanation of the larger horror becomes a desperate and collective need. Since the perpetrator, 16 year old Kevin, is in prison beginning, in the perception of his community, to become a co-victim, the remaining explanation, since her husband and daughter are among the murdered, is the mother. At the end of Lynne Ramsay’s film of the book we are left only with our own answers - or their absence.
“I want you to tell me - why” asks brilliant Tilda Swinton, Eva Khatchadourian, of brilliant Ezra Miller, Kevin. Long pause. I wait with her for an answer. Then with raptorish stare Eva's shaved prisoner son mutters almost inaudibly
“I used to think I knew. Now I’m not so sure”
The matter of what he ‘used to think’, which I doubt he’d have volunteered, is interrupted by a guard saying “Time’s up”. I half expected a notice with the credits "If you have been disturbed or affected by issues raised in this film you can phone our 24 hour hotline on...' What a brilliant film - again low budget like Attenberg.
If I were a psychopath or a sociopath I might say the film was tedious 'except for the stuff on bows and arrows.' As a child I was enchanted by the adventures of Robin Hood and later in life, with my children, enjoyed using the long-bow. The film's technical advice on archery is immaculate, tho’ I could swear that in the book, Kevin carries out his Gladstone High school massacre with a cross-bow...
...but more dramatic with the hunting bow, a gift from his father.  He’d had to have been most accurate to cause such death and injury with the small tipped arrows he uses, but we know that’s one of his few gifts.
Labels for Kevin are an illusion. Film and book make that clear. The answers we invent; seeking consolation; calling Kevin ‘evil’ since birth, or Eva a ‘bad mother’ don’t work for anyone capable of remaining puzzled – inhuman, though, if your child were his victim.
Baddeley, S (1995) ‘Internal Polity’ Human Relations, 48 (9) pp.1073-1103

“Can you check my brakes?”
George puts my bicycle on a stand, clamp on the cross-bar.
“You need new pads. How much slack do you want in the levers?”
“A little as possible. I won’t forget not to stop too abruptly. And can you check my gears? I’ve slipped the chain a couple of times”
He turns the pedals, running quickly through the gears, pausing to take up a small driver to turn the Philip’s screws that adjust the chain tension
“Front or back did it slip?”
“Front. With the guard it’s fiddly getting it on again”
In seconds the job is done to his satisfaction. To mine too as I feel the difference cycling on into town. Apart from the cost compared to a motorcar, much satisfaction is to be gained from tuning a bicycle. Its mechanism so directly transmits the energy of human exertion to forward motion that small adjustments make satisfying improvements to the ride, especially on long ascents.
Rear chainset - 7 cogwheels behind, 3 in front. 21 gears
The snug fit of my new toe straps; saddle and handlebar height and angle are essential corrections. There are plenty of other things that I don’t know about. Racing cyclists shave their legs to reduce the time it takes for abrasions to heal if they fall on the road. This is outside my trousered Long John orbit. In the light rain yesterday I got back from a lesson and a game of croquet with Tony Blok, who I met after hearing from Cinty, who gave him my phone number, he’d bought Dave and Fran’s house at the bottom of the village. He wanted to know more about Ano Korakiana; his quid pro quo, a fish supper (octopus hors d’œuvres, fish stock soup, roast sea bream, pear pudding, coffee, brandy) at Pomo D’Oro in town and an offer to tutor me in croquet, his delight.
Tony’s set up a club, a website and maintains several well-tended well-equipped lawns inside the entrance to Gouvia Marina. On Sunday he and I played alone under grey skies; later drizzle. With a generous handicap and several discrete indulgences I was allowed to win by one hoop after a tie, despite wearing shoes that were tough on the grass and paining Tony by cutting a few divots from his immaculate surfaces. Two hours passed unnoticed so absorbed did I become in a game I’ve normally played on my mum’s unruly front lawn above Strathnairn when the children were young.
In the marina bar, where Tony and I sat over hot chocolates, I came across Pauline Sheriff with a friend, a tartan blanket over her lap. I’d heard only the day before that her husband had died before Christmas. He lies in the British Cemetery. Linda and I bought their boat Summersong six years ago, clicking ‘buy now’ on Norman’s eBay ad - ’27 foot yacht on permanent free mooring in Corfu’ - thus coming, by degrees, to Ano Korakiana and Democracy Street. In 1981 Norman, a Yorkshire man, made a redundancy deal with the railways, bought an already old boat in Spain and with minimal seafaring experience voyaged with Pauline towards Asia Minor, travelling as far as Turkey, settling at last in Corfu where for a while they lived on the boat, eventually, and with a wrench, selling her to us, to live in a small bungalow on the edge of Temploni – a Mediterranean Odyssey neither might have imagined when younger but by bold choice made true. That their place in Temploni was rented I put down not to finance but a dream of further travel.
Norman Sheriff sailing Summersong
I was 20 minutes late meeting Tony at Gouvia because I hadn’t got to bed until six the same morning. After visiting Carol at the Lighthouse sale on Saturday; putting out the word we were interested in child-gates, a baby-buggy and even a cot, I cycled home slowing my approach to Ano Korakiana...
...walking the steeper parts of the last mile, savouring the light and shadow passing unevenly over the mountains above the houses and the new flowers in the greenery beside the road.
“I disavow the sympathetic fallacy. I choose animism, personification, metonymy and synecdoche mixing place and heart, word and song…it’s not your fault Kerkyra that you’re so beautiful some ravage you while others like me look at you, gazing.”
From the Co-op came the sound of machinery. Anastasio took me round to see the stages of the one hour process; the same tour as Sebastianos' a few days back, though now a crop was going through. Rolando, a farmer from below the village, waiting with plastic tanks to collect his harvest.
I saw the black Corfu olives turning in water like pebbles in a shallow stream; leaves and twigs separated, the polished olives, ground six kilos at a time, their mush twice centrifuged – fast then  faster - until the opaque yellow-green oil poured out in a steady stream.
Getting permission, Anastasio broke a piece off a loaf, held it a moment under the spout and handed it to me.
“Extra extra virgin!” I said, tasting Rolando’s oil on warm new bread next to the clatter of machinery. I’ll think of this delectable snack when I see an elaborately labelled bottle of costly olive oil in an up-market delicatessen.
[Back to the future: 31 March 2012 - Extra Virgin Olive Oil scams and corruption...Tom Mueller's article in New Yorker....In 1997 and 1998, olive oil was the most adulterated agricultural product in the European Union, prompting the E.U.’s anti-fraud office to establish an olive-oil task force. (“Profits were comparable to cocaine trafficking, with none of the risks,” one investigator told me.) The E.U. also began phasing out subsidies for olive-oil producers and bottlers, in an effort to reduce crime, and after a few years it disbanded the task force. Yet fraud remains a major international problem: olive oil is far more valuable than most other vegetable oils, but it is costly and time-consuming to produce—and surprisingly easy to doctor. ..this academic report and Mueller's book Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil... for all the things that are right about olive oil, there’s a whole lot that’s wrong. Again and again I’ve witnessed the same bizarre drama. Olive oil bottles labeled with fancy phrases – “cold pressed,” “made in Italy,” “first pressed,” “extra-light,” “pure,” and the ever-present “extra virgin” – that are meaningless, and often downright lies, false virgins selling at a fraction of the price of true extra virgin olive oil, which systematically undercut honest producers. Faced with this situation, governments do nothing, oil buyers turn a blind eye, big bottlers and oil-traders pocket the cash. Consumers everywhere are systematically defrauded, and honest growers go bankrupt. Over the last five years I’ve seen one of the world’s greatest foods reach a breaking point, where the future of quality oil is in question....]
At home again Paul and Lula arrived to check on the small but obstinate leak in the roof; not the part his people had built.
“We’ll sort it while you’re away. Let’s go and eat”
We tried Strapunto but we were an hour too early for the kitchen, so I guided them to Limeri at the Y-junction in Kato Korakiana. Lula got a call
“Lucinda’s been hit by a car”
There were calls back and forth between Lula’s family in Ag.Ioannis, Lula tearful while our dignified host waited in the wings. She organised a hunt for the stray dog they’d adopted which had been hit a glancing blow and run off.
“I suppose when you find her – which you will” said Paul resignedly asking for wine “you’re going to keep her now, after we’d planned to find her a new owner.”
Just into some delectable starters, as the main course spread aromas from the kitchen, came word Lucinda was found and fine. The Kato village square was packed, in the midst of a carnival drama, while we, for the two hours we were there, the taverna’s sole guests, treated with easy solicitude, as the radiators, on for us, warmed the whole room and I, normally unfriendly to background music, enjoyed some well selected folk songs whose singers Lula recognized for me. We spoke of history, of the crisis and things that interested us including why some farmers so liked genetic modification; whether ‘peasant’ was a term of abuse or something in which to take pride, how difficult it is for the bourgeois – like me -to grow things to eat; whether autism played some original part in the long process of human evolution.
“Hm?” said Lula
“Maybe?” said Paul humming and haaing as friends do in debate.
They dropped me at the Co-op where I’d been in the afternoon. The pre-carnival dance was in full swing, souvlaki roasting outside overseen by Forti. Effie and Natasha told me to pull up a chair to their table.

Someone handed me wine. The DJs were equipped with two laptops capable of making especially seamless transitions between genres – pop, rock, folk, song and dance - from Greece and the rest of the world. Dancers did likewise - alone, in pairs and in a circling group, longer with every bar, all without pause, the disco lights changing from dark to bright to frenetic staccato and back with a mirror ball throwing light about the working walls of the co-op now decorated with streamers, balloons and pictures.
Πραγματοποιήθηκε για μια ακόμη χρονιά, χθες το βράδυ, στην αίθουσα του Συνεταιρισμού του καθιερωθέν τα τελευταία χρόνια καρναβαλικό πάρτυ. Η αίθουσα που το πρωί εξυπηρετούσε τη λειτουργία του ελαιουργείου, μέχρι το βράδυ μεταμορφώθηκε κυριολεκτικά από τους καρναβαλιστές, προκειμένου να υποδεχτεί κοινό όλων των ηλικιών. Ο χορός και η μουσική κράτησαν μέχρι τις πρώτες πρωινές ώρες, στους ρυθμούς των Νίκου και Γιώργου Μεταλληνού σε ρόλους ντισκ-τζοκεϋ. Έξω, η ψησταριά που είχε στηθεί από το Φώτη Κάρμπουρη, ξεπούλησε γρήγορα όλα της τα αποθέματα, ενώ το μπαρ στο εσωτερικό της αίθουσας, προσέφερε ανάσες δροσιάς στους ακατάπαυστα χοροπηδούντες καρναβαλιστές….
All ages danced, from toddlers, through ten-year-olds to oldies like me with young men and women now and then crouching in a circle as skillful dances were done by individuals - that Greek thing where you bend over back or forwards and just as it looks as if you’re about to fall over, drop on flexed knees, hands in the air or slapping an ankle, and leap up again, torn paper standing in for smashed crockery and lots of clapping,  syncopated and on the beat, with now and then a break to drop a key and start another rhythm.
“And what about the Greek deficit?” said Sebastianos at the bar offering me a cigarette, refilling my wine. On and off through the evening we talked - his English excellent - of history, local and wider. I was relieved my research on 19th century Corfu let me keep up with his references which - ahah - included unprompted the notorious alleged petitions from Ano Korakiana and Kinopiastes asking the British not to leave in 1864.
“The peasants did not know what they were signing. They were put up to it by interested parties, benefiting from trade with the British garrison”
We spoke of Storks, Gladstone, Young and other British Protectorate High Commissioners. Our conversation jumped between then and now; between here and there
“This roof in this building needs €20,000 to repair” He pointed out the details, and the temporary supports under some beams.
“That can surely be found”
“If there's the will. If!”
I didn’t actually decide to dance. I was gently tugged into the ones I could just about do, swung myself about and followed others, had more to drink and continued the conversation until drawn back to the party. The music was relentless yet not so loud you couldn’t chat and the wine so easy to drink I didn’t notice myself waxing hyperbolic until I recalled myself, sober, saying things like “Go tell it to the Lacedaemonians that here obedient to their laws we lie” and “Toὺs Laestrigonas kaὶ toὺs Kiklopas, tὸn thimomeno Poseedona mi foovᾶsee, tetia stὸn dromo sue pote soo thὲn thὰ vrees, ἂn men' i skepsis soo ipsili, ἄn ἐklekti singinisis tὸ pnefma kai to soma soo ἀngizei”* then wanting to cry, but I didn’t, and once dancing again became more clearheaded.
"I really like the way Greeks don't get drunk" I said
"Oh yes they do get drunk"
"No they don't!
"Yes they do!"
"No they do not. Not like some northerners - being sick and making silly noises and falling over"
"Oh yes they do"
"Did you go to a pantomime when you were in England?"
"Oh no I didn't!"
At this point I'm laughing - a lot.
I called Lin, holding the phone to the sound of the party, wholly insensitive to her mood in our kitchen in Birmingham
“You sound like you’re having a good time. Don’t get too drunk”
“Σ' αγαπώ, Λίντα γυναίκα μου”
“Yeah yeah”
"Now Sebastiano, tell me how I get to see the inside of the village Museum"
"Nothing to do with me. That's a different Metallinos"
"Yes but.."
"You will never get to see it"
"Oh yes I will"
"Oh no you won't. It was only called a museum to solve a legal problem of inheritance. Have another cigarette?"
By four there were fewer people around but the dancing and conversation continued with me drawn between both – struggling to understand, nearly but not stumbling, glad of the strength cycling’s given my legs.
Around 4.30 a friend said
"Come on to our house"
"Don’t we need to tidy up?” I said to Sebastionos.
“On Monday”.
There was a slow circular dance without background music, all singing in a monotone. Ten people from the last left, holding hands.
“This is Dionysus. They’re chanting lewd things. Next Sunday the old people sing this.”
So to Angeliki and Anthony’s house where ten people sat at a great wooden table and I was given meat and bread, wine and the usual courtesy of breaks in Greek to keep me informed and involved.
How this island indulges me! I’m not saying I’m a scrounger, but without Lin’s gift for reciprocity I may be overdrawn in that direction. I do bring small gifts - my interest, my company, love and…great curiosity, conversation (prolix? no! I can’t speak Greek), but in the last five weeks on Democracy Street, I’ve been given supper, over and over, in Mark and Sally’s home, shared bean soup, bread, sweetmeats and wine with Lefteris and Vasiliki and, as in the past, been handed - over our shared garden fence - bottles of their wine (in whose making last year I turned a wheel), been given tea and cakes and cooking advise by Cinty, who with Paul and Sally and Mark,  give me their Wifi and phone for calls to the UK (bringing out tea and wine as I work), been taken to lunch and supper several times by Paul and Lula refusing to share the bill, as well as been lunched – similarly - by Jim and Maria, partaken of food provided at the end of the seed-share meeting in the Co-op, been treated to supper and dancing by Effie and Adoni, my close neighbours, plus Tsipero, bread and mezes in their garden as well as a plate of tasty cabbage dolmades brought over to my house, been served mezes and drinks at Aleko’s home in Nisaki with his mother and sister, taken out for a swell meal at Aristoteles Megoulas' Pomo D'Oro by Tony Blok - tutoring me at croquet - had a long Sunday lunch with Niko and Sophia at their home in the village, paid a small contribution for souvlaki at the grill in the street on Tsiknopemti, followed by generous portions of wine bread and spare ribs far beyond the one euro I'd been asked to put in the collection box, to late night meat and drink after the pre-carnival party at Antony’s and Angeliki’s, slices of New Year cake at the 2012 Vassilopita celebration at Luna D’Argento, warm bread sprinkled with Rolando’s olive oil direct from the press by Anastasio and an embarrassing number of cigarettes from Sebastianos Metallinos the other night and the brothers, Paul and Mark, may have found a suitable replacement engine for Summersong which with their skill and some good fortune they’ll put into her.
*** ***
21 Feb'12: Press reactions reported by the BBC on the second bail-out now agreed..."Many European news websites highlight the problems that still lie ahead for Greece after the second bailout agreed by eurozone finance ministers."
24 Feb'12: Corfu Blues links on the crisis: The FT today (24/2/12) carries an article on 38 specific 'State-Building' changes demanded urgently of Greece by creditors. They include centralising health insurance and completing an accurate land registry as well as reducing state spending on pharmaceuticals by Euro1.1bn; and the liberalising of professions such as tour guides. One risk-consultancy analyst considers the speed and scope of the targets almost impossible to achieve....What then?
25 Feb'12: Philhellene Richard Pine's increasingly grim op-eds written from Perithia in Corfu, published regularly in The Irish Times, takes one of his firmest positions - moving from a journalistic respect for description, he turns to prescription - 'Time for Greece to leave not just euro but EU itself':
...It’s not very honourable to renege on one’s debts, but the situation for every man, woman and child indentured to poverty is so intolerable that default and exit seem the only possibility. The problem is one of self-determination. With its sovereignty now completely suspended by its acceptance of the new bailout memorandum, Greece cannot look itself in the face. In order to regain self-esteem, it’s essential that Greece turns its back on those elements in Europe which are exacting this level of punishment. Like so many divorces, Greece’s exit from the EU would be messy and acrimonious, but it is in a place where it doesn’t belong.
Reading his whole article, talking to him over lunch in town in Chrysomalis the other day, I'm strongly persuaded. Not being involved in affairs of state, nor even a citizen of the Republic, I react from experience on a domestic scale, thus like my own divorce in 1973, even thinking of what Richard (and many others) advocate for a nation, surfaces feelings associated with a 'messy and acrimonious' personal crisis from long ago - τοὺς Λαιστρυγόνας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας, τὸν θυμωμένο Ποσειδῶνα. Would we become foreigners of a divergent kind, in a place we don't belong, needing visas, changing pounds into drachmas, spectators of our neighbours' pain, feeling materially richer, psychologically more impoverished? How will the hi-politics of Hellas act upon the lo-politics of our daily life?
In Athens the other day
*...The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon -- do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.

...Τοὺς Λαιστρυγόνας καὶ τοὺς Κύκλωπας,
τὸν θυμωμένο Ποσειδῶνα μὴ φοβᾶσαι,
τέτοια στὸν δρόμο σου ποτέ σου δὲν θὰ βρεῖς,
ἂν μέν' ὴ σκέψις σου ὐψηλή, ἄν ἐκλεκτὴ
συγκίνησις τὸ πνεῦμα καί το σῶμα σου ἀγγίζει.
Prophet Elias before Mother Greece

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Simon Baddeley