Saturday, 4 February 2012

Seeing Aleko

It’s so quiet indoors I can hear the inside of my ears. Outside thunder roams. It’s a dark grey watery day with a wind that’s almost warm gusting from the south, shaking things that don’t matter.
Poking my head out the front door the plaka’s dry but for wet blown in from the sides. Our efforts last October to cover our planked balcony – laid felt, builder’s polythene sheet, fibre blanket, battens around edges and extra patches carefully cut around railing uprights fixed and filled - works for the moment, despite friends’ scepticism.
Cycling along the corniche road to Nisaki to see Aleko yesterday, the sky cleared shining on waves marching against the coast on a sea that’s usually calm, dappled with mercurial breezes, scuffed nap on blue velvet, sliding down from Trompetta - zephrys that can turn into fierce katabatic squalls. Now the Kerkyra sea’s a dazzling wheatfield of regular waves, long rows of white caps marching north, breaking with a deep clunk as they strike the rocky shore, sliding back on tumbling gravel, releasing the iodine smell of sea, blowing incubi away – which is why someone who was a stranger to the English countryside, said long ago - as we rushed by it in a train -  of places where even Romans had been fearful
“The ghosts that walk by day are worse than those by night.”
On the road to Nisaki
The cypress trees twist, the leaves of the olives turn greyer in the wind. I’d checked gradients on an earlier bus ride and so cycled to Nisaki, thus a 15 minute car ride becomes a small expedition - why I like Elizabeth Bennett for her walks:
Caroline Bingley: Good Lord. Did you walk here?
Elizabeth: I did.... I'm so sorry. How is my sister?
Darcy: She's upstairs.
Elizabeth: Thank you
Caroline: My goodness, did you see her hem? Six inches deep in mud. She looked positively mediaeval.
I did the journey in under an hour, with a slow puncture that had me stopping three times to pump, passing through blighted Barbati, its serried empty rental villas and concrete skeletons, shopless in winter, views of the sea for hire and only honourable houses with dried up wooden shutters and finely carpentered doors, sans central heating, air-conditioning, modern plumbing, or a pool, clothed in climbers, overgrown gardens, flaking stucco, unstuck thigh tiles, derelict within and without. At Kafeneon Mitsou where there’s no plasma screen nor amplified beat box, just a small four pane window, between the bar and dexion shelves, through the thick western wall looking over the sea letting in a blast of sunlight, Aleko bought me a beer while I changed an inner tube and found the offending thorn I suspected had, despite earlier inspections, worked through the back tyre.
Καφενέων Μητσός
“Bloody acacia – διάβολος ακάνθινια” I said showing the tiny thorn inside the tyre to Aleko and his companions, halted on their way to Kassiopi, a philologist, a mathematician – like Aleko who lectured for many years at  Edinburgh - and an English teacher. It took me twenty minutes - not to replace the tube - but to fiddle the rear wheel axle back through the derailleur.
The cold water in the kafeneon WC had only a slight effect on my oily hands.
From the kafeneon I went with Aleko a few hundred yards to his home to meet his mum and sister and enjoy mezes in front of a warm stove and recount my memories of journeys to Greece, first by train via Venice and Yugoslavia and later by small boat:
 I sailed to Greece from Messina with a my friend Christopher Jameson as skipper of  a five ton sloop - Danica - in July 1962. We'd left Lymington seven weeks or so earlier. The first morning of our two day crossing of the southern Adriatic we were bouncing and swaying on a swift etesian reach. A sleek Greek frigate cut smoothly through the cresting waves heading west. In return to our salute she dipped her flag to us. I get a lump even now at that gesture - seeing that lovely ensign falling and rising again in the seconds of her passing as though official Greece was saying "yasus" just to us. Next morning we made Byron's landfall. Shapes - north and south - that appeared and disappeared and might have been no more than dawn shadows - though we knew otherwise - lay before us. All day, in zephyrs, we sailed towards them, passed between, and anchored off Killini where we rowed ashore and were sat down at a table and offered ouzos...
 ...and how I came, after not seeing Greece for 25 years, with my family:
...being able to go - as one still could before 11 September 2001 - with Richard and Amy to the cockpit of the Airbus (the one that doesn’t have a steering lever and is flown by buttons) and seeing the mainland laid out in dark marked by the glow of Thessaloniki to the east, the moonlight on the Ionian to our west, tiny jewel-like clusters of villages thousands of feet below and far ahead the loom of Athens. Saying to my children to whom it mattered far less than me "There's Greece"...
...how Lin and I came to be in Corfu. Earlier Aleko had recounted a tale of being on the shore near Lake Korrision where the waves have made long sandy beaches and there, heaving dangerously in the shallows, in waist-deep sea was a container, one of the great boxes that sit on trucks to be transferred via moving gantrys to the decks of modern vessels.
"It must have fallen off the back of a container ship" I said
"I waded out to it and opened the door. Guess what was in it?"
"Whisky?"
"No no that's been done. Whisky Galore."
I made more useless tries. Stationary? Coffins?
"Fridges - two hundred of them"
"We" - he was with a friend - "managed to get hold of one. I cut my hand on an edge. We got it ashore. I was bloody. A kilometre to the nearest road"
"Where were the police?"
"They didn't get there until the next day. Meantime people - there must have been two hundred gathered on the beach - the ones who couldn't carry a fridge were taking trays, drawers - anything they could prise out of them." He told me to ask Cinty as she was on the beach with Aleko as a girl. I wonder how many of those fridges are still around.
*** ***
I wrote to a friend yesterday and included in my letter a summary of my  focus:
Values, whether a means or ends, usually a mix of both, are seldom avowed directly. They may be mentioned, usually not convincingly, for effect; a little like actually saying “you can trust me”. They are skilfully or messily embroidered - verbally and (where film is useful) non-verbally and (where sound is) para-linguistically (tone, emphasis etc) into conversations about what’s technically, legally and financially workable. Film more than transcript especially with current A/V technologies allows pretty minute examination of the dynamics with stills, slow motion, repeats, without sound, sound only. I don’t pretend that filming such exchanges is a guarantee of some unique authenticity (the first question asked). If I can claim credit it would be for a methodology refined over quite a time which determines a contract between researcher and between participants and their future audience which frames, for further investigation, an exchange between them that is always going to be a performance. I don’t talk on these films as I did when first making them - an imitation TV interview soon abandoned. Goffmann helps on this - that we perform even to ourselves facing each morning. Some of the most rewarding episodes I’ve had entailed going over the film with the people in it - fine-tuning their working relationship. I’m asked if I record relationships that don’t work - that aren’t relationships. Apart from the fact that in government no political-management relationship is ever secure, I’m not trying to collect evidence for divorce. The analogy with marriage is not so far out. You can learn, I argue, a great deal from a good marriage, if you can get access but I’d expect to be told - effectively - to piss off. There are vital differences between a private relationship of marriage and a public relationship of government. If there isn’t you have corruption.
*** ***
I've been writing letters and postcards. They take around 6 days to get to England or Scotland but if I keep up a fairly steady stream they will be dropping through letter boxes in a regular stream. I like the routine writing, of addressing an envelope, of going down to the post office - at Tzavros or in Alexandros Street in town - getting a stamp and posting. I'm assured none of the mailboxes in other places get collections in winter.
I imagine explaining this to my grand child, when he might be interested. Of course there are emails or phone for emergency but letters! You ‘write’ with a ‘pen' on ‘paper'. Put it in an ‘envelope'. Stick a ‘stamp' on the envelope ("Blimey grandpa, what do you do then?"). You lick the envelope and take it to a post box and…("a postbox?") Yes yes and then the same piece of paper with the writing you put on it with the same lick on the envelope arrives at the home of the person you sent it to - about two weeks later. Lin’s letters to me arrive at the local shop and are handed me by Stammatis with groceries.
Mother Greece from Corfu: on my way to the main post office

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