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Saturday 19 May 2012

Cycling to the top of Mount Pantocrator

I cycled from our house up to the top of Mount Pantokrator on Thursday. The first stretch, the 29 hairpin bend ascent to Sokraki was done in an hour – at the seventh bend is Ag Isadoras where I rested a moment, the step by the verge helping me mount my big bicycle for which I feel affection.
The road to Sokraki
On the twelfth or the fourteenth bend of the ascent I glimpsed a V-shaped patch of grey sea on the other side of the island. I took the gravel bypass round Sokraki, runnelled by rain, passing chickens who were chukkling from their coop above a bank
“The Prussians are on the ridge!” as a French aide said at Waterloo
“No, it was ‘in the woods’”
“Yes but those chickens were definitely on a ridge.”
I passed the petrol station, wound through to where the descent began, free-wheeled down past the small church of Peter and Paul, to the corner where at a corner before the bridge last spring Mark strolled off the road and saw a blackbird’s nest with eggs. We were driving in a convoy of three to have Sunday lunch at Palia Taverna in Strinilas. All about in this small plateau below Zygos are fields of vegetables. In Zygos there’s a tight turn off the road to Episkepsi, that winds up through the village on a gentler hill toward Sgourades. Here resting by an olive tree I could see mount Mikhalakadhes – 852 metres, 2700 feet – its flat top hidden in mist.
Mikhalakadhes over Sgourades
“Am I really going higher than that?"
"Yes you are”
Another kilometre, gently rising to meet the road between Ipsos, via Spartillas to Episkepsi, on the edge of Sgourades. I turned right into the village, passed through it and on even more gently rising to the junction where a small bus waits to transfer passengers from the bus between Corfu town and Acharavi and bring them to Zygos and Sokraki. Here a sign said 12 kilometres more to Pantokrator, 6 to Strinilas.  I’d imagined myself turning back here if the weather got too fierce or my strength was giving out after the climbs from Sokraki and Zygos but I was doing fine. Sensible about my pauses, drinks and snacks. This steady climb to Strinilas was the hardest of the journey; goal not in sight to give me encouragement. The free-wheel back via Spartillas with the small climb to Ag Markos almost tempting me. Cars passed with ease, their passengers stopping at a view point above, their passengers dawdling, filming and on their way before I came by. Stopped looking back at where I’d come, Zygos and in the distance Sokraki and the long green Trompetta ridge.
“That’s where I’ve been”
Vanley on digging the plot on the Victoria Jubilee said
“You’ve left a bit of a mess. Dig so you can see where you’ve been. It encourages.”
I sipped water, sucked a chunk of dark chocolate; heard a cuckoo call about twelve times. I’ve not heard one for years. This road to Strinilas goes on to Petalia and Lafki where it divides for Acharavi and New Perithia. It’s the last north-south route before the corniche that circles the jutting north east coast of Corfu. Pantocrator fills the space between. 
The next three kilometres I travelled steadily upwards, seeing, far away, the Old Fort’s two prongs, Corfu town, and the airport runway and the island winding south, until I turn a corner round the northern edge of Mikhalakadhes, by radio masts beside the road, and, like crossing a watershed, the island’s north coast fills the horizon, the Diapontian islands north westward, hidden, now and then, in mist.
So to Strinilas by 1045. Just beyond the village where a downward hill begins, I stopped for water and cut a thick slice off my dried sausage. Round the walled corner behind me walked a tall man with a walking stick and umbrella, in a black gown with long white hair and curling beard.
- Hullo.
- Hullo. Good food?
He laughed in welcome
- Yes. I’m going to Pantocrator (I think I said this right in Greek)
- I to Episkepsi
- I am 70
- I am 80
- You look good (feenise se kala - φαίνεσαι σε καλά – did I get that right?)
- Wait until I am 120
He bent at the waist, switched his brolly to his stick hand, pressed the other to his back, coughed and mimicked a trudge and smiled
- Goodbye
- Goodbye
He waved and walked on briskly, soon out of sight round a bend, and I, freewheeling down, thinking I’d catch him up, was surprised to see the road empty ahead. It doesn’t go to Episkepsi either but at 80 he knows the island from long before the motorcar spread. I guess he’d turned off on a clever track that crosses the valleys and ridges separating the divergent roads
“Probably a ghost” said Lin later
“He left me feeling very happy”
I turned sharp right below Strinilas, in sight of Petalia, for the last stretch of my journey. The wind was chillier. Over a hill, the rocky cone shape summit of Pantokrator loomed ahead then disappeared. At the foot of the cone the road turns too steep for me to pedal. I walked the final kilometre of zigs and zags, unworried by the effort now my goal was so close. A friendly couple in a hire car who’d passed me earlier, must have stopped for a meal in a village, saw me again and waved. I grinned back broadly. I had not been sure I could do this ride. I had places in mind for turning back but once started it was a pleasing mix of pain and anticipated pleasure – the thought of arrival and the thought of coming down. Close to the summit I wheeled past parked cars and strolling visitors, and up to the shop to greet Spiro. He reached to my hand. We shook. I felt delightfully proud of myself.
“How long did you take?”
“Three and half hours, but I’m 70. Have a drink?”
“Yes. What?”
I ordered two 5-star measures from the café and brought the brandy back into the warmth of the shop. Spilled them, cursed cheerily and at once bought two more - €16 (“Lin’ll love that”). Spiro pressed a box of Kum-Quat loukoumi from the shop on me refusing payment
“Yes. I insist”
We drank a toast and sucked the sweets.
“You shouldn’t have come in this weather”
“It’s only like this near the top”
The wind was moaning among the girders of the big radio mast in the centre of the monastery; the usual panorama – all the island’s compass points, Albania deep into her mountains and the Adriatic horizon appeared in sun brightened flashes between thick grey cloud carried on a cold gusting wind.
“I’ll light a candle, then head back”
I was under the bad weather as soon as I was below the summit again. On impulse I took a right down a gravel track and freewheeled gingerly on my road tyres down the east side of the mountain until I came to deserted Palea Sinies, burgeoning with brambles and ivy and wild flowers and paused for a picnic. I had the ruins of the old village and half the mountain to myself but for a herd of goat, bells tinkling, and an eagle heading south, and everywhere blackbirds and swallows. The track became smoother then abruptly metalled and I was in Vinglatoura where I changed an inner-tube with a slow puncture; a thorn inside the tyre; no visible point of entry. Back on the mainroad I pedalled through Barbati, Pyrgi and up to Agios Markos, Two glasses of village rosé, fresh bread, olives and oil at the Panorama Bar. Home by 6.

*** *** ***
From Tony in America:
Dear Simon, I think of you often as I listen to the BBC TV news every evening and hear about the political paralysis of Greece. Are you at Democracy Street now? An appropriate place to be at this moment!
What's it like? What is your bet that Athens will leave the Euro Zone? I'll bet they do.  I just don't see how Greece can become competitive again until they can devalue their currency to match their output. While Greece clearly needs reforming, I don't feel very sorry for all those European banks (especially German) who fed the Greeks with high price loans (like the subprime and credit card lending here) and now have to take a hit. (Very similar to the mortgage foreclosure problem here). but in both cases until the market can clear by writing off mortgage principal or devaluing the Greek currency, the economies will stagnate (in our case) or go spiraling down in the case of Greece. In the meantime the Germans are benefiting mightily by the depressed Euro in their exports. Merkel's arguments about austerity are so self-serving. The situation is very dangerous with the emergence of strong right-wing parties in many European nations.
Τhe basic problem is that Europe doesn't have the will to really integrate itself politically and economically - which is a pre-requisite for a unified currency.  Europe now is like the US under the Articles of Confederation. And we know that didn't work!  They have no equivalent of our Federal Reserve which can expand and contract demand without running up real debt. Even here, only a few such as Paul Krugman, see the real nature of this situation - that the function of a currency (is) to express demand and the ability to meet it; it is not the size of one's stock of gold.
Enough of my sermonizing. I am really writing this to find out how you and Greece are doing.
Last Saturday in our living room we had a glorious concert consisting of one of Ravel's Miroir, the Liszt piano sonata in B minor and the Rachmaninoff cello and piano sonata. Audience of about 40. It was amazing. H and I have been in a trance ever since. A young Canadian pianist and US 'cellist playing. If you ever see a concert with Cicely Parnas (cello) go to it. In a few years (she is 19 now) she will be the YoYo Ma of her generation.
How does it feel to be a grandfather?
Cheers to you and Lin,
Dear Tony. So good to hear from you. 'Listening' to the BBC in Connecticut! As though tuning to what you can trust in an occupied country. True enough. I wonder why I can’t buy radios set to BBC, specially in cars where you have to search through pop and cheer first. The concert sounds sublime. I think of you as a sage aristocratic family in a belovedly constructed estate in the heart of Britannia observing tradition, now and then hosting friends and family, some with rumours from Rome. I agree with all your thinking aloud - because you don’t lace conjecture with oughts. I get as irritated with remote imperatives as with religious tracts passed out and littering the street, or essays on forums with upper case words, snake-oil prescription - sic "I am always asked to lay out my proposals for moving out of the financial crisis. Well here it is - three simple things I would do from my book ‘Bank To The Future: Protect Your Future Before Governments Go Bust’. If I was appointed to advise the new Greek parliament tomorrow, here is what I would advise them"... So simple. Now grace us with instruction, since neither Lin nor I could follow the implication of your para on the Eurozone and I need to understand this: 
They have no equivalent of our Federal Reserve which can expand and contract demand without running up real debt. Even here, only a few such as Paul Krugman, see the real nature of this situation - that the function of a currency (is) to express demand and the ability to meet it; it is not the size of one's stock of gold.*
I get miserable feelings, gut apprehension, even as I cycle by flowered verges and gaze on blue green landscapes or chat to friends over good food and wine, watch sails wandering on the strip of ruffled blue and listen to swallows gossipping in the eaves about real estate... 
...and of course get daily news of Oliver, our grandson from tired Amy (O sleeps in the day, cries in the night). The unspoken. Half the seed of Europe. Mark Mazower’s history of Europe’s 20th century – Dark Continent – tells how the European Community and hence the Eurozone grew out of the now imaginable effects of two world wars. The memory of these things infuses not just the old. We run our heart of darkness multi-media past pupils under 15. Isn’t global sport – whose noisy popularity can be tedious – soaking up what was once the enthusiasm of men to rush to arms. Aren’t the dogs of war skulking and mangy now? So is the bad future one of spreading poverty, crime, immiseration – but not except locally attached to ethnic scapegoats because no-one with any power will do more than pay lip-service with small publicity seeking persecutions at election time to the kind of thing we fear. Aren’t minorities far more alert to such dangers, unprepared to be languorous about xenophobia, fighting back even when unnecessary. Reading, hearing, chatting about the situation, nothing presents itself as so impregnable to comprehension as the present. I have decided – arrogantly of course – that Job was written by an old pagan, an atheist, also wise and attractive. I embrace the author of the verses from 38 on ‘Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?’
[ΙΩΒ ΚΕΦ. λή.1,2] ΤΟΤΕ άπεκπίθη ά ΚΥΡΙΟΣ πρὸς τὸν Ἰὼβ ἐκ τοῦ ἀνεμοστροβίλου, καὶ εἶπε˙ Τίς αὖτος ὂστις σκοτίζει τὴν βουλήν μου διὰ λόγων ἀσυνέτον; 
This is only an invocation to others to pipe down so's I can hear what you are saying. So much that is written and spoken about the 'crisis' – I almost forgive journeymen journo-academics writing to a deadline – is written by people dyslexic about history, Job's helpers. This is how 761 with some blank ballots, polled out of the 1252 eligible to vote in Ano Korakiana… Votes cast: 761 SIRIZA: 147 19,3% PASOK: 112 14,7% Communist: 111 14,6% New Democracy 87 11,4% Independent Greeks: 84 11,0% Golden Dawn 44 5,8% Democratic Left 44 5,8% Greens: 31 4,1% Popular Orthodox Rally: 23 3,0% Other: 78 10,2% So what now? New election in mid-June. I think people will vote in even greater numbers for SIRIZA. X Simon
*To explain - received from Tony 23/5/12:
When our Federal Reserve Bank wishes to stimulate our economy it buys US Treasury bonds and other assets, it pays for them by issuing a zero percent note of indebtedness called a Federal Reserve Note a.k.a. the dollar bill (look at them closely some time).  And what backs these bills? What is the indebtedness? Not a promise of the FED to  give you gold, or any other specific object or service on a particular schedule. Look rather at the words 'This note is legal tender for all debts public and private' on each dollar bill. They mean that you can present that bill to any other person or company in exchange for $1 worth of the goods and services the person is selling. The exact quantity of the seller's good and services that you receive is determined by mutual negotiation between you and the seller. That negotiated quantity is the 'value' of the dollar.  (Occasionally the amount is determined by a court if the buyer or seller tries to reneg. That is the 'legal tender' part.)  In other words the sum total of all dollars corresponds to the sum total of the productive capacity of our economy at any time and, equivalently, the sum total of all the actual demand plus the potential demand corresponding to the dollars held in reserve by the note holders as 'savings' (the latter bit is the Keynes part). When the FED wants to contract demand it simply reverses the process and sells some of its holdings of bonds and other assets in exchange for dollar bills held by individuals, thus reducing the amount of goods and services that individuals can 'spend' to obtain other goods. In this process the FED simply 'prints' dollar bills and gives them to individuals or takes them from individuals and 'burns' them up. The important point is that only the FED, not even the US Treasury, can create or destroy these 'dollar bills (notes)' according to what it - the FED - perceives as the desired level of production and purchases in the economy. The total stock of dollars represents the total production and demand capacity of the entire US economy, not that of any individual state even including the Federal government. Because these notes are 0% notes they have no 'cost'. They are not a debt to someone else (except in the case of foreign creditors). They are debt to ourselves promising our ability to produce or demand goods and services when requested. Europe, even through its European Central Bank, does not have such a unified financial system because Europe is legally just a confederation of states not a unified federation of states governed by a central government which has supreme power for the powers enumerated in our constitution. So Europe is hog-tied in the current situation and views the problem of Greek indebtedness as one of Germany 'bailing out' Greece which, naturally, the Germans are reluctant to do. Of course the Germans have been gaining; all the while stimulating their export economy by cramming instalment debt down the throats of 'sub-prime' nations like Greece who ultimately couldn't afford to pay. We have a similar problem with sub-prime mortgages taken out by homeowners who ultimately couldn't afford to own a home, or at least couldn't afford to own a home under the terms conned on them by predatory lenders. [My footnote to Tony's; an unmissable dramatization of 'predatory lending' is in Sidney Mamet's 1984 play, 1990's film, Glengarry Glen Ross - some brilliantly ugly quotes; the kind of desperate hard selling that launched the sub-prime crisis on the world. Ed Harris said that on set his fellow actors would call it Death of a F*cking Salesman.]
*** ***
If given the choice of the north face of the Eiger in winter and three minutes doing stand-up comedy I'd seriously consider the mountain, so respect to my brother - half-brother - George Pericles Baddeley (50% Greek) who's walked the walk on stage and manages Silver Comedy. he keeps asking me to go on one of their training events, but I'm terrified.
George's eldest daughter, Anna Baddeley, runs The Omnivore website and blog, writes for the Spectator now and then and for the Observer. She writes in the old media about the new - ebooks and self-publishing.

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Simon Baddeley