Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A New Year

So let's start new in 2013. The sun was bursting over the Victoria Jubilee. I tidied; removing old cabbage stems and slug ridden leaves, pulling weeds from the path, putting dead stalks on the compost. Janet caught me, and as she'd promised, gave me a bag of Jerusalem artichokes; a little note of hand written instructions.
"I slipped" she said "on some wet leaves the other day. My back still aches"
"Thank you so much, Janet. Just be careful"
"Put them in any time from now. Don't leave them in the bag or they'll get mildew"
Vanley was working on his plot - a model of a kitchen garden. I stopped to talk and grumbled about what a bad year it'd been.
"That was last year, Simon"
"I know I know. What can I plant now?"
"Try garlic"
I found a few cloves and planted them with the help of a dibber, but I'll get some fresher ones tomorrow.
My confidence has taken a step back. I'm ready to be surprised if anything springs from this rich damp earth - except weeds.
"None of your weeds are a problem" said Vanley "You got the deeper rooted one's out last year. Bother the others with your hoe. Dig them back in. Think of this as your food."
He makes it seem easy.
I found a clear patch; raked it and dibber planted the dry earthy tubers about six inches down.
"I saw you the other day picking up litter"
"Oh yes. Quarter of a ton of it. I get angry with the people who drop it, the council that doesn't pick it up and the manufacturers who produce so much packaging"
Vanley isn't much interested in mutual grumbling, so I didn't go on. Later when I was working on the plot he stopped by to have a look.
"Not too bad. Keep at it."
My friend Ziggi rang from London too ask how I was and we agreed to meet up in March. She has an allotment.
"Unlike bringing up a child"she said "you can make up in the next year for the mistakes you made the year before. There's always the prospect of renewal. I've come to enjoy the winter for the time spent in preparation; ordering my potatoes and other plants. I'm going to grow my onions from seeds this year. I'll be planting chard in March. In fact that's really when I'll start."
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Yesterday I was at the blood donor centre in Corporation Street.
"Well well well. It's your hundredth donation" said the nurse.
"Can you take my picture?"
"Yes" said the nurse
"What;s your name?"
"Lauren"
"You're good at this. I hardly felt the jab"
"When you've finished you can hold the blood"
She pulled out the needle, put a plaster over the little bruise in the crook of my arm, and handed me the pack with a pint of blood. I've never held that before. I didn't really feel anything very much but I sported a smile and I do feel quite proud like getting a Scout badge - not that I was in the Scouts.
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Richard Pine has written another 'Corfu Letter' in the Irish Times ~ 'Raw figures conceal richness of life behind Greek economic collapse':
A recent study, Understanding the Crisis in Greece, by two Greek economists, Michael Mitsopoulos and Theodore Pelagidis (both of whom have been advisers to the Greek government) tells us the Greek economy is dysfunctional.
We do not need an academic treatise to tell us that. Greece’s relations with the EU have made that clear over the past three years at least. The 114 bar charts, pie charts and graphs in the book are unnecessary: we can observe all of them by looking around us.
Anton Chekhov used to say that he got the ideas for his searing dramas by looking out of the window and seeing all human life going by. Brian Friel showed us much the same in his essay on his mother’s home town, A Fine Day at Glenties.
I sit on the esplanade of Corfu town, absorbing the last of the autumn sunshine, and I look across the straits at an Albania already going into winter: a country consisting almost entirely of unhelpful snow-clad mountains.
We live in a world of microclimates, each of which disobeys the laws of economics, meteorology and citizenship.
What I see in town (really a small city rather than a large town) or in the village where I live, is living proof of this book’s thesis: that the political parties are undemocratic in nature and “everyone participates, more or less willingly, in the shadow economy”.
I see poverty, tax evasion, ostentatious wealth, despair and joy. Hope and helplessness. I see widows collecting wild greens (horta) on which they live almost exclusively because they cannot afford meat (although they buy chicken carcases to make stock). But I am also told that one of the poorest-looking widows owns five houses and has thousands of euro stashed away. A microclimate indeed.
One of the strongest indicators of Greece as a divided society is the contrast between town and village: the mutual suspicion of the people. The townies look down on the peasants (not too strong a word for subsistence farmers), who in turn regard the townies as crooks – and have done so since at least the 18th century.
A new dimension to political life has been the rise of the neo-fascist Golden Dawn, which in Corfu polled much higher than its national average in the last elections, and which is suspected of having organised an arson attack on its last synagogue.
It’s a country where women use the genitive of their husband’s or father’s name (the singer Vicky Leandros is known as Vicky Leandrou - Βασιλική Παπαθανασίου - here) and still adopt an all-black wardrobe as widows.
It’s also a country of immense beauty: Corfu town has been declared a Unesco world heritage site because its arcaded streets, built mostly during the 400-year Venetian occupation, and the evident signs of building during the British administration (1815-1864), make it a city of appealing uniqueness.
Sitting on the esplanade, I look at the miracle of the two arcaded blocks that form a replica of Paris’s rue de Rivoli - they were built by the father of the man who constructed the Suez Canal. Miraculous because when the French were routed from Corfu the British finished the job. It’s the social centre of 'le tout Corfou'
But the simplicity of village life and architecture complements and adds to that beauty – even though the inhabitants of village and town are as different as chalk and cheese. How can I reconcile the beauty of the environment – and the added value that inheres in the tourist industry – when Mitsopoulos and Pelagidis document so thoroughly that Greece is so resistant to the sort of reforms demanded by the EU?
I see the kaleidoscope from the opposite end, simply because the economists cannot look at the everyday lives of ordinary people. It’s possible that they may never have seen villagers dunking their local bread into their own olive oil – or seen the sacks of olives going to the oilery where the growers pay 80 cent per litre for production, or spit-roasted lambs at the local panegiri (saint’s day).
It is the celebration of life at the most basic level, even if it does involve bribery and corruption, that the economists can’t see: they may hold the view that Greek people are inured to the grey economy and to dealing with the problem of balancing responsibility to the state with the demands of family, but in a country which last year lost 1,000 jobs a day, and where young people look to emigration as their only hope of survival, the claims of the individual are bound to trump those of the state.
And if, as is rumoured, the local taverna decides to open for only three days each week, due to declining spending power, we will all have to learn more than just dunking bread in oil.
Dear Richard. As I ‘struggle' with The Diviner having downgraded my reading and probably my intelligence this last decade I just saw your latest in the Irish Times. You’ve excelled. It was so good to see you pairing Chekhov and Friel - two artists who’ve managed so brilliantly and magically to blur the ancient and over-revered distinction between tragedy and comedy. See you soon we hope. We come via Naples to Corfu...it was another writer who while ‘looking out of the window’ also placed his feet in a bowl of water (not so much to warm or cool) but to remind himself of his subjectivity when describing what he saw between his curtains.  Best Simon

Jan Manessi in Corfu wrote...fine article, but don't assume that everyone out collecting wild vegetables does so because they cannot afford to buy them - horta gathering has been a popular task for years - at weekends hillsides round Athens were full of people out with plastic bags and a small knife. They are a delicacy, and those with knowledge of the many varieties are greatly respected. The eastern way of changing a name's end depending on sex is just the way things have been done from Greece to Russia- and few of the younger widows, both in town and village, wear black any longer, certainly not after the 40 days mourning has ended. In old times a widow would not even go to church, as this was considered enjoyment, her visits outside the house were only expected to be to and from the graveyard- thank goodness times have changed in some respects.
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One of my half-sisters - Miranda - tells me of a new grandchild. ....
Hi Lin and Simon. Here is Otis (born three weeks early on 14th December - a birth compadre of your Amy!)
Otis Oscar 
Meanwhile Oscar came round to visit with Amy and Guy, Richard and Emma...
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Dusk in Ano Korakiana...

Σερί από λιακάδες το τελευταίο διάστημα, που σε συνδυασμό με το άπλωμα της μέρας, προδιαθέτουν για το τέλος του χειμώνα, παρότι είμαστε λίγο μετά την αρχή του. Στα χωράφια, όπου το μάζεμα της ελιάς συνεχίζεται με τη βιασύνη να προλάβουμε μιαν αλλαγή του καιρού, ο χρόνος κυλάει γαντζωμένος στο άρμα του ήλιου. Με ξεχωριστούς ήχους και χρώματα. Από το μοναχικό κελάδημα του πουλιού, ως το μοναδικό χρώμα του δειλινού, που βάφει κόκκινα τα πρώτα σπίτια του χωριού, κατά την επιστροφή.

A final streak of sunshine, comes with the end of the day, suggesting winter is delayed even as it's begun. The olive harvest continues apace in expectation of a change in the weather. Time is linked to the sun's passage. There's the song of a lone bird as the sinking sun paints the houses red.
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A lovely and fascinating present from Alan Moir who knows my interest in Albania - a book -  Kanuni I Lekë DukagjiniThe Code of Leke Dukagjini, in Albanian and English.
Albanian text is by the priest Shtjefën Gjeçovi, translated by Leonard Fox, published by Gjonlekaj Publishing Company, New York  in 1989. Alan and his wife Christine were friends of my mother's. He worked for a period under an EU-UK Home Office scheme by which senior police officers were seconded to Albania to assist in the reform of their police following the end of the regime of Enver Hoxha. Alan maintained connection with the country and has many friends there. At mum's memorial service in December I met up again with him and he promised to send me a copy of the Leke Dukagjini code: 
The entire essence of the legal code of the Albanians is an unparalleled rigorous respect for this basic principle: non-violation of the dignity of a man- his honour, home and life.”
(Ismail Kadare) 
“The ‘Kanun' or Code of Lekë Dukagjini is an extraordinary monument of 

Albanian culture, essential for the understanding of all the northern Albanian lands. This magnificent edition, with its authoritative translation of the text, is an indispensable work for anyone who wishes to explore the history and traditions of the Albanian people”
(Noel Malcolm, author of Kosovo: A short History, 1998) 
“Certainly the Kanun is an unique document, a codification of practices amounting to law of great historical significance. In addition, it provides the bedrock for the rule of law in Albania even today.”  (Robert W. Sweet, United States District Judge)
For all their habits, law and customs, the people, as a rule, have but on explanation: ‘It is in the Canon of Lek…' as for the laws ascribed to him, the greater part are obviously far earlier than the 15 th century, when he is said to have lived. They probably were obeyed by the unknown warriors of the bronze weapons in the prehistoric graves.” (Edith Durham, High Albania (1909)

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As well as the Jerusalem artichokes, I planted more garlic on Thursday morning, and a double row of potatoes...

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