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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Waging peace Η κοινοτοπία του καλόυ

A fact unknown to all but the most acute children - perhaps refugees - because they're wrapped in love, and haven't been around long enough, is that houses, like dogs, furniture, people and, even rocks, are turning to dust second by second. There was a time in childhood, even youth, when I thought all work done on a house - new kitchen, new roof, new plumbing, new decor - would endure as pristine as the photos that advertise the services of decorating and house maintenance catalogues. The young are mostly unfamiliar with entropy - with decomposition and the secret perishings and spoliations that continue at the backs of cupboards, behind cookers and fridges, under fixings, between walls and in roof cavities and footings, where moth and rust corrupt.  But we adults who do want, at least for a while,  to maintain treasures on earth, must work for them - more or less all the time.
Linda's list
Lin's list of things to do never ends. I go along with it - semi-willingly. There are times when I or she or both of us do some unlisted task, which I insist she writes down so that it can be, at once, crossed out.
The kitchen doors have become the dining room doors
“What’s the most difficult thing about hanging a door, Lin?”
Everything about hanging a door is bloody difficult”
When we first assayed the inside of this house off Democracy Street, we saw that between its oldest downstairs room there was a odd-sized doorway – low enough to bump my head; wider than a single door. And there was no door. I could see hinge pintles left and right.
Fiddling through the scrap heap left inside our apothiki - a shed that accompanies most older houses, both workshop and store - I found, near the back, lying on cypress roof ties, a dusty cobwebbed old door, its top half having four panes of old glass set in slender transoms, next to a pair of sturdy cross-pieced planks.*

It was pleasing to restore these uneven pieces of old carpentry to their original space – except that the rehung door, when open, blocked the angled passage between kitchen and hallway.
Looking into the dining room, but the door, until we set about rehanging it, opened into the kitchen

We’d been living years with this minor inconvenience since 2008, until Lin said “This door, these doors, should open the other way”
“Wouldn’t it be great if this job turned out as simple as the idea”
One bad idea, not pursued, was to break out the whole door frame and turn it round. Next was to router a rebate on the back of the same frame.
“Trouble with that” said Mark in Piatsa “is that a router will only do part of the job and the rest would involve a great deal of work with a hammer and chisel. Messy.”
“No, we’ll create a new rebate by fixing squared lengths of hinge-wide wood to the back of the doorframe”
“Right! After that we remove all hinges and refix them – left ones on the right and vice versa. Inset them flush to the new wood and the same place on each door.”
I cycled down to Stamatti’s joinery on the Kato road, a kilometre from the village, and explained what we wanted; came back the next day to collect. He refused payment.
I’d not be surprised if the old male hinges on the jambs hadn’t been moved since fixed, over a century ago. I used a blow lamp to soften the paint and get a screwdriver grip on most of the 12 rusted slot screws. Burning smell. Three recalcitrants were wrenched out with grippers levered against the surrounding wood. The door hinges were easy to remove – fixed with Philips screws by me a few years ago. The trim that had been nailed to the other side of the two plank doorlet, I gently levered off and fixed to its other side.
Now the difficult part began. The verticals and horizontal timber of the doorway, as happens in old houses, was challengingly warped in two directions.
“There are going to be shims!” said Lin, and arguments for sure, since that's how we work.
The old hinge plates, wire brushed of minor rust and old paint, were switched left to right; females were attached to the doors in their old insets, and pintels into insets on the new wood, neat and easy work with the multi-cutter working along set-squared pencil lines.
“Now what? Fix the new rebates to the door frame?”
“Oh no!” says Lin “Hinge the new wood to the doors. Offer up.”
We lifted both doors into the space and held them against each other and against the door frame; the doors wedged up to allow for opening. This was when the fiddle-faddling of getting it just right began. It was to turn out that the right position for the new rebate required the predicted shims for it to stand vertical against a frame that wasn’t. Once the upright was screwed in and the door hanging, it refused to close. The centre of inner edge of the larger door, also warped, clipped the edge of the frame. We loosened screws on the rebate and shimmed; tightened them up getting closer to a clean door swing, while for most of an afternoon Lin whittled and sanded away at the central edges of frame and door, until they just cleared one another when the door was closed. It was then we found a gap between door and floor which, if filled in with a fillet on the sill of the door, would prevent it opening’
“Why, for goodness sake?”
“Lie on the kitchen floor and look into the dining room. That lovely smooth floor isn’t flat”
I put a ball bearing on it. We watched it roll towards to the kitchen.
“So that’s why the doors have riser hinges? They’re so difficult to find here. These must have been made by the local smith long ago when the village had one”
After this fol-de-rol the two-plank gap-filler on the other side turned out easier to hang, needing just a slight lean out from the top to meet the edge of the other door and close and open on the lock. And I fitted at the top of the two-plank, the cheapest bolt I could buy - €1.30 - from the locksmith and door fittings shop at 2 Spirou Arvanitaki in town.
“There’s a gap on the right side of the door panel” said Lin. Our lifting on and lifting off might have budged the centre panel out of its stiles. I rested a piece of square wood against the edge of the panel and hit it with a mallet until the gap reclosed.
“Now you’ve scarred the wood”
“Ruddy sand it out!”
All the bare door surroundings with their new countersunk screw holes, gaps between new and old wood, and the old insets on the kitchen side of the frame, were now filled with slivers of wood and filler, and sanded flush and smooth. Around the dining room side of the new hung doors we fixed lengths of moulded architrave - old trim with splits, holes and old nails, discarded by a wheelie bin in the village - into which, after we’d tidied them up, we sawed neatly fitting angles to match the not-quite-90 degree top corners.
Architrave round the new hung doors
The whole – including the scorched patches where I’d removed the kitchen-side hinges – Lin undercoated and painted gloss white. A large cork, cut and glued to the marble skirting in the dining room, served as a doorstop. The latch was set for opening into the kitchen had its curve on the wrong side. It was not reversible. I took it off the lock, used the angle grinder to roughen the curved surface of the latch, and glued on a piece of hard wood, sanding it flush to make the latch square ended, so the door closed tight....
Nearly reversing the latch, with a piece of shaped hard-wood and strong glue
 ...I got the old brass door handles that I’d dug up months ago from my Handsworth allotment, buried for years. They’d been soaking a month in penetrating oil. Now with wire brush, the rusty shaft and holding screws on the handles became visible. They yielded easily to the screwdriver, and then, with a mallet and driver, I tapped off the handles, both ready to clean with brown sauce on a rough backed sponge, and fix to the lock.
Brass door handles unearthed from my allotment

The job done, we cancelled our divorce proceedings.
“Those doors are so damned sexy, better hung than they’ve ever been!”
Strips of white marble, found by the road, cut and smoothed to tidy the rose marble skirting each side of the doors

Opening into the dining room instead of into the kitchen
*Half way up the two upright planks, that comprise one side of this doorway, are the initials 'MKM 1951' scratched into the wood. When visiting us in 2008, Kostas Apergis, Ano Korakiana's historian, said these were the initials of Marcos Cosmas Martzoukos who lived here, and 'still lives in the village'. Later this evening villagers at Piatsa told me that he is still alive, used to live in our house, but now lives further north, 'not in the village'.
*** *** ***
There can be no greater fanzine for me than the New York Review of Books. In the last two months I've read six editions - some saved up - cover to cover; articles - many with illustrations, line drawings, photos, reproduction of pictures, maps, portraits, caricatures - on art, fiction, history, current affairs, essay collections, short stories, poetry and poets, films, music, politics - domestic and international,  economics, natural history; writers from across the world exploring every continent, and all so eminently readable - not an exclusive magazine for fey escapists from the crudeness of the world - its editors, as I understand, seek rewrites, revisions, over and over, in the interests of intelligibility and accuracy. My mum subscribed until she died in 2012, and passed me on her copies for years, sometimes with underlinings and notes, but this year for the first time, having paid rather a lot for a newstand copy, I subscribed myself. Three came in my cabin bag on the plane, and a few weeks ago my son collected the latest from our mail in Birmingham and brought them here with him. There are on-line versions of the magazine, but I like its heft, the feeling that it's not an object made to gather dust, though I think I'd hesitate, ever, to use it as kindling. Unlike the daily news that bombards - like separate points on invisible graphs - and even distracts for all its sensational freshness, the NYRB arrives with perspectives that have been mulled. Its writing, when I look at past editions from decades ago, lacks the datedness of even the wisest daily. It stands back without detachment.
NYRBs for the first part of 2017

I've at last read Nabakov's Lolita. I didn't quite know what to expect given decades of celebrated notoriety. I understand that it's strongest criticism is that, as Nabokov writes, 'Lolita had been safely solipsised' - in other words deprived of identity and even existence, made into a fantasy by her abuser. Like The Kindly Ones which I read last year, the book transfixed me, and will sit inside my head like tattoo on my skin.

Linda bought me, at a table top sale in Kontokali, a copy of the 50 year correspondence between Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell between the 1920s and 70s. I've been reading it in the loo, over about three weeks. The book, which has brief and modest connecting commentary by its editor, is long, at times dense, often incomprehensible, with lots of gossip, prejudice, crudity, and  moments of dazzling recognition - and the loveliest writing - when they write about their Greece, their Greeks, their Athens, their Corfu (LD speaking of his last home in Provence '...having fouled my own nest in the same way in Greece' 1959 p.339) and the people they knew here, with whom they ate and drank and loved, and 'fucked' and talked ('these talents, these genii, so far above me in their perceptions, nostalgias, sadnesses, talents, endeavours, and successes in the world' SB), but I'm also struck and even pleased, over and again, by their ordinary unprescience, fascination with unreliable opinion, frailties, illnesses, burglaries, money worries, daft enthusiasms - like ordinary folk; LDs loathing for the crowd, for the spread of motor cars and dead holiday apartments ringing old villages, strangling them, diesel smell replacing garlic and pissoir pong in Paris; all dead now, slipped away, roaming together in one of Dante's circles, friends for life.
In the looming shadow of an oppressive dictatorship and imminent world war, George Seferis and George Katsimbalis, along with other poets and writers from Greece's fabled Generation of the 1930s, welcomed Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell to their homeland. Together, as they spent evenings in Athenian tavernas, explored the Peloponnese, swam off island beaches, and considered the meaning of Greek life, freedom and art, they seemed to be inventing paradise. In a lyrical blend of personal memoir, literary criticism, and interpretative storytelling, Edmund Keeley takes readers on a journey into the poetry, friendships and politics of this extraordinary time. (Edmund Keeley's Inventing Paradise 2002)
What would they make of The Durrells- so popular on TV, a third series of the family's stay on Corfu for just 6 years - 1935-1940 - a myth being filmed as family comedy on the island even now?
Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell in Corfu in 1939

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Simon Baddeley