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Thursday, 27 September 2007

Rain at last!

5.00pm. After this mornings gentle showers, the rain increases, which, so long as it doesn’t cause flooding or landslides is good for Corfu. It’s good for all of Greece’s parched terrain, if it’s falling equally on the mainland. But D’s predictions about the failings of our inadequate roof improvements are proving correct as we go back and forth with buckets and clothes stemming leaks. Leaks, diagnoses, solutions – the leaking side door caused by splashes from streams of water coming through unsealed guttering will be solved by mending the guttering, a tactical application of additional silicone sealant round the marble at the foot of the door and a lintel. How even more aware we are of how that ill-judged removal the old external stairs and balcony took away rain shelter from that side of the house, especially the side door. Leaks in our bedroom upstairs, on the wall back of our bed and the wall opposite, are because the silver tarred flashing between Leftheris’ house and our back roof and between it and the front section of our house is useless. It will be replaced by lead flashing chased into the walls at either end. We didn’t order this originally because we believed people who said ‘the Greeks all use tarred silver paper’. Further leaks along the east wall of the small upstairs bedroom are caused by water driven along the roof beams that stick out a foot through the wall that overlooks Leftheris’ and then drip down on the inside of the wall at intervals, in line with those unnecessary extensions. The leaks on the west wall of the front top room are a result of not running the roof’s new waterproof membrane into the edge of the guttering, so that instead of pouring into the gutter, rain drips off the last tiles ands runs between gutter and wall into the house. The reason there’s no leak on the west wall of our bedroom is probably because rain is leaking out of the gutter before it gets there. Small mercy. Lin is displeased. ‘Ah well such is life’ she sighs seeing the drips striping her paintwork. I phoned M who’d done our roof and said ‘I am not happy’ explaining what was happening. He said ‘Oh shit, how could that have happened?’ I phoned D, praised the accuracy of his diagnoses the other day and we agreed it was lucky we’d been in to see the problems first hand. ‘I’ll be round on Friday’ he said. Kitchen, utility room, downstairs bedroom (now we’ve put temporary protection outside the door) dining room and sitting room and, indeed for the moment, most of the house is still dry. But we expect another’s day’s blessed rain and should not complain about the bad condition of our roof. I took the remaining sacks of rubble down to Tzavros along puddled roads. Now we have a few well washed blocks left for various jobs. I drove home via Ipsos and checked Summer Song to see her self draining cockpit was working. Shifting rainbows arched across the bay, several giving the illusion of plunging into the sea or shore in a specific location marked by an aura of golden light. Once back we manoeuvred one of the wardrobes downstairs where it fitted neatly into the space in the downstairs bedroom where the stove used to go, before the previous builder made it unusable there by adding a floor. It’s a cheapo chipboard piece left by the last owners. L’s painting it white. * * * 2.00pm. Greyer and greyer skies as we give a climbing grip to a vine to grow below the veranda and bicker over, string-knotting, holding steps steady and passing scissors, as we tether errant branches of bougainvillea. Next door the Lefteris squabble aimiably as they begin extracting juice from their garden harvest. ‘700 kilos of grapes!’ Leftheris looks up and traces on one hand with a finger. Then rain comes again, this time gentle but steady with occasional downpours – proper rain from the sea, part of a weather system and not a local phenomenon. So welcome. Lefteris’ vines have prospered on regular hose water but is there yet hope for the olive harvest or was that made impossible by the lack of rain last winter? Thunder wanders around and we repair to the cosy house and cuppas. The Lefteris cover their kit with plastic sheet and also shelter. A spindle of water from an unsealed roof gutter splashes up from the concrete to the middle of the side door, runs down and seeps through a corner. Under an umbrella I position a slab of plaka as a temporary solution to deflect the stream, then stand at a window to enjoy seeing the wet, reminded irrelevantly of another rain gazer in Jack’s tale of class hatred. An old peer habitually stands gazing from a high window of his club in St.James as rain pours on scurrying crowds in the broad street below his window and runs down the gutters from Piccadilly towards Duke of York steps and the Mall. Asked why he stands so intent he grunts “I hate the poor, ‘n I like to see it rainin’ on ‘em’.” * * * At 9.30am it feels cool. Weather from the south east has brought a light overcast, and a few minutes of light rain wetting the balcony and settling dust. Athens News gives a very readable overview of the challenges facing ND under their successful leader Karamanlis. It’s noted that just before the election deputy finance minister Petros Doukas signed an agreement with the Mayor of Zaharo Pantazis Hronopoulos in Ileia Prefecture the right to lease land protected under the EU’s Natura 2000 programme for conserving natural habitat – made part of Greek law in 1998 - for ‘high quality tourism’ hotel development to the Hellenic Public Real Estate Corporation- a private corporation within the finance ministry that manages the development of ministry owned land - paving the way for 16k of coastline in one of the worst burned areas to be leased by private companies in order to develop the area’s tourism industry. Lin and I pondered this piece of news. Athens News reports the mayor saying ‘the olive tree – our one source of income - is finished here. We lost 1.1 million trees. It will take 10 years for the industry to re-establish itself.’ Against reproaches that this decision sends out the wrong message in view of the long running connection of fire and development Hronopoulos says all hotels will be limited to one or two floors and all development would be ‘in keeping with the local environment’. He is criticised by Kritonas Arsensis, regional planner of the Elliniki Etairia (Society for the Preservation of Environmental and Cultural Heritage) who sees this agreement as leverage for property profiteering. He cites the positive example of post 1986 earthquake Kalamata. ‘They didn’t take the quick money route. They restored the traditional architecture. Anyone who passes through is likely to visit the old town. They never did that before. Zaharo has many beautiful villages. They should concentrate on preserving the unique characteristics that attract true quality tourists and encouraging local industries and businesses.’ But George Mitropoulos for HPREC says this overlooks immediate needs of local people. I guess a lot depends on the personalities and interests of the Mayor, the HPREC and key figures in ND and their responses to the diverse political pressures of the situation. (Athens News 21-27/09/07 p.10 reporter Thrasy Petropoulos. Letters to the Editor and by post 3 Christou Lada St Athens 102 37) [further article by Maria Magaronis about Ileia in Autumn on 9 November 2007] A wise letter in the AN from an English resident points out the increased combustibility of the Greek countryside as farming has decreased and ground cover is no longer cleared by people, and sheep and goats. Clear scrub round your property and remove low tree branches. Create a buffer zone cleared of flammable materials. I realise now that I should have seen danger present in the small area of trees, bamboo and thick brambly undergrowth at the back of our house which went up in flames on 1 September putting ours and other houses as a risk but for swift action by villagers. No doubt a domestic goat or two would have cleared this area in the past. * * * Tuesday 25 Sept. This morning I woke before dawn, wrapped myself in a quilt and sat on the balcony to watch the earth roll towards sunlight. There are two especially bright planets east and west, and above in the high south the three star belt of Orion in front of the innumerable lights of the great circling disc that is our own galaxy. The cock crowing spreads, then the dogs take up their cries with their barking and soon come the scooters and now and then, like tumbling boulders, the rumble of aircraft rising from Kapodistria Airport. The sky lightens enough to show the grey smudge of a ferry heading slowly towards Corfu port and then another on a course for Igoumenitsa. Pink light grows and flares behind the mainland mountains, the stars disappear. I make myself a cup of tea and return to my seat. Venus and Mars remain longer, then fade into the growing blue. Sunlight tops the mountains and in hardly twenty seconds a noose of light has caught and warmed me on the balcony. I hear conversation across the houses. Lin wakes to hear me working on the door latch and lock of the bathroom door which hasn’t ever closed properly. By the time that task was done, we were making lists. I pruned the bougainvillea, helped Lin put up curtains and we discussed the next set of things to do. In the afternoon, we picnic’d in an olive grove at the end of a path off the road high on Trompetta. It was quiet enough to hear the blood running in my ears. Lin had made up smoked salmon, cream cheese, fresh bread, a can of cold beer and a fresh tomato. The ground was crisp with dried olive leaves, but with all the parching there was moss and spinach green undergrowth among the rocks above the terraces that went downwards in gentle steps strewn with the rolled dark plastic nets that will be used to catch the fallen olives in November - though a poor harvest is expected after so little rain. Even as strolled in pleasant solitude the phone rang. Richard said a man from Severn Trent wanted to come in our house and ‘check our stopcock for a suspected water leak’. ‘Tosh!’ said L ‘On no account let him in. We’ve been through this routine before.’ We’d already shopped for needed things, including bags to fill with rubble which I started ferrying to a site at Davros that wanted ‘baza’. Katherina helped fill the sacks. A third were removed before dark. I’ll try to get rid of the rest tomorrow. At 10.00 pm Lin continues, lying on her side, cleaning the marble skirting of the guest bedroom, having gloss painted door and window frames. * * * Monday 24 Sept. A lazy day. I got up later than usual, reading an account of trying to make the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq work by Rory Stewart, realising the prescience of the Mad Max films; but in this case the scale of the collapse of order in a place that was the cradle of civilisation, the fertile crescent, the place where calligraphy began, where people converged from across the known world to trade and gaze in awe at its architecture and culture. It has become thrice Ozymadian - a ghastly blighted wasteland of corruption, dusty hot ugliness, pollution and murderous feuding between innumerable factions riven by contradictory hopes and intentions stirred into unreliable and treacherous alliances against its rueful, frustrated, puzzled, impatient, covetous, misguided and despairing invaders who, by and large, want to escape at almost any cost but can’t loose their grip on the country’s oil or the bizarre idea that democracy might be nurtured in Iraq. One of the lessons Stewart imparts is that history doesn’t point a way forward in Iraq. It is all very well to repeat the maxim that ignorance of history causes its repetition, but today’s circumstances are so different from the past that to rely on knowledge of previous fiascos is to drive by the view in the rear mirror. Dreadful Rumsfeld was probably right to speak of the problem of handling not known unknowns, but unknown unknowns. There’s enough ignorance of the past among the invaders to justify that explanation of the calamity, but Stewart suggests that even with far greater knowledge the task of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq would have been impossible. I was struck by words in Stewart’s Foreword
‘…I have not catalogued the national failures in planning, policy and administration. This is because I believe it was not grand policy but rather the meetings between individual Iraqis and foreigners which ultimately determined the result of the occupation.’
Starting each chapter is a quote of apposite relevance from Machiavelli – embarrassing because we still try to fool ourselves he was describing the unique politics of renaissance Italy instead of immutable human behaviour. * * * D and Mg have been on the roof at 208 Democracy Street. As we expected a large part of the roof will have to come off again and be properly tiled with chicken wire between the tiles and damp-proofing. D told us the tiles were uneven because the older ones were made by women bending them over their thighs – some slenderer than others. You need to grade them when roofing and organise the up and down facing ones in far neater ways than M. had managed. We sat in the top room and discussed the roof, the repair of the cypress wood floor, plastering around the new archway, and making a flue hole for the stove, which they carried upstairs for us so we could decide against which wall to set it. D will give us an estimate in a couple of days. Lin says ‘let’s go for a sail to the mainland on Wednesday.’ * * * Dropped into CJs. J has got a €1000 in the café for his ‘Greek Fire Appeal’ and is driving over to donate it for one selected village. Several present were quietly rejoicing at the departure in a few days of the last of the Thompsons and Cooks geese. Some report that the Thompson birds will not return next year. I note the Durrell School of Corfu and the Institute Dikeoma are co-sponsoring a symposium between 24-28 September on ‘Cleaning up the Mediterranean’ ( Note: On being ourselves tourists, a quote from the last chapter of David Roessel's In Byron's Shadow: Modern Greece in the English and American Imagination 2003, Oxford UP

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Simon Baddeley