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Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Replacing the side-balcony and stairs

We had two estimates for the work and on Monday Alan began setting up scaffolding for the job of replacing the external staircase, and side-balcony so unwisely removed by the previous owners' builder - I suspect without their say so, while they were in England and before they'd even seen the completed property he'd promised to have ready for them when they arrived in Greece. A while back, our neighbours had remarked in passing - very politely - that before the English had arrived "the house was beautiful". We've spent some time discussing restoring the stairs and the balcony to which they led and now, at last, it's happening. In a few weeks we'll have a place from which, as Natasha remarked when praising balconies in general and ours in particular, to say 'Kalimira' to people.

A sampler in Leftheris' dining room (with permission)
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Greece's credit rating on the international economic stage has been downgraded even further...
Western stock markets were on tenterhooks this morning after share prices tumbled in the Far East following the decision by the credit rating agency Standard and Poor to downgrade Greek debt to "junk" status yesterday. The move - which made Greece the first Eurozone country ever to suffer such a downgrade - came just as the financial world waits to see whether German MPs will finally agree to help bail out the Greeks...Jack Bremer, First Post Daily 28 April 2010
Yesterday while paying our rate and waterbill at the Demos office - Δήμος Φαιάκων - at Ipsos I asked the cashier what she was expecting for her future. "We don't know. We think this office will move to Corfu Town." This is a result of Papandreou's Kallicrates Plan, which in Corfu, is set to reduce 13 local council's to just three, perhaps only one. This is small but personal incident reminding me amid the quiet here that much of the population's on tenterhooks. Regarding our own General Election on 6 May, Graham H wrote on the 24th:
Simon, I know sports analogies are dodgy, especially because you might not have much time for football and more especially because you probably didn't see the Pompey/Spurs FA Cup semi-final. But in that treasure of a game there came a moment - just after half time - when it began to dawn on you that lowly, bust, beleagured Pompey - the dead and the near-dead - might just do it, might just win. Why? Because whatever Spurs did, however many attacks they mounted, whoever they threw into the penalty area, however many trillions their team was worth, the ball just wouldn''t go into the fucking net. Why? Because it wasn't to be. One of those afternoons. And maybe, after umpteen decades of the Two-Party Stitch Up, we're heading for a similar upset. Whatever Dave and the other bloke do, nothing seems to work. Bad week to be a Tory. Worse week to be Prime Minister. Call for the oranges...and an early shower. In haste, G.
Dear G. Frank Skinner (whose bio' I just read) would scorn me for not seeing football as life and death - unlike my Greek half-brother for whom your image would make immediate sense. There's a level of engagement I've reserved for other things I guess, knowing that when it matters, blowing hot and cold is worse than just blowing cold. As for the link to the political scene I'm with you all the way - x 100 in fact! The value of hung/balanced democracies is that it forces brokerage between the parties that gets a richer conversation between them and us - the great ignored. Best S
Reply just now (keeping me in valuable touch):
Back in the (un)real world, the plot thickens. Clegg is visibly wilting under pressure (you probably didn't see him on C4 News last night? but might grab a night's sleep and score a hat trick in the last debate. Dave, ominously, seems to have got his second wind while our Leader has lost it completely. Appearing on The World At One phone in yesterday, clearly under instructions to pretend he's half-normal , he kept getting the script wrong. "Lovely to see you" he told one startled housewife from Tallybont. Lovely to see you? On radio? Stay tuned... G.
** ** ** There’s a proper cycle shop in Corfu, just by the hospital in town, that Paul, who by another of the happy coincidences of Democracy Street, is a real cyclist, had recommended. OK Paul’s shipped his cycles from Bermuda - one I can lift with my little finger. All the same I’ve been thinking of dropping in on George Gkavardinas (Γεώργιος Γκαβαρδίνας) at Loulias Andreadi (Λουλίας Ανδρεάδη 5 and while getting some money from our bank in town the other day, strolling in from about half a mile out so as to get easy parking, I stopped to look around and George showed me two hybrids – “something for riding up hills which I can take to the shops please” for under €500 that I reckoned would, unlike my beloved Brompton, get me up most of the road gradients on the island. I ran these by John Martin who said the Ideal Megisto – 28” wheels, 24 speed - looked OK for me. “Could I have that with mudguards and a rack?” “No problem”. So perhaps I’ll treat myself later in the year.
... and having discovered this place I catch sight of just the same kind of hybrid I'm seeking leaning on the wall outside the Beer Bucket in Kontokali; go in and find it belongs to Creeky, who I'd met at our lamb roast. "I got it from just up the road, the hire shop opposite the Alpha Bank kiosk - €280"

Rolando's place at Kontokali just off the main road - got cycles too!
He had a couple of used hybrids I liked but in the end I was taken by a sit-up and beg machine - an Atala Discovery - fitted with mudguards, lights and rack and 21 gears and, with the promise of instant payment via the ATM across the road, a good reduction on the asking price, with a lock thrown in. Now to see if I can make it up to Sokraki.

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Lin and I are lucky if we can get 3½% interest on one of our savings account. To meet the 1 April deadline for investing an allowed sum I have an HSBC ISA that pays ¾% annual interest. I can transfer to something slightly better, but it’ll be nowhere near the credit rate Greece is being charged and if we wanted a loan, with all the security in the world, we’d probably be paying around 6%. Amid the talk of market runs on Greek assets, fears of default on sovereign debt is raising Greece’s short term ‘mortgage’ interest higher by the hour - thus Thursday's Athens News quotes a 13% annual interest being offered on two year Greek government bonds - ‘worrying trends’ in bond-yield spread, ‘junk’ bond rating, and an almost triumphalist chorus on the theme of debt restructuring, hummed to the theme of maturity extensions, write-downs – haircuts – as 24 hour negotiations continue among the continent’s policy-makers, harried by their own voters, anxious about the future of the Eurozone and beyond, about the levels of ‘austerity’, needed to justify a ‘bail-out’ from the IMF. The matter of what will stimulate rather than simply save the Greek economy - the crude monetarist solution - gets little attention, probably because few know or will risk speculating about it. I suspect that those who do have ideas on this are quietly getting on with it. Extract from a letter to an old friend in New England who wrote in a recent postscript:
Poor Greece. Just not making it from all I read, including the Economist. Read a fascinating op-ed piece in the NY Times by a Greek woman lawyer - Philomila Tsoukala - who left Greece for the US. Her thesis: that all Greece is organized around small family businesses who tyrannize the younger generation by not letting them go off and start their own business. This especially shackles women to the family stable. It certainly seems that Greece is in a tough spot and that its inability perform economically could throw the whole European union into doubt especially if the problem spreads to Portugal and Spain. What do you think?
My reply:
...You wondered what I thought of the situation here. My view is that it is not just a Greek problem. This is not the beginning of a case for local complacency nor for resignation. There are much harder times ahead; hard times for many already. My sense of urgency is intense. I’m not for stoicism, let alone resignation. When the 20th century's great depressions created comparable fears and breakdowns many turned to totalitarianism - left and right - and we learned the terrible consequences of big decisions in the name of big ideologies. These dinosaur recipes - fascism and communism - are being replaced by the 'small mammal' solutions - some reactions of despair unlikely to survive, but even in their failure showing the way for other initiatives and experiments whose combined impact on the world we probably can't see - since we're too close to the ground to recognise historical trends and there’s still a believe in another big solution - ‘the market’ . No, I’m thinking of self-employment, already a significant cushion amongt the PIIGS (though by definition unmeasurable, being purposely evasive of data collection by governments), self-sufficiency, co-operative building projects, co-operative everything, local food growing, local trading schemes to exchange goods and services (not the one's that are no more than scams), local nearly everything, alternative transport, different rather than necessarily lower standards of living, sustainable sewage systems, sustainable everything, greater reliance on solar, wind, wave and geo-thermal energy, home education, recycling, free-cycling. This does not mean an end to R & D, human progress - especially in health and communication and even the home comforts on which the rich world has become so understandably dependent. This is not about 'back to nature' - though we have to rethink (radically) our relationships with the environment. Our so-called 'natural' lives were nasty brutish and short and homo sapiens understandably sought to escape such existence. Education helps, but no government can make people live in ways that are less demanding on the world's resources. It has to be about choices, examples and desire - initially in the landscapes of creative imagination. I guess that's where Greece's crisis might come in, driven by exigency. It's not about trying to rejoin the community of the old successful economies. There are none. It's about finding new ways of living and working and that, I guess, is where the need for changed expectations comes in. The thinking goes on... and I'm sure you're right about 'a generation at least' for such things to work their way through. What will our children make of this climacteric as they start to understand such things separate from us? Have we parents been able to instill skills, values and thinking for a different world – or are we part of their present problems? What personal crises must the brightest of our youth go through to break with the assumptions and habits we’ve given them? (I mean that collectively. I’m hoping I may have done marginally better and I’m sure you have.)
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And now Alan starts on the shuttering that will carry concrete laced with iron rods. Our balcony and steps begins to take shape.
* * * Aris has just given me a most interesting reference Experiencing Dominion: Culture, Identity, and Power in the British Mediterranean by Thomas Gallant. Given my fascination with interactive dynamics - in my case between Lord High Commissioners and Ionians during the British Protectorate - I'm especially fascinated by the reference in the publisher's description to the way Gallant is ...
moving discussion away from an emphasis on a simple polarity between hegemony and resistance, and instead focusing on the shared interactions between colonizers and colonized, rulers and ruled, foreigners and locals.
It continues:
Thomas Gallant - widely recognized as one of the leading scholars in historical anthropology - argues that a great deal can be learned about colonialism in general through an analysis of the Ionian Islands, precisely because that colonial encounter was so atypical. For example, Gallant demonstrates that because the Ionian Greeks were racially white, Christian, and descendents of Europe’s classical forebears, the process of colonial identity formation was more ambiguous and complex than elsewhere in the Empire where physical and cultural distinctions were more obvious. Colonial officers finally decided the Ionian Greeks were 'Mediterranean Irish' who should be treated like European savages.

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Simon Baddeley