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Friday, 18 June 2010

Red sky in the morning

From Handsworth our son photographed a midsummer dawn
I'm miles apart in culture, experience and history from Tolstoy's character Levin but I was grateful to Google for recovering lines I remembered - vaguely - from the end of Anna Karenina, the part that has a happy ending for Levin and Kitty:
And Levin, a happy father and husband, in perfect health, was several times so near suicide that he hid the cord that he might not be tempted to hang himself, and was afraid to go out with his gun for fear of shooting himself.
It was those lines I recalled because as Tolstoy points out Levin has all that might be associated with content - a long loved woman as his wife, delightful children, material security, good health. Finding that memorable passage again I saw it was preceded by Tolstoy's speaking of himself.
All that spring he was not himself, and went through fearful moments of horror. "Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life's impossible....In infinite time, in infinite matter, in infinite space, is formed a bubble-organism, and that bubble lasts a while and bursts, and that bubble is Me." It was an agonizing error, but it was the sole logical result of ages of human thought in that direction...
War and Peace and Anna Karenina - Tolstoy's most majestic works; their indirect narrators Pierre Besuhov and Konstantin Levin - both embodiments of their author, sensitive to the charged implications of privileged status amid casual oppression, unrelenting servitude, the ebbing sea of faith, the improbability of God despite fervent attention to liturgy, holy text, observance of the rituals of penitence and devotion. Happiness harbours grim contemplation.
A damp day in Birmingham
The worst economic depression of our times is still not that obvious. History books compact the 'depression' into points on a time-line, an event with a beginning and an end; a word. I'm primed by distant reading to expect a contemporary re-enacting of sepia images; cloth capped queues, shuffling figures in ragged trousers on fluttery film glancing askance at a man with a camera, freeze-framed misery from the nation's family album. I'm a high latitude tourist cruising close to the sheer of a tidewater glacier from which chunks of ice crash into the sea, or, breaking away underwater, surge from the depths. Spectacular but not disastrous. All glaciers calve at the sea. Like peine forte et dure in which weights were gradually piled on the condemned there's no abrupt dislocation. Functionaries keep reminding semi-stupefied participants of the formidable seriousness of the a point where, like Giles Corey, we cry for "more weight!"
The process is unpredictable, probably inexorable, and because its woven into the present, nothing like the neatly composed narratives of past crises. Everything's mixed up; daily highs and lows obscuring a longer wave - mild until it steepens, curls, trips and breaks. We hear less about 'green shoots of recovery'; less about light at the end of the tunnel; more about changing our way of life, about hard times into the future.... and 'hard times' means? Our leaders avoid being drawn on detail. They can't surrender the appearance of being in control. Big projects are being abandoned, construction workers laid off as banks foreclose or governments cut. Middle class investment becomes negative equity. Nest eggs dissolve. Pensionable age advances. Pensions lose their value. Hospital waiting lists lengthen. There are fewer and lower benefits and concessions - like winter fuel payments; fewer government training schemes, fewer business start-up grants, more expensive care - for young and old. Less respite for carers. The mesh in the net grows wider, protecting fewer. Sovereign risk becomes normal. Failure the fault of the failed.
Latest from the Independent Treasury Economic Model - ITEM - interpreted by Ernst & Young - 'tightening of more than £48bn required to eradicate structural deficit...'
From the YouGov site these polls:

Consumer Confidence Trackers

Economy Perform Chart

Standard of Living Chart

Kathimerini 19/06/10 on the end of the Greek welfare state. See also 'Young Greeks' in LA Times 12/06/10 See Teacherdude's photostream from Thessaloniki - this for instance and the accompanying words...
Sometimes it's the little thing that show you how grim things are getting here in Thessaloniki, the long lines of taxis waiting at ranks for customers to turn up even in the middle of the day when up till recently getting a cab was next to impossible. Or perhaps its the accents of wandering street vendors who are now more likely to be people from the city than some recently arrived immigrants from West Africa or a member of Greece's Rom community. The city centre has become a near ghost town on week nights, a mere shadow of its former, vibrant self with cafes uncharacteristically quiet and empty streets, this in a place that prided itself on 4am traffic jams...
** ** **
As a PCSO Amy was a steward of public space - armed with her wits and connections via radio and CCTV to the police. Now, though still in training, she's becoming a centurion - with powers of arrest, doing intensive homework on the legal framework within which she must exercise those powers; armed in a literal sense, with a baton, handcuffs, pepper spray and a stab-proof tabard, techniques for interpersonal negotiation, self-defence and methods of 'taking down' someone resisting arrest - things I've learned about, not from my daughter who's discrete about her work, but from the internet and observation.
* * *
An informative overview of the Greek pension system and how it will be reformed.
Led by Prime Minister George Papandreou, lawmakers will begin passing legislation this month to overhaul the system, which the EU and IMF say contributed to the country’s debt crisis. Under terms of last month’s 110 billion-euro ($123 billion) (note: in UK a billion equals 100 million; in US it is 1,000 million) bailout agreement, Greece will increase the retirement age to 65 from as early as 58, curtail early retirement and calculate payments over a longer period of employment...The bill will be the first enacted by Papandreou’s government since the May 6 package that pledged 30 billion euros of wage and pension cuts and tax increases over the next three years.
* * * Aris & Katie on their blog are stirring greater curiosity about olives - in particular the suggestion that British understanding of olive oil is akin to our understanding of wine in the 1950s.
I said that, at heart, I'm not sure English people actually like olive oil. They like the idea of it, or the idea of liking it (like Kundera's "second tear"), but not the actual product. Hence the concept of extra-virgin olive oil- actually a very technical assessment of its acidity- is transmuted into a fetish for the wateriest, most pallid, flavourless liquid. Despite its fabled parthenogenic origin, any Corfiot farmer would rather a blowsy dockside strumpet of an oil than a timid virgin; though it would be a job to convince, say, Jamie Oliver, that cloudy green Greek oil is better than translucent bottled-in-Tuscany olive water...He said - I think astutely- that olive oil in the UK now is where wine was in the 1960s. We know it's a good idea, but we still think Blue Nun is the best the world has to offer. Corfu Olive Oil blog ~ 9 June 2010
Leftheris has educated me about some of the varieties. I'd like to learn more, that for instance the Corfu olive is called Lianolia Kerkyra. Perhaps we should visit the Triklino Vineyard, off the Pelekas Road out of Corfu Town, where a fire in 2000 destroyed a thousand of the family's olives, so that now they specialise in wine while showcasing olive cultivation. This table, among many, introduces the range of Greek olives - a first lesson, my heart full hearing a Greek friend reciting the names - an olive oil litany - Ποικιλίες ελιάς. In the centre our own rain loving Lianolia Kerkyra - Λιανολιά Κερκύρας - Souvlolia, Korfolia, Prevezana, Dafnofylli - Σουβλολιά, Κορφολιά, Πρεβεζάνα, Δαφνόφυλλη - from Corfu, Paxi, Cephalonia, Zakynthos and the dry shores of Epirus.
The Most Important Olive Varieties In Greece
Other Names
Main Regions
Table Olives
ConservoleaAmfissis, Artas, Violiotiki, Hondrolia HalkidikesCentral and W. Greece, Halkidike
KalamataKalamatiani, Aetonychia, KorakoliaPeloponnese, Crete, W. Greece
Oil-Producing Olives
KoroneikiLianolia, Psilolia, Ladolia, KritikiaPeloponnese, Crete, Lonian Islands
Lianolia Kerkyras(Corfu)Souvlolia, Korfolia, Prevezana, DafnofylliCorfu, Paxi, Cephalonia, Zakynthos, Epirus Coast
KoutsoureliaPatrini, Patrinia, Lianolia, LadoliaPeloponnese, Nafpaktos
MastoedesTsounati, Matsolia, MouratoliaPeloponnese, Crete
Double Use
MegareitikiPerachoritiki, Vovoditiki, Hondrolia AigiansAttica, Boeotia, Kynouria
KoloviMytilinia, ValanoliaLesbos, Chios
KothreikiManaki, Manakolia, KorinthiakiDelphi, Amfissa, Troezen, Kynouria
ThruboleaThasitiki, Hondrolia EvoiasAegean Islands, Attica, Euboea
Durrell in Prospero's Cell:
The entire Mediterranean seems to rise out of the sour, pungent taste of black olives between the teeth. A taste older than meat or wine, a taste as old as cold water. Only the sea itself seems as ancient a part of the region as the olive and its oil, that like no other products of nature, have shaped civilizations from remotest antiquity to the present..
Our little black island olives aren't the best to eat on their own, but Durrell's conflation of sea and olive reminds me of that commentary on the rivalry between Poseidon and Athena missing from the Parthenon pediment. No it doesn't, not really. It makes me long to be with Lin on Democracy Street gazing towards Prophet Elias on the hill and over the narrow sea to the Pindus mountains. That bright orange drawer - mouse-gnawed and wood-wormed - is now stripped, sanded, strengthened and polished and part of a cupboard we made from recovered wood.


  1. Lianolia's a lovely name, isn't it?

    I've just found this, via Google: (you might have to view it in HTML form)

    Scroll down until you hit the bit about Babis and Katerina Doui, Paxiot oil producers trying to achieve something similar to our dream.

    Fascinating- and unnerving- stuff.

  2. "Locals do not need to buy from me because they already have their good quality oil and they make marmalades etc at home”. Well yes. I haven't tasted anything as good as the medley of olives from Corfu and the mainland that our neighbour ladles from a larger vat in her kitchen into a bowl and brings round to us. Guests for supper have exclaimed over these too. The oil is pretty viscous, and holds to the olives as you pick them out to eat. There's no sourness or bitterness and the olives are firm but not hard. Very tasty. There's no cash involved as the olives come from her husbands estancia above the village, and from relatives on the island, Kalamata and Tripoli. The taste of these olives has spoiled me. And yes, she also makes marmalade and quince jam and....


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Simon Baddeley