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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Places we went with Val

Where shall we go today?
With Val here we’ve been touring more. First, we visited Pontikonissi, the islet at the end of the airport runway that visitors by air can glimpse as they land and take off. Another day we drove via Trompetas to Krini and had a picnic beneath the oak tree on top of the Byzantine Fortress of Angelokastro – visitors lining up to digitize the magical view down the island’s high western capes.
We descended from there to the scabrous suburb of nowhere stopping to buy local wine and admire Indian embroidered cushion covers before cooling at a bar with pool in Analipsi to swim and relax with other Brits – one unignorably obese because so shouty, the remainder, including us, somewhat morose (many of us are like that until we get drunk) relaxing to the sounds of middle range pop videos with supple bodied performers cavorting on a big flat screen in the bar.
Yesterday Lin drove us along the east coast corniche via Kasiopi, where we stopped for five minutes, before driving north eastward, the grim Albanian mountains merging with heat haze from a sea of immaculate blue, until the turn to Palia Perithia – Old Perithia - ascending via Loutsis to the once-deserted village; had drinks at one of the tavernas there, fellow customers sat happily round plain wooden tables.
The locals have the visitor categories bang to rights. This village really was abandoned by its inhabitants for lack of resources two generations ago. Now it’s a stage set for those on holiday who want to sit beneath trees and vines in heat and quiet, but for the bees, opposite a cobbled track not too near other non-Greeks, conversing over a leisurely menu of native food – recommended by Rick Stein - served by folk who look like they live in the countryside; who'll be pleasantly amused by a few Greek phrases as we order while having enough English to help us out with a menu that serves the same purpose in the main European languages containing malapropisms whose authoring affords hours of amusement to some perfect anglophone Greek. 'Stiffardor' (Stiff ardor! Geddit?) 'Stuffed Squit with Sheeps' (pleeese).
Then after a picnic in tranquility sat on the stone sills of an old school house beside a hedge of wild clematis - traveller's joy, old man's beard - with a patch of sea in the distance, we got in hot car and drove east along the north coast to Sidari where the Corfiots have, with the same ingenuity that will one day realise the fantasydromes of that sci-fi film Westworld, created a resort for the British. Inspectors from Greece toured Blackpool, Southsea, Rhyll and Weston-super-Mare, returning to recreate the ambience of those famed resorts in northern Corfu, a near flawless doppelgänger. There’s nightly karaoke, wide screen sport, Corrie, and tribute singers – Michael Jackson, Amy Whitehouse, Tina Turner - and much more. A Chinese and Mexican restaurant (Pancho’s Villa) refine the authenticity. Anything Mediterranean - squid, octopus, rabbit stew, strong cheese, olives – has been weeded out, with further sifting to remove anything Hellenic*, especially the odd alphabet, excepting the ‘Greek nights’ enjoyed in UK. The one area where the set builders fell short was in matching English summer weather. That wasn’t bothering Sidari’s many visitors reclined on serried loungers on smooth and tidy beaches as far as my eye's reach. Another mistake we noticed - hardly a smidgin of litter. In hard times it’s good to see a place that’s doing good business with many visitors returning home with memories of a happy holiday on Corfu.
*I imagine Emperor Augustus, 2050 years ago, fresh from his victory at Actium creating a a resort for Roman military veterans at Butrint - building an aqueduct, a Roman bath, Roman houses, a Roman forum complex, and a nymphaeum featuring only Roman nymphs.
Britworld - the movie
On the way home via Velanades, we crossed the ridge at Troumpetas and saw where the worst of last week’s fires had burned its way across the mountain singeing the margins of a petrol station above Skripero just missing a house on its outskirts. Later Fortis, Natasha’s husband, told us that as well as the fire above Skripero, there had been, not seven, but nine other fires on that same day before the rain. An arrest – he tapped his wrists in imitation of cuffs - had been made. Someone simple-minded (Fortis, a fire prevention officer tapped his head resignedly) with a record of starting fires, who “enjoyed the excitement” – “the flames, the smoke. Most of all the planes”. “He will go to prison for two years. Then he will be out again”. This is one of the intractable problems faced by every humane judicial system. Both Mark and Fortis say the vegetation will have made a good recovery in a year.

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Simon Baddeley