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Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Orange pie

On Sunday Adonis’ and Effie’s friend Katerina Papas, who used to live in the village, came for lunch with them. We were invited, in part so Katerina could show us how to make a sweet called Orange Pie, πορτοκαλόπιτα, that she’d brought along on Easter Monday. I took notes as Lin observed. This is also a happy way to improve one's Greek:

Open out ½ kilo of filo pastry and leave it in the sun (or put in a low oven) until it’s dry and crumbles easily.
In a mixing bowl put the grated zest from two oranges, one tumblerful of sunflower oil, one tumblerful of orange juice and one tumblerful of sugar and mix.
Add a small packet (about 2 teaspoons) of baking powder and one small carton of Total yoghurt (the container carries slightly more than other brands) and mix in well.
Crumble the filo pastry into the mix a bit at a time. Fold in gently, making sure that the filo pastry is all coated with the mix.
Grease a large shallow baking tin. Pour in the mix and spread to cover the base of the tin, making sure to break up any filo still in large pieces or stuck together.
Cook in a preheated oven at 180°C (Gas mark 5) for half an hour.
Make a syrup with a tumblerful of sugar, a tumbler and a half of water, zest from one or two oranges and a few drops of vanilla essence (or two teaspoons. of vanilla powder). Mix and boil for 3 minutes.
Remove cake from the oven. Allow to cool. Spoon over the syrup, making sure that the cake is covered all over.
Serve on its own, with cream or with ice cream.
We had the pie – more a cake – after lots of other tasty things in company with Effie's and Adonis' other guests, Gerasimos, Anna, Michael, Yianni, Katerina and – my memory fails me. To my content we soon broke the rules about talking politics (I find people have enough faith in shared food and wine around the same table to treat politics as an acceptable subject even among new acquaintances). Talk turned on ‘Macedonia’. I couldn’t figure different shades of pessimism and optimism, but one at the table muttered to me of another that ‘they believe’ incorrigibly ‘history as it is written in school texts.’ I ventured there’s a history of the head and a history of the heart. The truth of the former is always a debate, of the latter a conviction.
I asked Michael what he thought of the current crisis. I’d first mistaken him for a Greek but he’s German long in Corfu, a language teacher. He said many people had lost their work, their businesses, their hopes. He saw no clear end to the problems “and not only here.” We agreed. It brings ‘a move to the right’ he said quietly, fuelled by humiliation. Pessimism turns to bitterness. "Foreign workers are less welcome on Corfu" he said "They get a negative response" (see news of recent violence in Athens and - back to the future 21 May'11 The Politics of Insecurity)
A shared hiatus drew us both to the history of the 1930s.
“Ordinary people don’t want to go to war. They get led when they are ready to be led” said another. Yianni told us of two old men relaxed over coffee on the bank of the Contrafossa - the short channel that separates the Old Fort from the city. One was Italian, spoke some Greek; the other Greek spoke some Italian. So they conversed – sat together talking about everything enjoying the long afternoon, when the Greek noticed his companion had tears in his eyes.
“Why are you crying?”
“We were soldiers here”
We spoke of living with less money, of allotments, of sun and wind energy. How easily these could become normal across the world.
In the background I could hear the continued talk of Macedonia.
“Surely” I said to Yianni “this couldn’t lead to war?”
“I hope not”
I saw Michael was telling a joke in his perfect Greek ending with the evil salute.
“What’s that in English?”
“There was a little boy sitting with his father looking at a family photo album. The boy saw one snap of his grandpa making the sieg heil and started to ask questions. His dad hurried on to other pictures in the album. The boy was insistent. His dad took a deep breath
‘Once there was a very bad man called Hitler. He was making a speech asking German people if they wanted to kill the Jews (everyone cheers), make total war (more cheers), rule the world (even more cheers)' but your grandfather replied ‘kill the Jews?’ - stretching his arm out level - ‘make total war?’ - raising it higher - “rule the world?” - raising it nearly over his head he shouted at Hitler 'enough! I’m up to here with all this!'”
*** ***
By the bins were two kapok-filled mattresses, covered with sturdy striped cotton fabric and held together by tasselled buttons. We took these home, from where they’d lain on the road. Beneath them was a gathering of leaf mould, twigs and seedlings, harbouring centipedes, scattering ants and wood lice, some flecked with yellow, others with a brown skirt edging a shell covered with light blue spots.
Dried out from the morning showers, the mattresses were almost pristine, though plainly of some age.
“How could someone have thrown those away?”
Off Democracy Street, in one of its narrowest parts, we came upon a man painting the doors and windows of an old abandoned shop, still with its fittings – shelves, glass-fronted cupboard and counters, all with finely moulded edges and on the floor encaustic tiles – chequered oxblood and white. He allowed us in to look around.
“We hanker for these things because they were made by craftsmen in whom the balance of the mechanical – joinery tools including moulding planes, saw and set square, screws and nails, kiln and paints – favoured the carpenter over the predominance of mechanised manufacture, synthetic pre-moulded standard and universal products."
A distant relative by marriage was a very successful games machine salesman. By way of compensation for a job that didn't inspire him he was devoted to restoring old buildings. He's dead now, husked out by drink and a succession of temporary partners more interested in his money than him. The only conversation I had with Freddie he was working on a vast oak purling for a medieval Welsh farmhouse, gently adzing it square.
"I could have had this work done at the timber yard in half an hour and still met the heritage specifications. Here I've been working on it for three weeks. I know this piece of wood. I know it in the way the original carpenter knew the decayed timbers I'm replacing."
I don't believe in hauntings, but I guess this is how a place acquires its spirit; the unique imperfection that comes only with time, small blemishes, careful repairs made long ago, the process of ageing, signs of daily use by people no longer living; wabi-sabi - 'nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect' -  侘寂
Lines, proportions and angles are the creation of particular eyes and hands so that, even when precise, they lack the uniformity and symmetry that can be achieved with machines. When peoples unfamiliar with the products of mass production first encountered a discarded pop bottle – detritus of the US army in the Pacific - they were impressed. Containers are valuable, not to be thrown away so casually, let alone one made of glass. When people saw another exactly matching bottle and then another and another and another they were at first overwhelmed. When such objects were chucked off the back of a jeep they were impressed that people could part so easily with something so magically similar - something impossible for men to make prior to mass production. In some pre-industrial societies, twins are sacred and risky, fraught with mystery, even taboo. Yet here were numberless twin glass bottles, and a thousand other objects, all exactly the same, yet taken almost for granted, fecklessly thrown away, replaced, thrown away, replaced...tipped, dumped, discarded. No wonder we, among whom mechanisation has such command, covet asymmetry, dissimilarity and uniqueness. On that score we take pleasure and pride in completing the latest set of shutters for our bedroom window.
Louvered shutters converted to village style shutters
...and ones we made earlier
If I get gloomy about the prospects of our species achieving a sustainable relationship with the Earth it's not because I cannot see the poor giving up having children or surrendering the possibility of having white goods and cars or the products of mechanised farming - though that seems unlikely - but because I cannot see we who already enjoy the benefits of those things being ready or able to give them up or vote for governments who will encourage or even make us. Can I deny myself access to a tenfold increase in chances that if injured or sick contemporary medicine, hard pressed though it seems, can save my bacon? What about the joys of travelling the world, enjoying unprecedented choices of food, unlicensed diversity of sensations for mind and body, the entertainments of sensuality, owning several spacious homes supplied with water, power and the means of communicating with the rest of the world? "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" I find that retort as telling as, my favourite "this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice."
Mark showed me an article last week about a book by Prince Charles, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at our World. Its strength – I’ve only read a favourable review in Mark's January copy of The Shooting Times – is that it strives to digest the whole dish, climate change, town planning, medicine, advertising, deforestation, gardening, farming, transport, globalisation, attempting to reason the dire consequences of our detachment from nature, trying to navigate between good science and bad science, to enrich public debate between faith and reason, provide marriage guidance for the awkward partnership of empiricism and spirituality. He's a penitent rich man, who like many of us is trying. His arguments are supported by opinions formed in the conversations he's had and the the places he's visited. Reading it I expect to hear some of the HRH phrasing- the gnomic wisdom Private Eye enjoys parodying - 'If people are encouraged to immerse themselves in Nature's grammar and geometry they are often led to acquire some remarkably deep philosophical insights.' Well yes, but I value his use of the word 'grammar' in this setting.

The Prince may be criticising Cartesian detachment, but his polemics have never sought to deny sweet reason. I'm also less than impressed with the critiques especially some comments on the internet by keyboard warriors gripped by ad hominem ire - strewn with capital letters; venomous judgements from mean imaginations looking at the royal finger instead of where it points. When did an heir to the throne or indeed any member of our royal family write a book so steeped in understanding of the world's great problem? This is the 'king's writing'; Lionel Logue's role shared by Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly. I shall get the book.
Goya - The Sleep of Reason brings forth monsters
Meantime I'm engrossed – as I didn’t expect to be – reading Mark Twain’s late book A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I had expected it to be simply a long funny essay in which Hartford meets Camelot, Hank Morgan takes on Merlin. It’s all that and the humour of Yankee English full of Great Scotts, ain’ts and corkers, encountering Malory’s wists, wonts and prithees. As I should have expected of Mark Twain it's a deal more of that exploring - with great humour and passion - the encounter of a late 19th century industrial entrepreneur republican with feudal superstitious 6th century Camelot, getting darker as it goes along. Twain is prescient about the American military fascination with 'rapid dominance' - shock and awe. In this book he may have invented the first ugly American.
** ** **

We are now officially included in the Hellenic Census. Angeliki  and Marie-Elena who have volunteered to carry out the census for Ano Korakiana and who live in the village knocked on our door today and noted details of our names. education, jobs, parents and...
"Why did you come here?"
"Love" I said. Marie-Elena wrote on the form.
"You mean you can put that in?"
"Of course"
"Not because we loved each other" Lin hastened to correct "but because we  love Corfu."
Thanassis on the village website reminds us that the population of the village needs to be above a certain number - 1000 residents - to avoid our village losing influence in the new local government of the island,
*** ***
Onions were 69 cents a kilo this February, and this isn't just Lidl
A circuitous and counter-intuitive position on the Greek economic crisis is taken by the BBC's economics correspondent Stephanie Flanders. 'Everyone says that heightened talk of a Greek default is proof that last year's bail-out has "failed". But you could make a strong case for the opposite.' The BBC tend to hire rather clever people - in this case Balliol, Harvard, US Treasury - so I note what she says even though I understand hardly a third of her argument, but would like to agree with it even so - not least because she likes cycling in sensible clothes.  Her view is that the bailout has worked for the Eurozone but hasn't been much help to Greece. That's so unlike 'a strong case for the opposite', I find her her piece tendentious and insensitive.
*** ***
Since dominant Bubble died, there's been renegotiation between cats around the house - a valued pitch with so many of us putting out food for them. A new Tom has made his appearance, testing out more familiar males, each challenge, avoiding actual fights, has enhanced his place in the feline pecking order. He's not a prepossessing beast - matted and mangy - 'of feature by dissembling nature' - seemingly composed, fore and aft, of separate animals, we've called him 'devil-cat'.


  1. Some tough questions and hard choices!

  2. This Orange Pie looks so good, can you give me the recipe please? Thanks a lot

  3. It's on the blog + the video - but I'm afraid I don't speak Rumanian so can you translate? S


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Simon Baddeley