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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Carnival Guignol

The supper last Wednesday.
“Look you lot…” I said when Paul, Cinty, Mark and Sally had arrived at 208 Democracy Street, as opposed to me leaving there to visit them
“Hm. Nice smell” said someone
“...this is hardly” I continued “pay-back time, since I’m still getting all the pleasure of your company”
“Enough of that, Simon”
“Yes but seriously…”
Cinty had bought a cheese vegetable dish to pass - nicely judged to complement and not, given her cookery talent, up-stage my efforts.
“Sit down. Sit down…help yourselves to olives and here’s prosciutto wrapped round pieces of mozzarella”
The conversation re-began from where we’d left it at our several last evenings. Lin had e-mailed me earlier:
Make tomato and basil soup for starters. It's really easy and you can make in advance. You can make it the day before if you want and reheat gently when needed. Don't boil it. 1. Gently heat 1 carton of pasata, adding a good sprinkling of ground black pepper.(That's tomato puree - should be some in the cupboard by the fridge.) 2. Add ½ pint (10 flid oz/ ½ litre) chicken stock. (Add one stock cube from jar on the shelf to boiling water to make this.) 3. Add 1 heaped teaspoon dried basil and simmer for 5 minutes. (Should be plenty on the shelf or in wall cupboard - righthand one, I think.) 4. Taste. If it just tastes like tomato, add more basil and simmer again. Keep doing this till it tastes right. 5. When needed, reheat gently and add half a carton of cooking cream. (I think there's some in the cupboard…The pack with dark blue, as opposed to light blue, on it is thicker, so better.) That makes 1.5 pints, which is enough for a reasonable portion for 4 in the proper soup dishes in the dining room cupboard, but no seconds.
I doubled the ingredients for this, ladled the warm soup into a big bowl and took it  upstairs where the table was laid with bread and bowls. There was enough soup with some seconds for the five of us. Then roast chicken – “cook it first on its breast so juices run to the meat” said Lin over the phone from England – “about 170 Fahrenheit for an hour and half”, said Cinty over her phone, just up the road. I made baked potatoes and Sally brought gravy to be heated and decanted into a jug. Cinty in our kitchen carved the nicely browned chicken - into which I’d stuffed a lemon on Lin’s advice - and laid out its meat on a platter to go along with her mix of broccoli and leaks in cheese sauce. Meantime before my guests started on the wine and beer they’d bought I served - cooled in an ice-filled cocktail shaker - margaritas - ⅓ Tequila, ⅓ lemon juice from our trees (plus the juice of two oranges, and ⅓ Grand Marnier, with the rim of each glass wetted with a slice of lemon to hold a rime of salt. It was all going swimmingly.
After a good pause from the main dish, I fetched up the pudding from the freezer – Margarita Granita, made by mixing the mush of squeezed lemons mixed in equal parts with Grand Marnier and Tequila and spooning it into a selection of hollowed lemons, a hole cut in the top lidded with the head of the fruit, cut flat at the bottom so it’d sit upright.
"Don't put your faces too close - remember Alien!"
The alcohol hinders freezing so the result is a lively soft filling the consistency of praline in the dark chocolates from Emeral served besides. We used the emptied lemons to finish the jug of margarita...
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On Friday I went into town and visited St Spyridon’s Cathedral, having to dash out quietly as my mobile went off.
“What’s your passport number” said Lin “for booking flights in August?”
“I’m just at the cathedral. Lighting a candle for Amy and the baby”
 “Oh good. Shall I phone later?”
I gave her the number and then returned to that friendly serene place, in the centre of the city, to pick two candles’ light them and plant them among hundreds more in the sand tray by the east porch.
Noticing people writing prayers on paper I wrote “For our beloved daughter, Amy and, with God’s will, her son, our grandson” and added it to the little stack in a dish by the altar rail. Lin has reservations about my hypocrisy but I answered that some time ago so she tolerates these things, pondering them, no doubt, in her heart, her lips slightly pursed. I may have no faith, I’m not sure about Amy’s and can certainly not speak for the child within her. If I could write him one of the letters I’ve been sending so regularly to Lin and my mum these past 6 weeks, I’d want to say something about the paradox by which a dead reckoning was used to prepare an accurate position based on a sighting of the sun, moon or stars and reference to exact time and tables “when it comes to words, rather than music, I hope that you, our grandson, will read and learn from the Bible – preferably from a translation whose prose honours its content, and - especially when you are young - its beguiling stories. In some editions substituted for the King James version the meticulous pursuit of accessibility has, like the application of leeches, bled the text of memorable peculiarities and persistent idiom; best sometimes to compare the many translations at your fingertips, and start to learn that words are written by humans of miscellaneous opinion and varied inspiration. You do not need believe in angels or miracles, virgin birth or resurrection, though coincidence and the inexplicable march alongside skepticism, that people have amazing dreams stimulating science and scholarship.
A bloody good read
Where better than from the Bible may you learn in clear and magnificent ways the nature of your humanity, your shared mortality, the minute degrees by which you are both free and constrained in your choices, the extent of human moral frailty, your cowardice, sadism and cruelty, your courage, malice, compassion, kindness and capacity for forgiveness and grace, your anger and vengefulness, your mercifulness, your feckless inconsistency, the possibility of redemption, the moral quagmires into which you can be driven by lust and envy, your nobility and decency, the nature of love, of desire, grief, wisdom and wit, forbearance and sacrifice, the beauty, violence and ugliness of the world and the enigma of infinity – the capacity of language, any language, to convey mystery, to describe in words what is beyond words, to encompass paradox, that eternity may be given time and space by the minds of men ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was made light’. Where other great works match the bible’s richness strive to know them, but you’ll search far to find works beyond its sway and spur, and, because the Bible is the book of your immediate context, it’s as good an introduction as any to your understanding of plot, structure and narrative, of good and bad writing, or - like mine – passable but inadequate for the truth I’m struggling to convey. The Bible’s contrary texts have long been used to justify perfidy and virtue. Don’t use it for instruction. Know that neither religion nor secularism occupy ground higher than the other; that they can co-exist and contain what is worst and best in you and your fellows. And should you have faith in God – a product of revelation not will - know that prayer is not to get things you want for yourself nor others; that God’s existence is in no way discounted by the fate of humans at the hands of nature or other humans, or that despite faith you may not believe yourself, amid pain, forsaken, and, if you have no faith – a reasonable, though no more nor less logical state, than its reverse - that atheism provides no guarantee of feeling unnoticed.” I’d want to add some sturdy prejudice about the bowdlerisation of King James, and for that matter Cranmer’s Prayer Book, by well-meaning committees led by educators, but the best and kindest words on that were written in an essay by Alan Bennett for a meeting of the society, or some such, for the ‘preservation’ of that supreme text. He said, after a paean for the King James that were he a priest stumbling up the urine smelling steps of a tower block in hope of bringing some unction to a parishioner in despair, he'd not bother that much about the words - though he wrote that thought far better than I.

Psalm 77 (KJV)
1. To the chief Musician, to Jeduthun, A Psalm of Asaph. I cried unto God with my voice, even unto God with my voice; and he gave ear unto me.
2. In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord: my sore ran in the night, and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted.
3. I remembered God, and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah.
4. Thou holdest mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.
5. I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.
6. I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.
7. Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?
8. Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?
9. Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah.
10. And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.
11. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
12. I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.
13. Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?
14. Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people.
15. Thou hast with thine arm redeemed thy people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah.
16. The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; they were afraid: the depths also were troubled.
17. The clouds poured out water: the skies sent out a sound: thine arrows also went abroad.
18. The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven: the lightnings lightened the world: the earth trembled and shook.
19. Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.
20. Thou leddest thy people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

*** ***
“That’s a bummer” said Mark
We were all peering into Summersong’s engine cavity, Paul with a vernier to measure the prop shaft diameter, Mark with a piece of cardboard on which were jotted the measurements of the new engine we’d hoped would replace the old.
“There’s 30 centimetres to find if the new engine’s gear box and couplings are to fit. It won’t work. I’ll go back and remeasure the engine tomorrow but…”
 I swallowed my disappointment, in part because ill-news from friends comes easier if – what am I’m trying to say?
“It’s a bummer?”
That morning. Paul told me. his motorbike - one on which he’d lavished much attention - had been stolen from outside his house in the night.
And yet 24 hours later Mark has told me he has almost certainly now raced an engine of the same type that will almost certainly fit. I've been in touch with Mr Vangelis to prepare to slip our boat, clean and anti-foul her and let Paul and Mark work on her at Mandouki in April, while Dave has texted me that he will get Summersong down there on her old engine and put a small boat in her place to hold her mooring at Ipsos. I've also had word with the fisherman in the security kafeneon by the harbour and have a receipt for their special attention to her security. Being moored there for over twelve years helps.
Vangelis Yard at Mandouki - above me a forest of humming masts
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‘Hellas, once first among nations, what asses we are now’ ...
...written on the back of a de-sexed Carnival King, thus with derisive laughter, shouting and oompapa music, marched this year’s most self-critical of village carnivals; irreverent as ever, innocent fun for the very young mixed, with scathing mockery of Greece and Greeks; sprinkled with flour a phalanx of young bakers and cooks pranced happily along mingling with men and women dressed as militia...
...holding toy machine pistols, some dressed in plastic military helmets, wearing swastika armbands their faces decorated with toothbrush moustaches, waving whips...
...marching behind a white donkey stumbling under the weight of a man with the blackened face and hands of a chimney sweep.
 Past the co-op we went where ‘ΒΟΗΘΕΙ ΜΑΣ’ was scrawled on a sheet - an orange balled golden phallus poking between ‘ita’ and ‘thita’. HELP US. The donkey was relieved of its burden before the hill into Democracy Street - the point made. Grand guignol in the middle of the afternoon. Later at the dance...
*** ***
A note to Richard Pine, after reading his grimmest of op-eds in The Irish Times arguing Greece should, to save herself from further abasement, leave not just the Eurozone but the European Union:
Dear Richard. Your op-ed has sparked table talk over the past few days - and no doubt some of the flack you were expecting, though not from me. Whether you are right or not, we seem to be at a point of decision - one that is quite out of our hands, though we’ll experience the consequences and historians will argue over it when we’re gone.
I hope that Greece will not leave the EU nor the Eurozone. I hope her people can acquire the ‘intricate skills’ required to govern a modern state - these being managerial, in terms of striving to work with fine-tuned logic and best technology in managing fiscal detail; monitoring and checking the performance of  a multiplicity of public services; involving all citizens in a constant educative dialogue about those services and earning the conditional respect for government which will lead people to pay taxes and follow the rule of law in returning to the state, what it needs by way of information and cash to work. This is a process which should be far far simpler than it is at present, employing information technology, individually available to those who can help others learn to use it, to perform, at household and business levels, the tedious but necessary duties of citizenship. It’s problematic that the Republic’s civil servants and ministers are being tutored in these things by Germans. But  unlike you, I think that making use of European (not only German) expertise in government need not be experienced as invasion or even humiliation. Greeks, proud inventors of democracy, are even in their villages deriding their failures as a modern state (see the slogan on the Carnival king’s float in Ano Korakiana last Sunday) - a parade of derisive self-mockery, not just fist-shaking at the Troika, the Government and the Germans.
I’m not sure that even more problematic than five centuries of Ottoman Occupation, is another historical circumstance I mentioned over our salad last Wednesday, that Greece has had no industrial revolution and, even though classical art  inspired that event across 15th century Europe, no Renaissance. I was struck by words from the script of the recent Greek film Attenberg in which the architect says to his daughter
“We missed an industrial revolution. We’ve built a colony of factories on sheep-pens”.
Turkey also had no industrial revolution but contains within itself the history of ruling an empire, even tho’ decayed, and the more recent memory - painful but necessary - of Kemal Ataturk’s reforms across every dimension of government; public finance, education, infrastructure, transport. Of course there’s corruption there too. Think of the ill-regulated multi-storey blocks that collapsed like cards after the last big quake under Istanbul. But there does seem to be a critical mass of expertise in Ankara, lacking in Athens, that supports the modernisation of government - and the constant need to submit reform to review and further change, something taken as a given across northern Europe.
Despite your arguments about misery, humiliation and loss of sovereignty, none of these demanded reforms if they occur - and I hope they will - can deprive the Greeks of their identity or culture (certainly not compared to the historic privations and suffering of the country’s population over the  over the past 100 years), unless you accept the proposition that using the habits of corruption inherited from Ottoman rule is an inextricable part of that culture - that separating corruption from probity involves risking the lives of conjoined twins. I don’t think that. Do you? A lot of Greeks don’t think that - if the chorus of frustrated anger at their country’s corruption is a guide. Nor need Greeks surrender their rights as citizens to be involved in making choices in government - though I suspect the knowledge and values required to exercise local democracy have been developed further in other countries than in Greece. Present protest entails futile sparring with police most of whom are in the same boat as the rioters. Is the long schism between klepht and modernist so intractable? S
...less these thoughts presume some Anglo moral high ground see this posting by Jim Potts on Corfu Blues quoting a rebuttal letter from Heinz Stiller in Berne Switzerland, about the mess made of capitalism by some of Greece's would-be 'helpers' published in Kathimerini’s online English edition on 27 Feb in response to a Bloomberg article by Clive Crooke ('Greek deal leaves Europe on the road to disaster'):
Mr. Crook’s article fits well within the barrage of doom and gloom press articles about Europe from American and British sources which pretend to analyze problems, but in reality are nothing but expressions of irrational chauvinist Anglo arrogance toward Europe. Britain and the US have been highly successful in one thing: They have turned capital markets into a casino-style gambling system which has taken the world to the brink of catastrophe by having blown up the 'funny money' supply to absurd proportions. By relying excessively on Keynesian economics, they have neglected structural economic policies and almost ruined their respective 'real economy' bases. The internet bubble (already forgotten?), the housing (ABS) crisis, and Lehman -- all nice gifts to the world by our Anglo economic expert friends…When hares, hunted by dogs, get tired of running away, they sometimes push other hares out of their holes so that these are now hunted by the dogs and they can take a rest.  Anglo coverage of European problems reminds me of this behaviour....But, as they say, you can’t fool all the people all the time…Europe will not go down the drain, no matter if Greece stays in or not. But in due time, financial markets will center in on the real problem economies of the world, the US and Britain, as these do not even try to tackle their problems.
And this hip-hop tirade against ACTA - The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - captures in nimble rhetoric (how very well suited is Greek - which starts at 00.44 - for rap) feelings and thoughts that go well beyond the immediate concerns of the campaign against the new copyright legislation before the EU parliament:

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At dawn I can see that one of Ano Korakiana's olive presses has been working through the night - has been for several weeks...
Clean Monday - Kαθαρά Δευτέρα - starts the 40 days of Lent. Foti asked me as he has for the last two years to join his family for lunch at his family's place near Doctor's Bridge on the Sidari Road. There was a laden table including octopus and squid, spinach pie, macaroni, feta, green salad, wine, taramosalata and Lagana bread - which you're supposed to break not cut - and I could recall nearly everyone's name, and Dimitra whispered me the one's I struggled with. I explained to those who wondered where Linda was that I was here alone as she was accompanying her father - 93 - to the doctors "but it's alright we think and she sends her love and we will both be here for Easter"
Philoxenia  - Φιλοξενία - on Clean Monday
Part way through the meal, with help from Natasha where my Greek failed I made a very short speech
"Tomorrow I go to England. I am sad to be leaving but I am happy to be going. Linda and I are expecting a grandson in March!"
I tried to go on thanking them for their generosity and hospitality but everyone was clapping and raising their glasses, so I had the sense to sit and continue the pleasure of the meal as the children, their food finished, began to dance for themselves and us.


  1. What a wonderful 'guignol' posting, fotos, captions (i like the alien ref), the sprightly text. i read it several times over to absorb the whole feel of it. now i have to go back and de-fang my own and return with version II, a sweetly smiling Corfucius. that would have the spitfire out here in a trice demanding 'dad! what have they done to you? dont tell me it's CWG (crazed with grief). anyway, bravo. fix the foto. xx

  2. What a wonderful, meandering, post... I hope all goes well by the way. We never had a chance to have a chat, but I hope we will get one this year...when you return. I have been very involved with the protests etc, and a movement to promote Real Democracy in Greece. I would very much love to hear your opinion on all this. We all seem to be on such a steep learning curve, it seems almost impossible...


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Simon Baddeley