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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Narrow streets

A long time ago in Bequia in the Windward Islands of the Caribbean an old single handed sailor who’d cross and recrossed oceans in his small yacht told me he'd visited Miami when its shores were lined with palms and a few shacks; its marshes covered in pink flamingos. By the time we arrived, in 1965, in my small boat, skyscrapers filled the horizon. The US immigration officer looking brusquely through our papers and gazing suspiciously down at our 22 foot vessel asked "Have you rats on board?" then left us to ourselves, moored to an endless concrete jetty not far from a pre-fab public convenience, filthy with graffiti and litter. Yet last night in Corfu, we enjoyed a 2010 film called, The Kids Are All Right – brilliantly written by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko who directs; utterly convincing and engaging performances. Parents, Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Benning),  are bringing up two teenagers, Joni and Laser, in a smart LA suburb. The boy wants, as allowed by law when you hit 18, to find out and meet the sperm donor involved in their conception. This is Paul who runs an organic market garden. The plot winds up from there. There’s a crisis but all’s conditionally as well as life allows by the credits. When I was enjoying the unspoiled coasts of the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean, between Spain and Greece, in small boats there were still Jim Crow laws in the Southern States of America, while homosexuality was undiscussable, horrid and illegal until 1972 even in those permissive and exotic Scandinavian countries.
In 1975 and 1976 Linda and I spent two summers walking, taking buses and trains along the northern coast of the Iberian Peninsular as far as northern Portugal. We swam one hot afternoon across the clear water of the Minho – Portugal to Spain and back - from one sandy shore that we had utterly to ourselves to the other, equally deserted, so we could remember we’d crossed and recrossed a national border without having to show papers. We picnicked on stretches of Atlantic beach, pristine, white sand, with no-one about, no roads or buildings, just occasional tracks off a country lane. We didn’t have to be 'nudists' to bath without swimming costumes. These were places it would have been odder to put them on. Thin women knelt in circles around a village pond their arms and backs muscled by the work of washing and wringing clothes by hand. We stayed in a hotel once. The rest of the time we turned up where the train or bus took us, went into a bar, and bargained for a room in someone’s home – to us tiny sums, and we were treated as guests not customers. This idyllic coast was ours, with myriad places where we could have coast and sea and sky to ourselves because its population had been on the losing side in the Spanish Civil War. Franco, still in power, ensured that Galicia received no investment for economic development and so no support for tourism.
“I’m tired of you going on about where you can go on your bicycle” grumbled Lin a few days ago.
I was trying to guide her in the car to an area of the island I’d come across last October cycling west avoiding cankered Paleocastritsa. We turned off the Sidari Road above Skripero down a winding lane through which I pedalled passing things I could smell and touch, driving through the small platea of Doukades, descending towards the Paleo road, winding through Gardelades, Linda already anxious negotiating the narrow plaka’d way into a platea from which we had to reverse and retrace our route, where I on my bike had simply gone where I could walk.
We recovered our way to the main road and followed a sign to Liapades, ascending into the village on a steepening road of scored concrete built for passing donkeys. “I’m sure it was up here” I muttered
“Are you quite sure?”
“Yes up here”
The wing mirrors were millimetres from walls on either side and no obvious way through. At another Y-junction Lin said
“I’m walking. You drive”
She wandered ahead. I waited then followed, to a cul-de-sac, with a narrow path upward.
“On my bike I…”
The mood shifted down a gear. I turned in a cramped space, drove back and tried another ascent with the same result
 “I don’t understand. When I…”
“Oh shut up about you and your bicycle. Why don’t we go home and you can go off on your own?”
“But I wanted us to find this place. It’s delightful.”
“Yeah yeah”
We returned in morose and resentful silence to the Paleo road and headed south
“Don’t you like exploring?”
“Yes but not if it risks the car, the brakes and leaves us stranded in someone’s backyard”
“Well these villages weren’t meant for cars. They were built for walking and donkeys”
 “OK so you go and visit them on your bicycle”
In fact the car, small cars, have colonised these villages quite effectively, with car parking bays in the most inaccessible places.
“What it must be like driving down one of those alleys and meeting someone else coming the other way”
“Yes. At least in Ano Korakiana, there are plenty of passing places”
We took a turn into the Ropa Valley heading easily along the straight smooth road south, western hills between us and the coast, we took a turn right towards Giannades, then, because neither of us wanted to try negotiating another hillside village, turned left on a narrow cracked road with ragged edges that ran us as southward as the main road beside a reeded riverbed approaching a long row of tall eucalyptus trees like the poplars of a Dutch landscape and entering an area of broad green close cropped lawns - a golf course edging into the surrounding pastures of the plain.
We turned into a track, which, metalled again, pointed us vaguely to Vatos and Kelia. We followed it gingerly, turning off at a sign to Mirtiotissa Beach, descending through olives to a small parking space above a sheer drop covered in pine shrubs, with cars, and a scooter, backing out, whose place we took, facing the empty sea perched on cliffs.
We wandered down a steep concrete path. I peered over an edge at a small beach far below with umbrellas and sunbeds.
“There are people down there without any clothes”
We descended to where more cars and scooters were parked one couple struggling with gears as they ascended and another pair walking, ignoring my passing smile in the way of people used to city streets.  I was irritated trying to be cheerful, abhorring people. We got to the sea, a short descent past a flight of steps and sign ‘Nudists only’ and found a space close to breaking waves where we could picnic and try to recover the pleasure of our company. A wasp found us. We started to chat biting into large sandwiches of dark bread filled with soft cheese and prosciutto, a scooter and walkers passing behind us, the gentle surf chivvying the rocks.
We drove on south via Pelekas, a village the same size as Ano Korakiana. Their government must have decided the community’s future lay with attracting the custom of tourists – filling it with short-rent apartments, studios, hotels, pools, restaurants, beachwear and souvenir shops. Casual strangers wandered its curving central street. We descended to the main road and drove steadily past Kardamalia to Milia, where our route, now closer to the island’s eastern shore turned north towards the city again, becoming a five kilometre strip-mall of shops, garages, eateries and emptied premises for sale and rent, once separate settlements indistinguishably mingled along a corridor of hoardings, concrete, glass, aluminium and plastic – an autodependent environment of placelessness that afflicts the world wherever cars and their users define the planning rules. On the edge of the airport, I guided Lin through turns around the city that brought us onto Ioulias Andreadi and the road north to Ano Korakiana.
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I was in town yesterday trying to complete some insurance paperwork, being given the runaround – where you’re asked for a number not needed before, you get it after an inconvenient journey, but once you return are asked for another number or told it contains “not enough numbers” or on being asked for and digging out an official UK document having it looked at doubtfully and asked “Is this all?” and anyway the whole thing must now to “be checked by Athens”
 “Because of the new laws”
The usual way out of these situations is to walk away and find another provider, which is how I’d originally found this one. The expected way on the Greek side is a personal smoothing payment off the books, which I don’t do. It’s nearly always men doing this, trying to be smart and just being annoying. I stay completely relaxed, smile ‘goodbye’ and start looking around. I bought an Athens News and went to a street side café on Alexandras Avenue where my ouzo was delivered without a jug of water by a waitress for whom the drink was unfamiliar. When I asked for water she bought me a plastic bottle and charged it on my bill. I couldn’t be bothered to grumble, just won’t go there again.
The news as I already knew is miserable. Samaras interviewed talking in circles about liquidity and Tsipras promising to unite the left against austerity and negotiate a new contract with the EU and the Justice Minister, in a small footnote story, ‘considering’ a tougher line against racism after men in Golden Dawn T-shirts meted out street justice to non-Greek market traders who couldn't or wouldn’t show permits in Rafina and Mesolonghi, posting pictures of themselves smashing stalls on YouTube.
We had our own small hint of such futile xenophobia on a walk through Venetia the other evening. A dog snarled and barked at us through a porch gate near the last corner of the village as we strolled by. The owner in a yard opposite and just above hurled curses at us for “threatening my dog with a stick” – mine or Lin’s walking stick.
“No” I said “Your dog always barks when people walk by”
This produced a stream of invective - ‘ μαλάκα’ or ‘wanker’ being preferred.
“So is that the name of your dog?”
More cursing “Don’t make me come down”
“Come down but how about a bit of filotimo?”
“Fuck filotimo. Why don’t you go back where you come from?”
“But we’re from here” I said daringly.
We strolled on, man and dog snarling. Later in town Richard P observed
“Hm. That’s probably identified one of your Chrysi Avgi voters in the village”
Bad eggs in villages are everywhere - not just Greece. I used to be bothered by them at other times in other places. Now it's usually water off a duck's back. This is the first example of ill-manners I’ve come across in Ano Korakiana in the five years we’ve been here; less a sign of the times I suspect, than a kind of fixture in any community - like Jud Fry in Oklahoma, the 'lonely misfit in a cast filled with wholesomeness and charm.'
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We were at Sally's in Ipsos and Amy came on the line, on Skype and then left us to chat with our grandson who must already be taking video conferencing for granted. The wonder of this is that whereas a phone conversation with a baby of six months would be brief if not unworkable, both of us using the older language of smiles and gesture plus voice could engage with Oliver...
...while now and them Amy on other errands could pop into the picture and chat to us out of picture as she moved around the kitchen. Once or twice the dog entered left and exited right.
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On the village website on 17 Sept there's mention of 'more thefts':
Κλοπών συνέχεια…Νέο κρούσμα κλοπής χθές στον κάτω κεντρικό δρόμο, σε οικία εκτός του οικισμού. Οι ιδιοκτήτες απουσίασαν για λίγη ώρα και κάποιοι βρήκαν την ευκαιρία να ανοίξουν το σπίτι και να πάρουν αντικείμενα αξίας...Ειδοποιήθηκε σχετικά η αστυνομία για τα περαιτέρω,,,
Το περασμένο Σάββατο το μεσημέρι άγνωστοι μπήκαν σε οικία επί του κεντρικού δρόμου και πήραν μικρό χρηματικό ποσό, ενώ ο σπιτονοικοκύρης κοιμόταν. Η γειτονιά συζητούσε ανάστατη το συμβάν…
Ακόμη, άγνωστοι έκλεψαν τα γαλόπουλα από οικία εκτός του πυρήνα του οικισμού αφού πρώτα τα… πυροβόλησαν!!
Και μη χειρότερα…
Thefts continued...On Saturday afternoon strangers entered a house on the main road and took a small amount of money, while the landlord slept. The community has been discussing the incident ..Also someone unknown stole turkeys from a house beyond the main part of the village...
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Posts by my daughter and her friend Liz following a link post on Facebook from our son, Richard:

1 comment:

  1. Not pleasant. Sad to hear of your recent experiences.

    Unthinkable in the relatively recent past?


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Simon Baddeley