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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Lunch with Richard Pine - pondering Ballybeg

 Avignon © Bert Smith

A woman in Perithia, seeing my car with a hire company badge on the driver's door, wandered over to peer in my window and saw Richard sat beside me.
"Oh! It's you. I thought you might be lost"
"We are, We are!" said Richard
"Aren't we all?" she called over her shoulder
Richard P

I drove over the mountains behind Ano Korakiana down to the north coast. We ascended then, from Perithia, where Richard had been waiting for me near the post office, to Loutses and on up the bumpy winding road to Old Perithia, parking on the rough gravel beside other cars and a coach; treading carefully down the steep cobbled slope into the village, until we were below the village's view towards a patch of sea below the high Albanian mountains. We sat at a wooden table covered with a red and white gingham table cloth, dappled with sunlight through an awning vine that brushed my shoulder. 
Two fizzy waters served us for drinks; along with a basket of fresh bread to whet our appetites. Half an hour into our conversation Tomas served us our order, grilled livers in their own gravy topped with fried onions surrounded by richly browned chips and a rationed garnish of chopped tomatoes. We dipped our forks into a wooden bowl - a shared salad of rocket and lettuce dressed with olive oil, sprinkled with grated pecorino. Our conversation as we enjoyed this lunch touched on Richard’s about-to-be-published book, The Disappointed Bridge
“Don’t buy it! It’s going to cost £70”
But I will. Richard’s writing is a struggle I welcome. Sometimes more than half the time I don’t understand what he’s getting at, but then a grasp of an original and unfamiliar understanding emerges. Of Brian Friel it was how a village - Ballybeg - could contain everything; how an artist can make the ordinary heroic; weaving plots from the threads of routine. It was Richard who told me that Chekov’s stories came from what he saw through his window. Where I see a fascinating view with sounds and colour and movement, he – as with all genius - could create a proscenium for the rest of us and raise a curtain on the unforgettable doings of eternal personalities – who are yet us; me even. I’m intrigued by the colonial story and how it reads into the present. The preoccupying issue of the current local and European elections is bound up intimately with the implosion of the continent’s separate empires. Enoch Powell in his brilliant, sad and ugly speech in 1968 had called allowing a total of 50,000 immigrants into the UK ‘literally mad’. It’s well agreed that current figures are unreliable - according to the final chapter of Andrew Marr's excellent History of Modern England...
...but the annual net arrivals from other countries to the UK in the 2000s has been closer to 165,000 a year, while more than one in ten of those with British nationality – five and a half million – live abroad, joined in that British diaspora by over a thousand more emigrants every day – some in despair at here, hoping their choice of there will be better. What an astounding rejigging of old ideas and experience of place, identity, and the meaning of life!
Humans have always moved about but this mêlée involves a vaster mélange of humans across  a land mass mapped to the centimetre whose outlines alter with the melting of ancient ice, rising seas and dying bees. I want to read what Richard has to say about ‘what happens to an emerging nation after it has emerged’ and what is understood by the ideas of ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’. 
Lin will insist “You can order it from the university library”
This original study is the first major critical appraisal of Ireland’s post-colonial experience in relation to that of other emergent nations. The parallels between Ireland, India, Latin America, Africa and Europe establish bridges in literary and musical contexts which offer a unique insight into independence and freedom, and the ways in which they are articulated by emergent nations. They explore the master-servant relationship, the functions of  narrative, and the concepts of nationalism, map-making, exile, schizophrenia, hybridity, magical realism and disillusion. The author offers many incisive answers to the question: What happens to an emerging nation after it has emerged?
It was Stephen Dedalus - James Joyce's disguise - who used the term 'disappointed bridge' of a seaside pier - the south arm of the harbour at Dún Laoghaire;  not really a pier in my book. Richard's book cover bears a picture of a slightly different 'disappointed' bridge at Avignon, a small silhouette placed at the broken end that must have fallen into the swift snow-melt waters of the Rhône, which for a few seconds we looked up to from Danica as Chris and I swept by on our way to the Mediterranean - in the company of a surly pilot who we'd been required to pay to join us at Lyons, where we'd arrived via the gentler Saône on our inland voyage through France. A pier is intentional, but the famous Pont D'Avignon is a truer disappointment; that no stone bridge could long survive the force of the Rhône in winter flood; rebuilt several times men finally gave up on it.

From Richard's preface to his latest book
...When freedom comes, men and women explore each other in a new light, as citizens and as lovers, but above all they explore freedom itself. Attitudes to land, society and sexuality take on new perspectives and are subject to new descriptions. Narratives alter both subtly and violently.Many emergent countries continue to live in the shadow of their history. But with autonomy comes an unfolding of a range of attendant freedoms and responsibilities which engage the imagination in acts of cultural, sexual and spatial emancipation...The interstitial space between colonisation and full autonomy is a very dangerous place, as relationships are redefined and new forces, previously impossible or inconceivable, become visible, articulate and active....All the lines must be redrawn, all the characters redefinedThe moments immediately following freedom are the most dangerous....
He and I discussed the Greek political landscape; the possibility of a General Election if Samaras’ coalition with PASOK becomes too weakened in the light of SYRIZA’s successes in the latest local elections. We touched on the research on Golden Dawn’s infiltration of the country's army, church, police and judiciary. 
“I was chatting to an Englishman the other day" said Richard "He scoffed at the idea of Golden Dawn as a threat to him. I said ‘Look if they become powerful you are one of the foreigners who’ll have to leave Greece. Your property here forfeit” 
But it was like trying to imagine something too far outside experience. 
“We never think it’ll happen to us!” 
We spoke about Ano Korakiana’s laic sculptor, Aristides Metallinos; what happened to his dream of making a gift of his work to the village. 
“You must write a book about him. It’s a fascinating story.” 
We mused on bad writing about sex. 
“Well it’s just as bad for many people even talking about it” I said “I don’t mean prudery. Rather the opposite.” 
“One thing. The young get embarrassed even a little disgusted by their elders, particularly parents talking about coition, affairs, passion. Goodness! My mum drew my attention to Donne’s The Ecstasy when I was about 16 - pointed up favourite lines in the poem. 
...So must pure lovers' souls descend
         T' affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
         Else a great prince in prison lies.
To'our bodies turn we then, that so
         Weak men on love reveal'd may look;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
         But yet the body is his book.
And if some lover, such as we,
         Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
         Small change, when we'are to bodies gone.
I was almost repelled by her delight in these. Now I celebrate his line ‘else a great prince in prison lies'  Then it was ‘Yuk!’ I suspect a reflex working of the incest taboo. I also think that writing about sex is so often gross, unlike Donne's; why I like the Bad Sex in Fiction Awards drawing 'attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.'
“I want " I added "to be able to show how Ano Korakiana's self-taught sculptor – taking up hammer and chisels in his old age - expressed the theme in stone and marble, but English, failing an improvement in my prose, is too medical or too brash, so that the words that do at first seem right turn out sheepish euphemisms. Aristedes Metallinos* is - when depicting his wife, oblique, yet more assured, more laic; their wedding memorialised in traditional finery, full of love...a marriage to Angeliki who bore him a son and a daughter. 
How they gaze into each other's eyes. How he swaggers with cane and turn of knee in princely plumage and she, with her white mountain flower, face unveiled, now dotes upon him; touching each other's hands with intimate promise, both hearts leaping. 
'Love's mysteries in souls do grow'...'and yes I said yes I will Yes'.
.A Lord of the Ionian Islands. Aristides Metallinos 1981 - shown with respect and gratitude to Andrea (sculptor's son) and Anna (daughter-in-law) Metallinos. 
The tree of life - Aristides Metallinos
'The tree of life' - Το Δέντρο της Ζωής - brought to mind L'Origine du monde - the title rather than than Courbet's image and the surrounding gender politics; the action of Deborah de Robertis on 29 May at the d'Orsay Museum in Paris. Something according to Aristedes brought detached ascetic Diogenes almost leaping from his ceramic pithos!
Diogenes came out of his pot - Aristides Metallinos 1981
I believe 1981, when the sculptor was 73 - old as his Diogenes - might have been an especially important year for his' work; some confident juncture of his life and the universal at which every artist aims - even unconsciously. Aristides rejoices, with every chip of his chisel, at the memory of his second marriage in the 1950s, his children and ageless Angeliki - bride, mother, lover.
Aristides Metallinos - relief carved in 1981 
St Stylianos is famed for curing childhood illness, hence the reference in the Papas' book to 'γιατρός - doctor' - Aristides Metallinos 1981  
We talked on, over Tomas’ complimentary apple pie and cinnamon cake, about ageing; about losing dear friends; missing them terribly; on trying to stave off senility. We ordered Greek coffee – a skirto and a metrio. I added a Metaxa. 
“My mother” said Richard “speaks of holding on until she’s a hundred in 3 months time, and then she’s ready to go.” 
“My great grandmother died in 1969. In her 90’s she complained 'I’m losing my mind. It takes me over half-an-hour to do the Times crossword’”
"Where did you get the picture on the cover of your latest book?"
"In brief...Bert Smith is a prof at the Baltimore School of Design, which is associated with the Lawrence Durrell Society in the USA. When the LDS held its conference in Avignon, he designed a poster - the diminutive figure is Lawrence Durrell...the muffler in the wind is the giveaway, but he has captured the man's essence perfectly in such a tiny image. I asked for permission to use it since the bridge is, well... disappointed."
Richard’s next book – writing to keep the brain at work he said – will explore the odd sensibilities that in some people’s minds separates high literature – the canon – from popular writing. We both had a go at Leavis. Not our favourite person. Richard enjoys stories to be read in winter beside a log fire “in a panelled room…” 
“..with Mrs Hudson preparing toasted muffins” 
Of course! Sherlock Holmes, but also John Buchan and – what – anything about an adventure that moves from the dark rainy streets of a British capital – though probably not Cardiff - to somewhere east of Prague, a small almost unknown principality with a castle and a railway that began from the edge of the channel. 
"A quest"
"And a maiden in distress"
I mentioned Alan Furst. Richard mentioned Ian Fleming. He enjoys James Bond, which except for the earliest films – especially From Russia With Love - I don’t enjoy. Richard didn’t like the lugubriousness of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander (“He eats so much junk food”), whereas Lin and I enjoy the dyspeptic policeman. We discussed other Scandinavian successors. 
“What about Italian – Aurelio Zen – and Donna Leon’s Brunetti?” 
“Definitely. And Camillarri in Sicily, and the Greek one – can’t remember his name.” 
“Inspector Haritos. Petros Markaris"
"I wish his latest was translated into English, the one about the murders of millionaires in Athens. Anyway, Richard, I’m still struggling to get you a Wikipedia entry. It’s a matter of your notability”
“What about Seamus Heaney?” He’d shown me a quote from a personal letter whose pronouns the poet, before his death, had permitted Pine’s publisher to rejig  as a recommendation 
‘Your (Pine’s) strength as a commentator comes from your (his) meditative, associative, habit of mind. Your (His) readings constantly deepen our sense of complexity and modernity.” 
Try googling my name plus ‘Irish literature’ or ‘Brian Friel’ and see how many hits you get. “I’ll persevere” I promised “If Conchita Wurst can be in Wiki…”
I’d driven to Perithia over the mountains – up the bends to Sokraki, down to Zygos; round the hairpin in the centre of that village, and a climb to the T-junction just north of Sgourades –  enjoying the lively verges of flowers, waving in the breeze, with, behind them, the shade of olive groves, and glimpses, in the villages, of red and purple Bougainvillaea, mauve Wisteria, white and red roses, the early flowering of Oleander. I was watching too the gradients and thinking of the next time I cycle this way. The road from Sgourades north to Episkepsi is downhill more or less all the way to Acharavi, from where there’s a 5 miles run on a wide road to Perithia. That’s probably the best way to cycle to the north coast - but how to return? From Roda to Troumpetta via Livadakia and Kalimanatika?
From the house we hear the cuckoo and, a few days ago, a crescendo of buzzing as a swarm of bees approached over the rooftops, descending towards the bottom of the village. The caged dog, some houses away, moans and barks day and night. Now and then we hear the eagles that hunt from the warm air that rises up the greened crags behind us. With hot weather, planes come and go, rumbling off the runway in town; passing overhead and climbing before disappearing over the ridge behind the village. Aircraft about to land are more relaxed, seeming to wander south – high for a northward turn back to the runway or lower if the wind is in the south. The silence between their passage – not so frequent as to vex – is punctuated in the day by the sound of strimming, digging, hammering, cats defending their patches, chickens in the back garden a few houses away, chat between the houses beside us, occasional cars along Democracy Street, the loud-speakers of the grocer and fishmonger as, in their vans, they work their way through the village, and the lament of the hopeless dog. Holidaying visitors to the island  come and go, though there are few in Ano Korakiana. We note them on the beach at Ipsos or wandering along the pavements through Dassia, on dune buggies on the Sidari Road or cyclists working their way up the hill to Agios Markos from the sea. Their time here is brief compared to our sojourns. Though even now, as our latest stay nears its end, I can feel my senses turning to England and all the things to do there, regretting departure yet knowing that this to-and-fro life - πέρα δόθε - suits us, for the pleasure of arrival, and re-arrival, and the sadness of leaving over and over. 

On Sunday we sat chatting with Mark at Piatsa an hour, enjoying wine and cold beer and souvlaki grilled just across the narrow road along which cars backed up...
Polling jam on Democracy Street
...on the way to and from the polling station for the European elections and to settle the race – under proportional voting -  for the Mayoralty of Corfu** (which was won by SYRIZA's Kostantinos Nikolouzos - of whose success a friend commented " that means ND have been ousted here. I'm delighted that the malaka Trepeklis has gone, he was an A1 shit. This new guy at least has to pretend that he cares about people, even if he turns out to be just a politician. Trepeklis never cared, and showed it."

Yesterday I went out again on Summer Song. Dave and his dog came too. There was too little wind to fill a sail, so we motored across Dassia Bay to Dafnilia Bay and practised testing depth and anchoring.
“I want to be able to take the family on short day-trips, bringing a picnic, visiting a beach” 
On the way back we skirted the shore of Dassia beach where the sea is shallow, commenting on the hotels and their beaches full of loungers and umbrellas and moored pedalos as we slowly passed. In the last half hour the jib was unfurled. We enjoyed the quiet of sailing back to Ipsos. 
I made a list of things  and jobs for the boat – a better pump for the dinghy, a plug for the auto-steer, a bucket for the anchor chain at the bows, a lead line, a stern anchor, life jackets and a life belt, a repair to the connection between stove and gas (“So we can make a cup of tea”), a water container, another coat of varnish for the cockpit woodwork, tidying and whipping the jib sheets where they connect to the clew, depth marks on the anchor chain, tidying the stern mooring, a compass if one become available second hand, repair to the bimini, and of course the new arrangement that will let me roller reef the main from the cockpit. The 'new' engine performed well, using hardly 3 litres of fuel an hour. The motor started instantly whenever needed, was quieter and more powerful. 
“Blimey! This has taken a while” I said “Near three years from when the idea of a replacement engine was muted”

On the jetty at Ipsos, Russell was working on organizing the rigging and spas on his and Shauna's Westerly, readying it for setting her up to sail. I’d sent him a photo of my gunter rig from 1965. 
Leaving for America. Young Tiger in the Solent

He’d studied that. 
“We had to start this from scratch” he said. “The spas were in the hedge. Bare. No running rigging.” 
Locals unfamiliar with the gunter rig had told him he needed a back stay. I’d reassured him on that score “so long as you don’t let the sail put over much pressure on the aft shroud, but even then they're more than adequate.” 
To my chagrin though I didn’t know exactly how the lazy-jacks fixed to the mast. Did they stay divided all the way to the mast or was it right to have them joining a foot or two short of the mast. I couldn’t see how the the gaff could be raised high enough with them like that but I could not remember. 
“Even so” I said “I doubt there’s another gunter rig on a boat this size, within hundreds of miles.” 
Russell’s concerned that the ropes in the luff and foot of his mainsail will not easily slide into the grooves on the gaff and boom” ... even using silicone spray to ease the process.
Hi Russell and Shauna. My overview - I will ask someone in England just where the running rigging should go to ensure the gunter works. I know the gaff relies on two halliards – one, the peak, that hauls from a pulley at the mast head and is used first when raising the main and which attaches to, and slides up and down a braided steel wire running almost the whole length of the gaff, attached to it by stainless steel straps at either end…(sorry you know this but I’m thinking aloud)...and another halliard, the throat, running from a pulley three quarters of the way up the mast, which is used once the first halliard is secured, and fixed to the gaff next to its jaws. This throat halliard allows the gaff, once the parrel beads are tied round the mast to hold the gaff jaws in place, to be hauled up and above the top of the mast. The gaff is held close to the mast by the peak halliard which has a slide where it attaches to the steel wire on the gaff. Hauled upwards by the throat halliard the gaff slides upwards on the steel wire to set the full main. When reefing the main you do not touch the peak halliard, which fixes to a cleat at the foot of the mast. You slack the throat halliard – which I’m almost certain should lead back to the cockpit. You use a smaller rope wound round the drum at the boom’s gooseneck to reef the main as many times round the boom as you decide. Only for a last reef – lowering the main completely - do you release the peak halliard. That job can be done without climbing on deck in a sea. You poke yourself through the forward hatch and release it from there.  “Once you get this rig going you’ll love it” I promise, but I can see why some people find it initially complicated and apparently unwieldy, compared to a Bermudan rig. The advantage of the gunter is that it's so easy to reef the main from the cockpit, with the gunter spa aiding the lowering of the sail. Thus you reef both main and roller jib without clambering around on deck. I’m confused though as to where the reefing cord for the jib runs. I wonder if Sue (my transatlantic crew) and Phil’s W22 called Vicky is gunter-rigged. They can tell the details if so and I’ll pass them on. All the best (hope to catch you before we leave) (Do you have a phone number I could keep?). Simon
And an email from Wales:
hello Simon and Lin - yes Vickie is gunter rigged and I simply could not for the life of me explain how she rigs, especially since she's down in Neyland as we speak having a bit of a refit as after 50 years and us not getting younger it would be nice to have heads that worked again, portholes that didnt leak and so forth - but when I can get hold of Phil (who is out and about just now) will ask, and also I think we just may have the original brochure with drawings etc, so can copy and post if so. So this is just a 'coming shortly'reply email to yours, and how lovely to be in Corfu not in wet chilly Wales where we have had a bit of a fine Spring but in only 3 weeks the nights will start to draw in again and summer has definitely not yet come! hey ho! Love xxxxx S
Vickie - Sue and Phil's Westerly 22
*** ***
*The sculptor Aristedes Zacharias Metallinos (Άριστείδη Μεταλληνοῦ), brother to Spiros and Xthoforos, one of three sons of Zacharias and Eleni Metallinos, was born in 1908 (no official record of birth date) and died at 79 on 19 May 1987. He spent the greatest part of his life working as a general craftsman in the village of Ano Korakiana on the island of Corfu in Greece. Despite early evidence of his imaginative talent as a carver of stone, Metallinos was prevented by poverty from artistic training. He did not begin his work as a self-taught sculptor until 1973, when at the age of 67 until his death in 1987, he fulfilled a long held intention of creating, in local stone and marble, a unique record of the fast changing social life of the village’s pastoral economy, emphasising the role of the family and traditional customs. To this the sculptor carved, as his work evolved, a commentary on human nature and the world - one that was often pungent, erotic and at times ribald. His work of over 250 pieces, nearly all completed in the last 12 years of his life, is kept together in a family museum in Ano Korakiana - a museum he built himself, intending it as a gift to the village. Aristedes' first wife, Eleni, died childless. The sculptor was married again, late in life, to Angeliki, who bore him two children, Andreas and Maria. Andreas and his wife Anna continue to live in Ano Korakiana in the museum that houses a unique collection of work largely unknown outside the village in which it was created.
**Αλλαγή σκυτάλης τόσο στο Δήμο Κέρκυρας, όσο και στην Περιφέρεια Ιονίων Νήσων. Νέος Δήμαρχος Κέρκυρας ο Κώστας Νικολούζος και νέος Περιφερειάρχης Ιονίων Νήσων ο Θόδωρος Γαλιατσάτος, με ποσοστά που κυμαίνονται στο 60% περίπου.
Το κλίμα αυτό αποτυπώθηκε και στο χωριό, όπου σύμφωνα με τα τελικά αποτελέσματα:

Α. για το Δήμο Κέρκυρας

Ψήφισαν: 744, εκ των οποίων 47 «Άκυρο-Λευκό»

Έγκυρα: 697
ΝΙΚΟΛΟΥΖΟΣ: 466 (66,9%) και
ΥΔΡΑΙΟΥ:         231 (33,1%)

Β. για την Περιφέρεια Ιονίων Νήσων
Ψήφισαν: 744, εκ των οποίων 78 «Άκυρο-Λευκό»
Έγκυρα: 663
ΓΑΛΙΑΤΣΑΤΟΣ: 399 (60,2%) και
ΣΠΥΡΟΥ:          264  (39,8%)

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