Buzzing around

We were sitting out on the terrace having an Elliniko about an hour ago, and a beautiful big bumble bee came along and began ferreting around in one of the hibiscus plants beside us. I tried to snap him with my camera, but the results aren’t as good as I’d hoped, mainly because the sunlight on the phone made it hard to see what I was snapping.

Nevertheless, here are the photos I snapped…

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Making the best of it

The above photo was taken as we walked along the main road at Gra Lygia on Tuesday morning. It’s not much of a place as villages go, as it’s the centre of a thriving agricultural region that specialises in growing vegetables under those massive plastic hothouses that they call here ‘thermokypia.’ The village stretches along the coast a few kilometres west of Ierapetra and the main road is pretty run-down, with quite a lot of closed-down businesses and plenty of noise pollution from heavy passing traffic. All that said, the beach there is amazing, and extremely quiet, even during peak season (when there are no pandemics raging).

We had occasion to walk there because the car was in for a service in a garage on the main road between Ierapetra and Gra Lygia. Businesses doing vehicle maintenance are permitted to be open during the lockdown, and so, before setting off, we sent two texts, one from my phone citing No. 2 as the reason for our venturing out, and the other from Yvonne-Maria’s phone citing number 6. No 2 relates to going shopping, basically, but it’s the only one that’s remotely appropriate for getting your car serviced. No. 6 is for physical exercise, which was wholly appropriate, since we knew that, with a couple of hours to spare while the car was being done, we had time to walk the couple of km or so further along the road to the village of Gra Lygia.

The interesting thing about walking along the ‘main road’ in the village is that, as you walk, you pass these little side streets that, were you not to look at the drab road behind you, still bear the hallmarks of the little traditional village that it once was. Once we got to the far end of the village, where the buildings housing bakeries, hairdressers and the occasional modest supermarket (interspersed with dusty, windswept empty former businesses) come to an abrupt end, on the left is the rather nicely done out Box Café, which, in normal times, has some umbrellas, tables and chairs outside on the beach. The building can be entered from the main road, and it has a doorway out the other side, right at the far point of the beach promenade, which is a world away from the busy, traffic-laden road. The beach is, in fact, spectacular. There’s no other way to describe it. It stretches for a kilometre or more along a paved driveway (which runs parallel to the main road, but the other side of a long string of buildings), spattered with trees and fronted by some quite impressive houses, albeit too with some pretty run-down ones here and there.

Nevertheless, the overall impression is pleasing, and the beach is very safe for bathing. We went into the Box Café for a couple of take-out freddo espressos and, while we were there, there was one last slice of bougatsa calling out to us, “buy me!” So we did. We intended to walk part of the way back to the garage along the promenade, which is what we went on to do. It was a glorious day to be out and we almost (only almost) didn’t miss being able to drink our cold coffees at a table at the café. But a bench along the beach front did us pretty well in the event. Incidentally, two freddo espressos, each accompanied by a chilled bottle of mineral water, and a slice of bougatsa easily big enough for two, set us back the princely sum of €6.

So, here are the photos I took as we ordered and then sat for our coffee, on a bench behind the beach just metres from the Box Café. Had we had our swimming gear with us, we’d definitely have taken a dip…

Looking out from the Box Café, while waiting for our coffees to be prepared. The terrace that looks rather bereft, is usually set with tables and chairs.
My better half, enhancing my view eastwards, back along the promenade towards Ierapetra, and the direction in which we were going to walk, once we’d finished our coffees and bougatsa.
Our view as we sat sipping through our straws. We were pretty peeved that we didn’t have our swimming gear with us.
And, finally, the view from the bench looking westwards. The white structures on the beach belong to the Box Café, and would normally sport some tables and chairs, plus, in summer, umbrellas and sun-loungers.

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A very British obsession, and a harvest

It’s a well-known fact, of course, that the British always talk about the weather. It’s not surprising, because the weather’s hardly ever the same there for two days in succession. I’ve remarked many times over the years during which I’ve been blogging, both with this one and my other Rhodes one, that the weather men and women on Greek TV probably hate the summer for one simple reason: for several months each summer all they have to say is, sun, heat… …well, that’s about it. It takes me back to the good old days of UK TV’s ground-breaking comedy show, The Fast Show, and their mock Spanish weather forecast, ‘Scorchio.’ In fact, a lot of people in the UK still say ‘scorchio‘ when the weather deems to settle down for a few days of sun and warmth.

So, the fact that winter seems to have arrived early here in Greece has at least given our favourite weatherman Saki, a reason to smile. Not so, mind you, those poor people along Crete’s north coast who’ve seen their cars smashed to pieces by torrents of muddy brown water, their homes flooded and all their furniture wrecked, and the roads cracked to the point where they become impassable, bridges under three feet of raging torrent, and so on. I say ‘a reason to smile,’ but that’s unkind to Saki, of course. What I really mean is, at least he has something to get his teeth into when it comes to his nightly forecast. This past week or two it’s been almost British in its variety, except warmer, of course. His enthusiasm for his subject has been evident as he’s energetically taken us through his fifteen minute descriptions of weather fronts, bands of rain, thunder storms and high winds. A weather-person’s dream.

Now, before I move on, I’ll just stress again, for those who may be wondering (because we’re still getting contacted by people asking us “Are you OK? Have you been affected by the bad weather on Crete?”), we here in Makrylia, and indeed the entire Ierapetra area, have had none of it. We’ve had one really heavy storm, a while back now, which lasted a couple of hours, and the occasional bout of rain since, but by and large the weather here’s been just fine. In fact, earlier today we were out in our garden and I was sweeping up garden clippings and stuff with my top off, I was so hot (sorry to send your pulses racing, girls). The only downside is, this past few days, when we’ve had occasion to send our text granting us permission to venture out, we’ve not been able to go sit in a coffee bar, owing to the fact that we’re back in national lockdown at least until November 30th.

Since I mention the lockdown, our second here in Greece, of course, I will tell you about the brief conversation that I had with our friends Apostoli and Despoina, the couple who own the Likoudies coffee and snack bar that we like to frequent when we’re out shopping. Here in Greece it is permissible to pick up a take-out (the Greeks call them ‘paketo‘) if you’re out for a legitimate reason. It’s illegal to go out simply to purchase a takeaway but, if you’re already out, then you can stop by and pick one up. So we do try and exploit every allowable opportunity to drop by and give them a tiny bit of business whenever we can. They were already reeling from a couple of month’s lost business earlier this year, and we here on Crete were really hoping that the Government wouldn’t see the need to bring in a second national lockdown, for their sakes and that of so many others like them but, well, it is understandable, albeit unpleasant. I was standing at the counter while Despoina fixed me a couple of freddo espressos to take home with me after I’d been to the dentist, and Apostolis was leaning on the stainless steel hot food area nearby (now cold and devoid of any cooking activity), looking decidedly disconsolate.

As a rule, Apostolis is circulating between the tables out front. He’s great at engaging in brief conversations with his regulars and never seems more comfortable than when he’s waltzing in and out, tray on his fingertips, servicing his happy clientele. Now though, with no seated customers allowed, he’s got very little to do, apart from count the cash that they’re not making. I asked him, “Do you think we’ll be back to normal on December 1st, then?” The lockdown is scheduled to finish on November 30th, a Monday.

His response was the typical Greek ‘Tch‘ with a slight nod backwards of the head. It means, ‘No.‘ He said that he’d be very surprised if the lockdown isn’t extended well into December. I felt desperately sorry for him. It has to be said, and no judgement is intended against any particular segment of society here, but the facts are nevertheless indicating this, that the people aged 16-30 are those who are perpetuating the whole sorry scenario. It’s been said both here and in other countries. Watching the TV news the other night, someone said that estimates are that those aged between 16 and 30 are 80% likely to break the rules regarding social distancing and who they’re allowed to socialise with behind closed doors. This is the way that the virus is still spreading in just about every country. In the same report, the journalist said that people aged 70+ are more than 80% likely to be obeying the lockdown rules, since they are only too aware of the possible consequences for them if they don’t.

The question as to why the CoronaVirus is still spreading when we have all these rules in place is easily answered by those statistics above. If I may just observe here, I hear young people all the time when being interviewed on the news saying how they’re entitled to enjoy their youth and it’s wrong to have their best years for socialising taken from them. I hear that, of course. But I’ve understood for many years now that human rights come with human obligations. If it were simply about our rights, then we’d be selfish in the extreme, wouldn’t we? Freedom is intrinsically linked with the freedom of others, so we all have obligations to other humans, that are equally as important as what we believe are our ‘rights.’

There we are. Moving swiftly on to a lighter subject. Our neighbour Evangelia from across the lane was out there swearing at the cats again this morning. She’s well into her eighties (like most people in the village!), but can be heard to use quite colourful language when the cats get on her nerves. You can see the narrow alley on to which her doors open easily from our terrace above our ‘lower garden.’ Quite often there will be four or five, maybe six, cats all sitting around within metres of Evangelia’s door. I don’t know what they expect to get from her because, unlike Kyria Sofia, further up the hill, who does put scraps out for them, they get little sympathy from Kyria Evangelia. Usually, she’ll exit her front door, pick up the broom that’s usually leaning against her wall and start jabbing it at the cats. What do they do? They simply get up (in their own time), walk a few steps further away, then plant their bums back on the ground, flick their tails once, and stare back at her, as if to say, “You’re wasting your time, you know.”

The other side of the lane from her front door, only a metre and half away, is the gate leading into her chicken run. Maybe the cats keep an eye out for anything she might put there for the birds to eat as something they can scavenge. I don’t know. One thing I do know, they’re not at all intimidated by her.

Most days at the moment one can hear the sound of the ‘olive tree beaters’ whirring away across the valley. Maria, who lives with her numerous sons right below us, well her boys are busily engaged in their olive harvest right now. The ‘beaters’ to which I refer are familiar to anyone who lives in rural Greece. They’re long aluminium poles, on the far end of which are mounted splined contraptions that resemble women’s hairbrushes, only a lot bigger, and they’re electrically powered by a generator. They’ve largely supplanted the old ‘whips’, long slender sticks, often torn from I’m not sure what kind of tree, to be honest, but they used to be ten feet long and very straight, and would flex well without breaking. The harvester would beat the upper branches of the olive trees with these, often using as much strength as they could muster to drag them through the branches from below, so as to shake them hard enough to make the olives plunge to the nets spread on the ground beneath each tree. These days most people use the powered ones, as it’s much easer, if somewhat noisier.

It’s not an unpleasant soundscape to drift past your ears, though. It heralds a joyous time when people, even though they work damned hard, enjoy the prospect of driving their olive laden trucks to the local mill, and coming home with a few barrels of that miraculous, green liquid that’s been a staple of local people since centuries before Christ. For the people out in the olive groves, lockdown is something they see on their evening news, that’s if they can stay awake long enough to watch it.

By the way, I’ve actually finished the first draft of the new novel, my eighth. Hopefully the publication process will go smoothly. I’m posting progress bulletins on this Facebook page. Keep safe.


Read about the books:
https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Little rays of sunshine

Just a few photos from the past couple of years to hopefully cheer you up a little. I know that people in the UK especially are not only under lockdown to varying degrees, but also going through possibly the most depressing month in the calendar, so here’s some Greek sunshine to help you to get through. If you want to see any of them larger, you just hover over it, right-click and select “Open image in new tab“, or on a tablet (well, an iPad anyway), just touch a pic and it’ll open larger for you –

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Deja Vu

We’re back in lockdown here in Greece, hopefully only until December 1st, but who knows? It will depend on what happens in the next three weeks. It has to be the right thing to do, even though it means we can’t go and sit in a coffee bar and watch the world go by for a while. We can’t complain though, since there are so many people out there who are suffering extreme hardship, whether it be due to having the virus, or owing to the financial problems that a lockdown inevitably brings for many businesses.

Yesterday we went out for our final coffee in Likoudies, our favourite bar at the back of town, and bumped into Vaggeli, one of the two brothers who run the Lido Bar on the sea front promenade in Ierapetra. He was with his wife Orchida, whom we hadn’t met before. She was very nice and we told her what a lovely name she had. They asked if they could sit with us and we shared a coffee and a chin-wag. Vaggeli had just been into the electrical store next door, because the bar needs a new electric oven, since under normal circumstances they also do food. The oven he said that would best suit their needs at the bar was a cool €600. I asked Vaggeli if he’d be receiving government’s one-off payout to help people during the lockdown. The payment is €800, and so Vaggeli rather ruefully answered, “Yeah, so one oven and a couple of visits to the supermarket and that’s about it.”

He said they’d have to close the bar for the duration of the lockdown, because, since they’re on the promenade and not in a place where passing traffic can stop to pick up a takeaway, it didn’t warrant opening when he considered the expense involved, compared to the takings they could expect.

We arrived at the bar after a visit to the local Lidl store, where we’d marvelled at just how many people were trying to get in. It was as though there wasn’t going to be any food available for weeks. Yet the supermarkets are remaining open during lockdown, exactly as they had the last time. We were quite proud of the fact that there was no panic buying here last time, but this time? Well, the shelves were well stocked, so I guess it was just a blip, but we’ll see.

The government here has reintroduced the system whereby if you want to go out, you simply send a text to a specified number, and you get an instant response authorising you to go out. If you get stopped by the Police, you simply show them your mobile phone and they let you go on your way, always assuming that you’re complying with the reason you’d stated for your journey out from home of course. For those who feel they can’t manage to send a text with their phones, there is a form that one can print out from the government’s web page which you fill in and take with you.

Last time, the Greek government’s action prevented a mass outbreak in this country. This time, it appears that once again Mr. Mitsotakis has acted with resolve and decisiveness. Hopefully it’ll stop the rather alarming increase that’s been evident this past couple of weeks. I hate to single out any particular social group, but as with many countries, it does seem that here in Greece too the young have been flouting the rules late in the evening and it seems that this has contributed to the virus starting to get a hold once again.

Just a word regarding the weather. Some readers may be aware that Lasithi had a mega storm again last night and, as a result there are flooded roads and houses in the prefecture. Here in Ierapetra we only had a short shower during the night, and today we’ve been gardening in hot sunshine at our home here in the village. It’s a total coincidence, but when we lived in Rhodes, the area where our house was seemed to experience a mini-climate that meant that we had significantly less rainfall than other parts of the island. We appear to have landed in a similar situation here on Crete. As I’ve probably mentioned before, Ierapetra is considered to be the town that has the lowest rainfall in all of Greece. When we watch our beloved Saki Arnaoutoglou (may he be forever blessed), the TV weatherman on ERT 3, he often shows Crete as having low overnight temperatures and rain, when we get none of it. The reason is simple, Crete is long and narrow and split almost its entire length by high mountains that serve not only as the island’s backbone, but also as a climate breaker. Most of the forecasts show Crete with one indicator of temperature or rainfall only, owing to the scale of the national map. What that usually means though, is that the north of the island will be getting what the chart shows, whilst we, the only town of any size on the south coast, get away with it.

So, in case you were wondering if we got a drenching last night, the answer is nope! Here’s a final photo from two days ago on Ierapetra sea front. This scene we’ll be missing for a few weeks now…

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Vision on

High time I simply posted a series of photos with descriptions again. Some of them I may have posted before, but most I’m sure I haven’t. So, here goes…

Above: A trip down memory lane. This one’s from last year when we were on Patmos for a holiday. It’s got to be one of my favourite places we’ve ever eaten lunch. It’s on the beach at Kampos.

Above: A griffon Vulture I snapped as it soared above us during a walk up towards Meseleri last Spring.

Above: Kalamari, Retsina, oven baked aubergines and a green salad at the Panorama Taverna at Bali, near Rethymnon, just a couple of weeks ago. You have to be careful ordering kalamari (or kalamarakia). If it’s rubbery to cut and eat then it’s frozen. If it cuts easily with a knife and chews without feeling like rubber, then it’s fresh. This was exquisite, hence fresh!

Above: it’s that time of year again. A few more days and everyone will be out in the olive groves harvesting their crop. We look forward to procuring some oil from our good friends in Myrtos again, as we did last year. In fact, we still have some from last year’s crop. The recent rains have come just at the right time to fatten the olives up and help them ripen.

Above: This one (and the one below) was taken during an early evening power walk I did a couple of days ago. They’re in our village, Makrylia. we had a couple of days of changeable weather, hence the clouds.

Above: We had occasion to visit a couple of elderly friends in Meseleri yesterday morning. We parked the car below the village (beside the old olive oil mill) and walked in. We rather liked the creative way they’ve made window boxes in the house on the right. Potty?

Just the other side of the church from Meseleri’s central square. The old woman was talking to herself, much as our near neighbour Sofia does. It’s not surprising really, since the village is now so full of empty houses where once families had lived. So many villages like this are under threat of becoming ghost towns in the next few years. Most of the residents are in their eighties. The youth simply don’t want to stay, which would mean being agrotes (farmers). They want their iPhones, their street cafés, their smart cars and designer clothes. I’m not accusing them, merely observing how people have changed. If there’s one good thing that the economic downturn that’s still to come from this pandemic will bring about, though, it may well be the return of some families to the land, to grow their own food again and hence be able to live on less. We’ll have to wait and see.

Above: Meseleri central square. Forty or fifty years ago, those vehicles would have been donkeys, eh? Our friends Manolis and Marika live at the other end of this square, just up a lane to the left. They too are both in their mid-eighties.

Above: A lot of us who take photos have a penchant for old doors, don’t we? I suppose it must be because you look at them and wish they could talk.

And, to round it off, here’s one of me!! This was April 28th, during a walk up to the crag where the colony of Griffons lives. It’s a couple of hundred feet above the village.

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Parea and the paralia

I’m guessing that most Grecophiles will understand the title of this post. The word ‘parea‘ [παρέα] translates near enough as ‘company,’ as in ‘keeping company,’ and not as in a business that’s called a ‘company.’ The other word, ‘paralia‘ [παραλία] is generally used to translate ‘beach.’ It works better as a wordplay in Greek, than ‘Some company and the beach’ does in English. It’s the right title for this jotting though, as I’m going to talk about an hour spent with the neighbours a couple of days ago, and yesterday, when we went to the town beach for a couple of hours, when I took this video from my sun bed…

We had a double anniversary this past week. October 23rd was the date when I very first met my beautiful, intelligent, creative & witty wife (she’ll be reading this, which has no bearing at all on how I describe her, of course) and I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to tell you how many years ago that was. If I did it would confuse you, because she likes people to think that she’s at such an age that it would mean that we’d met some years before she was even born, if you see what I mean. If you’re really clever (and please don’t, under any circumstances, tell me your conclusion in a comment on this post, because it would be more than my life’s worth), you could work it out if I tell you that the year we met was when the classic album Who’s Next came out, Aqualung and Hunky Dory, oh and The Yes Album and Pink Floyd’s Meddle. Flippin’ ‘eck it was a good year, that.

Moving swiftly on, the second anniversary that we celebrated this past week was October 17th, one year exactly from the date when we moved into our house here in Makrylia, near Ierapetra, Crete. Those two anniversaries were the reason why we went out last night to eat at our favourite Italian restaurant on the waterfront in Ierapetra, L’Angolo [Italian for ‘the corner’ and, no, I don’t speak Italian, I had to look that one up). They were also the reason (although we don’t need much of an excuse) why we went to the town beach yesterday too. The weather this past few days has been simply wonderful. There’s no other way to describe it. One of the reasons why I love this time of the year so much is the fact that when the sun’s out it’s around 25ºC, and when the humidity’s low and the horizon is crystal clear (as is evident not only in the above video, but also in the photo below) and the wind is light, it’s simply the most comfortable and enjoyable weather that a human can experience. That’s my view anyway. Plus, this is the time when the sea is at its warmest, having had an entire Greek summer to warm up.

Last Thursday we wandered the fifty metres or so down to the house of Giorgo and Angla’i’a here in the village, because we hadn’t seen them to talk to in a few weeks. Angla’i’a’s hubby Giorgos is around 80 years of age. He’s 13 years or so older than his wife, which is (as you’ll know only too well) par for the course in Greece. Their house’s front door opens on to the public ‘walk-through’ just above the main road through the village, but that hasn’t stopped them making it very much into their own ‘avli’ (yard) with a few personal touches. These include a couple of trees that Giorgos planted a few decades ago, plenty of plants in pots, a ‘soba‘ (log-burning stove) and a barbecue made of an old oil drum (found in Greek gardens just about everywhere – the DIY BBQ, not simply the drum). On their side of the walkway they’ve positioned a table and a few chairs of varying descriptions, a small outdoor cupboard and yet more plants in pots. It’s good, because, after all, this is the nerve centre of the village where various locals plonk themselves down and chew the fat just about every day of the week. It can be extremely hard to walk past their house, because you’ll be expected to have time to sit and share an Elliniko.

These photos below show you what Giorgo and Achlai’i’a’s ‘yard’ is like…

You can just make out another of our neighbours Dimitri’s quad bike at the far end. If you were to walk up the slope just to the left of it you’d come to our house in around 30 seconds flat.

As we approached the house, Giorgos was out there tending to his potted plants, having just returned from a visit over the road to his κτιμα, where he grows his vegetables and tends his chickens. He asked us how our short break went and if our visitors had now left. Then, as expected, he asked if we had time for a Greek coffee. As if we wouldn’t have. We asked him where Angla’i’a was, since she’s normally about, whether she’s shelling beans or peas, cracking walnuts, or preparing bamies for their next meal. Often too she’s sweeping up under the giant rubber tree that grants their area shade when the sun’s at its height.

“Oh, she’s up at the school.” replied Giorgos. There isn’t a school in the village any more, not since the population dwindled to the point a couple of decades ago where it had to close and the few children that actually lived in the village had to begin making their way down the valley to Ierapetra to attend school there. But the building that used to house the school now serves as a general purpose village hall. Today, we were soon to learn, the Red Cross had sent up a mobile test centre to the village to enable local women to have a breast examination. We were quite a way through our Ellinikos when Angla’i’a came home and told us what had gone on. As we were talking, the white van with the Red Cross logo on the side drove past, its work having been completed for that visit. She was full of how one local female resident was refused entry to the school building for her test because she hadn’t brought her mask with her. It’s fair enough really. Whilst we’re tremendously grateful for the fact that our prefecture (county), or ‘nomos,’ has only clocked up a handful of Covid cases from right back when the pandemic broke, we all agree that there is no room for complacency.

Whilst we’d been sat talking with Giorgo before his wife came home, we’d once again been fascinated by his account of the history of the village. For example, mains electricity only came here in 1972, and, prior to 1986, the road from Ierapetra up through Makrylia and on over the mountain to Meseleri had been dirt and stones. It was only laid to asphalt thirty four years ago. Something that came out only as a result of our complimentary joke, was that their house had once served as one of the three kafeneions that the village used to support. Girogos had asked us if our coffees were OK, to which we’d replied that, not only were they excellent, but that this was a really good kafeneion, with good company available for every visit too. That was when he’d chuckled, and then answered that it had indeed been a village coffee shop for around fifteen years a few decades ago. That was when the actual road (where we were now sitting) ran right past their door, before the current road beneath the white wall that now separated this thoroughfare from the tarmac road below was constructed.

As I studied the trees that provide the shade for their ‘avli’ area, I was fascinated by this one, which shows just how long the tree and indeed railings had been there…

Handy place to park the broom too.

As we sat there talking to Giorgo, not only did Angla’i’a come home, but 88 year-old Manolis turned up too. He only lives thirty metres along the way, where he often sits outside his front door, among his olive-oil-tin pots of basil, rosemary and geraniums. He may 88, but his hearing’s still pretty sharp. If he hears a conversation going on at his neighbours’ home, then he takes it as a signal that there’s parea to be had and comes to join the throng. We’ve really taken to the old guy, because he’s bald as a coot now on top, but still has plenty of white hair all around the sides and back. The real reason we like him, though, is that he’s very definitely still got a twinkle in his eye, and gives you a mischievous grin, from a mouth that exhibits a set of teeth that are really taking the principal of social distancing to the next level, when he sees you.

As we sat there, we were asked by our very welcoming neighbours if we were glad that we bought the house in the village. Our answer was an unequivocal yes. We told them that the past year (Greek bureaucracy notwithstanding) had been like living in paradise for us. With the town only 6 km down the valley, we have the best of both worlds. There are innumerable country trails to walk in wintertime, and the only noise pollution comes from the occasional tractor, chickens, dogs, sheep and goats. Oh, and huge birds of prey that frequently circle high above us. The nights are filled with the sound of the crickets and if you step outside after dark the Milky Way spans the heavens in all its glory.

Giorgos lamented at how the population of the village had dwindled. Once it was several hundred, but, with the coming of the asphalt road, people had migrated down to live in apartments in Ierapetra, taking their children with them, resulting in a closed school and there being nowadays only one kafeneion. At the time when the exodus was in full flight, people weren’t so able to own a vehicle as they are today. Giorgos suggested that, now they all have cars, they’d have a much better quality of life if they were to return to the village to live. The problem with that idea now, though, is that their properties have fallen into disrepair and would cost much in time and money to make habitable again.

As we reluctantly rose to bid our three amicable friends good day and get ourselves home for lunch and a siesta, they bade us ‘kathi’ste ligo‘ [‘stay a while longer’], which they do every time. But we insisted (after all, this was the second or third playing out of this scenario anyway!) and so Angla’i’a told us to hold on while she disappeared inside the house. She emerged with a carrier bag laden with cucumbers, pomegranates and fresh eggs, prompting us to say that what more could we want of a village, when we had such a good kafeneion, plus a great grocery store right on our doorsteps, and all for free. This made our hosts beam with pleasure. Once again Yvonne-Maria stressed that we’d so love to be able to give them something in return. Angla’i’a’s reply is always the same, “All we want back from you is your love.

You can’t argue with that, now, can you?

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Go West, Young Man

The photo above is of a small resort called Bali along the north coast, pronounced ‘Balee’ (rather like the Irish place in County Kerry called Tralee, I’d say). It’s where we’ve just spent a rather enjoyable five-night break. Having spent the second half of last year and a couple of months of this one sorting out all the legalities of our move from Rhodes here to Crete, we hadn’t had a holiday since April 2019. I know, my life is already one long holiday, blah de blah! It isn’t, really, it isn’t. Why don’t you believe me? I see that smirk.

On-line I found a really delightful little hotel with the rather odd name of the Sea Vessel, which only has 12 rooms, and is family run. It does have a modest and very nice pool, plus a small café-bar area. It’s recently been renovated and it’s all done in very nice taste. We paid a ridiculously small sum for five nights, €117 in fact, but that may well be because they’ve been desperate for clientele, plus it was the last week during which they were staying open this season. The view from our room, and indeed from the pool deck, was exceptional…

To be honest, and I’ve no desire to upset anyone, we found the resort to be wonderful at this time of the year, maybe partly due to the Covid-19 scenario too, we weren’t sure, but we wouldn’t have wanted to be there in high season during a normal year. The port area is very picturesque, but there isn’t much of it. What there is of it, though, is very photogenic…

There were easily enough tavernas open for us to try a different one each night, but at the back of the tiny bay where the port is there’s a beach and only two bars where one can sit and sip a coffee or a beer. Our hotel was about ten minutes walk from the port area, overlooking a beach that was completely devoid of sun beds or umbrellas, although photos we’ve seen of that same beach during the high season made us glad we hadn’t come then. They appear to have one of those (to me) hideous plastic water park affairs floating there and a lively bar (the Mambo) right above the beach that I’d wager would have kept us awake during the nights. Last week, however, that beach resembled a desert island, and the sea was impossibly calm and clear.

You can see the beach, which is called Varkotopos, just behind the beloved in this shot.

Everyone’s different, I know, and I can only speak for us, but we also went to visit Rethymnon while we were there. It’s only another twenty minutes along the road from Bali. It’s (thus far) the furthest west we’ve been since moving to Crete. We’d heard a lot about how pretty it is and, well, I have to agree, it is. But boy is it given over to tourism big time. In Ierapetra most of the voices you hear when sitting in a restaurant or bar are Greek, and we haven’t had to fend off a ‘getter-inner‘ even once while strolling around there. In Rethymnon we were reminded of the less attractive side of Rhodes, which is the fact that you can’t stroll along past bars or restaurants without constantly being approached by these people whose sole job is to get bums on seats in their establishment. The ‘getter-inners‘ are in abundance.

Plus, the degree of tourism there is borne out too by the fact that absolutely everything is in English. Many of the menus or bar catalogues aren’t even in Greek, just English! We were glad to have been, and pleased to have seen the place, but boy are we glad to live where we do. Here are a few shots to show the prettiness of the place though…

Oh, well you can’t win ’em all, I suppose. I have to say, though, that the quality of the food and the prices at Bali were both excellent, except for if you wanted to drink a spirit at the end of the evening. Be warned, we were charged €14 for two glasses of Mastiha! Think we’ll stick with beer or coffee. Mind you, at one restaurant, the one with the best location, which is called the Akrogiali and it’s right on the beach in the port area, we were bidden to try a new label of retsina, called Kechribari, and it was very smooth indeed. That was the taverna at which we ate twice.

All in all, we were well pleased with that little hotel, and with the walks to the port/harbour area. If, however, you were to walk in the other direction, everything is purpose-built and probably wasn’t even there thirty years ago. It reminded us strongly of parts of Pefkos, on Rhodes, which, although is a nice place for a laid-back holiday, is not brimming over with character, and neither is the newer part of Bali. Would I recommend the place? Yes, for a visit, maybe a day out and a meal in a taverna there. Would I recommend a holiday there? Not if, like us, you’re looking for the real Greece. Having said that, if you’re happy to go as late as we did, you may just find a trace of it at Bali.

The weather while we were there was perfect, and we drove home (stopping off in Heraklion for a spot of shopping) yesterday in bright warm sunshine, although the clouds were gathering. Today we woke up to rain and we’ve had a good storm that’s cleared the atmosphere. I’m just glad I didn’t have to drive home through it!

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Chickening out

A couple of mornings ago, Yvonne (Maria) brought me a cuppa in bed and begged me to come and look at something. She does this a lot, and it’s usually that she wants to show me the latest flower on one of our four different coloured hibiscus that we have in pots in the lower garden, or perhaps the latest burst of colour when one of our cannas has blossomed again. This time, though, as I protested that I could look at the blooms after I’d drank my Earl Grey, she said, no, it wasn’t a plant. We had a visitor.

Reluctantly since I still had a digestive biscuit to dunk while my tea was hot, I climbed out of the bed, threw on a pair of shorts in view of her words about this concerning a ‘visitor’ and followed her to the kitchen window, where she excitedly asked me to look out. There, sitting quite contently on the floor behind the car, was a large chicken, and she was emitting the occasional cluck, apparently out of contentment. No ‘bwaw, book, book‘ or anything like that, just brief clucks.

Now, only a couple of days earlier, our octogenarian neighbour Evangelia, Maria’s mum and also mother of Adoni, the ‘Werewolf’, had actually placed a very similar hen in Adoni’s vegetable patch down below next-door’s veranda. We were looking down from there when something had moved among the six-feet-high weeds that now prevail down there and we saw it to be a chicken, which we took to have escaped from Evangelia’s chicken run across the lane from us. So I dutifully went over to tell Evangelia that we’d spotted it, and did she know it was there?

“Oh yes,” She said, “I put it there, but thanks for mentioning it. But it’s meant to be there.” She didn’t offer any further explanation about why just one of her dozen or so hens had been quarantined like that, and I didn’t feel I ought to ask. I mean, you know, maybe she’d been getting on the other birds’ nerves or something. We definitely had heard a lot of extended ‘bwaaaaaaawhs‘ and the like lately. Someone was talking too much. Perhaps the other birds wanted a little peace and quiet.

But the veggie patch was ten feet below our parking area, so how did this bird end up outside our kitchen door? I was delegated (by a vote of one all, but the better half has the casting vote in all such ballots) to go out there and try to get this fowl to go back down to where she belonged. Out I went, thinking that this would be easy, a breeze. She’d surely run away from me and all I had to do was make sure she ran in the right direction.

Did she ‘eck as like? Nope. Whatever I did, whichever way I ran, she’d manage to avoid going back down the slope. She’d run along behind our neighbour’s house and then hide behind the parked-up car belonging to our furthest neighbour, who lives in Germany and only uses the house and car for holidays. Once the chicken was holed up behind that mothballed car, there was no way I could get her out of there. ‘Ah, well,’ I thought. ‘She’s not doing much harm, she can stay there for all I care.’ But I did think it wise to go and tell Evangelia where the chicken was now located.

It was Evangelia’s daughter Maria I saw first. “Maria!” I said, “That chicken of your mother’s, it’s up behind Sylvia’s car and I can’t get it out.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t worry. She’s meant to be there. I’ll tell mother you mentioned it, if you like, but you can leave her, it’s no bother.”

“Right, OK then. Only I thought, maybe you or she might want to come and get it or something.

“No, no. She’s all right where she is. But thanks for mentioning it.”

So that was that. We decided to leave the old girl to her devices, thinking that as soon as Evangelia went to feed the other ‘girls’ she’d be off down that drive like a shot.

Came the early evening, and the sun was close to setting, when we heard an unwelcome commotion going on right outside the kitchen window. I went out there to see the chicken up on the bench that runs along beneath the window, on which my wife keeps six pots of her favourite herbs, so that she can not only smell them through the window when she’s busy cooking, but she can also easily pick something fresh to garnish the job in hand. The last pot, almost in the corner, is fresh mint, and that flipping hen was tucked in behind it. Instinctively I clapped and shouted, “Oi! Get down out of there!” Of course, I was forgetting that she was a Greek chicken and something like “Έλα βρε! Φύγε από ‘θο!!” might have been more appropriate.

Mind you, my words had the desired effect. Well, almost, because they did succeed in freaking the bird out so that she did indeed flit down from the bench pretty sharply (accompanied by much clucking this time), but she also took the pot and its contents with her. So there was I staring at a load of freshly spilled compost and a mint plant lying on its side on the floor. Furious, me? You bet I was. There, too, not three feet away, the chicken craned her neck in that way they do, as if to say, “You wanna make something of it then. eh?” I saw red and started chasing her for a second time, once again trying to cut her off at the pass, as it were. But whichever direction I went in, she always managed somehow to cut back behind our car and end up right next to our potted herbs, which we now believed were in mortal danger from this feathered interloper.

The trouble now was, it was getting dark fast. There’d be little we could do until daylight the next morning. So we had to move all the potted herbs from the bench on to our veranda, behind a wooden gate, which we hoped the offender wouldn’t be able to jump. Once that was done I marched back over to see if Adoni, Evangelia, or Maria were in, and would they most definitely come and get this bothersome bird …please?

Unusually, they all three of them were out, their houses in darkness. There was nothing for it but to try again later, after we’d watched Τροχό της Τύχης, maybe. Also, meanwhile, I Googled ‘What do chickens like to eat?’ and discovered that they are indeed rather partial to a spot of fresh mint. No wonder she wouldn’t be budged from hanging around in that corner. At around 8.00pm, I rejoiced to hear Maria’s car chugging up the lane (her exhaust has been blowing for months, but not loudly, just enough to make the poor little hatch sound like it ought to pack in the fags in order to make it up that hill with less effort). I knew the sound of Maria’s car all right. Just as she was unloading some shopping from her boot, I approached and greeted her, then got to the point.

“Maria! I’m afraid that chicken does need taking away, please. She’s been causing damage to our potted herbs, right outside our kitchen window. Could maybe you, or Adoni, maybe your mum, come and get her or something?”

“Oh, I couldn’t. Chickens frighten me.” [Was she serious?] “But I’ll tell my mother. But I thought you said she was in the vegetable patch?

Yes, she was, but she came up to our place and won’t go away again. We wouldn’t mind, but she’s damaging our herbs.”

“Oh dear, that’s no good. But I could have sworn you said she was down in my brother’s veggie patch.”

“I did, to begin with. I’m sorry, maybe I didn’t explain it clearly enough the second time.” It occurred to me that Maria had interpreted what I’d said about Sylvia’s place to mean the veggie patch below it, not actually up beside her car. Anyway, after the third or fourth time of apologising for not explaining well enough, she apologised for the trouble her mum’s chicken was causing and promised that she’d tell her to come up at first light to sort it out.

We went to bed nervous. We had to hope that Chicken Little (well, not so little, actually) wouldn’t break into our veranda overnight and demolish the herbs while we slept. Next morning I woke to the alarm on my phone. I’d set it for 8.00am so that I’d be awake if Evangelia knocked to ask for help in rounding the recalcitrant chicken up. I felt my way in a half-dreaming stupor to the kitchen, to put the kettle on for a nice cup of Earl Grey, and rolled the blind up on the window over the sink, just in time to see the diminutive Evangelia walking along behind next-door’s house towards the mothballed car where the bird was no doubt roosting overnight. The beloved was soon at my side as we watched while Evangelia disappeared from view behind the car.

Two minutes later she was strolling back towards us, chicken held firmly by the legs in her left hand, one wing extended, but putting up no struggle at all while being carried in a most undignified manner (no more than she deserved, we remarked). Maria, a strapping fifty-something woman was scared, whilst her mother, five foot nothing in her stockinged feet and eighty if she’s a day, calmly coaxed the chicken out and grabbed it. That bird must have trusted her to come out like that. More fool it, was all we could think. I ran out of the French windows on to the veranda as Evangelia was passing.

“Thank you, Evangelia. I checked the fence down there and there is a gap, so she must have got out through there. I’ll go down and fix it with some wire if you like.” I helpfully suggested.

“No, no. You don’t need to bother. Thank you, anyway. Sorry for the problems.”

“But it’s no bother, I can fix it in minutes. I’ll go down now!”

No need. Θα την σφάξω!” She said.“I’ll kill it.”

Now, if you read my stuff with any regularity, you’ll probably know that we don’t eat meat. But how could we interfere with this old Greek woman’s purpose? She’d be doing something that she’d done for eight decades or so. It’s village life in the raw. It now occurred to us that the main reason why she’d put that bird on its own in the veggie patch was because its days were numbered. It was soon to meet its end. All we could now hope for was that we wouldn’t hear Evangelia’s voice outside some day soon crying out, “Yanni!! Maria!! I have some chicken leg for you!

Even if we had been meat eaters, we’d have felt like Hannibal Lecter if we’d eaten that particular poultry present. Fortunately, we’re away for a short break now. Tonight’s our first night in a small hotel at Bali [pronounced Balee, with the accent on the ‘ee’, so it’s not pronounced in the same way as its namesake in Indonesia] and we’re here at least until next Monday. I’ll post about this soon.

Meanwhile, I need to try and get back to bed and get some sleep. Why, though, is it that I seem to be counting chickens, and not sheep? Guilty conscience?

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works

Δροσιά, επιτέλους [Coolness, at last]

We sat in one of our favourite little corner cafés this morning and, boy, what a relief the weather is now. The day before yesterday was the final day of a spate of high-humidity days when you couldn’t stop sweating, whatever you did. The sky was kind of milky and the horizon indiscernible, and it was the kind of weather that makes you want to be in the shower, if not the sea, all day. The temperatures had also been way above average for early October, hovering in the mid-thirties, making the real-feel even worse. Now, however, the atmosphere’s gloriously clear and the temperature today is around 26-27ºC with just a hint of breeze – perfect.

I know, readers in the UK and other more northerly places will not want to hear all that, but what can I do? It’s the life I live after all, and I can’t be anything other than honest with you, now can I? Just for those who read my books, you may like to know that the latest novel is now charging along, with inspiration coming thick and fast. While it lasts, I need to milk it! I’m up to around 50,000 words and it looks for the present as if it’s going to be the longest book I’ve ever written. I’ll keep those of you who do want to know posted, of course. This one’s quite unlike the previous books. It is most definitely a sequel to “The Crete Connection,” centring on one of the characters from that story, but it’s more of a slow-burner, building the tension gradually. But I hope you’ll give it a try and stick with it, and, as with all the novels, there will doubtless be the occasional twist or two thrown into the mix.

This post, though, is intended to be photo-based. I’ll post a bunch of recent photos that so far haven’t been posted either on the ‘Published Works‘ Facebook page, or here on the blog. So, off we go then…

This one (above) was taken on the quayside as we waited to board the boat to Spinalonga. As was the one below…

The next one (below) was taken at Plaka, just after we’d disembarked from the boat back from the island.

Above: Just a small corner of Elounda, which no doubt lovers of the place will instantly recognise. We had a coffee on the front there after returning from Spinalonga. Whilst sipping through our straws, we engaged the guy who’d served us in conversation, eager to learn what kind of season he’d had. He was an Albanian who had so many years in Greece that it was difficult to discern any foreign accent. As with the vast majority of Albanians, he was good-natured and open, with an almost permanent smile. That smile, though, masked his worries. He told us that the season had been quiet, with July and August having been almost OK, if not as busy as usual. But September (this was Friday October 2nd BTW) had been terrible, largely due to the UK government having slapped the ridiculous 14-day quarantine-on-return restriction on to Crete.

He said that almost instantly, once the news broke of the UK goverment’s decision, the place emptied of UK tourists, producing an instant and extremely negative effect on the area’s economy and atmosphere. He said it was like someone had swept them all away overnight. He had financial worries too, as his new wife, whom he’d only married in the spring of this year, was stuck in Albania because he’d failed to earn enough to bring her over to join him in Crete, where he’d lived for over two decades. Quite how he was going to get through the winter was more a matter of hope and prayer than of any solid financial planning. I’m quite sure that his story, or one remarkably similar, could be recounted by thousands of workers in the hospitality sector on Crete and elsewhere in the world this past few months.

Above: This is one final shot taken by my sister of me, the better half and my brother-in-law Martin, whilst still on Spinalonga.

Above: If you’ve read my post “Driving us nuts, and a tumble” from 25th August (was it really that long ago?) then you’ll know about our neighbour Manoli, who is around 88 years old and had a fall, breaking his hip, not long after we’d moved into the village last year. Well, he fell on his face while climbing the hill beside our garden and we had to help him up and bathe the bloody wound on his face. Manolis is nothing if not resilient, because here he is, still climbing the hill to his apothiki every evening. You have to hand it to him for his tenacity and refusal to give in.

Finally, look at these freshly picked pomegranates….

Above: That photo is very symbolic of how our lives here have proceeded this past year or so. We moved into our new home, here on a hillside in Makrylia, on October 17th 2019, just five days short of one year ago. We hadn’t foreseen the move coming, having spent 14 years, most of which were happy, living on Rhodes, and were gobsmacked when our friend and landlord there told us that he’d had to put the property on the market. So we set about thinking what we were going to do and, since we’d always thought that some day there might be a situation in which we should or could buy a property if we were ever to find ourselves in such a predicament, we’d resolutely refused to fritter away most of the capital from the house we’d sold in South Wales when we’d moved out to Rhodes in 2005.

Thus it was that we found ourselves here on Crete and, when we moved in, there were pomegranates on the neighbour’s tree from the house behind us that, fortunately, hangs well over into our upper garden. They were ripe for picking and, as if to remind us that a year has rolled around, they are once more hanging enticingly from that tree, and the two in my hand in the photo above were picked yesterday. As I held them, I was mentally transported back through the last 12 months of our lives, and it reminded me of just how many changes we’ve made. It’s been good, despite the bureaucracy, and our lives here are, I have to say, immeasurably more enjoyable than they were during the closing years of our time on Rhodes.

You seldom know what tomorrow is going to bring, leave alone next year, yet I wish for everyone reading this that it’ll be something good, something better, despite pandemics and all kinds of other adversities that may come your way. Do keep safe, and do keep loving this amazing country, which me and my better half are indescribably privileged to have made our home.

Read about the books: https://johnphilipmanuel.wixsite.com/works