More advice, then a long walk.

Above: A doorway that’s definitely seen better days, although there are loquats going for free just outside. This is on the ‘main road’ through the village, just a couple of hundred metres up from our access lane. We were waiting on the road on Sunday at around midday for a couple of Greek friends to arrive from the town. We’d planned a long walk from the village down to the lake they call Braminia, which was built to supply water for all the hothouses west of Ierapetra, primarily in the Gra Ligia area. As we stood waiting for our friends to arrive, we were hailed from above. The garden just above the wall where we were waiting was occupied. We could already hear voices, but we weren’t sure who was up there.

No doubt having seen that it was us, our neighbour from above and behind our house, Giorgos, peeped at us from over the wall (where he was carrying on an animated conversation with the house owner) and shouted a greeting. He’s become much friendlier of late and I’ve only recently worked out why. He’s retired and spends most of his days following the same routine. He’ll tootle off on his aged Honda 90 moped most mornings, usually going to his horafi, his ‘allotment’ for want of a better way of describing it. He’s usually back home doing chores around the place at lunchtime, and always heads inside to sleep from about 3.00pm until 5.00pm. If we’re in our upper garden, his terrace is a little above and behind us. In the early days when we tried having a brief chat with him he’d seemed to us to be slightly edgy, offish even. Now he’s as friendly and friendly can be, and we know why. He’s a little hard of hearing.

There were occasions when I’d tried chatting with him, and his response was to furrow his brow and act like I was speaking Japanese or something. Finally I realised, if I shouted a little louder, he’d understand perfectly and his response to our doing just that has been to become much more genial, thankfully. So anyway, he asked us what we were waiting for and we told him. Under this new-found freedom to use the car to travel before taking some physical exercise, our friends Apostolis and Emmanuella were coming over and we were going to make the walk to the lake, masks around our chins of course, and texts duly sent to 13033. I’d worked out from Google Maps that we’d already walked to within a couple of hundred metres of the lake in the past and not even realised it. So I estimated that we’d be at the lakeside after about an hour’s walking, along a truly spectacular route through olive groves, scrub and mountainside.

But, as we awaited the arrival of our friends, Giorgos took a swipe at our gardening efforts. I’ve often remarked before, both on this blog and on the previous Rhodes one, plus in a couple of my Ramblings From Rhodes series of books, that Greeks, especially rural Greeks, generally view a flower or decorative garden as a waste of space. Giorgos was soon to unwittingly emphasis this point. When he stands on his modest veranda, he can look at our upper garden from above. Before we moved in, the plot had been left fallow for years by the previous owner. Plus, all along the top of the wall there had only been a two-foot high fence of chicken wire to prevent someone from falling ten feet to the driveway below…

The better half sips her coffee in our upper garden. Giorgos’ house is the one with the terracotta roof tiles above our young olive tree.

As you can just about make out from the photo above, the chicken wire’s long gone and I’ve replaced it with a slightly higher and hopefully more attractive to the eye picket fence. Maybe it’s better view from this angle…

This was taken some months ago. The upper garden’s much more developed now.

So anyway, there we were, minding our ow business waiting for our friends, and Giorgos asked us, “Why have you gone and planted flowers and stuff in your garden? You could put a lot of vegetables in there. Aubergines, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, you could be growing your own!

When we assured him that a decorative garden was what we wanted, since half the village plies us with much better quality vegetables than we could ever grow, he decided to proffer yet more advice. “Well, there are plenty of small plots around here. You could rent one, start growing on that.”

See, this is what you find here; everyone wants to tell you what you should be doing. They all mean well, of course, but they can’t help themselves. I remember back in November 2005, when I was walking through Gennadi village on Rhodes with a new friend from Kalathos, and we walked past a truly derelict old cottage. The walls basically amounted to a pile of stones with a rotting old doorway set in the middle. Mihalis said to me, “Yanni, why are you renting a home? You could buy this, do it up. Have a place of your own.” And right there you have the reason why the majority of people who rent homes in Greece are the foreign workers. Yes, OK, there are more frequently theses days young Greek professionals who travel to other towns to find work, and they will rent a home. But they all have a place of their own back where they come from, trust me. Greeks seldom sell their family homes and consider renting to be a waste of money. I had to tell Mihalis on a number of occasions that any thought of us buying a place would only be entertained after we’d lived here for a few years, become more proficient at the language, more familiar with the system of bureaucracy and so forth. And each time we discussed it his brow would furrow and he’d look at me with that withering “poor soul, he doesn’t understand anything” expression.

By and large, a Greek will look at a flower garden and see a wasted opportunity. Only when we assured Giorgo that we’d tried growing vegetables not only on Rhodes, but here too last year, during our first winter on Crete, but with varying degrees of success, which actually amounted to failure, did he acquiesce slightly. I had to tell him, “Giorgos, why do we need to grow our own, with all the hard labour that it would entail, when almost on a weekly basis we get given vegetables of a much higher quality than we could ever hope to achieve?” With that he agreed, at least on the surface. But he still had another couple of stabs at persuading us that we’d be much happier if we had an allotment. “Much more tired out, rather,” I was tempted to reply, but resisted.

Anyway, only a couple of minutes past midday, when we’d agreed to meet the friends, they pulled up and got out of the car. We all bumped elbows and set off through the village for the lane that would lead us all the way to the lake. Below are some photos we took as we neared the lakeside, and indeed, stood on its shores. What they don’t show, is the egrets and herons that we got some superb views of, because I don’t have a good enough zoom on my phone’s camera for such things.

The lake’s gorgeous azure blue colour is I can only assume down to the type of clay that is found in the lakebed. There was, or rather still is, a large pond in Dorset, England, that they call the “Blue Pool” because it has a similar colour and the explanation is definitely that it’s the way the clay mixes with the water that produces that colour. Apart from egrets and herons, some of which we saw from very close quarters, there were swooping swallows, warbling chaffinches and a few varieties of duck to admire too. All in all, it was a superb walk, and the bonus came as we were returning, retracing our steps back along the dirt track that we’d come by. There, to our left, was a turtle, about dinner-plate sized, and it seemed to be making its way across the lane and down towards the lake. Do turtles hibernate? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure that it was a turtle and not a tortoise. Its shell was still completely camouflaged by dried mud, and, had it not moved as we approached, we’d never have spotted it. Our assumption was that it had only just woken from its slumbers and needed to be back in the water as soon as it could get there…

By the time we got back to the village we’d covered 8 kilometres. It had been an exhilarating joy and we all agreed that it was indeed a great privilege to be living among such an environment.

Next post will be photos of Elounda, since we went there yesterday to stock up on books at the Eklektos Bookstore, run by Lynne McDonald.

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

One good turn?

Something that’s becoming increasingly apparent to us about the culture here, is that whatever act of kindness you show, however small, needs to be acknowledged in some way, usually reciprocally. There isn’t and never has been a great deal that we could do for our neighbours here in the village. They all grow their own vegetables, so any that we get given by our friend Thanassi down in Ierapetra that we have a surplus of, we’re usually unable to give to anyone in the village, because they already have their own surplus, from which they very often give to us. This applies to eggs too. Since moving to the village in October of 2019, we’ve been given so much food, including – apart from fresh vegetables – pastry pies (cheese or spinach) that were either already cooked or all prepared but as yet uncooked, they just needed to be popped into the oven for a few minutes, Raki, Misithra pies (both cooked and uncooked, but oven or pan-ready), fresh goat’s milk, Horta, and cakes of varying varieties.

I mentioned this before in one of the early posts on this blog, but one time after we’d been given such a pile of delicious food and yet another bottle of homemade Raki by Giorgos and Angla’i’a, when we’d told them that we wanted to repay them in some way, Angla’i’a simply replied, “All I want in return is your love.”

That doesn’t stop us from trying to find little ways to show kindness ourselves when the opportunity arises. A while back I was chainsawing boughs off of our olive trees, and so the larger pieces of wood that we cut, which were worth saving for using on a fire or in a stove, we added to the pile across the lane against the wall of Maria’s house, plus we did the same to the pile that the other Maria and her boys keep at the ready just across the lane from their front door. Both households have Tzakis and both use them extensively during the winter months. The amounts of wood that we added to their stash were very modest, but every little helps, we felt. Another time I had a plastic drum, the kind that are ubiquitous all across the country and are used to transport freshly pressed olive oil from the mill back home afterwards, and I no longer had a use for it. It was a 35 litre drum and in very good condition, and I’d used it on Rhodes when we’d gone to the mill to have some olives pressed ourselves. If you’re wondering what kind I’m referring to, they’re terracotta coloured with black screw-on lids, very wide, for ease of pouring oil into or out of them. It was either leave it by a bin, or ask Maria and the boys if they could use it, since they harvest a lot of olives and always seem to have one or two such drums in the back of their pick-up. It was late one afternoon when I went down to their house with it and left it on their veranda. Next morning, we awoke to find a shopping bag full to bursting of cucumbers, beef tomatoes, aubergines and green peppers on our doorstep.

A week or two ago I had another olive oil can to dispose of. When we’d got oil from some friends in Mirtos last winter, they’d supplied it in this can. This one was cube-shaped and you can buy them in most DIY stores here. People who produce oil will use them to supply oil to others. This one was probably about 20 litres in size. This, too I gave to Maria and the boys and next day Maria’s youngest, Kostas, was sent up with yet another bag of vegetables and a 1.5 litre bottle of fresh goat’s milk.

Not once in all the time we’ve lived here have we been able to do an act of kindness without having received something back in appreciation. It’s almost embarrassing, and yet if you were to offer to pay for these gifts, your neighbours would be sorely offended. Only two days ago a couple of Evangelia’s turkeys got out of their enclosure just below our veranda. She’d been over there feeding them food scraps, as well as collecting some Horta for the table, when a visitor had tuned up, called her and she’d gone back over to the house, forgetting to close the gate. The first we knew about it was when we settled down at our veranda table to eat our al fresco lunch and sip a glass of Retsina and we’d spotted the two escapees on the small patch of waste ground below. I quickly ran over to Evangelia’s, told her about the two fugitives, who weren’t really in a hurry to go anywhere, since the grazing just outside the gate to their enclosure was better than they had just inside and so they’d only strayed a few metres, and I found her entertaining her female guest.

As soon as I told her they were out, she threw a hand to her mouth and said, “Oh! I forgot the gate!” and got up to come over and usher them back inside. Evangelia’s on the wrong side of 80, and walks awkwardly, so it took her three times as long as I to walk the twenty metres or so, yet when I offered to help her get the birds back into the pen, she refused, “No, no! Thank you so much Yianni, but I can manage.” Truth be told, I was quite glad, because turkeys are big, I mean very big, and I’m not all that sure I’d have known what to do if they’d ‘resisted arrest.’

A couple of hours later that afternoon, we heard a call outside our gate, Yvonne went out to see who it was, and there was Evangelia with this little lot…

All I’d done was what any good neighbour would have done, yet, you know what? We even expected that to happen, simply because, whatever you do for them, it will always result in their showing their appreciation in a material way. We’d never dream of doing anything in order to receive a reward, yet that’s what always seems to happen. During the fourteen years that we lived on Rhodes, as I mentioned in the post entitled: “It Just Keeps on Coming,” we were frequently on the receiving end of acts of kindness, yet we’d lived all that time on a remote hillside, and not as part of a community. We didn’t actually want to be part of a large village, to be honest, but finding this wonderful little gem of a house here in a village of less than 100 inhabitants, we appear to have found the perfect balance, purely by chance, and it’s enriched our experience of local customs immeasurably.

Finally, to close this one, here are a few recent photos…

This view of the old fort at the harbour entrance was taken from the bench in the pic below…

This last one (below) is of an orchid that I spotted, of all places, right below our veranda, as we sipped our coffees yesterday morning. Whenever we walk in the countryside I’m always on the look-out for orchids, and this year I seem to have missed the best of them, yet for the first time there’s one growing right below our home. Looks like it’s already past its best and I hadn’t even noticed it, but I hope it grows again next year, because, if it does, I’ll be looking out for it!

This flower head was one of the tallest I’ve seen, so I’m gutted I missed the flowers in full bloom. Or, will someone out there suggest that they haven’t actually come out yet? I’ve no idea, but I’m keeping an eye on it!

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

Coming ’round the mountain

We’ve been combing the surrounding area for a long time now with our rural walks, often retracing our steps on previously used paths and, like this most recent walk, occasionally going just a little further along a previously walked route to see what’s around the next bend, as it were. This past Sunday we were really enthused when we came around the side of one of the mountains that we see from our veranda, the one whose top we haven’t yet ascended, but whose slopes we’ve frequently skirted.

Of course, we’ve known of the existence of the lake in the above photo (which is a manmade dammed reservoir that sits in the hills between us and the village of Gra Ligia) for ages, but until this past Sunday we never realised how within reach it was on foot. Carrying on along the path past the tiny settlement on the hillside below what’s locally known as Kepsalá, you negotiate along a gentle ridge between two mountains. We’ve several times ascended the mountain to the left, from the summit of which much of Ierapetra is visible to the south, and our house and the village to the north, but only gone a few hundred metres further along this ridge before turning back. This time we decided to go a little further and see where it would take us.

Above: This unfinished building in the hamlet along the ridge serves as a useful shelter for a local herd of goats, the shepherd of which we encountered last winter while walking in the area. He was all decked out in traditional Greek costume, with knee length black boots, a waistcoat and that little black tassly thing the men wear around their heads. A little further on we passed a cottage with a very famous vessel stored outside (below)…

I didn’t realise until we got home and I uploaded the photos, that there is an olive branch partially obscuring the vessel’s name. So, in case you can’t make it out when you click for a larger view, it’s “Titanikos.” I thought it rather amusing anyway. Next, reaching a curve in the lane as it rounds the mountain there was yet another of those old abandoned, yet very photogenic, cottages…

Yes, you can see that we now had a lovely view down to the sea, but we weren’t at all prepared for what we saw when we carried on just another hundred metres or so, and the land began to fall away. The photo at the top off this post shows it, as do these below as well…

Up until we saw the beautiful lake below, we’d thought that it would require a drive in the car to reach its shores, but now we could see the tracks down in the valley, one of which is a lane that we’ve often walked coming down the other side of the mountain from the village. Each time we’d done that walk we’d stopped at a spot that we now realised was only maybe a few hundred metres from the water’s edge. Needless to say, our next extended walk will involve a trek to the lakeside, with photos, of course.

Making our way back, and rather looking forward to lunch, we encountered a local chap emerging from a smaller track among the olive groves with several plastic bags stuffed to bursting with some plant that he’d been harvesting. Exchanging greetings, we asked what he’d been picking. He could hardly contain his enthusiasm as he opened the top of one of the bags to reveal a whole load of what looked like thistles that he’d pulled up, roots and all. There were also some other wild plants that’d he’d collected, and these had bulbs that resembled shallots.

You know why I harvest these?” He asked, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn’t have a clue. So, having ascertained by our response that the answer was in the negative, he went on to explain. “Some years ago I had kidney stones, very painful. This stuff cures them, or stops you developing them.” With that he pulled one thistle plant out and showed us the roots. “You dry this,” he added, “and make a drink with it. I haven’t had any trouble since I started using this.” He did tell us the plant’s name, but I can’t remember what it was now. I was fascinated by this information because some thirty years ago I too had suffered from kidney stones, so badly that the renal colic that they cause actually put me in hospital. It was while in there that I learned from another patient that the Parsley Piert plant has similar benefits. Without going into the whole story now, I was told by the doctors that there wasn’t much that could be done if someone has the propensity to form kidney stones, or ‘gravel.’ This fellow patient, however, suggested I try taking Parsley Piert as a supplement and I thought, “OK, no harm in giving it a go.”

The doctor on the ward I was in at the hospital assured me that once I’d started suffering from kidney stones, there was every possibility that the problem would recur in the future. I was told to drink gallons of water and to return for an x-ray about a week after I was discharged, since the stones were still there and I would be certain to pass them, which, I was also assured, would be extremely painful. On my way home from the hospital I picked up some Parsley Piert from a local health store and began taking it daily. When I went back to the hospital for my ex-ray (having peed through a tea strainer for week in order to catch the little offenders when they eventually flushed out of my urinary system), I was told that the stones were gone. I was also told that I must have ‘passed’ them and why didn’t I catch them in the tea strainer? had I been negligent and not used it at any time when taking a leak? I assured them that I’d been very diligent and that I would definitely have known if I’d passed them, not least because I knew it was going to hurt. The fact was, though, they were gone. And the bloke who’d told me about the parsley Piert said “It dissolves them.” Draw your own conclusions from that.

Incidentally, I’ve never had a recurrence of the problem either, so I could well believe that the plants that this agrotis was showing us could very well have a similar health benefit to Parsley Piert. Having exchanged greetings about staying healthy, we parted with smiles and elbow-bumps and he found his pickup truck while we stepped it out homeward.

Just a postscript on the wild Gladioli story. Above you can see more of them growing in the wild. We only discovered by chance this past few days that this genus is unique to Crete. How about that! And we’ve got them successfully coming up in the garden now too, and likely to spread year-on-year. A result. If you live somewhere else in Greece and have them, then they will have to have originated on Crete. Finally, too, I was able to find just one (what I believe to be) orchid on this walk, so here is the shot I took of it…

I’m sure someone will tell my if I’m wrong. Also, since I’m posting photos all over this post, here are a few final ones taken this past day or two…

Last two above: These were taken on the veranda of our neighbour’s house, as we keep an eye on the place for her when she’s not here on the island. I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing those two shots with you, as I thought they showed off her veranda and avli to great effect. And, to round off this post, here’s one of the beloved standing beside the ancient column that stands sentinel alone near the sea front down in Ierapetra town…

Next time we go for a long walk in the country, we’ll be coming ’round the mountain from the other side and, hopefully, arriving on the shores of the lake. That being the case, look for some photos from the water’s edge. Keep safe, all.

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

Talking rubbish?

The area of town where my wife’s hairdresser is situated couldn’t in any way be described as one of the prettiest. However, now and again you spot something that warms your heart. Just a few metres from the front of the hairdresser’s storefront, while hanging around (as one does when one’s better half is having the bonce sorted out) I spotted this (above) at around head height on the street wall. In case you can’t read it, it says “Wall of kindness.”

That bag hanging on one of the hooks contains stuff that people want to donate to those who haven’t got much. Those who don’t live in Greece may also not be aware of a kind of unwritten law that many adhere to here, which involves the habit of leaving anything that may be useful, including crockery, cutlery, furniture, clothes, toys, footwear and other stuff too, beside those four-wheel dumpsters that pepper the roadsides and kerbs of the nation. I rather like the system of waste disposal here in Greece. In general the rubbish/trash collectors don’t make house calls to empty the bins, but rather every citizen knows that the green dumpsters are there for one to use to deposit their household rubbish. In more recent times blue ones have also been keeping the green ones company. The blue ones (and it may be good to remember this if you do get here for a holiday this year, however unlikely) are only for recycling. Most of them can receive cardboard, plastic and cans, and some also take glass. More often, though, you’ll see blue bell-shaped bins also on the roadside and these are dedicated to glass only.

The system is by no means universal, though. Having taken a couple of enjoyable breaks on the island of Naxos in recent years for example, we found that their system was far more refined, with specific street-side bins for card, plastic, glass and metal, usually clearly marked with graphics so that no one will mistake what each bin is for; rather than simply text signs, which most foreigners, of course, won’t be able to read. Often they’ll have a plastic bag hanging on a corner of the bin specifically for bottle-tops too. This is also the system in operation on the wonderful island of Patmos.

Having now lived in Greece for coming up to sixteen years, we’ve been here long enough to have seen the gradual introduction of the whole idea of re-cycling. When we got here in 2005, having come from the UK, where re-cycling was already a science, it was a bit of a shock to find that there was no re-cycling at all. Slowly, over the years, largely due to EU requirements, the system of re-cycling has begun to operate, but not without a fair degree of resistance from many Greeks, who simply – at least in the early years – still saw every dumpster – whether it be green or blue (or pink, for that matter!) – as the place to fling their household rubbish. It’s been a long hard road and there’s still a way to go with many Greeks when it comes to their understanding of the need to protect the environment, but we’re getting there.

The re-cycling of useful goods works really well, in our experience. If, for example, you’ve been through your wardrobe and you’ve got a bunch of garments that you simply don’t use anymore, but they still have a few years’ use in them, what you do is bag them up and place them on the floor beside a green rubbish bin. The men who empty the dumpsters know the system too, and will leave the bags be. Local people who’re not so well off will see the bags and raid them for anything that they can use. Very often this will be the Albanian or Bulgarian community, members of which may well rescue an entire bag (or even plastic crate of glassware and crockery) and distribute the spoils among friends and family. This in no way denigrates those two communities, among whom we have many friends, but they’re far less culturally resistant than the Greeks to recycled goods.

When we first settled on Rhodes we went looking for secondhand stores, maybe with the proceeds going to charity, or ‘thrift stores’ as they’re sometimes called in the USA. In the UK it’s big business, and rightly so. Stores like the British Heart Foundation, Dorothy House Hospice, Cancer Research and Oxfam, plus loads more besides, pepper the high streets and they’re one of the main reasons why we currently miss our visits to the UK. When we used to go back on an annual basis when my parents were still alive, we’d usually return home to Rhodes with a clutch of paperbacks, purchased for a quid or two each, new jumpers, jeans and all kinds of other diverse things, in fact we hardly ever bought new clothes. We certainly haven’t paid full price for a paperback book for a very long time. Call us cheapskates if you like, but the system ensures a regular flow of income for worthy charities in the UK for starters. Even today, my favourite blue jeans are a pair of Blue Harbour that I bought in the British Heart Foundation store in Midsomer Norton, Somerset, for a fiver. They were brand new, with the card labels still sewn on to the outside of the back pockets. I bought them the last time we were in the UK, which was (I think, it all becomes a blur) around 2018-19.

After we’d been on Rhodes for a while, and discovered that there were only two secondhand stores on the entire island, both of which were in Faliraki, where a large ex-pat community lives, we soon began to understand that the Greek sense of family pride rules out the whole idea of being seen going into or coming out of such a store. It’s the same reason why lots of Greeks don’t use the public transport system; trust me it’s true. Greeks are a proud lot. I know because I have Greek relatives, but had become rusty regarding some of their hang-ups before moving here. There is a very strong sense in local Greek communities of family pride. A Greek would rather go without than to have the neighbours think that they can’t afford to buy new. Thus, secondhand stores that have been started up by hopeful Brits living here have rarely ever survived for long.

Thus, the best way to recycle serviceable stuff is to use the ‘leave it by the bin‘ system. OK, so you don’t make anything out of it yourself, but then if you were to drop it into the charity store, the same applies in most cases.

So, returning to that photo at the top of this piece, it’s a reflection of the mentality that most here have, and it’s good. There are so many people living in very poor accommodation and with very low incomes here, and they survive often by the thoughtfulness of others who, rather than simply chucking out the stuff they don’t need any more, they leave it where they know it’ll be rescued and given a new lease of life.

To finish off this post, last year when out walking in the country we discovered this rather elegant and beautiful plant growing along the edges of the dirt lanes among the olive groves (see this post, and this one too). I posted a photo and asked if anyone knew what it was called. Our old neighbour, as it happens, was quick to inform me that they are wild gladioli. Anyway, we dug up the rootstock of a couple of plants, shoved them into the garden at the house and watched as the foliage withered away, ever hopeful that the following year they would grow again. Guess what, they have…

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

Marking time

Above: A ‘detail’ view of a small corner in the village. I’m standing atop the steps leading down to the ‘main road’ through the village and those rectangular blue boxes are the mailboxes, of which ours is one. Out of shot below left are the steps leading down to the road. The potted plants belong to Manolis, the affable old guy in his mid-eighties who broke his hip a while back. His house is behind to my right as I took this shot.

We’re still hanging on with gritted teeth for some semblance of normality to return, by which I primarily refer to the opening of the bars and restaurants. I was reading on Facebook the other day about the fact that the Greek government is very keen to tell the rest of the world that Greece is open for business when it comes to summer holidays this year. This applies, though, only from mid-May onwards. Someone commented, with a fair degree of bile, that the Government was happy to open the bars and restaurants for the foreign tourists, ever keen to relieve them of their money, yet not prepared to do so for the hard-pressed Greeks themselves, now well into the fifth month of no trade whatsoever, with the prospect of a further two to go. There’s no doubt about it, people are becoming fractious.

So I suppose that it was a pretty timely video that someone sent to my wife on Viber yesterday. It was of an old Greek Orthodox priest talking about huge swathes of the population in a deprived African country. He showed video footage of small children playing near a rank river or stream that was full to bursting with old rotting rubbish. He showed people walking barefoot about outside their homes in fetid pools of dirty mud, while having to find a standpipe to draw their water. He showed people living in corrugated iron and plastic sheet-walled hovels, their children with nothing on their feet. He showed people subsisting on a few grains of rice or some weeds pulled up on common ground for their family meal of the day. He then remarked on the fact that here in Greece we have (at least most of the time) electricity at the flick of a switch, solid homes with proper roofs above our heads, we have local markets and stores packed with foodstuffs that most of us can well afford to buy. He referred to the fact that even poor people here usually have a TV, probably internet too, and a mobile phone. He mentioned that most of us, especially our youths, walk around in decent clothing and (certainly when it comes to the youth) very expensive trainers on their feet. In Greece there is no shortage of cars and motorcycles.

Yes, we are confronting a disease that has affected our lifestyle in fundamental ways, yet do we really have that much cause for complaint because we can’t go out for a coffee or a souvlaki? I found myself feeling ever so slightly ashamed that I harp on about not being able to sit in a coffee bar and watch the world go by. Even under the current restrictions, twice a week when we go shopping we are able every time to grab a take-out and go and sit on a bench and see people going about their daily business. I get annoyed because it’s five months since we’ve been able to go to Heraklion, including the big DIY/lifestyle store Praktiker that we so want to stroll around, since we have a substantial list of stuff we want to buy there. But our lives are immeasurably more privileged than so much of this world’s population. So we’ll just keep on marking time, trying to show patience. My glass? It’s half full, not half-empty. On that note, here are some photos from the past few days…

Above: These tamarisk trees along the sea front in Ierapetra have received a pretty good haircut recently.

Above: The margaritas are bursting into bloom at a rate of knots now. These are on the path around “Dingly Dell” as we call our little circuit that we walk several evenings each week. It’s just metres outside the village up a narrow lane behind our house. You can tell by the length of my shadow that it’s late in the day.

Above: OK, so it’s not the most scenic part of town, agreed. But I took this because I loved the way the cloud was sitting atop that mountain in the distance. It made me imagine a scene in my mind’s eye from Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit.

Above: Something truly wonderful is the blossom on the orange trees that’s everywhere right now. The scent is absolutely wonderful, and the bees love it too, as you can see if you look close enough at this photo, where a worker (honey) bee is getting on with the job.

Above: Red Admiral butterflies are everywhere here. I’ve failed in my attempts to photograph one in the garden a few times recently, so I was rather pleased with the fact that this one was too interested in sunning itself to be bothered with me as it sat on the wall below our house when I walked past yesterday lunchtime. I whipped out my phone and, well, there you are!

I had a rather interesting and enjoyable conversation a few days ago with Maya Andreadi, a Belgian who’s married to a Greek. She lives full-time here in Greece and was in Antwerp visiting relatives when we ‘Zoomed’ our conversation. Antwerp’s not far from the Dutch border and I’d rather like to visit one day. Anyway, the reason we were talking was because I’d discovered her two websites recently and thought it would be good to share them with you. Especially if you’re serious about learning Greek will you be interested to check out this one, Omilo.com. Not only do they offer lots of publications to help with the process of learning the language, but they also offer language-course and culture holidays in several parts of Greece. All the details are on the site, and I’d add that, owing to Covid, they’ve had a hard time of it this past couple of seasons. I found myself really liking the idea of what Maya and her team offer. You can have a couple of weeks in Greece, doing language lessons in the mornings, having free time in the afternoons, then attending some cultural event in the evening, which could be anything from a theatrical production, through a music concert to simply a group meal in a traditional taverna. Sounds good, eh? If you want to know what they’re hoping to do this coming season, check out the website and contact then directly.

The other site that Maya runs is Masaresi.com, which I flagged up on my “Published Works” Facebook page a week or so ago. It does have a cross-over with Omilo.com, but there are differences too. The best thing is to go and have a browse. One thing Maya will be adding to that site some time soon is a page featuring either direct downloads, or links to books that have a distinctly Greek theme, which is where I come in, since one or two of my books may well turn up on that page in due course. I really enjoy browsing both sites, so I hope you’ll go take a look too.

That’s about it for this one. Keep going, we’re all marking time until life can return to some semblance of normality, but isn’t it good to look at the positives, agreed? Goes a long way to keeping us going for the time being, right? Keep safe.

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

Making mimostof it?

I know, incredibly corny attempt at word play this blog’s title, eh? The photo at the top shows the beautiful mimosa tree that stands at the bottom of the lane in the village that leads up to our house and beyond. These quite breathtaking trees burst into a blaze of yellow for a few weeks every spring, before their ‘pom-pom’ blooms fade and the greenery of the new leaf growth takes over for the summer. It’s yet another of nature’s marvels that, sadly, most tourists never get to see. I read somewhere once that in the spring the first blooms to appear are usually the yellow ones, and that certainly seems to be the case. The reasoning was that they reflect the colour of the sun, which is returning after the shorter and (in some lands) less sunny days of the winter months. Amazing how these plants seem to know though, eh? I believe the person who wrote or said that was referring to the British Isles, but it applies here just as well, at least when it comes to the colour of the spring blooms. Here’s another shot, taken much closer to the tree…

It’s been a quiet few days, the highlight of which was the fact that we took delivery of a new sofa-bed for our spare room. Wow, we know how to live, what? We’ve had a few very brief chats with the neighbours, and Maria and the boys from the house below gave us a bagful of huge tomatoes, cucumbers and a massive goose’s egg in response to our very humble gift to them of an empty olive oil tin, which we no longer had any use for. The egg was easily big enough to make an omelette all on its own.

Down in the town we still take our regular walk around the streets, mainly just to see some people, when doing our shopping forays. The shot below I took at just after 11.30am on March 13th.

I do find that scene rather sad and forlorn, the café/bars now having been closed for five months or so. The only realistic expectation for when they might re-open is likely to be the second week of May, and that’s only because the government is desperate for the tourists to come, and that date will be easily well into the normal summer season. Greek Easter is ridiculously late this year, at May 2nd, and there is at least a sound logic to the government’s not wanting to allow people to go mad over the Easter weekend and the result to be another spike in CoronaVirus cases. Currently the daily number of cases is the highest it’s been since this whole thing began and, just as everywhere else on the planet, the primary reason is the continued defiance of the minority to obey the rules. Almost daily there are illegal parties being raided by the police. There are TV news reports where the journalists talk to young people in the city who say they’re fed up with not being able to have fun.

Like we all aren’t too, eh?

Recently, there’s been a story running on Greek TV about a rather unpleasant and unfortunate event where apparently the police were very heavy-handed in trying to break up a street gathering in Nea Smyrni, Athens. TV cameras caught a couple of policemen hitting a young person very hard with their batons. Not nice and not necessary. The footage has been shown over and over again on the news bulletins too. The young person in question was unarmed. The result of all this has been some riots in recent days, with Molotov cocktails being thrown and the police receiving a ‘bashing’ in the media. The upshot of this has been an organised day of demonstrations, which just happened to be the day we were in town. The first we heard of it was when we became aware of some loud music being played over a sound system in Ierapetra’s main square, just metres from where I took the above photo, in fact. This was what we saw when we went to investigate, and by then there was a speaker talking very passionately over the microphone…

The banners appear to be suggesting that police funding is depriving children of necessary education and care too. The local newspaper that evening, on its Facebook page, reported on a similar (although apparently larger) demonstration which took place in Agios Nikolaos too, which was what led us to the conclusion that the demonstration probably took place in lots of other towns and cities across the country. Must admit that we couldn’t quite get the message scrawled on some of the banners, which also appeared to be protesting the fact that the children were being deprived of their education as a result of the pandemic, while the police were not being called to account for some of their actions. It’s all over this troubled planet of ours, isn’t it?

Having witnessed the above scene though, I have to say that it seemed to us that the Ierapetrans who attended did their best to at least maintain social distancing and all were wearing masks.

Maybe next post I’ll have something a little more substantial to talk about, but for now, at least we can make the most of things by taking our walks in the wonderful landscape that we’re so fortunate to have around the village where we live. Keep safe.

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

Catch 22

Just a brief post this time, and it concerns a chat I had with an old friend on Rhodes about which, although somewhat frustrating for him, we both saw the funny side. We were talking about all this palaver about getting one’s residency permits updated. There’s a Facebook group I’m currently following, primarily for ex-pat British people living in Greece, and it’s the ideal group to follow if you want to bring on a heart attack or increase your stress levels. I don’t mean to decry the group, which does – when it comes down to it – a very good job, and I’ve learnt several useful things from it. But it still ought to carry a health warning. I’ll explain.

By far the most popular theme on the group currently is people’s experience with applying for the new “biometric” residency permits. If you were to believe everyone who posts or comments, then you’d find that the requirements are as many and varied as the colours in Vivienne Westwood’s wardrobe. There is quite evidently a fair degree of shenanigans going on in various parts of the country. People are being told to bring along all kinds of stuff by some local immigration offices that other areas are not even interested in. The old Temptations hit “Ball of Confusion” keeps playing in my head right now. There can be no doubt that, sadly, some local officials do seem to take delight in running ex-pats around in circles, whereas in other areas they’re as courteous and helpful as anyone can be.

Now, to be honest, I do not believe that there is any urgency attached to getting these permits updated. Me and the better half have lived in Greece since 2005 and counting, and our permits (the old A6 card ones) we were told by the government would be valid forever, except if we were to move house, which of course, we’ve done. Thus, we do need to get ours replaced. Plus, of course, people who’ve moved to Greece much more recently are in a different situation, I’m sure. What I want to say here is, as we progress with our applications, I’ll keep you posted. In no way wishing to boast or pull rank, me and the better half speak good Greek, and we find that time and again that opens doors when we’re sitting across a desk from a civil servant. For starters, they tend to live up to that title by being more civil from the get-go when they see that you can communicate in their language. It’s understandable too, because talking to a different friend from Rhodes, a female this time, we were amused to hear her tale of a bombastic Brit who powered his way into a KEP office (or some-such, can’t remember now) demanding his rights as a British citizen, only to be told in no uncertain terms that if he didn’t have an appointment he could be the King of Siam for all they cared, he must still a) not crowd the waiting area owing to social distancing requirements, and b) clear off and don’t come back until he has an official appointment.

Which brings me to my friend Stuart’s amusing, if frustrating tale. He had to go somewhere in pursuit of some A4 rubber-stamped photocopy or other (anyway, he’ll probably read this and fill in the precise details on that score) but, when he phoned the correct number, no one ever answered it. Finally he decided that he may as well show up and see if he could get seen. Here’s how the conversation went:

Sorry, sir, if you don’t have an appointment you can’t come in I’m afraid.

How do I make an appointment, just out of interest?

You need to phone this number.” And the person reeled off the phone number to call in order to arrange an appointment.

Right, OK. So that’s the number I already have. And I’ve rung it a zillion times and no one ever answers the call.

He didn’t add this thought when telling me the above, but I bet he looked at the other few people in the vicinity of the desk in question and wondered, “How the hell did these people get their appointments then?

Brings a feeling of normality to the world eh?

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

Beneath blue skies

It rained in the night the day before last. Apart from that we’ve been enjoying stunningly grand blue skies of late. This past couple of days there hasn’t been a single solitary cloud for most of the daylight hours, some small white fluff appearing over the high mountains periodically, that’s all. As per usual now, our highlight of the week is our normally twice-weekly foray into town to do some shopping. Driving down the lane past Maria’s house yesterday morning, we stopped to exchange a few words with both her and Angla’i’a, who were having a natter over Maria’s balcony. Something that always touches us is the way that such neighbours always light up when they see us and seem genuinely keen to engage in a friendly conversation. It makes for a very pleasant experience, this village living, despite the current awful events further afield.

It is almost surreal, the way that village life here is so close to what we used to consider as normal. There is, however, no room for complacency, as this past few days has shown. Cases of Covid-19 in the urban areas of Crete are alarmingly high right now, with Heraklion and Rethymnon both showing 30 or 40 cases per day, sometimes more. Here in Lasithi we’ve returned to our previous levels of maybe one or two, then a few days with none, but no one’s under any illusions about how quickly things could change. The last time we were in town, having picked up a couple of take-out coffees and settled on a bench near the Police Station to drink them in the warm sunshine, we watched as a police motorcyclist pulled up beside a strolling couple who were probably in their mid-sixties, and began castigating the man for not wearing his mask. We heard much of the conversation, and the woman (who was wearing hers) tried to excuse her husband, who was smoking a cigarette by the way, who also said that it was no big deal, he’d simply forgotten to put his mask on before leaving the house.

The police officer was having none of it, and we had to say we agreed with him. How could this man have forgotten to wear his mask when his wife was wearing hers? In fact, snippets of the conversation suggested that he thought the policeman might simply turn a blind eye and that would be that, but the officer pulled out his forms and began filling one in. The man was being fined on the spot, €300 a pop they are, and quite right too. The officer could be heard telling the man how irresponsible he was, when everyone else was complying with the law, whether they liked it or not, which requires everyone in Greece to wear a mask when away from home, outdoors or in. In fact, when we’ve watched the UK TV news bulletins of late, where the incidence of Covid-19 has been much higher historically than here in Greece, it’s amazed and dismayed us to see so many people walking the streets without face coverings.

But I didn’t start this post to go on about the pandemic. It’s nice sometimes to get one’s mind on other things, and so I thought I’d pack the remainder of this one with photos from the past couple of days. I’ll start with a few shots from two recent walks up the mountain, when it was a little cool out on one of them (it was evening that time), hence the coats; then finish with our harbour walk in Ierapetra yesterday, when it was actually hot in the sunshine. Hope you like these.

The Village

Brings a whole new meaning to the expression “lemon head.”
OK, so abandoned cars in Greek villages aren’t very pretty, but this tiny margarita flower’s trying to change all that.

The Road

Above: Driving back home from a shopping trip, we suddenly remembered that we hadn’t bought bread for lunch. Then, right on cue, we saw this baker beside the road, having just sold a loaf to a shepherdess. Before he could close his tailgate, we pulled up and the beloved was able to avail herself of a fresh loaf of village bread. A result. Plus, while she sorted that out, I rolled her window down and shot (not literally!) the shepherdess’s sheep, baby lambs and all…

The Mountain (two different walks)

The Town/Fishing Harbour

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

You know you’re in Crete when…

The photo above was taken just beyond the fishing harbour in Ierapetra a few days ago. If you click to view it in another tab you can expand it and see the beautiful mountaintops, still dusted with icing sugar snow.

It’s been rather quiet this past week or so, with not all that much to report. We’re getting a little frustrated at how long our regular supply of vitamins and supplements is taking to reach us since the turn of the year. It can only be down to “Brexit’ having taken effect I suppose. I did contact Healthspan, the rather excellent company from which we order our supplies (and have done for decades), and they assured me that the stuff should eventually get through. They were right, in that the order I’d phoned them about did arrive a couple of days later, but it had taken weeks longer than normal to get from Guernsey to our mailbox here in the village. We are, however already out of some other stuff which we get on subscription, and it’s way overdue. Patience is a virtue, eh?

Not much has been going on in the village, apart from the fact that we’ve now bought Graviera three times from the man with the cheese and dairy van, who I believe now hangs around after he’s done his megaphone bit in the expectation that he’ll see me come bounding into view. Good job too, because before he knew me he’d only give it around a minute before engaging first gear and shoving off up the road, which meant that one time I did go running down there, strutting out into the middle of the road, only to hear our neighbour Angla’i’a say: “He’s gone Yanni.”

Aged and diminutive Kyria Sofia is back in evidence outside her tiny home up the lane from us more frequently now, which fills us with relief. After the scare a few weeks back, when her son turned up and took her off to the hospital, where she was checked over and found to be haemorrhaging internally, we had begun to think that maybe she wouldn’t be coming back. But no, I’ve since had the pleasure of exchanging a wave with her two days ago, as she busied herself washing down the stone surface of the lane just outside her door. So, at least for the time being, she’s back where she wants to be and the atmosphere of our steep little lane is all the better for it.

Something I did think you might find mildly amusing, is the way that surnames end in Crete. After moving here, some 17 months ago now and counting, we soon began to notice something that most of the businesses have in common. Not just the businesses, but our ever-growing circle of new friends too. Whatever the nature of the business, it’ll have a sign out front which will also tell you the surname of the family that runs it. You know you’re in Crete when that name – probably around 90% of the time – will end in ‘…akis.’ There are Moulianitakis and Papadakis, there’s Halkiadakis and Bitsarakis, and the list goes on, and on, and on. In fact, if a Greek surname ends in “…akis” it’s a penny to a pound that the family’s roots lie on this island. In fact, the bloke we bought our house from, whose roots are in this very village, …well his surname is Anifantakis. See, there you go. If you’re a regular visitor to Crete, or indeed, if you’re fortunate to live on this island, and maybe you haven’t yet noticed this, next time you’re gazing at shopfronts or builders’ yards, a boat repair centre or animal feed bulk suppliers’ premises, look at the family name. Nine times out of ten (and even higher) you’ll see what I mean.

One of Greece’s top selling singer/songwriters is Notis Sfakianakis, who can be a little controversial actually, owing to his abrasive personality and extravagant lifestyle, but guess where he comes from. Click here to find out, but you won’t be surprised.

Even if you either visit or live on another island, or perhaps the mainland, and you have occasion to ask someone whose name ends in ‘akis‘ where their family is from, I’d bet a pretty penny (if I were a betting man) that the’ll say Crete. I haven’t yet done the research, but it’s fascinating because the suffix ‘akis‘ (without the ‘s’ when it’s in the accusative case, of course) is usually added to any noun in order to add a sense of affection, familiarity or closeness. A good example is what my friends call me when they want to make me feel part of the family, as it were. Yup, they’ll call me “Yannaki.” They call my wife (those who know her as Maria) ‘Maraki‘ and (those who knew her as Yvonne will call her…) “Yvonaki mou.” The literal meaning of the suffix is ‘little,’ as in, for example, “Put it in the basket” may be said as “va’le to sto kalatha’ki.” The word for ‘basket’ is ‘kalathos‘ so, a little basket has the ‘aki‘ suffix added. A box, as another example, is “ena kouti,” so a little box would be “ena koutaki.” You do, however, need to be a bit careful with that one, since ‘koutaki‘ can be used as a euphemism for a lady’s… well, you may have guessed. A man’s… well his is sometimes referred to as a ‘poulaki,’ or little bird. Best not go any further down that route then, eh?

And so to end with, here are a few photos from the past few days…

Above: In normal times all that leaf litter would have been swept away on a daily basis, but owing to the fact that the coffee bars and restaurants have now been closed for over three months, it’s a rather sad sight to be honest.

Above: This past Tuesday, we had to pay a visit to the timber merchant, which is out towards Gra Ligia, so we picked up our take-out Freddo espressos from the “Box” café at the far end of the village, which is right on the corner where you can turn and drive on to this rather splendid, if somewhat bereft, sea front. It’s here that we often go for a swim when it’s permitted. Right now it would be a little risky, because, although we can justify stopping to drink a takeaway coffee while out shopping, to actually go swimming, for us would be stretching it a bit. The text we send to 13033 for taking some exercise only allows us to go directly from the house on foot or by bicycle, and then only to a distance of two km. We regularly exceed that while walking in the mountains, but then, no one’s really bothered when you’re that far from civilisation.

Above: This road is just behind the fishing harbour in Ierapetra.

Above: Yet another view taken just before sunset during an early evening walk up towards Meseleri a couple of evenings ago. The slopes were bathed in late sunshine. The lake just visible in the distance sits just above the village of Gra Ligia. I say ‘lake,’ but it’s actually a manmade reservoir. Not, however, a reservoiraki. That one doesn’t work.

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

A selection of disconnected thoughts

Well, that cold spell is now behind us and things are warming up nicely. yesterday we enjoyed a coffee al fresco in the garden once again and the only time it clouded up was around 5.30 to 6.00pm, just as we decided to go for an hour’s walk. This photo (above) was taken just a little way down the valley from the house and I loved the contrast with the two distinct ‘layers’ of countryside. There’s the lovely, sloping greenery of the nearby hills, contrasted with the sheer majesty of the distant mountains, one of which (on the left) is still streaked with snow in the hollows, and the other is bathed in evening sunshine. Worth zooming in on, really.

We seem to be receiving regular reminders about how thankful we ought to be lately. Only the other day I was whacking another coat of white paint on our picket fence around the lower garden and, in the space of around an hour, I was able to have a brief conversation with Manolis (who broke his hip last year and is in his mid-eighties), Christina (who lives up the lane a ways from us, just past Kyria Sofia’s), Dimitri (one of Maria’s boys who lives in the house below ours) as he shot down the lane on his quad bike crying out “Kalimera Yianni!!“, Angla’i’a (‘mother’ of the village), Giorgos (who lives above and behind us and tootles everywhere on his ageing Honda moped with a plastic crate bolted to the rear rack), Evangelia and Maria (the other Maria, who’s Evangelia’s daughter and lives across the lane from us). The sun was beating down and everyone was in appreciative mood. Village life, I believe, is suiting us, and suiting us well. To have regular interchanges with such humble, hospitable and open-hearted neighbours truly enhances one’s quality of life, of that there is no doubt. One chat I had resulted in my hearing a true pearl of wisdom that I shall treasure always.

Something that Greeks repeat very often when chewing the fat is “Health above all else.” You can look around at what people have in a material way, even envy some of them, yet if their health fails them, what do they have? We have a humble little home here, but we have no debts, no vast business empire or string of properties to worry about, and the only bugbear we have to concern ourselves with is the Greek bureaucracy. OK, that can be pretty time consuming, true, but when you look at neighbours whose lives have barely been lived outside their tiny village for decades and see how content they are, you find that it rubs off on you. That pearl of wisdom, what was it? Giorgos said this: “The more keys you carry in your pocket, the darker your mind is.” Think about that for a moment, it sums things up pretty well in my book. And my keyring is very, I mean very, light!

This morning dawned totally clear and warm. In fact, after coffee at around 11.30am, the beloved actually got this out (she’s on it as I type!) …

No, she wouldn’t thank me for posting a photo with her actually stretched out on it in her bikini, so that’s all you’re getting. Talking about her attractiveness, if I may just share this with you. It made us both laugh, but I think it also made Yvonne (Maria) walk a few inches taller too. When she was in the hospital a couple of weeks back having a few tests after she’d been experiencing a few pains, she was being examined by a woman doctor and her female assistant. They were taking a blood sample, a urine sample, and generally checking her out, while asking a few questions like, “Where is the pain? Does it move about? How severe it is? Can you describe it?” You know, all the questions that they ought to be asking after all, when the assistant said, in all seriousness: “You aren’t pregnant, are you?

Now, look, it’s more than my life’s worth to reveal how old my better half actually is, but she came out of there walking on clouds!!

And so, finally, to a few photos from this very morning…

Above: Not a week passes without us receiving several gifts from our neighbours. This morning Angla’i’a called me on the phone and said, “Come down a moment.” So of course, I complied, and she came and met me half-way (it’s only fifty metres door-to-door anyway) and handed me the two bags you see in the photo. Looks like frittata again tonight…

Above: I hate to rub it in, but look at that sky!! it’s February 19th!!

The two photos above: Taken from our neighbour’s veranda, the olive harvest is still going on. In fact on the local radio this morning they remarked that in eastern Crete there was still about 10% of this years olive crop left to be harvested.

That’s about it for this one. Look after yourselves.

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