Saturday 29 August 2015


The Durrell family moved to the island of Corfu for four years in the 1930's.  Both Lawrence and Gerald have written about their time on the island and a film was made of Gerry's  book "My Family and Other Animals".

Lawrence Durrell was a novelist and a poet and also wrote books about his sojourns in Corfu, Rhodes and Cyprus. His books are a little out of date now, being written just before and after WWII, but he gets into the soul of the people, the country, its culture and quirks. These are not travel stories but as someone  wrote 'foreign residence' books .    His novels I find difficult to read though have enjoyed some.  His travel books on the other hand are delightful, rich in description, witty and shrewd. 

Spirit of Place is the one I have just finished and here are some quotes I enjoyed.

"My books are always about living in places, not just rushing through them.  .......tasting the wines, cheeses and characters of the different countries you begin to realise that the important determination of any culture is after all - the spirit of place."

"Most travellers hurry too much.  But try just for a moment sitting on the great stone omphalos*, the navel of the ancient greek world at Delphi.  Don't ask mental questions, but just relax and empty your mind."

"Ten minutes of this sort of quiet inner identification will give you the notion of the greek landscape which you could not get in twenty years of studying greek texts."

*omphalos - tummy button

This would be a delightful way to get in tune with Greece but nowadays it would be hard to find the peace and quiet needed. Cars and tourist coaches haul in hundreds of people every day and hour.  Maybe in a snow flurry in the middle of winter, and then only early in the morning.

And on Greek potholes.  So, so true even today. He is talking about his return to Corfu after twenty odd years.

"I'm not joking when I say that I remembered many of them from my youth - the identical holes. "

"An army of gnomes with teaspoons comes out one night and very deftly fills the holes with a light mix of cement and clinker - like filling cavities in teeth.  This just passes the test of summer weather, but the first thunderstorms of the autumn deftly wash out the fillings and leave us once more with the original road surface - a sort of confluent smallpox effect"

So it's gnomes with teaspoons that used to fill those damn potholes here on Poros.   I think they've gone on strike or have been frightened away by trolls on fiery four-wheeled  dragons.  Our potholes have not been re-filled for many a summer.

And one last quote describing a grande gourmet at a French restaurant.

"L'abdomen est un peu majestueux."

What I found even more entertaining was a couple of hours of his brother Gerald reading his highly entertaining books on his childhood in Corfu.  Most of you must know of the book 'My family and other Animals'.  It is a chuckle a page.  If you liked his books then these recordings are even better.  Great for taking the drudge out of the ironing.  There is one clip on YouTube where he reads his own work and is preferable to excerpts read by others.

Gerald Durrell.  Stories from a Corfu Childhood.  Look for it on YouTube.

Lawrence Durrell -
Prospero's Cell        Corfu
Bitter Lemons          Cyprus
Reflections of a Marine Venus          Rhodes
Spirit of Place    a collection of letters and memories

Gerald Durrell -
My Family and Other Animals
Birds, Beasts and Relatives
The Garden of the Gods

These three now seem to be sold as the 'Corfu Trilogy'.

for more on Greece and Poros 

Monday 24 August 2015


This is not just a few boat people arriving illegally under cover of darkness on a few greek islands. Summer and calm seas has brought an invasion with boats arriving on the hour during daylight hours.  Imagine a plague of ants climbing up and over your doorstep and swarming all through your house.

Thousands of refugees are now on Greece's northern border with Skopje* .   The route for this onslaught of refugees mainly from Syria but also Iran, Afghanistan and other middle east combat zones, is from the shores of Turkey to a greek island by some sort of flimsy vessel (although some were brought across by jet ski before the human trafficker was caught by the greek coast guard).  On they go by ferry to Athens, train to northern Greece and the border with Skopje where they are let through a few hundred at a time.  There they are allowed as far as the nearest railway station where they board a train for Serbia.  From Serbia they hope to reach Hungary and eventually Germany and places east, west and anywhere European. 

Bulgaria has closed its greek border for refugees so Skopje is the only passage way for them. Thousands were repelled by tear gas and stun grenades as they stormed the country's border.  Skopje has declared a state of emergency and is calling for more trains to transport them to Serbia.  Serbia meanwhile is struggling to give them food and water on their passage through the country.  Hungary is reputed to be building a 13' high fence along their border to keep out or at least restrain this human onslaught.  At the moment thousands are camped out on the main railway station in Budapest waiting to enter Europe. 

100,000 have entered Austria and Switzerland over the alps from Italy. Many more thousands are arriving in Italy from Libya which involves a much longer sea journey.  Italian authorities are reputed to let refugees escape  from camps in Sicily because it is just too expensive to keep them.

There are riots and fighting at the channel tunnel entrance on the coast of France. Official reports say they have stopped 37,000 attempts to reach England through the tunnel since January.

In Greece thousands are now being washed up daily and big passenger ferries have been put into service to transport them a few thousand at a time to the Port of Pireaus. Riots  on the island of Mytilene ended in two refugee deaths.  It is no longer just a case of those few hundred camped in Athens parks being rehoused (where they are complaining about the lack of WiFi).  Many of those fleeing Syria were from the middle class, educated, with good jobs.

  On the islands they must be fingerprinted and receive an official paper so they can continue.  Delays are making the crowds angry and frustrated.  Police cannot process them fast enough.  The biggest worry is that Islamic militants are among those seeking asylum.

5,000  are  today at the border of Skopje waiting for permission to enter.  The guards are letting in 100 at a time, families first.  The rest are left in a no mans land between the two countries.  They have already cleared the fields of anything edible, from the seeds of fields of sunflowers to watermelons.  Human aid workers are trying to keep them supplied with food and water and the small villages nearby are providing what aid they can.

The weather is changing and nights are cold. Rain is forecast.

There are 200,000 more refugees in camps on the Turkish/Syrian border.  

This a human tragedy of huge proportions.  It involves families, pregnant women and hundreds of  children who are fleeing alone hoping for the chance to live their lives free and in safety.

*The foreign press know the country as Macedonia but Macedonia is part of northern Greece, the birth place of Alexander the Great.  Macedonia is Greek.  The country's offical name is Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia or FYROM.  The greeks call the republic 'Skopje after its capital city.

Greece's political and economic problems are minor compared to the surge of human beings from the inferno of the  middle east.

Tsipras has resigned and called for elections.  Opposition parties are now trying to form a coalition government but that is unlikely to happen.  Elections will probably take place on September 20th before unpopular new tax laws come into force.

25 radical members of his party have broken away and formed a new party called 'Popular Unity' saying that Tsipras has gone against party promises of no more austerity.    

Tsipras  is seeking a majority for the SYRIZA party and he is still well liked because of the tough stance he took towards the European creditors.   However the first poll puts him only slightly in front of the opposition New Democratic party.

So now we have a month of endless political discussion and the prospect of an unstable future with another coalition government. The caretaker government will be headed by Supreme Court president Vassiliki Thanou-Cristophilou and Greece will have its first female Prime Minister.     

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Some more comments on the greek situation


Banks are open again but only to take in our money. Cash machines still give out daily rations of 50 or 60 euros. Bills are paid in this once cash society without money changing hands, simply transfers of numbers from bank account to collecting office.

Meanwhile the news is full of the dastardly plots of the left wing to return us to the drachma. Lafouzanis, leader of the extreme far left of the ruling party, dreamt up a wild scheme to invade the Bank of Greece, arrest the Governor and relocate 2 or 3 billion euros to be used to run the country while the drachma was being printed and distributed.

Varoufakis, outspoken ex-finance minister had plans to hack into his own ministry's computers in preparation for Greece’s exit from the eurozone.

Grumbling European partners suggested that Greece sell off its uninhabited islands, the Acropolis and other famous antiquities to pay back its creditors. French tourists at the archealogical site of Lindos on Rhodes demanded free entrance saying their country was owed billions by the Greeks and they had no right to ask for more. Security guards refused them entrance.

Tax inspectors are making sweeping checks all over the islands and inland resorts. In Crete the archealogical site of Knossos was found to be one of the islands big tax evaders. There was no official record of money coming in and no tickets being issued. After an inspection of all archeological ruins in the country it was found that only 2 of the ticket machines were connected to the tax revenue office. Millions of tourists visit these sites every year and they all belong to the Ministry of Culture. The government's own ministry was in violation.

New V.A.T. tax laws are a supreme absurdity. Souvlaki has a 13% tax but if salt is added the tax goes up to 23%. Parsley and rocket have 13% tax, basil 23%. Beef 23%, chicken , lamb and pork 13%.

There has been great and witty debate about the logic behind these taxes. General agreement - there is no logical explanation.

23% tax is supposedly only on luxury goods. This includes the carob and 'mountain tea' . The latter is a herb gathered for eons by the greeks from the hillsides and considered a fragrant healing infusion which they drink daily. Carobs are fed to the goats.

Leave these absurdities for the greeks to debate. The month of August is the peak of the holiday season. Sun is guaranteed every day. Souvlaki is still cheap with or without salt. There are dozens of cultural festivals this month especially on the islands. You can enjoy performances of ancient greek plays at the 2500 year old theatre of epidavros. Grape harvest festivals have already begun. Bathe in the romance of the August full moon at midnight on the Acropolis. Come and enjoy Greece.


Wednesday 12 August 2015


And another one’s down, another bill passed in the house.  The proverbial Fat Lady (female with luxurious curves) is warming up.  The Germans are rubbing their plump frankwurster paws. The agreement is almost sealed.
“Germany has gained £71billion from its tough stance on Greek debt crisis... and will still make a profit if Athens never pays back a single cent”
Thank you  via facebook

Looks like we’re set for three years of endless taxes, thirty years of payback and another 50 of recovery.   

The  road ahead is full of potholes although the PM, as usual, came on TV with a big grin on his face telling us that the final agreement is in sight and ‘we shall,  we shall overcome’.  The same thing he has been telling us since his election in January.

Many Europeans refuse to believe that Greece will  implement changes and insist  we just want  to exist on handouts.   Finland is pushing for a grexit. Slovakia will not pay ‘ one more cent of taxpayer money for greek debt’. The rebels in the ruling party SYRIZA  may cause a split and lead PM Tsipras to call for elections.  Just what we want after the pointless referendum.  Let’s throw away a few more million on an unnecessary election.

 On the islands opposite the Turkish coast those fleeing from their own war torn countries are floating in daily by the hundreds.  Riots broke out yesterday on the island of Kos .  ‘If this is Europe, then I want to go back to Syria’ said one.  Duuh.  You’re a refugee in a country that can hardly look after its own people.  The islands are overwhelmed. 124,000 arrived by boat in the first seven months of 2015.  Papers cannot be finished fast enough to get them off the islands and into Athens (where life will be better?)  There is nowhere for them to stay, no toilets and no water supply.  The refugees have  been described as ‘ticking health bombs’ because of the threat of malaria, TB and hepatitis.  They don’t want to stay in Greece and Europe doesn’t want them. 

Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για REFUGEES GREECE

The  campsite set up by the refugees  in a central Athens square is still there although  temporary  housing is being set up for these people in small container-like cabins  with aircon and a daily meal handout.  Greek homeless are complaining and rightly so saying that because of the economic crisis they lost their jobs, lost their houses and now sleep on park benches.  No aircondition or daily meals for them.

August 15 is the biggest holiday of the year,  the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  Athens empties and the islands and villages prepare for a week of church services, village fetes, outdoor markets selling everything from donkeys to icons and always feasting, drinking , music and dancing.

Toursim has bounced back.  Greeks have dug deep and  departed from the big cities in droves.  Poros is full.  It has traffic jams, the harbour road is closed every evening, open only for pedestrians. The mayor, who still has to make any noticeable improvements for the locals is putting all his money into concerts and exhibitons.  We have this month the Celebration of the Lemon Tree, the International Piano Festival, usually in amongst the ruins of the temple of Poseidon on the hill opposite our house,  and something else called the Room of Music, which is probably greek or foreign music played on the steps of the old harbour front building and does enchant all those who are out to promenade on a warm summer evening.

 Αποτέλεσμα εικόνας για temple of poseidon poros greece

Sunday 2 August 2015


A large clay pot sealed with bread dough.  This goes into the wood fired oven and cooks meat in its own juices for three or four hours.  This time it was a chicken.  All we added was lots of garlic, salt and pepper. 

A plate of snails stewed with onions and tomatoes.  These are sucked out with  lots of noisy satisfaction.  If you're shy you could always pick the flesh out with a toothpick .  The tomatoey, saucy juices are sopped up with lots of heavy bread and helped down with lots of cold white wine.  A typical mid summer dish.

My butternut/squash harvest.  I make sweet pumpkin pie, savoury pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, pumpkin puree and roast pumpkin.  Anyone coming this way, please put a packet of proper pumpkin seeds in your bags (along  with the pineapple chunks and vegemite).  We don't get proper pumpkin here, alas


My hydrangea (called an 'ortansia' here, delightful word).  It originally had pink flowers but now just seems to have green blooms.  I read that it is the Ph of the soil that determines the colour.  Anyone got an idea how I can get the colour back - besides having the soil tested?  That is not going to happen.  I have since cut off all the flowers and am waiting for the next growth.

Summer treasures - not from our garden.  Melon, watermelon, figs, peaches and grapes.

Our local beach, Vagionia Bay.

Ghika the goat, this years resident at the beach bar.  He loves to eat towels. 

Refugees.  Still coming over from the close by shores of Turkey in their hundreds of thousands.  They eventually get to northern Greece and the borders of Scopje, Croatia, Bulgaria , where they are not welcome any more even though they just want to pass through. 

This is a transfer of population which is going to change the stability, cultures of europe.  Four million asylum seekers are expected.  As some one recently pointed out to me, that is the population of New Zealand.

Greek schools opened with a lack of 13,000 teachers.  270 did not open at all because no teachers had been posted to them.  One of our primary schools is trying to teach with two teachers missing and the intermediate has  three teachers less than needed.  It will be mid October before new teachers are appointed.

Elections this Sunday.  Whatever government is formed they will have to carry out European austerity measures. 

Second-year memorial service for my brother-in-law at the Poros Monastery.  No-one was happy when my sister-in-law Dina announced this service would take place in the monastery church.  The monk, Loukas, is very strict and is always giving lectures on the correct dress for women and the inferiority of infidels like me.  However, we were lucky.  He was away for the weekend and his place was taken by an extremely friendly black priest from the nearby town of Methana.

Also I saw that the notice on the door of the church has been changed.  Women wearing 'men's clothes' used not be  allowed inside the church at all.  Now they may enter but will be refused communion.  I still stood outside the door for the service.  There is not a very friendly feeling up there.

Dina made a big tray of funeral wheat which was bagged and shared out by my youngest granddaughters.  I made a 'fanouropita' which is a raisin cake made without eggs, milk or butter and it was darn good. After the service we 'retire' to the monastery's 'social' room where some of us make the small cups of greek coffee, others (women of course) share out the koliva (wheat with sugar, cinnamon, raisins and almonds) and I cut up and plated the cake.  We all had coffee and mastiha (which is a sticky liqeuer), cake and cinnamon biscuits.  Usually we then listen to a lecture from Loukas the monk.  This time we just cleared up and went down to the little coffee bar below under the spreading chestnut tree for a freddo cappuccino.