Thursday, 21 May 2015

"Back to reality"

"Oliver! To make castles you must add water to your sand"

I mistook the old bloke with a flat cap, a fag in his mouth, shuffling by my borrowed chair in the airport car park, for a local.
"Are you waiting for a car?" he said
"Ah yes. Yianni told me he's just coming"
I glimpsed the wife with luggage ready. Yianni drove up, shook the old man's hand, patted his back, kissed his wife.
"Back to reality" I heard the man say.
Yianni saw them off; strolled over to deal with my paperwork; licence details.
"Hullo, Simon. How are you?"
"Not so good"
"Seeing off my family"
"Ah you will see them soon"

All that's true, so why do I feel the old sadness of separation in my stomach? It's unavoidable. Cole Porter ...'how strange the change from major to minor, every time we say goodbye?'
It matches the joy of arrival, smiles and laughs.

In one way I'll be glad to get back to just-us-two routines with time to make toast with butter and anchovy paste in the morning while Lin sleeps. Good too to take down that inconvenient safety gate at the top of the stairs, disposing of nappies and food strewn in bits on the floor - and cigarette butts; quiet in the house instead of ....
Bed invasion

....yelling, weeping, whinging, pattering feet and bumps on the ceiling and shrieks at Oliver's new invention - 'spiderdirt!'..which of course is everywhere, imagined and for real.

Hannah and Oliver with Amy

We've been together to Sidari, Kouloura, Kalami...

Palia Perithia, Ermones, Kanoni, Vlacherna, Sokraki...

...Dassia, the pool at Dominoes - still chilly - near Ipsos...

Kanoni where we watch the planes taking off and landing

...Gouvia, Faliraki, places in the delightful city, and at Piatsa in the village where the children are made much of and we watch people and cars and bikes go by. Oliver's been to the shop with me to buy bread. He can say "psomi", ''efxharisto"and "yasoo" and cope with being hugged by - to him - strangers. Oliver and Guy came with me to Pirate Island in the boat.
Last night - their last night - we had Mark and his parents for supper. Lin made two kinds of meat loaf with tasty tomato sauce, baked potatoes with butter, runner beans and carrots, and lots of bread before that to mop the mix of balsamic vinegar and olive oil that came with wide plates of tomatoes and mozzarella, like abstract patterns.
I imagine Oliver, especially, as a camera  '..with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking' starting an album that will last his life.
Faliraki below the city

*** ***
The day before they left my ache began, adding to the joyful taste of every moment. The still summer air within the shade of the cottage hallway was suffused with the unmistakable smell of a live brown trout just caught, held, to keep it pristine, in a small sheaf of fresh grass laid in Bignall's kreel. On such days as this when departures approaches the little dying comes in small sensations that touch every sense and cue timeless associations. What is beautiful in the day becomes even more beautiful.
This is when memories are made that last until old age, until death I suspect, hung in the memory gallery; sometimes still pictures, to be evoked by a smell, or hung in the hall of continuity open all day and night for life - awake and asleep - the palette of every sense, separate and together - the latter the mysterious ingredients of déjà vu.
At Emeral after taking the family to the airport

'The sea is calm tonight'

Innocent as artists but without the craft. Nothing is significant – expect food and love and attention – nothing is insignificant. Nought selected, everything relevant, all is fecund with intimations. Later the children will select, learning the necessary understanding of common sight, which so few slough, to recover glimpses of celestial light, dreams that recur, gloriously fresh.
The bridge over the brook at Ermones
*** *** ***
I had a frantic text from Winnie...

...the bees had caused her problems. She and Dennis had been stung; she twice. I phoned and emailed Gill, my neighbour apiarist. She said the bees population was expanding beyond the hive on Plot 14. She halved the colony. That vexed the remaining bees, hence the text from Winnie. More phone calls. I told Winnie she must stay away from the allotment but she went back and called me again and sent me a clip from her phone...

"Winnie! They're swarming"
"They're dangerous"
"No not while they're swarming. It's OK but phone Gill now"
Later Gill told me that thanks to Winnie she'd caught the swarm and temporarily moved the colony.
"There should be an almost entirely new lot and I'll bring them back"
"I so hope so. I do not want to lose our bees"

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Sailing to Pirate Island

It would be a fabled island. Guy, Dave, Oliver and I set out in Summersong from her little home port of Ipsos; motoring without wind from the aquamarine shallows into the deeper blue of the Kerkyra Sea.

“See the engine?” said Dave
Oliver peered down on our engine under the first cabin step; made engine noises.
“Bob bob bob bob? Call it ‘Bob’’
“We’re going to Pirate Island” I said
Slowly the old boat headed south a little away from the coast, then further past Dassia Bay.
Water for Oliver, beer for the grown-ups and small croissants for everyone . The sandy pebby shores passed slowly by and a small tree covered island appeared on the horizon
“There it is”

“Does he know what an island is?” said Dave
“I don’t know. But we can give Ollie some memories – for us; his innocence to make a different account of this melancholy place. Wouldn’t I prefer to set aside the arguments about what happened there; set aside in all its squalor. Wouldn’t I prefer my grandchildren to think of me living on Pirate Island - where we buried treasure; a cross or two pointing to the spot.”
We approached the island carefully; edged up to the ragged low jetty and took a line ashore; and headed inland.
“Ssssh watch out for pirates”

Under the shaded pines and through the ruined buildings where the pirates go.
"Could this be the place where the treasure was buried?"

"Hear their noise!"
"Ssssh they'll know we're here?"
'Back to the boat...Quick!"
In no time we'd returned aboard, cast off, and were heading home, Oliver at the tiller steering with the foresail up before a gentle breeze. Quiet. Ripples and small splashes against the hull.

Dave, Guy and Oliver sailing on Summersong

I found a souvenir - a thole-pin in a block of wood broken from the gunwale of one of the pirate's sally boats; rusted spiky nails sticking from it. Dave banged them flat against the stone work of the jetty. I drew out the pin and put it in the other way round.
"A boat!"
The boat I found on the island

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The boat

Guy's text from GB the other evening
*** ****

"I want a boat!” said Oliver
“You mean you’d like a boat”
“Yes! A boat!”
“Make him a boat, grandpa” says Amy
I glued and screwed together two pieces of moulding – useful bits kept in the apothiki; fashioned a bowsprit from another shape cut out of something else, added a deck house, and cut a piece of old broom handle for a funnel adding plus two paddle wheels cut from ply - the bolts fixed through the sides and riveted with the ball of my hammer to hold the nuts.
“It’s like that tug that’s towing the Fighting Temeraire
“Make it so it can be pulled along”
“Hm. OK. I’ve also got to check it floats the right way up”
“You only really needed to put a piece of dowling in a log”
"You mean I'm making it for me?"

"I'll show it to Oliver...
The family in the garden on Democracy Street

...and then we'll try it out on water"
Oliver's boat launched in the river that flows into the sea at Ermones

The water in the Ermones River is crystal clear. It runs, just a yard wide and two feet deep, into the surf on the shore. The little paddle steamer drifted into an eddy, under a footbridge, then caught the main flow which ran into the ripples of the collapsing waves of the cove. I was enjoying the voyage until the current sped up of a sudden and the boat was tumbling in the shallow surf, everyone laughing; Oliver crying out in alarm. I waded into the sea and caught the boat on a returning wave.

"She's fine. The bowsprit's cracked but I'll mend that tonight. I should have varnished her first but I couldn't wait"
Ermones bay

*** *** ***
The novel Suite Française exemplifies the sympathetic fallacy in reverse; perfidy, and violence in central France in the June of its third German invasion in a century. I had difficulty when on peaceful contented family holidays in Normandy and Brittany in the 1990s, imagining this green and pleasant countryside fouled by war - one in which my relatives, especially my dad, were to be at hazard two years later. In France in 1941 edging into 1942, Irène Némirovsky wrote the first parts of what she intended to have five parts – a book on the scale of Tolstoy’s War and Peace; avowedly achieving its timelessness. In July 1942 Némirovsky was arrested by the French police, handed over to the Occupying Germans; swiftly transported her to Auschwitz where. sick with typhus, she was killed on 17th August 1942, four and half months after I was born. Dolce and Storm - the first two parts of her work – published 62 years (translated into English in 2007) after her murder - describe people escaping from Paris in face of German invasion, and then, life in a French village in the south of the Occupied Zone where a German regiment is stationed for 3 months before being summoned away to fight in Russia.
‘Soon the road was empty. All that remained of the German Regiment was a little cloud of dust’…and that’s it; the separate characters in Dolce and Storm, yet to meet, in parts yet to be written, remain forever separate. Némirovsky wrote without knowing the outcome of the war or the possibility that the proclaimed 'Thousand-Year Reich' - Germania its capital - would soon fall. It's a truly unfinished work. After reading the ‘first’ 340 pages of what was intended to be a 1000 pages, I so desire to continue, yet suspect the vile circumstances that have deprived me of the symphony the author was planning, will ensure what survives endures in imagination. Suite Française is thus published in sublime and poignant draft. The author's notes show reworking was important. She had no time for it. An un-sanded unvarnished unframed sketch stands on its own even so, made memorable and poignant for being two out of five episodes. Unfinished paintings take me closer to the artist, notwithstanding the possibility the lack of finish is intended. One comment especially …
‘the book itself’ she writes in her planning notes for the whole ‘must give the impression of only being one episode … which is really what is happening in our times, as in all times of course.’ 
Ah yes …’as in all times of course’. We live not in beginnings, middles and ends but in episodes. Don’t I read books, for stories, with beginnings. middles and ends; even where there are formal episodes I want them to be chapters that start, continue and conclude a story. I don’t want to think - or perhaps I’m on to something I hadn’t properly considered - that enduring ‘soap operas’ – the Archers, Coronation Street, both going on around 60 years – are a closer representation of what happened; is happening. My life, anyone’s life, fits the notion of beginning, middle and end, a biography, but perhaps I should think instead of mine and the other lives that have crossed, are crossing and will cross mine as episodes. Beginnings. middles and ends, births, and deaths, are critical to biographies, but not in series, not in episodes, or not in the same way. They happen but they no longer define a plot or storyline...
**** ****
When we were first here, eight years ago, almost tasting the beauty of the place, we dismissed the smell as one that came from a soakaway, βόθρος - unused to new arrivals, or possibly to a predecessors’ habit of using bleach, and other chemicals that interrupt an efficient cess pit’s necessary chemistry – a hole in the ground that was once a well into which the water from domestic sinks, baths and WC flow and disperse into the surrounding ground – not a cesspool, a closed tank, that must be pumped out regularly. Inspections showed our cess-pit was invariably ‘sweet’. The wafts were from next door – miasmas drifting below our noses whether on the veranda, the garden, even our balcony ten feet above the neighbour’s garden. Like wind broken in company we’d collude in ignoring these smells, especially as on breezy days the worst dispersed. But amid our comfortable life we needed to deal with the bother of a problem that was technical and diplomatic.
“You’ll just have to have a word” said Lin this April. I looked up words in the English-Greek dictionary ‘smell’ ‘bad smell’ ‘cess-pit, ‘overflow’, ‘leak’….
Between our properties there’s a gully hardly 45cms wide and about 4 metres long, which carries grey water from our neighbour’s garden into a small culvert under our garden into waste ground. This gully is floored with an inch of concrete; carrying, as well as water, occasional plastic bags, cups and bottles that trap in a metal grid before, some of it slipping into our garden. We clear this now and then. Last year seeking the source of the cess pong, Lin sealed several small leaks coming through the concrete below the mouth of the gully. This caused leakage further up.

“Water finds ways” said Lin.
It became clear that under the narrow concrete of the gully was a thin layer of rubble and under that, earth – black soil, a capacious sponge containing all that leaked from the cess-pit. Any sealing we’d done so far, led to the cess working through the soil and trickling out of the wall higher up.
“Whatever we do” said Lin “we just drive the leak higher”
This month we tactfully approached Fote and showed him a ‘problema’. He pointed out he’d had the soak away pumped out two years ago. We remembered that but, ..."now the smell is as bad as ever”.
A few days later he attempted a bolder solution – applying a rough cement mixture that sat like a bank six inches high along the margins of the apothiki that stood on top of the soakaway where it backed onto our garden.
“It’s not working” said Lin one morning after “and look, he’s inserted a small length of hose pipe at the end of his bank of cement which is emptying into the culvert under our garden."
The smells hadn’t abated.
“We have to make a more thorough push on the problem” said Lin
Paul had told us about a product he used to seal leaks in swimming pools – Waterplug or Aquafix.
“It fills cracks even as water trickles out” he said
We realized our earlier efforts using quick drying cement applied during siesta when there was no waste water generated, were based on not understanding exactly where the liquid and accompanying smell started.
“First we block the leakage into our garden coming from the back of the apothiki.”
We had nine 45cms square floor tiles which, once the leaks had been sealed with aquafix, covered with cement containing Revenex – the local equivalent of pudlo – to make it water proof and then another large layer of mortar holding on each tile that sat neatly in a four inch concrete ledge. Nine tiles did this trick sealing small leaks and places where we might expect future leaks. Then came the tough bit - an incursion into our neighbour’s gully.
"Now for the gulley"

I removed the metal rubbish grid with help from the angle grinder, giving us access to one side of the apothiki. Once Fote’s work had been hacked back - not tricky as it was quite soft - the leak into the gully was apparent, flowing over a thin layer of cement into the soaking mud under the gully. I hacked out blackened muddy pieces of rubble.
“You’re just making it worse” cried Lin
“No I’m not”
I applied a hose pipe to the pool of black water that had seeped into the hole I’d made in the gully. Syphoning out the water revealed a lengthy seam in the side of the apothiki below the level of the gully. The water once syphoned swiftly refilled the messy hole I’d made in the gully
“I’m opening up the wound”
“No you’re making it far worse!”
“Watch” I said, having my doubts.
With my hands - rubber gloved - I reached into a horizontal hole that seemed hard enough on top but was edged below with muddy rubble. I pulled this out, widening the hole until I felt I had a base of sorts.
“The problem is that the main leak is below the edge of the gully”
Lin was sceptical. The smell was of course as bad as ever. The next morning I assembled lots of cardboard, soaked it and shoved it in to plastic bags. I then started shoving these into the hole to staunch the leak.
The gates of Hades

The hole’s appetite for filling was considerable. I pushed the bags in until my arm was in the hole above my elbow, packing in more bags filled the same way. I used a block of wood to press the filling into every part of the hole, banging it with the lump hammer until the hole seemed thoroughly blocked, the plastic just inside the hole quite hard, with room to apply cement on top.
For three days with the smell gone, we waited. Then yesterday evening Lin mixed up quick drying cement, after I'd levelled the gully again with rubble and started filling the hole in the cesspit and the depression in the gully with cement which seems to be setting despite the shade and a few showers of rain...

...and our incursion into the neighbours' space has gone unremarked.

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