Sunday, 19 October 2014

Picnic below Mount Pantockrator

From a stroll around the summit of Mount Pantocrator, a ascent via Sokraki, Zigos, Sgourades and Strinilas, we descended a kilometer to a place in sight of the mountain top and spread ourselves a picnic on a grazing just off the road in the company of all those things that keep people away from such lovely places – two varieties of ant, a dung beetle, wasps, a lone mantis, a bumble bee, butterflies and day moths.

*** *** ***
Yesterday we went as usual when we have a car to the Lighthouse - O Foros – table-top sale at Kontokali, then after the usual humming and haaing with arguments and indecision to a pebbled beach near the old Venetian Arsenal where the Corfu Rowing Club have made three wooden rafts into a jetty.
We’d bought souvlaki and giros from Spiridoula, working as ever over the turning spit at George’s.
“Did you get chips for Guy and Amy?” asked Lin
“No! I got what people ordered” (I made the list as I thought agreed)
Lin shrugged to Amy “You didn’t tell your father to get chips as well”
“Shall I go back?”
“No don’t bother”
We sat in the sun on two picnic rugs I’d remembered to bring this time. I sat on the jetty, jeans rolled up, and dangled my feet in the mild sea. A slight breeze blew from the north. A few locals shared the shore. 
Gouvia pier

Planes came high overhead now and then. After a while Guy and Amy took Hannah and Oliver further along the shore for shade. Lin lay to read. Sophia slept. Liz and I leapt off the jetty; drying and warming and swimming again. As the sun lost some of its strength Amy and Guy came back with the grandchildren. Oliver dislikes water at the moment and clung to Guy up to his waist. Liz dipped Sophia.
“There’s a pervert over there.” said Liz “He's watching the women. I don’t think it’s at the kids”
“He had his hand in his underpants feeling himself…Doing it” said Amy
I saw this gaunt featured elderly man, lean and bronzed, in the distance. I strolled over crunching gravel and for an hour stood between him and his glassy stare, standing by him in the water when he rose unsteadily and swam a few listless strokes; resting my shadow across him, as muttering soundlessly he tried to stare at women on the beach with the rusty focus of a spent torpedo. Peering at his watch he picked himself up and doddered from the beach.
Amy joined me jumping in again ...

...and so we spent the rest of the afternoon, before going into town and watching the sun set from the Faliraki cornice before a long supper at Strapunto – delicious grilled meats (some boxed to take home for Sunday supper), breads, feta and salad, grilled mushrooms, chips and the children not embarrassing us too much with sudden complaints, as we sat across from a model family, father and uncle, mother, three small slim daughters and yiayia smiling benignly.
Home again in the cool of the evening
“Don’t bring the washing in now” said Lin “It’ll be fine in the morning”
The children disappeared into the soundest sleep.

“I’ll shower off this salt in the morning” I thought heading for slumber nearing the end of Geoffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex – wonderful book about Greeks in America starting - almost - with the destruction of Smyrna; the massacres of 1922.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A family visit to the Museum

Angeliki arranged for the family including Liz and Sophia, to see inside the Aristeidis Metallinos Museum one Wednesday morning
“My parent's house is full of children. Let me take you all for a coffee at Stamati’s after your visit” she suggested
Given the logistics, I was delighted we were all ready just before noon. At the door of the museum Angeliki let us in.
Liz and Sophia in the Aristeidis Metallinos museum
It was a short visit – maintaining the connection – but I learned a little more. Liz had never seen the place. She harboured ideas of 'naughty carvings'. I liked her reaction to the laic sculptor's sequence ‘from the history of women'. Aristeidis, without, so far as I know, a scintilla of reading about feminism, has traced, in five carvings, his view of a puzzling, but most definite path from beast of burden via male symbols made androgynous, breasted flightless cockerel, an intercontinental missile guided by its rider, to the power source – a fecund bud and breasts. Whence came these images? First stolid and grounded, then springing, soaring?
Aristeidis Metallinos, his gaze - 'from the history of woman' (1978)
Imagine them placed and lit by a skilled curator. There are more direct works...
Aristeidis' take on Eve and original sin 1982

Aristeidis Metallinos The Queen of the World 1983 (Cat 46) "who will bring peace and love to the world"
...but that sequence seems most original, sticking in my mind, ringing no bells of connection to similar images from other hands. Alexandra Moschovi has encouraged me to run these works beside events of the artist's time. Angeliki told me over coffee at Piatsa, that her grandfather, having taken a bus from Ano Korakiana to the city, went to watch films there. Some would, like The Saint of Preveza,  from a non-fiction novel by Spyros Karatzapherēs Σπύρος Καρατζαφέρηςbeen erotic and sexually explicit, while disappointing the eye of an audience seeking pornography.  Mark told me that there was also a drive-in cinema on the outskirts of the city which showed porn films, but these at the Oasis were films breaking rules of imposed and self-imposed censorship before and after the departure of the Colonels; in this case the director Dimitris Kollatos Δημήτρης Κολλάτος testing the limits then and now (see also)
"My grandfather went on his own, on the bus" said Angeliki
"Not with Eleni?"
"No he was a typical Greek man in that respect. His wife stayed at home, with the children, doing the cooking..." She smiled at this.
The family with Angeliki Metallinos (centre) at Piatsa the other day (photo: Stamatis Savannis)

Later Stamatis told me that in those days Ano Korakiana was served by more buses taking villagers and visitors in and out of the city.
"Many people from here would go there for the day, the evening. There was an open air cinema near Sa'Rocco called Oasis (Stamatis pronounced it with a short 'a' ... O- as - is). You could sit and have food and drink watching a film."
"Ah!" I thought; the self-taught sculptor's anticipation on the bus from the village; the watching, perhaps discussion - or did he sit alone? And afterwards...reflection, as the bus wound back to his village, Aristeidis' already sketching on a split-open cigarette packet, itching to set-to on marble with chisel and mallet.
The Saint of Preveza

I asked Stamatis about reaction to the showing in the 1980s of the film about Stylianos Kornaros, the bishop who'd had a scandalous affair with the wife of another bishop.
"In the town there were demonstrations against the showing;" Stamatis told me "Priests and religious people protested."
*** *** ***
Just caught the bus to Ano Korakiana - "€2 to the village please"
We’ve made ourselves car free; concentrating on the local circumference encourages walking. Amid rain I dropped off the car at the airport, unloaded my folding bicycle; scurried into town between downpours. Awaiting my 12.15 bus to the village I sat with a diplo skirto and a brandy beneath an awning. Rain washed the city, scouring gutters, clearing downpipes, sweeping the marble paving, pouring into bubbling drains. Waterlogged waist down, I sat with one other passenger on the green bus back to the village with a towel over my knees. One more day the rain continued. Mist occluded our space. Washing accumulated. Two evenings I lit our stove, to Lin’s protests. On the third afternoon a long margin crossed the sky – its precise cloudless side, ours for the rest of a hot drying afternoon. These salady October days have run for twelve days,  welcoming our mornings with bright slivers and sharp shadows, even as the evenings draw in, and I add a long-sleeve shirt over my daily T-shirt and shorts.
Walking below Ano Korakiana with my beloveds

Monday, 6 October 2014

A universe of children

(Photo: Lin Baddeley)

Once upon a time in a universe of children, we direct their sagas; stories full of half-human noises – a script of monosyllables, mingled with wailing and laughing. Late evening, the stars at last in their trailers, cossetted, coaxed, fitfully dreaming tomorrow’s lines, the crew eat, drink, talk and play cards, tired from another long day on set.

Another morning. Our stars don’t, like Achilles, sulk in their tents. They rise early to stir their staff, invade their beds, prise open their eyelids. The canteen is fired up. The house creaks. Shooting recommences at dawn. Nappies, potties, bottles, toast and cereal on plastic plates and dishes. Breasts pressed into service; sacred objects clutched. Somewhere in the long morning the scene shifters, grips and gaffers; take a breather, a smoke and a chat about their encounters with particular actors – a mix of bemoaning, boasting and largely unheeded advice. 
“But she’s always sweet with me!”
 “You’re joking. I get it like this every morning” 
“Just don’t let him get away with it.” 
“I don’t but I think he had a bad night” 
“Yes but you’ve got to let them know the limits” 
I’m an assistant, of little importance on set, with fantasies of how I’d direct the situation; a roadie goffer making cheese toasties, tea and coffee for colleagues, washing up, carrying trays, bagging the extra rubbish, wiping surfaces, straining at my traces, longing for my own place in the sun between the shadows cast by this trio of stars. The work is constant, prolonged, detailed and tedious with much standing around, much sentry duty. To get these children from the house into the car takes several hours. There’s the complicated business of assembling clothes, shoes, beachwear, sun cream – factor 50, hats, picnic things. For days until now the weather has been sublime, the far mountains hazed above a gently ruffled sea – scuffed blue velvet. In the foreground, green lemons, green oranges just above the balcony, with wisteria and bougainvillea; with silver and green of olives and cypress stretching to the near horizon. I’m assembling things for others, things that have little to do with me. It’s a lesson in humility; a lesson in what is for me the ill-practised art of caring for others.

I could be off walking, cycling, sailing, reading, even writing. It takes this family, this household – four grown-ups, my wife, my daughter – mother to Oliver in his third year, and Hannah two months – Liz, Amy’s best friend and mother to one year old Sophia, all morning and into the early afternoon, to be ready for “what we’ll do today” – go to the grassy beach at Dassia....
....have a swim in the lovely empty - end of season - pool at Dominoes in Analipsi, 

walk on the cricket ground opposite the Liston...
Oliver, Sophia. Liz and Hannah on the cricket pitch in Corfu
...stroll in the evening by the pebbled shore below Faliraki in the city...
Gazing towards Mother Greece from Faliraki
...find this early October and almost empty beach near Canal D’Amour at Sidari. 

The actual shoot is hardly a quarter of the day. I want to start my story, my once upon a time at dawn and let it run until I sleep, waited on as I wait now, my grandchildren’s sentry. 
(Photo: Lin Baddeley)

Did Hitler ever rise early to make someone’s breakfast? I know Heracles, followed by paparazzi, diverted a river to clear the Augean stables but did he ever just bag domestic rubbish and take it daily to the wheelie bins – unsung – or ever change a nappy? Did Voltaire ever have to oversee the assembling of the shoes needed by four adults and a toddler planning a couple of hours on the beach? 

Robespierre. Did he empty a potty and clean it? "Great Alexander! Hold this baby. Can you calm her as you did Bucephalus?" Shakespeare knew what I’m going on about; knew about mewling and puking. I’d trust him above Rousseau for all his influential theories about raising children.

Back numbers