Monday, 10 September 2007

Quiet Mousie learns a hard Greek...

“Go on will be fine, just say it nice and loud..” I encouraged Quiet Mousie as we sat at the table following our lunch in Stavros’ Greek taverna. Positioned along the quayside of the harbour and with the most welcoming and charming of owners, one Stavros and his son Nicos, it had soon become our regular lunchtime eatery and welcome respite from the mid day sun each day.

I caught the eye of one of the young waiters that we had befriended over the first five days of our holiday who quickly came across beaming at us. I looked at Quiet Mousie and smiled, giving him eager eyes “Go on then...” The waiter looked on amused.

“To logariasmo, parakalo...”whispered Quiet Mousie. The Greeks face lit up “Ahhh...” he said, and he beckoned to my youngest to follow him. Quiet Mousie is a timid soul at the best of times, so unlike his big brother. He looked a little hesitant. “It will be ok...go with will be fine. I think he must be going to see Nicos and get the bill with you...”I assured him.

Me, Hubby and the eldest sat at the table cooing over him. Bless him. How proud we all were of him. The Greeks love you to make an effort speaking their wonderful language and my boys had delighted them all holiday, practising the language and ordering their food in pidgeon Greek. They always say “Kali Mera” (good morning,) “Kali Spera” (good afternoon) and displayed good manners, “Epheristo” (Thankyou.)

To ask for the bill is a very difficult sentence for a six year old. But Quiet Mousie had done it after five days of enviously listening to his big brother and the responses he got from the locals.

After he had been gone for more than a minute or two, we smiled and thought that the waiter had taken him into the kitchens to choose some ice-cream as they often do.

Two or three minutes passed and we presumed that he must be eating it in the kitchen.

After five minutes we started laughing between ourselves at the table and imagining him chatting away in the kitchen’s to the owners wife whilst eating his ice-cream.

Nearly 10 minutes later and knowing how shy Quiet Mousie is I sent the eldest to look for him. I had visions of him in a kitchen with the owners and not understanding a word they were saying!

Idle Jack came back “I can’t see him anywhere mum...”

About twelve minutes. Panic. Be rational. He’s fine. He’ll just be with Stavros or Nicos.

We waited another couple of minutes. I looked around. No sign of anyone. My heart starting to race a little now. “Where do you think he is?” I asked the hubby. With that the young waiter came back, alone.

“Signomi?” (Excuse me) I attracted his attention.“Poo eene o yos?” (where is my son?)
He looked around the taverna and shrugged.

Real panic now. We all stood up ready to dash through the alleyways looking for him. Maybe he was lost at the rear of the taverna somewhere?

We were just about to throw some money on the table and Nicos the owners son, walked in holding a bereft Quiet Mousie by the hand. He was sobbing and crying and slipped the hand of the Greek and flung himself into my arms, yelling at me and sobbing “Where were you mummy?”
“Oh my god, what happened baby?” I looked at Nicos and the waiter who both shrugged together this time.
Quiet Mousie was unconsolable. He sobbed and clung to me. I asked them to get him some water.
“Where did you get to?” I asked him. And he sobbed the story to me....

“That waiter ...he...he...took me to ...sob....the ...toilet....and he shut the” More tears as the whole story came out of how he stayed in the toilet for nearly fifteen minutes bewildered as to why he had been put in there and the door closed behind him.

Initially I was angry.
Then I realised. The waiter had misheard him. Quiet Mousie had softly asked “To logariasmo, parakalo...”
The waiter had misheard him and thought he ask “To toiletto, parakalo...”

Poor Quiet Mousie.
It took him nearly two hours to calm down. And he continued to fret every time we ate out.
"Please Mummy, please don't make me speak any more Greek this holiday," he begged me.

No hard feelings with Nicos...

So until another day

Bye for now

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Simply Greece

There is something wonderfully seductive about the Greek way of life and it’s simplicity. Ever since my first trip to Crete as an eighteen year old girl I have, for over twenty years had a love affair with Greece-not the ancient history, art and architecture or mythical Greece, but it is the people of Greece and their outlook on life that capture my heart.

When the only place left on the Manos Website for a late getaway was a 1 star apartment in a tiny unspoilt island called Meganissi, satellite island to Lefkas we jumped to book it. We go to Greece to ‘lose ourselves’ and forget the worries and strains of daily life. I think out of twenty three years there has only been one year when we I haven’t visited Greece; the temptation to spend a week or two without a phone ringing or not knowing what the news headlines are always proves too much.
Meganissi is one of the Ionian islands but unlike it’s sisters, Kephalonia, Corfu, Lefkas etc time really does seem to have stood still. We reached it by ferry from Nidri, on the island of Lefkas, and were immediately struck by the contrast between the bustle of that busy resort and the quiet solitude of the picturesque harbour and fishing village of Vathy that we sailed into. We all felt the immediate sense of peace and calmness, the harbour entrance is flanked by chapels which apparently are there to bless all those arriving and leaving and to give boats safe passage. It must be one of the few last remaining truly authentic and unspoilt Greek Islands.

The Greeks are of course all great philosophers and love nothing more than to talk and put the world to rights. And as we stepped off the ferry the blue tables and chairs of the first taverna that we saw were already full of the local men sitting with expressos and ouzo discussing politics and world events while they whirled ‘worry beads’ and flicked them around their wrists.

Meganissi is an island, the antipethese of the larger commercial Greek Islands like Corfu or Crete; as we stepped off the ferry it was like taking a step back in time-unspoilt, charming and full of unadulterated natural beauty. The island is a miniature Greek Island, measuring just 20 sq kilometres and has a population of only approx 1400 people. There are only three villages, barely more than hamlets and with little tourist development. In each, a labyrinth of tiny lanes and alleyways like ‘kantounia’ form a maze of whitewashed stone houses and courtyards full of tin-potted plants to the top of the hillside. It is this that evokes the bygone eras, especially with so few cars on the island. .

How I wish I'd had more time to paint or sketch the small and spartan, clean little houses which are the stamp of the rural life of the village's inhabitants. Those remaining inhabitants of the island are farmers and fishermen, whilst those who have left were expert boatmen and sea captains.

The main trade is still fishing rather than tourism and the fishermen go off for several months at a time on trips leaving the women sitting and tatting lace and shawls under the shade of the vines. For those left there are still olives to harvest, sheep and goats to milk and chickens to feed. In bygone years the villages were the centres of activity. Everybody would join in with the olive harvest to make oil to sell and corn was grown and milled in one of the many windmills to make flour. Nowadays, olive oil continues to be made on the island but in smaller quantities and is produced by machine instead of donkeys. Flour is no longer made so all that remains of the windmills are the round stone built towers that balance on hilltops and capes, bereft of their sails and looking forlorn.

A recently made road skirts the coast of the island making some of the little bays more accessible and gives a hint of development which may come in the future. However, for now it remains unspoilt, the most secluded bays can still only be reached by boat. The wildlife and habitat of the island is best observed on foot, although my boys found it too hot to do much walking. Paths and tracks twist across the island amongst the olive groves and maquis and the smell of pine emanates throughout. We hired a car for the week which helped with the mountainous tracks which give way to sheer hanging cliffs and the most spectacular views.

The beaches were typically Greek, although in Meganissi you often had the shingle and pebble stretches all to yourselves, even the week we were there which was ‘peak season.’ Sun loungers would have been a luxury and not in the vocabulary of this island so unfortunately the reed mats and towels didn’t provide cushion enough to be able to lie down and sun bathe for too long. But the discomfort was worth it to see the distorted faces the Workaholic Hubby pulled when trying to make a quick dash in and out of the sea!

The electricity was a typical Greek experience in that it went off several times a day sometimes leaving no power for half a day at a time. We soon stopped plugging in the kettle so as not to overload the circuit and chose instead to stick to retsina and Mythos beers in the end. And it was a little problematic when for the last two and a half days of the holiday there was no water AT ALL to our apartment. Apparently the island had a shortage of water (Deliveries of water by tankers have to ‘shared out’ amongst the islands) Because our apartment was up the hillside the water pump was not powerful enough to pump the water up the hill it was so steep. But Workaholic Hubby managed going up and down the 30 or so steps to the sea, collecting buckets of sea water for the toilet, and our regular Taverna “The Rose Garden” kindly allowed us to use their shower blocks.

Nothing spoiled our enjoyment of this lovely island. It was as they say in Greece “Easy, worries...”

There were few other children except the locals for my boys to play with and no entertainment or organised activities. In fact there really was very little else to do on Meganissi other than soaking up the relaxing atmosphere of the picturesque villages and harbours, sitting in the shade of the simple tavernas, and ‘people watching.’ But my boys managed to charm the Greeks who adore children anyway with their attempts at speaking Greek. Over 20 years ago I had a baptism of fire backpacking across the Pelopenese and through ‘bandit country’ when no one for miles could speak English. Over the years I can now speak enough Greek to order food, book rooms, find my way around and converse in basic terms and whilst I am far from fluent, they appreciate so much any effort to speak their beautiful language. We manage, as we shrug and scowl and find pidgeon Greek and English between us to reach an understanding. I have tried to influence the boys to make an effort and this has been repaid by the joy on the Greeks faces as the boys try to get their teeth around the tricky words.

Another day I shall tell you the tale of my youngest, ‘Quiet Mousie’ and the trouble he landed himself in when trying to speak Greek in a restaurant. And also of an encounter ‘Workaholic Hubby’ had with Panos, “The only Gay Greek in the Village” and owner of our apartments...

So until another day

Bye for now