Saturday, 30 March 2013

Corfu: a tale of two islands

In the UK it's Easter Saturday but in Corfu it's just another day.

Or is it?

There is a warmth to the air this morning, a real warmth. The Ugg boots have been cast off in favour of Birkenstocks. Lightweight jeans replace heavy Levi's.
The breeze blows in French windows and billows through white muslin curtains in the scene from The Great Gatsby where narrator Nick Carraway meets Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker for the first time.

And a baby lizard comes to life when an old anchor is brought out into the sunshine from the dark cellar.
In the plateia last night, scores of swallows swooped and sang as villagers sat outside until way past eight o'clock. And tonight, the clocks go forward an hour, making the evenings even lighter.

This week, the first direct flights to the island arrived, signalled by a low, tinny whine over Corfu Town. The passengers disgorged from the planes and into coaches, which revved up and set off, great caterpillars with mirrors for antennae, swinging around the coastal roads, one after the other.

School trips with the participants trundling their suitcases along the pavement of The Liston.
And still they come, and will do, the islanders hope, for the next six months at least.

In Agios Magikades, the dogs carry on barking, the geese continue to tell each other dirty jokes, laughing like drains at the punchline, while the turkeys just gabble and gossip.
The winter sound of hunters with shotguns has long gone now, to be replaced by the buzzing chainsaws and strimmers.

Locals will tell you it has been the wettest winter on record. There has been no clear definition of the seasons, spring has been bypassed.

But the island's flowers tell a different story. Something for this week's visitors to write home about.
This is a tale of two islands, winter and summer. The hibernation is over, as the last wisps of woodsmoke curl up from the village chimneys.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Easter in Corfu: a long time coming

Back home in Lush Places, they'll be putting the finishing touches to the Hot Cross Bun Morning, which was started by The Loveliest Woman in the Village on Good Friday nearly ten years ago.

Easter weekend is coming up, and I hope they'll be avoiding chocolate eggs made with palm oil because orangutans are worth more than a visit from the Easter Bunny. 

But here in Greece, we have five more weeks until Easter. The Orthodox Church does its business according to the Julian Calendar and not, like us, the Gregorian one. And in Greece this year, Easter Sunday on 5 May is about as late as it can be.

Which is just as well considering we have a house that needs a darn good seeing-to before the arrival of our first visitors, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie and Mrs Bancroft, who are flying over to help us celebrate. 
When I say we've been gardening, it's been more like logging, with oleander bushes as high as the sky and daphne trees needing to be cut down to let in the light.

Luckily, we have a very helpful neighbour with a chainsaw.
And there's decorating still to be done too, not just a bit here and there but the whole house. It was part of the deal when we negotiated the rent we would pay here in Agios Magikades. Although I'm not sure I read the small print about glossing kitchen cupboards and built-in wardrobes. But never fear, just call me Smallbone of Devizes.
I am pleased to say we have finished the Champagne-Charlie suite and Mrs Bancroft's room. Mr Grigg has become a dab hand with a roller and my paint brush and I whistled down a mile of banister in just under four minutes. The stair rail is now known as Roger. (Incidentally, there is a Lush Places connection to that link, which takes you to a YouTube clip of a great sporting hero. One of the pacemakers used to live in the enchanted village).

So we are on target for an Easter to write home about. We have given up wine for Lent after a strong hint from a taverna tablecloth...
Taken up walking...
And, in the spirit of Greek fasting, we are on a seafood diet. So, prawns, mussels, squid and most wonderful octopus in red sauce: bring it on.
Who needs Easter with a Lent like this?

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Dancing in the Corfu streets

And with the last day of carnival came music and dancing, games and singing all across the island.
In Agios Magikades, the children got hold of the bell ropes, a man dressed as a cow helped grill the souvlaki, a complaint was made to the DJ when Turkish music wove its way around the plateia and, as daylight faded and turned into night, my very own Zorbas gave me my first Greek dance lesson.

'You have to feel the music,' he said. To dance is to live. A purist of the Corfiot dance, he took it all around the world. Joy of joys, he once performed at Sidmouth.

He bowed to a greater skill, however, when he introduced us to a large, yellowing moustache trying its best to conceal the bulk of a smiling, elderly man called Nikos, whose English stretched to 'very good' and 'problem'.

'When he was younger,' Zorbas said. 'he could do the scissors.'

'Very good,' Nikos winked. 'Problem.'

But it was a sedate and graceful dance in the plateia that night, reminiscent of a pair of pigeons performing a mating ritual on the Liston in Corfu Town.
And the tumblers of wine piled up on the tables outside the kafenion as we danced to the zambeta. And then we found our feet again as the music changed to seventies disco and a middle-aged woman who had hardly said boo to a goose all evening got up and turned the village plateia into the Studio 54 dance floor in a Michael-Jackson-meets-John-Travolta routine that was so jaw dropping I completely forgot to film it.

Meanwhile Mr Grigg was cowering inside the lean-to lavatory as a group of schoolboys let off five firecrackers all in a row.

As he emerged, shaken and a little stirred, The Village People kicked in with YMCA, leaving us with no alternative but to take to the dance floor, flanked by Zorbas, the Jackson-Travolta love-child and two small girls.

I had a sense of Queen's Diamond Jubilee deja vu from Lush Places back in the summer.

At the table in front of us, Nikos the scissor-dancing man raised a bottle of Retsina.

'Very good,' he said. 'Problem.'

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Carnival time in Corfu as Lent begins

It's a bank holiday weekend in Corfu Town as the island prepares to usher in Clean Monday and the beginning of Lent when Greeks celebrate the fast and welcome the dawn of spring.

A van stuffed full of artichokes is parked just up from the supermarket. A man in the old town is selling large shrimps from a basket. They're still wriggling.

There is bunting hanging across the streets and a civilised demonstration by young Communists outside the bank. The smell of freshly-baked bread pulls pedestrians in from the pavements and into the bakery.
Two South American men set up on the pavement and, soon, the ubiquitous sound of amplified Andean panpipes wafts up the street, past a beggar boy sitting in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken box with a few cents inside. A couple of doorsteps up are his mother and sister, hands out for money, while further along is the Corfu bag lady, who, as usual, sits asleep in a shop doorway, with her parka hood up and sunglasses on. She doesn't collect anything except bags.

And the town eccentric is clutching red and white cuddly toys and ribbons around his ample girth and wearing a long and blonde curly wig.

A music student practises the piano behind an open window, the queue in the fruit shop, where navel oranges  are about ten cents each, is nine miles long. A small, masked parade appears from nowhere and strolls away along the street.
Even the scooters are making eyes at each other.
There is a sense of anticipation in the air as the town and villages around the island prepare for carnival events today. Austerity measures are biting and carnival is not what it used to be. But there is always room to enjoy simply being alive before the official start of Lent tomorrow.

In the old town, my favourite bird, the swallow, flies over the sea wall and is joined by six more, dipping, and diving and laughing. They're here!

Tomorrow, we will walk out with our picnic basket and look out for flying kites.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 14 March 2013

An odyssey on the Greek mainland

One of the joys of being in Corfu - whether you live here or are on holiday - is that it is so easy to take a trip to the mainland.
An island-hop of one-and-half-hours gets you to the port of Igoumenitsa where you drive down for coffee in Syvota...
 ...before heading up the Egnatia Odos, a motorway that goes as far as the Turkish border, and roads leading off it, to places like the beautiful and unspoilt Zagori...
...or the ancient site of Dodoni, a magical place I have mentioned before... 
...or Ioannina, the largest city of Epirus...
 ...or Metsovo, the home of snow, wine and cheese.
Well, after an extreme bout of painter and decorator's elbow and oleander pruning fatigue, we decided to take a trip along the highway and beyond, going through Epirus, Macedonia and Thessaly. We've just come back after an incredible five-day journey, visiting the beautiful village of Nymfaio...
...and then on to Edessa for the most amazing waterfalls...
..and on to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Vergina (said to be the final resting place of Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great)...although no photos from here because they won't allow it, so here, instead, is Medusa from the brilliant museum at Veria, with its superb collection of grave goods which are more than two thousand years old...
...then south to the highest mountain in Greece, Mount Olympus, home of the gods...
 ...and then on to Meteora where six Greek Orthodox monasteries seem suspended in the air...
...and then home again to Corfu on the ferry...
...and back to Agios Magikades in time for an ouzo...
...and a lovely lunch...
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

A horror film for Halloween

On Halloween, I head out under the cover of darkness, a tub of sweets by the front door for young trick or treaters on the prowl with their ...