Sunday, 28 April 2013

A parade for Palm Sunday in Corfu

In church this morning, there are palm crosses hanging from the chandeliers in the church in Agios Magikades.

The smiling villager who looks like an old Matt Monro is in good, harmonic form as he chants at the front.

At the end of the service, the priest hands out palm crosses and posies, but we don't go up to collect one, having fallen out with him at New Year. (More of this another time. Easter is the time for forgiveness.) We are a little disappointed, as the palm fronds came from our own tree, but there is no good to be had in labouring the point, in case we are snubbed again. We are English and don't want to cause a scene.

So we exchange kindly smiles with the village congregation and then head for Corfu Town and the Palm Sunday parade.

We park on the road to the market, just as a coach ahead causes a traffic jam when it struggles to pass a car parked on a bend. As we head towards town, we can hear music. And drums.

We turn the corner and my cheekbones tingle and I become all emotional. I am a sucker for a parade, local tradition and a marching band.
Corfu is famous for its bands and we are treated to two walking right by us as we make our way to the old town. Flutes, drums, cymbals, saxophones, trumpets and xylophones.
A sousaphone player drops his music so I pick it up from the warm tarmac.

'Hey, Spiros,' the player behind him says, as he taps him on the shoulder and points to his mislaid sheets.

Of course he is called Spiros. It is the name of the island's patron saint, after all.

On the Liston, I ask a lady if I can take a photo of her palm crosses, as we did not pick up one of our own.
She insists on giving me one of them.

'It will help you,' she says.

The Liston is filling up with people, the flags are flying and even the dogs are dressed up.
And then old St Spyridon himself comes by, looking a bit cramped in his silver and gold casket and separated from his hand (in another casket) by several metres and hundreds of years. He is flanked by priests of all shapes and sizes, soldiers in shades carrying guns and an assortment of very important people behind.
There is a priest with dyed black hair, goatee and sunglasses, looking for all the world like Peter Sellers, jolly priests with well trimmed hair and beards and colourful robes, one who is filming the parade as he walks in it and another with a camera over his shoulder, a gift bag in his hand and a ready smile.

Bells throughout the old town clang as the procession walks by, accompanied by some jaunty music from the band while the holy men swing incense in front of the revered saint.
And then there is one of those moments frozen in time. We see our own village priest in the parade, a man in black, looking very serious and walking alone and holding the best palm 'cross' you ever did see, like the top of a bullwhip, almost a miniature palm tree which probably originated from our garden yet he does not know it. He glances my way. I am not sure if he sees me but, in any case, I defiantly hold up the palm cross I was given earlier.

I am hoping he will think of it as a sign: 'Be nice to this foreigner, this Medea, this barbarian. Yes, she is English and, even worse, a woman. But, all in all, she is all right.'
It is a busy day in Corfu Town on Palm Sunday. And it will be even busier next weekend for Greek Easter.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 26 April 2013

Corfu: the garden isle

There is a metallic trundling sound coming down our driveway.

It is Elias, who has arrived to rotovate a patch of our garden. With all the clearing done and the end of bonfires before May begins, we are ready to cultivate.

The previous day, we had asked tentatively if he would be able to do it for us after we spotted him clearing the ground beneath his vines. He is in like a shot and will not take any money for doing it. He has about four words of English: 'good', 'very good' and 'coffee' so, at the end of his session with the Merry Tiller he says all four.
After coffee on the terrace, where the Sicilian sweet peas I planted a fortnight ago are romping heavenwards to meet the vine emerging overhead, we stroll up to the kafenion and mini-market and take our pick from all the plants outside, at fifty or sixty cents a pot.
We have watermelon and canteloupe to put in, courgette, three varieties of pepper, white aubergine and black aubergine, red and green basil, cucumber and two types of tomato.

The pattern of the day has changed, now that the sun is out and temperatures are hitting 26.5 degrees centigrade at ten thirty in the morning. The warm evenings are ideal for planting and there is a real sense of anticipation in the air and in the ground. So the card players don't come to the kafenion until later in the evening. So many of them have taken to the land to prepare it for planting.

There is also a sense of anticipation in our house. Our first visitors from Lush Places, Mr and Mrs Champagne-Charlie and the lovely Mrs Bancroft, arrive next week, just in time for Easter and the blooming of our prolific mock orange blossom.

Crisp white sheets dry on the washing line in a beautiful warm breeze, while pillows and duvets air on the upstairs balcony. The second half of our year is almost here, with at least six lots of visitors lined up over the next couple of months.

And in exchange for the free session with Mr Rotovator, we let him climb up into our palm tree, where angels fear to tread, to cut the young fronds and extract the white shoots to make the crosses for Palm Sunday this weekend.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 20 April 2013

And with Corfu Easter comes new life

With the change in the weather there comes new life.

New flowers replace the geranium and daisies. Scabious pop up by the roadside and the purple honesty turns into crimson purses, ready to reveal thirty pieces of silver later in the year.

As Greek Easter approaches, the vibrant purplish-pink flowers of the Judas Tree blossom on bare branches before the lime green, kidney-shaped leaves appear. The trees are all over the island, vast swathes of colour in a sea of olive green.
This was the type of tree on which Judas Iscariot was said to have hanged himself after denouncing Jesus. According to the legend, the flowers were originally pale and blushed pink with shame. Another version is that the flowers represent Judas's entrails.
They certainly are a striking sight.

Elsewhere, the wisteria grows so vigorously, it romps up telegraph poles to look like trees. The orange begins to blossom and its heady scent spreads across the roads of the village, mixed with the aroma of moussaka and souvlaki from the tavernas in the plateia.
On the Spianada, the cricket pitch is having a haircut.
Down at the market, fish with wings and fish with stern faces lie alongside things with tentacles and crabs with blue legs. Shrimps still alive spring from their polystyrene boxes and brush against gurnards, bream, monkfish, John Dory and tuna.
The courgettes are small and sweet, with firm flowers still attached and not an earwig in sight.
And the purple artichoke heads scream 'eat us, eat us, you know we are worth the trouble'.
The locals mingle with holidaymakers in shorts and sandals. And the priest bumps into an old friend.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Corfu: all about books

When we moved into this house on Corfu, the first thing I wanted to know more about was the bookshelf.

The house we are renting belongs to the family of a successful author, you see, and I was curious about what books would be in her Corfiot library. Especially when I discovered that, years ago, she lived in the next village to mine in Dorset. Maybe it was an omen. If I sat in her chair on a daily basis between eight thirty and one o'clock in front of my laptop, her writing prowess would rub off.

Having said that, when I went up to Mount Olympus last month, armed with pen and notepad with a view to reaching The Plateau of the Muses and the height of inspiration, I was thwarted by bad weather. Mr Grigg and I had to turn back within earshot of the Muses playing snowballs with the gods.
Huh, I thought. Another sign. So close and yet so far.

However, who can fail to be visited by the muse in this environment? The birds are trilling, the sun is shining, the primary school children are yelling and it's all so...beautiful.

And, luckily, lately, she's been a regular visitor, thankfully more a Molly Brett than a Cottingley Fairy-type muse, laughing like a swallow and saying look, it's all here, right here outside your window.
So I am hard at it, in between the painting and decorating and gazing in awe from the window at the beautiful island around me. There will be a novel coming out in the near future. But more of that in another blog post.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, when I'm in another country, I always like to read books about the place I am in.

So take a look at some of the books about Corfu and Greece, which complement perfectly the ones I brought with me. And if you have any more to add to the list, please let me know.

There are lots more but these are enough to be getting on with.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The best little souvlaki shop in Corfu

As Greek Easter approaches, about as late as this moveable feast can ever be, the island of Corfu becomes busier with the start of the holiday season.

There are aeroplanes in the sky and cruise ships in the harbour. At first, the island was slow to wake up to these new visitors, who wandered around forlorn because everything seemed to be closed.

But now, there are tables on the pavements outside the tavernas and waiters touting for business.

There are irritating and leggy teenage British girls, singing at the Lidl checkout with mother, their shorts so short you can see the cheeks of their bottoms and probably more if you looked a little closer.

There are sunburnt families wandering around the resorts, amazed the Greeks are still in thick coats and knee-high boots.

There are fake lamb carcasses spinning on spits in the barbecue shop and coaches lining the Spianada.
The streets of old Corfu Town become a language hotch-potch, as the tourists wander aimlessly, past the nick-nack shops selling trinkets made in Vietnam and windows full of icons of saints they will have never heard of.
It is time for lunch so we dive down an alleyway overlooked by a string of Greek flag bunting and clothes on a washing line.
We are heading for an unprepossessing little place, a mere hole in the wall. The tourists don't give it a second glance.
Which is good news for us.

'You must go there,' our neighbour, Spiros, tells us. 'It is the best souvlaki in Corfu.'

'Yes,' says his friend, who is also called Spiros. 'Him very fat man. Yesterday him go to Corfu Towns and have thirty.'

To emphasise his point, he writes the figures 3-0 with his finger on the kafenion table.

'And him have two portion fries.'

This is Greek exaggeration, of course. We know our Spiros does not like chips. But it is quite conceivable he could manage thirty souvlaki in one sitting, although he strongly denies this.

'I have six souvlaki. Them is good. The fat, it makes them taste more better.'

So we sit on one of four tables crammed into this little shop and order feta with olive oil and paprika, which comes with bread, and eight pork souvlaki and two glasses of ouzo. The only other thing on the menu is chips.

Our neighbour is right. They are the tastiest souvlaki in ten years or more of visiting Greece. And we will never know why.

'It is, what you say, a secret,' says a man on the table next to us. 'Every souvlaki different in every place. This is best. I am forty eight and remember I come here as little boy. Always queues and sometimes the people fight.'

He looks around him at the faded decor and, with his foot, shoos two pigeons out of the shop.

'It is always the same, it has not changed.'

He throws a look at Leonidas, who has put his glass of retsina under the counter for safekeeping as he tizzles up yet more souvlaki.
'Except maybe the souvlaki are smaller,' the long-serving customer says with a grin.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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