Tuesday, 27 August 2013

These things I miss. So I'll have a nice cup of tea.

With less than two months before our Big Fat Greek Gap Year comes to an end, we begin to think about all the packing up that needs to be done and the journey home.

We also think about ways we can make these twelve months away turn into another year, but without the homesickness.

Ideally, I would like the best of both worlds. A foot in Agios Magikades here in Corfu and a foot in Lush Places back in Dorset. But it's a long stretch and I've never tried doing the splits. I'm working on it, though, believe me.

This village has everything. Beauty, friendly people, warmth in heat and warmth in spirit.
And we've seen it through autumn, winter, spring and now summer. What an experience. It's been incredible.

You couldn't get a better and more conveniently situated village on the whole of the island. Twenty five minutes on a good road into town and five minutes by car to the sea. Three good tavernas which are open all year round and the most excellent mini-market and kafenion where you can sit and watch the world go by.

And it was all by luck rather than judgement.

The house itself, now we've tamed the overgrown, Sleeping Beauty garden and painted inside throughout, is perfect.
 Mr Grigg has been busy in the garden...
...while I've finished writing three novels and published two...
The novella based on a Dorset village
And I've read around sixty books, including some very fat ones indeed. This is good for someone with an attention span of a goldfish. 

I've gathered lots of great material for the book Kalimera Kerkyra, which I will bringing out to a fanfare and a signing at home and abroad next summer.

But, right from the outset, when we were stranded in the Jura region of France for a week in October last year, homesickness has been niggling at me like a BCG scar.
Mostly, I've missed family. When Number One Grand Daughter came out with her father for a week, I cried like anything when she left. They could hear me down in Ithaca. I've missed my mother, my father, my friends and I've even missed the fog that wraps Lush Places up like a blanket.

'How can you feel homesick for mist?' an incredulous friend of mine asked as he swam in our Greek pool.

Well, I don't know how but I know that I do.
Pathetic, I know. But there you have it. A sense of place and the pull of the land is very strong. I am not embarrassed by it in the least.

People miss all sorts of things when they move abroad. Brits like to have things that remind them of home, although I've always been of the When in Rome school myself. Not for me a pining for Heinz baked beans and HP Sauce.

Saying that, I jumped for joy when my first lot of visitors brought over a food parcel from the new Lush Places village shop.
And do you know the thing I liked most of all?

Tea. Dorset Tea.

Having been brought up on 'proper' leaf tea you can stand your spoon up in, I've always been a bit dubious and then disappointed with tea bag tea.

But, I am a complete convert now I've sampled Dorset Tea bags. And now I've run out. So it's just as well we're going home soon.

The only thing is, I want to be able to take home a set of these cups to drink it in. But so far, I can only find sets of seventy.
So as well as a bag full of memories, a computer hard drive full of photos, notebooks full of scribblings and some hollyhock seeds, it looks like I'll have plenty of cups from which to drink my tea.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 23 August 2013

Dancing in the Corfu rain like nobody's watching

It's quiet now after all our village festivities.
A cool wind whips through the plateia as a handful of people sit under the Narnia lamp post.

And it is bliss.

It's been a week now since our panigyri and still the days and nights have been pretty humid.

'The weather will start to change after the 15th,' we were told by our weatherman Canadian George, as the summer celebrations built up to a crescendo last Thursday to mark the dormition of the Theotokos.

With the end of our long line of visiting family and friends, things have become calmer but the weather is still hot. After almost ten months in Greece, I am no longer like a holidaymaker, craving for sun. I sit in the shade whenever I can. I enjoy the early mornings, when the days are at their coolest.

How chambermaids cope with changing hotel beds and cleaning in this heat is beyond me. They deserve a medal rather than a pittance. And I now understand why a siesta is so important to the people who work in this heat all day. It grinds you down, it wears you out.

This pair of work boots have stood alone on a village building site for a couple of days now. I'm rather concerned their owner has vaporised.
But as the sweat poured in rivulets down my back the other night, something rather marvellous happened.

We knew it was coming because we had a phone call from Corfu Town from our neighbour. He wanted us to remove the tools from the back of his truck and put them under cover.

'It's pouring with rain here,' he said. 'It won't be long until it reaches you.'

And, sure enough, twenty minutes later, the thunder and lightning began, bouncing off the mountains that surround our village stage like the seating in an amphitheatre. It was the first rain we've had since Greek Easter. It lasted at most about half an hour.
But enough time to dance in it in the dark.

I think Zeus and Co were up in the gods of the amphitheatre looking down. But I didn't care. It was wonderful.

“You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”

And today? Still scorchio.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 16 August 2013

And now the party is over: St Maria's feast night in Corfu

We left just after three this morning and still they were dancing the night away.
Nikos the Greek got through at least eight T-shirts. He pulled them out of a rucksack as if they were the silk handkerchiefs of a conjuror. There was a red one with a portrait of Che Guevara on the front, a Barcelona football shirt and an Argentina shirt with Maradona emblazoned across the back.
Our friends' home-grown basil filled the church with its aroma.
The village's three tavernas were bursting, the mini-market was busy and the balloon seller had a good night.
And the ice cold coke and beer was much-needed on this hot and humid evening.
And by the time we had finished with the lamb (nine had been spit-roasted), it looked like a dish Prometheus would serve up for Zeus - just a pile of bones.

Now the party is over and that's it for another year.

For more videos and photos from our panygyri, visit the Maddie Grigg Facebook page.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Bringing you best wishes for St Maria Day in Corfu

On the eve of the Dormition of the Theotokos, the church bells toll and there is a procession through the village and a service in the church.

In the central plateia, the men prepare the sperna, soaking great tubs of raisins in water before taking them inside the hall and locking the doors to mix them up with the boiled wheat, almonds and seeds and maybe a dash of ouzo.

The key is turned from the inside and then the women and children are allowed in to run the production line.
Their nimble fingers make quick work of putting the mixture into bags for tomorrow's service.
And today, Marias in best clothes and newly-permed hair attend the morning service. There are older men in crisp white shirts and women in blocks of bright colours - orange, yellow, green - and widows in black.
Inside the church, there is chanting, some singing and the congregation makes the sign of the cross in formation.

Behind the screen of the iconostasis, the priest gets to work to make the wine holy and emerges from the central door with a golden book obscuring his face. The air is thick with the smoke of incense and the smell of basil as people brush past the herb, which is potted up in perfect orbs and dotted around the church.

An eighteen-month-old girl is carried in her mother's arms, pigtailed, immaculate, her mother with an elfin crop and halterneck dress with a stiff white collar. The child gazes in wonder at the pretty lights in the chandeliers overhead.

Pearls, best earrings and necklaces are all on display. There is a growler near us, humming deeply along with everything. The doors of the church are open to let the air in and outside in the plateia, a child falls and cries and then a stray alsatian is chased away by one of the two village dogs.

A swallow twitters and laughs as the priest gives the children a spoonful of wine and some communion bread. And still the small child gazes at the pretty lights and points to them while the sperna made last night is brought up the aisle and placed at the door.

The service over, the bells ring and the plateia is buzzing.
The shopkeeper's daughter fans herself with a card while her father serves a never-ending queue of customers and offers them cake.

The schoolteacher smiles and shakes my hand and touches my shoulder and everyone says xronia polla - many years. The rich, onion and meat aroma of a bubbling stifado spills out from the tavernas. They will be busy tonight for the panygyri.

And then the priest comes out of the church in his long black robe and heads for home.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Corfu: party time for the Virgin Mary and St Spyridon

At this time of year, there are festivals going on all over Greece. They might not be as extravagant as in previous years because of the economic crisis. Some have been cancelled altogether because of the hard times facing the country and its people.

But there is one festival that, however bad things are, will be celebrated everywhere.

We are now in the lead-up to the feast day of the Dormition of the Theotokos on 15 August, which is the best time in Corfu, according to our local shopkeeper.

It's certainly one of the busiest,with people bustling in and around Corfu Town and the beautiful Liston. But if you look up, you could imagine you were completely alone. Try it - it's something I do all the time.
It's also a busy time for the island's patron saint, Spyridon. Today saw the commemoration of his defence of the island against the Turks in 1716. Marching bands and a procession bearing his glorious casket and body around the town.

As we have little people currently staying with us, we gave today's parade a miss. Instead, we went to the beach, with a host of other people of all nationalities. Still, we had plenty of room and lots of sea to swim in.
During the week, the village has been very obliging in entertaining our visitors.

You have to rely on posters on telegraph poles or lengths of sheet on the side of the road to know what's going on.
They even advertise funerals here with just a day's notice. As a friend says be careful to keep looking, because you might miss your own funeral.

Underneath old posters advertising a band in a bar at Paleokastritsa or a frog festival in Skripero are notices telling you that someone's died. The posters never get taken down. But when someone like me comes along, who has an aversion to out-of-date information and an inbred hatred of litter and disrespect, I find the pole is embedded with staples.
But we know what's happening here because we have a telegraph pole right outside our house to let us know what's occurring.
The night before last it was traditional folk music. We sloped off at about eleven o'clock but the last to leave were apparently there until four.
Some of it felt very pagan, outside the front door of the church.
Like some sort of ancient magic was at work.

Zeus knows how late we'll stay up at the big festival on Thursday.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Like my Facebook page to see more Corfu photos and videos

During our big fat Greek gap year, I've been taking lots of photos and videos of village life and events in and around Corfu.

To see them, go to my Maddie Grigg Facebook page and click 'like'. You'll also find random yet relevant postings to do with Corfu and Dorset.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Thursday, 8 August 2013

A magical night in the village square

As the band struck up the theme music to Harry Potter, xylophones gently tinkling, I got up from my seat to find the best spot to take a photo.

The plateia was atmospheric. It was a magical night, with a throng of people gathered under the trees to listen to the music.
A sky of black ink, a bell tower picked out by spotlight and two lamps illuminating the church door.
I half-expected the Knight Bus to come roaring through the village, slowing down to inch past the busy tavernas and forcing oncoming traffic to step aside, as coaches do around these parts. Or maybe Hagrid on a motorbike and sidecar.

I clicked off the camera to stop filming and noticed a fluttering beside me. A small bat flapped by. Its wings almost touched the ground.

I followed its progress as the bat wove in and out of the percussion section, swooping low over the timpani and bass drum and then up, higher and higher, to swirl around the bell tower.

And then the band played the theme music to Lord of the Rings and Gangnam Style before calling it an evening and heading off for a souvlaki.

But you should never leave kettle drums unattended. With the band members safely out of the way, three children seized the drumsticks and had a bit of a bash, an indulgent father smiling and taking photos.

Two other children, one each side of the square, pulled out toy whistles from their lucky bags and called to each other like Scops owls.

But the drum roll was enough to disturb two band members during their meal. The teenage boys strode out across the square, young men with stern faces, on a mission to protect their instruments

They snatched back their sticks, had words with the miscreants and then put a cover over the drums before going back to finish their souvlakia.

It's a busy time in Greece over the next week or so, with festivals, parties and events leading up to August 15th, the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

I'll be back in the plateia on Friday for some traditional Greek folk music. Although maybe someone will knock on my front door first and tell me I'm a wizard.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Look what the postman just delivered

Well, my friend's parcel has arrived.
Just as well it wasn't any smaller.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 5 August 2013

The wonderful Varkarola in Paleokastritsa, Corfu

It's a story I know so well.

Odysseus, shipwrecked after battling with Poseidon who is angry at the hero for blinding his son, the cyclops Polyphemus, lands, naked and exhausted, on the shores of Scheria, the home of the Phaeacians.

He surprises the young princess, Nausikaa, who is taking a break from doing her washing on the shore and is playing ball with her handmaidens. It's a dangerous place, the water's edge, for ancient Greek maidens. It's where they get ravished by gods and demi-gods. Look what happened to Europa.

Anyway, Nausikaa takes Odysseus home to meet the parents, the gentle King Alcinous and Queen Arete. In this video, they make their way along the shore to the palace.
And then, Odysseus tells the story of the things that have happened to him since leaving Troy ten years earlier. The Phaeacians provide him with a boat so he can sail back to his kingdom of Ithaca and his patient wife, Penelope, who has been waiting for him for twenty years.

I know Homer's story well because I studied it at post graduate level. I spent hours looking and describing ancient pots that depicted the highly charged meeting between Odysseus and Nausikaa, the romance that never was.
The story came alive last night, at the Varkarola at Paleokastritsa. Because Corfu, you see, is widely believed to be Scheria, the home of the Phaeacians. And the bay just down the hill from us is claimed as one of the places where Odysseus met Nausikaa. There is even a rock out at sea that looks like the hero's boat, turned to stone.

There is so much I could write about this event but I think I'll save it for the book. A stage on the water's edge, people sitting on the beach, candy floss and doughnut stalls, gypsies selling balloons, tavernas full of people and the sun going down on a neighbouring beach to welcome an early evening planet shining in the night sky.
And then the evening's programme. It was utterly stunning, poignant, surreal, magical and one of the most memorable evenings of our Greek gap year so far. 

The Corfu Choir arriving by boat...
Greek dancers on the stage...
...and the boatmen and divers of Paleokastritsa in the most amazingly moving and powerful spectacle you could ever imagine, culminating in Odysseus' raft catching fire.
Add to this the booming chord progression of Conquest of Paradise, the film score music by Greek composer Vangelis, and you have a very special evening indeed.

And then the fireworks.
Thanks so much to all the sponsors and participants. It was fabulous. It's inspired me to revisit my dissertation.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The postman always weighs twice

Great excitement. A new post office is opening up right in the middle of Agios Magikades.
And I have a parcel to post to a friend. I can't find a jiffy envelope so I turn a couple of brown bags for fruit inside out and get out the parcel tape.
It'll be open at seven thirty, we've been told. So we make our way up from the house to the plateia, accompanied by the rising sun.
But the post office is closed. If it had been in Lush Places we would have had a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Or maybe even a fanfare.

Not here.

So I have a coffee and a cake in the plateia and Mr Grigg goes up the steps to pay the water bill. The ladies in the office allow him to walk out on the balcony like Juan Peron and he takes a couple of photos. All is quiet.
And then Thassos arrives from the bakery around the back, his arms full of bread.
It's the best time of day. It's cool before the heat of the sun beats down and makes us all turn into sweaty blobs.

And then we see Kostas, the postmaster, having a coffee so we wave to him and he opens up the shop.

There is a bit of confusion as he weighs the parcel and works out the price. He does it again, just to make sure. It's not only the first parcel to be sent from the new post office, it's going to England.
But we get there in the end.

And to my friend in England whose birthday it is next week, this blog is your proof of postage.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

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