Thursday, 29 May 2014

Smile through gritted teeth and say 'cheese'

The Beetle’s trundled more than eighteen hundred miles across Italy and France, with cars and lorries tooting both in frustration (it takes longer to get up north, the slow way) and admiration.

Well, she is rather stunning for a forty-five year old.
We’re pleased to be ensconced in our Brittany Ferries cabin, with Mr Grigg watching Licence to Kill on his laptop and me struggling to work out the code for the free WiFi and children next door who are so excited they’re bouncing off the walls.

If they were mine, I’d put them in the top bunk and then close it.
But as the ferry chugs across the channel through the night, they’ll soon be asleep.

Which is more than can be said for me after a night out in Le Havre. On a bank holiday here in France for the Ascension (and it should be a bank holiday in Blighty too for Oak Apple Day), places to eat after a three-hundred mile journey were in short supply. We ended up in a bar called Au Bureau with disdainful Parisian-style service and a waiter who pocketed the change. Well, it was only a euro, but it’s the principle.

And then supper. It was my fault really. I liked the look of the place. Its theme was Freisian cows and they, as anyone who knows me well will tell you, are my favourite animals. As we walked in, we were hit by an invisible wall that smelled of cheese.

A fondue restaurant.

‘Let’s try it,’ Mr Grigg said. ‘At least it'll be different.’

For someone who likes cooked cheese only marginally more than offal, it was the perfect place for our last supper.

Still, the service was good. And I reckon I will need a notepad next to the bed tonight in case I wake up and remember any of my dreams. Not just because of eating cheese before going to bed but also because I'll have been listening to James Bond's double entendre in one ear, the bouncing babies next door in the other and have a chapter from Neil Gamain’s The Ocean at the End of The Lane on my mind as my head hits the pillow. Tonight, Matthew, I will be flying.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Heading for home in a vintage VW Beetle

We're in Genoa.

The Italians are a noisy lot. But possibly not as noisy as the Greeks.
This is a beautiful city.

In Via Garibaldi, the grandeur of Italy's largest port hits you right between the eyes.
Our hotel was hard to find in a 1969 Beetle in the blistering heat. But it's quirky, just as I like it.
We're heading west today, off to my dad's cousin in Provence before sweeping across to Toulouse to visit a former colleague and catch up with her news. And then it's up to the Dordogne to see our old chef. (I was a publican in a previous life. Christophe became our good friend).

And, then, on Oak Apple Day, King Charles II's birthday, we'll board a cross channel ferry back to Blighty. Bella the Beetle will be dwarfed by all the other vehicles. Here she is coming off the ferry from Corfu to the mainland.
It'll be good to be back home, at least for a while.

But, I have to say, the Corfiots put on a great show for us on our last day on the island. Although it did happen to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the British ceding the seven Ionian islands to Greece.
That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 19 May 2014

It's all go as visitors arrive and Greek elections get underway

It's been a busy few weeks at the Villa Oleander.

We've welcomed and said goodbye to our first guest of the year, picked up my vintage VW Beetle (more of that in another post), which has jumped back into life thanks to the restoration skills of a local garage, found and bought a Greek car, helped our neighbour build an apothiki, sorted out a route for driving back to the UK, welcomed and said goodbye to my mother and sister and welcomed my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who will be staying here for a couple of months.

I'm pleased to say my dear old mum was treated liked royalty.

'They are angels,' our cheerful lady in the kafenion said of Mother and my sister.

Earlier, in the AB supermarket in town, we bumped into another villager who insisted on buying a bottle of wine for the aged parent.

'For the mother of Margarita,' he said, patting my shoulder. 'She is the same age as the Queen Elizabeth.'

She is indeed.

I didn't like to tell him my mother is not really much of a drinker. Still, after acquiring a taste for ouzo at one of the village tavernas, topping up her glass with aspro krasi and finishing her meal off with a glass of limoncello, my mother was in fine voice. Tickled by the name the Greeks call me, she and my sister broke out into song, with a rendition of this at eleven o'clock at night:
I'd never heard it before (far too young, you see) but, like an ear worm, it's been stuck in my head ever since.

The village, island and Ionian have been busy too, with elections taking place yesterday. Our primary school became a polling station as locals went in to elect a new president and vice-president for the village, cast their vote for the mayor of Corfu and chose a governor for the Ionian islands.
The process was explained to me several times. I was told it was all quite simple. However, having been shown one of the two-foot long voting papers (and that was the candidates for just one party) I ended up not much the wiser and with a headache.

There are more elections next week - for the European parliament and the deciding vote for the island's mayor.

During the day, a truck went by, announcing something over the loudspeaker. In the back were three pigs and a clutch of chickens for sale. It was followed closely by the front runner in the village presidential race, who coasted along on a large motorcycle, wearing smart clothes and a broad smile.

Earlier, I had peeked through the window of the wannabe president's house to see at least twenty bottles of wine on the table. It was either going to be a celebration or a mass drowning of sorrows.

In the evening, the plateia was buzzing, with children tearing around on bikes late into the night. With their school taken up by election paraphernalia, there was no chance of any lessons tomorrow so they had Monday off.

Men milled around, huddled in corners, and there were a few nervous looks as the results from the polling station filtered through. Who would be the next village president?
As the men played cards inside, the Communist Party candidate strolled up from the village into the kafenion. And then there were shakes of hands and smiles as news of the winner (not the Communist) emerged.

The new village president relaxed, a grin spreading across his face. He had a lot of wine to get through tonight.

His first job? To make the sun shine. It's been one of the coldest Mays here anyone can remember.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The bare-faced cheek of electioneering in Corfu

Everyone's talking about it.

There are elections coming up on this island in a few weeks' time.

You can tell, because the grass verges are being trimmed and the potholes are being filled. And there are posters everywhere.

'One prostitute is worth a hundred politics,' one Greek sage said to me last year. 'At least she is honest.'

Understandably, in Greece these days, there is a great deal of cynicism about politicians in the birthplace of democracy.

Men in sharp suits have been touring the village.

'Pah,' said a local. 'They take your money and put it in their pocket.'

But to the politicians, elections are serious business.

Although perhaps not.

Having once been accused of sedition by a friend who claimed I'd defaced an election leaflet at his home, I am always on the lookout for inspired political posters.

We had a faceless Tory once (just once?) in South Somerset.
And, back home, Sue Farrant (Lib-Dem) was turned into Sue Farright and Oliver Letwin (Conservative) became Oliver Leftwing.

Genius. It's hard to tell anyone apart these days.

But if Mr Grigg was able to take part in the forthcoming local elections here in Corfu, I know who'd be getting his vote.
And it's not the geezer with the moustache.

The handmade poster for the Communists appeared overnight on the notice board in the village plateia. And it wasn't just a swift in and out (pardon my Greek) under the cover of darkness.

The culprit was organised, determined and either very tall or with a long ladder. Because there was another one high up on a telegraph pole.
Look, there she is again.
Mr Grigg says he's looking forward to the politicians canvassing door-to-door.

The cheek of it.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The island of Corfu assaults the senses

There's something about this place, this magical place.

OK, so we have sun, sea and sand. And plenty of it.

But Corfu is so much more. Despite all the obvious influences of its conquerors, the island is just like this graffiti on a hillside crash barrier.
It assaults your senses, everywhere you go.

This morning, the swallows dart in and out, looking for a suitable place to nest. Oh please come, please.

There's a cuckoo in the olive groves, a cockerel crowing, dogs barking, a dove in a palm tree and sparrows chirping in a lemon tree laden with sweet-smelling blossom. Our neighbour is next door building an apothiki and his little Chewbacca dog, who is just getting used to a drastic haircut, has just popped over the say hello.

The azure water is crystal clear down at Paleokastritsa.
The monastery's beautiful gardens smell of cat pee but you can forgive them for that when you see what's being taken care of in a box.
A door looks out onto the courtyard...
and the sea is beckoning.
Down at the Achilleion Palace, the sun beats down on the Dying Achilles, his face forever in agony in this statue by Ernst Herter.
In the evenings, the olive groves sparkle with a hundred fireflies lighting your way down to the latest panegyri.

There are lights in the trees and we're surrounded by crazed balloons on all sides of our table. There is singing and dancing, drinking and eating.
And then in Corfu Town, as you sit having a coffee in one of the cafes and watch the world go by...
I love Corfu.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The mysterious egg of Corfu

I was making the rounds of my pelargoniums out on the terrace this morning.

For the past few days, there has been the tell-tale sign of cat trying to scrabble in amongst the plants. But now, with plenty of souvlaki skewers sticking up bottomwards and a load of pepper put around the outside, it seems the cats have given the flowers a wide berth.
And then, today, deep within the terracotta planter I discovered this.
Here, have a closer look.
It was nestling in an egg-shaped indentation in the soil between two plants. But there were no visible signs of whatever it was that put it there.

No broken stems, no disturbed soil, nothing.

Just a big, fat, hard, speckled egg.
Mr Grigg put it in water to see if it floated. It didn't. It must be fresh then. Unless it's ceramic. But it doesn't feel like it.

It's too big and white to have come from any of the hens next door. And, besides, they've never, ever ventured over the wall. And it's too small to be from one of our neighbour's ducks, geese or turkeys.

After dismissing the fleeting thought that it could be a tortoise egg - too pointy and too large - or even a Balkan green lizard's egg - ugh - I have come up with the following conclusion:

We have a practical joker in the coop, a cuckoo in the nest.

I have narrowed it down to three suspects.

At least I hope I have. I daren't crack it open. You did see Jurassic Park, didn't you?
Tomorrow, I'm hoping for one of these.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The wonderful flora and fauna of Corfu

Corfu is an island known for its diverse flora and fauna.

It's where the young naturalist Gerald Durrell learned his trade. He wrote about it in the Corfu Trilogy, the most famous book of which is My Family and Other Animals.

This rich diversity is everywhere you look. You just need to keep your ears and eyes open. One person who does this all the time is photographer Giannis Gasteratos, who has given me permission to reproduce his pictures on my blog.  This is Giannis:
And these are some of his photos:
European pond terrapins

Balkan wall lizard
Common cuckoo
Iris pseudachorus
Male western marsh harrier
Northern wheatears
Orchid meadow
Short-toed snake eagle
Yellow wagtail
Agile frog
Common shelducks
He doesn't have a website but Giannis, an ornithologist, posts from time to time in the Corfu's Flora and Fauna Facebook group.

I want this one for my wall.
Asphodel meadow

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

PS Technical details: Giannis uses a Canon Eos 7D camera, usually with the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens or the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6IS II

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