Friday, November 30, 2007

Day 55 - High Hopes

The spectacle at the top of the mountain where the tip has literally been shaved off, leaving a short-strip of flat land bound by death-defying drops, is called Kalymnos Airport.

The airport took longer to build than planned. The delay was caused by a realisation during construction that the runway was going to be too short. Negotiations between the contractors and the airlines ensued and, finally, a solution was found. Rather than squeeze a Boeing 747 onto the runway, as initially planned, why not try a 20-seater plane which could probably screech to a halt before the runway disappears over the edge of a 90 degree vertical cliff into the sea. And the construction was completed. Excellent solution; and it only took 15 years to reach.

We have made many attempts since arriving on the island to climb up high to a point where we will be eye-level with the plane and watch it as it swoops in to land. However, a combination of sleeping in, getting lost, and sporadic landing times have so far resulted in no successful attempts to do so. Today we give it another shot.

We are out of the house by midday – great, just over an hour until landing – and start climbing up to the church of St. Savvas, nearly at the top of the South West mountain. The sun is in full swing and we’re pretty convinced that we should have a clear view of the runway in the sky, a few mountain tops to the North.

Fifty minutes later and we are at out destination. Bugger. We have miscalculated and cannot see the runway. We wander to the back of the church and cast a calculating eye over the rocky mountainside leading up to the summit where the island’s T.V and telephone masts stand guard. Can we do it? Yes, we think we can. And so we start weaving our way up, racing against the clock as we jump from rock to rock.

Paul bounds up the cliff face without a care in the world but Nicole lags behind caught up in a whirl of paranoia that a snake is lurking behind every rock. She insists on hitting everything in sight with a stick just to make sure the python in her head doesn’t materialise. A small domestic breaks out but eventually logic and reason is restored and we get to the top.

It’s an electrical minefield up here. Scattered cables, wires, and rusty aerials outnumber the rocks and shrubs, but we manage to negotiate a path to an outlying piece of rock with an excellent view of the landing side of the runway, and set up the video camera. From where we are, the footage is going to be spectacular. We could probably read the date on a newspaper through the plane windows from here.

Once set up, it dawns on us that if the plane crashed, we would capture the entire tragedy on camera. How terrible! Yes. Horrific! Yes. What would the footage be worth? And we spend the next 5 minutes debating our minimum selling price.

We hear something. Yes, the sound of plane engines in the distance. The tension builds. Any minute now we are going to be touching the wings. And then Nicole spots a plane taxiing to a stop at the end of the runway. Unbelievable, it has landed from the North side of the island and we have missed it again. Of course, it has landed into the wind and if we had bothered to look at the sea, we would have seen that it was blowing from the South.

The take off is unremarkable and we head back down the mountain with no footage in the camera that we could either pimp to the highest bidder or turn into another You Tube masterpiece.

However, we find that a Greek pilot has left his co-pilot to deal with the technicalities of landing whilst he captures the great descent on film. Check it out on You Tube.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day 54 - What a Load of Rubbish

One of the truly brilliant things about Kalymnos is the rubbish. Not just a few drifting sweetie wrappers and fag butts, a la Glasgow, but big proper dumping - everywhere.

Go for any walk, especially round the edges of town, and you will find dead motorbikes, ex-cars, piles of former mattresses and old ironing boards. Abandoned boats, miles from the sea, is a local speciality.

And is it really such a bad thing? When you happen across a scarlet red washing machine like this which sits so artfully amid the biblical landscape of the road to Vothini, you can see the positive.

Back home, the Scottish Arts Council would fund this kind of thing. The chap who dumped/installed it would rattle out some trite manifesto about the juxtaposition of nature and technology, become briefly micro-famous and get a write-up in The Sunday Herald. Another triumph for art!
There's none of that nonsense here. Just the rubbish or, if you prefer, the art.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Day 53 - Millionaires Row

OK - the whole point of moving here to Greece was to buy time to plan how we're going to generate an income online so that we can become "financially independent".

We've been wearing out our thinking socks and have brewed up LOADS of different website ideas which are all genius. If you are interested in finding out more details, you can buy them off us for $1000 each. Send us an email.

But now we have settled on one idea to go ahead with for our first project and we are preparing our site: planning...

Of course, being THE PERFECT COUPLE means that all of this is being achieved with NO arguments and NO strops and NO marital strife and NO swearing.

You've guessed it... this is a dirtier lie than the Iraq War pretext - but there's a price to pay for being two such gigantic creative talents who are also always right.

So can a good romantic relationship be a good working relationship? What do you think?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Day 52 - Greekonomics

Hey! Do you know how amazing the situation is here? Do you have any idea?

Look at the picture - every single house has a solar panel on their roof. You know what that means? Yeah, that's right, free hot water and electricity forever!

Every house has a garden and every garden is full of natural food which just grows. For example, our place has dates, figs, oranges, garlic, eggplants and lemons and we have olive trees at the plantation. The sea is at the end of the street and it is absolutely chock full of fish. That's right: free food!

All houses here are kept within the family and never sold - merely passed down through the generations. That's right - no one in Greece has a mortgage or any rent to pay!

In fact, everyone's basic needs are taken care of to such an extent that any money a Greek person earns or finds can be spent on luxuries. Which is why they all smoke 40 fags a day - and even the fags are about a pound a pack. Wow!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Day 51 - Sick Pussy

Everyone downstairs has caught the flu. First Maria was sniffly on Thursday and Friday, then Michael picked it up on Saturday and now, mysteriously, Avramopolous the cat seems to have caught it from somewhere.

Although, perhaps it's more than just a cold. As well as sneezing and sniffling, Avramopolous (pictured right, lying down) isn't eating and is thinning visibly by the hour. His condition causes such concern that an emergency trip to the vet's is announced.

The vet's place is a brand new building, all nice wood and smooth plasterwork. We actually noticed it for it's shiny quality on a walk last week but misread the sign and took it to be a gynaecologist. Yes, our Greek is not improving.

Anyway, the vet does her vet thing, admits that she doesn't know what the problem is and promptly charges Michael 40 Euros.

We make a joke about the cost of pussy spiralling out of control and laugh like drains.

Unimpressed, Michael decides to wait a few days for the return visit because if Avramopolous "pops off" anyway, then the money will have been wasted.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Day 50 - What Christmas?

Oh, is it really just one month to Christmas? You know, we never even noticed. We are only reminded of the God-Birthday when an email from the UK mentions the cursed festival.

Here in Greece, no one seems too bothered yet. We haven't seen any big stupid Santas or snowmen gatecrashing the shop windows, just the usual clutter. And we've heard no terrible carols over the speakers in the supermarket - only the standard "life is pain" Greek music .

We haven't noticed any Xmas ads on Michael's TV and no do-gooders have asked us to think about "others less fortunate than ourselves (at this time of year)".

Call us humbug, but it's a nice change and evidence that Christmas doesn't have to be like the consumer-fest we have gotten used to during our lives.

There was never going to be any big spending for us this year anyway - but we have decided that our Christmas treat will be a spinach pie from the Aladdin Cafe. How we miss them from our time at the olives. Ho ho ho!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Day 49 - Animal Cruelty and Sex

There's a sad dog who lives by the wharf. It's a chocolate brown coloured beast that looks like some kind of Weimerarner.

It lives, chained to a rock, on an open concrete platform at the bottom of a set of stairs that lead up to someone's house. The people who live there must feed it occasionally because although thin, it's still alive.

But every time we pass, the dog is alone and seems to say with it's big sad eyes... "Please love me." It's as if the dog is chained not only to a rock, but to lonliness itself.

Boo Hoo.

On a lighter note, we have managed to capture video of two flies having sex with each other. You can watch it on YouTube

Friday, November 23, 2007

Day 48 - You Can't Stop This Guy

There are loads of wrecked vehicles on the island but only some of them have been written off. Busted headlamps are not a problem. Doors that have rusted shut are kosher. Even having a smashed-in windscreen won't keep cars off the road.

Everyone's tyres are as bald as Telly Savalas and its only when a wheel actually falls off that you can stop these guys.

Our favourite rusty old ride is the little blue van called "AO 7430". That's the vehicle which appears in the banner at the top of the page and we're pretty sure that's not a personalised number plate.

Since taking that photo, we have noticed the van in different places and concluded that someone must actually drive it around.

Indeed, we catch a glimpse of the owner himself today, round at the wharf. The man is in his sixties, wears big glasses and looks cool in a beat-up, guy-who-hangs-aorund-the-wharf kind of a way. He looks like someone who knows his way round a game of cards and a packet of fags and he looks like he doesn't give a damn.

He certainly isn't giving a damn to what his fishing buddies think when we see him pull a dwarf sardine out from the sea and upon deciding that it is too small, proceeds to massacre it with a few heavy stomps to the head before throwing the corpse back into the deep blue. Mm... Perhaps it's some ancient Greek fishing ritual that keeps favour with Neptune that we're not aware of? Or perhaps, he just don't give a damn!

And who can blame him? He's got the best silly vehicle on the island and no matter how much of it rusts, crumbles and falls off - the van still runs.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Day 47 - Happy Shoppers

Before moving here we thought that our weekly shop in Greece would be uniformly cheaper but its just not the case.

A wee tin of tuna that costs 25p in Lidl in Glasgow costs about £1 here. A 20p tin of sweetcorn is more like £1 here in Vitales supermarket on the waterfront.

The proper bargains are the fresh fruit and veg but anything that comes in a tin will kill you. Coffee and tea are pretty steep too.

Other shockers have been home and kitchen products. Stuff like a set of plastic shelves for the bathroom costs €20 here but you would get something of the same quality at home for half the price. And if you want a decent tin opener, you won't get one this side of €7.

Of course - there's always a flip side. Whisky is €4.99 a bottle. Tranlated into pounds that's an incredible £3.59 which is cheaper than a pint of beer in some Glasgow pubs. Incidentally, the three-pound whisky is pictured below and, we're proud to say, it comes from the Macnish company in Glasgow.

Another difference here is that you can buy big mad knives in the supermarket, no problem at all; not something you would ever do so easily in Glasgow. Not just veg and bread knives, but big, dirty cleavers and everything.

But despite this ready availability of super-cheap hard booze and easy access to killer blades, there are no drunks here, and none of Glasgow's culture of knife crime and murders. No one here has one of those stitched-up "smiles" splitting their face. So why would that be?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Day 46 - Movie World

For the Greek release of Steve Almighty they've changed the title to the none-too-catchy Noah For One Week. Who knows - perhaps that's absolutely hilarious to Greeks?

What definitely is funny is an old kung-fu movie on Michael's TV. Between the Chinese dialogue and the Greek subtitles - we work out the plot.

Basically there's a good guy and his mate who work for a good emperor and who are brilliant at fighting. They're chasing the bad emperor and his hundreds of dumb guards who are rubbish at fighting. There is a gigantic fight and the good guy's pal gets his arm cut off but keeps fighting. The other good guy kills every single one of the baddies, captures the bad emperor and hands him over before dying from his wounds. Then the guy with one arm dies as well.

At the end the good emperor turns up, surveys the scene and turns his face to the sky to speak: "War is hell. We have lost so many of our brothers." Then there is loud Chinese music followed by Chinese credits. The End.

And, when the entertainment is that solid - you don't need to understand every word.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Day 45 - Show Me The Money

Lightning and thunderstorms put on another dazzling show today, and we once again pine for the jumpers and fleeces we laughingly got rid of before coming to Greece. Who’s ever seen a glossy brochure of Greece with anything but a flawless blue sky?

Not to worry though. The olives have been picked and there is relative quiet outside in the courtyard. This means we can settle down, in peace, and do some work.

We bunker down at our laptops for a long research session on making a quick buck. Apparently, the way to get rich quick is to offer to help others get rich quick. Mm…so far the only advice we can give on raising some quick cash is to sell all your possessions, find a free place to live, and buy a big bag of lentils. Probably not the sort of advice we can whore on the internet for a pound or two. Oh well, we keep persevering in finding the secret to big money for little work.

Time goes by, day turns to night, and the electric sky finally quietens down. Despite lots of tea, coffee, and lentil breaks, our retinas are burning after many hours of surfing and the computers need to be turned off.

We start settling down for the night and hear a bit of commotion out in the yard. It turns out that it is Michael returning from his nightly cycle along the waterfront, which he departed for many hours ago. Apparently he has spent the last few hours sheltering from the storm in the café down the road. Of course it was the storm that drove him in there, not some comrades, a pack of cards, and a bottle of ouzo.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Day 44 - Big Plans

We came to Greece armed with two Swiss exercise balls, a yoga workout, a pilates workout, a weights resistance workout, and a plan for 2-hours exercise a day; we have planned and discussed our get-fit strategy in depth. We are still planning and discussing it. The trip to the sports shop to get a valve to pump up the Swiss balls is still on the to-do list.

Today we take the next step and visit a local gym to discuss joining up. The gym is only a 5 minute walk from our flat (tick) and, whilst a fairly small room, it has all the resistance weights and cardio machines we need to get fit - so good so far. It is also very reasonable at 36 Euros a month membership fee with no long term contract - very good.

Naturally, we spend time looking at the pros and cons of each machine, and discuss the workouts we would do when we join. We ask the staff lots of important questions about opening times, ventilation systems, changing facilities, cleaners’ schedules, and wall-photograph locations.

Satisfied that we have all the knowledge needed in order to join, we decide to head down to a café by the waterfront and discuss it further.

After all, a failure to plan is to plan to fail! Isn't it?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Day 43 - Grave Thoughts

Paul has not seen where Nicole’s grandparents are buried, so we decide to spend the afternoon at the cemetery. Expecting a quiet grim afternoon, Paul is somewhat surprised by the colourful, busy atmosphere of the graveyard. Not at all like the UK.

Men, women, and children constantly come and go, and there is much talking amongst them. Not the kind of hushed, nervous whispers one usually makes, afraid that they might wake the dead, but natural tones of conversation you would expect at a café. It’s rather lovely.

Each grave is a raised marble enclosure covered in plastic flower wreaths, icons, and photos of the deceased. Collectively, the place feels like a sacred portrait gallery; a unique life story hidden behind each pair of eyes.

A team of women, wearing black, light the oil lanterns in each headstone. Most Greek families pay for their loved one’s lantern to be lit every evening as a memorial to the deceased. When the sun goes down, the effect of the yellow flames flickering in the dark is beautifully festive. We walk away reflecting on all this beauty.

We also reflect on the general lower than expected age of departure and wonder if the kamikaze driving, many cakes, and 3 ½ packets of fags smoked each day has something to do with it. Humorously, we note that these elements never make it into the lectures of the NHS when preaching the virtues of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle to a UK public experiencing an obesity crisis.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Day 42 - The Most Frustrating Thing in The World

Paul is going nuts. In the belief that he can watch the vital, massive, crucial Scotland v Italy game online for free at the SFA website, Paul recklessly waits until ten minutes before kick-off to log-on try and sort this out.

Of course, it doesn’t work and neither does BBC Radio commentary which is “only available to listeners inside the UK”. Paul only discovers this absurdity after spending fifteen minutes downloading Real Player. Aaargh!

By now, we know from the BBC website that Scotland are losing 0-1 but there’s no commentary, no pictures and Paul is in curse/swear overdrive. Trying to keep calm, he scours the internet for options. Eventually, he finds After a further forty minutes of false starts and fannying about, he finally brings up a jumpy, low-resolution feed from a German TV channel. Yes!

The game, live from Glasgow, is already in the second half. Paul settles back on the sofa, the screen fills with football and all is well. Scotland attack, the move looks good and… the feed breaks down and stops just as Scotland look like they are about to score!

Paul scrambles to another option which requires downloading Chinese software and tuning into an Arabic TV station who are showing the game.

The pictures come back and… Yes! Scotland have scored while we’ve been out of the loop! It’s 1-1 with 15 minutes to go. A draw gives Scotland a chance to qualify for the European Championships but the Scotland players are going for the win to make certain: they’re attacking. World Champions Italy look rattled!

For the next eight or nine minutes, everything is incredibly exciting as the two teams fight for a winner. Then, with three minutes left to play, the feed stops again. Aaargh!

This time Paul fails to retrieve the pictures and it is in complete silence a few minutes later that he reads the final score on the BBC website (in glorious TEXT): Scotland 1-2 Italy.


Yes, it turns out that the Italians scored in the very last minute of the game and that’s it: Scotland are knocked out with no chance of big tournament for another two years.

So that’s the story: no matter how frustrating computers and the internet can be, they’ll never be as frustrating as being Scottish and following football.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Day 41 – Reflections on The Olives

It's like running the marathon, only to fall 10 metres before the finishing line.

After seven days of hard labour, and after loading up the car with 15 sacks of olives the night before, we sleep in and miss the boat to Kos to watch them being pressed into olive oil. Doh!

Oh well, there's always next year. No wait. There won't be a next year because we'll have a very important meeting to attend next November somewhere in the world.

The news arrives from Kos that we have 50 litres of fresh, organic olive oil to survive on for the coming year. We reflect. Well done us. The pain and complaining temporarily forgotton.

Let’s try really hard and take some positive learning outcomes from our week-long olive-picking experience. Let's look for deeper meaning.

The harvest has taught us:

  1. Never underestimate a tree. Although a tree may look quite small, the likelihood is that it in fact GIGANTIC, with LOADS of branches and MILLIONS of fruits.

  2. There is no such thing as “olive green”. There are loads of different shades of green to be found on an olive tree.
  3. Plumbling and indoor toilets are a good thing.
Have you ever experienced a week of agricultural and learned something?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Day 40 - We Hate Agriculture

The final day of olive picking - at last.

There was a thunderstorm last night and some of the olives have been struck from the trees by hailstones. We can still get the olives but it means picking them out of the mud rather than off a branch. Michael says, "Now I know how the poor farmers feel when their crop is ruined by the weather."

We point out that it's a matter of a couple of kilos of olives and seeing as how this is his hobby rather than anything remotely resembling a livelihood, he probably still has a way to go to understand the pain of being wiped out by the elements.

Meanwhile, we now have the tiniest understanding of the pain of the farm labourer. That's seven days in the field, taking a sniff at the world of agriculture and neither of us likes it. We are tired and we are bored. Where is the art? Where is the glamour? The moment the last olive is picked, we pack up and leave immediately - there are no happy songs to celebrate the end of harvest, we just want to get the hell out of there.

So, while Michael hoses off the dirt from the last olives that had to plucked from the mud, we turn our backs on the plantation and troop off back to town, trying to forget fields and trying to remember cafes and conversations, heavy traffic and shopping, and other city-style comforts.

The countryside: it's nice for a day trip...


7 days

3 labourers

300 kilos picked

60 litres of oil (expected)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Day 39 - Couldn't Eat Olive Them

We’re up at 8.00 and leave at 8.30, as planned. We go to Vothini and pick olives again for the sixth day in a row. What began last week as an amusing diversion has become actual agriculture, the kind that peasants do.

For God’s sake, both of us went to good schools – this is not how things were supposed to turn out.

Put it this way: if we’re still living in Kalymnos next year then we will take our holidays at this time. There will be an unavoidable meeting somewhere far away. We will be booked up. We’ll be getting our hair done. There will be an excuse.

STATISTICS: Today we picked a total of 87 kg in about 8 hours. We have now completed 37 trees out of 44. We should finish tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 38 - Sacrifice

As detailed yesterday, we have no warm clothes. When we moved from Scotland, these were all left behind in the belief that Greece would be warmer than it actually is. Now it turns out that we can’t sleep because we’re so cold.
In fact, falling asleep would be easy if it wasn’t for the fear that our dormant bodies’ temperatures might drop to cryogenic levels and we might never wake up again.

The only solution: break some funds and buy warm pyjamas. Things are not cheap here and, owing to our budget, we need maximum warmth for minimum dollar. This means compromising on style.

Nicole ends up with ill-matched fleecy pyjamas, dressing gown and slippers, of various patterns and colours. The catwalks of Paris can wait.

Paul, as you can see, winds up in the kind of costume preferred by alcoholic wife-beaters from British housing estates, circa 1984. The only things missing are the accessories: sovereign rings, can of Kestrel lager and the Kensitas Club cigarettes. Terrifying.

By the way – today was day 5 of picking olives. We started at noon and picked 38 kilos in 5 hours. We have now completed 27 trees out of 44 and the novelty is wearing thin. We decide on an earlier start tomorrow – let’s get started at 8.30am and get this finished in two days.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Day 37 - Freezing

We wake up beside each other, Nicole shivering to keep warm, Paul already horrifyingly frozen inside a solid block of ice, a silent scream forever etched on his face.

The temperature drops and we are re-learning the meaning of winter. Our first floor flat is made from concrete and has no ground floor – it’s effectively on stilts - so when the North wind blows, it gets right under our floor and turns the flat into a fridge.

All of the fleeces, jumpers and thermal underwear that we accumulated in Scotland failed to make the final cut when we packed to come here. They were too bulky and, hey, Greece is hot! Now we suffer.

The key factor we failed to consider was that nearly our entire winters in Scotland were lived indoors under the spell of central-heating. The only time those bulky, woolly items came into play were for the odd walk in the country or once-a-year snowball fight in Kelvingrove Park. How jolly.

The shops, cafes, cars, pubs and houses where we really spent our time were all heated to a comfortable, uniform twenty-one degrees. It is entirely possible that living in the city made us forget what seasons are.

Now we have moved to Greece, where there is plenty of air-con but no central heating. Its understandable: it was so hot here this summer that the country literally went on fire. But that was August and this is November so, for the next few months, we’d better put a jumper on.

What’s it like living in a hot country? We don’t know – ask someone from Scotland.
Number of olives picked: millions
Number of olives still to pick: billions

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Day 36 - The End of All News

Ever since we arrived in the country last month, Greece has been enraptured by the leadership election for the opposition party, the Socialists, PASOK.

Coming from Britain where no one could give a monkey’s about any political party, let alone the opposition, the level of interest is fascinating.

Every night the TV news is awash with comment and rage as the merits of the two contenders (the bald man versus the fat man) are played out. Apart from occasional updates on Archbishop Christodolou’s (failing) health, there are no other stories.

Today is the vote. An interesting aspect, to British eyes, is the PASOK system whereby anyone on the Greek electoral register can (for 2 Euros) cast a vote, not just members of the party.

This means supporters of other parties can turn up and vote for whoever they think is the most useless; a strange thing to leave yourself open to.

In fact, by the time the polls shut, more than 700,000 votes are cast which, given the population of Greece, is like 4 million people turning out in the UK to decide on the Tory leadership.
Not only is the level of interest here unthinkable to a British voter, but so is the fact that the bald man (Papandreou, the incumbent) is in the race at all, seeing as he has lost the last two general elections on the trot.

In Britain, if you lose an election you are sacked. In Britain, if you are the leader of the opposition and you fail to rise 10 points in the opinion polls you are sacked. In Britain, if people become bored with your face, you are sacked.

But here, they stick with their man. In fact, by nine o‘clock its clear that this bald man who’s lost two elections has seen off the challenge of the fat man and retained his leadership.

God knows what they’re going to talk about on the news now.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Day 35 - Fatal Snake Attack

We walk to Vothini to pick (more) olives.

The monotony of harvest is broken in the afternoon when one of the guys selling vegetables from the back of a pickup suddenly pulls up outside the plantation and starts shouting "Fithi, fithi!" which translates as "Snake, snake!"

Turns out that he has partially driven over a snake which is now suffering in the road. We go to the gate to see the reptile dazed, but getting ready to slither off.

The vegetable salesman has different ideas and backs up his truck to roll over the snake a second time. Then, with the help of Maria giving him directions, he rolls his fat back wheels backwards and forwards over the creature's body three times more, just to make sure. Finally, he rests the full weight of his vehicle right on top of the snake's head just to make absolutely, definitely certain of a kill.

This is all done without much excitement, and when the vegetable salesman rolls his wheel away and he and Maria are satisfied that the snake's twitching is only reflex action, they nod their approval of a job well done and no more is said. He drives off to sell vegetables and we go back to work.

The scaley corpse of the snake is left in the road and opinion is split. Nicole thinks the serpent could have been dangerous and it's a good job the veg guy came when he did. Paul and Michael think that the snake was harmless and should have been left alone.

The truth is, we don't know whether it was dangerous or not. Can any experts out there tell us from the picture exactly what animal died today?

Friday, November 9, 2007

Day 34 - A Pickin Good Time

It’s harvesting time again. Today we head to Michael’s olive plantation to pick olives and have them pressed into tasty organic olive oil. The trees are heavily pregnant and about to drop.

The true realities of farming dawn on Nicole when she realises there will be no bathroom facilities. This produces a mild shock, exacerbated by the working track-suits and trainers required for the job. Not one to enjoy dressing down, Nicole attempts to maintain some sense of glamour and insists, as a bare minimum, on a splash of lipstick and perfume, at the somewhat bemusement of Paul and Michael.

We take the coastal, nerve shattering cliff-top drive to the orchard on the West side of the island, and get to work. The sunshine beats down and the car radio serenades us with Greek melodies. At the first tree, we each start in a different position and work in a clock-wise direction. Michael instructs us in the technique for collecting: slowly picking one olive at a time and being careful not to put any leaves or stems in the collection buckets, as it will make the olive oil bitter.

Fine we think, not knowing any better, after all it is only going to take three days according to Michael.

Time marches on and 11.30am rolls into 1.30pm - lunch time. The good news is we have collected twenty-five kilos of olives between us. The not so good news is that it is all off one tree.

Michael is very relaxed about the situation. However, we are slightly concerned at the size of the task at hand and cut our lunch break short to get started on the next tree. We work non-top picking olive after olive until the sun goes down at 5.30pm, by which time we have cleared less than three trees.

There are fifty two trees to be picked!

At this rate, we calculate, it will take twenty-six days to finish the job. However, despite the naked, raw facts of the situation, Michael still insists that it is a three-day job. We can’t quite follow the algorithms used in his calculations.

No bother though: whilst our old office-based lives seem light years away today; Nicole has surprisingly discovered that she enjoyed the day’s labour; Paul always thought he would, and we can always adjust our business research plans.

So, exhausted, we head home to get an early night’s sleep, ready for another day in the field tomorrow.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Day 33 - The Death of the Individual

Today is Saint Michael's day and therefore Michael's Yiorti, or "Name Day". According to what we know, this is a bigger deal for Greeks than their actual birthday.

The premise is that everyone called Michael is celebrated on this day. That's right: on this day all Michaels are special!

This system has obvious benefits for wider society. There is no need for all that tiresome diary-keeping that comes from loved ones having completely random special days (birthdays). All you need do is remember what they're called and as long as it's a common enough name, there will be plenty of reminders.

So it's easy, that's for sure.

Although, is the price of this convenience no less than the death of the importance of each individual human soul? A birthday celebrates the unique life of your friend or family member and give thanks for the day on which they entered the world. Does a Name-Day crushes the significance of the individual and instead celebrate the long-dead "saint"?

However, as with all things, nothing lasts forever and Michael does admit that the younger generation are moving more towards birthdays.

Anyway, the real point is that lots of people drop in all day long and there are CAKES. Lots of them. So who's complaining?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Day 32- Fishy Business

We watch the two Chinese street peddlers trying to sell plastic Taiwanese tat to the Greek fishermen down at the fish market. We have stumbled across the negotiations as we walk along the waterfront.

The peddlers are laden down with brightly-coloured stuffed parrots, plastic animals, wall clocks, scissors, knives, and a collection of lightweight tools. The scene reminds us of a mobile version of Glasgow’s Pound Shop, minus the Neds.

A couple of heavyset, grisly-looking bearded fishermen in stained dungarees are interested enough to break from their group conversation and look at the goods. Excitedly, the traders try to punt the tools, but the fishermen are not interested. They then try the knives and scissors but again to no avail.

As a last minute effort to make a few euros, the sellers pull out a rainbow-coloured plastic fish, flick a switch, and the fish comes to life flapping about in time to a jolly carnival tune. The fishermen smile and make deep rumbling sounds of appreciation. Encouraged by this, the peddlers continue.

Next on display: a small plastic bird that tweets and flaps when turned on; a tiny green truck with a remote control, and finally a hot-pink plastic cylindrical object with spikes at one end and flashing lights. We can’t make out exactly what it is but we are certain that Ann Summers would want it included in their winter catalogue.

Clearly impressed, the fishermen settle on two plastic musical fish and the unidentified pink wonder. They haggle the price down from sixteen to ten euros and walk back to their comrades clearly pleased with their purchases.

Now that’s the art of sales: selling fake fish to real fishmongers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day 31 - Manspace

We spend the afternoon at Therma; a dramatic, gravely, cliff-framed beach. But Paul doesn’t care for scenery. The two things he’s always wanted in life have been a shed and a cave, and now he’s spotted a bloke who has both.

Halfway down the steep staircase which leads from the houses to the beach, the cliff face is interrupted by an unlikely-looking front door, right in the middle of the rock. It’s not a rusty number either, but a nicely varnished proper posh wooden front door; the type you might see on a maisonette in Milngavie. There are no windows – just the door.

Soon enough, the owner appears: a lean and tanned middle-aged guy with a tidy moustache and a hat. He unlocks the door and disappears inside. His movements are too swift and practised to let us see what he’s got in there.

Nicole stares out to sea, oblivious, but Paul obsesses. What’s he got in there? A train-set? Some home-brew? A radio and a stash of weed? Twenty minutes later, the man emerges, grinning a big Greek grin and greets us with a hearty “Yia-sas”!

On the walk home, Paul opines on the awesome nature of this waterfront shed which is also a cave! “What shed?” says Nicole. The gender divide kicks in again.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Day 30 - Local Shop-Window Display Bye-Laws

If you have studied window-dressing to any remotely-professional level, you should get yourself down to Kalymnos and make some money.

The evidence suggests that the shop-keepers here could benefit from your expertise.

Under current local bye-laws that stretch back to re-unification in 1947, here are the stautory window-dressing regulations of the island:

  1. The shop window must contain as many ITEMS as possible.
  2. In the event of running out of space - ITEMS must be overlapped, stacked, piled and racked.
  3. Correctly executed, rules 1 and 2 shall result in an individual being unable to tell where one ITEM stops and another ITEM begins.
  4. Under no circumstances shall the proprietor allow the ITEMS to constitute a unified look and feel.
  5. Once ITEMS are arranged, it is illegal to disturb the display for a minimum period of six years. Shops running displays which are not sufficiently sun-bleached or dusty risk a fine.

Here, from our neighbourhood in Pothia, are some examples:

Shop number 1 - Despite being a fashion outlet, it delivers absolutely no unified style or look - good work. Overlapped ITEMS - check. But definitely could have squeezed more ITEMS in there. Must try harder. 5/10
Shop number 2 - Improvement. A hardware shop with enough STUFF to sink the Titanic. Quality. 7/10

Shop number 3 - Piles of childrens clothes under randomly-strewn packets of tights which haven't been touched since the millennium. Winner. 9/10

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Day 29 - Fame, Greed, and Adventure

There are only 4 books on our shelf to choose from, as we sold our entire book collection for pennies at Glasgow’s car-boot sale before moving to Greece. We have decided to spend the day lazily drinking coffee and reading books. Surprisingly, making a decision on what to read is much less of an ordeal with much less choice.

We discovered these 4 books at the back of a cupboard when cleaning out our flat. Paul quickly chooses an Arctic adventure story while Nicole chooses a rags-to-riches epic. In this moment of hasty choice, we wonder if we have, in fact, acted out our subconscious desires or provided evidence of an innate gender divide.

Paul spends the day braving inhospitable icy climates and landscapes, and defying death, on his expedition from London, through Canada, and onto the Klondike River in search of the gold that the 1897 Gold Rush promised.

Nicole starts the day as a poor half-caste in the streets of Calcutta during the last days of the Raj. Determined to escape her humble beginnings, she stows away on a ship to London where she reinvents herself to become the darling of English society before being catapulted into the Golden era of Hollywood and becoming a legendary movie star of a million headlines.

We sit close together on the couch yet we are worlds and years apart as we each triumph over adversity with each turn of the page; both of us a hero and heroine amongst men and women. It is exhilarating.

A voice in the distance slowly becomes closer and louder. It is Michael calling out from next door for us to clear our washing from the clothes-line.

Back to reality.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Day 28 -What, No Sandwiches?

Today is a funeral for one of Maria’s in-laws who died earlier in the week.

We hear that on a previous occasion, this old man’s health had taken a turn for the worse and raised such alarm that the family had been called to Kalymnos from the four corners of the world. Of course, the minute they all reached his bedside, he suddenly felt quite a lot better, cancelled dying, and got up and went back to work.

It is suggested that this miraculous recovery was, in some ways, a disappointment; particularly to those offspring who had paid beyond their means to make the long journey from America.
This time, however, the deceased popped off without warning so his far-flung children missed the whole thing and have only arrived in time for today’s burial.

When Michael and Maria return from the funeral we are informed that “all went well”, that “no one dropped the coffin,” and that “they planted him nicely.”

“Did you get any food?” we enquire, cutting straight to the nitty-gritty. “Only a small baklava,” says Michael, displaying his own brand of disappointment.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Day 27 - Checkmate For White

We’re both up early enough to launch the final assault on the painting. Feelings of purity flow though our souls as white paint eliminates all traces of colour.

Today’s stains to die: pink on metal banister, blue on a mirror frame, brown rust on the front door and bathroom shelf brackets.

It’s like winning at RISK – our favourite colour builds and conquers. Today we reached the point in the game where we know there can be no other winner but white. Sickly pink, suicide blue and dumper brown are memories of the old order. White is the queen now and her reign is sublime.

We agree that in the future, following this nightmarish experience, we will outsource all painting contracts.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Day 26 - War & Peace

We had just sat out on our balcony for a coffee break when the fight broke out. Like a match to gas, it ignites in an instant.

Maria, Poppy, Katerina, and the Russian woman next door were calmly cooking, hanging washing, and scrubbing steps one minute, and then possessed with rage and fury the next. Arms are waving like an angry game of charades, voices are raised in high pitched squeals, and the word Malaka (wanker) is ping-ponged back and forth.

We have prime seats due to our raised balcony, and the natural amphitheatre-shaped courtyard created by the circular positioning of all our houses. It is highly entertaining; the most dramatic fight yet. We salivate with joy, like blood-thirsty spectators at the Coliseum.

The fight goes on and on, and on. By now the screaming has spiralled to a feverish pitch, and the charades has become more aggressive as the women close in on each others’ personal space. The only male on the scene is Stamatis, Maria’s son, who is busy pumping weights and admiring his own physique; it doesn’t look like he is going to step in and break up the brawl.

It is difficult to gauge who is winning. It looks even after a number of rounds. Out of family loyalty, we give a thumbs-up to Maria, but secretly our money is on the Olympic-sized Russian.

Due to the duration of the fight, we eventually work out, with our limited Greek, that this battle has erupted over a number of issues: the Russian has poured water over Maria’s steps; Maria’s daughter is making too much noise with her moped, and the smell from Katerina’s outdoor cooking is tainting the hanging washing. There is also something about bread loaves but we can’t quite decipher that thread of the argument.

And as quickly as it started, it stops in a flash; almost in mid-sentence. There seems to be no clear winner. The women go back to their cooking, washing, and cleaning, and peace descends once again.

A few minutes later, Michael turns up on his bicycle after his daily excursion around the waterfront. He sees us on our balcony, quietly sipping our coffee.

“Look guys…” he calls loudly, “…see how quiet and peaceful the life is here.”

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