Monday, August 29, 2011

This Cursing Isle

According to all round action hero Patrick Leigh Fermor, Kefalonians are renowned for their foul language. Sadly, my Greek does not extend to that level of familiarity with their swearing vocabulary, and despite my attempts to persuade various friendly, lovely people we met to teach me some, I didn't manage to learn any. So count that as the only failure of what was a glorious stay on the island.*

We were staying in what was supposed to be a small, remote town, and although I understand why someone would describe it thus, it wasn't what we were expecting - I think TOH and I both assumed that this would mean not very touristy, which is definitely not the case, but it was certainly quiet, too. More importantly, the hotel in which we stayed, Olivemare, was absolutely wonderful. Beautifully designed and decorated - all calm whites and whitewash, with a clear, turquoise pool and glowing candles full of camellia blossoms and olive leaves, made by the owner's cousin - it was relaxing, quiet and the perfect place to get some serious sleep. The food was wonderful, lots of fresh, local tomatoes, cheese, olive oil and homemade breads.

Almost better than the haven of the hotel, however, were the recommendations from the hotel owner, Marilena, who provided us with a new favourite bar - and this is a global assessment - and links to some of the most glorious swimming spots. I had forgotten just how much I love sea swimming, and the Aegean is the clearest water I think I've ever seen - turquoisey but absolutely like crystal, sharp and coolly refreshing but warm enough to bask in it.

The sea at Myrtos, however, is a different beast altogether. Sadly, my lack of poetic and wordsmith ability handicaps me here; the best description I have is that it was the closest I'll ever get to swimming in copper sulphate solution, the blue stuff that brought both TOH and me much joy in our chemistry in action sets as children (clearly our love was destined). The water at Myrtos was impossibly blue, the sort of shade that one hears of in travelogues, but never expect to actually see for oneself. And there it was, in front of me. A glorious afternoon was spent bathing and revelling in its blueness.

We walked along mountain tops; at sunset, overlooking the cliffs and with the isle of Zante in the distance, drank beers and ate Greek salad (χωριάτικη, khoriatiki - which means rustic, apparently - my one solidly learnt Greek word) souvlaki, fighting off the fiercely carnivorous wasps and watching the reds and pinks light up the sky while in the distance the cities lit up for nighttime; we dipped our feet in the pool while reading and raced individual medleys (flooding the pool area during the butterfly leg); and played Bezique in the evenings with a glass of Metaxa.

I know Greece is in turmoil, facing a transition in its way of life and the choices the government has made about productivity, work-life balance and so forth. Faced with such glorious natural riches - geography, climate, food and drink - one can see why people might think there is more to life than making money and hitting the rat race, yet, currently, it seems the lifestyle is unsustainable in the current format. But I hope that doesn't completely eradicate the warmth and joy of the people we met, and the sense that while one needs a roof over ones head, working isn't the be all and end all of life. It's one of the things I love most about the south of Europe; I think some people here in the US are genuinely puzzled by it, and misdiagnose it as laziness, rather than perspective. There's surely a happy medium to be reached.

* While on a flight to Istanbul home (it's boring and complicated as to why, but Turkish Airlines gets a big thumbs up, including the appalling Man Utd flight safety videos) I did, however, remember a very rude word in Turkish that a girl from secondary school taught me (thanks, Tezay. I wonder what she's doing now). I refrained from using it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Go Away

It's been raining continuously for at least nineteen hours now. Yesterday morning was gloriously sunny, yesterday afternoon it clouded over but with a nice breeze, and it stayed warm. But it was thunderously pouring at around two this morning, and although the intensity has waxed and waned, it has rained non-stop since then. It woke me up in the middle of the night several times; one growl of thunder lasted longer than any individual clap I've ever heard. It's been a remarkable sustained effort from the raingods today.

I don't quite understand New York summer storms. While in other places the release of thunder heralds some sort of break in humidity and heat, those things seem to intensify with summer rain here. Thus for the first time in ages I'm going to have to put on the dehumidifier* on. Usually I'd empty the full tank onto the garden but, obviously, that's a little pointless right now. I think it's probably doing the garden a world of good, helping our tomatoes to grow - the tomatoes that are going to end up ripening right while I'm away. I can feel it.

* Every time I use it I think of The Onion point-counterpoint article that sadly is not online but is absolute genius:

Point-Counterpoint: Humidity
"What We Need Is More Humidity" - Duracraft Natural Warm Moisture Humidifier, Model DH-901
"Humidity Must Be Destroyed" - Edison 25 pt. Dehumidifier, Model DHE25W

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The Tom Tom Club

Last year, despite some early excitement, we basically grew no tomatoes. Well, we managed to grow one, solitary tomato from seed (which was, I swear, the greatest tomato I've ever eaten). We blamed the ridiculously sweltering weather, but I'm pretty sure our ineptness had something to do with it. This was a striking change from the year before, where our landlady had somehow magically grown a billion tomatoes that we had for breakfast on toast every day for what seemed like a month.

Undeterred, we decided to try again to grow from seed this year. I did actually harden them this year, and when it came time to pot them out, in a pathetic lack of ruthlessness, we couldn't bear to chuck them out. So every possible pot contained some sort of tomato plant. We did not have any room to even consider purchased seedlings; everything is full with one of our little seeds that could. We even removed some shrubbery and, instead of letting the strawberries grow into that spot, put in our tomatoes instead.

It appears our softheartedness has paid off, because in the ground and in a random pot we have an abundance of tomatoes. Some are plum, and ripened or nearly there; the regular tomatoes are green and will be ripe in a matter of weeks. Those ground-based plants smell amazingly tomatoey - there's no other smell like that earthy, viney smell of tomatoes growing; the stems are laden down with the enormous weight of the fruit. It's glorious.

So tomatoes we're doing better with. We also have parsley, basil, rosemary, mint, sage and thyme (and a ridiculous abundance of the latter two) which is utterly satisfying as well as (boringly enough) economically sounder than continually purchasing plastic-wrapped bunches of herbs that we don't end up using.

Now we just have to work out what I did wrong to the lavender. Gah.