Thursday, December 30, 2010

Apple MacOutatutch!

I am passing through a period of making unreasonable changes to my way of being; something to do with my age, a late-age crisis perhaps. My most recent rather pointless change is to have abandoned ‘Windows’ in favour of ‘Mac’. While these two systems have much in common, as far my needs are concerned, they have a number of irritating differences the greatest of which is that my internet connection here, my ‘Dongle’ will not work with my new MacBook!
The ‘Dongle’ connection has always been temperamental which can be very frustrating. It is nonetheless miraculous that with this gadget I have been able, albeit only on ‘good’ days, to communicate with the world from this beautiful but isolated hillside. I understand that the ‘Dongle’ problem can be solved by buying and plugging in a go-between gadget from the Apple Store. Meanwhile, and being far from an Apple Store ‘meanwhile’ could be a long while, my Mac contact with the world beyond my home is dependent on my visiting one or another of the wi-fi cafes in the local towns; a far from disagreeable chore!
It is amazing how quickly an expectation of instant communication has become normal. Up until about a dozen years ago, to communicate at all other than by letter, I was obliged to go to a telephone company office where I would queue for a vacant booth from which to make a call! The cellphone revolution put an end to all of that and now the internet is rapidly displacing my cellphone as a primary means of keeping contact with folk in the outside world.
Each day, as I learn more of my Mac’s foibles, I am increasingly enjoying using it. It is faster, has a larger screen and keyboard than its predecessor, and runs for hours (Up to ten so the manufacturers claim) on one battery charge. Using it as I am now in an unlit room, I am happy to have bought it if only for the backlit keyboard.
Until I have dongle and Mac united I shall send my posts to Sensateman by e-mail so it is likely that, during the immediate future, posts will arrive there intermittently and in batches. But how material possessions spawn the want of more! Already, if my Dongle is to continue to be of use to me, I have to visit the Apple Store and so much better do my photographs look on the Mac that I have begun researching cameras with which, so I convince myself, I might create better images.
My late-age crisis is seeming to deepen by the day! 

Rumination on a murmuration

Since the beginning of this month I have been seeing huge clouds, murmurations as they are called, of starlings.  All of these sightings were fascinating but none equalled the spectacle I witnessed around midday last Thursday.  Over open ground between three local villages, Harakopio, Yamia and Falanthi, an untold number of starlings had gathered together to form a massive abstract image in the sky.  As I gazed at it, this remarkable three-dimensional aerial image constantly altered its position, shape and form, its infinitely changing outline remaining perfectly sharp and clear, like that of a a drop of water moving over a greasy surface.
At close quarters both the wing beats of these huge gatherings of birds and their voluble chatter combine to make a deafening cacophony but on Thursday morning the distance between me and the murmuration rendered it strangely silent causing me to wonder how a musical transcription of this apparently chaotic but perfectly smooth edged, infinitely changing half-tone form might sound.  Furthermore as I stood transfixed by that awe inspiring mysterious aerial ballet I wondered, if viewing the known universe from a point beyond it proportional to the distance I stood from the starling cloud, I should see that as a similarly irregularly regular, chaotic yet organised cloud of infinitely mobile living matter.  A metaphor for my being perhaps?

The birth of Literature according to Nabokov

The birth of Literature according to Nabokov

"Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him."
— Vladimir Nabokov (Lectures on Literature)
Thanks to my neighbor, PoetessJoanne Kyger, for unearthing this quote.  (which I stole from Lloyd's blog.)

Rumination on a murmuration

Since the beginning of this month I have been seeing huge clouds, murmurations as they are called, of starlings. All of these sightings were fascinating but none equalled the spectacle I witnessed around midday last Thursday. Over open ground between three local villages, Harakopio, Yamia and Falanthi, an untold number of starlings had gathered together to form a massive abstract image in the sky. As I gazed at it, this remarkable three-dimensional aerial image constantly altered its position, shape and form, its infinitely changing outline remaining perfectly sharp and clear, like that of a a drop of water moving over a greasy surface.
At close quarters both the wing beats of these huge gatherings of birds and their voluble chatter combine to make a deafening cacophony but on Thursday morning the distance between me and the murmuration rendered it strangely silent causing me to wonder how a musical transcription of this apparently chaotic but perfectly smooth edged, infinitely changing half-tone form might sound. Furthermore as I stood transfixed by that awe inspiring mysterious aerial ballet I wondered, if viewing the known universe from a point beyond it proportional to the distance I stood from the starling cloud, I should see that as a similarly irregularly regular, chaotic yet organised cloud of infinitely mobile living matter. A metaphor for my being perhaps?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Interpreting the meaning of success

I have stolen the following story from Paulo Coehlo.  The first time I heard it, some years ago, the hero was a greek fisherman and his advisor a greek who had returned home materially wealthy after years of working in the United States.

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”
The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”
The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

This story may help to explain something about the greek attitude to why we have been blessed with life.

A camera or two houses plus change?

I have been considering moving on and up from my pocket point-and-shoot job to a 'through the lens' viewfinder camera and have little idea of where to begin choosing something that will best serve my purpose.  Knowing Leica to be a reliable camera manufacturer I began my research by typing that name into Google.  Whether or not the latest 'special edition' Leica would suit my purpose, at a few pounds less than £20,000 its cost is rather outside the most irresponsible limits of my camera buying budget.  Twenty thousand quid!  For a camera?  Leica do offer less expensive models but even those are considerably beyond my modest ideas of price.
Coincidentally I have received, from a friend presently tarrying near Troy,   an e-mail which included a link about a newish, spacious and conveniently appointed house in Bulgaria for just £8,500.
It is a crazy world we are living in!
My friend has asked me to pass on the following link to the property in Bulgaria, here is probably as good a pitch as any:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

New Year: Sunrise

This winter solstice happened, according to anthropotime, close to midnight GMT last night.  Here we are two hours ahead of GMT.  The Greek sun was at its most southerly declination at close to two o'clock this morning making this, the 22nd December, the first day of our new year.
This morning, unusually, cloud hid from me the wonderful  spectacle of the rising sun , denying me one of my many daily joys, but I saw the sun's light and know there is promise of more to come.  

Murmuration at Falanthi

From whence? To where? And thence? Why?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An inconsonant affair

I am returned!
After a trying month of struggling to make a fresh start with Typepad I have abandoned her as casually and heartlessly as I abandoned this blog a month ago.  My abandonment of Blogger was reckless and unreasonable but my abandonment of Typepad has, I believe, some justification.  During the month I spent with her I gave her a good deal of my time and patience, largely without response.  Furthermore she seemed to be determined to prevent the cyber-chums with whom I had built comfortable relationships through Blogger from having anything to do with me.   Fortunately for me some of those chums are more determined than she, I am grateful to them for bringing me to such senses that are left to me and to precipitate my return to blog hereafter with Blogger.

Monday, November 22, 2010

All change

It would be quite uncharacteristic of me to try to repair this blog, to get it back on its rails; I am not one to look back, only forward with hope rather than foresight.
For this reason I am abandoning this blog as a recorder of flakes from my mind in favour of virgin territory at:
I shall continue to use 'Blogger' for longer narratives, "Arcadian Ambulations" for instance.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Arcadian ambulations III

In my light sleeping bag, insulated from the cold stone of the café floor by no more than a thin foam mat, I slept surprisingly well. In order to offer us hot drinks and breakfast before we left Epidauros the café manager arrived especially early to open up.
That two days in close company was easing our initial reserve became apparent when, over our hot drinks and fresh pastries, Karin began to tell us something of her early life. She had been born in Liepzig, East Germany, in 1949. She had lived happily there until, when she was eight years old, her parents, unhappy with the system under which they had been obliged to live since the end of the war, left the tyrannies of Soviet Socialism for a free life in the West. Listening to her narrating her story I could not imagine how painful this must have been for her and her family. At that time the metro on which Karin and her family escaped was still running through both the eastern and western parts of Berlin. The Wall, and the murderous full partitioning that came with it, was not built until 1961. Compared to the risks taken by post-1961 escapees, Karin's family may have made a relatively easy crossing but the wrench must have been unimaginably grim, particularly for the children who, in an instant, had to abandon all they knew, home, toys, friends, everything, without even the chance of a farewell. Arrival in the West had also been difficult for Karin; Easterners, then as now, were not particularly welcome in the West. It was then that Salina remarked on how many similarities there were between Karin's story and her own. Salina had been born in China from where, when she was yet a child, her family fled with her to Hong Kong. I have never experienced the tyranny of totalitarianism. I have enjoyed a free life and taken for granted a right when dissatisfied to either speak up fearlessly for my beliefs or to 'vote with my feet', to hear the stories of less fortunate folk emphasised my good fortune, something about which I shall never be complacent.
Before leaving Epidauros we spent a couple of hours or so looking around the ruins of the ancient Cult Centre, visiting the museum and climbing the tiers of the magnificent theatre. Built in the 3rd century BC and further extended in the 2nd, the theatre can accommodate 12,000 people and is still in sufficiently good order to be used to stage several plays each summer. The theatre is famous for its acoustics; the ring of a small coin dropped onto the stone floor of the stage can be clearly heard from the highest tiers of the auditorium. It was early when I arrived at the theatre, only a very few tourists had yet arrived but one visiting couple were already on the stage singing a duet which rang beautifully and harmoniously throughout the theatre. I climbed the stone tiers. When I reached the top a young woman had replaced the singers. Dramatically and emotionally she was reciting a pleading speech of Isabella's from “Measure for Measure”; it was a moving performance!
We left the ancient site by the main road but soon picked up tracks that led us in the general direction of Argos, our next objective. The stroll was less dramatic than that of the previous day; more undulating than steep. We stopped for a while to eat a picnic lunch in an olive grove, allowing the heat of the middle of the day to ease a little before moving on. Later in the afternoon the sky clouded over and we argued the merits of staying for the night under the shelter of the terrace roof of a locked church at which we had stopped for a further rest. The well beside the church, its murky water further contaminated with an accumulation of detritus, was immediately dismissed as a source of drinking water. The church offered scant shelter and no fresh water. Thick clouds had gathered. Rain threatened. Afternoon would soon be passing into evening. A vote was taken concerning whether we should stay and make the most of what little the locked church had to offer or to move on to the next village, Arcadiko, and the possibility of finding greater comfort there. The four of us who voted to move on won the day.
On the outskirts of Arcadiko we came upon a large gated house that might have been a small hotel. Bruno, unburdened by the conventions that so inhibit Northern Europeans from making contact with strangers, rang the bell on the gate and was invited in to talk to a man who regretted, as he and his wife were but temporary custodians of the house while the owner and his family were away, being able to offer us hospitality there. The village had no hotel or taverna but it did have a café. The café, which at first seemed unlikely to be able to provide much more than 'Greek Coffee' or cold drinks was soon transformed into something at least of a taverna. In what appeared to be the owner's private kitchen his wife was rustling up souvlaki, chips, omelettes and salads, not quite perhaps to Michelin guide standards but a vast improvement on the 'hot-dog' dinner I had less than enjoyed at Epidauros the previous evening. As relays of plates of food were still being delivered to our café forecourt table the genial fellow who Bruno had spoken to earlier drew up beside us in a large and rather smart car. He climbed out, presented us with a large bag of groceries and fruit and began to get things organised on our behalf; apparently our chum had considerable influence in Arcadiko. Later in the evening a tractor towing a large trailer pulled into the café. This, we were told, was our transport to our sleeping shelter for the night! Loaded into the trailer we set off through the village to be dropped outside a fine, decorated, heated and carpeted church.  After being shown where to switch off the lights when we were ready our benefactors left us to rest for the remainder of the night. In a dark corner between rows of chairs I found a pitch for my mat and sleeping bag and made short work of climbing into it, installing ear plugs and, almost at once, falling asleep.
By so doing I missed a lot of fun. Not all of the villagers were happy with our using their church as a dormitory and, as I innocently slept, a deputation of dissenters had arrived at the church intent on removing us. Quite a row then ensued between some of my fellow walkers, dissenting villagers and a group of our original benefactors the outcome of which was that, rather than risking further trouble, we accepted expulsion from the church packed up and wandered bleary-eyed into the night. Earlier we had been offered use of the village schoolroom for the night so, having nowhere else to go, we first went there only to find a most unaccommodating janitor who had very obviously been briefed that we were on our way and who had no intention of letting a bunch of itinerant, non-orthodox, foreigners into the building of which he had charge. We wandered back into and through the village to an olive grove beyond, which had to serve us as a dormitory for what was left of a fortunately clear dry night.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Arcadian ambulations II

The following morning we left the comfort of Hotel Aristotelis on the coast near Ancient Epidauros and headed west hoping, before the end of the day, to reach the remains of the sanctuary of Asclepios and the theatre at the well known tourist site of Epidauros, twenty or so kilometres away.
The start of our stroll, between exhaust belching traffic and the litter that decorates all greek roads - wantonly discarded plastic bottles and cups, cigarette packets, drinks cans, food wrappers and anything else that can be thrown from the window of a moving vehicle, was far from Arcadian. That the rubbish infested verge was generously shaded by walnut trees fairly dripping with nuts ready for eating was something of a saving grace; a harbinger, perhaps, of better things to come. Eventually we turned off the busy road onto a traffic free track that led us up to the impressive nunnery of Kimissis Theotokos Kalami, around four-hundred metres above sea level. Here I recovered from what had for me been a long and taxing climb while resident nuns welcomed us with jugs of chilled spring water and plates of Turkish Delight. (Insert pic) Originally founded in the seventeenth century by monks from Kalamata, the Monastery was disbanded in 1834 and reopened as convent in 1974. Preserved within the large and impressive convent are some of the original seventeenth century buildings.
Nuns at the convent are skilled stone masons and decorators. I watched fascinated as a nun worked,  patiently and painstakingly painting images in traditional Byzantine style onto a plastered wall. The convent church walls and ceiling are presently only about a third fully painted, the remainder being either 'work-in-progress' or bare cement; devotional employment for years to come. The floor of the church has been decorated with fine mosaic images of saintly deeds and Christian symbols.
After a long and necessary rest we moved on from the convent, continuing along the track to climb gently but steadily higher. As light rain began to fall, we came across an odd looking structure on a summit just a little off our track; a fire watcher's lookout complete with fire-watcher. (Insert pic) Even on this overcast afternoon the views from the lookout of the countryside around was long and spectacular; east to the sea, five-hundred metres below us, west over Argos to the mountains of Arcadia, south to the sea beyond Naúplio. With his permission, and to his great amusement, in the shelter of the fireman's lookout we boiled water on a gas burner we carted with us, and made tea.
Shortly after tea the rain eased. We bade farewell to the fireman to begin the decent down a rocky track that led, after an hour or more of steep downhill walking quite as taxing as had been the assent, to a tarmacked road, traffic and litter. We followed the road into the well developed tourist site at Epidauros. We had almost arrived at our objective for the day; the ruins of the healing centre of Asclepios and the adjacent theatre where we arrived, early in the evening, tired and hungry to a site that was closing down. Few tourist coaches or cars remained in the huge car park. The only refreshments to be had were the very limited and rather unappetizing remains on offer at a snack bar in the car park. Rather than a delicious multi-course taverna meal and accompanying flask of wine, daydreams of which had sustained me through the last aching kilometres of the afternoon, I was obliged to dine on a ghastly 'hot-dog' washed down with a can of beer which, after my mountain stroll were, nonetheless, manna and nectar to me.
That we caught the snack bar open, was fortuitous. Its manager was also manager of a café/restaurant with a large covered terrace near to the theatre where, he told us, we would be welcome to make ourselves comfortable for the night.
Millennia after being established as a centre for healing, Asclepios' ancient sanctuary is still flourishing as such; providing food (of sorts), shelter and clean, well appointed public toilets that close late and open early!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arcadian ambulations I

On the twenty-seventh of September Robin boarded the eight o'clock Athens bound bus at Koroni. Selina and Colin boarded the bus at the next stop, Linda, Bruno and I at the stop after that and, finally, at Argios Andreas, Karin joined us. We were an odd bunch; four men, three women, four Brits, a German, a Hong Kong Chinese and an Italian; our ages ranged from forty-nine to sixty-six and all we had in common was being currently resident not too far from each other in Messinia, the South West corner of mainland Greece, and that we all enjoyed a good walk. On Saturdays from October until May, we have occasionally strolled, with others, for between four and six hours around the scenic tracks and paths that abound in this area. On that Monday morning though, we were embarking on something far more ambitious; a stroll west from Ancient Epidauros, on the east coast of the Peloponnese, through mythical Argos and Arcadia and on through Elis and Messinia to the west coast.
We had neither a set route, trusting that one would evolve as we walked, nor any plans concerning how far we would walk each day or for how many days we might be walking. We had reckoned, guessed and estimated however that the total distance could be around three-hundred kilometres and that if we strolled west at an average speed of fifteen kilometres a day, we would need to be walking for about three weeks.
Starting point: the beach in front of the hotel at Ancient Epidauros
We left the Athens bound bus at Corinth and took another to Naplion, once and briefly the capital of Greece, now a rather pleasant, up-market tourist town from where we took a third bus for the short journey to Ancient Epidauros.
The two kilometre or so stroll, on level ground, from the bus stop to our hotel at Ancient Epidauros was my first experience of walking with a heavy pack on my back. By the time we had reached the hotel I was wondering why on earth I had become involved with this madcap venture and if any of my fellow walkers, most of whom I only casually knew, were having similar second thoughts.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Away for a while

I left Velanidia om Monday 27th September and do not expect to be back there for at least three weeks by when I hope I shall have a lot of material to post.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday lunch

I enjoy long and leisurely Sunday Lunches; they have always been rather special to me.  For all the years during which I lived at home with my parents Sunday was the only day of the week on which we ate the main meal of the day together and at lunchtime.  It was always a feast, invariably of roast meat and vegetables preceded by soup and  followed by a 'pudding' which may have been anything from apple pie with cream to treacle pudding with custard but which always was good.  Later, when I had a young family of my own I enjoyed, when possible, Sunday lunches amongst friends and their families at one of the excellent county hostelries that nestled in that pleasantly bucolic triangle of Kent, marked by Canterbury, Sandwich and Hythe, in which I lived at that time.  These days, on summer Sundays I can usually be found at Maria's Taverna, Zapi.  I have been going there for many years now and although through the years there have been many changes, Maria's is still very much what it was when I first discovered the place; a simple, very informal, family run taverna directly on the beach.  In those early days of my acquaintance with the place there would be as many, if not more, boats pulled up on the beach or bobbing in shallow water as there were vehicles in what passed as a car park.  Venturing down the narrow, deeply rutted un-mettled mountain track that served as Zapi's road access was not for the faint-hearted.  The wise walked (Indeed, the very wise still walk!), rode down on their donkeys or came by sea.  The route has not altered but the road is now mettled; the final few kilometres were asphalted during last winter.  The first stretch of the road to be mettled, that nearest to the main road from which it branches, was competed several years ago and is now showing signs of deterioration; in all, and including that of last winter, there were four further sessions, over half a dozen or more years, of extending the tarmac surface!  This is quite normal here.  At sometime during the road improvements Zapi was, for the first time, linked to the national electricity grid.  The economics of supplying a hamlet of but few dwellings  with mains electricity and seven kilometres of good road  escape me but maybe these infrastructural improvements may eventually encourage the more self-interested among the well-heeled to do what they have elsewhere; to clear the beautiful wild scrub and grub up olive groves to make way for their palatial, tasteless 'holiday homes', thereby rewarding the state with their singularly material return for which its financial advisors must hope.
During the German occupation, not the present civilian one, the 1940s military occupation, Zapi served as an entry and exit gate for allied military personnel who either had business in Greece, organising and advising terrorist bands,  or who had become accidentally trapped here.  Many years ago I met an old man at a party who had been a Zapi resident during the war and who had hidden four British airmen in his house for an entire year before they were eventually taken by submarine to Alexandria.  The submarines could get in close enough to rendezvous with one of the small inshore fishing boats.  My informant has since died as must have most, if not all, of his contemporaries; sadly their potentially fascinating stories will have gone with them.

What did he want of me?

As I strolled home after lunch yesterday I had an uncomfortable feeling that I was being followed.  I turned to check and there he was; tall and dark and close enough to be touching me.  I asked him what he wanted of me but got no reply so continued on.  With silent step the fellow remained with me all afternoon, sometimes venturing from behind to stroll beside me , oddly, only to my right, never to my left.  Occasionally, after rounding a sharp bend in the road, he would suddenly appear directly in front of me, menacing, as if trying to block my path.  When that happened I did my best to stamp on him but he always seemed to manage to be one step ahead of me.  Eventually, as the sun sank below the mountain, I managed to shake him off.  It was an altogether most unsettling experience.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Material disquietude

I have here a 'Sony Walkman' radio and a 'Sony Walkman' compact disc
player. These I link to a pair of powerful 12v speakers to
satisfactorily serve my want of audio-entertainment. Last week the
jack-plug that connects these elements, and is necessarily frequently
transferred from radio to player and vice-versa, revolted; internal
wires within the tiny factory-sealed unit became fractured. A major
disaster; no music, no news!
'Wind', an internet service provider, provide my a slow but generally
adequate internet connection. Last week it failed. When I tried to
connect I could get no more than an error message. I telephoned 'Wind'
to report my problem and was told that the service had been suspended
because the last two monthly accounts had not been paid. I argued that
because I had set up a direct debit to settle my accounts as the fell
due this could not be so. The voice on the other end of the phone
confirmed that was indeed correct but, nonetheless, no money had
transferred from my bank; perhaps I ought to phone them to find out why.
My bank is not easy to telephone. Almost entirely automated, disembodied
voices offer seemingly endless choices of 'options' which do not include
'difficulties with Greek internet service providers'. Eventually I
managed to speak to a barely less robotic 'Customer Advisor' who advised
me that he could not help me; I would have to speak to 'Wind'! Next week
I shall travel to the nearest 'Wind' office at Kalamata to endeavour to
pay my outstanding accounts and to have my service restored. Practically
all cafés in the resort villages near to my home offer free wi-fi
internet connection but the nearest of these is a half-hour drive away.
I have become used, and to a degree dependent, on having a connection at
all times; another major disaster!
Last Thursday evening, as I was driving home, the rear nearside spring
of my trusty machine, a venerable Susuki jeep, suddenly and with a
dead-waking bang, snapped. I drove at walking speed to my garage where
Yanni, who for ten years now has looked after my machine, told me that
he could probably effect a repair by Tuesday. Normally I would have been
happy to walk anywhere I needed to go, far from being a hardship,
walking hereabouts in our usually benign climate is a great pleasure,
but I had staying with me a daughter and three grand-children who are
not used to having to walk a couple of hours or so to reach a beach and
another similar time to return home. I hired a car. A new spring and
four days car-hire; a major economic disaster!
Reflecting on my difficult week I realise that the stress and
disquietude caused by my major disasters all resulted from my
materialism. I was stressed and irritated because I have all these
material trappings. I am sure that there is a wonderful life to be
enjoyed without a personal vehicle, a computer (I have three here!),
cell-phone (I have many here!), camera (Three!), private internet
connection, radio (Four plus others built into in telephones and MP3
players!), GPS and so on and on and on. All of these things are
wonderfully clever gadgets but their life-enhancing qualities are
shallow and quite out of proportion to their capacity to induce stress
when, having become dependent upon them, they cease to function as they
are expected. To read Francis Chichester on astro-navigation and dead
reckoning or Frankl on Gothic architecture or Synge on the wheel-less
Aran Isles is to understand the extent of what can, and has been,
achieved by human beings with only the simplest of tools. Knowledge,
surely, is the foundation of a good life; knowledge including that of
how to live a contented life with only a minimum of material clutter.
Perhaps my difficult week has set me on that road but somehow I rather
doubt it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

It's all over for another year

Here in Greece the last weekend of August marks the end of summer. On
the following Monday car parks in seaside resorts which had
for weeks past been packed with visitors' cars quite suddenly revert to dusty patches of land and and harbours where elegant yachts, had moored cheek by jowl with local fishing boats, revert to being sheltered sweeps of deep blue sea, their purpose marked in
the case of the car parks by just a few locals' vehicles and in the
harbours by a handful of fishing boats.
As if responding to this exodus the weather has changed, equally
suddenly; a week ago a few clouds appeared in the sky and temperatures
dropped a degree or two but the clouds soon evaporated and the
temperature returned to blood-heat or above for much of the day; night
temperatures were, as is usual in the summer, around ten degrees less
than those of the day.
On the last evening of August, I drove my visiting daughter and her
children home from the beach at Methoni under gathering towers of cloud;
cumulus, some dark, portending rain. At home we dined outside under the
canopy of the generations-old Carob tree that is our summer dining room
but as the evening wore on the breeze strengthened to make the evening
unusually chilly. I was surprised to wake the following morning to a
cloudless dawn and to realise that the night had remained dry but it was
into a different morning that I moved from the house, a morning that
even after sunrise felt fresh and clear and through which blew a strong
and blustery breeze; for the first time since it was installed in June
the marble of the work-surface on which I prepare my early morning
coffee felt cold to my touch.
On the forth of September I am typing in a café‚ adjacent to the beach.
My grand-son is sleeping in a push-chair at my side, his mother and
sisters are swimming. It is a fine, clear, summery afternoon but I know
that summer, sizzling summer, is over. Through something less than the
past twenty-four hours, edges, distinctions between solid, liquid and
gas; sea and sky, sea and land, land and sky have become razor sharp.
During high summer there is little colour here, little to distinguish
the shadowless pale pastel blue of sea and sky from the of the pale
grey-greens of foliated land and the buff and dun fawn of bare rock.
Today's colours are clean, clearly defined, intense; there is nothing
remotely pastel toned about the sea, it is strong turquoise blue close
by darkening to ultramarine towards a very positive horizon which
separates it clearly from a clean pale blue sky.
Beyond the shelter of the headland the wind, occasional strong gusts of
which are making the sun shade awning above me rumble like thunder,
flecks the dark (some might have said 'wine dark') sea with myriad
'white-horses' or 'sheep' as they call them here.
It is very pleasantly comfortable, temperatures are already settled at
ten degrees or so lower than they were a week or so back and soon,
perhaps within a day or two, it will rain; short-lived but violent and
extremely dramatic end-of-summer storms will come to clean and refresh
the parched and dusty land. A few remaining holiday makers, particularly
those from Northern Europe, will be disappointed but those of us who
have been here and seen no rain for months will be rejoicing at the
prospect of some refreshing downpours and a comfortably cool verdant

Monday, August 30, 2010

To any pejorative, rather than constructive, critics who may choose to read my ramblings.

Consider this:
"I am self contained and self-reliant; your opinion is nothing to me; I have no interest in you, care nothing for you, and see and hear you with indifference."
Dickens, Little Dorrit

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On Chesil Beach

Arnold Bockin: Isle of the Dead *
My grand-daughter, who had been staying here with me, left last Monday abandoning on the table a copy of  'On Chesil Beach', by Ian McEwan.  Finding it there on Tuesday morning I picked it up and, over my morning coffee, I began to read it.  Before I rose from the table I had finished reading all of its 166 pages.  It is a tragic tale beautifully written.  In less able, or more salacious hands several passages essential to the story could easily have been narrated sensationally but McEwan handles his story to invoke emotions of tenderness and understanding rather than eroticism.  I enjoyed reading 'On Chesil Beach'.  In a way it left me feeling much as I did when I had finished reading William Trevor's,  'The Story of Lucy Gault'.
*Oh yes, despite the principal protagonists surviving to the end of the story, there is a connection!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer's Passing

Things are changing; until this morning I had seen no clouds here for months; erratic zephyrs of cool breeze have been springing, quite suddenly, from every direction rattling bone-dry leaves on hot stone terraces; early mornings glisten now with sparkling dews; ripening fruits - wild pear, pomegranate and luscious prickly pear glow in shades of deep yellow, orange and mahogany red; grapes cut and laid in thick, deep-purple carpets turn the late summer sun into currants (or is it the sun that turns grapes into currants?); dessert grapes no longer able to contain the pressure of the over-sweet juices within their skins split and are gorged upon by wasps.
All these are portents of summer passing into autumn, harbinger of dark winter.

Cue for a poem!   How about this from Yahia Lababidi who sounds as though he might have done more than a little cloud watching?


to find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.

Between being and non-being
barely there
these sails of water, ice, air -

Indifferent drifters, wandering
high on freedom
of the homeless

Restlessly swithering
like ghosts, slithering through substance

in puffs and wisps


Lending an enchanting or ominous air
luminous or casting shadows,
ambivalent filters of reality

Bequeathing wreaths, or
modesty veils to great natural beauties
like mountain peaks

Sometimes simply hanging there
airborne abstract art
in open air

Suspended animation
continually contorting:
great sky whales, now, horse drawn carriages

unpinpointable thought forms,
punctuating the endless sentence of the sky. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Posted beause it touched a nerve....

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."  Mark Twain

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


There will be a party at Akrotohori Village on Sunday 15th August.  Music, dancing, food - whole roast pigs - and drink.  Proceedings will begin at 9 p.m. and end towards dawn the following morning.
Everyone who can get there will be welcome!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Barefoot Architect

My copy of this book arrived here yesterday, as with all my post it arrived from the village on a donkey ridden (Post haste!) by Nicos.  There is an erratic delivery service to the village but no road on which the post delivery vehicle can drive from there.  Why, I am now wondering has it taken me two years to learn of the existence of this wonderful tome?  Seven hundred paperback pages of information about how to had build just about everything from just about anything.  Since the oil crisis of the seventies ignited a spark within me of interest in simple building methods I have been an avid collector and reader of any book concerning the architecture and building of shelters of every kind.  The author, perhaps 'maker' would be more appropriate here, of this book, Netherlands born Johan van Lengen is, according to the blurb on the book's flaps, as interesting as his book.  Giving up an architectural career in San Francisco he went first to Mexico and later to Brazil where he helped the disadvantaged of those countries to improve the standards of their housing.  Barefoot Architect, first published in Spanish in 1982, was the result of van Lengen's work in those countries.  It was first translated into english in 1982.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Fine New Building

On top of a small round hill not far from my home someone, reputedly a French person, is building a truly magnificent house.  The house, built on a huge stone clad plinth of what I imagine will be garages and utility rooms, is four storeys high.  It is vaguely octagonal with a shallow domed roof.  It is a big house, a very big house, but its Italianate, rather Palladian, design reflects considerable taste.  For me it is an excellent example of how something man produced can add to, rather than detract from a landscape; a building in a landscape of mountain, sea and wilderness adding up to much more than the sum of the parts of the scene.
The viewpoint from which I took the photograph is several kilomeres away from, and several hundred metres above, the building.  In due course I hope to get photographs from a closer viewpoint.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Evoking Fitzgerald

During the summer the old, thick walled, stone house gets rather warm and airless so I sleep on a folding bed outside the house under a mosquito net.  The net is protection against insects falling on me from the layers of canopy of Grape vine and Jasmine, Carob, Wild Olive, Bay, Plumbago and the ubiquitous Geranium  above and around me.  There are very few true Mosquitoes here - there is no standing water and it is generally too breezy for them - but there are around plenty of other, equally irritating flies, against the bites of which the net is also an insurance.
I normally wake at dawn when a rising orange glow begins to outline the mountains to the east dissipating the deep velvet blue of the night above them.  It is a spectacle that, each morning, evokes for me Edward Fitzgerald's lines from his first version of Omar Khayyham:
Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
 Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
 And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
 The Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

This morning when I woke though, the sun had already risen a little above the mountains and was shining more or less horizontally onto me, giving my leaf canopy something of a stained glass effect which I would have liked to have captured in a photograph but I did not have my camera by me and the rising sun waits for no one; in no more than a few seconds the moment had, like all others, passed.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mother; An Elegy

My nephew wrote the following poem to be read as my mother's ashes were left, close by my father's, in the garden of remembrance at a London Crematorium.

An Elegy

A memory somewhere
Between a glow and an ache
Your hands heavily veined
Blue, like
The veins of a violet
Skin petal soft.

I remember
The sweaters you knitted for me as a child,
The blue rinse, the strong tea in bone china
The diaries in which you meticulously
Noted the price of a steak and red wine dinner in Coz
My grandfather and David on a fishing boat under the midday sun
Sledging in the fading lilac light, and the fear
The fear of almost everything, and yet
A fear that must have been overcome
Pushing a pram and a child up a small street
In Norwood as the sirens wailed.

A memory somewhere
Between a glow and an ache
A single pink carnation
In a vase
In a drab service station near Kinross.
And pity is something
We learn for our elders
Perhaps too late.

For me this poem evokes fond memories of my mother with precision.; the medium is apt.
Thank you John.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Donkeys II

After reading my recent post, 'Donkeys' a friend sent me the following article from the english language, 'Athens News' weekly newspaper. Since that post has engendered more comment than many, I thought the article worth posting:
Where Have All the Donkeys Gone?
A bride-to-be on the island of Skiathos wanted to ride to the church on a donkey, just like in the Abba-inspired 2008 movie Mamma Mia, but none were available. A Greek mother in rural Trikala wishing to treat her young son to a donkey ride over Easter break couldn’t find one, either.
It seems that an image foreigners associate with Greece - the man (or woman) on a donkey - may soon be confined to nostalgia, or, worse, to the history books.
Once common throughout the country as transport for villagers and to carry supplies, the nearest we may get to one now is the zoo. Mechanisation and roads, plus the social and economic shift from agriculture to tourism, are making this gentle but undervalued creature redundant and scarce.
According to the German-based Save Foundation, an umbrella group to conserve endangered flora and fauna, while the population of donkeys is growing worldwide, Greece’s population plunged 96 percent to 21,000 animals in 2005 (from 508,000 in 1955). In 2007, the official number fell to 15,483 and in 2008 to 14,570. At this rate, there won’t be many left in a few years’ time.
The loss of biodiversity in Greece is real. In the 50 years up to 2002, three local breeds of cattle and five breeds of sheep have become extinct, with many more at risk. “The donkeys are disappearing like other animals, like the (Greek) buffalo and sheep,” says Panayiotis Papapostolou, who keeps donkeys in Karditsa, in central Greece, as a hobby.
Papapostolou, a bus driver, has kept donkeys since he was very young: “I’ve always had two or three donkeys, and little by little I gathered more. I didn’t want to sell them.” He adds: “I’ve been working for 45 years. I’m retiring soon; I want to go to unwind with the donkeys.”
“Developed countries keep donkeys and let them eat the grass to protect the forest from fire,” he notes. “And here in Greece we’re left without donkeys.”
This loss of population is not confined to Greece. “The other day I was at an animal fair in Bulgaria, where donkeys from all over the country were sold, and there were only 15,” adds Papapostolou. “Out of those 15, only one was good and I bought it. The others were old, 30 years old (the average lifespan is around 25 years), and skinny. Bulgaria has no more donkeys.”
In Greece you might still see the odd elderly rider defiantly plodding through the streets of Oia in Santorini; a shepherd, nowadays frequently an from Eastern Europe, treading a centuries-old path; or the unmistakeable sound of a donkey’s bray - thought to be a means of staying in contact with others at a distance.
Lone donkeys are still kept by individuals scattered around the country. “One person - not a farmer - may have one donkey, and this is one of the reasons the population is dropping,” according to Papapostolou. “Those donkeys do not have a male or female to mate with.”
Greece has two breeds: the Arcadian and the common donkey. There is another variety in Cyprus that’s also garnered wide attention, since some descendents of those owned by fleeing Greek Cypriots during the 1974 war now run wild in the north of the island, particularly on the Karpas peninsula.
The Arcadian (or arkadiko) donkey of the Peloponnese is considered the most distinct as a breed. It is around a metre high and weighs 90 to 120 kilos. The common Greek ass or donkey (ellinikon or ellinikos onos) is about the same height and is light-coloured, but its pedigree is less clear.
Papapostolou, who now owns 45 donkeys, recognises two indigenous types - the Arcadian and the Thessalian (or thessaliko). “There are Bulgarian ones, Cypriot ones, some are taller, some are smaller - they all do the same job,” he says, also highlighting an obstacle for conservationists, in distinguishing between the breeds.
Cross-breeding is widespread in the Balkans and in Greece, with imported Albanian and Bulgarian donkeys, but also because in developing countries the animals are still used as cheap beasts of burden rather than pedigreed pets, guard animals, substitute sheepdogs, companions for horses or aides to people with special needs due to their calming effect.
Originating with the African wild ass and domesticated around 4000 BC, donkeys were used as pack animals as well as for farming and dairy production. Many continue to be used for various agricultural jobs today.  Around 1800 BC they are found in the Middle East, particularly Syria - its capital Damascus was known as the City of Asses - while in Greece they were used in the vineyards and depicted on pottery carrying the god of wine, Dionysus, or a drunken Silenus.
During modern times donkeys were used as pack animals by armies until at least the Second World War World War, one notably employed in the First by a British male nurse in Gallipoli to rescue Australian and New Zealand soldiers.
 The animals are associated with Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and having many used to be considered a blessing. Literature bears numerous references to them, with the best-known being AA Milne’s Eeyore, from Winnie the Pooh, and the one in the cartoon series Shrek.
Most references to donkeys however are derogatory. Someone stupid is a jack ass (a male donkey; a female is a “jenny” or “jennet”), while one can “work like a donkey”, and people who are rude or ignorant are “asinine”.  

It’s all in the milk 
Its milk has been used since antiquity as a cure of ailments, a substitute for breast milk and as an anti-ageing skin salve, and it’s the donkey’s capacity for milk production that is now getting attention.
Hippocrates prescribed it for many things, from poisoning to liver and gynaecological disorders. Its close approximation to the easily digestible human milk made it a popular substitute for orphans, sick babies and the elderly until the early 20th century, when urbanisation took place at an accelerated rate.
But the milk’s beneficial properties have also been recently rediscovered. Arsenos points out that an Italian study, published in Pediatric Allergy and Immunology in 2006, found that children with milk allergies both tolerated and liked donkey’s milk, while a study out of Beijing and cited in Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2009) observed that its consumption reduces the number and size of lung cancer cells.
As for cosmetic benefits, Egyptian ruler Cleopatra, Roman Emperor Nero’s wife and Napoleon’s sister all reportedly bathed in donkey milk, which contains copious amounts of anti-oxidants and vitamins.
But keeping donkeys for milk production is not financially easy, Papapostolou, who has 45, notes: “Greek donkeys are among the best breeds to produce milk ... But they’re hard to find. The state was supposed to give us subsidies because they’re threatened with extinction. I’ve been hearing this for many years, but never got anything ... It costs me 15,000-20,000 euros per year now to keep them.”
He sells milk, but finding it in Greece is generally hard: “Every now and then, one person comes to buy a little milk, but it’s 200 or 300 grams. There’s no (structured) market to sell it,” he says. Donkey milk products are available in health food stores in Athens but are produced in Chile, France, Switzerland, Belgium and Serbia, where a 1,000-euro a kilo cheese, Pule, has recently been in the news.
The milk could be incorporated in locally made products; donkey farms could provide milk-to-order, either direct or via organic shops; they might be included on school field trips; and owners could offer rides (hippotherapy) to special needs and schoolchildren, tourists and holidaymakers.
“Until very recently, donkeys were neglected and were given for free or abandoned by their owners,” says Arsenos. “I support any use that ensures their health and welfare and at the same time minimises the danger of extinction in the long term, considering the declining numbers of their population.”
Tourists could also benefit, he adds, but with certain conditions: “I definitely encourage their use for tourists, as I encourage the use of horses and ponies for riding - provided they’re properly cared for.”
Papapostolou has kept donkeys since he was very young: “I’ve always had two or three donkeys, and little by little I gathered more. I didn’t want to sell them.” He adds, “I’ve been working for 45 years. I’m retiring soon; I want to go to unwind with the donkeys.”
Beasts of burden
People now come in contact with donkeys mainly on the islands of Hydra, where cars are forbidden; Rhodes, where they’re used to take visitors on short trips from the town to the ancient acropolis of Lindos; and Santorini, where they take scores of visitors, many from cruise-ships, up some 680 steps from the old port into Fira, the island’s main town.
The 120-odd donkeys on Santorini have garnered the most media attention, with newspaper articles in the UK featuring them and easyJet founder Stelios Haji-Ioannou promising money and new tack for the beasts that are perceived as being mistreated. Britain’s Donkey Sanctuary charity claims it was instrumental in setting up the cable car to transport people from the port to the cliff-top and thus spare the donkeys from additional gruelling climbs.
Unlike Aegina’s horses, which have a shelter at the port, both Hydra and Santorini donkey owners have apparently ignored repeated calls to ensure better treatment of their charges such as providing water and shelter from the sun. The former would require extra effort to clean up, and the restaurant owners in the vicinity are already unhappy with the smells produced by the animals.
Donkeys are not fussy eaters and need relatively little, but can earn their owners upwards of 60 euros a day as taxis. “A general rule is that a donkey can be maintained - in terms of feed cost - with about 1.50 euros a day,” says Georgios Arsenos, assistant professor at Aristotle University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Thessaloniki, whose team has been studying Greece’s donkeys for a decade.
Known for their docility, donkeys can and do work to exhaustion. They’ve been seen carrying overweight tourists or even loaded with two people, while strap sores and other ailments go ignored as is the idea to remove their wooden saddles.
Shaming the owners, however, has backfired, leaving the animals at continued risk. “The lack of proper education and knowledge of the animal’s needs by donkey owners is the major obstacle to any attempt for change to the ‘traditional’ mentality,” Arsenos commented in the online edition of the Daily Express during the UK tabloid’s campaign to raise awareness in 2007. It seems little has changed since then.
Arsenos has organised a yearly international conference on the island of Hydra on the donkey’s role in the Mediterranean and devised a best-practices charter for their care, obviously hoping the “taxi” owners take notice.
ATHENS NEWS 02/08/2010, page: 16-17

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Diaries of a Dying Man

After having the book by me for many weeks I have finally come to the end of William Soutar's, 'Diaries of a Dying Man'.  As is usually the case after reading a book that powerfully engages me, I am now a little unsettled concerning what next to read.  'Diaries' is not a long book, only 176 pages, but it does require close reading and, to understand some of Soutar, a good deal of reflection on what has been read.  The extracts from his poetry, written in Scottish, are beyond my current understanding but I found his English prose arresting.  To express and reinforce so many of my own ideas and ideals I could usefully quote much of Soutar.  Here, for example, is an extract from his entry for 8th October 1943, just weeks before he died:
  "Our body and soul cry out for change and refreshment; for the expansiveness of a world untrammelled by excessive regulation.  We want to feel that Earth has been washed clean again, and that from her comes the uncontaminated richness of fruit and grain.  A few simple things could bring about this change, a sense of freedom, and a return of a joy in earth.  And if such a one placed in a privileged position can have so intense longings - what agonies of desire must be experienced by the millions of destitute folk......"
Freedom untrammelled by excessive regulation and a joy in Earth; great ideas!

My blog: a review

I began to write this blog exclusively to amuse myself.  For much of my adult life I have been fascinated by words and their potential capacity to express ideas, to myself as much as to others, that float into my mind.  I do not find this an easy process.  To express an idea clearly and unambiguously is exceedingly difficult for me and rarely do I do so to my complete satisfaction.  Sometimes thoughts lurk so deeply within my mind that I fail to find any words to express them.
When, over four months ago, I established and made my first post to 'Sensate Man', I had no idea of who, if anyone, might read it.  That I should have other visitors,
beyond the very few friends and close family to whom I had announced the inception of my blog, visitors who were strangers to me from around the world, was a pleasant panegyric surprise to me.
I enjoy reading fellow bloggers posts and comments, particularly those that are indirectly biographic, posts and comments between the lines of which something of the writer, their life and psyche, can be read.  I enjoy reading both thought provoking and frivolous material; the light and the shade, the profound and the trivial.  Others' blogs have become my inspiration to essay to write my own blogs with in these criteria.
I shall continue to write this blog for my own amusement although knowing now that others are reading my posts will, inevitably, have some effect; no one likes to be caught publicly picking their nose.  I hope though that any restraint on my part will be balanced by less veiled expressions of my tenets.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Here in the Peloponnese, until comparatively recently donkeys were the principal means of transport.  They are slow movers and their payload, although often unreasonably excessive for their size, is not great but they have great advantages over motor transport inasmuch as they need no road to travel along and they are powered by an infinite variety of tree and plant leaves that they browse as they work.  Owing to a strike by the nation's tanker drivers this week, the advantages of donkey transport over motor transport have become very apparent; air conditioned luxury cars and trucks that allow for one man to haul forty tons of freight infinite distances are wonderful but without fuel............!
Personally I am not too concerned that the fuel stations hereabouts have dried up.  In the short or even medium term it need not affect me.  I have a choice three sturdy pairs of boots and health and time enough to make the beautiful five hour round trip stroll to the nearest shop.  But I do have indirect concerns.  On Monday week my current visitors, my daughter and her family, will be leaving to return to the U.K.  They will need fuel enough to drive their hire car, presently a rather expensive garden ornament, back to Athens airport.  While I may have appropriate footwear and take much pleasure from strolling the tracks hereabouts they most certainly do not!  There could also be a direct problem for me if I arrive at the shop to find shelves bare for want of deliveries.
The tanker drivers have taken their action to try to make the government think again about introducing legislation to break the drivers union closed shop.  I can find no reason in the idea of a closed shop.  I believe that, in the labour market, competence should be the only criterion by which  we should be judged and our value to the concern with whom we are negotiating fixed accordingly.  However, I do understand that to suddenly and unilaterally impose changes on practices which have been extant for generations, a government must find either unprecedented powers of diplomacy or, God forbid for the consequences could be awful, authorise enforcement!