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