Memory versus the truth.
When I spontaneously call to mind last winter in Greece I create nirvana. Winter swims, lamb chops, long views, and sun, sun, sun. I remember epic solo walks where I’d get higher and higher with the vista stretching ever further, including another island, including another stunning bay.
If I interrogate that memory I have to include a hell of a lot of rain, and the most violent storms imaginable. Storms that are a hellofa lot worse when your home is a tin box.
And those walks. Blissful perhaps, but they were generally a vital release from the dark clouds within. Respite for Minty. And a chance for me to pull myself out of a confused place. It usually worked.
If in doubt, walk.
If our memory didn’t play tricks, fewer of us would travel, no tall person would catch an economy flight, we’d take fewer risks and life would be boring.
We’ve had to interrogate those memories of Greece this week.
Flicking up the weather app and seeing ten days of rain forecast doesn’t feel great, but in truth it happened last year too.
A week ago neither of the last two glorious days were predicted. It all changes so fast here. You have to roll with it. And believe the sun will shine again.
Amusso and Desimi.
Did anyone know that my Minty rather likes cats?
Take a sunny day, warm out of the wind, a small pebbly beach, and a score of furry purry things and you have two happy people. Me swimming, Minty with the cats.
It was just warm enough for shirts off in the sheltered bits.
The sea was perfect.
And two days slid blissfully by with hardly a penny spent.
From Amusso I knew it’s possible to walk around the headland to Vasiliki so I set off to try.
Minty stayed back and entertained kittens and cats with a gourmet Lidl feast.
Golden eggs. Geese. And guns.
We watched a programme on Norwegian architecture, where great houses had been built with minimal impact on their surroundings. Truly incredible buildings created with hardly a tree disturbed in an effort to preserve the wildness that made the site so attractive in the first place.
In Greece the antithesis is the depressing norm.
Most of the land is owned by someone, and so most of it is for sale if your pockets are deep enough.
Choose an incredible spot for your Bond lair, high on a hill, untouched for hundreds of years.
Then attack nature with everything technology can throw at it in an attempt to tame the beast, to flatten your site.
Carve a track that your Lexus will glide over, regardless of the thousand trees that must be felled to make it possible.
Build your dream in concrete and steel.
Then only show up a couple of times a year.
I often exaggerate to stress a point, but reading back over this I don’t think I have here. It’s only when you look down on the amazing houses that you realise the destruction they cause. Looking up, which is the norm, the trees shield their losses.
Every beauty spot will, somewhere, have its massive yellow Caterpillar destroyer hammering away at the bedrock through every hour of daylight. The flow of concrete mixer trucks doesn’t stop.
Hard surfaces replace the porous land, and deeper river channels have to be cut to take away the rain and topsoil meaning more irrigation is necessary while the sky’s water is rushed to the sea.
Worse though is that many such projects are never finished.
The money dries up. Sites are abandoned. Unfinished house skeletons are as much a feature of Greece today as the roadside taverna.
Although most of the abandoned sites are for sale, everyone with enough money wants to build from scratch.
It’s insane. It’s real. And the government has far more pressing problems to ever do anything about it.
Of course it’s not just here. And it’s probably worse somewhere else. It’s just that I happen to love it here and so I notice it more and care more.
I’m aware of my hypocrisy too, I praise the ambition of the Medieval Italians building beautiful cities on impossible hills, then criticise the contemporary version carried out with the tools of the age. I seek out change, then get upset by the destruction it causes. Such is my mind.
Remember that Desimi day (we need to).
As you read on remember that the sun will shine again. We’re just not sure when.
The rains are predicted to fall for days and days, and heavy rain is preceded by a rise in sea level.
Our walk from the Yacht Club at Vlyho took an hour.
In that time the sea rose from 20 metres behind ArchieVan to tickling his toes.
We moved along to Vasiliki to sit out an almighty storm.
And cracked open a bottle in the middle of the afternoon.
Books and Radio 4 can get you through most things, and thankfully so far both of us have coped in our coop.
Later in the evening I was reading aloud as Polly shook out her fear between us. The noise of the rain was such that I was near shouting to be heard, to hear myself. But the book was so funny (Narrow Dog To Carcasonne) neither human was scared, and the dog managed to sneak a couple of hours on the bed.
In the morning the beach is littered with debris, roads are flooded, and old Greeks come to stare importantly with hands on hips.
ArchieVan runs on diesel (boo) and solar (yay).
Solar charges his curiously named leisure batteries and keeps the fridge, lights, computers, phones, speakers and whatever else going.
Oh how our self-righteous halos glow.
Until it fails.
15 volts faded to 13 volts and we began to worry. 13 volts slipped to 11 volts and stuff started to shut down. The delicate fingers of this brand strategist were of little use in our time of need. We needed help. Fortunately help was at hand.
Mark at the Yacht Club (can you believe I rejected the idea of going there at first?) flourished his voltmeter with aplomb and immediately pronounced our charge as magnificent but our two batteries as one dead and one dying.
Calls were made to Athens and (we’re told) new batteries will be on the Thursday morning bus.
And there’s a thing I love about this chaotic country. In England stuff like car parts reach the most out of the way places next day by extortionate courier. Here they thumb their noses at the courier, slip the bus driver a tenner, and the item arrives a day later.
We’ll sit out the storm on minimal power consumption and absorb another book or two.
I’ve just finished Wilding, Isabella Tree’s (surely that’s not her real name) acount of returning a most English estate farm to the wild and the perceived benefits to their lives, the planet and thousands of beasties. It’s compelling stuff. I didn’t need converting, but now I’m itching to take on a small scale version of our own.
I’ve just finished Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck’s brilliant 1960 tale of a road trip with his Standard Poodle. 60 years ago he worried about so much that concerns me today. Tolerance. Compromise. Globalisation. Designed obsolescence. Waste. Integration. He wasn’t aware of climate change, but he sure did worry that we were heading for disaster.
I’ve just finished Unthology, a collection of hard hitting short fiction – by far the hardest genre to write in, and almost impossible to live by. It was exhausting, exhilarating, challenging.
I enjoy reading several books at once, yet I don’t have the mental capacity to read with the radio on, even music has to be pretty empty not to suck me into absorbing its themes and forgetting those of my book.
Minty reads so much faster than me. She can read with the TV on. And take in both. What we read is very different, few books are shared.
When we sold New Forge, the gorgeous cottage we built at Tregiffian, every book went with it. Thousands of them. At the time that was a wrench. But now it feels like a gift. When finally we settle again I look forward to buying anew those books I treasured. Enjoying them as if for the first time.
And yes, I will buy them as paper books. Looking at them, holding them, that’s part of the pleasure.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep I compile the top 20 in my head.
Right now I long to re-read Niall Williams, the Irish writer who can bring more depth to a walk in the rain than many best selling authors might squeeze from their imagined collapse of civilisation. In business I used to implore my teams to keep sentences short. Niall can make a sentence of fifteen hundreds words work perfectly, but for the tears that stop you from seeing what’s next.
As names Lefkas and Lefkada seem interchangeable, with the former generally referring to the main town at the top of the island.
When we stay over in town we park in the big municipal car park. It’s hardly a romantic place. Old cars come here to die. Men come to pee in the hedges unaware of the sniggering Minty behind the van’s tinted windows. For some reason people come to dump rubbish at the edges even though there are huge bins at the entrance. Young people come to do what young people do in cars. And the litter of their love blows across the tarmac.
Unromantic I suggested. Except that it borders onto the lake.
Just on the edge of town there’s a wetland nature reserve, a large freshwater lake. On three sides a low bank of sand and shale separates it from the sea. On the fourth side is our car park.
It’s just water but this small shallow lake of about three miles circumference is a remarkable place.
To look across the water makes the comings and goings of the car park behind us pale into insignificance.
At dusk and at dawn the water is often mirror still. The view from our window beats that of any million pound house on the island.
Its population changes through the year, we’ve had the good fortune to be here at the best time two years running.
Right now an arrowhead formation of coots (or are they moorhens?) is approaching looking more like a flotilla of enemy craft in a war film.
Terns practise aerial acrobatics causing the water beneath them to boil as a thousand fish dive for safety.
Dinosaur herons stand patiently at the edges wondering why they haven’t seen a brontosaurus in a while.
And then there are flamingos.
What beautiful creatures are the flamingos.
They don’t venture close to the shore. Thirty metres out they wade on their chopsticks, heads under water, enjoying a few fresh shrimp. From this distance they appear white, until a white bird happens by. When they stretch and open their wings the coral feathers beneath show and their ungainly beauty is redoubled.
Last year we were treated to pelicans too. They’ve been delayed this year. Just like our batteries.
And on the seventh day they went to Kathisma.
Given the challenge of memory and truth that I opened this post with I didn’t want to risk shattering my Kathisma dream. Yesterday though the sun warmed our wakening in Lefkada and we knew the time had come.
Supplies were ample. We knew we’d find water there. If the sun keeps shining we can stay all weekend.
Approaching the beach from either direction the road is a few hundred metres above the sea. Looking down through the freshly washed green of pines and olives the water is so inviting. After days of stormy turmoil that water is finally calm and doing the white and blue thing Greece does so well.
Back in place.
I thrill as we descend the switchback road to the beach. Projects that we’d watched last year are still in progress. Abandoned stuff sits where it did before. Along the front we swing ArchieVan around into a similar space to the one we occupied so many times last year. And we grin.
The horizontals of the road, beach, sea and sky delight me beyond reason. Despite the beauty of the sunsets, it’s dawn that I love best. The colours gradually appear from the greys of early morning. Ideally I’ll swim before I’m fully awake. Then by 9.30 the sun will start to sweep down the beach and its full majesty is revealed.
There’s a guy who fishes on the beach. Each morning when I emerge from the van he’s slowly walking the length of the beach, casting, reeling in, casting. His Jack Russell is no trouble, but runs off to greet anyone who happens by. I saw him at intervals over several months last year, and he’s here still today. I’ve never seen him catch a thing.
If we came here in the summer we’d probably never come again. Kathisma is a beach best shared with a dozen people, in fact most beaches are that way, although for some that would be crowded.
- don’t worry, it’s no freak show, the little red berries are on a vine that barely shows as it weaves through other bushes.