Friday, 15 October 2010

Meganisi: an enchanting spot

In Spartakhori, there is a crowd outside the little church. The people mill around the courtyard, a polished, black coffin lid propped up against the whitewashed wall.

We walk along the road, joined by a small cat, and look out across the bay.

Rod Heikell, in his Ionian pilot book, describes the place where we are moored as an enchanting spot.

‘Deep cobalt blue water, steep slopes planted with olives or covered in maquis, and the winding road shaded by cypress and pine leading to the village.’

From here you can see the Onassis island, Skorpios, with its flat-top helipad and the little Cyclades-style beach house where Jackie O found solitude away from prying eyes.

We walk on, the daemon cat that was once at our heels now in a stand-off with a large black feline guarding a plot of land on which there are some olive trees, three motor boats, an old shack, a dozen hens and three arrogant cockerels.

After the rain, the sun comes out and tinkling bells of sheep and goats sound like a babbling stream.

The melon man, usually announcing his wares on the loudspeaker at the front of his van, drives slowly by, a coffin in the back and groups of mourners walking slowly behind, chatting in groups and flicking their rosary beads and smoking, on their way to cemetery.

The cockerels in their enclosures call out across Meganisi, their cries echoing across the valley to the next bay.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Journey to the centre of the earth: a hymn to Delphi, ancient and modern

Photo: Chucknado, Flickr
I am in Delphi, the centre of the world for ancient Greeks, where the god Apollo slew the Python as she guarded the earth's navel.

This is the land of the gods, Greek heroes, the famed oracle, Homeric poetry, athletes partaking in the Pythian Games, philosophers, Plutarch, Nero. There are columns from all the classical orders, inscriptions on marble slabs and, in the museum, friezes showing scenes from the Trojan War. There is the world's first written musical melody, a huge statue of the all-seeing, all-knowing Delphic sphinx, three graceful dancing girls at the top of a column decorated with acanthus leaves carved out of stone, the fixed gaze of a charioteer, intricate votive offerings and the remnants of a silver bull.

In ancient times, this was the most important place in the whole world. The centre of civilisation.

Down at our hotel in modern Delphi, Mr Grigg is in deep conversation with the proprietor, Nick, as the latter flicks languidly through the television channels in the lobby. He hovers on the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Paul Newman and Robert Redford are about to jump into the river.

'All the politicans are corrupt. They steal money. The Greeks, the English. The politicians, they are all the same,' he tells Mr Grigg, as he flicks to an inane game show with a hostess wearing a skirt no longer than a charioteer's loin cloth.

And then he plunges in the knife and twists it. 'Your Queen, she steal money,' Nick says, jabbing his finger into Mr Grigg's shoulder.

Mr Grigg, that defender of the British monarchy, protests. (One day, his devotion to the Royal family will earn him a knighthood. Me, I make a point of not standing up for God Save the Queen).

'What about the Chinese?' Mr Grigg says, in a deft piece of distractive debate worthy of Plato. He is referring to the latest development in the Greek economic crisis. The Chinese, it seems, are to be the country's saviour, overcoming the Python and working with the new government and investing in hotels and casinos near Athens.

'Aren't you suspicious of their motives?' he asks old Nick, who has a face like Rumpole of the Bailey.

Nick shrugs. 'They bring money. They bring jobs.'

As we sign out of the hotel, on which a Visa sign can be seen clearly on the front door, Nick shakes his head as Mr Grigg proffers his debit card.

'No, no card. Only cash.' Nick licks his lips. I see a flicker of the Python's forked tongue and glimpse a pile of banknotes in the back office (and no offer of a receipt) as we drive off into the wilderness.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Monday, 11 October 2010

The games people play

As the rain and wind head towards us from the south, Mr Grigg has become the solitaire champion of the South Ionian. In stormy weather, no-one can see you cheat.

That's about it.

Love Maddie x

Friday, 8 October 2010

Hark, Odysseus is calling

There is a place in the Mediterranean that I love. It’s called Ithaca, and I’m not the first person to have fallen under its spell.

‘If this island belonged to me,’ said the romantic poet Lord Byron, ‘I would bury all my books here and never go away.’

I get the same feeling every time I come back. Why would I ever want to leave?

In the October sun, Vathi, the island’s capital, sprawls out to catch the autumn rays. A dog barks continually, a scooter skims by, and in a little house with a ‘ban the bomb’ sign painted on the wall, a middle-aged man and a middle aged woman unpack a supermarket bag full of fruit on to the patio table.

There is the smell of woodsmoke, the aromatic scent of moussaka gently bubbling and the sound of builders lazily drilling in a house way up on the hillside.

I am waiting inside the boat, lying inside the aft cabin like Penelope longing for her Odysseus.

But he is up in the cockpit, glass of wine in hand and snoring sweetly.

He wakes as another boat pulls in alongside, the skipper yelling: 'Wolfgang, put more anchor chain out.'

My Odysseus bids good day to our new neighbours. I can hear cordiality in the air. Mr Grigg being nice to a German. This magical island has that kind of effect.

That’s about it.

Love Maddie x