Life on a Greek Island (or two) by Jennifer Barclay. New May 2020: WILD ABANDON: A JOURNEY TO THE DESERTED PLACES OF THE DODECANESE. 'a delightful serendipitous journey along paths less well trodden... a must read for anyone who loves the Greek islands' - Richard Clark, author of The Lost Lyra and Return to Turtle Beach. 'a vivid and intoxicating account of these beautiful islands' - Victoria Hislop, author of The Island and other bestselling novels
For the last couple of days, a mastoras or craftsman has been on the island helping the fishermen to mend their nets. Early this morning, I went down to Livadia to watch him at work.
It was likely to take all day, so Lisa the pup and I went for a walk around the harbour.
In the small harbour on the other side of the bay, they were rubbing bundles of freshly-caught octopus on the ground, to ready them for eating.
We continued up the hill and found lots of kiklamena, wild cyclamen.
When we got back to the main harbour, the cats had gathered around the fishing boat as Stelios was cleaningdog fish, or small sharks. Where there are dog fish being cleaned, there are cats, and where there are cats there are dogs...
First, to share something I found this morning. No, I don't mean that goat up a tree - that was another day. Something else. A company called GoLearnTo.com sent out a press release saying that learning holidays are the real way to switch off from work by absorbing yourself in learning a new skill. Fair enough, I thought, but I'd looked into the prices of cooking schools not long ago and the UK ones I found were astronomical. Well, not with this company, or so it seems - not in Greece, anyhow. How about three days on the Greek island of Poros, accommodation included, with a day's Greek cookery lessons for £199? Or a week of yoga and horse riding (hopefully not at the same time) in Kalamata for £895. Or a week of private Greek language lessons for £692. I might look into it... Here's the link to activity holidays in Greece: http://www.golearnto.com/search.aspx?ctry=89&rgn=&activetype=&datefrom=&dateto=&page=1 There again, in terms of Greek cooking, I am feeling rather pleased with myself. Stelios came home last night with some freshly caught galeos (dogfish/small shark) which someone had given him, and was just coating it in flour to fry in olive oil when he mentioned it's good with skordalia, garlic sauce. I got to work. Luckily we now have a box of earthy potatoes that we dug up from the field, so I cleaned and quartered them and set them to boil. When they were soft, I mashed them up. I pounded a few garlic cloves in the pestle and mortar (OK, I couldn't find the mortar or bowl, so used a Greek coffee pot or briki instead). I mixed up the two with some vinegar, pepper and olive oil. We tasted it. 'Does it need anything else?' I asked. 'Eh, more olive oil?' Surprise, surprise. Eh voila. Or should I say 'oriste'.
Stelios had arrived home with the fish just as I was trying to make bread. My last effort didn't work out very well, so I took advantage of the fact that we have borrowed some new fish-weighing scales from Nikos, and thought I'd follow the bread recipe in my new Food for Thought cookbook, bought by my mum when we went for lunch at the mouth-watering vegetarian eatery in Covent Garden. What with the fisherman arriving home mid-knead, and a puppy diving around the kitchen, it was rather distracting, but it turned out nice bread, light on the inside and crusty on the outside, if it did fall rather flat. Judging by the chunk missing already, it won't last long. In fact, given that there is now pork roasting in the oven with garlic, lemon, oregano and olive oil - and of course potatoes - it may come in handy to mop up lemonato juice.
What? Oh, yes, so... I did say puppy. Ahem. Here she is.
Which is the real reason this post is all about learning. Those activity holiday people got it right: an absorbing activity is definitely the way to switch off from everything else. It began, naturally, with a trip to Rhodes to fix the car. (Although of course it started before that; some may say I was weakening when I arrived back in Tilos in January and spent the first half hour playing with that lovely floppy-eared dog...) Stelios was waiting to talk to the car electrologos about the fault that had left the battery dead, and since my vocabulary doesn't quite stretch to that even in English, I went for a wander, and the only other shop in the vicinity turned out to be a pet shop. The tiny, scared pup was in a cage on her own, the only dog in a shop of parrots, budgies, lizards and snakes. Her brown eyes were calling to me and I opened the cage to stroke her soft fur. And I walked out again, and it all could have ended right there. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in Terms of Endearment, I was just inches from a clean getaway.
But as I strolled back to the car, the pet shop owner came after me to say they were looking to give her away to a good home because her mother's owner couldn't keep her. Ah. Well, a long story could ensue but suffice it to say, I anticipated a mere fraction of the challenges involved in learning to care for and train a puppy. I've learned the words gavgizei (she barks), dagonei (she bites), gleifei (she licks). There is never a dull moment. You will need: An endless supply of cardboard boxes (ours all happen to be modem boxes from burnt-out modems thanks to winter storms, and these are perfect because of their many compartments), kitchen roll holders, brooms, fishing nets, and a vivid imagination to to turn anything else you find lying around into a toy Patience. Lots of patience The ability to move faster than a puppy Not much sleep Thick skin The ability to collapse in hysterics when your puppy does a meerkat impersonation, or digs holes in the sand on the beach and falls into them, or pretends she's not really biting the vacuum cleaner wires but her toy which just happens to be right next to the vacuum cleaner An appreciation of the beauty of watching an Andrex puppy bound through a green meadow full of daisies
'Afto megalonei?' is something you will hear from local Greek people - will it get bigger? Most people then look at her feet and say they can tell how big she will get from the size of her feet. Having big feet myself, I feel this is a little insensitive. 'Einai bez?' No, she's not beige. At this point you get defensive and turn all Farrow and Ball. Buttermilk, pale caramel, straw - but don't call my puppy beige.
'Thilika?' is the next question - female? Followed by the forecast that she'll be making babies. We have firm plans to stop that idea in its tracks, although local wisdom seems to say that she must give birth once before we neuter her, which is odd. Anyway, it's a little early, she's only two months. There again... I took her down to Livadia a couple of nights ago, and thought I'd introduce her to my pal the floppy-eared cat-chasing dog I met in January. Well, they got on all right, even though he suddenly looked big enough to eat little Lisa in two mouthfuls. But the problem is... they got on rather too well, pawing one another delicately and whispering sweet nothings into one another's ears (well, behinds). When I swept Lisa up into my arms and took her into Petrino Cafe, feeling I'd had enough of playing gooseberry, the big floppy-eared dog made sad eyes from the doorway.
Today is another day of wind, occasional showers, and bright warm sunshine. The island is so green, with flowers everywhere - blue, purple, white, mauve, yellow - and almond blossom too. The first shoots are appearing on the orange and pomegranate trees we planted before Christmas. The editor of the American edition of Falling in Honey has come up with a new subtitle for the book: How a Tiny Greek Island Stole My Heart. Sums it up nicely.