Monday, 12 July 2010

Settling In

We’ve been slightly remiss in updating the blog. So far, it’s been a long list of things we intend to do when in Greece, written from England. Now we’re here, we’ve been so busy turning, as Katie puts it, a hovel into a home, that we haven’t had a chance to write anything. Oh, and we don’t have an internet connection. So expect long screeds, stored up and transferred via memory stick, on our rare forays to an internet café (it’s strange, by the way, how few emails of import we actually get, when we check them- and how little we miss facebook).

*****************

Workwise, so far we’ve: stripped lino from all the upstairs floors, discovering worn and sweet-smelling cypress-wood floorboards; waxed them; made habitable, in order, our bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the upstairs living room, the spare bedroom and the landing; stripped centuries-worth of mildewed and flaking plaster from the downstairs living room/barn, uncovering thick, roughly-hewn sandstone walls; bought and installed a fridge, stove, oven and gas cylinder; bashed swallows’ nests from the upstairs beams with brooms; nailed netting over broken window panes; sanded and painted rustic furniture unaccountably abandoned, along with family portraits and religious lithographs, by the unsentimental previous owners; had running water and electricity installed, along with a boiler; plotted mental maps of which floorboards can be stepped on and which should be avoided; swept thick dunes of accumulated dust into the garden; disassembled useless furniture into firewood and stored it in the outside goat pen; captured and returned a runaway chicken (twice); guiltily killed a scorpion (twice); exultingly killed mosquitoes (countless times); discovered a view of the sea and Othoni, which changes every day; picked 19 lemons from our own tree (those too high for our neighbours to reach, in our absence). We’ve cleared the garden of undergrowth and discovered: a lemon tree, three pomegranates, three figs, an olive sapling, two bitter oranges, one sweet orange, a gigantic oleander with bright magenta flowers, a 40ft laurel tree, a persimmon, two cypresses choked with ivy, a loquat, an elder and (yesterday) a small plum tree, as well as a number of what may or may not be ash trees. We’ve cleared a communal path of our garden’s undergrowth; hacked away at Sleeping Beauty-esque brambles; licking sweet blackberry juice and blood from our fingers; chopped down unfortunately situated kalami reeds; learned that qalami is the Persian word for a reed pen; had our first guest, my close friend and former housemate Richard, for a week; played football on the beach then drank retsina as the sun set over Erikoussa; dived into waves radiating out from an Adriatic squall; attended our first panegiri; discovered (amid tears, hugs and kisses) my grandmother’s cousin two doors down and her best friend in the local taverna’s kitchen; worked out (just about) when the village shopkeeper’s siesta ends and door opens; and answered endless questions on our nationalities, ethnicities, places of birth, work and habitation, average income and future prospects.

*****************

More passive than the above litany of actions is the list of remembered, or half-remembered, sounds and scents of childhood, re-experienced with a Proustian rush: the perfume of fig trees in the shade; the smell of cooking yemistes in an alleyway; the sour, briny musk of olives; the unbearable sweetness of a good, chilled karpouzi ; the aroma, and taste, of kaloboki cooked on hot coals; of salt-rubbed lamb on the spit; the sweet scents of chamomile flowers, and herbs crushed under foot on overgrown verges; the churchy scent of cypress cones and needles in a still stand of woodland; the smell of dusty, moonlit paths (only ever experienced in England, with an eerie jolt, on night patrol in the chalk hills above Pirbright, during TA training); the rasp of cicadas, slowing sometimes almost to a stop, en masse, like a heartbeat before starting up again; the staccato rattle of grasshoppers; the dull timbre of church bells slowly tolling their two notes; the husky mantras of gypsies selling melons from their van megaphones and looping lilt of gossiping grandmothers; the chatter of swallows; a gust of basil-infused air through the kitchen window; the smell of shade, if that makes sense: a dark green cool overlaid with rotting fruit. Cinnamon smells hotter here, and rigani spicier, punchier. In the village below, among the clustered roofs of broken yellow tiles, someone’s cooking halva. The scent of cinnamon, semolina and sugar syrup fills the room as I type.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Sample Sale

So... we're off to Corfu on June 22nd. The flight back is a moveable feast; hopefully, as a next-door peasant is claimed to have done in the '70s, we'll dig up some gold coins to melt down into stay-prolonging ready cash (or ovola- "obols"- as we still thrillingly say in our village).

We've saved up enough money, from jobbing journalism and PA'ing, to let us live a frugal peasant lifestyle until the autumn storms drift in. I've been hawking early drafts of our oil around North London delis, with limited success. Hopefully- hopefully- we'll be able to place it in one of the new tourist delis (invariably run by Germans, oddly) in the town... once we work out where the bottling plant is, what they charge, and what our options are. All our competitors in the Corfu lathi business use the same bottles- I assume just what the mysterious bottling plant has to hand. We want to have a distinctive bottle, to showcase our (did I mention?) boutique, organic oil in all its earthy magnificence.

I had a lunch meeting today with a newly-ex magazine commissioning editor. After commiserating with each other over London's media famine, I mentioned our oily plans. He said we're very brave- brave being, as ever, the gentle word for mad.

I said that, at heart, I'm not sure English people actually like olive oil. They like the idea of it, or the idea of liking it (like Kundera's "second tear"), but not the actual product. Hence the concept of extra-virgin olive oil- actually a very technical assessment of its acidity- is transmuted into a fetish for the wateriest, most pallid, flavourless liquid. Despite its fabled parthenogenic origin, any Corfiot farmer would rather a blowsy dockside strumpet of an oil than a timid virgin; though it would it be a job to convince, say, Jamie Oliver, that cloudy green Greek oil is better than translucent bottled-in-Tuscany olive water...

He said- I think astutely- that olive oil in the UK now is where wine was in the 1960s. We know it's a good idea, but we still think Blue Nun is the best the world has to offer. As any monotheistic religion will tell you, being a prophet's all well and good, as long as you're the last one. Otherwise you're stuck in a crumbling ruin with a hundred barrels of wasted oil. Bah.

*****

It's 40 C in Corfu this week. The chances of my pallid, Ulster Katie not melting are minimal. Rain's forecast for our arrival. Hopefully it'll be a good, angry Corfu storm from the Adriatic. I always thought, as a myth-obsessed child, that Greek weather justified the Olympic theogeny. The summer sun, hammering down, seemed as worthy of fear as veneration; the autumn storms seemed a genuine expression of divine anger; the ancient olive trees are as venerable as ancestral gods; the sea (in the Adriatic Northwest at least) is as suddenly and violently temperamental as any person.

My grandmother used to tell me a story- when I still dreamed in childish Greek- of a peasant from her village who found a Dryad in his olive grove, in the 1930s. She couldn't speak Greek-"like a Christian"- but he married her, bewitched by her beauty. They had many beautiful daughters- no sons- until one day she drifted back to the olive groves, never to be seen again. This was all presented as fact- one of the daughters owns a shop in Avliotes today- and anywhere else in Europe, or the world, this tale would sound ludicrous. Nothing can sum up Corfu more than the fact it doesn't. In an utterly un-ironic way, I have no more difficulty believing it than my giagia does. Corfu is its own world, and the better you understand its tiniest parishes- in my case, the 3 or 4 square kilometres where my family have spent the last half-millennium- the wider and stranger it seems.

London suddenly seems impossibly small.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

"Everything is Peroulades"

Louis Antoine de Bougainville


...is a lucky man. Imagine having something like this named after you, for eternity.

This was the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum, Corfu Town, last week. The largest lizard I've ever seen was hiding in a flower-planted sarcophagus nearby.

I need to get this book...

"Maria Couroucli, a research fellow at the CNRS (Laboratoire d'Ethnologie), holds a doctoral degree in Social and Historical Anthropology from the École des hautes études en sciences socials, as well as B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of Cambridge. Her doctoral research was carried out in Corfu, and was published as Les oliviers du lignage (Paris, 1985), a study which led her to investigate kinship and family, identity and nationalism. Her current research interests include shared religious practices in the post-Ottoman world as well as questions of memory and identity in relation to the Greek civil war (1946-49). She teaches in the post-graduate program of the Departement d'Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative at the University of Paris X-Nanterre, and is a member of the editorial board of Ethnologie Française."

French Anthropology, Bourdieu aside, is often a bit meh, or outdatedly Marxist. But this seems utterly covetable.

The Book Thief


We're back in the UK for a few weeks, tying up (or severing) loose ends in preparation for our longest stay yet in the Corfu house.

After paying a horrifying amount to move all the books in our flat to Corfu (they haven't arrived yet, six weeks on, but that's a moan for another time), I've decided I need to be ruthless with the remainder. Hoarding books is a dangerous addiction, and it needs a quick, brutal cure.

You see, we're currently staying with my mum in Hertfordshire, squirrelling away enough money to see us through our long Corfu summer. And back home, I'm confronted with the musty fruits of a lifetime's book-hoarding: books piled everywhere, zig-zagging up the stairs like an angular snake, piled on every flat surface, stacked two-deep on the bookshelves and in the wine-crates which have invaded every room in the house. Something needs to be done.

It's difficult enough popping out to the shops without bringing back a book, without meaning to- I always marvelled at the randomness of second hand bookshops, where a sort of Jungian Synchronicity ("Ooh, I was just thinking about that") seemed to determine the stock- but the addiction worsened with the discovery that my local Oxfam bookshop threw away hundreds of perfectly good books every day. Peering behind the shop in search of a bin (for a pork pie wrapper, oddly) I found a group of men straight from Mayhew clustered around (and in) a giant plastic container FULL OF BOOKS.

OMFG, as they say.

Oxfam isn't popular in the secondhand book world, due to their aggressive cornering of the market and hogging of prime retail space. But few of their critics realise, I think, just how many books they obtain, and discard, each day. Considering the rather weak selection in my local branch, the riches in the bin were astounding: an 1860s book on heraldry, in a print run of only 50; the lifetime's collections of, judging by each different day's crop, archaeologists, Latin teachers, retired Army officers... even a few dozen early '60s Pelicans with Melvyn Bragg's name and Oxford college scrawled spiderishly on the flyleaves... I think they just discarded books they felt were too arcane, or obscure, for quick sale, instead of offloading them to hospitals or other charities.

For months then, I'd trot along to the bin each evening, make smalltalk with the small coterie of tramps and tweedy eccentrics that knew of the secret book mine, and plunge deep within the bin for literary gold, before hauling my finds back home, buckling under their weight. It just seemed wrong for them to be thrown away.

One find that summed it up for me is Class 1902 by Ernst Glaeser, a German antiwar novel deemed "a damned good book" by Ernest Hemingway and now quite rare after being turfed onto Nazi bonfires (Wiki: "In Berlin, some 40,000 people gathered in the Opernplatz to hear Joseph Goebbels deliver a fiery address: “No to decadence and moral corruption!” Goebbels enjoined the crowd. “Yes to decency and morality in family and state! I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Gläser, Erich Kästner.”.) This edition- printed in English, in Berlin- survived the Brownshirts but fell foul of Pam and Margaret in Oxfam. The surprising violence of the old dears' philistinism began to be expressed when they realised their discards were being sifted through: then they would methodically rip each book in two, unless the leather bindings were too much for them. It began to feel more and more like a rescue mission and consequently I discriminated less and less over what I saved.

Then, moving to London after getting my first post-uni job, I abandoned the bin. I'd acquire spanking new, shrinkwrapped, print-scented books, gratis, from publishers (one of the secret perks of TV production) and left my mum to cope with the literally thousands of bin finds and vastly diminished living space alone. Until yesterday.

I've embarked on a massive clearout, and it's a weirdly liberating feeling throwing away hundreds of books- something I always felt utter horror about. It's like smashing up a sandcastle you spent hours building or- possibly- feigning a lonely canoe death. I've realised that there are dozens of authors whose works I will never read- Iris Murdoch, Laurens Van Der Post, most of David Lodge- and that I'm quite happy that's the case.

So there's now a massive stack of books in my mum's dining room, precariously piled, and looking like an oddly sentient, menacingly amorphous blob. I've just rung a charity shop to send a van to pick them up: the Oxfam bookshop. Karma, innit. Who knows, perhaps some books might get a 4th chance.

Justify Full

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Logo Mk II


A baroque doorway in Peroulades, about 100m from our house, which- given a few days, half a pack of cigarettes and a few brikis of coffee- will soon become the basis of the new logo. Imagine the outline, in gold, with a stylised olive tree on a heraldic shield where the feral tree now grows. Tasteful? I think so.

We've started trying to sell oil to buyers- small delis in London- to tide us over for the Autumn until we can start bottling our utterly untraditional blend. It's terrifying. The older I get, the more I think that anyone in any position of responsibility- whether starting a business or a family- has absolutely no idea what they're doing, and grows into the role. Hopefully.

More to come on the mind-boggling variety of bottles Italian and Chinese manufacturers produce. It's odd seeing distinctive bottles I recognise from artisanal Greek winemakers sold by the 10s of 1000 by Chinese megafactories.

Odd in that, while I didn't expect our bottles to be hand-blown by happy peasants in a whitewashed hut, globalisation always seems the preserve of someone else- Nike or Starbucks or Coca-Cola- until you actually start a business. Yet it seems impossible to sell anything, even a product as Slow Food and determinedly dopia* as our oil without somehow bringing in Far East labour in a city of which I've never heard but which is probably larger than London and younger than me. I imagine earnest young sweet manufacturers were agonising over slavery similarly 200 years ago, though I should add the moral quandary is of a different order of magnitude. In my case, it's simply that I want as much as possible to be made in Corfu... yet the labels of (newly-grown) Corfiot rival brands are hideous, quite possibly made up in the print shop by the law courts in Town, and are driving me to- of all places- a Birmingham printer for our own (ahem, impeccably stylish) versions.

I suppose it always thus. In the 19th century, the primary market for Corfiot olive oil was German factories, where it was used as an industrial lubricant; In the 18th century, it was as fuel for Venetian lamps- imagine how many masqued balls were lit by Corfiot serf labour; In a smaller world, such international connections must have seemed equally strange and jarring to Corfiot eyes. I suppose, thinking about it, part of the appeal of returning to Corfu is retreating from modernity; returning to a self-enclosed ancestral neverworld. But the Chinese role in our determinedly paysan business proves the fallacy of this, a lesson I had to return to Corfu to learn. As the Qu'ran says, "Seek ye knowledge, even unto China." It's a mark of modernity that China's reach now stretches to Peroulades.

* Local

Friday, 21 May 2010

In the beginning, was the Logo


Endless tinkering with Gimp- a sort of free Photoshop- has led me to create the above logo for our oil.

It's the old crest of the Septinsular Republic, given a snazzy new colouring-in. The aim is (milking our 400-year-old Venetian-planted olive trees for all their worth) to market the oil as if it were an expensive Italian wine- think Chianti or Lacryma Christi bottles with their gilded heraldic crests.

Katie thinks it's too masculine, and sinister... what do you think? I suspect that, like wine, it's men rather than women that buy boutique olive oils.

Certainly, rival brands seem aggressively, even hyper-masculine: http://www.speironcompany.com/Text/lambda.html

I may have to accede to Katie's consistently better judgment. That said, it is a nice logo, though perhaps more for a Ruritanian statelet than a viable business.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Everywhere I go, Greece wounds me...




...or, Attack of the Toddler People.

Hard at work...


...on the trading floor.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Strange Fruit


When I was a TV researcher (or at least, an employed one), I filled the inevitable lulls in my productivity with arguing with strangers on the internet and writing arcane articles on Wikipedia (a compendium of my interests can be found here ).

Apart from its strange but compelling written-by-a-dispassionate-alien tone, the best thing about Wiki is its seductive randomness, whereby the reader is drawn, despite himself, into a world of utterly inessential marginalia. In the excellent recent C4 doc where Boris-featured media ogre Rachel Johnson took over The Lady magazine, her first act was to remove the random articles (on the history of the cucumber, or alien abductions) that seemed to jar with the title's readership. But the readers protested, en masse, in a flurry of lavender-scented post. They loved the randomness, it was hastily reinstalled, and really, it was the most modern thing about The Lady. It was Wikipedia pre-Wikipedia.

Anyway, clicking lazily around from the excellent article on Corfu (and the equally readable if historically dubious one on the Corfiot Italians), I came across this strange fruit: the Greek Citron, or Corfu Etrog.

I say I came across it, though I spent a large chunk of my post-A-level holidays chopping them into slices for bad bomba-laced cocktails in a hopefully-now-defunct Ipsos "Irish pub". At the time, I thought it was just a hideous, over-pithy lemon. But apparently not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_citron

It's a fruit in its own right, and a rather precious one. It's considered essential to the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, and until the mid-nineteenth century, Corfu cornered the market in their production and sale. It's barely remembered now, but in the 19th Century, Corfu was a central spoke of the Jewish world. Rabbinical conferences were held here, and 1/3 of the town's population were Jewish, a polyglot mixture of 'Italkiot' Calabrian-speakers, post-Reconquista Spanish expellees and Greek-speaking 'Romaniotes' dating back to, probably, Hellenistic mass conversions.

But relations with the Orthodox peasantry were, at times- especially Good Fridays- fraught, and a Campiello pogrom in 1891 saw the rest of the Jewish world boycott Corfu Citrons. So Corfu's unique fruit trees were grubbed up, and replaced by vines, or kumquats, or yet more olives. Yet a few feral stragglers survived...

I only know this because a couple of trees survive, whether by accident or design, in my family's tiny smallholding in the 'unwritten' Northwestern hamlet of Pigi. So when I rather snottily corrected the Wiki article to disprove the claim that 'citrons are no longer grown on Corfu', I was rather surprised to receive, within the day, a business offer from a Colorado businessman to export them, for profit. Apparently, a good etrog can sell for $80-150. Each. Gosh.

Further haggling by email has proved inconclusive. He wants them approved in the US after shipment, after having been individually wrapped in bubble wrap and flown over; I'd rather have them graded by a rabbi in Corfu then sent; he disputes the rabbi's bona fides... It's probably too much hassle, despite the (Gerald) Durrellesque comedy of errors it would no doubt entail. And yet... there's something weirdly compelling about the idea. $100 for a single fruit seems an incredible business margin, but then the majority of fruits are too imperfect to stand muster.

Either way, it's a fascinating example of the way history cannot be overwritten; how even after Nazi genocide, a long-lost community's ghost is still visible in feral trees, standing forlorn testimony to a forgotten past. Like anywhere in Greece, Corfu's history is stranger and more diverse than the statist narrative allows. Perhaps a future Ipsos tourist reading this will forgive his G'n'T's over-pithy slice.

On a slightly different note, I've just finished (re)reading this, and I recommend it heartily.

The takeaway fact: mid-19th century Corfu had Europe's second highest murder rate, after Corsica. After dealing with local 'professional renovators', I'm beginning to see why...

The Business Plan


... is melting my brain. So here's a picture of our cat instead.

He's six months old now, and we still haven't settled on a name for him. So far he's been called:

*Cattyman
*Arapi
*Shere Khan
*Sir Alan
*Alan Dershowitz
*Feivel
*Camilla Catmanghelidjh

There may be more, I can't keep track. Everyone shrieks with horror when we say he still hasn't been named, as if he's a neglected baby. He's a cat. If we'd chosen a sensible name from day 1 and scrupulously called him it every time we went near him, he'd still ignore us whenever he wanted to stalk birds, climb trees, make inscrutable gurgles or indeed browse social networking sites.

Cattyman is currently the second item in Katie's inevitable Durrellesque Corfiot menagerie, item one being Abu Hamster (currently incarcerated in the loo for his own safety). Once in Corfu, I've been warned to expect a goat, a tortoise, a puppy and a baby donkey.

They might not make it into the business plan, though. But maybe a Nativity-themed Christmas card..?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Exhibit 1. The Lesser-Spotted Katie in Corfu.


After many evenings of wondering just what Aris had been poring over, typing frantically, smoking endless Davidoffs and scratching his increasingly 'rustic' beard, I have finally been allowed a peek at the future literary success that is the Corfu Olive Oil Blog.

Allow me to introduce myself. I was born 21 and a half years ago in Belfast, the youngest child of star-crossed parents (Romeo and Juliette never had petrol bombs...). This has embued me with an innate sense of balance (I'm also a Libra, which speaks reams to those who follow the spewings of Shelley von Strunkel) and the ability to see things from all angles. Without allowing this to become a Curriculum Vitae, I am an avid reader of both The Economist and Heat and my most visited websites are BBC News and Perez Hilton. I was a straight A student, and until recently was studying French and Spanish at the illustrious (and dour) Kings College London. Having completed two years of my four year degree, I balked at the idea of transposing all my worldly possessions to Madrid and Paris, respectively, and decided instead to 'find myself' which has resulted in becoming the PA for an effervescent (read ADHD) North London Jewish Businessman and transposing all my wordly possessions to Corfu...

But enough about me, now to discuss the 'we'. I am the yin to Aris' yang, the Remus to his Romulus, the... Czech Republic to his Slovakia... the... you get the deguerrotype...
Essentially, I will temper his boyish enthusiasm with my harsh Irish ways (cf. The Famine) and infuse his stoicism with enough whimsy to put Elsie and Frances to shame.

So just for an update: Aristide and I have moved into the glorious Hertfordshire countryside with his oft hilarious but always affable mana and the future awaits...

"It's as stressful as a bereavement, you know..."




Yikes... Well, we're moving, slightly earlier than anticipated. Until this week, we lived in a poky couple of rooms carved out of a rambling, crumbling townhouse in Notting Hill's last scuzzy street; a sort of West London Yacoubian Building stuffed with hippies-turned-pensioners and, bizarrely, a professional kickboxer. But no more... a Russian oligarch has bought the place up, and no doubt we'll see our impeccably gentrified homelet in Elle Decoration in months to come.

I know this because, while ploughing through The Flight of Ikaros in a Ladbroke Grove launderette, a gravelly-voiced Russian rang me on my mobile.

"Aris? It's Dmitri: Aleksandr's father."

As a semi-Greek, this could have been half my gene pool calling, so I pressed him for more details.

"Aleksandr. Sofia's husband. We own your house."

Ah, right. The landlord had changed over the summer, from an East End artist to a Cayman Islands post box, and this'll be why...

Anyway, it transpired he'd lost his (our?) keys and wanted to potter about the house for a bit, marking out spaces for a plunge pool, home cinema and vomitarium. Possibly. He seemed nice enough, actually, but it was time to box up our lives and pack them off to Corfu.

It's odd working out what matters and what's dispensible:

Shipped: a dozen boxes of books, a wardrobe, a desk, a Victorian Gothic bookcase literally picked up off the street, two muskets and a bundle of Turkmen rugs.

Dumped: all our crockery, cutlery, most of our clothes. And a career in TV.

More to come once in Corfu, hopefully...

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Tintin au Corfou


Sadly, the Belgian boy reporter never made it to the Ionian, but the above picture, in Hergé's inimitable-if-oft-imitated ligne claire style helps us imagine the result if he did...

The pic comes from this excellent article in the New Yorker, revealing Italy's ongoing and massive fraud on olive oil consumers, a subject I can (and do) bore on about for hours...

When I left Oxford in 2006, girded with an MSc in Social Anthropology and an ironclad sense of my manifest destiny, I spent a few months chez famille in Corfu writing my novel, a deeply adolescent fantasy of the 1930s Balkans and ghostly goings on. The novel was stillborn: of the two agents that liked it, one was sacked and the other died, but in its painful birth I spent long hours wandering around the familial olive groves.

The one thing that pained me more than anything- and made me want to return to Corfu- was the sight of bulldozers grubbing up 500-year-old trees to fire Calabrian pizza ovens, sponsored no doubt by some some fat mafioso.

It could have been a job for Tintin, plus-fourily besting his Greek arch-rival Rastapopoulos.

As a child in Corfu, I spent many happy hours with stacks of Tintin books, but I'm not sure he ever actually made it to Greece. King Ottokar's Sceptre (like my own poor, poor novel) was set in a Balkan fantasyland: part Kosovo, part Albania and the Macedonian borderlands, and the flyleaves of the hardback editions prominently displayed the Thompson/Thomsons in deeply Byronic Greek national dress, but that's the closest we ever came to a visit.

Maybe my increasing likeness to Captain Haddock is the nearest we'll get.

A random post: but I recommend this book to anyone who disputes Tintin as being the single most imprtant figure in 20th centruy literature. Ish.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

I'm in love with a machine...



Don't worry. That's not a cruel comment on Katie's borderline-obsessive replaying of the Lady Gaga Telephone video. Well, not entirely. Rather, it reflects the fact that if we're going to mill olive oil, we're going to need a mill.

So in between scrabbling around for freelance work and packing endless boxes of books for the imminent move back to the patridha, I've been firing off constant emails and phone calls to Italian mill manufacturers for pricelists (incidentally, why mills and not presses? Presses sound so much nicer, if only for images of me cranking away like an oily Caxton).

Anyway, now I've found the mill of my dreams: the Buonolio Top. She's a beauty, like a giant Dualit toaster, all brushed steel and 50s curves. Think Monica Bellucci in a remake of Metropolis. And unsurprisingly, she doesn't come cheap: in Corfu terms, she's worth about 5000 cups of coffee in the Liston, or 10,000 souvlakis in San Rocco square.

During a surprisingly wide-ranging chat with the manufacturer's sales rep, Dario- during which I fancied him leaning back in his swivel chair and gesticulating in mid-air as he spoke- I realised how much of a leap in the dark this all is.

What's your voltage in the factory, he asked. It affects the price, you realise, by around 1000 Euros?

I ummed and erred unconvincingly, shy of revealing that the factory is still the earth-floored stable of a crumbling village house and that we haven't quite got round to reinstalling the electricity yet. But still, we need to know the costs for the business plan, currently sulking neglectedly in my laptop like an unloved Tamagotchi.

There's a video on the manufacturer's website, showing Bonny in operation: http://www.buonolio.com/uk/fasi_top.html

A white-coated miller (I bet he knows his factory's voltage) tips a basket of olives into Bonny's possibly eponymous top and waits contentedly as a thick rivulet of green oil pours out of her nozzle, along with an extruded turd of green olive cake. All this to an odd digital funk soundtrack, which made me mute the video in case the neighbours thought I was obsessively watching porn. But in a strange way, I guess I was...

Note: the above post was not sponsored by Campagnola, makers of the Buonolio Top. But if they'd like it to be, hey, you've got my email address Dario. Just saying...

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Greekmobile


If you could put Modern Greece on wheels, this would be it. Coffee. Souvlaki. Cigarettes. The anthropologist Michael Herzfeld once ironically described Greece as 'a tawdry fragment of the mysterious East,' but it's the things we learnt from Turkey that made us who we are now. A succulent kebab doused in tzatziki and wrapped in soft doughy pitta; Turkish- sorry, Greek coffee and a strong cigarette made of Thracian tobacco; no wonder kefi- an untranslatable word for both joy and contentment- is shared between us and our rivals-cum-exes over the Aegean.

First Post...

My name's Aris. I'm 28 years old, and a Londoner of Corfiot origin.

Until the recession hit, I was a TV researcher, thinking up ideas for documentaries and turning them into the finished, onscreen product. Oh, and I also occasionally write articles for newspapers and magazines.

But now I'm taking the biggest gamble of my life. I'm returning to my Greek roots, living the peasant lifestyle that my family were glad to shrug off decades ago. With my fiancee Katie, I'll be growing my own food, keeping animals, turning a derelict ancient house into a family home and producing the first ever commercially available Corfiot olive oil.

It's a romantic dream, justified by a kernel of hard business sense. Corfu's 6 million olive trees produce 3% of the world's olive oil, but it's impossible to buy outside of the Ionian. Well, that's not entirely true. Big producers buy Corfiot oil at rock-bottom rates, and market it as Italian. That's how Italy exports three times as much oil as it produces, and sells it with Northern European fantasies of happy Tuscan peasants.

We're going to change all that. If you've ever seen Corfiot olive groves, then you've seen our majestic 400-year-old trees, but until now, you may never have had the chance to taste it. My family moved to Northwest Corfu 500 years ago. We've been making exceptional extra-virgin olive oil for 400 years. Thick, rich oil that tastes utterly unlike the insipid yellow oil you're used to. Now, for the first time, we're going to sell it in the UK.

It's going to be a steep learning curve. We're going to work with local farmers to sell their oil at a fair price, cutting out the multinational middlemen. We're going to save the Corfiot olive industry, at a time when local farmers are grubbing up their ancient trees to fuel Italian pizza ovens. We're going to work hard to preserve the unique ecosystem of northern Corfu, cutting out pesticides and promoting medieval farming methods that EU subsidies have been unwittingly eradicating.

Along the way, we're going to have to learn Greek, win the trust of local farming families, and turn a crumbling wreck into a family home that's also a cutting-edge eco-friendly olive press.

I hope you'll enjoy our adventure.