Wednesday, 26 May 2010

"Everything is Peroulades"

Louis Antoine de Bougainville 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:

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.