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 cafĂ© (it’s strange, by the way, how few emails of import we actually get, when we check them- and how little we miss facebook).

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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.

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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.