Monday, March 27

An apology


OK, I really am sorry that our night our turned out so badly.
But you know me, by now. You know I’m not at all the suave, sophisticated, humourous, intelligent and vaguely sexy man I make myself out to be, I’m really pretty boring. I count the dimples on toilet paper, for Christ’s sake, and most of my thinking comes from Chinese crackers, I spend too much time fantasising rather than doing, and I worry every morning about are you worrying about my bald spot, and I could use an owners manual for new relationships. With a guarantee, or at least a refund policy.

But I am a romantic, and I thought it would be great for you to come and join me, in the taxi I arranged. OK, the blindfold was a bit over the top, but I thought it fun and teasing. You wouldn’t know what was about to happen, nor where it was going to happen.

And I planted the M&M’s in the back by arrangement with the driver. I mean, who the hell doesn’t like M&M’s nowadays? And I didn’t remember you are allergic to peanuts. How could I remember, you told me at least 4 months ago and we had sex just after, and you know that all men never remember or believe anything said when there’s sexual tension around. If you weren’t so allergy prone, you’d know M&M’s are just great, and it’s the thought that counts, after all.

Anyway, why was I angry when you arrived at the restaurant? Well, I had been sitting on my own for 55 minutes after stuffing myself with canapes and wine. And I always turn my ‘phone off in restaurants, as I think its rude to answer calls there, so how could I know you had tried phoning from the surgery to tell me you were taking an injection for the rashes and redness and swelling the nuts gave you? OK, you explained when you came – well, actually, yelled at me when you came – that you were pissed off, but why did you leave home without the taxi fare. Although I arranged the taxi, I never said I was going to pay for it. And I did offer some food from my plate, from my dinner, and although it has gone a little cold it had been delicious. But no, you refused it and then whined all night long about how hungry you were.

See, I knew the M&M’s would come in very handy.

Anyway, then you frowned at me over the table for the rest of the evening, making me feel very uncomfortabale even after I eventually offered you €5.00 for the taxi fare; and then you threw the change in my face. And that ’s when I got really angry; Can’t you even work out that if the fare was €3.45 then you should have thrown €1.55 in my face and not just €1.30?

And the water I threw back at you was Perrier. It’s the best, and that’s got to be worth something.

Thank God the cutlery had been cleared away when you attacked me otherwise if the coffee cup had been a meat knive I could be dead by now. One of my better shirts, too! (How do you remove coffee stains, by the way? Could you fix it when you’re next around?).

Anyway, look, let’s make up. It was a very nice restaurant and the food was good, and the idea was well meant. Next time I promise I’ll pay the taxi fare, too. And the fact I can forgive you shows you I do have style, too.






Monday, March 20

Progress

I’m a people watcher. For me, there’s nothing better than sitting in a a café and watching those passing you by, those sitting near you. You see loneliness, arguments, love and sometimes intimacy, anxiety and more, just passing by your life. And you learn about culture, and tradition, too.
Sitting in The Village cafenio yesterday evening I sipped my wine as I watched the (mainly old) men sit in groups or individually, sipping ouzo and chipero, and smoking. Many had finished what would have been a hard days work in the olive fields and many looked tired and very worn. Some were talking amongst themselves and gesticulating, no doubt arguing about the finer point on harvesting, or the latest per kilo prices from the distributor, or the acidity levels of the olives this season, perhaps politics, or inflation; and then, I noticed they were mainly talking about what was playing on the new 45 inch flat screen plasma TV screen in the corner - football, I guessed, as I couldn’t see the picture from my table. I watched through the haze of smoke as they enjoyed it, some slapping themselves on the backs, others laughing, talking animatedly between themselves, until I finished my wine and, leaving the table, was now able to see what they were watching. It wasn’t football. It was the Fashion TV Channel on satellite, and they were watching, in a show live from Miami Beach, designer fashions as they strutted their stuff.
That’s progress, I guess.

Friday, March 17

Dreaming

A conversation in my local tax office……

“Good morning” I said. “I’m here to ask you to stamp this form from the British Inland Revenue.”
“Why?”
“It’s to stop me paying tax twice – here and in the UK. It’s as it says on the form – it’s the Double Taxation Treaty”.
“Never heard of it
“Well, maybe, but it exists. As you can see from the form.”
I don’t care, I’m not stamping it
“Why not?”
Because I don’t know about it
“Then look it up. Phone someone. Read about it. Use the computer”
“I haven’t got a computer, and I haven’t got time to read, I’m too busy to phone, and you can’t smoke in my office”
“But you’re smoking already”
“It’s my smoke. I don’t want yours
“May I sit down while we talk about the form?”
No”
“It’s standard procedure between EC countries”
Not in my office”
“But if you don’t sign it, I may pay double tax”
Shrug
“I don’t want to pay double tax when I come to live here”
Go home, then
“Greece is my home”
Shrug
“Really, all you need to do is just stamp it”
Shrug
“It’s very simple, really…..”
“….and, I’m not leaving without you doing this”
He looks at the form
“It’s in English”
“It’s from England”
“Tell them to write it in Greek
“It’s 31 pages long, and for English people. The only bit for Greece is the box for your stamp.”
Translate it. Then, have it notarised as an official translation.
“It’ll cost me a fortune”
Shrug
“Will you stamp it afterwards?”
No. I’ve never heard of it”.
“Will you look it up in your manual then, or call Athens, or ask a friend, or the audience or anyone?”
Go away, I’m busy”.
“Who’s your boss?”
She’s busy, too”.
“So, you have one?”
I’m not telling you”.
“Is she here?”
Shrug
“So she is!”
Shrug, lighting another cigarette
WHO’S THIS ….PERSON’S MANAGER!” I call out
Me”, says the woman  - in almost perfect English – and sitting at the other desk beside him. “And please don’t shout
“Will you please stamp it?”
Only he can stamp it
“Will you tell him to stamp it?”
No. He doesn’t understand it
“Do you understand what it’s about?”
Shrug. Pause. “Maybe”

Another conversation in my local tax office…….

“Good morning” I say. “I’m here to ask you to stamp this form from the British Inland Revenue.”
“Of course”
“It’s to stop me paying tax twice – here and in the UK. It’s as it says on the form – it’s the Double Taxation Treaty”.
“I haven’t heard of it before but I’m sure I can find out
“Well it exists. As you can see from the form.”
Sure. Give me time to call Athens or investigate, leave it with me, come back tomorrow……have a coffee…………………
“Thank you, I appreciate it”
No problem. We’re here to help
“It’s standard procedure between EC countries”
Then we must understand it”
“If you don’t sign it, I may pay double tax”
We’ll make sure you don’t
“Greece is my home”
“And we welcome you here”
“Really, all you need to do is just stamp it”
He looks at the form
“Let me understand it and see if I can…”
“It’s from England”
“I like the English
“It’s 31 pages long, and for English people. The only bit for Greece is the box for your stamp.”
Easy, then.
“It’ll cost me a fortune to translate it”
Don’t. We can handle it.”

Another conversation in my local tax office……

“Go away, he can’t talk at the moment”.
Why not
“Because I’m torturing him”
What!”
“I’m stubbing cigarettes out on his large stomach, and sticking his computer mouse up his ****”
Why?”
“’Cos it’s fun to be like this”
And then what will you do?”
“Stamp his forehead. And arse. And stomach, and tongue”
And then?”
“Post him, in a box, to the Ministry for Investment, Ministry for Tourism, and Ministry for Economics”
You can’t
“Why not?”
They’re all on strike and there’s no post this week”.

OK. Tell me. Which is the true version?

Wednesday, March 15

Signs of God

The Church authorities in Lamia, central Greece, have described the buried body of a preserved Orthodox monk Vissarion Korkoliakos that has remained intact 15 years after its burial as a “sign of God” as medical experts fail to come up with a scientific explanation to the alleged phenomenon.
The digging up of a body’s bones is an integral part of many the death ritual/psyche of many Greeks. In the Village where I live my house rests at the foot of a hill, which is crowned by a beautiful old church and cemetery. In this cemetery is a building containing the ossokubotio, the containers of those previously dug up. As it’s a poor village, some of these containers are, literally, biscuit boxes and biscuits tins. What a way, to end up as a Cadbury’s chocolate finger or digestive biscuit.
D, of course, wants to join in the thousands of other believers and visit the body of the Orthodox monk in the belief that it is a miracle, and that he is some sort of saint. Despite my deep respect for anyone religious and all religions, I can’t bring myself to do join her – out of curiosity let alone any extremely thin and slim idea that a miracle has somehow occurred.

Whilst I joke, it can, though, be deadly serious (excuse the pun)! My Mothers sister was buried in Athens, and after 3 years we all attended a graveside ceremony for the removal of the body (or its remains) to the ossokubotio. My Mother – fortunately - was late arriving and missed the ceremony beginning, and the rest of us watched as the coffin was opened to see a basically intact skeleton and only partly decomposed body which, without further ado and to our shock, was hoisted out and placed in a wheelbarrow and promptly carted off in the direction of what I assume was the local bone-crushing machine. As we saw in the distance my arriving Mother walking towards us, and saw in the foreground the skeleton being wheeled away, we realised there would be a point where Mother and her sister would meet. We saved the day by racing to our Mother and turning her around and walking her the other way so she wouldn’t see the sight of her sister’s almost complete skeleton advancing towards her in a prone position with rictus like grin on the face.
This ‘ceremony’ and other rites are a function of space (and history); It’s not all bad, though can seem wierd to the uninitiated. The first time I approached the open casket in a church and kissed the forehead of a deceased uncle was somewhat strange, but I learnt through that experience that seeing the body – especially in cases of unexpected death – can give one closure. Something I miss in the case of other family members who I suddenly and unexpectedly never saw again after saying a normal goodbye, after a normal day, in a normal busy life.
But the 3 year ritual of digging up isn't closure, more the reopening the wounds for me, and in a very painful way. The recent Greek decision to allow cremations will go a long way towards ensuring a repeat of these horrors never happens again.

Sunday, March 5

Small victories and firelighters, please

A busy 10 days with no time to visit here has ended in a minor victory for sanity and a peep into someone's despair.

The minor vistory was over a parking ticket, slapped overnight onto my car windscreen and, to add salt to the wound, having my number plates removed; all in a street that had no “No Parking” signs. After being met with some unsympathetic shrugs from the administrators at the police station, I determined to see the Chief Policeman to protest to his face. No, I mean in his face.
This busy man kept me waiting outside his office for 70 minutes whilst he……..did nothing but kept me waiting; whilst he talked on his mobile, had his second morning coffee, adjusted his uniform a couple of times, picked his nose ferociously, and generally ignored me. An Englishman’s patience is his virtue, because there I waited and waited outside his office door, smiling at every eye contact with him, in an obvious “I won’t go away” ferocious glare.
Finally admitting me into his inner sanctum, but not offering me a seat, I promptly sat down and explained to him the fine was wrong, and I’d like my plates back. He explained to me that tickets are never issued wrongly, and so, no, I can’t have them back before paying the (€70) fine. I persisted, and as his patience began to wear thin, in an act of desperation just to get me out of his office, he suggested we go and visit the street. If I’m wrong the fine would treble to €210; If I’m correct, the fine would be cancelled and my plates returned.
“If I’m correct, and you’re wrong, then you should, personally, re-fix the plates to my car” I suggested, adding, “that’s a proper bet”. And, to my surprise, he agreed. And, to my delight, after travelling through the Big City in a flashing – blue – light – with – loud – siren - blaring police car, complete with several sycophantic waves and shouts to the Chief from other passing drivers and pedestrians (even with flashing lights and sirens you don’t actually go fast anywhere here and can still have a casual conversation whilst travelling) I was right. And, fixed in my memory, I still have the image of him on his knees, in his police car park, re-fixing my plates. From such small acorns of victory do the elms of hope and serving the public grow.

My house is being repainted by a very expensive, local, artisan who described himself to me, quite modestly, as probably once the best painter in the world. And I’m sure he’s never seen a Heineken ad.
Whilst he bought the paint, I bought the cardboard sheeting and plastic sheets for him to cover up my furniture and personal belongings, and I left him to it. And returned, after the first day, to completed bedroom walls in my chosen warm, rust, colours – but also complete with a warm, rust coloured duvet, wardrobe (now very modern – liberally spattered with colour) and TV (difficult to see a picture through the paint drips, though) complete with semi re-coloured floor tiles, and a warm rust covered, somewhat forlorn looking, cat.
At my insistence Georgios, the ‘artisan’ met me that evening in his cafenio, when I liberally, but politely, complained about the quality of the work. No problemo, he said, because he always was to clean going it up afterwards. And on the second day he started doing so, but not before berating me for challenging the quality of his work, daring to question his integrity, and having the cheek to complain about the finished article. Actually, berating is the wrong word, as at one point in his tirade he threw a paint brush at me, in another he called my Mother some names she has probably never heard of and wouldn’t want to, in another he had me by the shoulders shouting in my face for an apology, and, finally, he broke down, cried in despair and then cuddled me.
So that’s how I’ve started redecorating my house; With a broken, cryful, mad old painter who I’m now spending my days looking after whilst chasing around laying plastic sheets and cardboard before him, whilst he feels useful and wanted again.

They’ve announced a change in the laws this week to allow cremations instead of burial. I’m considering applying for AOT (the Greek National Tourist Organisation) to be the first victim. You see, it’s a very simple procedure “that shouldn’t take more than a week or so” to get to the point of actually making the formal application for a license. You see, you need something called a FEK – it applies to your specific application type – to understand how the application has to be made. And there are, um, probably several hundred of them, and so far I’ve been told to use 11 different ones by 9 different AOT personnel. And they can’t give you a copy from their office, you have to either go online to get it, or better still go to your local KEP to take a copy. And they can’t decide if my property is traditional or non traditional, within the urban planning zone or without, subject to a 1998 FEK or its updated 2001 version, a village or city dwelling, to be classified as a hotel, a house, a villa, a residence, apartments, rooms, a B&B (how about a hostel for ancient, worn out and emotional decorators?) and more.
They’ve just announced a new tranche of grants for such property’s, application period from March 15th until sometime May. My gut tells me not this year for me. Or, next, probably. Someone please ready the firelighters, I may need them.

Following the Vodaphone affair ND has dropped off in its support, barely edging PASOK now, but Karamanlis still seems to be the favoured choice of leader. Personally, I’ve high hopes for Dora Bakoyannis taking the leadership at, or just after, the next elections. She seems a formidable woman, and women – and women leaders - seem to have more of the necessary reserve of strength and integrity that men lack when the going gets tough, the politics bumpy, and the voters tetchy. Can’t wait.