Archive for May, 2005

Another tour-de-force…

Tuesday, May 31st, 2005

… from Nikos last night. We had the greatest difficulty paying him – he wanted to treat us, but we said we couldn’t return if he did that to us, so he relented with ill grace, presenting, nevertheless, a surprisingly small, non-itemised bill. It’s a fine line between showing gratitude for his generosity and insulting him by rejecting his gifts, but I think we managed it by adding a generous tip and then drinking it in free brandy at a large table where everyone came and made a fuss of Lionel. He made more friends last night than I made in the first three months I was here. Why don’t I have charisma like that?

Wasn’t up to much today. I haven’t told Lionel about the boat, because he’d want to go out in it and I’m not that confident. I’ve told Alexis I won’t be able to help until next week.

Conducted Lionel and Desmëi…

Monday, May 30th, 2005

… to the rather boring excavations yesterday. They have a hire car.

Not the SERIOUSLY boring excavations on the other side of the island that I visited the day I had to walk back pushing the bike, but a rather more substantial site where they have dug up quite a lot of foundation blocks, and they are getting round to deciding what it is they’ve found. I suspect, as is usual in Greece, that when the original building fell into disuse, every piece of building material that could be loaded on a donkey or dragged on a cart was incorporated into new buildings, and what’s left is that which was too heavy to carry, too big to lift.

The site, though, is one of those places, and there are many in Greece, where the very air thrums with magic. There is a natural spring at one end of the site, a pipe, surrounded by ancient algae-covered blocks, trickling a thin stream of water which falls into a rough stone basin. It has been co-opted as a sort of roadside shrine of the Christian persuasion, and there is a wooden box with a window, containing a saintly figure and various paraphernalia. However, the spring has probably been here for millennia trickling patiently into its bowl and thence to a sort of gully filled with lush greenery that plunges towards the sea, cool and mysterious. There’s even a rough path down the gully to a narrow stony beach, but all sign of the spring water disappears before it gets there.

We picnicked in the shade of the trees and talked. Desmëi is the ideal wife for Lionel. A plump, bookish woman with a warm manner in a pleasant face. She listens and admires him, but is always ready with a clever remark when he launches on some highly embellished anecdote.

I took them to Nikos’ last night. It was a huge success. Nikos was enthusiastic to show my old friends a good time and he excelled himself with a vast meze, crowned with excellent baby lamb (actually goat, I understand, but just as nice). I had told Nikos that Lionel taught at a University in Canada. He lectures in Social Anthropology, which he privately insists on calling “Wog-watching”. To you and me, that’s just a bit of self-deprecation. Sooner or later, though, he’s going to say it to the wrong person. All my new island friends made a point of buying drinks and visiting our table to meet “the Professor” and his wife. Heaven knows when I got to bed. A return match is due tonight!

I cannot express the relief of telling Lionel everything – the relief that I’d partially felt in writing this journal. I feel so much lighter, somehow, though Nikos is attempting to reverse this sensation with his copious food.

Finally decided…

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

… to stop skulking around and just meet and chat to Lionel. In Canada, it was unlikely he’d seen anything about the case. I decided to tell him I was hiding from a girlfriend who’d turned out to be a bit of a bunny boiler and I’d ask him not to tell anyone – ANYONE – where I am.

We met in a taverna I never frequent, just Lionel and me, but before I could draw breath for the lie, he forestalled me. The conversation went something like this:

Lionel: You OK for money and everything?
Me: Sure.
Lionel: I heard about your spot of bother.
Me: [Gulp] Where from?
Lionel: I spoke to Chris Morton (another University friend I hadn’t seen for years) last week. He said the word was you’d moved to Glasgow.
Me: [thinking - so much for witness protection security] Mmmm.
Lionel: I thought different. I was pretty sure you’d be here.
Me: How come?
Lionel: Your memory is failing. When you were breaking up with Madouc (false name of ex-wife) you wrote to me and said you’d like to just pack up and start a new life here. It was a no-brainer.
Me: Do you mean you came here looking for me?
Lionel: Sort of. I’d always promised Desmëi we’d come, and it was nice to have a purpose. I haven’t told her anything, by the way, I didn’t think you’d want me to. And, of course, I’d have looked a bit dumb if I hadn’t found you.

So I brought Lionel up to date. He’s talking about organising a job in Canada if I need one, but I don’t think so.


Thursday, May 26th, 2005

… to report. Just lying low and eating my meals in the shack here.


Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

… that was entertaining enough with Lionel last night, but he’s so LOUD! I was in a permanent cold sweat about the noise he was making. Luckily, he and his wife were full of their own doings, so I didn’t have to tell him much beyond the fact that I’m living here. At the end of the evening, I told him I was busy for a couple of days and I’d contact him when I was free, just to hold him off. I have to think about this. How much to tell him? Being from Canada, does he know about my situation? He made no sign that he does. God, why is life on the run so complicated?

There were some…

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

… very good practical reasons for choosing Greece when I made my escape in December, not least of which was the possibility of setting up my dummy company and bank account without a great deal of difficulty. However, my unspoken reason had more to do with a sort of romantic view of Greece, and this island in particular, which was partly due to a wonderful trip I took in my last year at University.

My companion on this trip was – let us call him Lionel Lazare (his real name included Monseigneur le Compte in front of it). Lionel’s family had lost its lands some three generations earlier and he was a penurious student like myself, but wielded an air of aristocracy in his every action. His height, voice, accent and bearing exuded authority. He genuinely felt that his position entitled him to jump queues on all occasions, to interface with shop proprietors rather than assistants and to run up bills and overdrafts without formality. He managed this, mostly, without causing rancour in those he inconvenienced. He would always pay his debts eventually, and in full, but he really did keep them hanging on for months or even years. He did his shopping in the very highest class of establishment. To his friends, he was exceptionally generous when he could afford to be. His company was always extremely stimulating.

Lacking the funds to fund our vacation properly, we gathered what money we could get our hands on, I forget how much, but it wouldn’t have kept the two of us alive in Edinburgh for the five weeks we were planning to be away. We hitch-hiked from Edinburgh to Athens in an astonishing five days, including a ghastly day in Yugoslavia when we got no lift at all, and a half-day stopover in Thessaloniki to sell our blood.

At the time, you could sell a pint of blood in Greece for an attractive sum – enough to eat modestly for a week. I’m pretty sure there’s a transfusion service now. I do remember that the process was horrifyingly quick. As a blood donor in the UK, you can be lying around for twenty minutes. I don’t know whether they tapped an artery or not, but my memory is that the blood was pink and foamy and the bottle was full in twenty seconds. Then a glass of peach juice and out the door.

We had numerous minor adventures with police and other officials, most of them solved by Lionel with that wonderful influence he always had over people he had just met. Something about his manner turned away hostility and suspicion, and encouraged co-operation.

We had originally intended to come here, to this very island, but money was short and, on another hitch-hiker’s recommendation, we took a short bus ride from Athens to a congenial beach and pitched our tiny tent. It was a blissful period, reading, talking, living from hand to mouth with bread, wine, olives, feta and other simple fare. We met and flirted with a pair of British girls who were living like toffs, comparatively speaking, in a local hotel and who smuggled rolls and bananas out to us from their inclusive breakfast. When Lionel and I argued, which we did frequently, it was about Books, Movies, Art, Philosophy, Law, Science – not day to day concerns.

We enjoyed it so much that we didn’t leave until our money was nearly gone, intending to sell blood on the way home again. For some reason, I forget why, we weren’t able to do so. We had about five pounds, our Channel ferry tickets, a loaf of bread and a jar of pineapple jam when we left Athens. Hitching was desperately slow on the way back, and it was two starving creatures who staggered off the boat at Dover and hobbled to a fish and chip shop for the treat we’d been promising ourselves since Stuttgart.

When you share a trip like that with someone and don’t fall out over it, you form a life-long bond. However, Lionel went to live in Canada after he graduated. We both married. We stopped writing.

But when Lionel walked up to me outside the newspaper shop in town today, the intervening years vanished, and we just talked as though we’d seen each other last week. All the private language you have with a fast friend came back. He is here on holiday with his wife. He, too, I think, is sort of re-creating our own trip, and finally getting here, just as we promised ourselves. Given that, our meeting here is not so very unlikely.

Being a fugitive, I’d planned, in the event that I was seen by anyone who knew me, just to deny my identity angrily and ignore them. It would be impossible, emotionally and practically, to do that with Lionel. So we agreed to have dinner at the posh place near the new marina tonight. I have to keep him away from all the people who know me by a different name. I’m happy to see him, but it’s a bit of a nightmare. I’m tempted to just vanish, but he’s here for a fortnight and he’ll turn the place upside down looking for me if I try that. I know what Lionel’s like.

I didn’t tell…

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

…you that the plaster cast was taken off my leg last week. I’d been riding the bike in it and it had got chipped and oily, and I’d got it wet from time to time so it was in a sorry state. I got a telling off about that from the quack at the hospital. The bruises on both legs were, and still are, pretty prominent. The doctor made it clear he didn’t believe the “accidental tumble out of bed” story when it happened, and he didn’t believe it now. When I’d been wheeled in, unconscious, on the morning of the incident, he had felt it urgent to transfer me to Athens because of the head injury and coma. I didn’t respond to his questions about the circumstances, said I couldn’t remember anything. Apparently there’s a small skull fracture, but it’s expected to heal without problems. He advised me not to ride the bike for a while, but I’m ignoring that.

Oh, and the big news of the day is….
<small fanfare>
the Eurovision Song Contest
Lord save us, but Greece won on the 26th attempt. Guess what’s blaring out of every loudspeaker on the island.

No time…

Sunday, May 22nd, 2005

… to blog yesterday, or today. I’ve been busy re-establishing all my software. The registry seems to be deranged. What’s new? Despite the fact that my new hard disk is nominally the same as the old one, a lot of the software doesn’t believe it and I’m having to re-instal. Where is that [Sigh...] emoticon?

Never a dull…

Friday, May 20th, 2005

… moment in my thrill-packed existence.

Even today, when I was reduced to browsing the internet rather dismally, I found this copy of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, which I read all at one sitting. I felt better immediately. I commend it to anyone who thinks they are having a hard time.

I’m always having…

Thursday, May 19th, 2005

… to pull myself up and think whether I’ve told you everything you need to know.

I’ve got my new computer and camera. I didn’t leave Athens until I’d organised that;

I’m back in my own house – for a while, when I was having difficulty walking or biking, I lived above Nikos’ taverna again;

I was at Nikos’ for Orthodox Easter – much devotion and waving of candles in the street. I was too delicate to participate in anything but the feasting afterwards;

The boat is making great progress. Alexis sailed me out in the bay last week. The engine, quite compact, sits in a wooden box near the stern, but we actually used the sail except for parking on our return. Now I’m nearly a boat owner and skipper, it’s all rather daunting;

No-one, not even Alexis (and certainly not Nikos, the old gossip), knows the truth of my injuries. It was just an accident I had when getting out of bed.

Here, for your delectation, is an artistically clipped photo of the taverna. You see what we have to put up with. Only Nikos’ excellent cooking can compensate for the squalor of the premises!

Nikos' Taverna