Archive for August, 2005

Came to nothing, didn’t it?

Saturday, August 27th, 2005

No sooner mentioned than lost. But I was so disappointed that I now know for sure that I want a nicer place. Watch this space.

Of course, I never mentioned it, but …

Friday, August 26th, 2005

… I might be moving soon. I’m in negotiation for a nicer house. The only problem I have is the lizard. I’m pretty sure he won’t come with me, and I don’t want to cause him any distress. This is silly. Typical Brit. Hard-hearted about everything but the family pets.

Anyway, it may come to nothing.

This time…

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

… it’s been even longer since I scribbled a word in here. But, for a change, silence has indicated lack of excitement rather than, as has been more usual in the past, too much.

Having said that I had found out very little about Ginger, we’ve been in each other’s pockets (in the nicest possible way) for the last week. I suppose my initial reticence with him consisted in concealing my chequered recent past. What marked him down as a recluse on the island, and explained his reticence with me, was more remarkable than I had expected. I thought long and hard before revealing, here, what he is really up to. I think he’s just a bit ashamed, from an artistic point of view, of what he’s doing, even though he has shown me some stunning work.

Ginger is an artist, yes, but the art he actually earns his money from is comic book art. You won’t have heard of any of the titles. They are all Middle Eastern comics. Apparently there is a big market in comic books in the Islamic nations, from Algeria to Malaysia.

I always kind of assumed comic books were usually developed by a single person, and there must have been a time when that was the case. But of course, there were soon several people involved, the writer, the black and white artist, the text and speech box man, the colourist. Now, in the computer environment, some of these jobs have telescoped, and Ginger gets the story and the speech from the writer, and does all the rest, including the colour separations for printing, and he can have a draft available for the publisher which is relatively easily changed, in a way that would have been inconceivable fifteen years ago.

Quite a lot of his backgrounds are taken from actual photographs and other images, and comic-ized using Photoshop, or some such product, but he draws the figures himself. One of the cunning things is the way his software allows him to specify the speech and text boxes, and fills them in, on demand, with the text provided in various languages and scripts, so it’s a really simple job to develop variant editions for different markets. He is particularly useful to the publishers (who I believe are based in Pakistan) because he speaks, reads and writes many of the languages required.

The subjects of these comics are extremely bloodthirsty, and there is really only one story-line, as follows:

Dastardly {Israelis / Western Capitalists / Hindus / Christians / American soldiers} perpetrate {disrespectful / murderous / usurious / perverted} acts against down-trodden heroic Muslims. Young heroic Muslim(s) get revenge in a number of inventive and unlikely ways. Many die. Martyrs are honoured. The End.

I must get hold of an image of one of his covers to show you. They are so stupendously over the top, you have to laugh.

Here’s an Arabic comic from another publisher.

I’m not sure what Ginger really feels. He is capable of an ironic chuckle at some of the pictorial excesses, yet he works with such apparent relish, I can’t help but feel that he has more than a little sympathy with the cause. The comics can’t possibly be doing any good for the West in places like Iraq and Somalia, but, let’s face it, the West isn’t doing itself many favours there either.

Other than spending a lot of time watching Ginger at work, I’ve been doing very little. Alexis has almost persuaded me to get afloat again. He keeps showing me adverts for battered fishing boats. But I don’t know. Not yet, anyway.

Yes, it’s a whole week…

Monday, August 15th, 2005

… since my last entry. Ginger came today, and I had a lovely salady spread for him. Nikos says he’s a vegetarian, so I bought lots of things like peppers stuffed with olives and herbs. The centrepiece was a vegetarian moussaka, using pine nuts instead of minced lamb. Ginger was rather restive, and eventually confessed that he wanted to know how the cricket was going this week. We fired up, and surveyed the slow ebbing of England’s hopes to win. He left before the end, because he has superior cricket monitoring facilities in his own place.

It’s strange. I realised after he left that neither of us has told the other a single thing about ourselves. We’ve discussed mutual acquaintances on the island, the merits of various restaurants, the weather, the roads, the ferry services, but nothing personal. .

I haven’t talked…

Monday, August 8th, 2005

… very much, I find, about People. Even my good friends Alexis and Nikos are rather sketchily described in this journal. This was and is partly to make them less identifiable as clues to my whereabouts, but also, I guess, because I am not much of a “people” person. What a disgusting cliché that is.

There is another recluse on the island. I have known about him since just after I arrived, but it took until this weekend for me to talk to him. Like me, he has a little house a few miles from town, though it’s not as isolated as mine. There a few houses and a desultory general store / kafenion nearby. Like me, he frequents Nikos’ taverna, though less frequently than I do. Like me, he is a foreigner and no-one knows much about him. His Greek is even worse than mine, but I gather he speaks a number of middle-eastern languages. He speaks English with an Indian accent and he looks like a dark-skinned Indian or Pakistani. He must be about forty, but retains a youthful zest.

Sometimes he sits on a stool near the harbour, and draws caricatures of tourists for money. His life-style is austere, though his house is much better than mine, and he owns a fairly new Japanese motorcycle. In Nikos’ he occasionally dashes off a sketch of a fellow diner, and drops it on their table, gratis, as he leaves. I have found it hard to pigeon-hole him.

I got talking to him on Saturday when he was trying to find out from Nikos what was in the tzadziki. I intervened to tell him it was much the same as raita, an Indian dish – ie yoghurt and cucumber with (in Nikos’ case, compulsory) garlic and parsley.

His name, he tells me, is Ginger, which surely cannot be his real name. He went to Art College in Middlesborough, so I guess Ginger is a corruption of his actual name that he was given by fellow students. All we had in common was English. I have never been to Middlesborough; he never spent any time in London, Edinburgh or Glasgow. Apparently, he is a trained Air Traffic Controller, but has never used the skill. He was interested in the Ashes Test Match, especially since it had reached an exciting stage. I have no interest in cricket. When he heard I was “in computers”, he gave the usual fascinated shudder you get from IT-phobes.

And that is where we would have left it had he not invited me to his place for lunch today, since he was reasonably confident the Test Match would end yesterday. It did. England won, apparently. Even I, not a cricket fan, know that this was an unusual occurrence. Boredom, rather than curiosity, prompted me to agree to lunch. He lives alone, I hear. There are probably rumours that he is gay, but none of my Greek friends have mentioned anything to me. If he has been listening to rumours about me, they will give him no prospect of a kindred spirit in the gay department. I hope.

Lunch was excellent, but simple. Humous flavoured with exotic spices, a huge salad with feta cheese, Greek baklava and that shredded wheat with honey, rosewater and nuts whose name I forget – no I don’t – kataif. All washed down with iced water and thick coffee. I was left wondering whether he is a Muslim or a recovering alcoholic. As a graduate of an English college of education, you have to fear the latter.

Afterwards, he showed me his studio – sketches, outlines, very little finished work, and that rather over-simple in form, like illustrations from a children’s book. The subjects are strangely arrested in motion rather than posed. The rather realistic style of his pictures reminds me of something, but I can’t place it. It is as though he was rendering, in ink and wash, frames from a news bulletin. He cannot be a strict Muslim, can he? I don’t think they allow images to compete with God’s creation. In corners, all over the house, books and newspapers are piled; most are in English, but I saw Arabic and Israeli script on some.

We parted with a handshake. I invited him back to my place next Monday. Being a total stranger to food preparation, I shall have to prevail upon Nikos to recall Ginger’s food preferences and make me a suitable take-away!

Since I…

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2005

… feel a little discursive today, replete, as I am, with an excellent lunch, I shall give a little more value to my reader (you know who you are) in today’s entry.

This is a bad time of year to be extolling the virtues of the Greek climate, as it is perishin’ hot. I am sitting here (it’s currently about 13:30) with the shutters closed, in the semi-darkness and relative cool of my little house. I have discovered that the north-facing room, the kitchen, I suppose you would say, though it has multifarious uses, is very slightly cooler than the bedroom. I am dressed in a pair of shorts and flip-flops. And still I find it comforting to occasionally sponge some luke-warm water on myself as a sort of primitive refrigeration.

The evening is much more pleasant. The sun is no longer burning your eyes out, yet it is still comfortably warm. But my real favourite time of day is the early morning. Even in this arid rocky island, there are tiny drops of dew on the parched yellow grass stems and deep green herbs. These herbs, later in the day, will release their heady aroma into an atmosphere singing with cicadas, creating the essence of Greece. In the dawn, however, they are quiescent. The long light, filtered through more atmosphere, lacks the fire of midday. Importantly, long, cool shadows are cast, which don’t happen at all when the sun rises, and I like to rest my back on the cool side of a rock and read a book until the insect life recognise me as a food source and start to make free with me.

The most important shadow for me is the shadow of the cliff at a western beach. It takes me a quarter of an hour on the bike to reach the top of the cliff. Then I climb down, another ten minutes, and then I can swim in shaded, clear, warm water for an hour or more before Apollo drags his chariot over the brow of the cliff and the sun comes out, as T E Lawrence expressed it, “then the heat … came out like a drawn sword and struck us speechless.”

I have deliberately emphasised the idyllic atmosphere, the very magic of Greece that urged me to flee here rather than, say, Torquay.

I was horrified, this morning, to discover a cleared area at the top of “my” cliff, scattered with construction equipment, the earth scarred, the air reeking of diesel, a digger hacking a rough trench, dozens of happy workers, a cement mixer in full swing, and, worst of all, The Notice Board.
Belmar Blasted Resort!
Looks pretty, doesn’t it?

Whaddaya mean, “No”?

And judging by the rate at which construction projects progress around here, this paradise can probably look forward to about eight years of construction misery before it is totally destroyed by legions of holidaymakers. I suppose it was selfish of me to expect a private beach in perpetuity. And I have to confess that ever since I discovered the place, there has been a rusting developer’s sign planted at the top and bottom of the cliff, so I knew it wasn’t really mine. I returned home for breakfast, crestfallen.

But if I were to drive another three minutes, and descend a steeper, spikier cliff, I happen to know there’s another unspoilt beach that I saw from the boat. I’ll try that tomorrow.

Following on…

Monday, August 1st, 2005

… from my last entry, I immediately found out that I’d be wasting my time to write a Gutenberg to HTML utility. There are several, as I discovered on Google.

(Updated 4 Feb 2009) Gutenmark turns out to be the most satisfactory GP converter.