Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Expat life An Alternate Reality; but, of course!

You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, like you’ll not miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.
                                             -- Azar Nafisi (Lolita in Tehran)
Sun sets in The Mani

The debit/credit card issued to us five years ago when we opened our Greek bank account expired several years ago.  On occasion since the expiration we've thought about getting a new one. . . but it has seemed more trouble than it is worth. It is a much different process here than the one used back in the States.
In our former life, we must have had three or four cards -- all unsolicited -- arrive weekly in our mailbox. Each from a different bank or lending institution and each activated by a single phone call. New cards for accounts we did have, were sent weeks before the card expired and each activated in a similar manner with a phone call to some faraway toll-free number.
Fruit and vegetable vendor in Stoupa - a new way of buying

Not so in Greece.  The process for getting a new card -- like so many things here -- is so completely different, that it sometimes feels like we are living in an alternate reality.  The way things are done here and the way we react to it,  just can't be reconciled with what was once our lives and behaviors.

We can thank our friend, Bill, who owns a taverna called Hades in the village for helping us get a grip on this upheaval to our senses. He says, 'It is an alternate reality. The light turns green and you think you should go, but everyone else is waiting for red.' 

Yes! That is it exactly! What once seemed logical, well, . . .just isn't.

He offered his insight several weeks ago while some of us were discussing our most recent experiences, often chuckling, sometimes shaking our heads at the stories being told. All the while knowing that each tale was true because we've all had the experience or similar alternate reality moments since moving to Greece. When telling these tales we usually exclaim with howls of laughter, that our friends and family 'back home' just wouldn't understand.  

A Greek balancing act in The Mani
But today I am going to try you out: we've had some realities this summer that are too priceless not to tell you about; realities like renewing the debit card. . .
Several months ago while having our passbook brought up to date(yes, banks here still record account activity in passbooks), I said to the teller that I'd like a new debit card. For some reasonat issuance, the card couldn't have two names, so mine had ended up on it.

 'But, of course!' he said, with a smile, using the ubiquitous Greek answer, we've learned, to any and all questions asked of a Greek, from a doctors to wait staff and bank tellers.

'You will need to bring in copies of your latest Greek income tax return, a form from the phone company verifying that you have a phone number and a copy of your latest utility bill.'  He then looked toward the section of the bank lined with a dozen desks -- only two of which were occupied -- and said, "And then you'll talk to one of them."
Now we've obviously gotten along without the card, but at that point it became a matter of principle for me.  I dutifully made copies and obtained forms and marched back to the bank a few weeks ago, ready to get our new card. (After all it accesses our account with our money in it so it would be nice to have a current card, I reasoned.)
Dining out, is one of the many things, done differently here

The Scout hasn't been sold on the need for the card and was skeptical about my efforts and insistence that very warm morning but humored me as we stood around the empty desks awaiting our turn to speak to one of the two people working at them. The customer ahead of us was getting a new debit card. It was taking awhile.
After nearly an hour's wait, there we were, seated at the desk, my paperwork laid out before the banker. Passports to the side. Ready for success!  As she called up our account on her computer, she began alternatively drumming her fingers on the desk and frowning at the screen. 

The absurdity of the situation hit me with such force I nearly fell off the chair. I looked at The Scout who seemed to be staring off into space somewhat in a self-saving trance and I thought I was going to start laughing. Who were these two people sitting here? This couldn't be us?! We don't do things like this  just to get a debit card. . . 

Ahh, but in this reality we do! And did!
This wine tour was more fun than a trip to the bank!

Meanwhile the banker examined the documents I'd presented, then returned to her computer screen and said, 'You still have a U.S. address. Do you have proof of your U.S. address with you?' 
I was ready! "Yes! I have a government issued driver's license from the State of Washington with my address on it and a photo as well."
Turning from the screen to look at us, she shook her head, 'I can't accept that. But, do you have a current utility bill from there with you?' 

But, of course, I didn't! 
At which point The Scout gave me one of those 'husband-to-wife looks' that carries the proverbial death threat and I said to the banker, 'We will obviously have to get the card later!'
Outside the bank's double security doors I raised my voice and announced to anyone within earshot, 'Done! Defeated! No card!'  Not now! Not ever! (I know I saw The Scout smiling out of the corner of my eye.)
I don't think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto!
              -- Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz
From The Stone House on the Hill 

There are eight homes on 'the hill' as we call our slice of The Mani. They are accessed by traveling on 'our road' ,a narrow asphalt track that winds through the olive groves, connecting the villages of Agios Dimitrios and Platsa. The road was destroyed two and a half ( 2.5!) years ago during a major storm. When we asked locals about when we could expect to have it repaired, the answer we got was,'nothing will happen to the road until the election.'   

The Scout working on a traffic jam on our road

And they knew what they were talking about because it seemed that about the time we saw posters going up for hopeful candidates back in March we also saw huge machinery lumbering up our road. Finally, repair crews began ripping out its storm-damaged sections and preparing it for a new surface.

Silly us! In that old reality, we expected the surface to be put on immediately. Not so in this reality. The concrete trucks didn't lumber past until May. (Of course the election was set for June so timing may have been influenced by that fact.)

Platsa, the village above us

The concrete trucks rolled past for several days as they repaired the section of roadway just beyond our homes. We talked of all the guests we could have this summer; people who've been afraid to bring their cars up our damaged road. We talked of a street party as the concrete truck dumped its first load on the damaged section we drive to get home.  They emptied the truck said they would be back.

In this new reality, we should have asked, 'When?'  as they haven't yet returned.
Several of us who travel that torn up roadway regularly decided we'd had enough. It was time to visit the Municipal Office and ask when the road would be repaired.  

The first husband-wife team was told, 'The contractor said It is done!' No one from government had checked his claim. But the team was armed with photos of the still unfinished road. So a quick call was made from the Mayor to the contractor and the new completion date was set for the next Friday. Nothing happened.
In early June the second delegation (The Scout and I) were also told the road was completed. Pictures were again shown. And soon the lady helping us reported: "The Mayor extends his deepest apologies but the contractor has run out of money and can't complete the job until he has money."  We (back in our old logical reality mode) asked when that might be. "When he submits a bill to the Municipality, we will pay him for the work and then he can buy more concrete to finish the work."  But, of course, we should have known that!

Repaired section or road above us
So the third husband and wife team went to the Municipal offices and the answer they got, was that the Municipality has no money to complete the job. 

But, of course, they were told, if we residents would like to pay for the repairs that would be most welcome. But, of course. . .,the government official added, we must first apply for a license to do so. . .

View of The Stone House on the Hill

Some of our alternate reality moments are much lighter and less frustrating than dealing with business and bureaucracy. One takes place each summer in our part of town. There is a family who has a home here and uses it only in the summer months. Wonderful people and we are always happy to see them arrive.  It was another alternate reality moment when we realized last summer that the male head of household likes to garden in the nude.  Now, after the initial stuttered conversation, I am able to greet and chat with him as though it is the most natural of things; me fully clothed and him fully nude. Sure wasn't like that in our old world though. . .

These are but a few of the many examples we have from the 'alternate reality' in which we live these days.  The quote with which I began this post is ever so true about becoming ex pats and leaving the old norm, that old reality behind:

'. . .but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.'

To alternate realities

Each expat we know here recognizes that he or she has changed. It isn't always easy. It doesn't always make sense. It certainly isn't how we used to be. We do things very differently. We see things differently. And then we think,

But, of course. That's why we wanted to be expats!.

Hope you have a great week and that you and your loved ones have safe travels.  Next week we will be talking about driving in Greece. . .that is another reality of Greek life!

Thanks for being with us today. Your time is always appreciated! And thanks to those who've written and commented, we so enjoy hearing from you!

Linking soon with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Friday, July 5, 2019

Life In the Peloponnese ~ Our Story

Marti, my friend from Kirkland, Washington in the U.S. Pacific Northwest and I regularly meet for morning coffee in the village, Agios Nikolaos in The Mani. It's the place the two of us and our husbands call home these days.

I walk into town for these get-togethers from our Stone House on the Hill. My route leads through the olive groves and along the sea. Seldom am I passed by more than two or three cars or motorcyclists, maybe a fellow walker or someone on a bicycle.

Prior to one of our get-togethers I varied my route following the backroad (there's only one) through the town, meeting up with the village's main road (also only one) along the harbor as I made my way to our appointed meeting place: Hades Taverna.

My circuitous route was so that I could take photos to illustrate an article I was writing for an on line magazine about our life here. Along the way I waved to Freda who, with her son Gregg, run the café that also serves as our post office. I then paused near the harbor at the kafenion where a group of village gents were gathered -- most likely just as village gents had been that first day The Scout and I happened upon this place, now more than six years ago.  I'd almost bet some of them were seated in the same chair they've sat in for years.

I chuckled as they bantered with the fellow selling the day's fresh catch. It was Saturday morning - a gloriously beautiful day. Summer's heat hadn't yet ratcheted up into high gear as it has now. I moved on and passed Sofia who runs the village's only clothing store - which is only open in the summer. We hugged and kissed a greeting as one does routinely in European countries and discussed the weather and fashion before proceeding on our ways.

Once settled in with our double cappuccino's (which are served in ceramic cups here with cookies on the saucer)  Marti and I began our debrief of the week's activities and absurdities. My neighbors drove past and waved and called out greeting.  Adam, the plumber from two villages away, stopped in for a coffee and chatted for a bit. We called out greetings and waved to others we knew. We watched the passenger bus that comes through twice a day make the tight corner turn, speculating on whether this would be the day it didn't work.

The editor for whom I was writing the article and taking the pictures had asked me to tell her readers what had brought The Scout and I here and what life in rural Greece was like.  This Saturday was a good example of both what brought us here and what keeps us here:  It was an ordinary Saturday morning in this part of Greece.  Yet, it was extraordinary. 

My article was published this week.  I posted it on FB so many of you have already read it, but I know a number of you are not FB fans so I am sharing it on the blog as well.  The publication, Travel with a Challenge, is published in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and is now in its 19th year. With an annual world-wide readership of 1.24 million, its articles are written for mature travelers and profile a number of alternative travel experiences. You travel enthusiasts out there might want to check it out!

In the meantime, hope you enjoy my article, which can be read by clicking on the link below: 
Moving to the Stone House on the Hill

All the photos used in this post and in the article were taken in our village.

Until next week, safe travels to you and yours ~ and thanks to those who've written on Messenger and sent emails this week about this article and the last blog post.  As always, it means a lot to hear from you. To those who've shared my writings, my deepest thanks! And to all who've reached this point in this post - thanks for the time you spent with us today!

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

Friday, June 28, 2019

Patrick Leigh Fermor: Visiting 'Paddy's' Place

For years we've been waiting to visit 'that' house
 Paddy's House, . . .it's just up the road in Kalamitsi. 

We'd heard and read so much about him

And, after all. . .he's the one who got us here.

Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor's home near Kardamyli July 2018

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, war hero and adventurer, considered by some to be the most notable travel writer of the 20th century, is known simply as Paddy or Michalis around here.  The Englishman and his wife, Joan, were early-on expats, having lived for decades in the home they designed and built in the early 1960's just outside the village of Kardamyli. 

Sir Patrick was Knighted in 2004 for his services to literature and to Greek-British relationships. In 2007 the Greek government named him a Knight of the Order of the Phoenix, its highest honor. Around here the titles don't matter; Paddy is remembered for being Paddy.

We think of him as the guy who introduced us to The Mani. . .

The 'highway' we first traveled into the Inner Mani 

The Back Story. . .

Paddy and Joan's lives have been chronicled by many a writer and the two are immensely well-known on this side of the Atlantic. Perhaps our favorite tales were written in, News from the Village, Aegean friends, a memoir by American poet David Mason, who for a time in the 1980's lived next-door to the Fermor's compound. His book brought to life the area's villages while recounting his life-long friendship with the couple.

Stoupa as it was when Fermor arrived in the 1950's and as it looks today.

It was a well more than a half dozen years ago that we read David's book and subsequently Paddy's, Mani, Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, (published in 1958). Paddy's book chronicles his first trip to the Mani, back when it was a decidedly undeveloped and remote place (just check that 1955 photo of our present-day tourist magnet, Stoupa). He came to the Mani on foot, having climbed up and over the Taygetos Mountain range to get here. 

The two books were all it took to convince us that we needed to visit this still unspoiled and rugged place on the Greek Peloponnese ourselves.

Patio at the Fermor house

Our first visit  to the Mani - Kardamyli, Stoupa, Agios Nikolaos -- in 2012 was a year after Paddy's death in England at the age of 96. Joan had predeceased him in 2003 at age 91. The two had met in wartime Cairo in the 1950's, then traveled together, and finally made their home in a picturesque seaside setting in an area called Kalamitsi, just outside Kardamyli. 

Our slice of The Mani-- The mountains Fermor crossed

Back when we first visited The Mani the idea to live in Greece wasn't a serious consideration of ours. But we were soon caught up in the area's spell. We just kept coming back. And, the fact that we ended up living so close to where they both lived, is one of those goosepimple-kind-of-coincidences that life randomly tosses at you.

Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Center

Hallway at the Fermor house.

The Fermor's bequeathed their home to the Benaki Museum in Athens with a stipulation that it be used as a retreat center for scholars and intellectuals, (loosely defined as writers, researchers, artists, poets, etc.).  

A place to curl up with a good book off the house's great room

When it opens this fall it will  be known as the Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor Center. Although I suspect with so many in the village who still remember the unassuming couple, that around here it will continue to be thought of as 'the place Paddy and Joan lived'.

Garden restoration underway

The Center will serve as a retreat, be the site of events and also welcome the public in set tours. In order to generate funds for on-going maintenance and upkeep, the museum will rent the house for three months each year. A partnership with Aria Hotels will make that happen.

Main floor bedroom lit with morning sun

Beginning June 1, 2020 the three-bedroom house with a separate studio (once Paddy's writing studio) and another one-bedroom cottage (once occupied by his housekeeper, Lela, and her family) will be available for rent. Guests can rent the entire complex or just a room.

I did a quick check for a one-night stay for two persons next summer and found prices were 280-, 400- and 480- euro for a room, depending on the date selected. I didn't find the cost of renting the entire complex. (Several weeks are already booked.)

Visiting Paddy's House

Entryway at the Fermor house

I've been monitoring the process of turning the house into a retreat center for at least two years. Each time I'd think I could visit some rehabilitation project was slated and the house closed up again.

It appeared earlier this year that the house would be finished and open for tours in mid-June. Again that official opening has been delayed but is far enough along that the Museum is honoring requests for public tours. (Limited times and days because it is still under construction and empty.) 

Entry way and art work

Admittedly from the stories we've heard about their hospitality, it would have been far more fun to have been a dinner or lunch guest of Paddy and Joan's but visiting Paddy's house last week was a pretty special experience.  I had goosepimples walking through the massive entry.

Workers completing The Great Room renovations

While a backhoe clattered away in the lower gardens, a woman mopped the kitchen floor and workers concentrated on completing the living room - the small group of about a dozen of us were set loose to explore the house.

Gardens filled with herbs, oleander, cypress (kiparrisi) and fir trees

It was a perfect time to imagine how it must have been back in the day that these two opened their doors and welcomed guests.  One account reported that this twosome would plan their discussion topics for the evening in advance, so that there would never be a lull in the conversation.

Can you imagine sitting around this table with Paddy and Joan?

Writer Artemis Cooper, a frequent guest, and author of the 2012 book, Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure, recalled her first visit as being on a calm night with a million stars and six people at the table:

'What did we discuss that night?' she says. 
'I don't remember anything but the velvet night, the sound of the sea, the faces 
in the candlelight, the laughter and the voices - 
and the thought that nothing could be better than that moment.'

One of many patio seating areas at Paddy's house

And in Fermor also wrote of those gatherings that stretched long into the night:

'These summer nights are short,' he  wrote.
 'Going to bed before midnight is unthinkable and talk, wine, moonlight and the warm air 
are often in league to defer it one, two or three hours more.'

Open corridor between rooms had garden and sea views

The Fermor's L-shaped  main house is built on two-levels. Bedrooms, a kitchen and the grand room all open off an open stone corridor. Another bedroom is on the lower level. I could imagine houseguests waking  to morning sunlight streaming through the windows, later sipping coffee in the patio, perhaps taking a dip in the water just a stairway away.

Fermor's stairway to the sea

Many of those guests recall with amazement the many books in the home. One writer who toured the home estimated some 5,000 books were tucked away on built in book shelves.

'. . .dictionaries, lexicons, encyclopedias, special editions, Oxford companions, anthologies based on birds, beasts, fishes and stars in the immense libraries -- 
even the bathrooms had bookshelves. . .' he wrote.  

Cartons of books waiting to be re-shelved 

So, even though the bookshelves were bare when we toured, the mountains of boxes stacked in each room led us to speculate the books would soon be back on the shelves.  

Paddy's writing studio 

We followed our tour guide -- a woman who had worked for the Fermor's -- through the sprawling gardens and to his writing studio. It was here he wrote several of his books. His desk  to the right of the group in the photo above, seemed a shrine to the great man. The guide asked that no photos be taken of it (although all of us had photographed the room with it in it). 

The writing studio 

Our tour ended at Lela's House, at the back of the main house. Lela was a long-time housekeeper and cook.  We did have the good fortune to see her before she passed away. She opened Lela's Restaurant on the waterfront in Kardamyli after leaving the Fermor house. Even when she became too old to work in it, she sat 'guard-like' outside her eatery keeping an eye on all preparations and the comings and goings of customers.

Kalamitsi, lower right, and Kardamyli, upper right

After our tour we joined our friends for coffee in Kardamyli, I couldn't help but think of a passage Fermor wrote about the village in his Mani book:

'The Guide Bleu only spares it a half a line, 
mentioning little beyond the existence of its four hundred and ninety inhabitants.  
It is better so. It is too inaccessible and there is too little to do there, fortunately, 
for it ever to be endangered by tourism.'

The village was packed with people that morning, we had to search for parking.  Tourist season has begun.  And I chuckled wondering if Paddy ever imagined as he left his home to the Museum that his place would one day bring even more tourists to the village.

For those coming this way and who want to take part in a tour,contact:  leighfermorhouse@benaki.gr

If you want to book a hotel stay there: 

Thanks for joining us on a trip just down the road and back in time today. As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us.  Wishing safe travels to you and yours until we are together again next week.  A special thanks to those of you who've been sharing our posts with friends ~ it is the best compliment a writer can get!

Sorry about the type size changes throughout the text. Google Blogger is about to drive me to drink. . .or find a new blog platform. . .changes are coming!

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