Symi Dream

Living on a Greek island

A Greek island blog from Symi in the Dodecanese islands of Greece. "James’s great talent lies in his careful observation of the absurd and the amusing, the dramas and the difficulties..." Anne Zouroudi.

Symi Dream - Living on a Greek island

A quick Symi catch up

A quick Symi catch up on news from up here in the village… Another quiet Sunday passed off without incident. We went back to our old house and the area to see if we could see or hear Jack out and about, but there was no sign of him. As of Monday late morning he’d still not come home. I expect he is having a wail of a time beatings up all manner of poor cats in some neighbourhood; he’s not been in a good fight for ages.

Symi Greece photos

Village square, Sunday

Interestingly, it was nearly one year ago that we moved house. Since that time he has ventured out and about on only a few occasions, even though we have left our courtyard gate open for him in the hope that he will explore the area. He has done this in the past too, and returned the following morning or afternoon, on one occasion he came back after two days and on another we went and got him from the old house after three. There’s not a lot we can do about it really, he’ll come back if and when he wants to, or he may stay away for good and we may never see him again. He’s a cat. I reckon he’ll be back… at some point.

Symi Greece photos

Saturday sea

Apart from peaceful mornings and no need to clean out the dirt tray (we’ve just bought eight big bags of litter, so he’d better come back and use it!) there’s not been a lot else going on at the house. As you might have read, Saturday was very windy and so all shutters were closed and the house in darkness. Sunday was better and Monday I was able to open some shutters without fear of losing them, and was able to see sunlight again. The sea down there is calm, though not 100% flat as there are ripples coming in towards the shore. Apparently the Blue Star, held up by strike and wind, that was due in at 11.00 in the morning, didn’t come in until 3.00 the next morning – not sure which morning as I was asleep at all 3.00 ams over the weekend. The Dodekanisos, stuck here on Saturday, is back to normal and was in and out on Monday morning.

Symi Greece photos

Sheep not using their zebra crossing

It’s Harry’s name day tomorrow (Xronia polla all Xaralambos, or is that Xaralamboi?) but he’s at school; now he is at junior school he can’t really bunk off to attend his name day so we shan’t be going – feels a bit wrong to turn up without your godson, it’s like you’ve only come for the coffee and cakes. And that ‘not going anywhere’ is the only social entry in the calendar so far this week. It’s still very quiet everywhere, hardly anyone about it seems, but if this good sunny weather stays and things warm up a bit, I can see café-life returning to the village before long.

Symi Greece photos

Village ‘main’ through road, winter

Symi Sunday morning

Symi Sunday morning
Here we are, another Sunday morning and time to write tomorrow’s post. The wind has dropped. It was pretty blowy yesterday to say the least, all the shutters were shut and the house was buffeted all day and all evening. In the morning we managed a trip into Yialos to do some shopping and took a taxi back up (due to weight of shopping). This, as you will see from the photos, involved driving through the spray coming over the quayside as we drove along the south side of the harbour. The other photos from today were also taken on Saturday morning.

Symi Greece photos

In a taxi going through the spray, but who is driving?

It was a weekend with some film news in it. A friend of mine is involved in trying to get a film to Berlin in time for an extended deadline on the entry to the Film Festival being shown there in a few days. This is nothing to do with ‘The Thirteenth’, but instead to do with an entirely different project. The experience does highlight the need for caution and care when putting a film together. All to do with having the right paperwork and there is a surprisingly huge amount of it, and sound files matching visuals, having various copies of the film in various projection aspects so it will show all large screens as well as small and a lot of other things that, in the case of this film, were not readily available. To be fair, this film was a last minute entry brought in to replace an existing film entry that had to pull out (had they had more warning the ‘missing’ processes would have been completed in time). I’ve not got all the details but I know that their production office spent Friday and Saturday couriering copies of the film to Los Angeles, and then finding someone to upload it as the servers in the UK were not fast enough. Unfortunately, there were still some issues and so the film had to be finalised by Sunday and a copy flown, with a person, to Berlin to be presented. As I write this is still going on. But there is a point to mentioning this…

Symi Greece photos

The Dodekanisos sheltering at Symi where it stopped, unable to travel on, on Saturday morning.

And that is to highlight the need to be thorough, which ‘The Thirteenth’ producers are being with the visuals and sound design. The visuals on the film have been completed now apart from the credits, and the music and sound are being finalised methodically. So, if you were wondering what was happening with ‘The Film’ as it’s become known around here, the news still seems to be that it’s in the sound stage, which involves the soundtrack and the musical soundtrack. Then comes the colour grading and then comes the paperwork. It’s happening, I am told, but cautiously so as to avoid just these kinds of problems in the future.

Symi Greece photos

It might not look that rough but the boats were rolling around quite a bit

The other Sunday morning news is that Jack, the Alarm Cat, has gone for one of his wanders again. He had been a bit bored over the last week, and it looked like he was anxious to get out and about. Whereas he usually sleeps in or around the house all day (and night), recently he has been wanting to get on to the balcony to look at the views as if he wanted to get out there and join whatever party the local cats were throwing. On Friday, as one of us popped up to the bins to feed the strays, he slipped out of the gate (his only way out) and we’ve not seen him since. He’s often sat there looking at the open gate and not bothered to go out even if we have left it open all day, but on Friday he was clearly in the mood to travel. So later today, if he’s not back, we may go back to our old house to see if, after a year of living here, he has popped back there to see if lunch is ready. I’m sure he’s fine and if he can find his way there he will be able to find his way back here. Especially as our old house now no longer has a roof, as renovations are underway.

Symi Greece photos

A bit rougher

So, there will be more news on Jack as it breaks, if it breaks, and on the film if and when I get some, and of course the weather. I’ve also been writing, as you would have seen from Saturday’s post, and that short story is still to be finished, but I’ve also done some more Donkey work, slogging away at putting the words around the ‘everything else’ that this writing project already has: characters, plot, action, development etc. It’s a long job and the fun side of writing the story has already happened. That is, the plotting and development. Now I have to be in pure ‘adding word’ mode as I push on with it. So, with the shutters still closed (as there’s a slight breeze and it’s a cold one), and the gate open should the AC return of his own accord, I must now turn to the Donkeys folder and write at least another 3,000 words. So, happy Monday to you and here’s to the week ahead.

Symi Greece photos

A clear, cold day.

Throwing the stocking

Throwing the stocking
Here, as vaguely promised, is the start of a short story inspired by yesterday’s completely random search for inspiration (see yesterday’s post if you missed it). This is draft one, off the top of the head, with minimal thought or editing. And where the story goes from here is, at the moment, anyone’s guess. I have an idea and I may carry on and complete the story once I have figured out the point, shape and progression of it. But here, interspersed with random images, is the opening ‘set-up’ of a story called ‘Throwing the Stocking.’ It is quite long for a post so bear with it, maybe settle in with a cuppa and, hopefully, enjoy.

Quendon Hall, Essex. (My six times great grandfather, William Collen, was born in Quendon in the 1690s, but was a wheelwright, rather than a Duke.)

Quendon Hall, Essex. (My six times great grandfather, William Collen, was born in Quendon in the 1690s, but was a wheelwright, rather than a Duke.)

The Duke and Duchess of Quendon were known for their tireless efforts to uphold failing British traditions. The Duke was still the holder of the title of ‘Essex Conker Champion’ and had been since 1793. Now, over thirty years later, the much coveted trophy was still his to show off, remaining undefeated for many more years than any local conker opponent would care to remember. The trophy stood on his ornate drawing room mantelpiece, displayed with all the pride of a first born son, alongside other trophies he and his wife had been awarded for their efforts in mud walking, gravy wrestling and hobby horse droving.

The Essex Conker Champion trophy took the form of a tall, blue-glass vase, crafted with exquisite chestnut tree designs and showed a pair of ornately dressed aristocratic men beneath it, politely playing with their conkers. One was holding up his nut on a lace while the second was having a really good go at it with his own. Only the Duke polished or touched this trophy; even the footmen had to wear gloves just to look at it. It was the talk of every single after dinner conversation that had been held in the room for the last thirty years at least and was only brought out on County Conker Day when the Duke arrived at the autumn fayre to defend his title.

The Duke, shown here was a young man and still only an Earl, prepares for the first round with the aid of his occasionally faithful servant, Ezekiel-Ray.

The Duke, shown here as a young man and still only an Earl, prepares for the first round with the aid of his occasionally faithful servant, Ezekiel-Ray.

The day he had first won the trophy and title was as clear in the Duke’s mind today as it had been all those years ago. He had been a boy of eighteen, entering the seniors’ competition for the first time. The event was held on a balmy autumn evening, the same day that ‘The Reign Of Terror’ began in France (quite by coincidence). The ‘Young Earl’, as he had been then, had prepared his large conker meticulously. It was a ten-er even then, heavily vinegar-soaked and shiny, in fact, not unlike the Duke himself, had the vinegar been brandy. With the aid of his valet, the Duke and prepared himself just as meticulously, arriving at the event in his finest, most florid garments in order to impress the daughter of his uncle’s second cousin, the Lady Louisa Labouquet, who he knew loved to watch conkers as much as he loved to play them.

The competition had been fierce, there had been a dispute over shoelace-length and pendulosity and the Earl very nearly lost on a technicality. However, with Lady Louisa’s father, Lord Louis Labouquet, as the judge, the outcome was known even before the preliminary rounds were underway. The Earl’s opponent was disqualified for un-gentlemanly behaviour; having raised the unpalatable suggestion of cheating, the man was horsewhipped for simply saying the word. The judge, it seemed, was more impressed by the young Earl’s inheritance and title than he was with his technique. He was completely overwhelmed by the young man’s generous, some might say extravagant, attentions he had paid to his, let’s face it, rather bovine daughter, Lady Louisa.

The celebration of the younger Earl’s first win (the Earl and Lady Louisa are not shown in this painting; they were checking his conkers for signs of damage).

The celebration of the younger Earl’s first win (the Earl and Lady Louisa are not shown in this painting; they were checking his conkers for signs of damage).

On that great day over thirty years ago, the Earl had won not only the ample hand of his beloved in marriage but also the championship; a championship he had won every year since, using the same conker, now at least a forty-er. (There was a rumour that his miraculous conker was actually made of glass or stone. The Athenaeum, in 1808, had first mentioned this possibility; in 1814 the topic was cautiously aired in Lady’s Monthly Museum – Polite repository of amusement and instruction, but the claim was refuted in The Monthly Intelligencer one year later. The actual all-winning conker’s safekeeping place was a closely guarded secret. In fact, only the Duke knew where he kept it and only then on his more lucid days.)

The blue-glass trophy-vase on the Coadestone mantelpiece was, therefore and to say the least, the Duke’s pride and joy.

The Duchess, on the other flabby hand, had two pride and joys. The first was her daughter.

The Lady Sophia had gestated unnoticed in her mother’s womb for the full term. Her presence had been safely protected behind years of indulgence manifest as fatty folds and camouflaged under an adjustable corset, shift and three layers of expansive, unspecified garment that Lady Louisa always wore, even in her retiring chamber. The child arrived quite unexpectedly somewhere between the fish course and a stuffed widgeon at a dinner held to celebrate a visit by the Marquis of Bottom-Whallop in 1805. The Duchess put the sudden pains down to Cook’s stab at a syllabub starter and the embarrassing, not to mention carpet-ruining, gush of ‘waters’ down to the liver powder that ancient Doctor Scrivener had prescribed to her back in 1799. However, there was no easy explanation for what slipped out next. It took two footmen, the butler and two hastily summoned stable lads to manoeuvre the Duchess into the green drawing room. Once there, the gentlemen at the dining table were able to converse without the inconvenience of childbirth and Ivy, a long serving kitchen maid, was called to attend to the Duchess with instructions to bring clothes pegs and scissors. Ivy, who had been busy dressing the widgeon, had already given birth to twelve would-be kitchen maids and porters and knew her way around inter-course birthing. Sophia was finally served to the Duke and Duchess in the green drawing room at ten minutes past the port, a beautiful healthy baby girl.

Despite being born before the gentlemen had lit cigars, Sophia thrived and, as the years went quickly by, became the talk of polite society. Luckily for her she had not inherited her mother’s looks or cravings, remaining slim, divinely pretty and virginal to the very day. It was remarked, in pubic society, that she must have taken after her father. It was also agreed, in less polite private society, that she bore a great resemblance to the Duke’s chauffeur who was also rather slim and divinely pretty, but hardly virginal.

The Duchess’ glass and silver vial, here shown before it came into her possession, holding the remains of the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Duchess’ glass and silver vial, here shown before it came into her possession, holding the remains of the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The Duchess’s second great pride and joy was contained in a small glass vial she always wore around her neck. Sometimes it would be found floundering in her ample bosom, sometimes it clung to the precipice of her cleavage on a silver chain, at other times it was hidden in the folds of majestic though unnecessary garments the Duchess was partial to wearing. She was often seen clutching it while taking a stroll in the manicured grounds, or playing cards with ladies in the yellow morning room, deriving some kind of inspiration for life from its clear, miraculous presence.

The vial was about four inches long, cylindrical in shape, it had silver ends and a silver screw-top with a tiny diamond added later as its centrepiece. It was said to contain the actual tears cried by the Mother of Jesus as she wept at the foot of the cross and it reminded the Duchess every day of their oldest and most fervently upheld traditions; those of the Church. Had she known, of course, that what it actually held was the sweat of the local Abbot, scraped from him by novice teens during his daily steam in his private quarters, she may not have been so fervent about it. Strangely, though, the charmed liquid had helped at least one dinner guest back to their feet after a particularly tricky run-in with a halibut and so the Duchess swore by it.

The Duke and Duchess were traditionalist of the highest order, so when it came to the marriage of the unexpected and beautiful Sophia, their only daughter, there was no question about it: all traditions must be adhered to and all had their place. As the wedding day approached and everything was made ready, the Duke rounded up a group of the most handsome local squires and first-borns and invited them to the very old and traditional event known as ‘Throwing the Stocking.’ In their defence, a lot of the first-borns had no idea about this ceremony, as none of them were old enough to be married yet and secondly because they had never been to a wedding where the bride’s stocking was removed, let alone thrown. In this day and age it was more common for the garter to be thrown and, in some very avant garde households, even a bouquet of flowers. The stocking-throwing was an older tradition even than the garter-throw and many friends of the groom had been keen to see how it was played out. They were also, some suspected, quite keen to grab a feel of a lady’s hose in order to offer them a little preparation for married life.

A rare record of an actual ‘Throwing the stocking’ wedding tradition. Apologies for the small size of the image.

A rare record of an actual ‘Throwing the stocking’ wedding tradition (female version). Apologies for the small size of the image.

Thus, on this glorious day in June, the Duke stood at his mantelpiece beside his pride and joy blue-glass vase and addressed the cavalcade of well-dressed, though slightly bemused, younger men, all friends of Sophia’s intended, all from the county and all rather keen to get their hands on a lady’s stocking in some legal fashion.

To be continued? We shall see.

How to write a story (1. Inspiration)

How to write a story (1. Inspiration)
Back from yesterday’s lightning strike with some more of Neil’s photos taken in the hills the other day. These show some of the local animals and Symi views.

Symi Greece Simi

Classic castro view

I, meanwhile, am going to share an inspiration tip with you. This doesn’t work for everyone, but it can be fun to try. When you’re thinking that you want to write a story but have no idea where to start, head to your bookshelf (or someone else’s if you don’t have one) and come up with a set of numbers. These need to relate to what you have available, example: I have six shelves on my bookcase but the bottom one is filled with music, so that’s not going to work. So, I pick a number between one and five to get the shelf, then a number between one and about 20, the number of books per shelf, then a number between one and whatever the last page number is, then a number between one and say 30, to get a line. Then I’ll take the first sentence on that line, of the next full sentence along if there isn’t one and use that as the basis for my story. I’ll try it now:

Symi Greece Simi

This is a well photographed tree

Shelves: 5, choose 3 (down from the top, it’s up to you which way to go), books, 20, so I choose 13 in from the left. I came to ‘The Ingoldsby Legends’, a book from 1882, written by Thomas Ingoldsby (Esquire) and printed by Richard Bentley and Son, Publishers in ordinary to her Majesty the Queen. (I have some odd books on shelf three.) The Ingoldsby Legends is a collection of myths, legends, ghost stories and poetry written supposedly by Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor, actually a pen-name of an English clergyman named Richard Harris Barham. The book has 417 pages, so I have chosen page 262 because I have a 200 Koruna note on the desk from Prague and also a phone bill stating 62. I have the page, but which line?

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Always look for the details

Page 262 is part of a long poem titled ‘The Wedding Day’ and each page here has about 50 lines as it’s a small-print book. I’m going to choose line 16, as I can see the end of the date on the phone bill and it says 16. The line starts with a sentence that runs for two lines and so here, quite by chance is the inspiration for a story. I quote from the goodly Mr Ingoldsby (Esq.): “To dance at her bridal, and help ‘throw the stocking’, a practice that’s now discontinued as shocking.”

Symi Greece Simi

Such as a goat in a tree

This immediately suggests a rhythm but I don’t want to get drawn into a metered poetry style or a lyric, so I have to concentrate on the action and keywords of the sentence. Dancing, throwing the stocking, discontinued. That’s enough to give me a background and a feel, in this case humour. The throwing of the stocking seems to have led to something of a social gaff and the practice, at weddings, has been stopped. So, if that doesn’t give you a good, meaty ‘inciting incident’ as they like to call it in films, then I don’t know what will.

Symi Greece Simi

Rural Symi, a place of inspiration

And to the story. Did I come up with one? Well, no, not yet but if you look on these pages tomorrow or next week, I may well put something up. There will, of course be images of Symi which may or may not fit with the story I have yet to write, but then this blog is about a writer living on a Greek island, so you have to expect a bit of both.

Greek strikes hit home

Greek strikes hit home
I’m not here today. Like a lot of Greece, I am on strike.

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The Roukouniotis tree, Symi

But you’re okay, as I am writing this on Wednesday morning for you. It is the public sector unions GSEE and ADEDY who are striking, plus other craft, commerce and seamen’s unions who are striking, so possibly no boat for a while, though the Dodecanisos Seaways crews are, apparently, not unionised and so not affected. But on a lighter note…

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They know where the food is

It’s a very quick blog today. I have a chicken pie and biscuits to cook (separately) and so can’t hang around for very long today. I must go and strike the kitchen while the iron (oven) is hot and see if I can rally a striking meal for our dinner guest tonight. So, I will leave you with some of Neil’s photos of our Sunday walk, with more to come soon, and set about my duties.

Symi Greece Simi

Symi view

 

Symi Greece Simi

Symi goats

 

Symi Greece Simi

Singularly interested party

 

Symi Greece Simi

And the famous tree again

A Symi Walk continued

A Symi Walk (2)
Soldiering on and continuing Sunday’s walk… We passed by many herds of goats (who were wondering about wandering towards the open gate, no doubt), trees and terraces until we came to the smaller chapel of Ag. Raphael. It’s at this point that you can stand and look at the eastern sea and the western sea simply by turning your head, falling into a Narnia story and actually naming the water around your island ‘The Western Sea.’ You can see both sides of Symi, basically.

Symi Greece photos

Some friends still have to work on a Sunday

From here it is only a short walk to the monastery of Michaelis Roukouniotis and it doesn’t take long. You even have, as we did, time to stop and chat to Sotiris as he was tending his non-wandering goats, sheep and chickens. He was doing something with syringes and medicines and offered to give our party a shot, but we declined. We arrived at the famous Roukouniotis tree a short time later and had a photo opportunity.

Symi Greece photos

Standard Neil photo-walk behaviour

Symi Greece photos

Photo opportunity (where’s the wally?)

The monastery was closed, which was a shame though understandable. I’ve been in before though. Once before restoration, once during and once after, and several other times when restoration on the original 15th century chapel (I think 15th) was either being planned or going on. My first visit was on a Panormitis weekend (2002) where we arrived too late for main lunch but where we were treated to some soup, bread and wine. On Sunday’s visit, we sat in the sun and had a sandwich and crisps, plus water, before starting on the return trip.

Symi Greece photos

Lunch break view

Back up the road, past Sotiris’ goats on one side and the unfortunately (for them) placed abattoir on the other and I couldn’t help wondering if the goats knew what their view actually was. Poor things, they didn’t luck out on views. The slaughterhouse on one side and the army camp with all its weaponry on the other; surely they can read the not-so-subtle message being given here? Who knows? I think one chap might have worked out what the future might hold; we saw him further up the road in a tree. Perhaps he was thinking that he was safer up there, though I suspect he was simply grazing.

Symi Greece photos

A rare sighting of a Symi Tree Goat

Still, onwards and up the slight hill, passing the new wooden chalet that rather resembles a ticket office for a zoo, and which is surrounded by green netting for camouflage (presumably against the archaeological services). At the junction of road, track and path, we decided to head back along the road to Xisos and then take the donkey path, turning into it at the dog. Except he wasn’t there. But we took the path anyway.

Symi Greece photos

A view from the path

From then on it was plain sailing (walking) down the sometimes slippery path towards the village. It’s interesting at this time of year: the humidity can be high and we get lots of dew overnight. I woke up on Sunday with the windows, me and the top blanket dripping and wet with condensation. Out on the paths, you often see wet rocks and the path can be wet on one side and perfectly dry on the other, with a very clear ‘terminator’ between them. This is because some parts of the paths, steps, lanes, etc. don’t get any sun and is permanently in shadow at this time of year. Some people might think that it must have been raining as the paths are often that wet but no, usually it’s just dew. So, now you know.

Symi Greece photos

Hurry up!

We reached home ahead of target time – I thought the boys might have slowed us down, nut it was actually the other way around – and fell into a welcome glass of red before a late lunch. A perfect way to spend a Sunday and it also gave me the chance to take a few more shots, as did Neil, so hopefully over the next few days, you will get to see more of them.