Sunday, 31 July 2011
Thursday, 28 July 2011
Unless you’ve been living on the dark side of a small sub-planet in the quietest corner of Alpha Centauri, you can’t fail to have heard about
So, you’ve made it to the city that gave birth to democracy more than 2,000 years ago. That in itself is a good start. It means that no air traffic controllers, port workers or other disgruntled group has conspired to prevent your arrival. Welcome!
Looking around, you may be a little surprised. The news headlines have prepared you for a city in uproar, pulsating with protestors and police, and a country crippled by constant strikes. Instead, the scents of souvlaki and jasmine on balconies are stronger than any residual whiff of tear gas. The trains, buses and trams are filled with Athenians on their way to work every morning. Folk in shops still smile and are as hospitable as ever.
Greek society has not imploded. Life goes on.
Industrial action and noisy protests have featured strongly on
Locals take it all in their stride, and use their wits to make a mere inconvenience from what some might consider a disaster. So, here are some tips on how to minimise the impact of any strikes during your visit.
A little bit of knowledge can save a whole day of heartache. Most strikes are announced in advance. In addition to TV and radio news, many Athenians rely on Greek-language websites like apergies.gr for regular updates, and reliable English information can also be found online. Check out livingingreece.gr/strikes or the English pages of Greek daily newspapers like www.ekathimerini.com.
If you are staying at a hotel, just ask the front desk staff about any strikes that might disrupt your plans.
Avoid hot spots
The angry riots that have filled the world’s TV screens are the exception, not the rule, and are generally limited to a few key ignition points. The whole city is not in turmoil when BBC or CNN show protesters hurling stones and street furniture at riot police lined up in front of parliament. Just a few blocks away, it’s business as usual with people serenely sipping coffee and reading the paper in street cafes.
The main hot spot to avoid when outrage is in the air is Syntagma Square - the front yard of Greece’s Parliament, and where the ‘Indignados of Athens’ have gathered in mostly peaceful protest since late May. It has also been the scene of occasional clashes with police when a small minority gets physical.
Staff at your hotel should be able to give you an idea of what areas to avoid.
Flexibility is key. When a strike scuppers your plans, consider the alternatives.
If you turn up at the Metro station to find the shutters rolled down, think about taking the bus or tram instead, as it is rare for the entire public transport network to be closed at the same time. The Athens Urban Transport Organisation (OASA) website – http://www.oasa.gr – has information in Greek and English.
If you do find yourself stuck in the centre, take to the streets.
If you arrive at
But if you’re an adrenaline junkie who’s been lured to
That’s one sure-fire way to experience Greek passion first hand.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
Smell. It’s the poor relative of the five senses, yet perhaps the most evocative. Few of us think about it, but our lives would be so much poorer without it.
Just a whiff of tomato plants immediately transports me back to the greenhouses of my English childhood, where the glass panes entrapped the giddy scent of the vines and their rapidly ripening red fruits. The scent of fresh sawdust and wet mortar whips me down a wormhole to days spent playing around one of the building sites where my master-builder Grandad and his gang were hard at work. And the sweet smell of baby shampoo takes me back to the first days of my teenage son’s life, when I used to love to sniff the freshly-washed blonde fluff on his head after his evening bath.
I really only started to appreciate my sense of smell when I quit smoking five years ago. Along with the frayed nerves and flu-like symptoms of the first month of withdrawal from the devil weed, I noticed something much nicer…
…I could SMELL EVERYTHING!
It was as if the tiny hairs and receptors in my nostrils had been plunged into the deep freeze for a couple of decades, only to be slowly awoken in the ‘bain Marie’ of my newly smoke-free status. Within the first fortnight, I knew the minute I walked into the house that we had left an overnight mosquito-repellent tablet plugged in all day. I became an aroma junkie, obsessively breathing in the scent of fruit and veg at the grocers before selecting them – and summarily rejecting anything that smelt of nothing. I was even caught on a couple of occasions sniffing close friends and family.
The stages of most lives can be characterised by distinctive scents. So here are my seven ages of smell:
Fresh-mown grass, bicycle chain grease, mud after a downpour, Dad’s aftershave, Sunday roasts, the cloud of hairspray and perfume at Mum’s dressing table, allergy cream, a sponge cake cooling in the kitchen, the delicate aroma of Nana’s rouge and lipstick when I gave her a kiss, orange squash lollies from the cavernous freezer, Matey bubble bath, the earthy scent of a cuddle with Grandad after a day in the garden, freshly-baked shortbread, the summer stink that wafted across the fields when farmers sprayed with fertilizer, pencil shavings, blood, Dettol and apples.
“Charlie” perfume, Indian ink, the chemical sharp edge of Sun-In hair lightener, greasy lipsticks left on the windowsill, wet schoolbooks, stale cigarette smoke on friends’ clothes, joss sticks, that ‘old man’ smell that refused to leave the army coats we bought from charity shops, second-hand books, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, dried watercolours, a new sketchpad, stinky hair-removing cream and far too much deodorant.
Carbon paper, alcohol, the first whiff of a lit cigarette, hot metal and ink from a printing press, paper dust, the marigold-reminiscent scent of petrol, facemasks, hair mousse, my first culinary experiments with soy sauce or oregano, garlic bread, wet hair, the summer reminder of that bottle of milk that spilled in my first car, vodka & orange and “Rive Gauche”.
Scented candles, pretentious dinner party menus, newsprint in bed, ground coffee, the musky scent at the nape of his neck, red wine, sausages burning on the barby, his aftershave, fry-up breakfasts on Sunday mornings, someone else’s sweat, the comforting scent of his favourite t-shirt (the one you wear to bed when he’s away) and his & hers “Bulgari”.
The unbeatable aroma of a new-born’s tummy, heavy nappies, washing powder, regurgitated milk, Sudocream, boiling water to sterilize bottles and dummies, that unmistakable “I’m cooking up something in my nappy” scent wafting from the cot (usually accompanied by a knowing grin), infant’s hair, Johnson’s baby powder, Dettol, burps and pureed carrot.
Home baked bread, the whiff of over-heated electric cables, anti-acid tablets, moisturising cream, herbal tea, jam, eye gel for those pesky bags, tiger balm, saffron rice, damp laundry under a hot iron, foot lotion, the smell of fellow passengers on public transport and lavender plants.
Who knows? It’s yet to come… ...but I supect it will include scents from all the previous ages. Not least Dettol, old books, favourite t-shirts, baby powder, moisturizing cream and anti-acid. But hopefully there will also be the scents of newborn grandchildren, fresh baked shortbread and tea too.
Tea, after all, is the scent for all ages.
Friday, 8 July 2011
Dear Greek countryside,
Whoever said you were quiet and peaceful? Well, whoever it was, they were wrong.
Isn’t enough that I was rudely awoken by the rattling cry of a hooligan magpie and the sclatter of battling cats outside my bedroom door at 6 this morning?
But I’m an optimist and try to be philosophical about things, so I got up, grabbed my laptop and headed for the balcony to make an early start on work, surrounded by your early morning bounty.
All was well…. ‘til I settled down with my cup of Greek coffee (the type you have to sip slowly over a couple of hours if you don’t want a choking mouthful of coffee grounds) and starting reading my first emails. Serenity reigned (due in part to assorted family members we share this country hide-away with still snoozing gently) and I was ready for my morning productivity surge.
But then, just as I started going through with the latest magazine proof with a proverbial nit-comb, all hell broke loose!
The local cicadas woke up, en masse, with a sudden onslaught of synchronised chirping from the pine trees all around. We’re not talking a gentle chirruping here, we’re talking high octane, high decibel rhythmic waves of noise. Though weird looking, cicadas are harmless and strangely wonderful – especially when you learn the story of their life – but boy do they make a racket! They must be the metal heads of the insect world.
And if that wasn’t enough, the panic-stricken wood doves then decided to join in the cacophony. We’re not talking the gentle cooing that punctuated the more idyllic summer days of my English childhood – these are pigeons with attitude. Their cry is an aggressive reminder of their presence, probably tinged with the angst about
And another thing, how’s a girl to concentrate of the finer details of document when there’s the sight of a pine-covered hillside rolling down to the sea to distract her?
But you know me. I’m a trooper and I’ll battle through, despite your attempts to lure me away from my Protestant Work Ethic.
Until, at least, our date on the beach at the end of the day.
In eager anticipation – cos you know I love ya!
Thanks so much for the cup of coffee. I appreciate it, I really do.
But please understand that when I'm trying to work, I can’t sit and chat about the latest exploits of Kyria Mina’s daughter’s next-door-neighbour or the intricacies of the best pasta flora recipe.
I know you’re pleased to see me after so many days. I’m delighted that we get on just fine, but please try to understand that although I am physically in front of you on your balcony, in every other sense I am somewhere else.
The last thing I need when I’m trying to argue my case with a colleague in
Your (mostly) dutiful but slightly off-centre English Daughter-in-Law.
Dear Battling Neighbours,
You really need to chill out.
Don't you know that so much anger is bad for you?
I've been listening to your screeched exchanges of "Go to hell", "Get out of my face", and much worse since the early hours - and I'm pretty sure that all the houses within a square kilometre know that you are definitely not the best of pals.
But please, can't you just put your border disputes and screaming matches to one side, and simply enjoy being here?
Don't make me come down there, alright?
You may not know this, but hell hath no fury like a middle-aged Englishwoman whose peace has been shattered by someone else's all-too-public arguments.
Dear Battling Neighbours,
The "Anglida nyfi ths Kyrias Renas".
I really don’t have time for this, you know. You’re old enough to work things out for yourselves and I really shouldn’t have to play referee to your cousinly squabbles.
And for the last time, switch off the ******* Play Station and get outside to get some fresh air!
Your loving mother and auntie.
If I called you a beach, I hope you won’t be offended.
I know I haven’t been round to see you enough – it’s been WAY too long. But I’ll be there soon. Just save a spot in the shade for me to hide my pallid, puffed-up bod after a much-deserved dip in the briny.
I know I'm not at the office today, but believe me I'm hard at work. In fact I bet I sent my first email before you had your breakfast. Honest!
Your humble servant - remotely but nonetheless professionally.
Friday, 1 July 2011
Dear People of Greece,