We drive cautiously round the tight bend to a cluster of sleepy cottages growing out of a profusion of oranges and lemons. Rusty olive oil tins monopolise every square inch of space, vomiting monstrous geraniums and pelargoniums. Doors, window frames and shutters are painted in bright peeling blues and greens, with roses the diameter of saucers blocking out the blazing sun.
Lurking under the trees is a drunken road sign and there on the right, where a footpath is shown on the map, is a brand new unsurfaced road the width of the M1. The need for a route of such dimensions in this backwater is puzzling, but its surface isn’t. This is Greece.
A couple of crunchy miles along, defiantly standing its ground as though threatened by a Costa Café, is an isolated shabby vine-covered ancient hovel posing as a taverna. Nearby on the new road black nets are spread on the ground under a gnarled tree, to catch its olive crop. The nets extend half way across the road and are held down with very large stones, creating a dodgem section for the odd driver who should happen along.
For whatever reason, the road is a good three feet above the taverna, and there’s no provision of steps for the owners or customers, which makes it necessary to either slither or jump down the earth bank and take shelter from the heat under its pergola.
We sit to one side of the taverna door and the old couple sit on the far side. We are drinking our Treea beera parakalo? and follow that with Efkharisto as we thankfully clutch the cold beers, for they have no English but we have a Berlitz phrase book We also have change from the equivalent of £1 for three sizeable lagers.
Squinting at the limestone road, baking its dazzling self in the ninety degree sun, the old man (as all old Greek men, but never the women, are wont to do) is fondling his worry beads.
In half an hour the only traffic to sneak by is a chap with two bullocks on a long string. What with the heat, and the buzzy insects to break the silence, I fully expect Gary Cooper to come sauntering by, looking for someone to shoot.
Out of one eye I look at the luscious bunches of grapes dangling from overhead and out of the other at Spiro and his beads and wonder how anyone has the nerve to worry in such peaceful rusticity but more so at how the daily grind into Leeds City Centre would grab him. He’d need golf balls at least.
Beyond Spiro’s looms a mountain, dramatically fashioned by nature and clothed in flora almost to its summit. Its villages are reached by a series of Hairy bends, dropping away to infinity. The only indication of hazards and the severity of gradients is the positioning of shrines along the way. They are pretty little wooden structures in memory of the dear departed who went off course at that particular spot.
Tended with care they accommodate a variety of biblical images, a flame, and a Retsina bottle. The latter, contrary to first impressions, does not contain the wine but fuel for the flame.
Born in Cyprus around 270 AD, Saint Spiridon (Αγιος Σπυρίδων ο πολιούχος), the patron saint of Corfu, accounts for the number of men called Spiro on the island. He was also patron saint of potters and rid Corfu of a plague as well as doing other good works. He lies in state in the church which bears his name in Corfu town and on certain festive dates he is taken out for an airing round the town. If you visit the church, and it happens to be your lucky day, it will coincide with one of the occasions when the coffin lid is removed for you to view. I visited on one such occasion but being squeamish I passed on the chance to get up close and personal with his remains.
Our apartment has a shower room with bath towels the size of handkerchiefs. I have yet to see a shower curtain in Greece. They are as rare as teapots, patterned crockery and cows’ milk. It is a hand-held job with dramatic and fluctuating water pressure which guarantees the entire room, including the mirror and your dressing gown, are drenched while your body remains dry as a bone. And I do not even want to mention the warning notice not to put toilet paper down the loos. Why weren’t international diameter soil pipes installed in Greece the first place?
Central to the shower room floor is a drain the size of a fifty drachma piece. Rather than being a water egress it accommodates incoming lizards and the foor is built on a slant in order to carry water into the bedroom.
For a nation that brought us ancient philosophers, the Olympic Games, Zeus and Ouzo, it is strange that every other Greek workman is Heath Robinson. Even stranger is that if a fraction of their inefficiencies were to occur at home we would be consulting our local MP and firing off letters to The Times. Instead, it says much for their infectious relaxed attitude to life, that envelopes us the moment our feet touch their runways, that we simply laugh it off and keep going back for more of their genuine hospitality.
Featured image: Agios Stephanos, north east Corfu