Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Coming home

Back home now. The heat and energy of Greece seems a long way away. I was in the lobby of the hotel at 5.45am on Monday, and the others gathered - two needing calls to wake them! We took some fruit from the dining room, stashed our bags into the not-quite-big-enough boot and drove quietly away. The water in the bay was absolutely calm, it seemed terrible to be leaving.

In the back seat one of our passengers was strident - what name had we given the voice in the satnav? How fast were we going? Shouldn't we be more to the left? More to the right? Could the window be opened? Closed? Would it be better if she drove? Why couldn't she take the wheel? What did we mean - insurance? What insurance? Surely that roadsign said Athens?

We had the mountain road to ourselves, stopping for a pee and a coffee at a garage. The man produced two Nescafés instantly, and then brewed two Greek coffees on a tiny meths stove. He also gave us each a ring of hard, slightly spicey dry bread, and a glass of water. Patrick took over the driving. On and on we went, through the magnificent mountains, with those wild flowers thronging the verges. We reached the sea again approaching Epidavros, with islands scattered in the mist and the water still calm. Again we whizzed over the Corinth canal, looking so small and grubby - that is the impression it gives now. On the motorway, thank goodness the traffic was light. On the outskirts of Athens we stopped again for breakfast - fragrant fresh orange juice, delicious little warm sweet pastries, a dull baguette, and coffee. Patrick took an opportunity to say to me what he thought our strident passenger was all about....

I had no address for the airport to hand and the satnav could only direct us to Athens Centre, so we switched the voice off and followed the airplane signs. We saw a horrendous traffic jam on the other side of the road, and ambulance lights - thank god our side was clear. We had to get two of us to check-in by 10.30 or 11am, and a hold-up might have been expensive. But Patrick cruised us in to the Car Rental carpark, we handed the car over, sorted the paperwork and said our goodbyes. The other three headed up to the check-in, and I put my case into storage and rang my friend in Athens. I took a bus into the city, feeling really exhausted, and the day grew hotter as the X95 headed into the traffic.

I had a short walk to the Benaki Museum - past the big government building with the pom-pom guards slightly ludicrously on parade at the front, and then into the blissful cool and quiet of the National Gardens. Birds were singing, girls pulled boughs down to smell the blossom on the trees, old men disputed on benches, a middle-aged couple in the shade of the café terrace looked lovingly into each other's eyes... A tiny paradise in the heat of the city.

I crossed the road to the museum, passing a police bus parked right across the road, and a line of officers with lots of guns and riot shields in front of them. A small group of rather academic-looking people held up a huge banner - something about Europe. Slightly scary. Across the road I went into the Museum, once a private house and now a marvellous rich collection illustrating the whole history of Hellenic culture. This must be one of the best museums in Europe - focussed, calm, confident, accessible, friendly and rich. It was filled, filled with wonders which I cannot describe here, but I urge you to go there as soon as you possibly can. When I left, they gave me (on request) two beautiful books - a set of essays about the provenance of some recent acquisitions, and a catalogue of the replicas they sell in their excellent shop.

My friend came to pick me up, in her new Mini-Cooper. She explained how protesters like to demonstrate in that particular street because the King used to live there. She cruised effortlessly through the mad traffic, completely at home. She took me to lunch in the Dionysos restaurant looking out to the Acropolis, and feasted me with divine wine and salad and fish... a superb meal in one of the most spectacular places in the whole world. I cannot really describe how I feel about this generosity - it was amazing. We talked and talked, about our friends and their recent calamity, about our children, about Greece and Greek culture. She said we could go on to another museum, with more ancient artefacts - and when we got there, we had a parking place directly outside the door which seemed miraculous. We felt we had someone on our side - but, the museum had closed its doors just two minutes before. Alas.

However, it seemed sensible to make use of the time by having some refreshment, so we sat in a cafe and had ice-cream and orange juice... and carried on talking. Then she took me on a leisurely journey through the city, past the university, out into the suburbs towards the airport. The driving we encountered was unbelievable - manic, mad, dangerous, stupid, terrifying, unbelievable... but she took it all in her stride. The light on the land was shining - she said, this is one of the marks of Attica - the famous, glorious light, which she misses every time she is away from her country. I could see why. Saying goodbye was almost impossible. I wanted to stay forever, in that light and heat and that friendship - but of course, I had to go.

I had lots of time at the airport, felt unhurried, bought something light to read as my excellent C. Darwin might be just too much. Two new friends from the conference tapped me on the shoulder - they were on their way home to Brussels, looking tanned and smiling. My plane was called. I chose my seat near a window. We left on time, with some space around us. We flew right over Athens, then up the Adriatic with the coast of Italy visible all the way. Venice lay glittering beneath us, like jewellery. Then into the darkness of the mountains, and light sleep, before we circled down into London. Cold, cold wind, darkness. Something rather ratty and tired about the North Terminal at Gatwick though it is not really very old... but the carpets are worn, and the ceiling panels are loose and dirty. Andrew arrived from Brighton to meet me, and we cruised home. How odd Faversham looked, after all the Greek style of things, even though I had only been away for six days. Home. Bed. Sleep.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Hotel, scenery, food, etc

Writing this in the hotel lobby as people prepare to leave after a very successful conference. Some are staying on to enjoy the pool, beach, food, views etc. This is an exceptional hotel - very very friendly and offering superb service and help, and wonderful food, at a very reasonable price - low even!

I am leaving at 6am with three others in the car, sharing costs. I am so fortunate as to be able to meet up with my friend Daphne who lives in Athens, and can take a little time off work, because we will be at the airport before midday for someone's flight, but mine does not go till 9.30pm. It will be a long day!

This morning I walked with another delegate up the lane beside the hotel, through some old olive groves, to see the view from the hilltop. Things are clearly changing with villas and new houses appearing in the fields. One house had beautiful flowers all around and two very large barkign dogs, who aroused their owner's interest. He came out to see who we were and told us he had lived there for 12 years but it's now getting like France, he said - with burglaries all the time. He has wire fences and his guard-dogs to help. Trouble in Paradise.

We just had a wonderful buffet lunch on the terrace, with Greek salad to start (of course), this time varied with tiny little cheese pastries, and red cabbage chopped raw into the lettuce. And there were freshly cooked octopus and deep-fried mushrooms on the hot table, with masses of other options. Yummy.

After farewells and all that for the people leaving this afternoon, I shall go to the pool and catch a few rays. If I have the energy I can wander into town and shop - but, really, why? I saw some very nice handmade pottery the other day and wondered if I might take some back, but - well, I don't need them. It all has to be lugged back, too.

This has been a very heartwarming, international, successful meeting and everyone is pretty much on a high. We have made new friends and plans for the next one next year. I certainly hope to come here again, privately or otherwise. It really is lovely.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Porto Heli - the place

Porto Heli – being here

Today (Friday) I spent a lot of time alone, though I am not sure why. I saw others in groups going and doing their thing in the time before the conference starts, but somehow I didn't find the courage to join them, so after breakfast and admin (posting yesterday's account online) I set off to walk to the village.

It's a lovely place, untouched by the worst aspects of modern so-called development and I was told that select millionaires have houses here for that reason. Sean Connery has a house + helipad just up the hill, and the man who invented Bic biros owns an estate on one of the headlands protecting the bay.

One of the first things I saw on my walk was a signboard for tourists showing where the restaurants are etc, and I was very struck by how circular the bay is. I wonder, I wonder, is this a drowned volcanic crater, or perhaps like one of the huge circular depressions such as we saw yesterday? No information is immediately available but I would love to know.

While I stood and looked at the aerial view on the noticeboard, I was approached by a group of three people, who turned out to be an old Greek lady, very pretty and in sunglasses, and a man and a woman - slightly frazzled looking Norwegians. They were Jehovah's Witnesses on the prowl. They offered me the Watchtower which I declined, and told me about their mission. She took out a bible all in Norwegian and asked if she could read some to me... I agreed, wondering which text they would employ. I expected something from the book of Revelation, but it turned out to be the beginning of Timothy 3, an account of the Last Days. As she read it, people would be obsessed by money and outward things, terrible problems would be seemingly insoluble. No-one would be grateful for anything and children would refuse to obey their parents. This struck me all as very funny – a blatant attempt to make me feel worried and guilty. I wondered how to respond, whether to ask if they thought all this insousiance and wickedness was discernible in me, or whether I was supposed to feel that all this was directly relevant to me in any other way. I said, it seemed to me that people must have read these words and recognised the problem every year since they were written two thousand years ago, and would continue to do so for the next 2000 years. Anyway, I thanked them and walked on, leaving them looking even more despondent than they had been at the beginning. Maybe they thought when I agreed to chat at the beginning that they had a possible convert here. Wrong.

I saw some ants running about on the pavement and thought how much these missionaries and I myself were like these ants, programmed to do what we have to do, and not really able to deviate much, once we have a belief we choose to hold onto. Deep, eh? I walked on.

Boats line the quay in a haphazard way, with huge gin-palaces moored next to ancient fishing boats. There is a lovely replica galleon ready for tourist trips, and many small yachts and motor-sailors, and boats for hire. I saw some fish, though not many and mostly very small, in the slightly murky waters. It takes a while to work out that you can actually see quite a long way down into the water, as it is not crystal clear... but I think I would swim in it.

I walked along the wide boulevard behind the quay, with cafes and various shops of not much interest to me, up to the little orthodox church out near the edge of the houses, then on along a path round to the next bay. How peaceful and lovely it all is. I sat on a rather tall bench swinging my feet like a child, and contemplating a lot of things. For a while I felt quite sad but cheered myself up with the recollection of my good fortune to be here, and then sat there for a while reading. What is my book? Well, in this centenary year, I have been reading 'The Origin of Species' by Charles Darwin. I find it quite hard going, because it is (to modern tastes) quite heavily punctuated, though he does relax a bit once he gets going. It is like being in the company of a very wise old uncle, a retired professor perhaps, someone so completely at home in his subject that he can take great detours round an idea and expect you to keep up, no matter how long the sentences. But, my goodness what a read! It is fascinating, exhilarating, informative, challenging and exasperating in turns, and also funny and rather transparent. He did not know, of course, about DNA, but time and again he approaches it, pointing out the facts and oddities of inheritance. And he is almost literally in love with the wonders of the animal and plant worlds, the perfection of the eye, the magic of fishes' tails, the huge list of adaptation which the swim-bladders of fish have undergone, the probable beginnings of seals' flippers, the paradox of upland geese still having webbed feet, how some kinds of ants enslave other kinds, and more. All the time he is on the lookout for what (we now call) creationists would say, and why their arguments are insufficient. No wonder this book took the world by the scruff of the neck and the world is still reeling in shock.

I read a little, turned back, fought off awareness of a blister maybe starting inside my sandal, thought about lunch. It seemed a good idea to head back to the hotel as the day grew hotter. On the way I rang my bank to find out why I was unable to use my card. I must say, once they had checked out that I really was me, they did do the biz and after about eight or nine minutes of talking and also waiting for the next person to come back to me, they did switch my card back on. The wonders of modern technology.

I went into a supermarket which was a rather calmer version of our own dear Tesco at home with almost exactly the same brands in the same arrangement of shelves, but with my gourmande eye open I quickly found some local honey to bring home, and a jar of olive pate, so Andrew is is luck. Back at the hotel I ate a delicious Greek salad bythe pool (the chef being one Steve from Northampton), and then went inside for the first meetings of our conference.

Now it's bedtime. I could stay downstairs and talk with some of the others who have gathered here from all over Europe, but I could do with some quiet time. Here in my room the only English-language TV is BBC World News which does its best to fulfill Jehovah's Witness prophecies, being full of disaster and doom in a maddening torrent of truncated stories, all jingles and bluster, and nary a smile or a moment of cheerfulness along the way. What a bloody waste of time and effort. The BBC used to be THE BEST and now it's reduced to jamboree of dread, pain, violence, corruption, humiliation, snippetery, and confusion. Oh woe! (Didn't I say 'Eheu' yesterday?)

Ooh, I forgot to say, I bought a lovely sarong thing – raspberry pink and white, and wore it this evening and everyone said how nice. Now I am going to bed with Charles. We have just finished a very good chapter called 'Difficulties on Theory' and will be starting the next chapter which is called 'Instinct'.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Porto Heli - first day

Day two in Porto Heli.

Wake to see the dawn over the bay, shower and go down to breakfast on the broad terrace overlooking the sea. Not sure where to sit, whether to join a table or sit alone, which is what I do. I have brought with me (at Andrew's suggestion) my own home muesli and glad about that as the cereals offered are either cornflakes or chocolate cornflakes. Plus of course they have a buffet with a great bowl of yoghurt, one of peaches, a tray of biscuits, and a hot buffet of eggs, bacon, etc etc, and platters of cheese, breads, ham, croissants, etc., and fruit juices and teas and coffees... So I have one orange juice, my wholemeal muesli, one tea and one banana. Fab.

I am joined by Michael, a Dane who lives very near my own uncle and aunt in Espergaerde, or however it's spelled, in Denmark, and in fact he knows their house. He is very polite as most Danes are, and stops eating if I am speaking, so I have to make sure he is not about to eat some of his bacon if I want to make a remark. We have a very interesting talk about loads of things and by the end of the meal when everyone is disussing what to do for the day, he and two other people have agreed to come with me up to Epidavros to see the shrine of Asklepios. The others are Viveka, who travelled with me yesterday from Athens, and Toni, a plucky widow from Bayswater. We set off at 10.30.

We head off back up the road by which we arrived yesterday and it is a long way. Michael was here last year and took the trouble then to explore some of the countryside so he points out things we had not noticed such as a series of absolutely massive circular holes, collapsed caves apparently, on the side of a mountain. These holes are at least a hundred metres across, possibly bigger...the scale is difficult to assess at a distance.

We see a woman on a donkey, sitting on a raised saddle softened with a sheepskin. She looks young, is wearing black, and riding side-saddle. We pass a flock of long-legged sheep being taken down the road by a shepherd walking behind them, no dog. He waves us past.

The car park for the archeological site is huge and despite this being early in the season there are already a dozen or so coaches there. Hordes of young people swirl past us as we walk up through the pines towards the entrance. Toni and I go to the loo before we go in – immaculately clean, spacious, managed by a charming lady who offers us extra wipes as we are drying our hands. We buy our tickets, 6 euros but reduced to 3 for Toni who is 83, and walk up the granite steps and paths to the theatre.

It is colossal. Not having bought the guidebook I don't know exactly how many it might seat but I guess a couple of thousand. It looks to be almost complete – with about 34 ranks of seats, and each of the 12 segments holding about 15 seats in the top row. The front row of seats has special curved benches offering a little more comfort and a lot of swank. The place is filled with children or teenagers – all excited and calling out to each other, clapping, waiting to be able to stand in the middle of the stage and DO something. Groups sing and the audience falls quiet. Two youngsters - skilled dramatists already – perform a piece, which looks as if it could be from the Oresteia for all I know – and again the audience falls quiet to listen to them, a young boy and a girl, acting out a very adult argument, something ancient and universal. They get one, two rounds of applause. A teacher tries in vain to hush her group sitting right up at the top – she is dropping a coin onto the stone in the middle of the stage to show them how perfect the acoustics are. We can clearly hear it tinkling. My initial irritation at having the place so overrun with these rowdy children changes into a deep pleasure as I realise this is how such a theatre should be experienced. The young are a living recreation of what the audiences must have been like when it was being used for real, and some of them are so obviously passionate and engaged with it, while others are just running about and enjoying being there.

Eventually we move off to the rest of the site, seeing the stoney remnants of all the buildings which were first 'discovered' in the 19th century and are now being partially reconstructed. A hostel area, square but divided into two halves, presumably to isolate people with contagious illnesses. Another large square area for ritual meals (or possibly a gymnasium complex) with a 'fountain' or spring behind it, and with colonnades down each side offering shade. The Romans later built an Odeum in the middle of this space, complete with its own little theatre seating. In a widened water-valley the builders created a stadium for sports, the valley sides offering excellent banked seating – first in some sort of bricks and later in fine stone. The Tholos is one area they are rebuilding, in blissfully white marble – a circular temple devoted to the chthonic mysteries of Asklepios, where marvellous statuary was uncovered. ('Chthonic' is one of my favourite words, look it up.)

We saw the Abaton, where only the sick were allowed in (their families banished to worry in the theatre, no doubt), while the invalids purified themselves with special well-water, read stone inscriptions about what was to happen to them, had to sleep the night – their sleep represented the death of their disease - and during the night, something happened.... the god visited them and brought healing. The god was originally Malos or Manateas, later Apollo, later Asklepios, and later still supported by other gods – Aphrodite, Artemis and Themis. The Romans plundered the site, then pirates attacked it, then the Romans came back and took it over and revived it, but under the various blows of Alaric Goths, censorship by Christian emperors banning cults, and eventually a couple of good old earthquakes, it fell silent.

It is a prehistoric site - Mycenean at least, possibly older - with great phases in the 5th, 4th and 3rd centuries BC - which kept going till the sixth century AD, in a beautiful protected valley, spreading out under trees and at this time of year filled with wild flowers and bees and butterflies. I can only describe it as ecstatically lovely, and no wonder that is why it was so successful. They had all these herbs, and the sense of place to help them. Medical instruments were found here, and it was a place of learning as well as healing and just thinking about all the thousands of people who came here, the families as well as the ailing – these all had to be housed and fed and entertained in some way. Holiday, healing, learning, catering, exercise, news, religion, faith, duplicity, fame, disaster, everything was here. I was not surprised to see Aphrodite's name here – no doubt love did a good trade too. Even today, tourists come along to gaze and wonder and frolic as we saw in the theatre. I loved it. We wandered round, watching the workmen fitting a new piece of stone to one of the huge columns in the Tholos, looking at the flowers, marvelling at it all.

At 1.30 we had lunch in the restaurant which is so convenient – salads and I had a pasta to see what it was like. Too much.

We drove home back down to the coast, full of thoughts. We saw another woman on donkey, again in black, riding like a queen sidesaddle on her sheepskin saddle, high over the donkey's back. Michael diverted us to see one of those huge collapsed caves – down a little track between olive trees, then into a steeply descending entrance of rough whitewashed stone steps inside a pretty little enclosure of railings. We went down into the earth itself, chthonic indeed. The path twisted and turned with light barely visible from the other end, and the rock ceiling above us getting so low we had to stoop. We emerged into the side of this huge circular hole, with the rough, loose, red, stoney, friable rock all around us. The stairs took us to a path which led in either direction round the bowl. To the right, a tiny whitewashed shed (chapel) with icons and a simple iconostasis. To the left the path was narrow and pushed between shrubbery. The rock walls towered above us, but also pushed out over us so we were literally underneath these slabs of pebbley stuff, which had huge cracks in it, and to either side we saw huge amounts of this stuff which had fallen in the clearly recent past. I hated being there. It was all too clear how dangerous it was. Michael led us on, and there was another little chapel, directly opposite the first. A hawk flew up from the bushes. I tried a little call - and the Echo came back, making me even more afraid this might start a rock fall. We hurried out. There was no signage there, no indication of how old these extraordinary holes are. I will have to look it up – are they 10,000 years old or 1,000? They could be collapsed cave systems, but I'd like to know if the basic rock is volcanic or sedimentary, and why are these holes this huge size? Toni did not join us on this little expedition as she said she is claustrophobic, but I thought she was very wise. She turned back to the car the moment she saw the entrance.

I was glad to get back to the hotel and the sea again. It was a marvellous trip no doubt but I had done all the driving and it was tiring. So I came up to my room for a rest, worked on Wedndesday's blog, changed, and went for a swim. Beach or pool? I will try the beach another time. The pool was cool and perfect once I had done my self-abusing thing of getting in slowly. I talked with another swimmer, Marie and said 'Who'd have thought it? Here I am in a millionaire pool, in a land of Biblical beauty, having the time of my life?' and she loved this and has been quoting it to everyone and so now today (the next morning) people have been quoting me to myself.

We ate at the Taverna next door, generally agreed to be the best-priced, friendliest and nicest food in the village, so I have not yet been to the village just a few hundred yards round the bay. That is for this morning. Some of the others were going to stay up and talk but I came home, rang Andrew, and then crashed right out.

Please comment if you want to! Means I can connect with you.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Getting there

Awake at 3am, trying to think of everything I need to do, pack, finish, arrange. Dopey in the dark, stuffing things into my case. Andrew remembers I should take my own fave muesli (Dorset spelt) and that goes into my case at the last minute. Befrore 4 we are off, collecting Duncan en route, as he is catching a plane about the same time as me, to his house in Turkey.

The roads are empty, we get to Gatwick in good time but instead of Duncan and I being able to share a breakfast, I need the North Terminal and he the South. It's all so huge now. I remember my first visits to Gatwick when it was just one large room. Getting through all the security systems is as time-consuming as ever, queuing, taking off shoes, packing make-up into small plastic bags, being given and then giving back little bits of cardboard. Hardly any time to grab a paper and a bottle of water, though I do snatch some sunblock at Glamourville or whatever they call the make-up sales area.

Patrick – my unknown fellow traveller – has preceded me to the gate. He is determinedly laid back, about where we sit, where we are in the queue, etc. The plane (Airbus 319?) is luckily not totally full and we have a bit of space about us, sitting either side of the aisle. The flight is smooth, we arrive 10 mins early, our bags reappear in exemplary fashion and we emerge into a long hallway. Our car-hire booth is not far along the corridor... The child on duty inside is efficient but hard to understand, and we struggle through details of insurance, what is or is not covered, excess waivers, drivers' details, passports, deposits and the lack of a GPS system. Eventually I go and buy first an atlas (23 euros) and a satnav (269 euros) because I spent quite a long time the night before trying to navigate our route through the mountains of the Peloponese, and the thought of driving bad roads in an unknown left-hand drive car in a country with a mad alphabet has scared me too much. This purchase turns out to be a great help.

We wait for the planes to arrive from Copenhagen and Amsterdam, bearing the two other people who we hope will share the drive and car-hire costs with us. We don't know either of them. Patrick has their names on 2 pieces of paper, but he's been waiting at the wrong place and I rush to intercept the first batch of people emerging into that long hallway. I pounce on one or two single women who look as if they might be coming to our conference, but they stare at me blankly when I demand 'Are you Viveka?' Then I see her, undoubtedly, I think, she is one of us. And she is! She looks very like my sister Sheila, in fact more like Sheila than I do, and she turns out to be Swedish (although on a flight from Denmark), and I wonder if her style is something Swedish and accounts for sister's look.

We grab a coffee and roll from a not-brilliant-but-welcome stall, and sit in the smokey atmosphere, sizing things up. Tiredness and stress are beginning to make themselves known and I am anxious about the drive ahead. Eventually Karen arrives and we buy more water bottles and set off to the car. It seems a long walk, though only 200 metres, because there is a massive, huge, dark, sweaty, rolling, banging thunderstorm advancing on us, and fat drops of rain start to hit us. I hear Karen behind me asking loudly how far it is to the car. I have no idea...I am heading for the car-hire park, with its flags fluttering, somewhere in the distance.

The car turns out to be not a Ford Focus as imagined but a BMW and the first problem is we need to pull it forward to get our luggage into the boot. But how to start the damn thing. No ignition, no visible means of starting it. A lorry driver stops to help us...the fob itself is inserted into a little cave in the dashboard. Then you press a large, well-labelled button saying START STOP. Duh! I knew that.

We try to pack our 4 bags in, and they barely fit. Thank god we fixed to book a 4-door car and not a 2-door. A man comes and explains a few more things about the controls... the lights, the amazing engine cut-out controlled by the clutch. Many of my readers will know all about these things, but to me they seem like miracles and wonders. We have only a smidgeon of petrol but the garage is not far, we are told. My passengers ask me if I am a good driver and I assure them I am, but this car is so different from my own tiny Fiat 500 and so loaded it all feels very heavy. We edge out into the traffic. We get to the garage, and after wrestling to get into reverse so the filler is on the right side, I start to put petrol in. Or rather, nothing happens. At that very moment, no doubt triggered by the huge storm, the electricity in the garage completely cuts out. The attendants shrug, spreading their arms in a classic and comic gesture of ignorance...

A Frenchman says he knows nothing. We wait, and then I ask how far to the nearest next garage. 10km a man says, on the Makmoura road (something like that). So we set off again into the furious traffic streams, not sure if we have enough gas, and not sure where we are going as the satnav is insisting on saying nothing helpful either.

However we find our garage, I luckily have enough cash to pay for it as none of my cards work in the Shell machine, the satnav starts to say where we should go, and we get going. I start to feel more at home with the controls, and we pick up speed, only to hit a massive traffic jam. I am worrying we won't get to the hotel in time for the wedding.

Along the motorway to Corinth with no-one is really obeying lane discipline, I suddenly notice that the little white van ahead of me has a logo on the back, one among many. It is the Al-Anon logo, the circle in the equilateral triangle, red on white. I suddenly know everything is going to be alright. With lots of loud driving instructions from Karen in the back seat, we get to Corinth, passing huge smelly industrial sites along the way, and crossing the Corinth canal almost without noticing it. How small it looks. I remember our ship the Dunera squeezing through it when I was on a schooltrip to Greece in about 1963, and it seemed a mighty work of engineering then but now, with modern roads sweeping across it, it looks like a grubby backwater left over from the Industrial Revolution. How sad, or since I think this is the right place to say it: Eheu.

We turned south toward Epidavros, and stopped at a roadside cafe for a pee and a drink of water. Viveca bought us each a banana. We saw in the loo that paper is not to be flushed down but put into a bin. Patrick took over the driving, announcing that he had not driven in Europe since 15 years ago, and that as a motorbike rider he hates driving cars. This last stage of the journey was a slightly scary trip along mountain roads of very mixed quality, steep edges, spectacular views, empty landscapes, with hardly any people around except totally mad Greek drivers coming round bends very fast and not always on the right side of the road. We saw areas of burnt forest, and gradually descended to the coast, arriving at the hotel at 6.30. My room is lovely, facing the sea, with a balcony. Patrick came to show me how the lights work (all based on the key of course, which just as with the BMW) you have to slot into a hole in the wall for things to happen.

I unpacked, showered, went down and bought a glass of wine from the bar and wandered out onto the restaurant terrace to look at the sea. How totally lovely it is. Diana and Dodi were here in this very bay in his yacht immediately before the fatal trip to Paris. Because access is so difficult and winding, it's not really very developed at all, and very old fashioned.

I was introduced to the bridegroom Dermott and some of his family and the other people here. A lot are Irish and not only sound it but look it – those unmistakable Irish faces. I thought David's Jo would probably know someone... We drifted across to the beach just across the road, and there as the sun headed for bed, Dermott and his beautiful bride Tammy made their vows and lots of people talked about how it had all come about. It was completely lovely. We had the sun setting over the water on one side of the sky and the moon just risen on the other. Boats lazed at their moorings nearby, the waves tumbled lazily onto the sand, and we headed lazily back to the banquet prepared for us. The whole hotel is very clean and newly painted, lovely colours, nothing too flash, just simple and elegant and comfortable. There was far too much food, lots of music to dance to including some very basic Greek Zorba-type stuff with fancy footwork, and an adorable two-and-a-half-year old little girl in best dress having the time of her life, watching everything, dancing, joining in....her speciality was a kind of break-dance in which she sat on the floor and twiddled round on her bottom with her feet off the floor. Enchanting.

I was in bed about midnight, exhausted. What a day.

(That was Wednesday 6th. Loading this up on Thursday 7th from the hotel lobby, and I will write my account of today later on. We went to Epidavros). Now going for a swim.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Solo to Greece

I am off on my own tomorrow morning, to Porto Heli in Greece, for a conference. OK - the business part runs from Friday to Sunday but I've booked a bit of time either side to laze about. As a preparation for my visit to the pool or the beach, I have done something I've never done before, and that is book in for a fake tan. Wow! The results have been most gratifying.
I went to my lovely facials-expert Lynn Taylor in Whitstable last night and she exfoliated me more or less all over, and then applied some brownish muddy looking-stuff, promising it would mostly wash off with my shower in the morning, which it did.
I am left looking really bronzed. I don't usually go this brown even after a long summer but everyone assures me it looks brilliant. At the yoga class this morning they advised I should not tell anyone about what I have done but hint I have just come back from a naughty weekend in the Bahamas....
Well, maybe, maybe not.
I think I'd better wait and see what happens when I dive into the delicious-looking pool at the Nautica Bay Hotel - will I be surrounded by a horrid tell-tale cloud of tan washing off into the water?
Another friend told me how she had done this fake tan thing once, and (as she is not an avid sun-worshipper) she alone of her friends got steadily paler as their holiday progressed and her tan washed off.
Anyway, you get the idea - I will at least look fit and glowing when I arrive and as long as I cover myself in sunscreen to make sure I don't get burned, I will probably get away with it.
I was disappointed that the ferry service from Piraeus is so much cut back this season, so that there is no practicable service to get me to the hotel in time for a wedding which is happening tomorrow in the early evening on the beach. So, a group of us will meet up at the airport and share the hire of a car to get us there.
The wedding sounds wonderful - two people I have never met but who were kind enough to include me in their party when they heard I was going to be there.
I am so excited about it all.
Right now, I should be packing and remembering all those stupid bits and pieces which make a trip easier - plug adaptors, passport, phrase book, something to read, toothpicks, blah blah blah, and I have some French homework to do - practicing the conditional tense I think - but I thought I would just get this posted for you.
When I was 60 last September, someone emailed me to say '60 is the new 10' and by George she was right. It's a gas. I just feel I can (at last) be myself, go places, muck about, say what I want. It feels rather risky and hedonistic, but so what? I guess this is how lots of people live their lives all the time, fully engaged with what is possible, and not always worrying and feeling guilty.
When I get back next week, I have at least two excellent projects to come back to: the exhibition of icons at St Peter's Church, Oare, as part of the Canterbury Festival ( and for which I am on the committee, and helping to promote the start-up of a new arts venue in the middle of Faversham this September. Both these projects are the result of literally years of dedicated work by other people and it feels very positive to be asked to help them at this stage, when we need to get public involvement.
The arts have not been particularly well-served in Kent, compared to what we saw when we were in Germany and Barcelona recently. And going to Greece for a few days, to see where so much of our culture sprang from, will be another boost. It would be lovely to spend more time there but maybe this will be just a little taster for further trips in the future.
Next time you hear from me I should be in Porto Heli.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

More hits

At the last count, our little video on Youtube has had over 11,000 hits, amazing. Now i've put some more footage up there, this time about the wonderful world of Henry Dagg, our neighbour in Faversham. Specifically it's about his present work - the Pin Barrel Harp commissioned by the English Folk Dance and Song Society, almost too complicated to be described and worth a view...just put Pin Barrel Harp into the search box and see the six little clips up there. Those are steadily accumulating hits themselves.