Thursday, 28 July 2011

Hellenic Heaven

My sinuses are not what they were. I am helped to smell and taste through a variety of daily antihistamines and steroid nose drops. Flying therefore is torture and the pain of the pressure as the plane starts its descent makes me cry.
“Excuse me”, I asked the Thompson stewardess, my head sandwiched between my hands, my face screwed up in agony, “Could you please give me a boiled sweet to help me swallow?”
“Sorry, we’re not allowed to provide sweets. Choking hazard”. I uncapped my ear in an effort to hear her properly.
“Choking hazard”, she repeated.
“Choking hazard? But only half an hour ago you brought a trolley around and offered me a bag of peanuts. Forgive me, but on a choking scale, I do believe peanuts are notoriously more apt to get stuck in your lung than a Fox’s Glacier Fruit.” She only shrugged her shoulders and repeated the advice to swallow.
My 9 year old daughter held my hand, “Don’t worry mummy. We’ll be there soon. Try this. It really helps” and she opened her mouth as wide as Maria Callas in full aria and then, stuck out her tongue, far, like a Moari Warrior and wiggled it around. Surprisingly, it was very comforting and much to the great embarrassment of my 15 year old daughter who thought I looked like an imbecile, I continued these facial exercises until the plane touched down in Kefalonia.
Within less than an hour burst ear drums were a distant memory as we had disrobed and were frolicking around the pool at our accommodation. Now, most normal people, especially those with young children in tow, would have stayed put around that pool for the week, perhaps occasionally venturing to the beach or a local tavern when the sun finally set and it had become slightly cooler but, as has been demonstrated year after year, I am not particularly normal and the minute my little red, Hyundai was delivered, we started on an odyssey that would have made, well Odysseus want to unfold a sun lounger in surrender and take a siesta.
I drove over a thousand miles in the last week but, had I not, we would never have experienced the white knuckle experience of driving down the precipitous hair pin bends of various mountains to reach the deep phosphorescent turquoise seas beneath.
“Bloody hell mum”, said my daughter, her throat constricted in fear as the passenger seat overlooked hundreds of feet of nothing as we made our descent down to Myrtos Beach, “Stay in the middle of the bloody road”.
Had I not driven, neither would we have found the most exquisite little town of Assos, and bought honey from a weathered, ancient old man, who sits at a picnic bench under an olive tree, selling his jars of home produced honey day, after day, after day. We wouldn’t have meandered late at night, around the narrow streets of Fiskardo, licking our ice-creams, our sea-salty, bedraggled hair and sweaty, cheap cotton clothes a million miles away from the clientele of this very glamorous town, who looked at as disdainfully as they sipped their fancy cocktails in the fancy restaurants that twinkled around the little harbour.
Had I not hired the Hyundai, we would never have found remote beaches where, liberated from the eyes of other, more conservative bathers, we removed our cozzies and went skinny dipping, the fish scurrying past, mortified by our luminescent, white bodies.
Greece is a wonderful place to go though if, in a bikini, one does not strike the iconic look of Ursula Andress emerging from the waves. The Greek diet of oil, pastry, cheese, and bakeries selling all number of cakes steeped in sticky syrup and stews of stifado, kleftiko and gyros has put paid to Greek ladies being the skinny cows that one might find in other holiday destinations. Sure, there were several tourists who looked sculpted and brown in their itsy-bisty bikinis, but on the beach, surrounded by locals, great big hulking women with equally itsy-bitsy bikinis, I cared not a jot in my British Home Stores, stripy tankini.
The latter part of the week, saw us drive further afield again and for the first time, utilise the air conditioning in the car. For days we had endured the intense heat but had driven with bottles of cold water to keep hydrated and the windows fully open. The windows open option, not only isn’t particularly effective when the temperature is 41 degrees but it also plays merry hell with your coiffure, so that hair that is already matted and salty, once it has been blown dry by the elements of the Greek sun and wind, ensures that by the time you reach your destination and you emerge from the car, you look slightly deranged and not a little unattractive.
We refreshed ourselves with a dip at the beach in Katelios and, later, sipping an ice cold beer at a beach tavern, I remembered that I knew a lovely Cornish woman who owned a villa near by. Texting her wildly in excitement, she responded immediately and insisted, even though she was at home in Cornwall, that I find her house. We went in search and minutes later were knocking at her door. Her guests couldn’t have been more charming or better mannered. We must have looked quite a sight, four dishevelled females gate-crashing their dinner but this other Cornish family welcomed us with open arms, an infinity pool and chilled white wine. It was perfection; a movie star house, nestled on a hill side, the sea down below, the island of Zante far in the haze on the horizon.
As we drove back to our very basic apartment later, my eldest daughter, in awe of the company we had just kept, said “They had a cook! Mum, we haven’t even got a cooker”. All the better to eat out my dear.

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