Categories
Moving

A World Away

I recently returned from five days on The Rock. The Rock is a hard place of barren beauty, indubitably physically attractive and compelling. It’s an Aegean must-see. And this long weekend was no exception for the now-familiar visitors: the luxury yacht guests; the day trippers; the stopover holiday crowd; and the refugees.

Marvels of naval architecture grace the outlying bays by day, where their guests swim, jet-ski, kayak and paddle before heading for lunch at a beach taverna or on board. By night, those private vessels small enough approach the main harbour, when, twinkling, sparkling and glittering, their lights add to the glaring shop and street illumination on land. Idling by, some of us try to go through the looking-glass, speculating on who we’d meet aboard these modern wonders of the world. Others, smelling the cash (and heady on the aroma), trip over themselves to entice that money into their business.

The vast bulk of people see The Rock for the first time as day trippers on excursion boats. Emptied into the hot cauldron of the harbour, organized groups recover awed breath (lost at first sight of the harbour), put cameras away and look around for their guide. The guide who’s going to tell them ‘all-about-the-island’ whilst leading them past sponge and herb retailers at a pace suitable for product placement (not for dawdling), before plopping them down, hot, laden with ‘facts’ and shopping, at a restaurant. Food, under starter’s orders, leaves the kitchen as soon as the group arrives. Later, some may choose to take the little train around the headland to enjoy the views, the breeze and cheesy music. Others may cool off with a swim or at a bar until departure time. Many are back on their boat well before it’s time to set sail, having ‘done’ The Rock and it having ‘done’ them, too.

Those of us who choose to stay awhile spread ourselves out over the few hotels, numerous holiday rooms and apartments. Slowly but surely over the years, the choice and quality of this accommodation has improved. With restrictions on water supply, however, its density is limited – which, of course, adds to its attraction. The Rock is a holiday destination which also attracts a certain competitive element. Loud, alcohol-fueled, conversations detail the speaker’s belief in their intimate knowledge of the island and certain of its inhabitants. One visit more, one year earlier, than their audience and they’re content. For all of us who choose to visit, for however long and since whatever date, the sheer beauty of the place and its environment helps steer us past certain human anomalies.

The island is a welcome relief to all of us, none more so than the refugees. For years now, people smugglers have dumped those who could afford their extortionate fees on or offshore and fled the scene. The hapless folk left to fend for themselves in the perilous waves and on the treacherous stones are soon found. Sometimes, just in time. For those of us fortunate enough to be entitled to the right passport, the return taxi-boat fare from the harbour to the island’s southernmost beaches is €14. For those others, it is currently €4000 one-way in unspeakable conditions. Holidaymakers and locals take care of the people for whom that beautiful view is breathtaking for completely different reasons. Once found, they are taken to the police station, given medical treatment and looked after until they can be moved on. From the arched first floor of the police station, men, women and children from Syria and Afghanistan look out over the luxury yachts, the neo-classical architecture and the Aegean and wait.

In this world and yet not of it: we all escaped something during our stay. The Rock is a world away.

Categories
Making

The Causative Have

It’s been years since I last taught in a language classroom. I don’t miss it, though I did enjoy it. I still hope my students learned as much about life and language through study as I did through teaching. This week, I have been reminded of a feature of the English language which often gave learners difficulties: the causative have. We have something done for us.

We started out in life having most things done for us. Ideally, we then weaned ourselves off this dependence to a stage when we could do most things for ourselves. That is, until a decline in acuity dictated an increase, once again, in dependence. Exceptions were the rule; if you were wealthy, for example, you could pay to have anything done for you at any time. However, this pre-dated built-in obsolescence.

Many consumer goods (and human relationships, but that’s another story) are now seen as automatically disposable. Bought in the moment, that supercheap dress from the high street will see you through a couple of summer parties before you throw it out, right after you change out last year’s smartphone. In real terms, we’ve never had it so cheap. Or have we?

Here, I must state that I am a pre-dated, unreconstructed causative have fan. Why? I was raised to take care of myself and to take pride in that. I was also raised to take care of my belongings. I own very little, but what I do have is useful and/ or attractive. With my eyesight failing, my to-have-done list is growing. I am lucky enough to be living in the same place as skilled people who can help out.

In Rhodes, in the south-eastern Aegean, it is still possible to find a (wo)man who can. I hope that their days are not numbered, but know that their numbers have dwindled over the past thirty years as the juggernaut of consumerism has rumbled through. So, what reminded me of the causative have? A dress and an earring.

I had a favourite pair of earrings and lost one in London a few years ago, I couldn’t bear to part with the remaining earring and so, eventually, found a silversmith who could make another one. The small workshop is run by a father and his two sons. They did such a great job, it’s impossible to tell which earring is the replacement and which one the original. Even better, I couldn’t have made it myself for the price (as my Gran would have said).

More recently, I bought a dress from a charity shop in London. Saw it, liked it, took it. It didn’t fit, well, it did, but not the way I wanted. Returning to Rhodes, I asked around for a tailor and was pointed in the direction of an unmarked house down a side alley in the medieval part of town. Inside, there sat a very small elderly man at a sewing machine in what appeared to be chaotic conditions. It was organized chaos. I told him what I wanted and he did exactly that. In fact, he did it so well that I couldn’t see the difference until I tried the dress on at home. Gran would have been very pleased with the cost, too.

So, I had an earring made and had a dress altered. That caused me to meet new people, learn more about my surroundings, mind my language, save money and smile.

Categories
Moving

Ship’s Biscuit

Before a sea crossing, I find it always helps to be hydrated and to line the stomach. Those who are carb-phobic, look away now. Yes, the ship’s biscuit is the thing – minus weevils, of course (unless you’re truly desperate for protein). Ship’s biscuit can be toast, plain cookies, potato chips or crackers and it does the trick. This also helps, incidentally, on other occasions when you might be feeling bilious for all sorts of other reasons – but that’s another post for another day.

I don’t get seasick – so am a very fortunate island native and dweller, but for some odd reason I do like to tempt fate (as in so many areas of my life). Last night, knowing I would be taking the boat to Symi today, I decided to go out for a drink (or two-ish). I’ve long passed the stage where I needed Dutch courage to face The Rock again, so can only conclude that this now-developing habit is to test myself (Am I really immune to seasickness? etc.). Luckily, last night’s test was way short of April 2012, when prayers and talking to someone about their terminal illness (scuppering my self-pity very successfully) were all that prevented me from throwing up as we hit the waves.

I had a reasonable night’s sleep last night, though Daft Punk on a loop at 3a.m. with ‘Get Lucky’ didn’t make me feel very fortunate. A very detailed, very good dream woke me up smiling anyway. At 6.30, I checked the shipping news by looking out the window and watching a couple of yachts and a cruise ship pass the lighthouse. Hmm, choppy and windy. I packed for my two-frock-trip, took a cold shower, closed the shutters (in a, probably, vain attempt to keep out lizards and an intrepid kitten) and left the yard. Departure was delayed slightly by my getting a three-day pass.

I went to have ship’s biscuit and coffee with a friend en route to the harbour. We chatted as we always do, and, once the world was put to rights, I left. However, I forgot to use the bathroom – big mistake, boys and girls, big mistake. Parents are right to tell you to go before you go. They so are. I was on the boat ten minutes before departure and found a comfortable seat on the air-conditioned lower deck in the middle of the cabin – proud of myself, I was budging for no-one. The Pride was bursting with people and I knew that, once we set sail, all those enjoying the view on the top deck would soon be coming down below to avoid seaspray and falling overboard.

I sat tight, the boat glided past the lighthouse and the captain put his foot to the floor (yes, I do know that’s not the correct nautical term). This is when I discovered that not only had I forgotten to use the bathroom while I had the chance, I had also forgotten my headphones to drown out the sound of children screaming and the general public vomiting. I sat tight, the boat bumped and bounced while I recalled last night’s dream in an effort to distract myself, and hoped no-one would throw up over me (or even within olfactory range).

Well, I survived today’s self-imposed test (with the no-headphone variable) and set foot on dry land to head directly to the butcher’s wife’s rooms. My room wasn’t ready, the previous occupants had just left on the boat that brought me in. The cleaner took my bag, gave me a key and said I should come back in an hour. I went for a walk around the harbour, marvelled that there was (a) a breeze on Symi and (b) that the breeze was cool. Then, I remembered I needed the bathroom, urgently. I arrived at Elpida’s to hear her husband had sailed for Datça – so, I used the bathroom while she got news that he’d arrived in Turkey. She then brought me coffee, juice and ship’s biscuit (this last unordered but guess I looked like I needed it). It’s done the trick. I’m now going to my room…more from Symi later, people.

I first posted this on axrhodes on 31/08/2013