Sunday 16 September 2018

Winter's Tales

Slogging Through Winter
(apologies to) Kay Nielsen, 1914

Winter this year has seemed so long. Just when you think the weather has turned a corner, the Frost descends again (well, out in Mum's neck o' the woods) and it's brrr!! in our warm-temperate city once more. However, I am pleased to report that two miserable & consecutive days of hay-fever indicate that Spring has indeed Sprung and it's time to take stock of my Winter Reading before I forget.

Books read this winter 2018

Top of the list because it's top of the pile is Patrick Leigh Fermor's dazzling memoir-of-sorts, A Time of Gifts. In December of 1933, at the age of 17, PLF set out with a rucksack, a sturdy staff, some reading and writing material and, wearing hobnail boots and puttees, started to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Armed with only his wits, his good manners and youthful naïveté, a blessing in the form of a gift for languages, and a stipend of a pound a week, he trudges through a European winter following a Romantic Path along the Rhine then the Danube and this book, the first of a later-published trilogy, finishes with him at the gates of Budapest as the spring of 1934 buds.

Along the way, he takes the reader on a rambling cultural and linguistic tour of the byways of the history, art and architecture of the places he passes, whilst his present-day encounters were of a Europe about to profoundly change. As my own European experience has clung closer to the shores of the Mediterranean, this is unexplored territory, and I shan't say too much about the vast amounts of time I wasted  spent in the later pursuit of fleshing out some of the cultural and artistic references, except that the interweb is great, isn't it? What I have not shown is the companion book to this bedtime read, The Collins Australian Pocket Dictionary, which I am not shy to say was extensively thumbed (and at 70,000 references was at times inadequate but far easier to wield in bed than our Collins English Dictionary, which at 162,000 references would have been the Better Choice).

For company and to while away the long hours of walking, PLF amused himself with singing and reciting prose and poetry. He lists (at over four pages!) his repertoire of memorised material, in English, French, Latin and a few "bits" of Ancient Greek, prefaced self-deprecatingly with, "The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiasms and the limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up."..."A give-away collection."
Unsurprisingly, for those who may not be familiar with the writer, he went undercover in occupied Crete during WWII as a crack guerrilla, living in mountain caves, masquerading as a local shepherd.

Verdict: Fabulous. Will be chasing up the next book, Between the Woods and the Water.

As a great coincidence, the Lovely L is also a fan of PLF,  and we were surprised and pleased to see at the Bernaki Museum in Athens this (southern) winter an exhibition of his wife's, Joan Leigh Fermor, 1950s Greek photos! And you will never guess who they were friends with? ...

Paddy Leigh Fermor

Margot Fonteyn & Freddy Ashton, 1951!

Margot in the Nuddy!

Ballerina Feet!

Back to the books: Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome was my non-fiction favourite for a whole host of reasons, such as History!, Rome!, Factoids!, Mary Beard!, etc. etc. I shan't bang on.

Verdict: If you love such things as well, do read it and it was worth waiting for the paperback edition to finally be published for ease of reading in bed.

A clutch of 20th-Century women writers made up the bulk of the fiction reads. I finally got around to reading my first Barbara Pym's: A Glass of Blessings and Excellent Women, which I adored for their quiet and amusing post-War portraits of women having small-"a" adventures in their small-"l" lives. Tea-and-gossip writing.

Ditto for the pile of (unphotographed) Maeve Binchy's that Mum lent me. From memory, there was Light a Penny Candle, The Lilac Bus, The Copper Beech and Scarlet Feather. Same sort of stories, just Irish and Catholic and a bit later in time. Thanks, Mum!

I found a copy of The Theoretical Foot by the celebrated American food-writer, M.F.K. Fisher, on the occasionally surprising, informal book exchange we have in the foyer of our apartment building. It's verdict is: Undecided. I did not find it witty, as the gushing blurbs on the cover claimed. It made me a tad tense reading it and I hoped for something more.

(I also thought I read Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green, but appear to have been mistaken, so it goes back onto the pile beside the bed. Duffer!)

Finally, I shall admit I read Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis and Hated It! It came highly recommended by the Effervescent R and declared a Must-Read whilst on my Greek trip. I did soldier on with it and got to the end but, honestly, the writer had to have been On Drugs while writing it. I did not like Zorba, nor the narrator, nor the bizarre and random violence. It appears that it's a much beloved and inspiring book for vast swathes of the reading public for more than half a century but I completely missed the point. The best I can say is that the cover did complement quite nicely a favoured taverna in Antiparos. Yes, I'm an Unlettered Philistine.

Zorba the Greek as a Greek-holiday read
I'm lost for words

Thursday 13 September 2018

One Man's Folly ...

... Is Another Man's Folly!

Many interesting things find their way onto my radar courtesy of the interweb, not the least of which is the occasional auction catalogue for various Goods & Sundries. Pictured above is a Victorian-era Folly which is coming up for sale in Paris. While my blog's creed does specify that No Money will be spent around and about these pages, I do anyway offer this up for your delectation on the off chance that your garden needs enhancing. We in the Pipistrello household have no need for such an adornment to our lives, and indeed this style is not in keeping with our Art Deco apartment block, so if your heart does quicken at the prospect of taking delivery of such a charming, ready-antiqued bit of Olde Worlde garden ornamentation, I should only be pleased for you to grasp the bidder's paddle.

This folly, which lived in the garden of the now-demolished Cowbridge House in Wiltshire, home to the wealthy tea trading Brooke family, can be yours in a couple of weeks for an estimated 120,000 - 160,000 euros - a mere snip at the price. The auction blurb tells us the commissioned architect was a Victorian favourite, one John Shaw Jr., but the accompanying Lifestyle Shot does indicate that it won't give shelter to many of your friends and family after all, so large gatherings about it will need to be had only in fine weather. It appears to be missing a couple of its original pine cones upon close inspection of the photographs, but that should not affect its value. Mr P. upon being shown this fine object, did ask the very sensible question, Do They Deliver?, but as always, the devil is in the fine print, so Postage & Handling will need to be dealt with at further cost, as will some rather hefty bidders fees, and you should ask about Assembly Instructions as it may need to be flat-packed.

If you are persuaded you need to make a Statement in your garden but don't have the room for the Folly, or your taste runs to a more Exotique Style, perhaps a Pair of Sphinxes would suit you better? These girls tick many boxes for desirability: they are French, sport terrific Hair, are a teensy bit Risqué, have some floral and fabric details and have their own frolicking stone chubsters astride them so you have no fear of the neighbourhood children climbing atop. Yes, there's a lot going on. They are estimated at about the same price as the Folly but any decent handyman about the home would be able to install them as it's a bit more obvious here which way up the pieces go, plus the auction house has helpfully offered up an accompanying photograph as a sort of Serving Suggestion:

If you are tempted by these offerings, I exhort you to be mindful of the phenomenon of Buyer's Remorse, which can afflict anyone in possession of a credit card, a computer and a bottle of wine. These items aren't called Follies for nothing!

Sunday 2 September 2018

Greek Series: Vehicular Taxonomy

Home-made agricultural vehicle
Fun with Leftovers
As may be deduced by my utter disinterest in the Automobile as a Genus, I neither drive nor indeed own a driver's license, so ordinarily pay little attention to the choices people make with their vehicles. However, there were a few notable sub-species that I felt were worthy of inclusion into my ongoing Greek Series. First up is this dapper gent, above, who has crafted his own ingenious work horse out of bits and pieces from about the traps. I am sure it has excellent off-road capabilities and it falls squarely into the Variety of Agrarian-DIY. In Australia he may be referred to as a Bush Mechanic.

Fiat 500 is a popular Greek choice for an economy vehicle
Ciao Gino!

 Even I could not fail to notice how expensive petrol was in Greece, (around twice that in Australia) so was heartened to see the very sensible and economical Fiat 500, a.k.a. the "Gino", absolutely everywhere. It is possibly the most popular car there right now (according to my unscientific observations) and the one and only car that holds any interest for moi as for many years and many kilometres this was Mr. Pipistrello's car, too*. This is a fine example of the Variety Eco-Sensible.

Three-wheeled utility vehicle in Greece
Three-wheeled Ute
These three-wheeler utility vehicles, or Tradesman's Trike, need no introduction to anyone familiar with labourers around Southern Europe. They are probably a modified Scooter as they sound exactly the same, but can accommodate up to two burly passengers and a tray-load of Masculine Miscellany and travel at the giddy speed of around a Brisk Walking Pace. I would suggest that all the three vehicles above are Varieties of the same same Species, the Modified Lawnmower.

Death Trap Scooter-Chic
Summertime Scooter-Chic
This duo are astride the zippy Mediterranean staple, Genus Death Trap, Species Scooter, which comes with a host of levels of road-worthiness and noisiness (the Italian Vespa, or Wasp, is such an appropriate name). As may be noted, the absence of socks on the pillion passenger is the only indication of the weather at the time - it was well over 30 degrees that day! - but they were otherwise stylish and comfortable. The helmet on the driver did surprise me as my recollection of the Grecian laxity toward road safety was embodied in my own experience as an eventually competent scooter rider on Patmos 23 years ago. (... Hey, T, remember when we actually wore helmets in those early days? What were we thinking??)

Fisherman's Runabout in Greek Harbour
From the Sublime ...

And so to the maritime Genus of private vessels, Mucking About With Boats: In addition to the Pleasure Craft sheltering in the harbour, we have these little examples of the variety Fishermen's Runabouts, with a strong flavour of the DIY-modification about them, too. Amazing what you can do with a row boat and a couple of wooden boxes. Just add an outboard motor and you could be a sea-going scooter rider!

Luxury cruiser in Greek islands
 ... To the Ridiculous

If your eyes are good enough, you may see that this example of the variety Maritime Luxe bears the name "Christina O." Yes, that Christina O. (Pipistrello and the Lovely L did not get an invitation to drinks aboard this, ahem, Billionairess' Runabout but did get to spy upon it while relaxing on a beach after working as navvies on the Despotiko dig one day). Looks like she may be in possession of all the mod-cons.

Port Chaos on Paros at night

Finally, just a fun shot to see what it looks like when man, beast, car, scooter, articulated lorry and roll-on-roll-off ferry get together at a port. Lovely L and I wove our wheely-bags between this tooting and honking chaos as we disembarked the Blue Star ferry, the Patmos, on Paros. Of the 6,000 Greek islands, what was the chance that our ferry for this trip was named after the last island I visited, so long ago?

* I did enjoy being chauffeured about in Gino, with his cream paintwork and red leather seats, but we have gone even more eco-sensible these days and are now car-free, and Gino was put out to pasture.

Bats In The Belfry