An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Georgia - the next part

They stood slightly stunned for some few minutes as figures entered and exited the lobby space. Most of the players on this stage were dressed in a relatively casual manner - casual for London certainly - and only the odd one or two carried folders or files. They heard the rain restart behind them and a flash of reflected lightning lit the lobby. So far, not one of the transients had seemed to notice them let alone stopped for them - they moved like purposive ants, inexorably.  A man entered the lobby behind them coughing loudly and stamping his feet and they glanced around: dressed entirely in black and sporting a wide set of grey handlebar moustaches, he was without doubt a farmer and from the south.  Before he finished stamping his feet he was shouting at the passing players: demanding to be attended. A short, squat woman in a well tailored twin-set and with the oddly barbered wiry hair that women of a certain age in Crete favour she stopped a youngish man with a handful of ethernet cabling in his left hand and a clipboard in his right who had been scurrying by with his eyes down-turned and directed him to deal with the noisy, noisome, farmer. She exuded a clear and direct authority and so, as one, they moved toward her. She was to be their helper in this warren - whether she liked it or not she would help them.

She beamed as she watched them approach: standing her ground she beckoned them on, her face a picture of welcome. They wondered privately whether they would ever become accustomed to the amazing transformations that tough, big featured, scowling Greek faces underwent when a genuine smile came over them. "Hello, my name is Evanthia, the weather is foul, how can I help you? Are you lost? You are English, yes?" she announced in a confident English". There was barely a trace of accent in her beautiful soft voice and that came as something of a shock. Undeterred, the woman of the couple stepped forward and held out her hand, "I am Gill and no, we are not lost. We are English and I want to become a farmer. I hope you can help me kyria Evanthia."  Evanthia nodded at the formal address and regarded the two of them and turned toward the stairwell, "Please follow me to my office and we shall see what we can do". 

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Critics and democracy

I've been using a new website recently - one sponsored by the Arts Council of Great Britain - that is supposed to be resource for unsigned and budding writers. I was drawn to it by the chance to have a professional review of my work but that would only be possible if my work was highly rated by other users of the site. The idea is that you do a bunch of reviews of other people's work in order to be able to upload your own work and have it reviewed by some of those other users. If those users rank your work as one of the best of the month you get a professional review! Simple huh?

OK - the first impressions were not great - it's a plug ugly site to start with. Second up how do I find out what I can upload? Well that is far from clear and after a lot of trial and error it turns out you can upload short stories and opening chapters of novels. So what about novellas? Nope. Experimental forms? Seems not. Poetry? Nope. Right - not perfect but  I decide to try it anyway but then can't discover what formats you can upload - and until I've done 5 reviews I am not allowed to upload anything so I can't find out that way. I join the site and request my first piece to review. Surprise, surprise, the first thing I get is not matched to my reading profile - children's fiction - what do I know about children's fiction? Not a lot since it is a form of which I do not approve.

I plough through these chapters - an arduous process and get to the review process - wow. I get a set of categories to rank on a 1 to 5 scale - multiple choice - wow. Use of Language? Plot? Pace? and so it goes on. Once I've done that I get to write a review - not less than 100 words and try to keep it "balanced" - interesting idea. OK - so I do all that and then I get a real surprise - a reading test - 5 questions that the author sets to ensure that I've actually read the piece! Do they think I'd review something I hadn't read? Clearly they do.

The second reading assignment comes and this one is romantic fiction - WTF? Am I Barbra bloody Cartland? It's atrocious - balanced?  And so it goes on through 5 pieces - I bear it all and play my part, wondering all the while who he hell is going to review my stuff. Worse still I get to wondering what the hell I'm going to upload. I finally plump for a very straightforward short story about a donkey (you may have read it) that has a somewhat novel first person plural narrator - it's about as traditional as my stuff gets and until I know what formats the upload accepts I'll play it safe.

And so, eventually, I rack up the necessary 5 reading credits, being as positive and constructive as I can be. I even do a couple of voluntary reviews of highly ranked pieces to see what else is on offer - to be honest I could hardly credit the quality of the stuff I was being assigned. Much better but hardly bleeding edge.

Now I'm ready to upload my simple little short story. I've even worked out 5 really silly question for the reading quiz that mandatory reviewers have to complete. I go into the upload process and suddenly I find that I have to cut and paste the text of my story into a form on the site! Hyperlink lookasides?  Nope. Parallel textual threads? Nope. Good job I chose something really simple. None of the rest could I ever do justice to using this method. Up it goes and I sit back and wait for the reviews to come in.

Here's what I've had so far - I've done a couple of more mandatory reviews to qualify for a few extra reviews of my own work:

 Review By: Sapper

I love stories like this, Papalazarou, so easy to review. The descriptions of the old men, cafe and dusty Crete were superb - so hot I fancied a glass of Gazoza myself (I take it that Gazoza is alcholic - I wound'nt want to find I was ordering lemonade!) The writing was a joy to read and like only one other I've read on YWO in that it was more like painting a picture. For the technical criticism how could I not give straight fives. A couple of points which in no way detract from the tale '3 men' would be better written as 'three' after all it's not an inventory of the cafe's clients! Also "...away from the bones or thick,..." did'nt scan too well.
Very good tale.

Review By: adrian-dunsterville

Some very decent evocative prose, tinged with purple at the edges no doubt, but pleasantly poetic to read on the whole.

Telling this tale though, the author has taken a few liberties of POV and omniscience. For example, the POV change that allows us to witness in detail the donkey dismemberment. And the omniscience that allows us or the narrator to know everything beyond "This man is of the land" about our donkey devotee. This wouldn't be a problem perhaps but for it then undermines the sense of having the narrator narrate this. Clearly it's the author's choice but one could argue that in pure story terms, it's not the most direct or honest way of telling it.

I do appreciate the hazy heated atmosphere and a certain dusty timeliness, don't get me wrong.

A few more paragraph breaks and shorter sentences would I think make it easier for the reader.

I didn't at all times buy into the cafe proprietors superb grasp of English. But what do I know?

Review By: marlathome

This is a very unusual story well written. The characterisation and settings are evocative and authentic - I am very familiar with Greece: not the tourist Greece but the Greece beloved of Greeks and can attest to the accuracy of this portrayal. Familiarity, however, is unnecessary since you bring the landscape and its people to life with such astonishing attention to detail. In many ways, you paint a picture with your words. Well done for that.
The story itself is secondary to its characters - there is no real plot as such, in my opinion, but simply the gentle and sometimes dramatic passage of life. This may not be to everyone's taste on this site, I'm afraid, but I found your work to be thougthful, poignant and uplifting.
There are a number of punctuation problems that you might want to take a look at - no capitals after full stops etc. A niggling point but one which breaks of the flow of the narrative and also something that will be pointed out time and again in your reviews if you don't fix it (very tedious!).
I liked this story and look forward with interest to reading more of your work.

Review By: sls

Hello - I enjoyed the story. It's well written and the characters are engaging. The description sets the scene nicely.

I found the narrative memorable - I have been thinking about it since I read it. It has been thought provoking, which is a sign of good writing.

Being an animal lover I did find it hard to come to terms with the fact Pavlo dismembered his donkey - but there you go I'm squeamish about such things.

I did notice a few typos - Georgos appears once without an s on the end.

There were one or two uncapitalised h's at the beginning of sentences. And I noticed two disappears in one sentence.

I also thought one or two of the sentences were quite long. One appears in para 4 - A cheap blue bic ... I wondered if there should be a full stop after ashtray.

In parts of the narrative with dots I noticed five when there's usually no more than three.

I got a bit lost in the paragraph that describes the old lady's dress. I got the headscarf confused with the frock and wondered if She dressed in black. Her wispy white hair covered by a headscarf clearly of a newer vintage etc - might be clearer - just a thought.

I also noticed where the para begins "Exactly ... came back here ass fat as. (I think it's meant to read as fast as) He said that he owed Dimitri that - I felt the word that might work better after Dimitri, rather than in front of it.

I hope my observations don't sound too negative - they're not meant to be -

Review By: Paula


I enjoyed the sensitive way these characters were observed, and I particularly liked the way they were described in their setting. I felt as if I too had sat in that cafe and watched the old men and felt the heat of the sun. There are issues with pace here, I think. Personally I liked the slow burn, attention to detail, and the care taken over building atmosphere and authenticity. I felt the langorous pace of the story matched the pace of life in the village.
The contrast between the simple, nothing-ever-happens-here feel of the first half of the story and the tragedy and drama of the second half worked very well. I would have liked a little more at the end pointing out that life then would continue as it always had (except for the donkey, of course), and as if nothing so sad and violent had taken place. This would have given a nice balance to the piece, I think. I also felt that some of the language use could be tightened a little - you might want to double check for repetitions and weak descriptions here and there. On the whole the writing is clear and vivid, so it's a pity to let phrases and sentences slip through that might detract from this.
An interesting piece, a refreshing change from so much that is all hooks and grabbing and shocking at the start just to gain attention. Let's hear it for the slow but powerful build up!

Review By: dleighton

Needs work

I thought the writing was a curious mixture. There are some really descriptive passages, which evoke a Greek Island feel but on the other hand, the spelling, grammar and punctuation especially (almost a complete lack of commas in a lot of long sentences), totally distracted me from the story.

The premise of an old man, distraught at the death of his companion donkey and determined to protect its carcass from the vultures circling overhead is a worthy one for a short story. However, I was very unsure about the way in which the story is untold and found myself irritated by the narrative voice, referring to 'we' all the way through. I was more intrigued to find out who 'we' might be than I was interested in events at the top of the mountain.

I think this is a good idea but needs to be executed better.

Review By: ShorhamShambles

A long way to the mountain

Papalazarou can obviously write and there are some wonderful sentences dotted around this short story, but they just didn’t quite add up for me.

Almost all the descriptions are too wordy, and almost everything it seems must be described.

I didn’t get a feel for the characters – nothing made me believe they were real, or want to care for them in any way.

I like meandering stories but this one made me beg for something to happen. After the first page, to be honest, I didn’t really want to read on. The description must be absolutely first-rate for this kind of thing to work.

Thankfully the ending was interesting and well-written. Unfortunately I had the distinct feeling that everything was merely a pre-amble to the final two paragraphs, as though the real story was summarised here in 300 words and everything before was just padding. This final section was fluent and evocative but under normal circumstances I just wouldn’t have got this far.

I appreciate that this was perhaps intentional – reflecting the slow pace of life in a dusty Greek cafĂ© – but it didn’t quite work.

There are the seeds of something here. Papalazarou can write, but will need a stronger narrative around which to frame his skills.

Did I misjudge this site?

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Chip and Pin and Chip and Path

Having accomplished the major prune of the olive trees that we had promised ourselves for several years - we cleaned out the centres and lowered the profiles of more than 50 trees - we were left with prunings so prodigious that for a while we did not know what to do with them all. The previous major pruning had been a reactive one after the massive snowfalls of February 2004 and the clean up thereafter had taken 6 weeks and involved daily bonfires for the best part of a week at the end. What to do this time round?

The bonfires of yesteryear though satisfying in and of themselves had, in retrospect, come to seem wasteful. We could. I now know, have garnered more useful wood for the stove than we did. We were naive. We followed what all the other olive farmers were doing. We did not think it through but this time it would be different. Well the thinking would be different even if the outcome should be the same.

When we finally took control and full ownership of the land last year we decided to farm the olives in our own style. Just as we have with the lavender from the very outset. We have long refused the local authority access to our olives to spray them with insecticides - they use some hideous organo-phosphates long banned in the UK and US and most of Europe: now we decided not to have the tractor turn over the land between the trees twice yearly and to cope with the weeds and brambles another way. For the olive fruit fly we have organic fly traps among the trees from the start of blossom until late October: for the weeds and brambles we have the brushcutter. But what about the prunings? What about the bamboo?

We have been leaning towards the Masanobu Fukuoka methods since being introduced to his One Straw Revolution by the Greek cameraman who shot the excellent footage for Gill's acclaimed TV appearance and round about October last year we had started looking at chippers to dispose of the big spring weed crop of fennel and mallow and thistle and bitumen pea. Might a chipper be an option for the olive prunings? We decided to ask the red-robed twins: after all, Eddie and Ceddie were well into the initial logging exercise - taking out all of the big wood and stacking it ready for seasoning and cutting into stove-sized pieces later on: who better to judge what would be left after this phase was complete? The new pile was already substantial when we bearded the boys, their Japanese ABS saws in hand,  about it and it has grown considerably since then. Their answer, as one, was unequivocal, "if it can take branches about an inch and quarter, and run for a couple of hours at a time then it'll probably do the trick - it'll mean more work but what the hell ...". Ceddie was almost immediately back to unloading the barrow but Eddie hesitated. "Will it be orange? Like the Husq?". "Who knows?" I replied, "We shall see ..."

It turned out not to be orange, rather, it was a bright green and white plastic Viking (the domestic arm of Stihl) electric machine. 2.5kilowatt motor, 35mm capacity, cloverleaf opening - a consumer model, the GE 150. but beggars can hardly be choosers and the petrol versions were ridiculously expensive. And here it is as shown on the Stihl website: Extra work? Do we care?   

We bought it at the newly relocated farmers supply shop in Episkopi and we bought it on impulse. We had thought originally just to see what they might have available - we'd researched chippers online and plumped for the Viking range so it was just a question of seeing whether the farming shop was still a Viking dealership and maybe seeing one in the flesh so to speak but ...  As I said impulse took over - spring price changes were in the offing and they might go up rather than down. And they did have one we could touch and test. And Gill just happened to have her egg card with her ... And thereby hangs another tale -

The farmers' shop in Episkopi, apart from being new and clean and amazingly well lit is also high tech - they take credit cards in a world where farmers usually  work exclusively in folding money - bags full of it if necessary - cash is invisible to the taxman - and to the rest of the family. And so, having decided to buy the bugger Gill handed over her newly minted egg card and the assistant, a young lady who speaks very good English, duly swiped it through the sparkling new credit card terminal and that is when our joint adventure began. Said terminal demanded the entry of a PIN and announced that no signature would be required! Shit - none of us had ever done this before but we had all been aware of it - chip and PIN technology was suddenly a practical reality rather than a theoretical possibility.

Gill scrambled to her handbag and rifled through all 3 of her notebooks desperately searching for the one where she had written her PIN down - just in case. The assistant was clearly mentally rehearsing what she had been told about chip and PIN or what she had heard or read. I stood to one side in a technological stun zone. The assistant signalled Gill to come around to her side of the counter and enter the newly retrieved PIN and, with fingers mentally crossed, she did. Eventually the terminal responded with a receipt or transaction record covered in numbers and the information that the transaction had completed successfully and again that no signature would be required. OK, we'd done it - we'd chipped and PiNned!

Or so we thought. Our assistant had her doubts - that was clear from the look on her face as she read the transaction receipt and for the next fifteen minutes she was on the phone to the bank reading strings of digits from the now somewhat dog-eared scrap of paper.  At last she had satisfied herself and been reassured sufficiently by the bank clerk to let us exit with purchase but not before we had all congratulated ourselves and filled out the warranty card.

Next day we were out in the field facing a mountain of olive prunings. The chipper was plugged in and Gill was at the helm as she has been ever since - it is her machine now Dave. And so began what has become to seem like a never ending chore of feeding the voracious maw of Vic the Chip. The piles of prunings shrink and disappear but the incarnadine twins are always mounding new ones. And there is an issue - quite literally. Prunings go into the top of Vic, Gil guides them in carefully following the instructions, Vic chews them, and then Vic spits out chips. Now while the volume of chips issuing from Vic is less than one tenth of the volume of what goes into Vic,  one tenth of a hell of a lot is still a lot. So what do we do with the chips?

They'd be good for barbecues? You could use them to smoke meat or fish?  Yes and yes but we have a lot of chips -  by the end of day 3 we have a small hill of chips! Eddie is standing there looking at the growing pile of chips, smoking a roll up and scratching his head. Ceddie is busy building another pile of prunings for Vic. Gill is feeding Vic. Vic is chewing and spitting. We are all thinking - hard.

And then Eddie has his halogen moment. "Guv? Did you ever see that place I used to live before I come here? No you ditnt but we did have a one of them venture playground thingies and that was covered in stuff just like what Vic spits out so was all the parths thru the woods and down to the lake where daft Bill did drown that time d'you think its the same? ". Brilliant Eddie - abso - bloody - lutely brilliant. I hug him and signal to Gill to switch Vic off. "Paths Gill! Paths. Paths to the lavender plots. Paths wherever you want. Thats it. Eddie is a genius." Gill's face lights up and her thumbs go up. We all hug Eddie and now we know what to do with the chips. And that is exactly what we have been doing ever since - path finding and making.  Here's a shot of the first path in progress - check back and we'll show you where all those chips end up.  


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Monday, March 10, 2008


Comfortable again, he thrust his hands deep into the pockets of his Drizabone and she linked her arm through his. It was the Drizabone, long, black and totally unknown here in Crete that had been turning heads. And continued so to do as they pushed their way out onto Kydonias and turned right past the souvlaki stall where the smell of grilled meat, sticking to the damp air, momentarily triggered his gag reflex. To him the Drizabone brought memories of the Keach brothers, the Carradine brothers (and he did in those days look a lot like Keith), and the Quaid brothers in Walter Hill's The Long Riders. To the locals he probably reminded them more of The Matrix. They pressed on, the crowds were thick here outside the Omalos hotel. The pavements were wet and treacherously slippery. His leather soled boots were not much use whereas her rubber soled ones allowed her to move quickly: she unhooked from him and pulled ahead. He lost her briefly in the melee.

She stopped outside the town hall where scads of people stood around in huge clumps clasping sheaves of documents. She had no problem spotting him - four inches taller than the average Greek and dressed in black from head to suede booted toe he stood out from any crowd that they were likely to encounter here. And there was a space around him, even in the throng, that was clearly discernible. She did not need to wave to attract his attention, her red hat marked her out.

He clasped her to him and whispered to her "These fucking boots will be the death of me ... is it much further?" "Not far, just follow me - it's up to the end and right". He nodded an OK and they moved off again. She made the right into Apokoronou and he followed. She turned almost immediately into Vouloudaki and he followed. Taking a right into Sfakion she turned and said to him "It should be along here somewhere on the right". "I thought you said not far? This is a bloody hike". The rain came on again.

They found the building easily, not 400 yards up the road and surprisingly well signed, an extremely unprepossessing brutalist office block of 5 storeys but with a frontage no more than 7 metres wide all dark grey granite and approached up a lethal looking flight of steep, wet, marble stairs. The buildings either side were no less ugly. They would, over time, become accustomed to such monstrosities but for now they could scarcely believe how ugly this thing was. The rain had stopped now but their coats glistened yet in the weak sunlight. They picked their way warily out of the light and up the stairs. The doors were wedged open with rusty fire extinguishers and so they reached a dark hallway. A door to their left, another flight of marble stairs ahead and a lift to the right. Which way now?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A start - possibly

I'm sorry if the fiction buffs among my readership have been feeling neglected - shit ,not feeling, you have been neglected. The muse has been coming up dry for a while,or prompting crap, but this last few days I've been determined to pen a new Greek short story and this is the opening - make of it what you will:

The pair of them stepped down from the bus into the rain and heads turned. Locals milled around, talking loudly and even shouting. Several looked at them very obviously. A fat blonde woman with a cigarette in one hand and a mobile phone in the other stared un-selfconciously. The near rancid aroma of the gyros cafe next door wafted across the bus terminal. And then  the skies opened again. Umbrellas shot up like mushrooms all around them. The couple simply pulled their hats down further - his a black fedora and hers a plain black felt confection. They walked through the throng - the crowd parted silently as they approached and closed behind them noisily. Heads turned.

Xania bus depot in winter can be a dreadful place, crowded, dirty, cold, and wet. It can be, and today it was. Tourists who crowd this bus station in summer, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, sandals and beanie hats have no conception of what a winter here can do or be. They cannot see the White Mountains to the south capped with snow. This is the couple's first full winter here and the last three months have brought home to them how harsh a Cretan winter can be to bear. Three hours and more ago they had woken to the sound of incessant rain and a  wind howling like a wolf as it rushed around the house, and if they had not agreed among themselves to visit the diefthinsi georgia today then they would have just pulled the duvet up around their snug little ears and drifted back of into the arms of Hypnos. But they had agreed and there was no going back. It wasn't as if they had an appointment but they had promised themselves and the day had come round and so they would do it. That's just how they were. It's how they conducted themselves.

He had raked over the stove and emptied the ash - he would lay a new fire in when they came back. She had made a pot of coffee and begun to clean the kitchen before he joined her in the kitchen. They drank coffee and jump started the day with cigarettes before finishing the cleaning and driving down to the main road to catch the bus. They didn't open shutters or windows - why confirm what they already knew about the filthy day?  This was before they had the dogs so venturing out was unnecessary. The DS had started first time and without choke and they had waited just 5 minutes before the bus turned up. The omens were looking favourable despite the apparent pathetic fallacy.

They headed off to the public toilets arm in arm and emptied out the morning's coffee. He gagged standing over the squat Turkish style toilet that showed too clearly the detritus of a previous user. Averting his eyes had only brought them to bear on the plastic bin in the corner that was already full of skid marked toilet paper. The smell of urine and bleach hacked at the back of his throat prolonging the gag reflex. The sink, when he came to consider washing his hands, swiftly convinced him to the contrary opinion. The badly tiled floor was slippery and he tried not to wonder why - he put it down to the rain and left in haste. She joined him outside as he lit a cigarette and they ploughed off into the drear day. Heads turned. Again.

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