Friday, August 31, 2012


Still time for plenty of frappe opportunities, lazy swimming, boat trips even - but soon it will be time to keep a watchful eye on the weather and to think about clearing the garden if not actually doing it - well, not yet

One day you open the front door and bleached, brittle leaves blow in on the draught, skittering across the marble floor and terrifying our old blind dog who imagines they are aliens, come to fetch her back to their mother-ship. ‘Games up!’ you can almost hear her say. ‘I’ll go quietly.’ But while there’s life, there’s hope and Loula settles back with a snuffle, on the cushion under my desk.

At least she spends the last of her days in comfort, loved and tended to, not like poor Argus, Odysseus’ faithful dog. You cannot live long in Corfu without tripping over references to Homer’s Odyssey, and the story of the dog is one of the saddest parts. Another time.

But in spite of the first skeletal leaves, Autumn’s advance party, there’s life still in our summer, too, and though the patterns of it shift as the month eases into September, we still have much to look forward to in Corfu.
With kids back at school, beaches are quieter, the better to enjoy the warm sea temperatures, though we miss the sight of children doing what all children ought to be doing in summer – playing in the open air.. Gradually, though, the month cools down, and with the clear atmosphere, intensely blue sky and mellow sunshine, this is the best time for exploring the island on foot or by other means..

I used to accompany cultural coach tours around Greece and this was a favourite time of year. The mountains purple with heather and the valleys fragrant with the intoxicating smell of grapes being pressed. Pale marble columns at Delphi and Bassae, Aegina and Olympia, stark against that azure sky. The restaurant owners knew us well and treated us to the ‘fruits’ of autumn – walnut cake, purple figs, tiny birds more splintered bone than flesh but you had to try them at least once before you could say what you felt. Wild boar appeared on the menu, and a mysterious dessert was proffered – mustalevria.
To say that this is grape jelly is to do it an injustice – it is made from ‘must’ which comes from the first pressing of grapes, it is cleared and cleaned by a semi-mystical process involving wood ash – well, it was in my mother-in-law’s day anyway – it is boiled and allowed to settle into an opaque jelly that is served sprinkled with cinnamon and crushed walnuts. It is quite delicious – the best I ever had was made each year by the local priest who insisted on sharing it with the foreign members of his flock.
Check out this link and you will see I am not kidding about the wood ash!

‘Must’ is also a vital ingredient in those delicious cookies that are so popular with kids who grow up in Greece – mustokouloura, slightly gingery in flavour.

A strange sound can be heard – though it is no longer the shrilling of the cicadas. This is the combination of a huge joint sigh of relief from mothers who have had to organize child care for three months, and a deep groan of disappointment from the children themselves.

Some of them, at least, are returning to a school where the Kantounistas group of Corfu have left their mark and made the school yard look more welcoming.

 This has been a rather unusual August. We have seen a full moon not once, but twice, at the beginning and the end of the month, the second one being called, rather romantically, a Blue Moon. Not as rare as the name might suggest, and unfortunately not really blue – but, hey – poetic licence and the songwriters’ boon.

We have been visited by the flaming spears of the Pleiades and by the heavenly bodies of a lesser firmament, namely Hollywood. Gorgeous yachts have called in, fuelling our speculation and our imagination, private jets have landed and left inscrutably, and everything has seemed much as  usual, though of course we know that it is not.

Many arrivals, then in August, and one noteworthy departure – that of Neil Armstrong, astronaut, first man to walk on the moon. He made that unforgettable remark about ‘one small step for a man’ but I like this quote. 
'I was elated, ecstatic and extremely surprised that we were successful'.

I think it reflects the modesty, humility and humour of this true hero.

Not the blue moon, but the blue planet as seen from the Moon

So, August then. The Romans named the month after the Emperor Augustus, just as they named July after Julius Caesar.  August was a popular name in Victorian times often shortened, especially by the Americans, to Gus. My grandmother was called Augusta, but then she was also called Alma  and had several other Christian names, all beginning with A.

Don’t ask me why.

 Alma Augusta Annie etc

My Grandma aged 19


Time to sweep up a few leaves. Amazing what you find hidden amongst them in the garden. Things you had forgotten all about.

And things that are unmistakably mean Autumn is not so far away......



 Photos by the usual suspects - Katy, Joanna, Frosso as we;; as some of my own and a few others.

Monday, August 13, 2012


I’m doing my best to cope with the heat and humidity that have had the thermometers shimmering for weeks now.
I suppose there are people who enjoy it, but our cat is not one of them, though he looks pretty comfortable in the photo below.

Kat does, however, set an example on how to cope with great heat. He pretends it isn’t there and  slinks from one patch of shade to another, pausing for a sip of water, mooching from one meal to the next, no longer bothered by his hormone-related instincts since he had the chop. He is  apparently not in the least put out by having to wear a black and white fur coat that covers him from nose to tip of tail.
Young humans, however, seem to find the heat a massive turn on, and Corfu’s beaches and clubs throb with bare, tanned bodies and pulsating music and 24-hour displays of plumage and agility and whatnot that rival anything the animal world can come up with.
I envy their energy and stamina. I had it once too.
Now, however, I tend to cool down with a good book.
I like ‘cool’ titles and I am currently reading ‘Arctic Chill’ by an Icelandic writer called Arnaldur Indridasin. I’ve recently read ‘The Ice Princess’ by Camilla Lackberg and ‘The Snowman’ by Jo Nesbo. ‘Northern Lights’ by Nora Roberts was set in Alaska in winter, and the Inspector Frost books are a must-read. Canadian writers are, as you might expect, up there with the best when it comes to writing snowy crime novels – a favourite of mine being Giles Blunt.

I heard somewhere about something called ‘cold reading’ and of course visualised a list of cool books, but according to Wikipedia : Cold reading is a series of techniques used by mentalists, psychics, fortune-tellers, and illusionists to determine or express details about another person, often in order to convince them that the reader knows much more about a subject than they actually do.[1] Without prior knowledge of a person, a practiced cold reader can still quickly obtain a great deal of information about the subject by analyzing the person's body language, age, clothing or fashion, hairstyle, gender, sexual orientation, religion, race or ethnicity, level of education, manner of speech, place of origin, etc.

This of course led me to think about our very own Mentalist, aka Simon Baker, 

But thinking about this rather hot man melted the ice in my frappe coffee so I quickly desisted.

My own favourite film featuring snow – and the wonderful Frances McDormand – was ‘Fargo’ but for sheer silly snow-filled fun I always loved Dumb and Dumber, that needs no other description other than the fact that it starred Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels    and Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican bobsled team’s attempt to get into the Canadian Winter Olympics – hilarious.

 Frances McDormand in 'Fargo'

(What about those Jamaican sprinters though – it’s no joke, winning at the London Olympics.)

Daily Mail photo

Phew! All this mental effort calls for a cold drink and the choice is between a perfect gin and tonic, in a tall class dripping with condensation, having been kept in the fridge, along with the gin bottle itself. And a tall glass of coffee frappe, The secret with frappe is not to drink it too quickly – as the ice cubes melt and the foam turns back to liquid, the frappe satisfaction level lingers on.

Meanwhile I’ll listen to some chill-out music – plenty of choice there, including the slightly unlikely combination of African, Indian and Asian chill-out tracks.
I have very few wardrobe problems in August – retired, I don’t go far, and literally live in sarongs and flip-flops.  Knickers are optional and depend on whether I am expecting visitors or not.

Yes – it really is THAT hot!

Think cool food – salads, iced soups, fish, water melon. Greek food has a surprising number of cool dishes and the fact that several of them are based on summer vegetables cooked with olive oil means they can be eaten cold or tepid without the horror of congealing fat. Lemon squeezed over everything is another cool move. Think briam and tzatziki, horta and lemon, fresh green bean salad. Think feta and water melon salad, cheddar and grapes. (Hey – reminds me, you can now get fantastic English Cheddar in Corfu – cheaper than many other cheeses, tangy and crumbly -  I* will just pop and check the fridge..)

One of the grandchildren had his sixth birthday this week. There was much head-scratching over how to keep the energetic kids (who in a few years will be leaping about the beach-bars and clubs) amused but not out of control. How to entertain them without permanently alienating the neighbours?
Water was of course the answer in this weather and we set up a kids’ slide and a large paddling pool and let them loose. Huge success!

I read a web article on how to keep cool at home in great heat. It suggested covering all fuzzy surfaces like carpets and upholstery with white cotton sheets and abandoning clothes entirely inside your own house. At night, use a small pillow that has been in the freezer for a couple of hours.
Also sound, if chilly, advice. Other tips I have followed have resulted in me typing this blog wearing a wet tee-shirt with my feet under the desk, in a bowl of cold water.

Hey! It works!

Stay cool everyone.

You didn't think I would show you my own tootsies in a bowl of water, did you?

Having 'penned' a blog about the heat, chances are it will now rain. It's like washing the car or watering the garden - a guaranteed rain-dance!

Friday, August 3, 2012


CountyKate on High Summer in Prince Edward County, Ontario

The phrase, 'The Dog Days' stems from the ancient Roman period, when it was  believed the Dog Days 'brewed evil, The Sea Boiled,  Dogs Grew Mad, and made all others languid'.  The Days begin on July 3rd and end on August 11th - 40 days without rain. Of course, with the Gregorian, or maybe the Julian calendars, its all screwed up , and poor Sirius gets the blame anyway,  Sirius being the Dog Star.

When I first began composing this blog. about The County, in July we were suffering a severe drought.

If you remember, The County is an isthmus, or the 'Stickyout Bit' as my granddaughter says, into  Lake Ontario.  Situated as we are, much of the forecast precipitation bypasses us, drenching the mainland to the north.  So we have not had significant rain  for several weeks, and all those lush fields of maize and sweet corn I described  last time, are shrivelled and brown.

The farmers have frantically harvested the cereal crops, two weeks early in fact, and baled the stalks to take to the local Mushroom Farm, that uses them for their growing beds.  Dark, moist sheds, where the workers harvest on their knees, eight hours a day.

But the diligent farmers are providing us with seasonal produce, fruit and vegetables, for canning, freezing or jam making,. If it’s fruit, I’ve eaten most of the punnet before I get home!

Despite the heat and humidity, we can occupy ourselves with a variety of delights. On these endless, hot  summer days, we can visit antique shops, enjoy the annual quilt show; garage, yard or barn sales; the wineries to visit, the cheese-making factories, small enterprises now compared to the industry of the 1800's, along with canneries and beer-making!

Paddling a canoe is fun and harks back to the old days.

   canoes for rent

Then there is sailing, fishing, kayaking –


Or else we can stay at home, under the spreading maple trees in our shaded gardens and sip wine or beer, read, sew or daydream.

We might follow our forefather’s trails, to go Up North, to the cottage, boat or trailer, to live a more Spartan life for a while, experience the Great Outdoors.

Cooking in cramped conditions!

Who were these first settlers?

They started arriving in the early 18th century. Some were farmers, from England, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. Some were soldiers, pensioned off with an acreage of land, and enough supplies for two years - seed and livestock. Yet others were the sons of aristocratic families, shipped off with an allowance for various reasons. Few of them were prepared for the hardships. While some of them moved into established settlements, many of them literally had to hack a clearing out of the virgin forest and build a log or sod cabin.
 There were many religions represented too - Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Quakers and others.
They would have built their churches probably at a crossroad of tracks, and later came settler’s cabins, a tavern, a store and businesses.

Not only farmers came; where they settled, they needed carpenters, millers, if near the Lake, shipwrights.  The women brought their crafts too, cheese-making for instance. Once they had made cheese for the family needs, then it became a bartering agent, then grew into an industry. In the mid 1800's, there were 30 cheese-making factories on the County.

Winter for the pioneers must have seemed endless.  No contact with neighbours, until Spring melted the rooftop high snow drifts.

Snowdrifts piled against the windows

Heavy horses, still bred here on the County, cleared a passage to the hamlet; going two abreast, the waggoner standing on the platform of his wagon, whistling and encouraging the amiable creatures.

A barn-raising - well, to be honest, a barn-razing, but you get the idea

But spring meant social gatherings. It might begin with a barn raising, all the neighbours and their wives and families would gather for this two day event, which led to Basket Lunches; Pie Sales, Church Sales; Quilting Bees , Swapmeets for clothes;  but also these gatherings were for weddings, christenings and funerals.  The harsh life took its toll, and folk were laid to rest, in family plots, village cemeteries or grander graveyards.

Old and young, infants and children put to rest in shaded places, sheltered by those same maple trees, often surrounded now by wild lilac hedges too. 
 So much lilac grows wild now, we have a Lilac Festival.

Many pioneer women brought with them on the sailing ships from England, 'slips' of lilac from their beloved homes, tended carefully on the voyage, they were then planted by the door of their cabin.  Driving around, if you see a clump of lilac growing wild, look closer, there's probably the foundations of a settler’s home, maybe the barn nearby

So we arrive back to our modern pioneers. That part of the population that goes Up North, or maybe to my County, there to encounter aspects of the life their forefathers experienced.

Wildlife comes to mind! We have seen, at various rented cottages, coyotes, raccoons, skunk! There were deer one early morning, a family of three, grazing on our front lawn. Another time, a skunk family emerged from underneath the deck, in line abreast, mom, baby, baby, baby, pop.  Don’t frighten them, or they WILL spray you!

Raccoons are charmers, cute little bandits faces and dinky little hands. But they are scavengers, as my daughter can tell you.  They come at dusk, to root noisily through unsealed garbage;  or as my daughter found out, alerted by the loud chomping noises from outside, to eat the dog’s supper, from her bowl, while dog slept peacefully inside!

The coyotes are rarely seen, but at night, an eerie 'yip, yip, yip', cuts the air, as the pups call for momma and food.

Then of course we have bears. Yes really.  Hang your food in a bag in a tree. Dispose of human smelling waste in a pit in the ground! If it’s a brown bear, rear up and make big, if it's a black, crouch down and make small. Who is going to hang around long enough to find out? Anyway, my daughter would frighten them away with her screaming.

But the lucky modern visitor to our County has much to see and do whilst here.

There are Maritime Museums; Emu and Llama Farms.  The soil is conducive to grape growing, from a few large, commercial enterprises, to many small, family owned and tended, and of course, imbibed!
There are Wine Tasting tours -better use a driver - or Honey and Lavender Farms for another taste of local products.

Local vineyards

Local  ice-cream shop

We have our own  local ice-cream producer - Slickers -  or try one of the many locally harvested Maple Syrup products.

You could take in an Art Tour and admire local artists’ paintings – and plantings!

Visit antique shops, like 'County Traders' where Trader John boasts secondhand furniture, with stock changing daily or 'Dead People’s Stuff' where Sue recycles collectables from the past.

But finally, after all this touring and tasting, and the activity is over till tomorrow, come back home, to sip local wine or beer, eat locally made treats; all under the shade of those maple trees, and doze into  the dusk.

Prince Edward County 2nd August 2012 

(Almost all the photos are my own)