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.


  1. Beautifully written, when you mentioned Lula it brought tears to my eyes...I think i'll write a blog about her and all that we've been through together...when the time comes....

  2. very evocative... but did he really go to the moon? We may never know...

    apparently the chinese are gearing up to go too... although judging bythe quality of their manufacturing, they will be more than surprised if succesful...

  3. funnily enough Petros my eldest son 40yrs of age asked the same question yrs ago and did the day Niel armstrong died did he really go there ?

  4. I love this blog. There is an old world fluency and conciseness to it that makes it required reading.

    Angela does right to remind us of Argos - did ever a dog live on in immortality? And the sheer power of the poet even in translation.

    I rely on Fagles and Samuel Butler is good and also, touchingly, my father's own annotated Iliad/Odyssey from his Cambridge days. How I wish i'd been better versed to have talked thru it with Dad.
    His brother, Leslie, read classics at Oxford, Balliol, where i read English. Dad told me a story of uncle Leslie that I didnt pay much attention to at the time but when i went up to Balliol, i was told the story. very interesting.
    Leslie was brilliant and impatient so he did away with accents on his papers as his mind sped on with the excitement of the text and his own writing. His tutors pleaded with him to conform lest he come a cropper at Finals. To no avail and since his writings enthralled all his teachers they didnt spoil their own fun.
    Come finals, uncle Leslie rattled through his paper and his tutor privately confirmed that he'd delivered a Double-First cum laude blah blah - BUT, not a single tonos. Oh woe! because one of the examiners was an external examiner and fuddy-duddy stickler who'd mark him down to a mere stunning First for omitting accents.

    During the 'viva' interview during which examiners could put questions to the examinees, Professor Fuddy-duddy grumbled "Thing is, Holmes, I can't give you the mark you deserve because you appear not to have time for accents", at which point, without missing a beat, Leslie went into fluent Homeric Greek, cracking jokes and puns from the time, politely questioning Fuddy-Dudopoulos about details of his paper, subtly checking if the old bore had caught some of his sly references, all the while exaggerating as he held forth the accents he'd gone without in his paper.

    I gather it was a virtuoso performance, the other dons guffawing at his Homeric in-jokes, delighting in the examiner's glum expression as the jokes went over his head.

    From Homer's change of rhythm and scanning when dealing with honest rustics of the time, Leslie had worked out a party piece of what he called his Zeus-blimey accent, with which his tutors were all-too familiar from their star pupil's endless boring verbal pranks to relieve the tedium of tutorials.

    Fuddy duddy: "Didnt catch a single syllable of that last bit. Was the chap even speaking Greek?"

    A fellow examiner leaned over with a helpful, "Yes, Professor, but perhaps the confusion lies in the fact that Holmes was mimicking a yokel of Chios of the time. The southern region, I believe, Holmes?"

    Uncle Leslie: "Ah! You caught the lisp of the region, Professor. Bravo!"

    "Too kind, dear boy - pray proceed ..."

    The pedant dude stood no chance.


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